Friday, March 12, 2021/28 Adar, 5781
Parashat Vayak’heil/P’kudei Exodus 35:1–40:38
Today marks a sober anniversary. A year ago, our world turned upside down as the pandemic spread, and Los Angeles county was forced to shut down. None of us could have predicted the loss, grief, and isolation that we have experienced. We also could not have imagined just how much we were capable of doing when the need arose.
In this week’s Torah portion, the Israelites are wandering through the wilderness when God asks them to build a holy space called a tabernacle. This project required people to do everything from producing linen to embroidery, ornate carvings to metalworking. “Let all among you who are skilled come and make all that the Eternal has commanded,” the Torah explains. (Exodus 35:10) Until a year ago, they were Egyptian slaves. They had no access to mentors and teachers in these crafts. How could they create masterful work befitting a tabernacle to God?
The Torah explains that many people stepped forward anyway. These volunteers are called asher yidvenu libo, people whose hearts compelled them to act. They “are described this way because none of them studied their craft formally,” teaches commentator Ramban. “Rather they discovered that they were naturally endowed with these gifts and then were ‘lifted up’ spirituality and inspired to come before Moses and offer their services.” When they devoted themselves to the needed work, they found talents that they didn’t know they possessed.
For the past year, we, too, have been called upon in ways we didn’t anticipate. We learned how to navigate technology with relative ease; we had zoom worship, holidays, classes, concerts, and social events. We offered meals to people in need, had drives for necessary supplies, raised money for worthy charities, and did racial justice work. We offered one another support at trying times, created meal trains for people who were mourning or recovering from surgery, and made phone calls to check-in. We found new ways to join in community, from Neighborhood Connectors gathering, break-out rooms, to social nights. We sought out blessings amid great challenges.
The Israelites worked hard to build a Mishkan—a holy space in which God could dwell. This year, we’ve come to appreciate that as beautiful and meaningful as our building is, the relationships we build with one another are what make our temple family.
Shabbat services this evening will give us a chance to reflect on a most challenging year—the people we have lost, the isolation that we have felt, and the way we honor the memories of those who have died—by joining together in sacred community.
Rabbi Cassi Kail