Parashah of the week: Vayakhel

“Moses communed all the congregation of the people of Israel and said to them, ‘these are the things that the Eternal has commanded you to do’” Exodus 35:1


Moses will go on to instruct the observance of Shabbat and the building of the Tabernacle, but why emphatically bring everyone together here, using the term Vayakhel, from which we derive the word kehillah, “community”?

Recently I woke up at 7 unable to move my back without coruscating pain and therefore unable to move. Keen to get to the bathroom, I jaggedly manoeuvered myself into a most uncomfortable position, flopping to the floor, propped up against drawers. 

I was sleeping in the conservatory, isolating from my wife who had Covid. I shouted “help” repeatedly, feeling scared and alone. Help came from my brother and wife. I’m sorting out my back.

Those moments and these two years have been extraordinarily isolating, so much so that we might have ceased to dream about the power of being together. The Mei Hashiloach, the 19th-century Chasidic Rebbe, says that Moses convenes all because when an individual encounters something desirable, she wants to accrue it to herself. 

So, therefore when the Holy Blessed One wants all Israel to receive goodness and plenty — of the commandments, and of the Divine presence — all Israel is to come together as one, none more deserving than the other, and all more deserving for joining together. 

The Mei Hashiloach also teaches that Shabbat here is mentioned next to the Tabernacle for it is a great equaliser, a measure against arrogance, as no one’s endeavour can lead them to think they are wiser than their fellow. 

Seeing the wondrous Tabernacle, one might attribute it to the distinguished skill or intelligence of some individuals, but instead we are to see that we are as closely bound as each segment of the construction is to its component parts. We are one.

We can believe and work for Klal Yisrael, for a unity of the Jewish people, and we can also strive for togetherness with all people. Moses gathering the people teaches that there is a value to gathering and closeness and that we do not need to be united by a single characteristic, not even by learning or intellect. 

We are united by being and serving. Over these years, the moments of just singing together in our prayers in packed shuls have been too rare. We need them. 

We have not been able to gather, and this can be isolating and painful, so, inspired by Vayakhel, let us dream to gather closer, with more of us, limbs of a single body.

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