Do you really think you can find a community without working toward building it too? Rabbi Jacobs challenges us through the ideas of this week’s Torah portion, Parashat Vayak’heil.
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Welcome to episode 6 of On the Other Hand: Ten minutes of Torah, a podcast presented by reformjudaism.org. Every week we come to you with a little bit of insight into the weekly Torah portion, condensing 2000 years of Jewish wisdom into just ten minutes of modern day commentary. But we think there are plenty of ways to interpret Torah, and we want to hear what you think. You can weigh in on this week's Torah portion and what you hear today by talking to us on Twitter, our handle is @URJ. And by liking us at facebook.com/reformjudaism. And you can subscribe to the podcast on iTunes. Every week we hear from Rabbi Rick Jacobs, president of the Union for Reform Judaism. In this episode, he delves deeper into Parashat Vayak’heil from the Book of Exodus.
This week we learn Parashat Vayak’heil, towards the very end of the Book of Exodus. The word vayak’heil holds within it the word kahal, community, kehillah, sacred community. We think of how it is that we are a community, but the Book of Exodus doesn't assume that that's who we are. It's what we do that makes us into a community.
The community was gathered in the journey through the desert to do something, to build something, to make something with our own hands. They made a structure, a gorgeous, beautiful, praying place, but they made a community as they made that structure.
We think of the Amish who have their incredible barn raising. There needs to be a barn that's raised, the community comes together. They know what to do. They know how to actually work very, very cooperatively and collaboratively. It's a beautiful thing to watch the ladders going up, the wood, everything. No one is getting hit with the different materials. It's a work of art and beauty and community.
The great medieval commentator Rashi, who has an insight with almost every single verse in the Torah, comments on the qualities that were employed in making that praying place and at the same time building the community. Rashi says chochmah, ability, is what we do with the skill we gain from other people, what we can be taught by others. He says that tevunah is the ability that we have that is ours, some unique talent or gift or skill that comes from within us.
He says that daat, or knowledge, is from the divine source. It's not what we learn from others. It's not what we find within. It's that divine inspiration that flows through us to thinking about what it is that we build, we are longing, all of us, to find a community.
But the idea that we're going to find a community that's either in our neighborhood or people that we work with is so passive. It assumes that it exists and we just got to go find them and then we will be a part of it.
The Book of Exodus reminds us that a kehillah, a holy congregation, is what we make, what we build, what we do. So it's not just the act of putting the bricks and the wood together that makes the structure. It's the acts that literally make us interdependent, that make us connected to others not just in a passive way, but in working in common purpose.
There's a beautiful 19th century image that the eidah, the larger community of Israel, that we are like a tree and there are many branches and leaves, but there's something that literally we are part of together. And I know this is very disjointed world that we live in and sometimes we don't feel very connected to others or even to the best that is within us. So we summon the chochmah, the tevunah, and the daat, the skills that we acquire when we work in common purpose, the things that come uniquely because we have gifts, nobody else has our gift, and there's something about what we do that is not just of our own circles but comes from that divine source.
So we are called in vayak’heil to be busy, and to do and not just think. And what we're building, what we're doing, well, we're creating something beautiful in the world. Maybe we're feeding hungry people in our neighborhood, and maybe we're taking the time to visit those who are not well or struggling with illness. That is a way of building community. That is a way of using our skill for others. And in the act of not only building but doing, we become the community that we are meant to be.
So I hope that each one of us isn't only looking for community. I hope that we're using our talents, our skills, our divine gifts, to build community. And when we each have that experience of being an intimate community, that's when all those communities come together and link up and become one circle, one incredible community of not just holiness but of commonality.
And that's what redemption is in our tradition. It starts with little teeny things that we do but it adds up to a whole new world, a new world of hope and possibilities, vayak’heil. It's time for us to be busy, to be using our hands and our hearts and our skills and our divine gifts. It's time for us to come together and to share those gifts freely and to find the gifts that others bring and to appreciate it and to see what we can build a world of holiness, a world of compassion, a world of justice.
And I know that you have a part for that building. No one else has that piece or that part. So find it. Share it. Let us together build a better world.
Thanks for joining us for this week's episode of On the Other Hand: Ten Minutes of Torah. If you like what you heard today, and we hope you did, you can find new episodes each week at reformjudaism.org and on iTunes where we would love for you to rate and review us. Between podcasts, you can visit us to learn more not just about Torah but about all aspects of Reform Judaism including rituals, culture, holidays, and more. On the Other Hand: Ten Minutes of Torah is a project of the Union for Reform Judaism, a leading voice in the discussion of modern Jewish life. Visit www.urj.org to learn more. L’hitraot, we'll see you next week.
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