When do we group ourselves together? Vayakhel-Pekudei, Exodus 35:1-40:38, 12:1-20

When do we group ourselves together? Vayakhel-Pekudei, Exodus 35:1-40:38, 12:1-20

“Moses then convoked the whole Israelite community. …” so begins this week’s double portion, Vayakhel-Pekudei. The verse is introductory; it is a lead-in to a reminder of observing Shabbat, building the Tabernacle and its furnishings from the gifts that the people would bring, ending when God’s presence filled the Tabernacle.
What was the most difficult task for Moses as a community leader? Maintaining his patience when the Israelites remembered their time in Egypt with rose-colored glasses and filled fleshpots? Personally settling all the disputes — or letting go, as his father-in-law had suggested — so others could assist? Knowing when he could handle a situation himself versus when to turn to God? Being CEO (Chief Executive Officer), COO (Chief Operating Officer) and CFO (Chief Financial Officer) all at the same time? Or maybe finding the balance between work and family?
I submit that we heard Moses’ most challenging task in the very first verse of this portion; and the very word, vayakhel that, though giving its name to the portion, is otherwise overlooked. “Moses then convoked the whole Israelite community.” Bringing together the whole Israelite community is quite the challenge.
When we are labeled, or Israel is attacked physically or verbally or through anti-Semitic strikes, outsiders group us together and we defend ourselves.
But when do we group ourselves together of our own accord? We certainly have communal institutions that attempt to bring us under the same blue and white umbrella: UJF, JCC, JF&CS and more — the list continues in the special Jewish community that Pittsburgh has borne and raised. Yet there are leaks in our umbrella. Why is it that not all rabbis have chosen to be members of the Greater Pittsburgh Rabbinic Association? Why can’t we have a communal standard for kashrut that invites us all to the same table? Why can’t all Jews of college-age find their way into Hillel?
Building and furnishing the tabernacle was accomplished one gift at a time: acacia wood and dolphin skins, incense and olive oil, pegs and sockets and poles and utensils were all brought. Some were homemade and others presented as is. Some were of more monetary value than others. Each could bring his/her own offering. What gift will you bring so that God’s presence will dwell among us… all of us?
The Book of Exodus comes to a close with this double-portion and we say the words “Chazak, chazak v’nithazek” (strength, strength, may we be strengthened.) If you build it, “He” will come. Let us build our community together.

(This column is a service of the Greater Pittsburgh Rabbinic Association.)