Linking the Generations - Vayak'heil - P'kudei (Exodus 35:1–40:38)
Vayak'heil - P'kudei
[Moses] Assembled / [The] Records [of the Tabernacle]
Space and Time.
This is the contrast in this week’s Parashah. For weeks we have been reading about the careful construction of the holy Mishkan that will house the spirit and laws of God as the Israelites travel across the wilderness. We often do present the wonderful metaphor of our own bodies and minds also housing the spirit and word of God – much like the Mishkan - but primarily this is a story about the importance of space and physical constructs. Our students really do understand both these concepts – the metaphor and the literal meaning of the Mishkan in this ongoing story.
Then we get to Shabbat. Our sages speak of the inclusion of Shabbat in this Parashah as kind of wake-up call or at least a reminder about the risks of focusing too much on the physical. Shabbat is of course about time. Shabbat is not a physical place to be. It is, in a sense, a state of mind. Yes, we have a tradition of gathering on Shabbat as a community to read from Torah around the occurrence of Shabbat. But the commandment about Shabbat – as retold by Moses – is about personal and individual rest and restraint from work. We retell the creation story and are commanded to rest on the 7th day just as God did.
Much or our faith tradition revolves around balancing these two concepts of place and time – or form and formlessness. So it should be no surprise that much of our Jewish politics also revolves around the contrast between the physical and the non-physical. We cherish the sanctuary and the congregations we join. But our relationship with God – and Shabbat – is not dependent upon it. We value and cherish Israel as the birthplace or our people and the modern manifestation of a national Jewish identity. But for centuries, scholars have asked how the physical place impacts the global Jewish ideologies of today.
The Parashah seems to emphasize what is so hard to grasp in our modern era. The answer to the question of space and time is not a zero sum game. The physical is always important,but it can’t be the total sum of our focus. Form-less concepts like God, Shabbat and Middot, are vital to who we are as Jews. But without the ritual, the physical, and the space to connect to –many of us might not have the grounding we need.
Lessons abound in our texts, but maybe none are as important as those that point out contradictions we need to wrestle with on a daily basis. This seeming contradiction between time and space, between the form and the formless – this could be one that we revisit time and time again as we ask the serious questions about our identity, our Judaism, our connection to Israel, and our connection to our community.