Sedrot Vayak’hel & Pikudey Exodus 35-40
This is a special week in the cycle of the Jewish year. All right, so every week is special. Every week re-acquaints us with a history that a show like TVs The Bible only hints at. So whats so special this week?
For one thing, this Saturday will be Shabat haHodesh the Sabbath that introduces the month of Nisan, the month of freedom. We announce the month that includes Passover and celebrates Israels freedom from Egyptian slavery. Also we will complete the reading of the Book of Exodus which tells the story of that liberation, and of Israels hard won nationhood.
In its last chapters, the book of Exodus describes a real artistic explosion, as all the talents of these ex-slaves get mobilized to build the first Jewish house of prayer, the Tabernacle in the desert. First Moses calls on one man he knows can design and build such a portable structure, Bezalel of the tribe of Judah. Besides being a skilled craftsman who understands construction using precious metals, wood, stone and cloth, Bezalel and his assistant, Oholiav of the tribe of Dan have a talent for teaching. So they can guide others to execute what they design.
Then Moses calls for contributions. Pass the word through the camp that everyone should bring whatever they can donate of those construction materials, plus oil for the lamps, to prepare for this sacred task. And he reminds them that no work, even for this holy purpose, is to be done on the Sabbath.
So we find out that people responded with spirit and ability an ability that is called khokhmat lev the wisdom of the heart. Men carved, women sewed. The princes among them brought gems for the high priests vestments. Organized under Bezalels leadership, the contributions poured in.
In fact, they got more than they needed. Moses had to send cryers through the camp, proclaiming: Let no man or woman do any more work on the holy offerings. Rabbis and synagogue presidents always shake their heads over that line. One time in history when a building campaign was oversubscribed!
Really, why could they do it? Why cant we? The Torah goes into great detail about all that Bezalel and his men did with the contributions for the Tabernacle. All the beautiful furnishings they built, the ark and the altars and the ten curtains with the poles that held them as this portable shrine got carried through the desert all constructed from the donations of common people.
Maybe there is a message in that experience that makes this reading even more special. They could oversubscribe because they were doing it themselves. This was not Bezalels tabernacle. Not even Moses tabernacle. This was ours. This belonged to the entire community. Maybe we can still accomplish such an outpouring of shared work. All we need is a little khokhmat lev. Just some wisdom of the heart.