Shabbat Vayakhel

We don’t often hear about Israelites getting it all right. Despite witnessing the miracles of the crossing at the reed sea, the receiving of Manna, and the horrors of the 10 plagues, the children of Israel are pretty easily led astray!  Yet this normal narrative of slip ups is finally contrasted this week, where we see the tribes successfully coming together to create the Mishkan – the movable temple of the desert. The description of how to build the Mishkan – almost an ikea flat pack instruction booklet, seems to go on for weeks if you are having to read and write about it. But when the Hebrews are engaged in this work, it seems to be the only time they’re not complaining or getting up to mischief. They are perhaps distracted by having a common task and goal to work on together. At the beginning of this week’s portion they are asked for contributions to this mammoth project, but they are asked to give “according to their hearts” – that is that everyone should give according to what they feel truly comes from them, and according to their inclination. Gifts given half heartedly are not what the community needs at this point. This is a beautiful model for community building; a place in which everyone contributes their gifts willingly and generously, to create something that no one of them could make alone, and that is made richer by each and every gift.

While this week the Hebrews are to be found merrily building the temple together, last week they were fervently contributing to a very different kind of communal project. They handed over gold to Aaron (who frankly should have known better!) and this was smelted down and then fashioned into the notorious golden calf. Although famously the women refused to hand over their jewellery and were rewarded with the festival of Rosh Chodesh as a women’s festival. I’m not sure I would deserve rewards for not handing over my favourite jewellery! All the individually gifted pieces of gold became one mass in the furnace, out of which emerged the idol that lost us the first set of the 10 commandments. In this weeks portion we see how the individual gifts of each person went instead into building the mishkan, but the donation remained whole in and of itself. Each time a member of the desert congregation went into the beautiful tent, they might well be able to recognise their own gift – a tassle here, or a gem stone there, helping to make up the whole. This struck me as such a beautiful metaphor for a thriving progressive Jewish community, where such a variety of beliefs, approaches, practices and theologies can come together, valuing each of us as individuals, and yet creating spaces in which we can come together and see our individual gifts become a part of something greater. The project of community would not be as great without each and every gift, but the ability to maintain the sense of our individuality within the whole, rather than the necessity to be one molten sameness is a wonderful strength. And while Wimbledon goes through this period of transition, many of you have risen to the challenge of ensuring your individual gifts are offered for the sake of maintaining the community. I do believe it is a wonderful demonstration of the power of your individual Judaisms that you have, together, remained a vibrant, learning community, keeping the kehillah going through your varied skills. If we are unable to take responsibility for our lived Judaism, it has no future.

And yet there is a challenge to us here. This week’s portion is asking us to ensure we create communal space where everyone’s gifts can find the right place to be received, and that we value the individual within the throng of communal celebration. This is something no one person can do alone, but we must all strive to do together. We must each consider what are the gifts we personally could be contributing, perhaps a tassle here, or a gem stone there, or perhaps some time to help another person improve their Hebrew, or to help with the Charitable Fund, or to give our wisdom to participating in a study session, or to give our support to the volunteers in the community, maybe visiting those who are housebound. In fact this Shabbat has been designated Jewish Legacy Shabbat, to encourage us to think about the charities we would like to honour when we pass our gifts onto the next generation. But while we each consider what gifts we could be contributing, as a community both in Wimbledon and more widely, we must all be conscious of how we can create space for all the gifts people want to give. Finding the right niche, and being gracious when people do want to give. There is often so much going on that it is a very real challenge to do the work of accommodating people’s gifts, but it is these very contributions, given as each person’s heart inclines them, all the while valuing them as an individual, that make us strong and cohesive as a community, and has perhaps been the key to Wimbledon’s success in the last few months.

May we all be blessed to realise our own gifts, and know just where and how to give them, and may our communities be built on the many skills and talents contained in our wonderful, individual members, to create a whole that is strong, beautiful and enduring.

Cain Yehi Ratzon, Venomar, Amen