Parashat Vayakhel

From "Other" to "Beloved"

It is easy to feel disconnected from those who are most unlike us.

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The Generous of Heart

In the process of constructing the mishkan, then, God is transformed from the awesome divine Other, unapproachable and incomprehensible, to the intimate divine Beloved, present in the midst of Israel. It is the act of generosity, the very process of giving, that actualizes the opening of the heart that in turn makes intimacy possible. 

Again and again in the parashah we are told of the generous of heart and noble of spirit who contributed to the mishkan. This is a generosity not only of possessions, but one that reaches even deeper, as we are told, "take from yourselves an offering to God, all the generous of heart (Exodus 35:5)."

That is, a literal taking from yourselves, your experience, your wisdom and particularity, and offering it to the Beloved. Before, alienated by God's distance at the peak of Mount Sinai, the people could only express their generosity to the illusion of divinity in the Golden Calf (Exodus 32:3). Now, inviting God into their midst, the natural generosity of intimacy is properly expressed.

To Dwell Among Us

Just as God is ultimately both foreign and intimate, both self and other, so this is true of our fellow human beings. We can experience our fellow humans as alienated, even antagonistic, others, or as intimate beloved companions.

Like the Israelites in the wilderness, alienated by God's otherness, it is often easy to feel disconnected and not responsible for those who are most other, most unlike us. This disconnection is apparent between us and our neighbors in the developing world, who are separated from us by distance, wealth, culture, and politics.

The challenge and promise of the mishkan is that we can bridge those gaps and give our fellow humans, reflections of the divine image, a place to dwell in our hearts, minds, and souls and literally 've-shakhanti betokham'--the I, the personhood of every individual, will dwell within us. 

It is this almost mystical moment of connection, the enactment of the mishkan in our own lives, that should be the foundation for our ethical responsibility and action. Through realizing our essential intimacy with all humans, our natural generosity flows forth, allowing us to give both from our possessions and from our very selves, from the depths of our being and from the skills and experiences that we have to contribute. 

Like the Israelites in the wilderness, we too can offer our sacrifices, our money, and our generosity to enable the other to dwell within us and to give the other, like the divine, a secure dwelling-place on earth.

Once we had the Tabernacle (mishkan) and the Temple (mikdash). Now we have only our hearts--hearts that can be a dwelling place for all those who are suffering, if we open them wide enough. We can build the mishkan of our hearts, making space for every human to dwell there, and so become filled with the generosity that comes from transforming the other into the beloved.

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Rabbi James Jacobson-Maisels

Rabbi James Jacobson-Maisels teaches Jewish thought and mysticism at the Pardes Institute of Jewish Studies in Jerusalem.