D’var Torah: Shabbat bolsters our identity, perspective on the world


Cantor-Rabbi Ronald D. Eichaker serves United Hebrew Congregation and is a member of the St. Louis Rabbinical and Cantorial Association, which coordinates the weekly d’var Torah for the Light.


These 22nd and 23rd sections of our annual cycle of Torah readings (Vayakhei-Pekudei) opens as the Israelites are commanded to observe the Shabbat.

Moses continues his acquisition of donations from the people to continue the construction and outfitting of the Tabernacle and its material necessities. Artisans are appointed to construct the structure according to the “Divine Design.” All this occurs in the first of the double parashiot, Vayakheil (and [He] assembled),  Exodus 35:1-40:38.

An essence of this parasha can be found in the opening word that gives its title. The “assemblage” or community that is assembled is commanded to observe Shabbat and contribute, in their own way within their own means, to the construction of the Tabernacle.

What the Israelites are continuing to do here is strengthen their identity among other, more established communities in the region. With the Shabbat, the Israelites are establishing spiritual locus by which they can observe, experience, study and practice. If you’ve ever been to Israel on Shabbat or a holiday, you will feel the impact of such mass observances and its deep influences on each person who participates.

The second parasha, Pekudei (accounting of) is not only the final one of the Book of Exodus (next week we start Leviticus), but it also describes the making of the priestly garments worn while in the functioning Tabernacle. This section concludes with the completion of the Tabernacle and the addition of the necessary items for the soon-to-come rituals that will further bind the Israelites to themselves and their G-d.

An additional section of the Book of Exodus is read as well,  highlighting the recognition of the new month of Nisan (this coming Wednesday evening), which is called Shabbat Hachodesh, Shabbat of the Month. We call this anticipatory Shabbat Hachodesh in anticipation of Passover.

Of the many imperatives that present themselves in this textually dense section, a major element of trust is being established. The Israelites are trusting their leaders to keep them alive in this vast wilderness. The Shabbat is present to help the Israelites establish trust among themselves and renew them to G-d and each other. The Tabernacle is being constructed by trusted artisans and will exist as the focal point of their ritual, spiritual and ethical lives.

Pirkei Avot 2:4 – “Hillel said: Do not separate yourself from the community. Do not trust in yourself until the day of your death. Do not judge your fellow [man] until you have reached [his] place.”

Chances are very strong that you will be seen by others more than you will see yourself on any given day. If you spend an hour talking with someone, they will be looking at you longer than you will spend looking in a reflection. It is reasonable, then, that we can tend to see that the world as here for our benefit more than we are here for the benefit of the world.

For a long time, humans, lacking the necessary technology, assumed that the sun rotated around our Earth. The world was flat due in part because we could not see the curvature with our own eyes. We now trust technology to help us view ourselves and our environment more clearly.

So, too, we must rely on others to help us gain perspective on ourselves. Sometimes, we think something is bad not knowing or believing that others may think that it is good. We tend to look outward with a personal bias that can be difficult to change, even when the reality should alter our perceptions.

Vayakheil-Pekudei has created times and spaces so that we can carve out a clearer path for our lives and the lives of those with whom we trust. These times and spaces are not necessarily there to harbor happiness, but I believe they exist for us to help us find and sustain a collective peace.

Shabbat Shalom.

Cantor and Rabbi Ron Eichaker serves United Hebrew Congregation and is a police chaplain. He is a member of the St. Louis Rabbinical and Cantorial Association, which coordinates the d’var Torah for the Jewish Light.