Member Login

Rabbi Sydni's Shabbat Sermons

פרשת ויקהל-פקודי, תשפ״א

Parshat Vayak'heil-P'kudei, 5781

by Rabbi Sydni

Saturday, March 13th, 2021

Building the Mishkan - Lessons in Non-Profit Management

Imagine an Agudath Achim in which we had enough volunteers and funds to never worry about our limits. How would our synagogue space, services, and programming look? I dare you to dream big!

As the mishkan (the Tabernacle) is being built in our parashah, the people Israel donate more than enough resources and volunteer hours. They donate so much, in fact, that Moses has to ask the people to pause from giving. In meticulously planning the measurements, materials, and volunteer needs of the mishkan, God has created a project with clear vision. The people Israel know exactly how they can contribute and where their contributions will go. With clarity of purpose, along with some other non-profit business techniques, God models for us successful organizational management.

In the construction of the mishkan, some weave and some build, some donate and some oversee. The medieval commentator Seforno writes that the work is completed in its entirety because of that personal investment. As each and every Israelite has contributed hours or funds to the cause, each and every Israelite wants to see this project succeed. And of course, the project depends on the diversity of ways in which the Israelites can contribute; the construction of the mishkan involves muscle, logic, artistry, resources, and faith, allowing for each Israelite to shine in her own unique manner. God knows that the success of any project depends on the attachment of the people involved; in order to reach our goals, we must ask for volunteer and financial assistance from people with a broad range of abilities and interests.

Perhaps a more pointed example of the distribution of people-power in an organization or in a project comes from Rashi’s words. Rashi, a medieval commentator from Germany and France, asks the question of why the princes, the n’si’im, wait so long in our parashah to contribute. He answers that these leaders of the community know they should not always have to do the bulk of the work or give the bulk of the donations. They wait so that they can give a chance to those who have not yet contributed or acted. Then, when new donors step up, the n’si’im look at what is left to do and to give, and they resume their positions of benevolence and action.

High schoolers and college students today are often taught to check themselves - to speak up if they know they tend to stay quiet, and to hold back just slightly when they know they tend to dominate classroom conversation. In the construction of the mishkan, the often-dominant n’si’im hold back just enough so that they can leave room for new ideas and talent to blossom. So, too, in any organization, even when the leadership knows they may be responsible for a whole lot at the end of the day, it is always important to leave room for unexpectedly eager volunteers.

As construction tasks are completed in our parashah, the Torah reminds us that the actions involved are ka’asher tzivah Adonai et Moshe - just as Adonai commanded Moses. Each action sources back to the bigger picture - towards fulfilling God’s command and building a home for God among the people Israel. Just like any successful organization, each action involved in building the mishkan points to a larger mission and vision. People want to participate because they know the holy purpose behind their every action.

At the end of the day, as God’s glory fills the mishkan, and as God continues to travel with the people in a pillar of cloud and fire, God’s presence is l’einei khol beit Yisrael (Exodus 40:38) - in the eyes of all of the house of Israel. Just as the children of Israel are able to see the rewards of their efforts, organizations must state and celebrate their successes. All that hard work has to pay off somewhere; contributors must be acknowledged for their efforts. Just as crucially, as our parashah begins with Shabbat as a way to rest from the work of the mishkan, every organization needs time for rest and reflection on the work done. We all need time to name triumphs and challenges, to brainstorm what’s to come before diving in.

Our Agudath Achim website welcomes its guests with a statement formulated before I made my way to Shreveport:

Congregation Agudath Achim is an inclusive, egalitarian Conservative congregation in Shreveport, Louisiana, whose members are committed to each other, to active participation in worship services, to meaningful Jewish learning, and to spiritual growth.

As we strive for our future as a home for the Shreveport Jewish community, we can utilize some of God’s non-profit management techniques towards ensuring our continuity. When we plan anything, from programming to finances to the structure of our board, we can look back on our statement of purpose and ask - Does this decision support commitment to one another? Does it encourage active service participation, Jewish learning, or spiritual growth? And when we find the answer to those questions, with our advertisement of changes and decisions, we can root our words and actions back to our mission. With every project, we can search out different people to contribute time, energy, and resources, to achieve a broader attachment to our goals. Just as we do with each board and committee meeting, we can take deliberate time to reflect on how our actions fit (or don’t fit) with our visions as a community, as well as what detailed prescriptions we need moving forward.

Now, let’s think back to those dreams expressed just a few minutes ago. They may not all be plausible in the next few years, but imagine how much of what was stated could be achieved through the commitment of a few more volunteers and donors, through careful planning, and through the positivity of encouragement and reflection. We are a congregation with 120 years of commitment to this holy space and to each other. Over 120 years, we have cultivated our modern mishkan, our modern home for God and a space for learning and inspiration for hundreds of Shreveport Jews. May we use our collective strengths towards another 120 years of worship, learning, and growth. Shabbat Shalom