Parashat Vayakhel

Initiative and Self-Sufficiency

God met the Israelites' need to relate to God on their own terms--we must do the same.

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Provided by American Jewish World Service, pursuing global justice through grassroots change. 

The story of the Exodus from Egypt is not just a story of liberation, but it is also a story of maturity. It is the story of the maturing of the Israelites into religious adults. In the beginning of the story God is the one who constantly provided the religious context for the interactions between God and the people: it is God who initiated the relationship.

american jewish world serviceAfter the incident with the Golden Calf, God needed to provide a way for the Israelites to take the initiative, but in an appropriate way. The fact that the Israelites made an idol showed God that they wanted to initiate a relationship with God on their own terms. This was a big and positive step forward in their religious lives, but it was also a misstep. The Israelites were not to blame for the horrendous nature of their sin--they were simply acting based on the idolatrous environment that had surrounded them for 400 years.

Initiative through the Mishkan

On the heels of the Golden Calf incident, God gave the Israelites a vehicle through which to express their desire to relate to God. The vehicle was comprehensible to the Israelites, it was not an anathema to God, and most importantly it allowed the people to take the initiative. This vehicle was the Mishkan.

In Vayakhel we read about the construction of the Mishkan, the Tabernacle of God's dwelling in the Israelite camp in the desert. The Mishkan was the place where the Israelites could relate to God on their own terms. Thus, the Mishkan was not absent of images and religious objects. The Ark of the Covenant, the Menorah, the Altar, these were all religious objects that the Israelites could understand as necessary for the worship of God, but were not representations of the Divine itself.

Furthermore, God allowed every Israelite to participate in the construction of the Mishkan either through donations or through direct action, such as weaving the cloth, working the metal of the religious objects, or working the wood of the tent and fence. God initiated the relationship with the Israelites, but now God was providing the mechanism for the Israelites to continue that sacred relationship themselves. God was guiding them like a good parent or mentor on their way toward maturity.

Self-Sufficiency in the Developing World

When we think about helping people in the developing world we should model our actions on God. People in the developing world strive for self-sufficiency, not for endless handouts. As with the Israelites, the desire and will for independence exists. What is lacking are the resources or the technical knowledge to advance.

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Rabbi Ahud Sela

Rabbi Ahud Sela is an Assistant Rabbi at Sinai Temple, in Los Angeles, California.