Community Rabbi Corner, March 1, 2019

Rabbi Matthew Gewirtz
Congregation B'nai Jeshurun
Short Hills, NJ
Parashat Vayakhel

The creation of the Mishkan, the Tabernacle, is one of the most important acts completed by our ancestors in the desert. It was our first place of communal gathering and prayer. In many respects, it was the first ever JCC in our history.

Every Israelite was commanded to bring an offering from their hearts to ensure the completion of this sacred project. Sure enough, the Israelites in their overwhelming generosity brought so much that there was actually extra. Exodus 36:7 states, “For the material they had was sufficient for all the work to make it, and too much.”

What did the builders and architects do with the extra materials? Interestingly enough, according to the Rabbis, they put them in a pile next to the entrance of the Mishkan. Other commentators ask why: Why would they leave the “extra” in a heap next to this beautiful and sacred creation?
The answer says so much about who we are as a people and what it means to be generous. Our Sages teach that the extra materials are left on the side so that when the Israelites walked into the Mishkan, none of them could declare that any one part of the Tabernacle existed solely because of their individual donation. Indeed, their generosity could have been part of the most important component of the structure, or it could have been part of the heap of extra materials outside.

The Mishkan was meant to be a place accessible to every single Israelite equally. It didn’t matter what you had, who you were, or what you looked like. Community was open to every Israelite, regardless of station in life.

And, that is my prayer and hope for today. Spirituality is something that we all deserve. No matter where we are in life and no matter what we have, God wants to have connection with each and every one of us.