How many sections of the Torah can we continue to read that deal with the subject of the Mishkan, the Tabernacle? How can it be that they continue to describe and ask and go around about how it should be built, what needs to be contributed, and who is in charge of carrying out all the work or directing it?
If we consider the Mishkan as a Beit Knesset, perhaps even so, such thoroughness and insistence would be lawful. Chazal, our Sages of Blessed Memory, consider that this moment of our parashah is almost like a commitment or wedding of the people of Israel with the Kadosh Baruch Hu and the Mishkan (and later the Beit HaMikdash) would be the home where that wedding is manifested. It is the Home that the people build to reside in it together with the divinity... or as the text said last week, so that the divinity resides among them.
This will happen only when the construction is finished. And the construction will happen only when each member of the town makes his contribution. And that is precisely what has been discussed and clarified and reviewed in such a thorough manner.
But our parsha also shows us how it is in our power to make something good or bad out of what we have. Make of what we are good people or not.
The first Pasuk:
וַיַּקְהֵ֣ל מֹשֶׁ֗ה אֶֽת־כׇּל־עֲדַ֛ת בְּנֵ֥י יִשְׂרָאֵ֖ל וַיֹּ֣אמֶר אֲלֵהֶ֑ם אֵ֚לֶּה הַדְּבָרִ֔ים אֲשֶׁר־צִוָּ֥ה יְהֹוָ֖ה לַעֲשֹׂ֥ת אֹתָֽם׃
It expresses us that ambiguity. And Moshe gathered the whole assembly of the People of Israel and said to them: these are the things that the Eternal has ordered to do them.
The Word Vayakhel refers us to Kahal, the congregants or the Community; and it was a word with the same root, Vaikahel, that we read at the time of the summons to build the golden calf. The same action, to build the most serious error of the People of Israel towards the Kadosh Baruch Hu and to build the Home in which they would meet to live together in the realization of the eternal pact between the two.
Then, it will reiterate the construction elements and what each one must contribute, as we said in detail. But he does not begin to instruct them on the subject, but instead reminds them of the importance of Shabbat observance and specifically the prohibition of lighting fires during it.
Why is it relevant to mention Shabbat here? And why, of all the works that are not to be carried out in it, is only the prohibition of lighting fires in our homes specified?
The Mishkan is related to the essence of Shabbat. Based on the work done in the construction of the Tabernacle, our sages established 39 categories of work prohibited on the seventh day, only one of them being the prohibition of lighting fire.
Rashi answers these questions and teaches us that the mention of Shabbat at this time fulfilled the function of warning the people that the Sanctuary does not exceed in importance, nor does it annul Shabbat and its laws. Therefore, such construction must be stopped on this holy day.
Why the fire?
Fire symbolizes at the same time creation and spiritual elevation, as well as destruction and violence. Again the ambiguity. On its positive side, it serves to light, heat, transform the raw into cooked and is essential for the elaboration of metals. Without fire humanity would not have been able to evolve. But this same element can also be used to destroy and wipe out human life.
We can then infer that fire, due to its versatility, represents the paradigm of the transformation of matter. And on the contrary, the essence of Shabbat is precisely rest, abstention from all work. The objective of this sacred day is not to rest in order to be able to undertake the work of our week afresh, but on the contrary to carry from the sanctity of Shabbat to the other days.
There is a similarity between fire and gold, or money, not only in its brilliance but in this same ambiguity.
Our wise men of blessed memory have repeatedly asked themselves why God created gold. Wouldn't we have been better off without the existence of vile metal? Wouldn't we have saved hundreds of wars, deaths and tears?
In a powerful Midrashic passage, Rabbi Shimon ben Lakish asks just that. And he himself replies that gold was created only to serve divine purposes such as beautifying the Temple of Jerusalem (Shemot Rabbah 35).
We well know that gold was one of the main contributions to the mishkan. That same metal that had shaped the calf now gave life to the noblest of ends. That same gold that had provoked one of the greatest angers of God, now delighted Him like never before.
Such is the power of money. As the midrash says: Whoever uses it as a means, and consecrates it to noble ends by investing in education, helping those who have less, and promoting the development of Jewish institutions, rejoices Heaven and rejoices God.
However, the one who uses it as an end in itself and consecrates it only to satisfy his own appetites, provokes anger in Heaven and is POOR even when he has EVERYTHING.
Possibly, the search for gold as an end is one of the greatest expressions of Avodah Zarah (idolatry) in the modern world. And one of the greatest challenges that we face in life is knowing how to decide where we want to consecrate how much or how little we have.
When in Bereshit 28 we are told about the dream of Yaakov Avinu's ladder, our sages tell us that God was actually showing him two of his descendants in the dream: Moshe and Korach.
Why just them? Possibly because they were both men of fortune. But one (Moshe) consecrated her to Heaven, becoming the father of all the Prophets and teacher of all Israel. While the other (Korach) consecrated it to miserable interests, and ended up being swallowed by the abysses.
There are few things in the world that can bring us so close to Heaven and, at the same time, can distance us so much from it: gold is one of them, fire is another, and behind everything are our intentions, the Kavanah with which we undertake one or another task, as in Vayakhel or Vayikahel.
We decide which rung of that ladder we want to be on. If we want to be close to Moshe or close to Korach. If we want to dance next to the calf, or march next to the mishkan.
This Shabbat we are going to raise a request for a blessing for a new month. The month of Adar Bet in which we must rejoice together celebrating the continuity and salvation of our people on Purim.
Our Mishkan is our Beth El Community. And our task, which commits each one of us individually and as a family, is the same task that our ancestors sustained in the desert, when in the middle of nowhere, they sought to meet and reconnect with the spirituality that led us today to continue on the same path and in the same search for ourselves and for our children and our children's children.
And at a time when humanity once again chooses violence and destruction as a weapon of misunderstanding, we must seek to build and sustain the values that can change that course.
May the new month find us prepared to live up to it. That we manage to find ourselves in the sense that we want to give our money, our fire and our actions. May they ALWAYS be to build together. Always do Tikkun Olam. The betterment of the world in the Kingdom of God.