As I was exiting my children’s school this week I heard a song which reminded me of a song that I’d learnt when I was a pipsqueak. The song was called “The more we get together” and the words of the song are: “The more we get together, the happier we’ll be.” As I was mulling over those happy memories of my youth, my mind began wandering to an advertisement I’d once seen about a house in a particularly plush area. The marketing centered on the secluded-ness of where the home was in proximity to its closest neighbor. The ad boasted that the nearest residence was a few miles away! As I pondered further, I realized that there seemed to have been some gaps between the paradigms my pre-K teacher held and the weltanschauung of the advertiser’s elementary school education.
Perhaps my teacher’s refrain sung in my youth affected the wiring in my brain and helped influence my decision to eventually live in a fairly crowded neighborhood while living in Israel. Indeed, the 2 areas we called home during our 7 year stint in the Holy Land sported apartment building after apartment building. According to UN-reliable sources (Wikipedia) in the very small area we lived there are over 5000 Jews. (Yes, no minyan shortages in this area!)
And the question is: Which attitude does Judaism take? Are we to become spiritually inclined people, separating ourselves from society? Is there an ideal of becoming “holy” through disengaging with the world and those around us?
I believe our portion lays out the answer for us. Vayakhel, and Moses assembled the entire nation. The portion begins with a description of the assembly of the Jewish people in preparation of a significant activity they would be involved with…namely, the construction of the Tabernacle. Every Jew would have a role, bodily, in this production. But why? How come we didn’t hire a bunch of skilled workers to construct the tabernacle for us? As the comedian Modi once quipped something to the effect of: Jews only go to Home Depot to buy the place. Yet the Torah seems to highlight the necessity of each and every Jew’s involvement in the building?
I believe the answer is that in order for the Tabernacle to “do its job,” it required every Jew’s buy in. First we may need to clarify, what was the “job” of the Tabernacle? The answer is: To create a space for G-d to manifest His presence in the physical realm. Okay, but why does this require everyone’s buy in? Since the Tabernacle is in a sense a structural replica of a fully functioning Jewish super-unit, if there would be one brick “out of place” – (read: one Jew not fully invested in the project) there would be, though ever minute, a lack of G-d’s presence manifest. Much like the spark plug’s crucial importance in the proper functioning of a car, the buy in of every single Jew was required for the job to be complete.
Though the Tabernacle and the Holy Temple are no longer physically here, the message of Vayakhel is as relevant as ever. If there is one Jew who is not proud to stand up and declare pride in his/her heritage, it causes a weakening to the entire body. But how does that pride develop? I will share my personal opinion based on my own life’s experience: Engage in authentic and deep Torah study and learn from and about great Jews who took their heritage seriously. We’re blessed with a plethora of spiritual giants throughout our history and it behooves us to study them, learn about them and ultimately emulate them. In the meantime, I think I should go back to my pre-K teacher and thank her for the important message that indeed, “the more we get together—and appreciate what each Jew brings to the table—the happier we’ll be.”