"and he assembled"
Our par’sha this week once again focuses our attention on the construction of the Tabernacle, which was also known as the Tent of Meeting. The par’sha spans Sh’mot 35.1 through 38.20 and is entitled V’yak’hel וַיַּקְהֵ֣ל, meaning and he assembled. Before we get into our study of the par’sha, however, let me take a minute to address some traditions surrounding this Shabbat.
This Shabbat is known as Shabbat Shekalim, or the Sabbath of the Shekels. In Sh’mot 30.11-16 every male twenty-years old and older who is registered among the children of Yisra’el is required to pay a half-sheqel according to the sheqel of the Set-apart Place as a contribution to Y’H’V’H. The Hebrew text uses the word terumah that is translated in this verse as contribution and is the same Hebrew word translated as contribution in Sh’mot 25.2-3. That passage deals with the contributions Mosheh was to collect from the people whose hearts moved them to bring contributions to build the Tabernacle.
In Sh’mot 30.13, the contribution is to be given by everyone from twenty years old and older that is registered as a part of B’nei Yisra’el. The difference is these two passages is that a set-amount is given for those registering as a member of B’nei Yisra’el: as commanded, the rich does not give more and the poor does not give less than a half sheqel…to make atonement for themselves.30.15 Although no specific date is given to collect this tax in this passage, tradition establishes that this sheqel should be collected on the first of Aviv, the beginning of our year.
To insure no one missed this important contribution, the courts of Yisra’el began posting reminders one month before it was to be collected, beginning on the Sabbath before Rosh Chodesh Adar (or Rosh Chodesh Adar II if it is a leap year). Par’sha Shekalim is the first of four special readings added during the month of Adar, the others are Zachor, Parah and haChodesh, which we will discuss in the weeks to come.
Since this is Shabbat Shekalim, the reading from Sh’mot 30.11-16 is added to our Torah reading and the Haftarah portion is changed from M’lakim Alef to M’lakim Bet 12.1-17 (M’lakim Bet 11.17-12.17 if you follow the Sephardic readings.) This special Haftarah portion focuses Melek Yeho’ash’s efforts to collect the silver collected from this special special for the upkeep of the Temple. In this afternoon’s study we will reserve some time to discuss this contribution for those wishing to fulfill this commandment even though the Temple is no longer standing. For now, let’s return to this week’s par’sha.
Beginning in chapter thirty-five the Hebrew text states,
וַיַּקְהֵ֣ל מֹשֶׁ֗ה אֶֽת־כָּל־עֲדַ֛ת בְּנֵ֥י יִשְׂרָאֵ֖ל
And Mosheh assembled all the congregation of the children of Yisra’el. Assembled is translated from וַיַּקְהֵ֣ל vay’yak’hel, from the shoresh קהל that means to assemble. In this instance it appears Mosheh assembled B’nei Yisra’el in order to reaffirm the set-apartness of the Sabbath day. In verse two we are reminded, work is done for six days, but on the seventh day it shall be set-apart unto you (that is us), a Sabbath of rest to Y’H’V’H. Anyone doing work on it (the Sabbath) is put to death. To many people this seems to be an excessive punishment, but we must remind them Who established this punishment and why and, as Sh’muel wrote, Y’H’V’H puts to death and makes alive, He brings down to Sheol and raises up.2Sh’muel 2.6
Verse three adds another requirement we must honor on the Sabbath. We are not to kindle a fire in any of our dwellings on the Sabbath day. Dwellings מֹשְׁבֹֽתֵיכֶ֑ם is from moshav, not beit which means houses. More than just our homes, moshavim represents our communities. As a community, the assembly of B’nei Yisra’el, we are to collectively obey this commandment.
This passage also establishes another important lesson regarding our assembling together. In this week’s par’sha, Mosheh assembled B’nei Yisra’el together in order to reaffirm the set-apartness of the Sabbath and to remind them of how they had brought so many voluntary offerings they had to be told not to bring anymore. And, in chapter thirty six, we learn that they didn’t just bring their offerings one time. In 36.3 Mosheh wrote, And they received from Mosheh all the contribution which the children of Yisra’el had brought for the work of the service of making the set-apart place. But they still brought him voluntary offerings every morning. How willing is B’nei Yisrael to do this today?
The Torah had previously listed another instance in which the word וַיִּקָּהֵ֨ל vay’yik’kahel is used. In Sh’mot 32.1 we are told that when the people saw that Mosheh was so long in coming down from Mount Sinai, the people assembled (gathered together) to Aharon. This time, however, it wasn’t to honor Y’H’V’H, but their own desires and purposes. They demanded Aharon make them mighty ones to lead them since Mosheh had not returned.
From these two passages we learn that when we, as the Assembly of B’nie Yisra’el, gather together we have to decide:
Are we gathering together to honor Y’H’V’H our Elohim or
Are we gathering together to fulfill our own desires and purposes?
Amid all the joy of the people as they continued to bring their voluntary offerings and doing the work on the Tabernacle is another lesson, although it is more like a warning. It is imbedded in Hebrew text of Sh’mot 35.27-28. After noting the offerings brought by the people and how the wise-hearted women were already busy spinning yarn for the work with their hands, we are told, And the rulers brought the shoham
stones, and the stones to be set in the shoulder garment and in the breastplate, and the spices and the oil for the light, and for the anointing oil, and for the sweet incense. What draws our attention to these two verses is the way the word for rulers is spelled in the Hebrew text. Rulers is translated from nasi’im ,נְשִיאִים spelled nun, sin, yod, aleph, yod, final mem.
In verse twenty-seven, however, nasi’im is spelled defectively. The yods are omitted - נְּשִׂאִ֣ם. This defective spelling is seen as a rebuke to the rulers of the tribes who waited so long to bring their contributions. Even though their intentions may have been to wait and make sure enough material was contributed to complete the Tabernacle or even is these were the most expensive materials, as rulers/leaders they should have been setting an example for the rest of the people. By extension, this is a lesson for us. We are called to be a light to the nations so we must live in such a way that our lives are examples for others to follow.
Chapters thirty-six through thirty-nine give a description of the items the people made for the Tabernacle, the Dwelling Place of Y’H’V’H. These included:
The curtains for the Dwelling Place, embroidered with cherivim
The curtains for the Tent itself
The boards of acacia wood
The veil that separated the Kadosh Kadoshim from the ha’Kodesh
The Ark of the Witness
The Menorah, Shulchan, the Altar of Incense and all their utensils
The Altar of Sacrifice
The Bronze Basin
The Courtyard and all its curtains that created a fence around the Tabernacle itself. Later, the Temple was enclosed by a fence, a wall, as well. Even the New Yerushalayim will have a wall with twelve gates. Why are walls and gates necessary?
And all the garments for the kohanim.
These wise-hearted men and women of Yisra’el built the first Dwelling Place for Y’H’V’H. Wise hearted is translated from חַכְמַת־לֵ֖ב chac’mat lev and refers to one whose heart accumulates or absorbs knowledge. These wise-hearted men and women guarded the Sabbath and did exactly according to the commands of Y’H’V’H and when they were finished, His presence filled the Tabernacle, dwelt among them and led them into the land of their inheritance. Does this not tell us what we need to do if we expect our Father to one day dwell among us again?
Throughout the chapters describing the materials and the construction of the Tabernacle we hear about the people whose hearts moved them to bring these offerings. One can’t help but wonder what it must have been like to be there in the wilderness after so many years of slavery. What was it like to see the Presence of Y’H’V’H fill theTabernacle and consume the offerings on the Altar?
As I contemplated what it must have been like for the people who had given their best to build the Tabernacle, I was struck by the wording of the Torah. And everyone whose heart lifted him up and everyone whose spirit move him came, and they brought the contribution to Y’H’V’H…35.5,21,29;25.2, Why this exact wording unless there were those among B’nei Yisra’el whose hearts did not move them and they didn’t feel they needed to make a contribution to build the Tabernacle.
It is incredible to think that after seeing all the miracles and wonders Y’H’V’H performed to deliver them from Mitsrayim, bring them to Mount Sinai and give them His Torah that anyone would not eagerly give to build Him a Dwelling Place. And yet, from the wording, it appears there were some among Yisra’el that were willing to sit back and let others give and do the work even though they would benefit from their offerings and sacrifices.
Not long before this about 3,000 people had taken off their golden earrings and given them to Aharon to build a golden calf. Had they had survived, would they have had any gold to give to build the Tabernacle.
Today, through the Messiah’s sacrifice on our behalf, we are living in our Father’s kingdom and yet, how many people willingly and cheerfully give to carry on the work. We live in a time of a famine, not of food, but of the Word. We, as B’nei Yisra’el, are given the task to teaching the Torah to all who will listen, providing a place for the congregation of Yisra’el to assemble for study and worship, to be a light to the gentiles through any means available to us. How many are willing to give to carry on this work of preparing the world for the Messiah’s return and how many are willing to sit back, not contribute, but benefit from the contributions and work of others. As Sh’lomo once said, What has been is what shall be, what has been done is what shall be done, and there is no new matter under the sun.Qoheleth 1.9
There is no doubt in my mind as to who Y’H’V’H was most pleased with among B’nei Yisra’el as they came together to build Him a Dwelling Place. In comparison to some, we are a small congregation, but then again, Yisra’el was the smallest among all the nations. Numbers do not make us who we are, it is our willingness to give, to work and to serve Y’H’V’H and our Messiah in order to accomplish that which He demands of us. Let me encourage you today: give, get involved, be a part of the work. If you will, what awaits you in the Olam Haba will greatly surpass all that you give in this world.
25th Adar 1 5776
5 March 2016