Saturday, March 14, 2015

"More Than Enough" - D'var Torah for Parashat Vayakheil/Pekuday (Exodus 36:1-7) - March 13, 2015

In recent days, we have heard about a student at UCLA who was nearly rejected from a student review board because she was Jewish. Some students on the board felt that, even though she was eminently qualified, her Jewish identity would cloud her judgment.
We heard of racist chants on a fraternity bus that led to the SAE Fraternity National Organization closing the University of Oklahoma fraternity chapter altogether.
   We hear voices in our community accusing various types of leaders not of gross misconduct, but of the sin of disagreeing with them, or not affirming their tactics and strategies even when agreeing in principle.
And the Westboro Baptist Church tried to picket the funeral of actor Leonard Nimoy, at which one of my colleagues officiated.  They failed in their effort because they couldn’t find the location of the funeral home.
   These events and situations are examples of characteristics that we don’t consider gifts and that we don’t want to keep on giving.   There is too much bigotry, too much hatred, too much arrogance, too much prejudice, and too much racism, because even one example of each is too much.
  Jewish tradition makes plenty of suggestions about how to prevent the preponderance of undesirable expressions and attitudes that fail to create warmth and peace in a community.
   This week’s Torah reading makes a strong statement about positive gifts that can keep on giving, both on the material and spiritual level. 
   The Israelites were bringing raw materials to the chief artisans, Bezalel and Oholiab, and their fellow workers so that the Tabernacle, the portable sanctuary used in the wilderness, could be fashioned in a way that made it beautiful and impressive.  In these verses, something amazing happens, something that most any modern religious congregation would see as a miracle.   The people brought too much.  The artisans had to tell the people to stop giving.   By the end of the passage, it says that the Israelites had not just brought enough – DAI – they had brought MORE than enough – “HOTEIR.”   Would that most any effort to raise funds or volunteer sign-ups in a congregation would reach the level of more than enough!!!  It does happen sometimes.  When does it happen?
   The Torah gives a hint of what it takes to reach the “more than enough” level.   The Israelites brought “N’DAVAH” – voluntary contributions.  And when did they bring them? BABOKER BABOKER – a repetition of the phrase “in the morning” that means “every morning.”   One commentator noted that not only were those donations brought in the morning: they were brought at dawn, when the givers could not be seen because the sun had not totally risen.  Their identities were concealed.  They didn’t care about personal credit for what they were doing. They only wanted to give. 
   In his commentary on the Torah, Richard Elliot Friedman quoted one of his teachers with regards to this passage: “My teacher Yohanan Muffs pointed out a paradox about sacrifice: ‘people are commanded to do it, yet sacrifices are regarded as a freewill offering.’  The same applies here at the point of the establishment of Israel’s entire ritual structure.  They people are COMMANDED to bring donations in Exodus Chapter 25, yet they act with a kind of zeal that reflects more than just obedience to a commandment.  They bring far more than was required of them.  This is an essential concept ultimately for the entire notion of law and commandment in Judaism.  The law is not regarded as a burden.  It is mandatory, yet one fulfills it out of choice and with joy.  Thus the word for commandment, MITZVAH, has two meanings to this day: it means a law that must be obeyed, but Jews also commonly understand it to mean a good deed, freely performed.”
    I would take this one step further.  The Torah reading speaks of gifts that are tangible – items contributed for fashioning a physical structure.  We know that a faith community is more than the building in which it meets.  The creation of a warm, loving and holy congregation also requires intangible gifts that come from our hearts.   What do we bring to our religious communities – or to any group to which we belong – that has no limit?  What are some examples of those donations from the heart that sustain a community of which we can give more than enough?  What would you put on that list???
For me, that list would include:
• Kindness
• Hope
• Generosity (including generosity of spirit)
• Righteous giving/Tzedakah
• Understanding
• Empathy
• A desire to help and guide people close to us when they come to us for help.
Like Bezalel and Oholiab, we can be artisans and experts in giving, people who are wise in mind and heart, who can instinctively know what is needed by the people around us and by our community.  May the Tabernacle that we create together be one that is made of cooperation, consideration, mutual respect, love and peace. 
And let us say Amen.

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