Holy Time, Holy Space

D’var Torah
Rabbi David Benjamin Fainsilber
March 9, 2018 // 23 Adar 5778
Parashat Vayakhel-Pekudei

Passover is coming up!
Spring is, well, sort of, nearly here.
Thank G-d for snow in March in Vermont!
Yet, Elijah is almost knocking on the door,
waiting for a seat at the table.
The Seder itself, as you know, means “order”,
where we follow a set order and structure for an evening of ritual and family.
Each week, too, we follow a set Torah portion.
That parashah is also known as a sedra,
from the same root as Seder,
as we follow our rabbinically-mandated order of Torah portions,
sometimes doubling up the sedras in order to fit into the Hebrew calendar.
At this season, we know how important order is.

Last week’s sedra Ki Tisa took us through
the moment of great sin with the Golden Calf,
as well as receiving the new covenant.

This week’s double Torah portion is Vayakhel-Pekudei.
The sedra details the free-will offerings
and gifts given by the Israelite people
for the creation of the portable tabernacle in the wilderness;
the artists and craftspeople who were to make the mishkan;
the weighing out of everything that was donated;
and finally, the consecration of the tabernacle to fit its holy purposes.

Yet, this week’s Torah portion
and the new covenant between G-d and the people
does not start with the tabernacle.
It begins with the importance of Shabbat:

וַיַּקְהֵ֣ל מֹשֶׁ֗ה אֶֽת־כָּל־עֲדַ֛ת בְּנֵ֥י יִשְׂרָאֵ֖ל
וַיֹּ֣אמֶר אֲלֵהֶ֑ם אֵ֚לֶּה הַדְּבָרִ֔ים אֲשֶׁר־צִוָּ֥ה יְהוָ֖ה לַעֲשֹׂ֥ת אֹתָֽם׃
Ex. 35:1 Now Moshe assembled the entire community of the Children of Israel
and said to them:
These are the words that YHWH has commanded, to do them:
שֵׁ֣שֶׁת יָמִים֮ תֵּעָשֶׂ֣ה מְלָאכָה֒ וּבַיּ֣וֹם הַשְּׁבִיעִ֗י יִהְיֶ֨ה לָכֶ֥ם
קֹ֛דֶשׁ שַׁבַּ֥ת שַׁבָּת֖וֹן לַיהוָ֑ה כָּל־הָעֹשֶׂ֥ה ב֛וֹ מְלָאכָ֖ה יוּמָֽת׃
Ex. 35:2 For six days is work to be made,
but on the seventh day,
there is to be holiness for you,
Sabbath, Sabbath-ceasing for YHWH;
whoever makes work on it is to be put-to-death!
לֹא־תְבַעֲר֣וּ אֵ֔שׁ בְּכֹ֖ל מֹשְׁבֹֽתֵיכֶ֑ם בְּי֖וֹם הַשַּׁבָּֽת׃ (פ)
Ex. 35:3 You are not to let fire burn throughout all your settlements on the Sabbath day.
(Translation by Everett Fox)

Let’s take pause to consider the Seder, the order of things:
• The Golden Calf
• Then the new covenant, beginning with Shabbat
• And finally the creation of the Tabernacle and its consecration

Why does Shabbat follow the Golden Calf?
The She’eirit Ya’akov a Moroccan Sage circa 1790,
taught the following:
“Everyone that keeps the laws of Shabbat appropriately (k’hilkhata),
even if they worship foreign idols, as with the generation of Enosh,
G-d forgives them.
Thus, after the the creation of the Golden Calf
Moses assembled (the people) and said to them:
Even though they sinned, worshipping foreign idols,
you have a way to repent, to do teshuvah:
Keep the Sabbath appropriately
and you will experience atonement.”

Here, the people have fallen from grace in every possible way.
They have sinned against the G-d that took them out of Egypt.
One might say they are at their least holy moment in time.
This covenant is not given to a perfected people.
But given by a G-d that forgives the generations;
a G-d that is slow to anger, and all-compassionate.

How will this entirely imperfect people atone for their sins,
that of the Golden Calf and those sins that will follow?
Shabbat. Shabbat will atone.
We recall the words of Ahad Ha’am who said:
“One can say without exaggeration that more than the Jew has kept Sabbath,
Shabbat has kept the Jew.”
Shabbat has kept our people sane, alive, surviving, even thriving,
throughout our greatest of sins, like the Golden Calf,
in the worst of times, and in the best of times.
Shabbat is the very antidote to idol worship.
In chiropractic terms, we might understand that the Golden Calf
was the moment we were most out of alignment with ourselves;
or in spiritual terms, we were most out of alignment with the cosmos.

Shabbat is a day of re-evaluation,
a slow down, a day to reconnect, to learn, to be out in nature,
to spend special time with our families,
a day to realign with our highest values.
If we do so every week, it is hard to see how we might get
so out of spiritual alignment that we could, G-d forbid,
produce something like a Golden Calf.
If we keep Shabbat, we will find time
to seek the holiness we need in our lives.

Yet, the sedra has only begun with Shabbat.
We go from the golden calf, to the new covenant, to Shabbat,
to the very essence and details of the parashah:
the creation of the Tabernacle in the wilderness and its consecration.
Some say that the Tabernacle, too, was a response to the Golden Calf:
That this tangible, visceral, earthly people
needed a physical place to worship,
just as they needed a Golden Calf.
Our sedra ends with the beautiful image of G-d’s presence in the Tabernacle:
“When Moses had finished the work, the cloud covered the Tent of Meeting,
and the Presence of Hashem filled the tabernacle.” (Ex. 40:33-34 )
I like to think that our sedra is teaching us
how we must hold the parallels of space and time together.
One cannot dominate the other.

Whereas the Golden Calf was both space and time gone horribly wrong:
The Golden Calf was created at the absolutely worst time,
as they were meant to be preparing
to receive the greatest gift of all times, a covenant with G-d.
Whereas it was also the worst use of space,
the centring of one’s spiritual thoughts on a mere golden thing.

Yet, our Torah portion offers as a return, a way forward to atonement,
through Shabbat and the Tabernacle, through holy time and holy space.

This is a reminder that neither space nor time
can be left without spiritual significance.
We are to imbue our lives with holy time — like Shabbat.
And we are to cultivate holy space, too,
as our ancestors did when they brought precious gifts to the Tabernacle,
and build this beautiful structure for holy purposes.

As Passover looms, we prepare our spaces for holiness —
our synagogue, our homes — to be ready for the holiday.
Freeing our spaces of hametz,
making delicious smelling and tasting foods,
buying flowers, preparing the table and much more.
But we also prepare for time to be holy.
We get ready for one of the holiest times in our year, the Seders.
We prepare our rituals with meaning and substance
for our youth and our elders and all.
We bring a sense of import and purpose to this time,
as we connect ancient ritual to our lives today in this 21st century.
Ultimately, whether Shabbat or Passover,
we seek that perfect union and integration of space and time,
a time and a place for holiness in our lives and in the lives of those we love.