Friday, February 29, 2008

VAYAKHEL: THE GATHERING

by Rabbi Baruch Binyamin Hakohen Melman

There are times when it is painstaking to hear certain sections of the Torah which are repetitive. Endless detail. No minutiae are spared in the retelling. B*O*R*I*N*G. Parshat Vayakhel is one of those times.

Way back in Parshat Mishpatim Moses ascends Mt. Sinai. And for two parshas Hashem is teaching Moses ALL the details of the construction of the Mishkan (Tabernacle) and its various holy accoutrements (Parshat Trumah), and of the holy garments to be worn by the priests while serving in the Mishkan (Parshat Titzaveh).

Then follows a short break in Parshat KiTissa. And over another two whole parshas (Vayakhel and Pikudei), the entire instruction manual of the Mishkan, its holy vessels, and of the garments of the priesthood is repeated all over again. Moses is now giving it over all over again to the people, teaching and recounting all he had learned while up on the mountain.

The forty days he ascended the mountain correspond to the six weeks/six parshas which span the narrative! And the two extra days (42) symbolize the two ascents! Of course, the fulcrum the balancing mid point- for the two accounts, is the Golden Calf narrative.

We are taught that G*d always provides the cure/therapy (teruphah) before the sickness (machalah). G*d seemingly realizes that the people are in great need for a visceral, experiential taste of spirituality. A dispassionate embrace of an intellectualized cerebral appreciation of the ethical monotheistic ideal would have to await a future sojourn to perhaps Lithuania.

Meanwhile, the people needed more. Hence their self-medication, as it were, with the Golden Calf. So G*d is instructing Moses in the minutiae of the Golden Vessels so that their spiritual needs may yet be met. To journey from a land and a consciousness of towering god/statues, pyramids, gold-suffused spiritual iconography to a"mere" stark contemplation of the Infinite One was too much to ask. It was stress inducing. And G*d knew it.

But Shabbat is the centerpiece. Before unveiling the blueprints for the physical structure of the Tabernacle, we are given the blueprint for the spiritual garment of the soul, namely the Sabbath.
The absurd finitude of the Golden Calf is contrasted with the ultimate infinitude of the Sabbath.

Just as the Golden Calf episode functions as the fulcrum between the narratives of the construction of the Tabernacle in all their painstaking detail, so too, in Parshat Chayei Sarah (Gen 24:22) the placing of the Golden Ring (haNezem haZahav) functions as the fulcrum in the painstaking retelling by Rebecca of her encounter with Eliezer, Abraham's servant. A seeming precursor to our own parsha of this week, not a single twist is left out of the retelling.

But why? What is the connection? First is the idea of kindness, that through the kindness that we show one another we may bring redemption to the world. The other idea linking the two narratives is embodied by the very bracelets themselves. When Eliezer placed the Golden Ring on Rebecca, for all time would Jewish women, her descendants, wear that ring. And never take it off.

When Aaron was forced into making the Golden Calf he approached the men and the women for their gold rings and bracelets, with which to make the idol. Many men gave. But all the women refused!

As the first post- Sinaitic refuseniks in history, the women were rewarded with their own holiday- Rosh Chodesh, the New Moon, symbolized by the shape of the Ring which they refused to give up. And today our holy women refuse to give up the Sabbath. They are its guardians, who envelop the home with the sanctity of the Shechinah, theIndwelling Presence of the Heavenly Abode.

Jewish women gather together in the home each Friday evening, in homes all around the world, together kindling the fires, the holy flames that burned on Sinai, thus subduing the other opposite fires, the fires that burn in Gehennom.

Lo tivaru eish bechol moshvoteichem beyom haShabbat (Ex 35:3). It is taught that we are not to kindle fires in our homes ON the Sabbath day. But before Shabbat? It's the holiest mitzvah. Our mothers, the Jewish women who embody the qualities of kindness and mercy (chesed verachamim), also embody the peace and serenity of the Sabbath. Therefore, we are known as "rachmanim b'nai rachmanin-merciful ones, the children of merciful ones (our mothers)."

And the Sabbath itself by definition is a deja vu experience for the soul, much as the narratives surrounding it in the Torah powerfully suggest a certain ring of familiarity regarding the construction of the physical Tabernacle. How so? In Genesis, in the Creation of the World, the realm of the infinite (Shabbat) was given an abode in the realm of the finite.

Heschel teaches that the Sabbath is a Palace in Time, much as theTabernacle was a Palace in Space. Indeed the word for "world" in Hebrew (olam), also means "infinite." The notion of "the world" suggests infinity in terms of space, much as the idea of "forever" connotes infinity in terms of time, each sharing a common quality of endlessness.

The soul, an aspect of G*d which was exiled from the infinite realm of the upper world to the finite realm of this world, on the Sabbath once again gets to taste the spiritual bliss of the Infinite One. And once again, through the construction of the Mishkan, the material qualities of this world are likewise infused with the spiritual essences of heaven.

The Sod Yesharim (Rabbeinu Gershom Chanoch Chenech of Radzin- son of the Holy Izhbecza), explains that just as Moses gathered ("vayakhel") the people as one nefesh (body and/or soul) a second time with regard to teaching the Sabbath, so too is the body infused with a second soul on the Sabbath. Resting on the Sabbath draws down an extra aspect of Divine Light into the world. This is the deepest meaning of the neshama yeterah, the extra soul that we receive on the Sabbath.

In addition, the Baal Haturim teaches that the word "la'asot," meaning "to do," and which we say each time we recite the Kiddush on Shabbat, and which we read in connection with the First Sabbath (Gen 2:3), is an allusion to the Tabernacle which is constructed in this week's parsha of Vayakhel. Rearranging the letters spells the letter *lamed* ( value of 30) and the word *tesha*(meaning of 9). By refraining from the 39 creative labors involved with the construction of the Mishkan, we can vicariously experience the celestial chariot (Merkavah) that was envisioned by the Prophet Ezekiel.

Kahal (vayaKHeL) means"he gathered." The truest, deepest gathering is for tasting holiness, for experiencing G*d. In Babel they tried to gather to *build* a tower to heaven. But not for holiness. In contrast, at Sinai, the tower was *given* to them. But we have learned that building a tower was not necessarily a means of meeting G*d. Just the opposite. Precisely by *not* building, just by refraining from all work on the Sabbath, we are given the means by which to recreate the heavenly holiness of Sinai, paraphrasing the Creation, where heaven first met earth.

In Babel, mankind wanted unity to displace G*d. At Sinai, G*d wanted unity only so that they could receive Him. And to be holy like Him. What do the letters of KaHaL stand for? Kedushat Hashem LeOlam: the holiness of G*d is forever. But we have a part to play as well, for it also stands for Kodshei Hashem LeOlam: the holy ones of G*d forever. The idea of the synagogue, the modern day Mishkan, embodies the idea of the unity of both G*d and Israel. A Kehilah Kedosha, a holy community, is not just a synagogue, but moreover signifies the people who comprise it, much as G*d asks us to build Him a sanctuary so that He "may dwell among them (in their hearts)."

And what is the key by which to access that holiness? Shabbat. Just as Shabbat brings peace to the soul, kindness brings peace between people. Shabbat is the recharging mechanism for our souls, helping us to bring peace and kindness into the world. It has a heavenly taste. It is a joyful gathering of peace and love. That is the essence of Shabbat. A 25 hour oasis for the soul.

Lastly, is Shabbat an oasis for the soul, or a day of rest for the body? A holy rabbi once asked, "which is better? Is it better to make a bracha over one's food in order to eat? Or is it better to eat only to have the opportunity to make a bracha?" Ahhh.

Shabbat Shalom.

© 2000 - 2008 by Rabbi Baruch Binyamin Hakohen Melman

These words of Torah are written in the merit of my beloved father, Israel J. Melman, obm, Yisrael Yehoshua ben Harav Ya'aqov Hakohen Melman, z"l

http://seferchabibi.blogspot.com/2007/07/yahrzeit-of-my-father-27-tammuz.html
http://query.nytimes.com/gst/fullpage.html?res=9506EEDC1630F93BA35754C0A9649C8B63

Chabibi stands for CHidushei Baruch Binyamin ben Yisrael Yehoshua
(a chidush, from the word chadash, means a new, original or fresh perspective)

Dedications are available.

My band, Niggun, is available for all simchas.
Contact me privately at niggun@aol.com
(niggun means wordless spiritual melody, the highest kind there is)

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When I was young I admired clever people. Now that I am old, I admire kind people.- Abraham Joshua Heschel
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-Rebbe Nachman of Breslov
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About Me

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I played violin with Reb Shlomo and studied under him for over nine years at hundreds of concerts and learnings. Shlomo wanted to give me smicha before he passed. Deepest influences: My father,obm, who was a great scientist and human being, and my grandfather, obm, who was a great Torah scholar who was a musmach of the Mir Yeshiva and taught in Slobodka in Russia before WW1, and was also personal friends with the Chafetz Chaim and came to America in 1914. He knew the Talmud by heart! You could stick a pin in a word and he could tell you what word was on the other side! And my mother, Esther bat Baruch, z"l, who was a scholar of classical Hebrew and Tanach and who gave me a love for the language. And her mother, Anna (Sucher) Deutsch, who was born in Horodenka, spoke six languages, and shared her aged wisdom and eternal sweetness with me. I studied at Brandeis, Hebrew College, Pardes as well as seven years at The Metivta/ITJ earning my Advanced Semicha (yoreh yoreh)under Rav Halivni. What's truly amazing is that Shlomo and Rav Halivni each received semicha from Rav Hutner! But my deepest influences of them all are my sweetest sweetest girls who have taught me the most!