Exodus 35 – 40
Thus far we have seen Moses lead the children of Israel out of slavery and into the beginning of the road to freedom. The hallmark experience at Sinai is followed by Moses’ prolonged stay on the mountain top which then led to the incident of the Golden Calf. Moses pleads for forgiveness and God grants it by giving the second set of tablets. Forgiveness paves the way for a new beginning for the former slaves.
The Torah portion this week opens with these words:
Moses assembled the whole Israelite community and said to them: “These are the things God has commanded you to do.” (35:1)
It is essential to grasp the meaning of the verb vayakhel ,which gives the portion its name. At its simplest level it conveys the concept of restoration, of a ‘making good’ again the relationship with God. The sin of the Golden Calf was committed in a community setting, so now the commandment to build the Tabernacle is also a community project. The building process is, as it were, the ‘atonement’ for their previous sin. Having sought to create a substitute for the presence of God in their midst, they must now actually build a tabernacle for His presence.
In classical Hebrew there are three different words for community: edah, tsibbur and kehillah, and each one has its particular significance.
Edah comes from the word eid, meaning a “witness” and denotes a group of people with a strong sense of collective identity. The Jewish people became an edah – a community of shared faith – only on receiving the first command:
“Tell the whole community of Israel that on the tenth day of this month each man is to take a lamb for his family, one for each household” (Shemot 12:3).
By contrast the word tsibbur comes from the root tz-b-r meaning “to heap” or “pile up”. To understand the concept of tsibbur, think of a group of people praying at the Western Wall. They may not know each other personally and may never meet again. But for the moment, they happen to be ten people in the same place at the same time for the purpose of prayer. A tsibbur, therefore, is a group merely formed by numbers but without the sense of identity.
A kehillah (congregation) is different from the other two kinds of community. Its members are different from one another, but have been brought together for a national purpose. The danger of a kehillah is that it can become a mass protest just as easily as it can join a project simply because it intrigues them. When Moses descended the mountain, the people were ‘running wild.’
The beauty of a kehillah, as different from a tsibbur or an edah is demonstrated when the varied and unique individuals gather and share their personal contributions for the common purpose at hand. Each person will be able to say, “I helped to make this.”
And that is precisely why Moses emphasizes that each person has something to give toward the building of the Tabernacle. Moses was able to turn the diverse kehillah into an edah with singleness of purpose.
Then the whole Israelite community withdrew from Moses’ presence, and everyone who was willing and whose heart moved him came and brought an offering to God for the work on the Tent of Meeting, for all its service, and for the sacred garments. All who were willing – men and women – came and brought gold jewellery of all kinds: brooches, ear-rings, rings and ornaments … Everyone who had blue, purple or scarlet yarn … Those presenting an offering of silver or bronze … Every skilled woman spun with her hands and brought what she had spun … The leaders brought onyx stones and other gems … All the Israelite men and women who were willing brought to God freewill offerings for all the work God, through Moses, had commanded them to do. (35:20-29)
The communal achievement in which each one donated something different gave the Tabernacle a certain greatness. Because each contribution was valued, each donor felt valued and appreciated. That Moses was able to create this new and genuine kehillah was one of his greatest achievements.
In Tune with Torah this week = Atonement and restoration in the context of a community lays on the shoulders of the leader the responsibility to involve all the parties in a balanced and personally validating manner. This is no small task and reminds each of us to recognize and embrace what our particular gifts and talents are and how to use those in the service of God’s people.