Last weekend and this weekend millions of and millions of Americans suffering from the exhaustion that is the drama of FBI Investigations, Senate confirmation hearings, Trump-care, alleged collusion with the Russians; found solace and will seek solace from a bunch of university age young men playing basketball. Indeed, for a college basketball fan, these final two weekends in March are a great time of year. Last Thursday sixty-four teams began the tournament and by the end of this weekend, four teams will play for a national championship. It is truly some of the most competitive dramatic and exciting basketball. More importantly it is a wonderful escape from the constant and overwhelming flow of political news out of Trump administration. In order to win the national championship a team must win six games in a row. In order to win these final six games of the season, each individual must put aside his ego, his own individual needs and accept his responsibility and his obligation to the team. Each individual must fulfill his role even more effectively and efficiently than during the games leading up these final six games. Each individual must decide that the common goal of the team is the most important goal. Everything that can be done to fulfill this goal even if it means diminished personal satisfaction and glory must occur otherwise there is no hope of a championship.
This week we combine the final two Parshiot, Vayakahel-Pekudie, and complete the Book of Exodus. Following the sin of the Golden Calf and Teshuvah (repentance), B’nai Yisroel begins executing God’s instructions for the Mishkan, the Ark, and the Tent of the Meeting. You will recall that when God gave these instructions to Moshe, God started from the middle of the Mishkan – the Aron and worked out to the walls of the Tent of the Meeting. When B’nai Yisroel begins the building process, it begins with walls of the Tent, then concludes with the altar and finally the Ark.
After the destructive behavior of worshipping the Golden Calf, B’nai Yisroel comes together, and shares a common constructive experience bound by a common goal. Their goal is to complete the construction of the Mishkan. The common experience is their contributions of raw materials. V’Yavo’u Kol Ish Asher Nasahu Libo V’chol Asher Nadvah Rucho- Every man whose heart inspired him came; and everyone whose spirit motivated him brought the portion of God for the work of the Tent of the Meeting, for all its labor and for the sacred clothing (Ex.35:21). By participating in this constructive process, everyone had an opportunity to repent for the sin of the Golden Calf and for their lack of faith. If viewed as a process, B’nai Yisroel began on the outside of its relationship with God, struggling to connect to God by means of idolatrous behavior. After repentance, and with the completion of each aspect of the Mishkan and the Ohel Moed; B’nai Yisroel began moving towards the Holy of Holies. They started with the walls of the Tent of the Meeting, and finished with the ark. They started where they were capable and as they continued to spiritually and grow and develop they were able to move to the next aspect until finally concluding with the Aron.
For the vast majority, we approach God in a similar way. As we become inspired, we come to Judaism. As we become motivated, we dedicate a greater portion to God, both in terms of Tzedakah and time. It is very rare when our motivation or dedication comes as a result of a “bolt of lightening” or some existential metaphysical sign or wonder. No, our motivation and dedication is a result of our recognition that there is something missing in our lives. We miss meaning and purposefulness in our lives. We miss contentment in our lives. We miss peace in our lives. Certainly we can be happy without meaning. Certainly we can be happy without contentment. Certainly we can be happy without peace. Why? Happiness is rather fleeting and quite often it is the result of some external factor. Meaning, contentment and peace are ultimately internally influenced and far less fleeting. Our movement towards God, our movement towards greater observance, is a series of steps. We don’t begin as a Tzaddik observing all mitzvot. Rather, one mitzvah leads to another, learning leads to more learning which eventually leads to doing.
We learn several vital lessons from these Parshiot. First, we learn that Judaism requires two parties, God and B’nai Yisroel. Both must exist together in a balanced relationship. When God and Torah become so far out of reach, B’nai Yisroel will become alienated and turn to idolatry, such as the Golden Calf, crass materialism, money or some other “God”. When B’nai Yisroel fails to elevate itself in Kedushah, in holiness, then we fail in our dual mission: make our lives more meaningful and spiritual; “be a light among the nations”. However when we enter into a highly participatory and shared communal experience, such as building the Mishkan, or any project or program that we build, we must sacrifice some of our personal needs for the well being of the community. Second, we learn that when the community shares a commons sense of purpose, something wonderful happens. We achieve that balance between God and ourselves. The result, of course, is that God will dwell among us. God’s dwelling among us makes our community a little warmer, a little kinder, and more significant. Third, we also learn that the actual process of building requires hard work. B’nai Yisroel, like any team shared in the difficulty of the task. Greater participation makes the experience that much more meaningful and more rewarding. What is the reward? The reward is a community that shares simchas and tsuris, victories as well as defeats. The reward is that no individual member of the community should ever feel alienated and alone. The reward is a community that strives for growth and improvement. This brings more meaning to the life of the individual, the family, and the community.