Wednesday, March 11, 2015

Thought on the Parasha

Feel free to download and print the Parasha sheet and share it with your friends and family: Click here: Parashat Vayakhel-Pekudei

Please Come to a Complete Stop 

The people, having thrown themselves with religious fervor into the making of the Golden Calf, are given a chance to redeem themselves with the building of the
Mishkan. Men, not women, gave of their jewelry for the making of the Golden Calf. When it came to the Mishkan, however, women gave in addition to the men: "And they came, both men and women... and brought broaches, and earrings, and rings, and bracelets, all jewels of gold" (Shemot, 35:2). Perhaps to underscore how these gifts cancelled out those for the Calf, the Torah even emphasizes the men's giving, pointing toward "every man who offered an offering of gold to the Lord."

The giving of gold for the building of the Mishkan and enthusiastic participation in its activities and construction served as a tikkun for the Sin of the Golden Calf. It is thus not surprising that the people, propelled by a desire to make right their wrong and to fix what they had broken, gave so enthusiastically. In fact, the people gave so much that they had to be told to stop:

And all the wise men... spoke to Moses saying: "The people bring much more than enough for the service of the work, which the Lord commanded to make." And Moses gave commandment, and they caused it to be proclaimed throughout the camp, saying, "Let neither man nor woman do any more work for the offering of the sanctuary." So the people were restrained from bringing (36:5-6).

Understood this way, the service to God was the giving. The cessation of donations is only mentioned to emphasize how great the people's service to God had been, how much they had given. The Sefat Emet, however, turns this on its head:

The righteous people and the wise men saw that the contributions were more than what was appropriate, and they were concerned that it would no longer be done with true intent, for the sake of Heaven... For when one finishes all of his actions (i.e., realizes all of his ambitions), it can lead to pride. But when one stops in the middle, because of his awareness of God, this is the true tikkun of his actions.

According to the Sefat Emet, the true service to God came not in the doing but in the stopping. When we are giving, building, producing, our intentions might be to serve God, but we can get carried away; in the end, all of our efforts might really be about ourselves. We take pride in how great we are - how religious we must be - because we give so much time and money, because we learn Torah so many hours each day, or because we daven such a long shmoneh esrei. The more we do, the more opportunity we have to give expression to ourselves, our personalities, and our ambitions; the more we do, the more of ourselves we put into the world. This can lead to a situation in which there is no longer a place for God.

The tikkun of giving gold for the Calf was not giving gold to the Mishkan. A person who gives to the making of an idol one day and to God the next may possess great religious passion but no strong religious conviction. As long as she can give, as long as she can build, it doesn't matter to whom or what she gives. Maybe tomorrow she will find a new cause, another god or another temple, and throw herself into that with equal abandon. The tikkun does not come from the giving; it comes from the stopping. It is in the cessation that a person demonstrates that one's giving is not about them, their self-expression, or their sense of religious fulfillment; it is about God.

This explains why the parasha that includes the building of the Mishkan opens with the mitzvah of Shabbat. Shabbat is about stopping. Even if our work during the week is holy work, even if we are using our talents to serve God, we stop when Shabbat arrives. Even the building of a place for God's presence on Earth must stop for the sake of Shabbat, for the sake of God. It is in our stopping that we serve God.

Just as working six days out of the week mirrors God's creative activity, we imitate God when we pull back on Shabbat. There was no space for humankind as long as God was creating. A tremendous act of tzimtzum, of God withdrawing Godself, was required so that humans could come onto the stage. In parallel, as long as we are involved in creating there may not be space for God. It is on Shabbat, when we finally stop, that we truly allow God to enter.

Sometimes, however, the greatest challenge is not stopping for Shabbat but at other times, realizing that the job is done. How many institutions are established with a specific mission and yet continue their work after they have accomplished their goal? The ongoing purpose of the institution becomes its own survival, and it stops serving any greater purpose.

Not so with the Mishkan. The building of the Mishkan stopped when the work was done. Va'yekhal Moshe, "so Moses completed the work" (40:33). The term used for the completion of the Mishkan, va'yekhal, is the same term used to describe God's completion of the creation of the world: va'yekhulu hashamayim vi'ha'aretz, "and the work of the Heavens and Earth was completed." God completed the world, and when God stopped mankind emerged. Moshe completed the Mishkan, and it was only when he stopped that God entered: "Then a cloud covered the Tent of Meeting, and the glory of the Lord filled the Tabernacle" (40:34).

This stopping may be harder for men than women. I can say from personal experience that men can have a hard time listening, pulling back to make space for the other. When we hear of a problem, our impulse is to immediately begin searching for a solution. We are compelled to bring ourselves into the equation. Perhaps this is why the men were singled out as particularly needing the tikkun. They had to learn that it was not all about doing; it was also about stopping.

This is critically important for us as parents and as spouses. To support we must make space. When our rabbinical students learn pastoral counseling, the most fundamental lesson is how to be a good listener. When a rabbi hears of someone's struggles or pays a shiva call to someone who has just experienced a loss, it is natural for him to think that sharing his own similar experiences will be helpful. But of course, that only makes the situation about him. The only way that one can truly be there for others is by actively listening, making space for the other person, removing oneself and being fully present for the other.

Recently, one of our rabbis told me that he had been working on his humility, feeling the need to be mitzamtzem, to pull himself back to make space for others. But he realized that through this very act he was still focusing on himself. It was all about him and whether he was doing a good enough job at pulling back. He told me that after realizing this he no longer asks, "How can I make space for that person?" Rather, he asks, "What is it that this person needs?" This small change has made all the difference for him.

In all of our activities but perhaps especially in our religious endeavors, we must learn the importance of stopping: stopping to make space for others, stopping to make space for God. Only in our stopping, in our pulling back, can we truly build a temple not to ourselves but to God.

Shabbat Shalom!

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