Making sense of the sedra: Rebuilding the Jewish community
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Making sense of the sedra: Rebuilding the Jewish community

In our thought-provoking new series, rabbis and rebbetzen relate the week’s parsha to the way we live today

Rabbi Alex Chapper
A woman passes by the Star of David (Photo by Artur Widak/NurPhoto)
A woman passes by the Star of David (Photo by Artur Widak/NurPhoto)

During the past two years, the impact of the pandemic on the community has been covered extensively in these pages. We have read reports of the challenges faced not only by individuals, but also by synagogues, schools and other organisations. We have witnessed Anglo-Jewry’s incredible response, been inspired by the innovation borne of necessity and buoyed by the collective will to survive.

As we emerge from the darkness of lockdown to the light of  isolation rules ending, what will drive this once-in-a-generation opportunity to refresh our engagement in Jewish life? We can start by noting a contrast between the Torah’s account of the creation of the world, which needed just over 30 verses, and the construction of the Mishkan, which fills hundreds.

Why does the Mishkan – the temporary, portable, desert Temple – occupy more than ten times as much space? And why does the Torah repeat the account of its construction five times, recording all the instructions in both general and specific terms?

Nachmanides says the answer lies in the difference between instruction and action. Often there is a disconnect between theory and practice: we know what we should do, we even know why we should do it, but that does not necessarily lead us to do it.

That is why the Torah, in this week’s parsha Vayakhel, gives first general and then detailed instruction, which is followed by action and an account of the work itself and then the finished product. Initially we are shown the theoretical plan, the broad-stroke vision of the entire project and then the practical application of it, turning it into reality.

Through this lens we see that the seemingly unnecessary repetition is driving home an important point. We cannot afford for knowledge of Judaism’s ideals and values to remain theoretical; we must convert them from the realms of potential into actual.

It was not difficult for God to create the world – He just spoke and it came into existence. But for we mere mortals, it is not enough just to speak of the importance of Jewish institutions, charities and care organisations. For the community to thrive post-pandemic, it needs everyone to translate that acknowledgment into commitment and action.

To conceive of building an earthly abode for the Divine was about as unconventional a thought as it is possible for a human to have. It was turned into a reality through determination, hard work, skilled craftsmanship and collective effort.

So enthusiastic were the people in donating to the construction of the Mishkan, they had to be told to stop. Informed by the wise-hearted people who were overseeing the project that they had sufficient supplies, Moses had to tell the nation to desist from doing any more work or bringing any more materials.

As we begin to rebuild the Jewish community, if we are to be equally successful, we will need the same enthusiasm and generosity of heart. We know what we need to do; now we must each play our part and do it.

  • by Rabbi Alex Chapper, Borehamwood & elstree United Synagogue

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