Exodus A Practice: To Live Life as a Contribution
Vayakhel-Pekudei (Exodus 35:1-40:38)
In parshat Va’yakhel we find the Israelites, convoked, regally assembled at the bottom of the mountain. Moses tells the community eleh d’varim, “these are the things” that connect us to YHVH – the Source (35:1-4). This we spend six days creating: we weave, paint, send emails, drive carpools, buy, trade, and cook—and on the seventh day, we rest. On Shabbat, we take in the beauty and grandeur of creation and are renewed, re-created.
Interestingly, in the very next verse (35:5) Moses says zeh ha’davar, “this is the thing” that connects us to YHVH—the Source: to make “an offering to God.” The verse continues, “anyone whose heart moves them should bring an offering to God.” The Torah then lists various offerings one might set aside as gifts to God: gold and copper, fine linens, animal skins and precious stones. All of these will be collected and used to build the Tabernacle (Mishkan), the portable sacred shrine our ancestors carried with them through the wilderness.
What is the relationship between these two verses? The first states that “these are the things,” referring to the six days of work and the Sabbath; the second declares, “This is the thing,” referring to the special offerings the people were to give to God and the Mishkan.
One way of understanding the relationship between these two verses is that the second verse—which includes zeh ha d’var—can help us understand how to apply the command in verses 1-5 to live holy lives, both during the six days of the week and on the Sabbath. That is to say, by viewing all our days as opportunities to “gift” or “offer up” ourselves—our passions, talents and expertise—to God in an effort to create a Tabernacle-like world suffused with holiness. It is crucial in this reading that the Torah includes a concrete list of items and invites all “whose heart moves them” (verse 5) to participate in this sacred endeavor.
My teacher Rabbi Nehemia Polen and his study partner Rabbi Lawrence Kushner express this statement powerfully in their reflection on the foundational Jewish prayer, the Sh’ma. There, they write, “Judaism understands this yearning [for oneness and holiness] as a sacred obligation, a requirement for holy living, a commandment” (The Sh’ma, My People’s Prayerbook, p. 86). While we might have a vision of the holiness and interconnection of all life, the question these rabbis raise is how to bring this awareness into our everyday lives?
I want to share a brief story to help illustrate this point: A few years ago, my mom celebrated her birthday at a restaurant, looking out the window, she noticed a small pink flower and became entranced by its beauty. On the way out, she picked a small blossom, brought it home, and put it in a tiny vase to admire it. The next day she brought the small sprig to a local nursery to see if she could purchase one to plant in her garden. The plant was not available, so my mom asked the greenhouse lead if she would help her cultivate the sprig. The woman agreed. She carefully divided the 3-inch sprout into 8 pieces, added a rooting hormone, and cut the leaves in half to conserve the plant’s energy. My mom picked up the sprig carefully, tended to it indoors for a week, and then put it outside. Late in the summer, after it developed roots, she planted it in a little bed outside her door.
To me, my mom’s yearning to cultivate those blossoms is an example of making an “offering to God.” Through this simple, but intentional and concrete act, she moved from a recognition of beauty to participating in developing it. Happy birthday dear, Mama! Thank you for teaching me how to move from recognition to action. In cultivating this delicate flower you helped deepen my understanding of trumah—of viewing each day as providing concrete opportunities to take notice of God’s gifts and to actively participate in the flowering of this beauty.
Rabbi Alyson Solomon was ordained by the Rabbinical School of Hebrew College in 2009. She is Associate Rabbi at Beth Israel in San Diego and founder of the spiritual coaching and consulting practice, thisisRAS.com.
Interested in a possible career in the rabbinate? Read Rabbi Dan Judson’s article “Jewish Lessons on Meaningful Work.“ Rabbi Judson is Dean of the Rabbinical School of Hebrew College. He has a PhD in Jewish history from Brandeis University.