How Awesome is this Place!

How Awesome is This Place!


This week’s parashat being Vayeitzei, we started by chanting the words Jacob spoke in awe upon awakening from his dream of the ladder: “Surely, YHVH is in this place . . . How awesome is this place!” Acknowledging what it feels like to be in “The Place” (HaMakom), we picked up our study of the building of the Tabernacle.

Exodus 35:22-29 The men and women . . . the leaders . . . all of willing heart brought for the work that HaShem had commanded through Moses . . .

They brought fabric of turquoise, purple, and scarlet, linen, gold, silver, copper, stones – at least those of willing hearts brought the materials needed to build the Mishkan. But what of those who didn’t feel inspired in their hearts? A drash, conceived in the moment:

The people withdrew from Moses. Then those who were willing came forward with gifts of materials for the sanctuary and used their skills for preparing and creating materials.

Not all came forward, only the willing. Were those who did not come forward excluded from the community? There is silence on this question. Certainly one might expect that such a drastic resolution would have been mentioned were this the case. So we may assume that failure to contribute did not result in exclusion or excommunication.

However, as has been commented, that which is freely given returns to the giver more than that which is given upon command or mandate. So, the fullest benefit of membership in the community goes to those who willingly step forward. As some have pointed out, some members of PV community are more actively involved than others. This does not exclude those who only show up sporadically from the community, but it does provide greater return to those who do.

But then, there is a point at which enough – indeed, more than enough – has been given for the work to be done. Is this perhaps the source of Hillel’s first question? Yes, give. But we are not asked to give without limits. We are not commanded to give everything. Giving makes us not just for ourselves, but we must also be for ourselves, and recognize that neither service to the community nor service to the One – if there is a difference – does not require giving everything. We must also take care of our own selves, and recognize when enough giving is enough.

Are there times when we give so much – in a manner that we think we are doing willingly – that we begin to resent how much we have given? Is this because we do not remember that there is actually a limit on how much we are really asked to give? How do we find the balance between giving ourselves to the community and preserving and protecting ourselves? If not now, when?

Exodus 35:30 Moses said: See, Hashem has called by name, Bezalel . . .

Bezalel and Oholiab are named as the master craftsman to build the Tabernacle. God called Bezalel by name. Did He call him, as He had called Noah and Abraham and Moses before him, and had Bezalel answered “Hineni” ? Bezalel’s resume for the position: he had the Spirit of Elohim, Wisdom, Understanding, Knowledge – in essence we are being told he had full connection and balance of the upper Sefirot of the Tree, with a direct connection to the Infinite Power source. He was from a good family – his grandfather Hur had held up the arms of Moses in the battle with Amalek (Exodus 17:10). Two other key qualifications of Bezalel and Oholiab: they were both of wise heart, chocam lev, a requirement for leadership in the community, and they were both excellent teachers. These are leadership skills that are critical in community: to be wise from a place of heart-connection with Spirit, implied by the word Chochma, and to be willing to share that wisdom by mentoring those who will work under you – ie. Teach. Do our current political leaders, or wannabe leaders, show either of these qualities? These 2 leaders were craftsmen of every art and craft who could direct others to accomplish the goal: build the Tabernacle. It would seem that a project so-directed has within it an inherent capacity for building community.

Exodus 36:: “the people are bringing more than enough . . .”

The wise people performing the work determined that they had more of the materials needed for the work than necessary. Thus Moses set limits, telling men and women to bring no more gifts. There are limits, even when acting of willing heart, to what can and should be given. To maintain community and reach common goals, even the loving kindness of willful hearts wanting to give must be tempered with what is truly needed to meet the goals of the enterprise. This is further illustrated by the method of building the Menorah. This was hammered out of a single block of gold, which required the limit-setting of an expert goldsmith to know just where to hammer, just where to shift the metal, how to limit it in one direction or another, gradually molding a blob of gold into a 7-branched lamp representing the structure of the universe. How leaders apply limits, how they are received and responded to by the individuals to whom they are applied, are critical elements of community building. It is perhaps part of human nature to bridle at any limits, feeling them a personal obstruction to freedom and desire. And clearly, overexpression of limits can result in oppression and suppression, and subsequent resentment if not rebellion. Yet limits applied with wise heart are critical to maintain the wholeness of the community. This is the principle of Hesed balanced by Gevurah to synergize in the harmony and beauty of Tiferet. The struggle to reach this balance is manifested most clearly in our work by considering the question of what is, and what is not, in service to the Passover Village.

Next gathering: Saturday, January 7

· Location: To be determined

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