Parshat Vayakhel

Torah Reading for Week of February 20 – February 26, 2011

“G-d’s Journal is Written on Our Hearts”

By Rabbi Toba August, AJRCA Professor of Rabbinics

After the transgression of the Golden Calf, Vayakhel– Moses assembles Kol Adat” –the entire community of B’nai Israel to remind them to observe the fourth commandment – observing Shabbat. Only following this reminder does Moses proceed to command the Israelites to bring “Terumah” the gifts needed to build the Mishkan – the physical manifestation of G-d’s dwelling in our midst.

Why the primacy of the holiness of time over the holiness of space? Why is Shabbat mentioned first and building the Mishkan/Tabernacle second? And what is the connection between Shabbat and the Tabernacle?

That answer is found in knowing that even after all Temples are destroyed, Shabbat remains!

Inherent in the act of creation itself, is “Kedushat HaZeman” – the assertion that not through physical buildings or material processions, but through sanctifying time itself, can we be true servants of the Holy One. Being still, opening ourselves to the joy and gratitude of our lives, and celebrating this awareness regularly on Shabbat, reflects our Godly relationship.

This connection was threatened because of the Golden Calf, but now, after being forgiven, Moses must remind us that our intimate tie to G-d is most important, even more significant than building a Mishkan!

G-d wants our hearts, not a piece of real estate.

Moses tells the people to pause first, gather together and reflect on healing the “broken pieces” of the shattered relationship with the Almighty. Shabbat is a time for cleansing and mending our hearts. And then it is once again time to work. After telling the Israelites to observe Shabbat, the text continues saying:  “And Moshe spoke to the entire community saying…take from among you a Terumah – an offering to G-d: whoever is of willing heart, …gold and silver and brass…”.

We notice the first request is of gold. This is not random; rather it is a tikkun, a corrective for the gold used for the calf! An offering to G-d with an open willing heart, is a way of doing Teshuvah and transforming a golden calf into a Mishkan.

Reb Mimi Feigelson teaches that the Mishkan is G-d’s residence because it is crafted from our ability to transform our hearts. It is the physical expression of the internal work that the Israelites did as individuals and as a collective.

The building of the Tabernacle was the healing process. She quotes the Ishbitzer Rebbe who said that our heart is G-d’s journal. When G-d sees us walking with a “gracious willing heart” in our interactions with each other, G-d documents it on our heart. Our hands, the Ishbitzer claimed, are the extension of our heart. Our deeds manifest to the world the image of our heart.

Our true liberation is in those moments that we decide to give “gold and silver and brass…” This is our true freedom; the ability to choose whether we will serve ourselves or serve G-d. It is in this discernment that we are free.  Feigelson continues saying that, “G-d therefore resides in the place that we are truly free- in the crevices of our heart, within the walls of our Mishkan.”

Lastly, Reb Mimi relates a tradition among the Tzanzer Chassidim to place gold and silver and jewelry on the Seder table. It was a way of manifesting their freedom – the ability to share ones riches. Based on this tradition, she says that she asks people at her Seder to share the ‘riches’ they bring to the table.

May we all use Shabbat as a time to acknowledge the ‘riches’ that we have and to know that ‘all that glitters is NOT gold’. May we find our willing and open heart spaces so that we may be a Mishkan, a home for the Divine, in our actions, our hearts and our souls.  Shabbat Shalom

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