By Rabbi Rami Pavolotzky
In parashat Vayakhel, Moses assembles the people of Israel and reiterates to them the commandment to observe the Shabbat. He then reminds the Children of Israel of God’s instructions regarding the building of the Tabernacle. The people donate the required materials in abundance. In fact, Moses has to tell them to stop giving. Later, a team of skilled artisans builds the Tabernacle and its furnishings.
The opening verse of this parasha is surprising: “Moses then convoked the whole Israelite community and said to them: These are the things that Adonai has commanded you to do” (Exodus 35:1). It is not common to find another place in the Torah where Moses summons “the whole Israelite community.” There is an emphasis here in gathering everyone, and special care in not leaving anyone out. Why is that? Probably because Moses is calling his people to donate and work for the building of the Tabernacle, the first “public building/institution” of the Jewish people, and certainly the place meant to be the center of religious life for them. It looks like the value of the Tabernacle, as a place for popular religious expression, depended on the contributions of everyone, not only of certain individuals or groups.
The same thing is valid today regarding our synagogues. Jewish congregations must be built by everyone in order to survive and thrive. In addition, congregations’ buildings are built once, but congregational life is built every day. Every synagogue, including our own, needs contributions from all of its members to be strong and fruitful. Contributions can mean money sometimes, but also work, time, dedication, wisdom, good humor… Everything is needed! When synagogues are built by only a few, they are not strong and enduring as when they are built by most, if not all, of its members.
Like the Tabernacle in the desert, which was built by “the whole Israelite community,” we are also called to build our synagogues every day with the participation of as many people/members as possible. The more hands, minds and hearts are involved, the stronger synagogues will grow.