Shabbat Parashat Vayakheil-Pekudei and Shabbat HaHodesh

27 Adar 5770 / March 13, 2010 – Rabbi/Cantor Anne Heath

Torah Reading:

            Exodus 35:1 – 40:38

Shabbat HaHodesh Maftir Reading:

            Exodus 12:1-20

Shabbat HaHodesh Haftarah Reading:

            Ezekiel 45:16-25 (many read through 46:15 or 46:18)

Related Texts:

            1 Kings 7:51 – 8:30, 1 Chronicles 29:1-19

 

     We find ourselves this week concluding the reading of the Book of Exodus and what a conclusion it is. The complaining, backsliding, worshipping of the golden calf Israelites can only be faulted this week for being too generous!

      God’s desire to relocate from atop Mt. Sinai in order to be a continual presence among the people causes God to command (Ex 25:8) “Let them (the Israelite people) make Me a sanctuary that I may dwell among them.” Having given Moses the plans for this sanctuary in earlier Torah portions, the work of its building comes to fruition in this week’s reading.

     Commanding that only freely-given offerings towards the building of the sanctuary be given (Ex 35:5), the people continue to bring donations until more than is needed has been brought. The artisans ask Moses for some relief. Moses pronounces, “let no man or woman make further effort toward gifts for the sanctuary.”  The donations cease and the work continues.

    Contributing too much?  Why?  Perhaps the people sought to curry favor with their gifts as they might have observed in Egypt, their recent home and long-time cultural experience.  Perhaps their hearts overflowed with gratitude that God hadn’t abandoned them after the grievous sin of the golden calf. Or, perhaps, having begun, they just didn’t know when to stop, and someone, here the artisans, had to say, “enough!”

     Let’s take the standard three-R’s of environmental action – Reduce, Reuse, Recycle – and consider Reduce as one link from our lives to this week’s Torah portion. As we do so we need to visit a related biblical text from another, though, closely related event. Listen to the words of King Solomon at the completion of God’s sanctuary in Jerusalem:

     “Who am I and who are my people that we should have the means to make such a freewill offering: but all is from You and it is Your gift that we have given to You. For we are sojourners with You, mere transients like our fathers; our days on earth are like a shadow, with nothing in prospect. O Lord our God, all this great mass that we have laid aside to build You a house for Your holy name is from You, and it is all Yours.” (1 Chronicles 29:14-16)

    Gifts given with willing hearts are not a transfer of our own possessions but an awareness and a recognition that from the vast store of God’s creation entrusted to us we set aside this portion consciously for that which is needed for the task – in our Torah portion’s case – for the building of God’s sanctuary. Even for such a sacred task, we are to set aside just enough, and no more. All the more so must we consciously set aside “just enough and no more” for the ordinary building carried out in our lives.

    Reuse and Recycle are the steps to take when you can Reduce no further, when you must deal with what’s next for what you used in the first place and it can no longer serve its original purpose.

     Reduce comes first. Rabbi Lawrence Troster in his “Ten Jewish Teachings on Judaism and Environmentalism” (on www.coejl.org and other places online) reminds us that Judaism prohibits the wasteful consumption of anything. Go and study.

     In our lives the locus of much wasteful consumption can occur in the building and decorating of our homes. We rightfully worry about the impact on God’s creation. Let us also worry about the impact on ourselves, a core aspect of God’s creation. Hear Kahlil Gibran from “Houses” in The Prophet speak to this very concern:

      What have you in these houses? And what is it you guard with fastened doors?

      Have you peace, the quiet urge that reveals your power?

      Have you remembrances, the glimmering arches that span the summits of the mind?

      Have you beauty, that leads the heart from things fashioned of wood and stone to the holy mountain?

      Tell me, have you these in your houses?

      Or have you only comfort, and the need for comfort, that stealthy thing that enters the house a guest, and becomes a host, and then a master?

      Ay, and it becomes a tamer, and with hook and scourge makes puppets of your larger desires.

      Though its hands are silken, its heart is of iron.

      It lulls you to sleep only to stand by your bed and jeer at the dignity of the flesh. It makes mock of your sound senses, and lays them in thistledown like fragile vessels.

      Verily the need for comfort murders the passion of the soul, and then walks grinning in the funeral.

     Our ancestors overdid it. We overdo it.  Can we be the artisans who say “enough”?  Can we be the Moses who pronounces “give no further”?  Can we be like the prophet Isaiah who responded “Here I am, send me” to the “voice of the Lord” in the courts of God’s sanctuary when asked “Whom shall I send? Who will go for us?”  (Isaiah 6:8).

     Can we find, develop and nurture a willingness that will not pass “beyond enough”?  Can we focus much more on Reduce such that we can reduce the need to Reuse and Recycle?  If not now, when?

 

Rabbi/Cantor Anne Heath, the spiritual leader (since 2003) of Congregation Agudath Achim and the Jewish Community House, a 100-year old progressive, independent congregation in the heart of Taunton, MA, received rabbinic ordination from The Academy for Jewish Religion (NY) and is a member of the Association of Rabbis and Cantors, the American Conference of Cantors, the Cantors Assembly, and both the Massachusetts and Rhode Island Boards of Rabbis.

 

©Rabbi/Cantor Anne Heath