Weekly Torah Commentary — Vayakhel – Pekudei March 16, 2012

While this Shabbat we read two portions of the Torah, Vayakhel and Pekudei, our meditation here will focus on the first one Vayakhel. This is a very special Torah portion with regard to women for this reading emphasizes the vital role played by the women in the building of the Tabernacle.

Let us remember that the Tabernacle was commanded for two reasons which really are one reason with two aspects. Hashem gave the instructions for it after the sin of the Golden Calf and its construction was – in part – atonement for that tragic sin.

Equally important was its second purpose — to be a visible reminder in the midst of the camp of Israel of Hashem’s calling on every Jew as an individual and the Jewish nation as a whole. What was that calling? To live in such a way as to become living Tabernacles of His presence in this world.

Judaism holds the role of the Jewish woman in very high esteem. It is she who makes the home Jewish for she is the one who makes sure the food is kosher, that the Shabbat candles are lit at the proper time, that the family members have clean clothes and are ready to usher in the Seventh Day in a suitable frame of mind. She is the one who primarily influences the children from their earliest days by her example and by her words in what it means to be a Jew.

And here in this parsha, her position is uniquely highlighted.

At the time of the Golden Calf, the women refused to participate. It was the men who spearheaded that debacle. However, at hearing the instructions regarding the Mishkan, the women eagerly went forward to give their jewelry and whatever else they could as joyful offerings for the construction of the Tabernacle. And we read that the men “went with them”, indicating that the women took the initiative and urged their husbands along with them. It is based on their response to these two critical events in Jewish history that the Sages derive the understanding that women have a keener sense of judgment than men regarding what is true worship and what is false. Chief Rabbi Lord Jonathan Sacks of Great Britain says that there is no doubt that but for the Jewish women through the ages, Judaism would not have survived.

Among the vessels made for use in the Tabernacle was a Laver and according to the text in chapter 38:8, the Laver was fashioned “from the mirrors of the legions (ha tzove’ot) who congregated at the entrance of the Tent of Meeting.” What does this mean?

It is recorded in the Midrash that at first Moshe was reluctant to accept the copper mirrors from the women as he saw them as tools of vanity. However, Hashem rebuked him and said that the mirrors were precious to Him and must be used in the formation of the Laver. Why?

We need to understand that the Egyptians not only enslaved the Hebrews but also wanted to utterly destroy them. They first tried to do so by condemning all the male babies to the bottom of the Nile and were it not for the righteous midwives who refused to do as Pharaoh asked, there would have been no baby boys among the children of Israel.

When this scheme failed, Pharaoh then wanted to interfere and disrupt family life as much as possible to prevent more births. The slaves were made to work hard and long hours and after a time, were required to even sleep at the place of their work. The harsh labor was designed to cripple any sexual desire and sleeping where they worked destroyed family privacy; thus did Pharaoh hope to prevent the Hebrews from having any more children.

The women realized what was happening and used their mirrors to help make themselves more attractive to their husbands, even in the midst of the difficult conditions, so that desire was aroused, children were conceived and a new generation of Jewish children ensured Jewish survival. These multitudes of children of the next generation are the ‘legions who assembled [with their mothers] at the door of the Tent of Meeting’ referred to in 38:8 above. Hashem was pleased with the faith, the courage and the ingenuity of the women and with the abundance of children and in tribute to them
commanded Moshe to accept their copper mirrors and use them for an important vessel in the Mishkan.

From this circumstance we also learn something very important about Judaism’s concept of LOVE.

Each day, devout Jews recite the Shema, which translated reads, “Hear, O Israel, the L-rd is our G-d, the L-rd is One. And you shall love the L-rd your G-d with all your heart and with all your soul and with all your resources.”

This is not a platonic declaration, nor is it intellectual or philosophical. This is the language of passion and it is with a passionate love that we are to love the Holy One of Israel.

The great Sage, Maimonides, writes in his Laws of Repentance:
“What is the proper way of loving G-d? A person’s love for G-d should be so powerful that his soul is bound up in his love for G-d. He is consumed with love, he is lovesick, like a man who is lovesick for a women and his thoughts dwell constantly on her. In the same way, a G-d fearing person must be obsessed with love for G-d.”

Shir HaShirim (Song of Songs) portrays a burning, passionate love for G-d and Rabbi Akiva used to call it the “Holy of Holies” of religious poetry.

True living Judaism has no place for dry, sterile and perfunctory service to Hashem. True living Judaism is a passionate love affair with the Holy One of Israel. May this be our experience and may this be our lifestyle. May it be said of us that everything we do, every mitzvah we perform is a visible demonstration of a person in love.

In Tune with Torah this week = re-visiting our own understanding of loving G-d and meditating on the words of the Shema, asking Hashem to kindle a fresh passion within us for His Holy Presence.

Shabbat Shalom

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