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Dan Has Questions About Wisdom, Generosity, Accomplishment, And The Journey Ahead: Parashiot Vayakhel-Pekudei

03/16/2023 09:04:57 AM


Dan Leemon

This week, we read a double portion and conclude the second book of the Torah, Shemot (Exodus).  The first Parshah is called Vayakhel, which means “and he assembled”.  Moshe assembles all the people, after coming down from Mount Sinai with the second set of stone tablets, and repeats the instructions for completing the Mishkan (the portable synagogue).  The second Parshah is called Pekudei, which means “the accounting”, as Moshe counts all of the donations and materials that went into building the Mishkan. 


As Vayakhel tells how everyone contributed to the building of the Mishkan, we are told that all the contributors were wise and generous of heart (in Hebrew, “n’div lev”).  What a lovely way to think about people who contribute — wise and generous.  The Torah also says that contributing to the Mishkan uplifted people’s hearts.  
- What do you think wisdom has to do with contributing or helping with the Mishkan?  When you want to make a contribution to anything — an organization, a project, your family — how does it help to be wise?
- What does “generous of heart” mean to you?  What different ways can you think of to be generous, beside contributing tzedakah (charity)?

- Interestingly, the Hebrew word “tzedakah”, which we usually translate as “charity”, comes from the same root at “tzedek”, which means righteousness.  How are charity, generosity, and righteousness related? 

- How does contributing “lift you up” and lift others up?


 The workers building the Mishkan have a complaint to share with Moshe:  The people are bringing too many materials, more than is needed.  Remember these are the same people who have wondered if God would really protect them, worried that Moshe would never return from Mount Sinai, and asked Aaron to build the golden calf.

- What do you think caused this turnaround?  Why are they suddenly so generous?


Vayakhel concludes with a reminder of what we read about last week — that Moshe counted all the people by obtaining half a shekel from each one.  The Torah says that the half-shekel contribution ensures that everyone is counted.  It says that by being counted, the people atone (make amends) for themselves and their past mistakes.  Pekudei discusses more counting — the counting (or accounting, to be more precise) of everything that went into building the Mishkan.  One interpretation of this counting is that Moshe was accused of keeping some of the donations, so he made sure there was a public accounting of everything that was received and where it all went, to make sure no one thought he was stealing from the donations.  

- What kinds of things do you count or keep track of?  Why?

- If you yourself are counted, what does being counted mean to you?  Can you make up for past mistakes by being counted (or counted on) for certain things?  What do you like to be counted as, or counted for?


The Mishkan is complete, and the people bring it to Moshe to show him how beautiful it is, and how they have followed every instruction.  Moshe sees that everything was done properly, and blesses the people.  The description of the Mishkan is breathtaking in its detail — gold, silver, copper, beautiful woven fabrics, sweet-smelling oils, lovely clothing for the priests including bells and precious stones.  Moshe sets it up, and puts the finishing touches on it, getting it ready for use. Imagine how satisfied the people felt to create something so beautiful that belonged to them and not their slave-masters.

- How do you feel when you finish an accomplishment?

- What’s the most beautiful thing you have ever seen?  


And so we conclude the book of Shemot.  What a journey it was for our ancestors — from slavery to freedom, from being abandoned by God to being remembered and blessed by God, from having nothing to having the Torah and the promised land, from not knowing what to trust or believe it to joining together to build the Mishkan and accept the Torah

- What is the biggest change in your life over the past year?

- What do you hope will be the biggest change over the next year?


When we finish reading a book of the Torah, we say “Khazak, khazak, v’nitkhazek”, from the Hebrew word for “strength”.  This phrase can be translated as “be strong, be strong, and be strengthened”, encouraging us to make our best effort both now and in the future.  Just as our ancestors looked ahead to much they still needed to learn, to a journey ahead and country to call their own, so we look forward — with hearts of hope, wisdom, and generosity —  to what changes the coming months and year will bring for us.


Shabbat shalom,


Wed, March 22 2023 29 Adar 5783