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Parashat Vayek'hel-Pekudei, or, Love in the Time of Corona

03/20/2020 06:15:25 PM



Shabbat Shalom. This week’s Torah portion is Parashat Vayikehel-Pekudei, in which we see more of the descriptions and directions of the Mishkan unfold. Betzalel and Ohaliav, master architect and artisan, are appointed to oversee the building and decorating of this holy space. The double parasha ends back on talking some more about the priests’ garments and roles within the Mishkan.

Although there is a lot of attention paid to the physical trappings of the Mishkan in this week’s parasha, it is still important to note that the physical space isn’t everything. It is also about the holiness created when everyone gathered together (vayikehel means “and [Moses] gathered”), and gave gifts of their hearts to contribute to this sacred space. And that holiness, that sacred space, goes where the people go. As they travel the wilderness for the next 40 years, they pick up the whole Mishkan and carry it with them on their journeys, and the whole community stays together as well. Even at the end of their sojourning when some tribes want to stay East of the Jordan, they still enter into the Holy land with their kin to see it settled according to God’s will, and then return to their chosen homes.

One of my rabbinical teachers, Rabbi Len Levin wrote to our alumni list serve earlier this week, “The Tabernacle narrative that we are reading about in the Torah teaches that this sacred spot can be portable. As we wander, we pack up and move the Tabernacle with us and erect it anew at each new place where we sojourn. Every Jewish community serves this function. So does the ritual of prayer and weekly Shabbat (whether in a fixed physical location or virtual space) serve as a portable sanctuary, defining the center of our spiritual orientation, no matter what changes may be occurring in the rest of our lives. We return to them to be centered, to establish anew the foundations of our interpersonal world that help us cope with the chaos around us.”

Our usual kahal that meets at Ner Shalom every week may be now spread out across Northern Virginia, but we are still here on this livestream tonight to build a sacred space together, to turn each of our homes into a vessel for the Holy One to dwell among us. And throughout the coming week, I hope we will have many more opportunities to build on this sacred connection with one another, in Zoom classrooms, over Facebook and YouTube livestreams, via phone calls and emails, and by continuing to hold our faith in our hearts.

Martin Buber taught, “The divine … attains its earthly fullness only where … individual beings open themselves to one another, disclose themselves to one another, help one another; … and man breaks free to meet other man. Where this takes place, where the eternal rises in the Between, the seemingly empty space: that true place of realization is community, and true community is that relationship in which the Divine comes to its realization between man and man...Judaism therefore is not concerned with a God who lives in the far beyond, for its God is content to reside in the realm between one earthly being and the other, as if [each of us] were cherubim on the Holy Ark [as described in this week’s parasha].”

Although we must be safe with our physical distances this week, avoiding non-essential face-to-face interaction, we don’t really need to be practicing “social” distancing or total isolation. We have all this remarkable technology available to us, to continue to build our sacred spaces and relationships with one another, to live our Judaism out through meaningful conversation and I-Thou moments with each other, through livestreamed prayer and joyful webinars, and all number of wonderful opportunities to connect. Please don’t shut your soul in, even as you please protect your bodies. May you find social connection from safe distances, fulfillment from your sealed homes, and peace away from your schools and offices. Amen and Shabbat Shalom.

Sat, August 8 2020 18 Av 5780