Vayakhel & Building Sacred Community by David Harltey Mark

I don’t bowl; I don’t go to sporting events, or even watch them on TV with a bunch of buddies, dipping Doritos into seven-layer dip while the Dolphins or Heat or Marlins touchdown or dunk or slam it out of the park. I don’t drink, so I don’t nip down to my friendly neighborhood tavern, where Slim or Vinny or Mikey pours me a Tall Cool One or a Dirty Martini (I don’t drink dirty things; my mother taught me well.).

But I do go to shul.

“Oh, sure, why not go to shul?” you might say, “I mean, you’re a rabbi.”

But that’s not the only reason, though it’s a Big One; I’ll admit it.

I go because, even though we live in a Age of Wonders, where I can call my daughter in another state on my cellphone—I could even call Israel, if I wanted to—where I can learn about anything in an instant, from the Web—where, within five years, I’ll be driving an all-electric car that I won’t even have to steer; where software billionaires will sell me a ticket to vacation on Mars, and where today’s bat mitzvah girl might, some day, find a cure for all the terrible diseases hurting my fellow human beings today—I still get lonely. And I need Community.

Community isn’t something that goes looking for you; far from it. Many people believe that, if they are just patient enough, the members of a Community will come looking for them, and invite them in. That’s why they stay lonely. Some folks believe that a Community will take the place of a family, and take complete care of them. It won’t.

A Community—a Spiritual Community—is a group of people who share a sense of Belonging, and who work on that Belonging, in an active sense. It means building a temple—not just maintaining the physical temple—though we do have a beautiful one in our Temple Sholom of Pompano Beach; indeed, it’s one of the most awe-inspiring Holy Places I have ever visited, and you should see it, if you’ve never been. If you live somewhere else, and are reading this online, it means Building a Temple for God, a Place for the Holy One, where folks can rebuild themselves, both in Spirit and Soul.

This Torah portion, Vayakhel, describes how the Israelites in the Wilderness came together and brought all sorts of wonderful things—precious cloth, goat’s hair, linen; the skins of animals from rams to dugongs (they call them “seals”); gold- and silver-plated poles and panels, besides the Golden Ark of the Covenant which was God’s footstool; jewels, both precious and semi-precious; and a host of other furniture and vessels, chief among them the Menorah, the sacred candlabra.

I’m sure that it was amazingly beautiful, and, when the Israelites were done, they had a Dedicatory Service, with dinner, and an entire list of Speakers, Musicians, Poets and Politicians, with Moses and Aaron (did Miriam speak, as well? I hope so) at the top of the list.

Understand me, though: it was all Material; it was not Spirit. Spirit is what people bring to the Place—that is why another Name for God, one of the Most Important, is Ha-Makom, “The Place.”

Here is a story about another building, even bigger and more magnificent, which none of us, none of Today’s Jews, have ever seen: the Temple of Solomon (1000 BCE), in all of its grandeur and glory:

Solomon, like many monarchs, loved to disguise himself as an Ordinary Person and go out to hobnob with the Common Folk, so that he could better understand what they were thinking. On this occasion, long before the Temple was completed and dedicated, he went to the Temple site, and struck up a conversation with each of three random workers, asking each one what they were doing.

Worker One said, “I’m just cutting stones; that’s what the straw boss told me to do.”

Worker Two said, “Oh, I’m mixing the concrete to hold the building stones in place. What time do we get off for lunch? My wife packed me a chicken-salad on pita; I sure do love that chicken-salad she makes.”

Worker Three, a fella named Maury, said, “I love this job, Mister. I’m working on a place where people will meet God. It’s an honor. Plus, I get to make money to support my wife and kids.”

If we take the story of Solomon a little further, here, we can imagine that the King, still in disguise as a commoner, became friends with Maury, got to meet his wife Shifra and his kids Danny and Ruthy, joined his Thursday Night Poker Game, and shared his beer and pizza.

You see, in these days where Blind Pew is telling us that Synagogues are Falling Apart and the Jews are About to Disappear, we don’t need more Master Plans for Jewish Survival. We need more moments of beer and pizza. Maybe the Israelites muffed the first set of Commandments, but, when they were building the Mishkan/Sanctuary, they had their eye on the Second Set. We’re Jews. Sometimes we fail, but we always succeed, the second time around. Anybody want to finish the pizza?

(From an idea by Master Educator Joel Lurie Grishaver)

David Hartley Mark is from New York City’s Lower East Side. He attended Yeshiva University, the City University of NY Graduate Center for English Literature, and received semicha at the Academy for Jewish Religion. He currently teaches English at Everglades University in Boca Raton, FL, and has a Shabbat pulpit at Temple Sholom of Pompano Beach. His literary tastes run to Isaac Bashevis Singer, Stephen King, King David, Kohelet, Christopher Marlowe, and the Harlem Renaissance.

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