Weekly Torah Commentary – Vayakhel February 25, 2011

Didn’t we just read the Torah’s account of the construction of the Tabernacle in the past couple of weeks? Yet, here it is again in this week’s Torah portion. Even our great commentator, Rashi, refers us to his previous expositions on the building of the Tabernacle (see Rashi 35:5) and writes very little with reference to Vayakhel.

Yet, we are aware that the Torah does not waste space with even one extra letter, let alone entire sections. Why then, the repetition?

Could it be that the name of this week’s Torah portion, “Vayakhel” gives us a clue to answer this question?

In general, we do ascribe significance to the names of the Torah portions. It is not simply a pragmatic device to create a name from one of the first few words of the portion. Even if the custom did develop in such a fashion, the very fact that the Jewish People collectively accepted these names for the weekly Torah portions does have significance.

What then does the name “Vayakhel” – “And he (Moshe) congregated” – signify?

Let’s take a look at a passage of Talmud:

From where do we draw the understanding that the Divine Presence is with a group of ten (a minyan) praying? Because the verse in Psalms 82, says, “God stands with His assembly.” From where do we conclude that God is with two people when they study Torah together? Because the verse in Malachi 3 states, “Then the God-fearing men spoke, each one to his friend, and God listened.” And from where do we know that even when one person studies Torah, God is with him? Because the verse in Exodus 20, says, “In every place that My Name is mentioned, I will come to you and bless you.”

Now since we know that God’s Presence is with even one person, why do we need to look for other verses to conclude that God is with two or ten people? The answer is that God writes a group of two in His Book of Remembrances, while an individual’s study is not written there. With a group of ten, God actually comes to them before they start praying. (Babylonian Talmud, Brachot 6a)

Is there something about this quote from the Talmud that raises an eyebrow? How can we suggest that God only writes down the Torah study of a group of two? Don’t we pray on Rosh Hashana for God to inscribe us in His Book of Life, whether or not we are with a group? Besides, we read in Pirkei Avot (Ethics of the Fathers) that “All of our actions are recorded in His book?”

The answer is that the Talmud passage quoted above agrees that all of our actions are written down in God’s book. But when we study with a partner, the action is recorded in its own separate book.

The explanation is that when a group does a Mitzvah together, it is quite a different spiritual reality than if an individual performs a holy deed by himself.  We are well acquainted with the concept of the power of unity in prayer, for example.  It is not a matter simply of quantity. Rather, that action is qualitatively different in the eyes of God when it is undertaken by a group of people unanimously committed to the same outcome. Therefore, it warrants being recorded in a separate heavenly book.

We have all probably heard before that the word “team” stands for “Together Everyone Accomplishes More.” Teamwork or working as a community yields a level of success in ways that are beyond the ability of individuals to produce.  Team sports as well as group projects prove this principle consistently.

So too, in the spiritual realm. The quality of the Mitzvah will be far richer when performed by a group and God credits the Mitzvah as such in Heaven. Therefore we also read in Pirkei Avot (4:14), “A group gathering for the sake of heaven is so powerful that it is guaranteed to have lasting effects.”

So why does Torah repeat the details of the construction of the Tabernacle? To reinforce the reality of the power of community.

Shemot, the Book of Exodus, is all about the creation of the Jewish People as a Community. It is in Exodus where we come together as a Nation, found in slavery, and delivered into freedom for a Divine Purpose. It is in Shemot that we accept the Torah at Sinai and receive our national mission to be a “light to the world.” Is it not appropriate then to approach the close of the book of Exodus with the glowing national achievement of bringing God’s Presence into the world through the Tabernacle?  Though the details of constructing the Tabernacle were covered in earlier Torah portions, now that it is completed, God wants to stress to His people that no one individual could have created this sanctuary, but as a unified community, as a nation in whom everyone contributed their portion, we have built the Mishkan.

Israel is more than the sum of its individual members.  The nation as a whole is a divine creation of God Himself for a purpose that affects the entire world.

This is why the Parsha is called “Vayakhel,” — “And he (Moshe) congregated.” The key to the entire portion is to understand the importance of a congregation and its spiritually powerful actions. The Jewish People fulfilled their mission in bringing God into the world through the Tabernacle and they did it as a community, not as millions of individuals. They understood the unique reality to a group’s actions, especially an entire nation’s, and they appreciated every detail of their building the Tabernacle.  So God writes every detail of the construction of the Tabernacle “again” because He wants us to appreciate it as well.

In Tune with Torah this week = may our reading of Parshat VaYakhel impress anew upon our souls the beautiful power of community and teamwork in all aspects of our lives.

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