Henry David Thoreau describes in his classic, "Walden" (1854), how over two years he would retreat into the wilderness, alone, to commune with the spiritual and as he put it, live "by the labour of my hands only." It’s a picturesque image, evocative in American culture, and one that being in isolation ourselves we might be able to relate to even more than when you read Walden in high school, but contrasted with the double Torah portions this week, V-P, we learn of a better model, the Jewish model, for confronting the challenges of life in the time of Coronavirus.
39:32 So all the work on the tabernacle, the tent of meeting, was completed. The Israelites did everything just as the commanded Moses.
39:32 וַתֵּ֕כֶל כָּל־עֲבֹדַ֕ת מִשְׁכַּ֖ן אֹ֣הֶל מוֹעֵ֑ד וַֽיַּעֲשׂוּ֙ בְּנֵ֣י יִשְׂרָאֵ֔ל כְּ֠כֹל אֲשֶׁ֨ר צִוָּ֧ה יְהוָ֛ה אֶת־מֹשֶׁ֖ה כֵּ֥ן עָשֽׂוּ׃
In the double parshah this week, Vayakhel Pekudei, it mentions all the Israelites doing the work – but is that right? Not everyone built it. Moses instructed, the people contributed, Betzalel made, etc. What are they getting credit for?
No one of us can perform all the mitzvot – some are for certain time and places, some only for certain people.
The story of the Tabernacle demonstrates this, and contrasts with Thoreau. Without the donations, of gold, silver, copper, and fabrics, Betzallel would not have been able to assemble the many parts needed for the Tabernacle.
All of the People of Israel were needed to assemble the Tabernacle, some through gifts and others through craftsmanship.
At a time when we can all feel like Thoreau in our own private Waldens of isolation during this time of the Coronavirus, we must remember that we Jews are not transcendentalists. We believe community is necessary, holy, and required. And so while we cannot be together physically, each of us individually as well as our congregation as a whole need to remember to act with thoughtfulness, kindness and patience to those with whom we may be interacting in person, to be thankful to those who are still out at work, especially those fulfilling vital jobs, and to reach out to others in need who may truly be isolated because of what’s happening.
I would love to hear from you all, and I’m sure others would, too. This video will be on the synagogue Facebook page. Please post there how you are showing gratitude and thoughtfulness during this time, share acts of kindness you’ve seen or experienced lately, and of course, if you know of someone with needs, let us know.
The congregation is reaching out to all members to check in and see how they are, and we have some volunteers who are able to help others out with certain things. And as we are already doing with Hebrew School, we are working to provide a robust offering of programs online for you to enjoy.
In these ways, all of us together can build a beautiful, albeit virtual, Sanctuary so as to invite Jewish meaning and God’s presence into our lives at this time when we need both so much.