B'nai Mitzvah of the Week
Jake Blechman & caleigh shapiro
March 25, 2017
Parshat Vayak'heil P'kudei 35:1 - 40:38
Moses teaches the rules of Shabbat. (35:1-3)
Moses asks the Israelites for a donation of gifts and those who are skilled help build the Mishkan [Tabernacle] under the direction of Bezalel and Oholiab. (35:4-38:20)
A statistical summary of the materials used for the Tabernacle and an account of producing the priestly vestments are recorded. Moses blesses the Israelites for the work they did. (38:21-39:42)
Upon God's instruction, Moses sets up the Mishkan and the priests are anointed and consecrated. (40:1-33)
A description is given of a cloud that covers the Mishkan by day and a fire that burns by night, indicating God's Presence therein. (40:33-38)
For more information and resources on this portion, click here.
My Drash is on the double portion Vayakhel-Pekude, specifically focusing on the first part, Vayakhel. Moses tells the Israelites to build a “Tabernacle”. Essentially, this was a portable sanctuary organized around an important, ornate box, which contained the Ten Commandments. In this portion, Moses assigns a young boy named Bezalel as the head of building this “Tabernacle”.
According to some rabbinic interpretations, Bezalel isn’t just young, he is actually only thirteen years old. This caught my attention. It seems like a relatively young age to be treated with so much responsibility. I was drawn to this interpretation, because since what feels like forever ago, I have refused to be treated like a young child. I have always dreaded the kid's menu and more recently, what felt like a silent victory, I can now legally sit in the front seat of the car.
But Bezalel wasn’t just treated like he was older, he was given actual responsibility. I felt a responsibility during my Mitzvah project, the Midnight Run. My Mom, around 12 people, and I drove around New York City, stopping, bringing clothes and food to homeless people from around nine pm to one am, arriving at home closer to 2am. I learned a lot about how people saw me as a kid versus as an adult. For example, before we even left for the city, I had forgotten gloves and a hat, which was childish and made me feel immature. But, when I was helping the homeless, I was making civilized conversation and the people were shaking my hand and formally thanking me just as they did the adults. What made me really understand the Israelite people’s doubts in Bezalel was how the people out on the streets were surprised to see me and respectful that I, instead of staying home and playing video games, I went out and did good deeds. I felt my Mitzvah project was very fitting for my drash and my portion altogether. I felt like, even at thirteen years old, I could take on real responsibility to help my community.
Given all this, I’m interested: why did G-d pick Bezalel, a young man, possibly thirteen, my age, for such a big project? Some commentaries that really spoke to me were the ones from Rashi, and a more modern thinker, Sharon Halper.
Rashi says it was Bezalel’s wisdom that got him the job. He specifically explains, “Chochmah - wisdom, that is, what a person hears and learns from others; TeVunah - understanding, that is, what a person comes to discover on their own; Da’at - knowledge, for the Shechinah rests upon him, bringing ‘Holy Spirit’’. I think that Rashi was trying to say that wisdom, understanding, and knowledge are the things that decide who a person is. Wisdom, understanding and knowledge. I agree with Rashi partly, because I also believe that who you are isn’t about looks, or where you live- or even your age. It is about knowing and understanding your place in the world around you. If I had not known and understood about the needs of homeless people in New York, I could never have tried to help them.
The second commentary I found was part of a Drash by a more modern thinker, an interpreter named Sharon Halper. She tries to offer a different picture of your typical young kid. “Bezalel- not the gangly, rebellious, he’s still too short, loud-mouthed adolescent. Rather, Bezalel - the talented innocent who can still wonder at the world and feel that his presence can make a significant contribution.” In Sharon Halper’s commentary, she is trying to explain that even though Bezalel was young, he was still a good choice because he is very smart and inquiring. I agree with the message she is trying to put forward, because I, for a very long time, have felt like I wanted to be this kind of person. This interpretation made me think that Vayakhel is really about learning who you are and that the more questions you ask, the more you learn and know. And the more you learn and know, the more responsibility you can take on to help those around you.
What I learned through studying this portion was that your age doesn't matter, it’s how you approach the world. At a basic level, it’s how you act. If I walked into a restaurant and shook hands with the waiter, I would probably get an adult menu. But, if I came in slouched over and laughing loudly, I would probably get a kid’s menu. On a deeper level, it’s what you know and what you understand. By asking questions about the world, I better appreciate how I can impact it. I saw this in my work with the homeless. And I now think about it when I read the news or learn something at school. As a Bar Mitzvah, I can live this portion by asking questions about things I am wondering about, and impact my community as Bezalel did.
My Torah portion is Vayakhel-Pekude which is the last portion in the book of Exodus. Vayakhel-Pekude includes moses repeating to the Israelites the instructions for building the mishkan the tabernacle and the physical building of the tabernacle. The Tabernacle was a portable tent used as a sanctuary. It was made using materials donated by the Israelites. “Let the Israelites contribute whatever their hearts move them to give,” Moses tells the people. The materials include things of great value such as gold, copper, silver, and animal skins. Moses assigns Bezalel, a young but skilled craftsman, to oversee the construction of the sanctuary. As the Israelites gave their Terumah (gifts from the heart) the Tabernacle came to be.
My Koshi is: Why did Moses command everyone to give something of value in order to build the Tabernacle? Did Moses think that it was important for everyone to give? Or did he just not want to do it himself?
Rabbi Arnold Saltzman explains “In the commandment to bring gifts we see how the act of donating, building an ark, a sanctuary was the way to “let God in”. This means that the commandment telling people to bring gifts for the tabernacle was a way to let God know you care not only for god, but also for your community. For the most part I agree with Rabbi Saltzman because giving donations of items, or your time is tzedakah and giving tzedakah is showing that you care about others, which is letting God in on your life while forming a relationship with God. On the other hand, they might just feel obligated to give because Moses basically nicely ordered them to give something.
Rabbi Jonathan Sacks teaches “It is then that God said: Let them build something together. This simple command transformed the Israelites. During the whole construction of the Tabernacle there were no complaints. The people contributed, some gold, some silver, others gave their time and skill. They gave so much Moses had to order them to stop. A remarkable proposition is being framed: It is not what God does for us that transforms us. It is what we do for God.” I agree with Rabbi Sacks. God guides us, but ultimately we make our own decisions and it’s our decisions and it’s our own choices that make us stronger.
My Torah portion has taught me to always give when I am in a place to give. We are very lucky to live in a town where people are more than happy to donate to our community, but what if we weren’t so lucky? What if we lived in a community where no one was willing to give? Would they even have a community? The participation of everyone is mandatory to build a community. So if Moses didn’t get the donations he needed, would there have been a tabernacle? Moses told the Israelites to donate. Should they have needed to be asked or should they have been willing to give in the first place? Does a community exist if people have to ask you for gifts of the heart or should people do them from their own volition? Jews are a very small percentage of the world but have survived for thousands of years because of our strong community. We have kept our community as one of the most charitable groups for so long and will continue to because we are commanded to do so from God as part of the three acts that forgive of our sins on Yom Kippur. God states that to be forgiven of your sins, you are to give tzedakah. When you give, it doesn’t just benefit the person you gave to, it benefits you. So if everyone gives, the community benefits.
Caleigh's Mitzvah Project
For my Mitzvah Project, I participated and will continue to participate in Habitat for Humanity. Habitat for Humanity is an organization that gets together and builds houses for those who can’t afford one. A community came together to donate and to build the tabernacle the same way a community is coming together to support and build house for people who are less fortunate than we are.