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Vayakhel-Pekudei:  When Enough is not Enough

03/16/2023 06:50:02 PM

Mar16

When is enough not enough?

   This week, in addition to the "HaHodesh" introduction to the month of Passover, we read Parashat Vayakhel-Pekudei, which describes the implementation of the construction of the Tabernacle, carrying out the plans that had been given to Moses previously.  The Israelites and their leaders bring gifts of every type of material imaginable: gold, silver, jewels, precious fabrics, simple yarn, wood and even spices and oil.  Every member of the nation is involved.  Gifts of materials and labor come from rich and poor, men and women, craftspeople and simple laborers.  We are told (Exodus 36:7) that "the materials had been enough for all the work to be done, and there was left over."  This verse seems to contradict itself.  Was there just enough, or was there left over?  The resolution of this contradiction  has important implications for our community of worship.

   Rabbi Abraham Joshua Heschel of Apt (the great-grandfather and namesake of the more well-known 20th century Rabbi Heschel) offered an interpretation in his "Sichot Tzadikim." He suggests that the text presents a lesson in humility.  If there had been exactly the right amount of donations, each person could say "I was the one who completed the work! It could not have been done without me." The intent of this contradictory language was to deflate the egos of those who felt that they were more important than anyone else who did the work. No-one could claim to be the person upon whom the Tabernacle depended.

   A Moroccan commentator, Rabbi Chayim Ibn Attar, presents another view, explaining that the text is not a contradiction.  Rather, when a community comes together, the whole is more than the sum of its parts.  Each person did exactly the amount that was required.  And yet, when all the parts were put together, they became even more than they would have been individually.

   As a 21st century rabbi, I have my own humble understanding.  I have always felt that the text is guidance for anyone who is setting a goal for themself.  If you aim exactly for a goal, a quota, or an objective, you may reach it, or you may fall short. If you aim to exceed expectations, they you may not hit your mark, but even if you fall short, you may still do "enough."

   Each morning and evening, we aim to have a minyan in person.  As the world has is returning to “normal,”  we welcome virtual participants, but for most purposes, we need Jews in the room, not on the zoom.  A number of congregants have committed to attend daily out of their own spirituality, or as a way of honor a loved one saying kaddish.  In addition, Dave Cohen has helped organized a rotation where every member of the synagogue is asked to attend one day a week.  

   Often, we have a surplus, and sometimes when that happens, one of our volunteers is disappointed because they “weren’t needed.” Nothing could be further from the truth.  Aiming to have ten is not enough- traffic, health, or other obligations may keep one of the "regulars" away One night this week, we made 10 in person only because two congregants came to support their day, a former member happened to be in town, and we were able to round up an extra rabbi. Being right at 10 is nerve-wracking.   We often need to aim beyond our target in order to ensure that we hit it.  That is certainly true if we want to be a complete and supportive prayer community.

Fri, June 14 2024 8 Sivan 5784