Yom Rivii, 17 Tishri 5780
Hol Hamoed Sukkot Wednesday, 16 October 2019
Parashat Vayekhel 5776

Rabbi Charley Baginsky
4th March 2016

We are currently in the midst of a series of difficult texts due to their repetitive details over the building of the tabernacle. That said, I am always moved by the incredible idea that the people are part of building a structure within which God will dwell. Above the Holy of Holies we find this parasha tell us of the cherubim:

"The cherubim had their wings spread out above, shielding the cover with their wings. They faced each other, the faces of the cherubim were turned toward the cover"·(Exodus 37:9)

God is seen as speaking from between the two faces of the cherubim. Martin Buber, Jewish philosopher (1878 – 1965), who was famous for his philosophy of dialogue suggests that if we are to meet God anywhere then it is where human beings meet face to face. Buber·spoke of I-Thou relationships between two human beings. These relationships are encounters between people where each sees the other not as an object but as a subject. Buber wrote, "Each Thou is a glimpse through to the Eternal Thou."

This parasha also contains the verse: “You should take from among you an offering, from every person whose heart makes them willing”. It is a very strange verse as it seems to place voluntary giving within a mandatory context. On one hand it clearly talks of willing hearts but in the same breath the use of the word·take implies a compulsion.

As Liberal Jews we are very conscious about the language we use and the imagery a careless word can create. For example we choose not to say “Lord” – because that is not the God to whom we feel we are praying. We do not say “mankind” as it fails to address our entire community. But how conscious are we of how the words we use to describe our community. For example what do we mean when we talk of membership? What are the requirements, the demands of members and what do we offer or promise in return? How much is voluntary and how much is mandatory?· Indeed how do we explain that membership of a community is more than fees and a burial scheme and is about people coming together with a shared ethics and goals, a shared partnership, a joint covenant in building a community?

Arguably it is better now than in days gone by when the extent of your donation was explicit by how good your seat was in shul or the mitzvah you received on Rosh Hashanah!··But there is the simple fact that despite joining a community through a monetary transaction you are still demanded to pay through volunteering your time – most obviously security and Kiddush. It is unsurprising that the ambiguity between mandatory and voluntary can lead to angst. Of course there is no better example of this than the burial scheme. We pays our monies in, so come the end we can purchase our plot or if we prefer cremation our slot. But why with a synagogue, why not with an insurance firm?

Rabbi Anne Brener, whose mother committed suicide when she was 24 and whose sister died not long after in car accident makes a profound observation about the temple: “the mourner’s path in the Holy Temple in ancient Jerusalem, was set aside not only for those mourning the death of a close relative, but for those who have faced illness, financial loss or displacement — in other words, nearly everyone at some point. Those who were suffering found camaraderie, and the mourners path made mortality and loss a normal and visible part of daily life — “Today’s comforter is tomorrow’s mourner, and today’s mourner is tomorrow’s comforter,” In other words, being part of a community was not about just about the very important practicalities of death, but building voluntary structures which allowed people to share in their disparate and common experiences of life and included them rather than exiling them.

The ·word ‘terumah’ used to denote in this portion the offering is ambiguous, ·often translated as gift, obligation and even sacrifice comes ·from the root – ‘to lift up’. It can be seen here to represent both the mandatory and the voluntary – that which we are obligated to give and that which we choose to give, both financially and physically. This giving should lift us up, we should be able to see that it is all part of us attempting to have the communal, spiritual and religious community we all want to have.

Rabbi Mordecai Gafni wrote, "There are 45 muscles in the face, most of them unnecessary for the biological functioning of the face. Their major purpose is to express emotional depth and nuance. They are the muscles of the soul"·("On the Erotic and the Ethical," Tikkun, March-April 2003). God is seen as dwelling in the interaction between two faces meeting, may we continue to build communities that provide the space for these interactions and therefore build new spaces for God’s presence to rest.