A Commentary on the Opening Words of Vayakhel
Delivered near Bethlehem, during an Encounter Program with Palestinians
Vayakhel Moshe et kol adat b’nai Yisrael vayomer aleihem: Eileh hadevarim asher tziva Adonai la’asot otam (Exodus 35:1).
And Moses gathered the whole community of the children of Israel and said to them: These are the words (matters) that God commanded that you do them.
I am fascinated by this collection of words of Torah.
What do they mean?
Vayakhel Moshe… (And Moses assembled).
Previously, God collected the people together. In this parasha (portion), Moses did. Sometimes God helps us come together; sometimes the ways we talk about God, or misinterpret God’s will, keeps us from coming together. In this pasuk (verse), Moses gathers the people himself. So we wouldn’t let Godliness get in our way.
…et kol adat b’nai Yisrael… (the whole community of the children of Israel).
The men and the women.
The rightists and the leftists… and the majority of us in between.
The rich and the poor… and the majority in between who struggle for their parnasa (financial support).
The whole community.
…b’nai… (the children).
Perhaps b’nai points to all of those people willing to encounter the encounter with a complete openness – innocence and naïveté – still unpolluted by the cynicism and self-righteousness that comes when the responsibilities of adulthood and the fears we adults harbor turn our openness and compassion as hard as stones.
You know, the Jews. Oh, and the ger toshav – the non-citizen who dwelt amongst us.
And those we enslaved.
Or, as my kids like to remind me when they question or doubt what I deem as undeniably fixed and holy,
perhaps Yisrael refers to all those who struggle with God,
and against the false images of God that we conjure up
that separate us into me and you
and them (who are “not us”).
…vayomer aleihem… (and said to them).
These are the words
Eileh hadevarim asher tziva Adonai la’asot otam
(These are the words that God commanded, that you should do them).
What are those words that should we do?
The rabbis point to Shabbat, which is the focus of the very next pasukim (verses). Others might say “all of Torah” as the rabbis argue in response to the opening words of the V’ahavta in Deuteronomy.
What words are we to hear?
We, the whole community, gathered together by our own human volition, as we struggle with the challenging painful status quo presented to us erroneously as a God-given truth?
What is it that we should do?
For me, I go back to the beginning.
To B’resheet (Genesis), when God created humanity as one.
Zachar unekevah (male and female), created as one.
Not as Jews or Christians or Muslims or Hindus or, or, or….
But one earth creature,
whole and united,
b’tzelem Elohim (in the image of God)” –
Blessedly unique, uncompromisingly equal, infinitely valued.
As I am.
And you are.
As she is.
And he is.
And they are.
And we all are.
Vayakhel moshe et kol adat b’nai Yisrael. Vayomer aleihem: Eileh hadevarim asher tziva Adonai la’asot otam.
We have gathered to encounter again that truth.
That we are all one.
May we hear it.
May we live it.