Yom Sheini, 17 AdarI 5781
Monday, 1 March 2021
Parashat Vayakhel-Pekudei 2015

Parashat Vayakhel-Pekudei
13th March 2015 - Rabbi Lea Mühlstein

Last Shabbat, we celebrated a wonderful civic service at Northwood and Pinner Liberal Synagogue. Especially this year, as the Jewish community in Britain feels more threatened than it has done for very many years, it was reassuring to see mayors, local councillors, MPs and faith leaders from our local community embracing us in their midst and it was a great privilege for us to welcome them into our sacred space for some sacred time together. In my sermon, I expressed the hope that as a British society we can learn from Moses’ lesson to God that you don’t get to just pick the good times to call a people my people. Just as Moses didn’t allow God to claim that the Israelites were Moses’ people when they sinned, insisting that even in moments of tension they remain God’s people, Britain must embrace its minorities, and us Jews amongst them, both in times when we are in need of help and in times when we present challenges to secular society because our practices may not be normative, e.g. kashrut and circumcision. It is a sacred task to build a society that can be a true community.

We learn this also from the opening verse of this week’s Torah portion Vayakhel (Exodus 35:1), where Moses gathers the people together to give them further instructions on how to recreate a community that had become shattered through the experience of the Exodus, the building of the golden calf and the physical smashing of the first set of tablets containing the ten commandments.

As Rabbi Jonathan Sacks writes in his commentary on this Torah portion, there are different words for community in Hebrew, which signify different kinds of association. The word tzibbur, comes from the root צ, ב, ר, meaning “to heap” or “pile up.” To understand the concept of tzibbur, think of a group of people praying together at an LJ Biennial Conference. They may not know each other. They may never meet again. But for the moment, they happen to be in the same place at the same time, and thus constitute a community for prayer. A tzibbur is a community in the minimalist sense, a mere aggregate, formed by numbers rather than any sense of identity.

kehillah is a different type of community. Its members are different from one another. In that sense, it is like a tzibbur. But they are orchestrated together for a collective undertaking—one that involves itself in making a distinctive contribution. The beauty of a kehillah is that when it is driven by constructive purpose, it gathers together the distinct and separate contributions of many individuals, so that each can say, “I helped to make this.”

This is the kind of community that Moses tries to build with the Israelites – as indicated by the use of the root ק, ה, ל in its causative verbal form vayakhel – Moses caused them to become a kehillah. And this is the kind of community that we should all aim to build in our synagogues and beyond, in our local areas. We must feel a part of our community and our society, contribute actively to it and truly consider this work to be a collective undertaking. If we succeed in that, we will leave a legacy to our children that is more valuable than anything money can buy.

Liberal Judaism will support Jewish Legacy Shabbat (http://www.jewishlegacy.org.uk/) – an initiative that aims to remind every Jew that leaving a gift to a charity in their will is vitally important.

Building a community is quite similar to planting a carob tree – the work of building, setting things up, planting ideas is often challenging but, in years to come, the next generation is sure to reap the fruits of the labour of the community builders who came before. As a rabbi privileged to join a community in the 49th year since its foundation, I can taste daily the sweet honey of the labour of the many individuals who worked hard so that NPLS would grow into a wonderful kehillah with the strength to be a part of building an even bigger kehillah together with our non-Jewish neighbours in our local area.