Torah Readers Reflections

Spirituality and God's work

The work in the tabernacle was done by specific people who were chosen for their talents, however, the Torah tells us to not forget that even when we perform work that might seem personal, it is for the betterment of the entire community.
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Spirituality and God's work

Some time ago I had the opportunity to meet a teacher who happened to be an educator in the Arab sector. As we spoke, he told me that he would like for spirituality to be more present in his life. When I tried to understand what spirituality meant to him, he told me that he needs to for real self introspection, but the “race of life” was holding him back from this goal. He went into a deep, lively and charming explanation with regards to what this really means to him. As the conversation progressed, I realized that we both interpret “spiritual” very differently. I most certainly don’t disregard the significance and importance of the things that he spoke about, however, I do interpret the concept of leading a spiritual life as something that points in a different direction than the path he wanted to follow.

To me, a spirituality that is summed up in the "inner self" is not the spirituality that the Torah aims for. Of course, this is a subject that is too broad and delicate to be explained in a meaningful way in these short words, but reading the passages of Vayakhel-Pakudi can point to one essential difference.


In Parshat Vayakhel, Bezalel ben Uri appears as the person responsible for building the tabernacle. He was certainly helped by other craftsmen, but most of the work has his name on. Although at certain stages of the building of the tabernacle it is written "And they will", as you progress to the building of the central  Tabernacle vessels, the phrase repeated over and over again is "And he did." Bezalel is the the person who is performing the tasks personally. -"וַיַ֥עַעש את-השוּׁלח֖זן, וַיַ֥עַעש את-המְְר֖ה" and there are more and more examples of the Torah telling us what he did.

After Bezalel finishes his work of making the parts of the tabernacle, he presents them to Moses, and then Moses builds the tabernacle. Here, too, the singular verbs are repeated again and again - 

"וַיְדַבֵּ֥ר ה' אֶל־מֹשֶׁ֥ה לֵּאמֹֽר: בְּיוֹם־הַחֹ֥דֶשׁ הָרִאשׁ֖וֹן בְּאֶחָ֣ד לַחֹ֑דֶשׁ תָּקִ֕ים אֶת־מִשְׁכַּ֖ן אֹ֥הֶל מוֹעֵֽד: וְשַׂמְתָּ֣ שָׁ֔ם אֵ֖ת אֲר֣וֹן הָעֵד֑וּת וְסַכֹּתָ֥ עַל־הָאָרֹ֖ן אֶת־הַפָּרֹֽכֶת"...    


The holy work in these passages appears to be the work of chosen individuals. It is possible that there are special individuals who are assigned the task. In complete contrast to the understanding that they are at the center  of the building of the tabernacle comes the verses that "envelop" the portion at its beginning and then again at the  end. In contrast, these verses speak rather about the whole community. The verses emphasize the word "all" - as describing the complete community again and again in a very prominent way. This is how the distinction opens:


 וַיַּקְהֵ֣ל מֹשֶׁ֗ה אֶֽת־כָּל־עֲדַ֛ת בְּנֵ֥י יִשְׂרָאֵ֖ל ...וַיֹּ֣אמֶר מֹשֶׁ֔ה אֶל־כָּל־עֲדַ֥ת בְּנֵֽי־יִשְׂרָאֵ֖ל לֵאמֹ֑ר... 


The Torah teaches us that individuals do not act by themselves and for themselves. Their work is as public messengers and they direct themselves to public work. The ending of the portion is even more extreme in its inclusiveness of all the community. Moses finishes all the work of building the tabernacle, but just then a surprising verse appears:

"ולא-יקֹ֣ל מַשֶ֗ה לבוא֙ אל-אֹ֣הל מֵ֔ד קִּֽיָשָק֥֥ן על֖יו ֶעּנ֑ן וקְב֣וד מלֵ֖א את-הִּמַשָּֽקן:"

Moses does indeed build the tabernacle, but even he, the greatest of the prophets, cannot enter the tabernacle because the Shekinah - God’s presence has filled the tabernacle.  The Torah emphasizes that Moses is the creator of the tabernacle, but the tabernacle is not intended for him. The Torah also emphasizes for whom the tabernacle was built, in the last verse of the book of Exodus, (at the end of the chapter in which it is written that Moses could not come to the Tent of Meeting).

"כִּי֩ עֲנַ֨ן ה' עַֽל־הַמִּשְׁכָּן֙ יוֹמָ֔ם וְאֵ֕שׁ תִּהְיֶ֥ה לַ֖יְלָה בּ֑וֹ לְעֵינֵ֥י כָל־בֵּֽית־יִשְׂרָאֵ֖ל בְּכָל־מַסְעֵיהֶֽם:"


The construction of the tabernacle is for the presence of the Shekinah. The Shekinah’s presence is intended for "the whole house of Israel." The Tabernacle is not a meeting place for individuals, however great and significant they may be. The Tabernacle is a meeting place for G-d with the whole of Israel. The spiritual connection of a person with G-d does not start from him alone and does not end with him alone - it begins as part of the whole community and there it also ends with the whole community. 

Sometimes, we work on something special that may appear as if it is for us personally, however in the end we always know that the work we do is for the benefit of everyone, the whole community and not just for ourselves.


When a person wants to be more spiritual he may fall into a trap. The trap is that he will be too self-centered. He may forget both those around him and God. Eventually he will transform from a private physical personality to a private spiritual personality (in gentle words). The Torah directs us to go beyond our private frameworks and find out our purpose in this world by listening to the voice of God in the world. Even when, at the outset,  this voice is not our inner voice. The Torah also aims to hear the voices of the public, the voices of the whole and combine the private voice of the person in harmony with the general spiritual voice, of the connection of an entire people with God.


Shabbat Shalom, Matan Schneeweiss



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