Blog Vayakhel-Pikudei 23 Adar 5778 בלוג וַיַּקְהֵל – פְקוּדֵי, כ”ג אדר תשע”ח
With these last two parashot or portions from Shemot, HaSefer, the second book of Torah, I would like to bring some thoughts. The Torah speaks to us in the Hebrew language of pictures each of which is worth a thousand words. Instead of analyzing the details, may we always take a step back to search for these beautiful word paintings in order to see what our Creator is trying to tell us. The greatest gift that He gave us is bechirah chofshit, free will, the capability to make decisions which in turn makes us responsible for our own actions. We cannot blame anyone for what we do. There are no scapegoats.
The book of Exodus, Shemot speaks about the first year after the exit from Egypt. The end of the book begins the second year with the inauguration of the mishkan, the Tent of Meeting. The next book Vayikra, Leviticus will encompass a one-month period while the fourth book Bamidbar, Numbers covers their last 38 years of travel from the 2nd month of the 2nd year until they enter the Promised Land. Israel still didn’t learn.
The Creator is our parent. When our children rebel, it is very difficult for us as parents. What is the best way to deal with rebellious children? Do we punish them? The Torah teaches us that we as parents need to teach our children morality with fear and reverence for the Creator so that they can choose the right path. Then, as our Creator did with us, we need to allow them to exercise their free will and not to protect them from experiencing the consequences of their choices. This is the difficult part. For example, when they first start school or drive a car, we as parents suffer but we need to step back while keeping a close watch. Similarly, our Creator is patient and loving while always behind us even though we can’t see Him.
Due to the sin of Israel, He had us build the mishkan, so that we would have a central place to focus upon him alone, where we could develop a relationship with Him. The Creator made us in His likeness and image which is not physical rather He gave us His attributes and characteristics such as being able to love and hate. We can’t touch feelings or thoughts, but we can’t deny that we have them. He revealed himself to us and we respond to Him because He wants us to have a relationship with Him. He doesn’t want a forced relationship. A gunshot wedding can never work. Marriage is about both people giving to each other. Many marriages today are made in hell not in heaven because they married for the wrong reasons. We may blame the Creator, but He never put them together. The relationship needs to be alive and functional and even after 40 years marriage, there is still a lot to learn about the other person. Most people don’t even know themselves!
Our values are still stuck in the Golden Calf. We want to substitute the true God with a god of our own making. Even those who appear “holier than thou” can be true idolaters. They believe more in their own doctrines and dogmas, more in their philosophy, wealth, status or looks than in having a relationship with the Creator. What this book Shemot is trying to teach us is that the Creator picks us up from the mud and wants to have a true relationship with us. It is a story of Cinderella and the Prince. Many of us however prefer to gather knowledge for the sake of saying “I know”. What do you do with that knowledge? Do you put it into practice or keep it for yourself? Whatever you receive is for you to live and give to others, not to hoard.
This portion talks about the giftedness of certain individuals who He has chosen and who then give with a “willing heart”. He never forces us to give or to do, however being wiling and available is a key issue. Do you give your best or do the least you can get away with? The more you are tied to your money, the more you are a slave; the less charitable you are, the less happy. The Creator teaches us to give, not only materially – all the people worked to build the mishkan, each according to their capabilities. We need a place to focus ourselves and to keep rebuilding the relationship. It is not the place, the furnishings or the wealth rather we each need the mishkan within us.
I love Rabbi Yeshua’s beautiful teaching in the mashal – parable of the Prodigal son. He was given everything but chose to leave home, wanting to be free of his father’s authority. He wasted his inheritance to the point that he ended up eating the pig’s food. He returned home to his father as the lowest of the low, admitting that he did wrong. The father forgave him and restored him to his position as his beloved son. Israel was in their youth, going through rebellion after rebellion. The Creator didn’t punish Israel; they reaped the consequences of their disobedience. They forfeited His protection. It is the same then and now. How often do we come crying, “why did God abandon me”? It is we who cut the relationship not Him. That is idolatry.
As we go through the Torah, let us see the Heavenly Father as someone whose arms are always calling us home and not as a god who points an accusing finger at us. In the first century, Marcion taught that the god of the Old Testament was vengeful and hateful while the god of the new was a god of love. This understanding has been encrypted into religion. We need to be careful to whom we listen, follow and believe. We are responsible and can’t blame anyone else for our choices. It is my prayer that we have learned from Moshe Rabenu about the love of God who never abandons us despite what we do. It is my desire that when we start the next book Leviticus, we understand why the Creator allowed offerings – not theology of men but the reality of what the Creator is teaching us. It is my hope that we in this community keep growing in His Word and developing a “relationship” with Him while letting go being religious. Remember, He chose us; we didn’t choose Him.