Parashat Vayakhel

The Blue Peter annual appeal has become one of Britain’s best loved institutions. Over the many years that the TV programme has been running generation after generation of children have been stirred into action for a veritable army of worthy causes. In 1964 kids across the nation busied themselves collecting seven and a half tons of silver paper to buy two guide dogs for the blind; in 1967 kids collected 240,000 paperback books in order to buy four lifeboats; in 1969 kids collected 2 million parcels of wool and cotton which bought three hospital trucks, six emergency vehicles and medical equipment for child victims of war in Biafra; they collected 40 million aluminium cans and thereby bought life support machines for sixty five hospitals in 1989, and then in 1990 the Great Bring and Buy sale raised over £6 million for Romanian orphanages. Indeed, anyone who has been remotely involved as a child in collecting for a Blue Peter appeal will no doubt remember with fondness the excitement as another level was revealed on the Blue Peter totaliser! As a child caught up in the excitement of the appeal it seemed that everyone at school, at cubs or in the football team was part of a great communal effort to make good use of things that could often be found lying around the house. The appeals bonded children of all backgrounds together and made us feel that we, though only children, could make a significant difference in the world. And so the great Blue Peter annual appeal goes on today, empowering children to make a difference in the world.

Curious as the analogy may at first seem, there is much that these Blue Peter appeals have in common with the events of Parashat Vayakhel. Here too, by means of an appeal, the people of Israel were empowered to make a difference and to take a stake in their community. As we read, “Moshe said to the whole community of the people of Isra’el, “Here is what ADONAI has ordered: ‘Take up a collection for ADONAI from among yourselves―anyone whose heart makes him willing is to bring the offering for ADONAI:. ‘Then let all the craftsmen among you come and make everything ADONAI has ordered:” (Shemot 35:4-10). We’ve remarked about the excitement we felt as children taking part in the Blue Peter appeals, well the excitement of our Jewish people in collecting for the Mishkan is something which literally oozes from our text. Indeed, such was the fervour and excitement which this appeal released among our people that we read in Shemot 36:2-7 that “Moshe summoned B’tzal’el, Oholi’av and every craftsman to whom ADONAI had given wisdom, everyone whose heart stirred him, to come and take part in the work. They received from Moshe all the offering which the people of Isra’el had brought for the work of building the sanctuary. But they still kept bringing voluntary offerings every morning, until all the craftsmen doing the work for the sanctuary left the work they were involved with to tell Moshe, “The people are bringing far more than is needed to do the work ADONAI has ordered done. So Moshe gave an order which was proclaimed throughout the camp: “Neither men nor women are to make any further efforts for the sanctuary offering.” In this way, the people were restrained from making additional contributions. For what they had already was not only sufficient for doing all the work, but too much!”

What an extraordinary situation! Surely this must have been one of the few instances in history where an offering among G-d’s people not only exceeded the amount that was required, but where the people specifically had to be commanded to stop giving! Clearly the people had become so caught up with the excitement of the appeal and its objective that they no longer counted the cost to themselves of the objects that they were giving. On the one hand, like the famous Blue Peter appeals, Moshe’s Mishkan appeal was for recycled materials, but on the other hand these materials were far more costly consisting as we have seen of “gold, silver and bronze; blue, purple and scarlet yarn; fine linen, goat’s hair, tanned ram skins and fine leather; acacia-wood; oil for the light, spices for the anointing oil and for the fragrant incense; onyx stones and stones to be set, for the ritual vest and the breastplate”. Indeed, in Shemot 38:8 we read that B’tzalel the craftsman “made the basin of bronze with its base of bronze from the mirrors of the women serving at the entrance to the tent of meeting.”

It’s easy to give something that means little to us isn’t it? In this respect I can’t say that collecting used bottle-tops cost me anything as a youngster and yet I still gained from being part of the communal effort. If that is the case with bottle tops then how much more empowered will we be when we take from that which is dear to us and give it to God’s service? How much more of a difference can we make when we take from that which is emotionally important to ourselves and give it to Hashem’s work? How much more invested in God’s work do we feel when we do this? To this effect Yeshua told a simple story. “Yeshua sat down opposite the Temple treasury and watched the crowd as they put money into the offering-boxes. Many rich people put in large sums, but a poor widow came and put in two small coins. He called his talmidim to him and said to them, “Yes! I tell you, this poor widow has put more in the offering-box than all the others making donations. For all of them, out of their wealth, have contributed money they can easily spare; but she, out of her poverty, has given everything she had to live on.”” (Mark 12:39-44).

Take a moment to consider just what level of commitment to Hashem motivated this lady to give sacrificially like this? What passion stirred within her when she looked upon Hashem’s temple? Indeed, think about what those women who gave their mirrors felt when they saw the bronze basin in which the priests washed themselves prior to their service before the Lord? Imagine their profound sense of joy and satisfaction at the thought it was their giving that had made it happen! In a similar way think about the nation felt in general when they saw the smoke of God’s presence rising up from the Mishkan – the Mishkan which their sacrificial giving had created? Imagine too the sense of community which taking part so sacrificially in Hashem’s appeal had created among them. For as much as the nation’s sense of identity was created by the experience of the Pesach, it was also enhanced by participation in Hashem’s appeal. Wouldn’t you like to feel this way too? So it is with the Messianic community today. Rav Shaul speaks about how we are being built together as living stones like the temple of old. So it is this level of sacrificial giving that we must aspire to if Hashem’s work is to go forward in our own time. As we have seen, bottle tops are great in the right context, but what does it say about us when we offer them in God’s service? What does it say about our commitment to the community? What does it say about our love for God? Surely God’s work demands more than this? Surely God deserves better than this?

Rabbi Yehoshua