This week we come to the end of the second book of Torah, the book of Shemot, with the double sedra of Vayakhel and Pekudei. We are immediately told that Moses assembled (vayakhel) the people. The purpose of Moses’ particular gathering was not the instruction of the compulsory tax but the voluntary donation.
Even though the donation is voluntary it is still a commandment of God. The whole idea of giving for the common good is built into the Jewish psyche; it is our way of being. Listed are the beautiful artefacts needed for the construction of the Mishkan, the central focus of such gathering. Even now, as shuls are built or maintained, this continues among our people.
The language of giving here is beautiful. Contributions were made willingly and with generosity. Kol n’div libo – ‘everyone who has a willing heart’ (Ex 35:5), Kol ish asher n’sa’o libo – ‘everyone who was stirred up by his heart’ and Kol asher n’davah rucho – ‘everyone whose spirit was made willing’ (Ex 35:21), Kol n’div lev ‘everyone of a willing heart’ (Ex 35:22) – and so it goes on.
Furthermore, once the donations of the precious commodities had been collected, it was up to people who were wisehearted (kol chacham lev bahem), v’chol isha chachmat lev – ‘all the women who were wise of heart’ (Ex.35:25) and chol hanashim asher nasa liban otanah b’chochmah ‘all the women whose heart stirred them up in wisdom'(Ex 35:26). This is not the language of hard-headedness.
Once the contributions had been gathered, we have the story of Bezalel ben Uri ben Hur of the tribe of Judah, a master craftsman and artist par excellence. The great Art School of Jerusalem is named after him. He is skilled, yes, but far more than that, God filled him with ‘the spirit of God’ – ruach Elohim – in chochma (wisdom), t’vunah (understanding) as well as knowledge in the work he was to do. And God put it in his heart (natan b’libo) that he may teach others who are also inspired with the same passion.
This text inspires us. The community (kahal) needs willingness of heart and the passion, wisdom and skills to contribute in every way we can. We can all bring what we are able to do in terms of beautiful as well as functional things, as well as money of course, and some of us can teach others how to enhance the mitzvah through our skills. This doesn’t apply only to physical artefacts. It applies to anything that brings love, joy and purpose to each other and the world and healing to our troubled souls for the common good. Driving the passion to do this is love, the love and yearning that moves us beyond ourselves; the love of kahal; the love of God.
Chazak, chazak, v’nitchazek – be strong, be strong – and we will all be strengthened!
Jaclyn Chernett is a founder member of, and Chazan at Kol Nefesh Masorti Synagogue, founder and director of the European Academy for Jewish Liturgy and Vice President of Masorti Judaism