Vayakel-Pekudei: Building With Words

Copyright 2011 Neal Joseph Loevinger

Torah Portion: Vayakel/Pekudei

Speaking of interesting, this week’s double Torah portion, Vayakel-Pekudei, tells us about
the actual building and assembly of the Mishkan, or portable Sanctuary, and gives an
accounting of all the materials used. Previously, Moshe had received all the detailed
instructions for the Mishkan, but now he gathers the entire people to do the work of putting it

“Moshe then convoked the whole Israelite community and said to them: ‘These are
the things that the Lord has commanded you to do . . . . .’ ” (what follows is a few
verses about Shabbat, but after that, it’s all Mishkan, all the time.) (Shmot/Exodus 35:1)

The first word of our parsha, “vayekhel,” is related to the word “kehillah,”
which is often translated as “community,” as in a common idiom for synagogue, “kehillah
kedosha,” or “holy community.” It’s not an easy word to translate directly, but our friend
Rashi gives us an insight when he says that “vayekhel” is a causative form of the verb,
meaning, Moshe “caused the people to be gathered.” Rashi goes on to point out the difference
between assembling a bunch of boards and sockets- we just do it with our hands and
hammers, as a direct action- and causing a group of people to come together, which is done
through words. Thus, when our JPS translation says that Moshe “convoked” the people, it
means that he called out to them so that they would come together for the purpose of
doing the collective work of building the Mishkan.

To put it another way, to physically assemble the Mishkan required the action of
hands, but to make a true community out of the people required persuasion and the
articulation of both vision and values. A kehillah, a community, cannot be put together by
force, but is something chosen freely by people who have been inspired to come together for a
common purpose. The purpose of the kehillah that Moshe “assembled” was to build
the Mishkan, which represented the Divine Presence dwelling among the people. The
purpose of any contemporary kehillah is fundamentally the same, to create a spiritual
center for a purposeful community, which in turn requires no less persuasion than that which
Moshe offered to our ancestors, and which will in turn yield results that are equally
crucial to the vitality of our people and the healing of the world.

Shabbat Shalom,


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