Parshat Vayakheil (5771)

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The Parsha this week begins with the words “Vayakheil Moshe – and Moses assembled.” Who exactly did he assemble? – The entire spectrum of souls who made up the Jewish people. Vayakheil means more than just gathering people together – it is the amalgamation of many single, different units into one cohesive whole. The parsha then talks in detail about each individual article in the Mishkan (Tabernacle) and about the individual craftsmen and women who put it together. We also read of Betzalel and Ahaliav, skilled artisans who project managed the team building the Mishkan. We see here the importance of a focus on the individual – but equally a focus on the group.

The Talmud (Berachot 58a) discusses a special blessing said upon seeing an enormous crowd gathered together – a crowd of more than 600,000 people. The blessing is: Baruch Atah … Chacham Harazim – Blessed are You, G-d … Knower of Secrets. The meaning of this prayer is that in a crowd of 600,000 people you also have 600,000 different personalities, attitudes etc and G-d alone is the Creator of all that colourful diversity.

There is something very special about being different, like snowflakes – no two identical – and we praise G-d for that; we thank Him for our individuality, that we are not all generic clones. But there is also something powerful in belonging to a mass of humanity – a group, an organization, a structure. We have seen these past few weeks across the Middle East and Africa what individuals can achieve when they merge together as a cohesive unit striving towards a common goal. On a more benign note, as Ireland heads to the polls this Friday all those individual votes cast are tallied together into groups, and the size of that group can effect great changes in society and in government – changes the individual cannot hope to achieve on their own.

So on the one hand we cherish the differences of the individual – we even praise G-d for that, but on the other we can see the great good that can be achieved when we work together as a group, masking over our differences – and both messages are important: We need to be counted as individuals, serving G-d on our own individual levels and in ways that are meaningful to us; but equally we need to recognize that we are part of a whole — small cogs linked together in an incredible human network – the largest social network in history.

Part of the benefits of being linked into a large cohesive group is that what divides us becomes less apparent and the common goal takes precedence. Similar to a brigade in Tzahal, where every soldier plays an equal role regardless of their status in civilian life. The impoverished street cleaner and the company CEO will train side by side for the common good, and treat one another as worthy equals.

Within the Mishkan all the objects – the menorah, the table, the altars etc were holy and important, but they were only able to fulfil their spiritual purpose when they were part of a whole structure, the completed Sanctuary. As individuals we too can achieve great things in life, but that is incomparable to what we can achieve when we pull together, as a family, as a community and as a nation.

Let us hope that as we watch the world change for the better before our eyes; as nations join together to push for change in their lives, that we too can join together to strengthen our families and our communities. Every individual is important, as were Betzalel and Ahaliav, but there is a special magic when all those individuals join together. As we say in the daily amidah prayers, “barchenu Avinu kulanu ke’echad -” we ask G-d to “bless us as one” – for when we join together “as one” we can be sure that G-d will bestow His blessings upon us.

Shabbat Shalom

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