Vayakhel: Building a Sacred Community by Rabbi David Hartley Mark

Vayakhel (Shabbat Shekalim)
Torah: Exodus 35:1 – 38:20
Haftarah:  II Kings 12:1 – 12:17

How do people bond? I can only look at this from a male point of view. I googled Male Bonding Activities on the Web—you can find everything on the Web—and came up with this site. Men like to fix things, play video games, work out at the gym, watch or play sports, go fishing, grill, and enjoy a beer with friends.

I don’t do any of those things.

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 why I believe going to shul is important.

I go because, even though we live in an Age of Instant Communication and Information Overkill, we—men and women, both—still get lonely. And we 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 Sacred 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 week’s 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 (the Torah calls 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: the Wilderness Sanctuary was all Material; it was not Spirit. Spirit was what people brought to the Place—that is why another Name for God, one of the Most Important, is Ha-Makom, “The Place.” It was, I believe, the very first shrine built to worship a single God, our ancestors being the world’s first Ethical Monotheists in a world dedicated to materialism, polytheism, and paganism.

Spirit is what took place after the big dinner, when the Levite Band was playing Jewish Music—sort of an early-style Klezmer, with drums, harps, and castanets. The Levite Chorus was rocking the tent, with all the Israelites dancing, including Moses and Zipora, Aaron and Elisheva, and Miriam belting out God’s praises, ‘til the Mountains of Moab echoed their music and laughter, far-off in the distance. And all the little kids were running in-and-out among the dancers, playing tag, ‘til they were too tired to stand, so that their parents had to scoop them up and carry them off home, in the wee small hours of the morning….

You see, in these days where the “Jewish Experts” are 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 rejoicing—dancing and singing. Maybe the Israelites muffed the first set of Commandments, but, when they were building the Sanctuary, they had their eye on the Second Set.

We’re Jews. Sometimes we fall short of achieving our Sacred Moments, but our Community always succeeds, the second time around.

Couldn’t you use a Sacred Moment, about now?

Your Temple Community is waiting.



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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