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Vayakhel 5782 - You Have Something to Contribute

February 26, 2022 - 25 Adar I, 5782

 When tables and chairs need to be moved, I tend to run the other way. Whenever I try to help with rearranging furniture, I will inevitably drop something on someone’s toes, get in other people’s way, or put my object down in an even less convenient place than it was before. With my small size, I am useless when it comes to carrying remotely heavy boxes. 

And yet, I know that I can be helpful in other ways. Although I do love to talk, I am also happy to provide a listening presence. I enjoy writing and can help others’ with their professional or academic papers. And I have a very specific knowledge base that I am constantly expanding; even when I don’t know how to answer a Jewish question, I know where I can find the answer. I would imagine that you, too, are thoroughly unhelpful in certain situations and an absolute life-saver in others.

When the people Israel build the mishkan, the Tabernacle, God takes advantage of that diversity in helpfulness. Moshe commands in God’s name, “Take for yourselves a gift to God, everyone whose heart so moves him…” (35:5). All who have the means to donate give what they can. Moshe continues, “And everyone who is wise of heart (or mind) shall come and do all that Adonai has commanded” (35:10). Each person completes the work at which she excels, the work about which she knows the most. Because of his natural leadership and breadth of knowledge and experience, Moshe appoints Betsalel, son of Uri, son of Hur, of the tribe of Judah to “make designs for work in gold, silver, and copper, to cut stones for setting and to carve wood - to work in every kind of designer’s craft - and to give directions” (35:30-35). Betzalel’s best place is as supervisor and creative director; while he may or may not be great at judging halakhic issues, at farming, or at childcare, Betzalel serves where God and Moshe know he will shine. The people Israel all differ in their individual means, physical abilities, creative acumen, knowledge, and interest. In order to build this mishkan, this Tabernacle, as a celebration of the God who endows us with our particular strengths, the people Israel need to put together all of their resources and know-how in order to build something spectacular enough to exceed God’s expectations. At the end of the day, encouraged to contribute in the ways in which their “heart moves them or lifts them, whose spirit directs them” - n’div libo, n’sa’o libo, nadvah ruho - the Israelites are so excited that they contribute even more than is needed! (36:7-8)

As in the Israelite community that comes together to build the mishkan, every single person in this community has something to contribute. Whether it’s time, money, physical ability, creativity, wisdom, or experience, you have something unique to provide to Agudath Achim. No matter what your age, interests, or schedule, your personality and actions shape our community’s reality. Some people in this room help by teaching religious school and leading adult education, while others help by fixing things around the building. Some community members prepare our food, while others read Torah and Haftarah. While newer members of our community bring insights from other spaces, members who have been here for decades can remind us of what has and has not worked in the past. Those who are unable to come here in person can donate funds or pitch ideas over phone and email. Kids who may be too young to do physical labor or serve on the board can help us decorate the Sukkah and lead their favorite prayers during services. Extroverts and introverts may thrive in very different volunteer opportunities. Today, all I ask is that you identify one task for which you are uniquely qualified, and commit to contributing that to our Shreveport Jewish community. 

While there will always be monotonous things to get done in order to keep our building running, this particular responsibility should be something you enjoy so much that you will want to come back and do it again week after week. This task should be one that n’div libekha, that your heart and spirit are directed to complete. If all of us choose a responsibility that draws us in and that makes us want to bring others along for the journey, our excitement may become so infectious that we will get to that Biblical place in which we have given, and then, received everything we need as a community and more! 

Just like Moshe’s humility, Aaron’s peacemaking, and Betzalel’s specific acumen and creativity shape the environment experienced by the people Israel, the strengths and expertise you bring into this space shape the values for which we stand at Agudath Achim. When each of us uses our interests and abilities towards this community, we all share ownership of this space; we all benefit. Ideally, our knowledge of each other’s and our own worth will influence the way we participate in community outside of these walls, as well.

None of us can do everything in this building by ourselves, just as none of us can save the world or do all 613 commandments alone. Before we continue in our service, I want to share a reflection on our unique abilities to act and care, from Ohr Ha-Hayyim, a commentary by the 18th century Moroccan Kabbalist and Talmudist Hayyim Ibn Attar:

The Torah was given to be collectively observed by Israel as a whole. Each individual would contribute his best to their mutual benefit. […] Your  neighbor’s welfare will contribute to yours and through him you complement your own perfection, so that he is not someone else, but you yourself and like a part of you. The Almighty gave us 613 precepts and it is impossible for one man to observe them all. There are, for example, Priests, Levites, and Israelite men and women. Some precepts apply only to priests, others can only be fulfilled by Israelites, and others only by women. In what way is it feasible for the individual to observe all the precepts…? The answer must be that Torah can be observed collectively, by the people as a whole, each individual deriving benefit from the observance of his neighbour and each individual’s performance complementing that of the other.

Together and only together, we move furniture, run a synagogue, and fulfill all 613 mitzvot. Shabbat Shalom.

Sat, June 25 2022 26 Sivan 5782