Vayakhel — part 1

So I’ve started work on my d’var Torah, the speech that I’ll give based on the Torah portion of the week. 

Torah portions are named after their first word, and mine is Vayakhel, which means “he called together.” It begins by saying that “Moses called together the entire community of the children of Israel….” 

Vayakhel, from the Soncino Chumash / Photo by Ilana DeBare

Vayakhel comes near the end of Exodus — right after that unfortunate incident in the desert where the Israelites become impatient with Moses’ long absence up on Sinai and decide to build and worship a Golden Calf. 

As Homer Simpson might say: Mistakes were made.  

But in Vayakhel, the people redeem themselves. 

I intended to give you a brief summary of the parshah (portion), but the summary kept getting longer and longer. Then I thought, why not write it as a Tweet? (That would limit me to 140 characters, max.)

Here goes: 

Moses tells the Jews to keep Shabbat and bring offerings for God. They bring so much he tells them to stop. Bezalel builds the tabernacle.

That’s the gist, in my best 21st-century attention-deficit style. But really, most of the portion reads like a long, long, long Home Depot list of all the luxurious items that God asked the Israelites to bring, and how Bezalel and his crew of “wise-hearted” artisans put them together. Just to give you a sample:

Bezalel made the ark of acacia wood, two and a half cubits long, a cubit and a half wide, and a cubit and a half high. He overlaid it with pure gold, inside and out, and he made a gold molding for it round about. He cast four gold rings for it, for its four feet: two rings on one of its side walls and two rings on the other. He made poles of acacia wood, overlaid them with gold, and inserted the poles into the rings on the side walls of the ark for carrying the ark.

(All that detail about overlaying and inserting…. It makes you think maybe Bezalel was assembling an EKBY JÄRPEN ark from Ikea.)

The Haftarah (prophets) reading that accompanies Vayakhel is remarkably similar. Sometimes the connection between the week’s Torah and Haftarah sections is a little abstract, or metaphorical, or just plain opaque. But the connection between Vayakhel and its prophetic counterpart could hardly be more obvious.

The Haftarah (I Kings VII:  40-50) describes the artisan Hiram making all sorts of items for King Solomon’s Temple: 

Hiram made the pots, and the shovels, and the basins… the two pillars, and the two bowls of the capitals that were on the top of the pillars; and the two networks to cover the two bowls of the capitals that were on top of the pillars…. Two rows of pomegranates to cover the two bowls of the capitals that were upon the top of the pillars….

Haftarah: I Kings VII

When I was memorizing my Haftarah, it seemed to cycle around and around itself – all those networks on top of bowls on top of capitals on top of pillars. I had to restrain myself from breaking into a chorus of “and the green grass grew all around all around, and the green grass grew all around.”

In any case… we have two sections of the Bible that are concerned with construction of holy places – the transient, movable tabernacle and the “permanent” Temple. Both sections give center stage to the lead artisan. Both go into very detailed physical descriptions of the lavish materials used in these holy structures.

 What to make of this?

 Aha! A cliff-hanger! More to come….

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