Quirk of the Jewish calendar allows extra time to examine Torah portion

RABBI CARNIE SHALOM ROSE

Rabbi Carnie Shalom Rose

Shalom Chaverim!

This year, we have something of an anomaly on the Jewish calendar. In most years, the Torah portions of Vayakhel and Pekudei are read in tandem with one another; meaning that we have a double selection chanted in our Synagogues on Shabbat from the Book of Shemot. 

Ostensibly, this practice is set in place in order to ensure that the reading of our Five Books of Moses can take place in a one year cycle. However, from time to time and due to the somewhat complex and nuanced intricacies of the Jewish calendar (including this being a leap year), we need to read two selections in order to complete the reading of our lectionary in a single year.

Regardless of the rationale for why this practice was instituted, having just one Torah portion to focus on this year gives us an opportunity to spend some additional time examining the details of this particular Parashat HaShavua of Pekudei.  

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Our Torah Portion opens with the words:

“And Moses then gathered together the whole Israelite community and said to them: These are the things/behaviors/attitudes that the LORD has commanded you to abide by”. (Shemot 35:1)

The Rashbam, commenting on this verse in his medieval exegetical work, notes that Moses our great teacher gathered the entire people in order to:

…collect the half Shekel from all those who were of age and simultaneously warn the people concerning the building of the Tabernacle.

To my mind, the Rashbam perfectly summarizes both the genius and the challenge of living a sustainable and flourishing Judaism in this postmodern era. On the one hand, we have a need for the grist for the mill, the Shekels to support our religious/spiritual/ educational and communal institutions and initiatives. On the other hand, when we focus exclusively on our material needs, we easily become mired in the material and lose track of our mission and inevitably give short-shrift to the elevated purpose for which we as a people were birthed.

It is for this reason that the opening line of the Parashah with its command to collect coins for the upkeep of the Tabernacle and the maintenance of religious life, is followed by the command to observe Shabbat, the day of rest, respite and reflection:

Six days shall work be done, but on the seventh day there shall be to you a holy day, a Sabbath of solemn rest to the LORD; whosoever does any work on this day shall be put to death. (Shemot 35:2)

Jewish life in this era, as in every era, is a balancing act. We must find a way to follow the “golden mean,” the center path between fiscal responsibility and accountability while still concerning ourselves with creativity, innovation and profoundly moving spiritual experiences. Only when we integrate the two will we be able to live out our truest and deepest desires, dreams and visions. May the words of Parashat Vayakhel inspire us to continue questing for this all too often elusive integration.

Amen and Shabbat Shalom! 

Rabbi Carnie Shalom Rose, D.Div., is The Rabbi Bernard Lipnick Senior Rabbinic Chair at Congregation B’nai Amoona and a member of the St. Louis Rabbinical and Cantorial Association, which coordinates the d’var Torah for the Jewish Light.