This week, for many reasons, I am thinking of the founder of the Order of the Arrow, Dr. E. Urner Goodman. Last Friday, March 13, was the fortieth anniversary of his passing. He lived a happy life dedicated to leading Scouts in service to others. Leadership and service are two of the themes of this week’s Torah readings, and I write in memory of Dr. Goodman. He used to say that the greatest campout of all time was the Children of Israel spending 40 years in the Wilderness.
This week we read two portions, Vayakhel (assemble) and Pekudei (reckoning), and conclude the Book of Shemos (Exodus). These portions continue the story of the building of the Mishkan (Tabernacle) and its holy vessels. Just as the names of the portions suggest, Moses assembles the people and tells them it is time to carry out the detailed instructions God has given for building the Mishkan. At the end of the process, Moses takes a reckoning of everything that was used to construct and furnish the Mishkan.
At the assembly in Vayakhel, Moses does something a little different. Generally, God’s instructions came to Moses and then he gave them to the people as commands, which everyone had to obey. But in connection with building the Mishkan, there are several times when the instructions are just for those of the Children of Israel who want to volunteer.
A few weeks ago, in Parasha Terumah, God instructed Moses to tell the people “let them take a portion, from every man whose heart motivates him” of the materials necessary to build the Mishkan. (Exodus 25:1) Now, again in Vayakhel, Moses tells the people God says “everyone whose heart motivates him” is to bring materials to build the Mishkan. (Exodus 35:5) A few verses later (35:21) “every man whose heart inspired him” came to give his labor.
So you see, the people volunteered to do this work. In these efforts, they followed some inspired leaders. At the beginning of Pekudei, we learn that Moses was in charge of the entire project. The Levites worked under Issamar, son of Aaron. The crafting of the vessels and hangings was led by Bezalel and Oholiab. Between the leadership of these men and the dedicated service of the people, the Mishkan arose in the desert, a place that became the home of God’s Glory.
This effort can be an example for us, today. Working together under wise leaders to achieve a common goal for the good of the community, we can create a “place” where God’s glory will rest. As God said in Parsha Terumah, “And they shall make Me a sanctuary (a place of holiness) and I will dwell in their midst.” (Exodus 25:8).
The place may be a real location that you could point to on a map, like a food pantry for those in need, or a clinic where people can get well, or a school where children can learn.
These days, with everyone keeping their distance from each other to keep from getting one another sick, the “place” where God’s glory can rest could also be the group of us who care so much for our friends and family that we stay away from them.
Perhaps, in these times, God’s glory is found in the spaces between us?