In this final reading in the Book of Exodus, there are two important biblical concepts that are as important today as they were over 3000 years ago: the building of a community, and how to use the physical world to change our inner world and awareness.
The portion begins with a description of how every Hebrew helped to participate in the building of the Tabernacle, which is the spiritual ancestor of all sanctuaries, synagogues and temples. Each person helped build the Tabernacle with their possessions, efforts, and passion. As we are entering into our own new sanctuary and having our first Shabbat service this week in our new home, there is no more appropriate portion for the Temple Ner Simcha community.
The Torah reading tells of how every person contributes in some way. But the real lesson is how the ancient Hebrew community comes together through their combined efforts. Yes, through their talents, possessions, and efforts the Tabernacle is built, but there is a more important and powerful lesson found here than just the building of the Tabernacle.
Because after all, does God even really need this Tabernacle, with all of its spectacular physical beauty? The obvious answer is no, so there must be a greater and deeper reason that so much specificity is given in the commandments of its building.
Our ancestors were about to embark on a long journey through a wilderness, which we read about in the upcoming Books of Leviticus, Numbers, and Deuteronomy. They would face joys and sorrows, ease and challenges on their way to the Promised Land. The building of this Tabernacle was not about the structure of the building, but about structuring a community that would be able to withstand that challenging future.
By every person being commanded to participate in creating the Tabernacle, two important realities occur that dwarf the importance of the building itself. Each person became a stakeholder in the spiritual community. Every Hebrew could point to the Tabernacle and feel a real sense of participation in its creation; and as a result, feel a sense of community with the other Hebrews involved.
The other shift is that now, with every person working together in manifesting a new physical reality, the people developed a greater respect for each other as they experienced the talents, gifts, and personalities of each other. With this respect came a binding of each person’s soul to each other person’s: creating bonds that would sustain each individual in the times of the upcoming challenges of life.
This is the foundation of Rabbi Hillel’s teaching of “Do not remove yourself from the community” (Pirkei Avot 2:5). The building of the Tabernacle brought the people together with a shared physical goal, but the real benefit is that it created authentic bonds between each individual and family.
We can easily see the power of this in our own community today as we are building and moving into our own new sanctuary in Westlake Village. I cannot stress how important it is that each person comes to our new spiritual home tomorrow night for the affixing of the mezzuzot at 7:00pm, and/or the subsequent Shabbat service immediately following. If you can’t come tomorrow, make it a point to come down at some point in the next month as we are moving in fully. Put a little bit of your time, energy, finances, and/or talents into the creation of the new physical space. In doing so during this crucial formation time, it will tie you to the temple community at a deep level. This will serve you greatly over the next years as, like our ancestors, you encounter different challenges in life.
By participating in the creation of the physical space in whatever way, you will be creating bonds that will serve you for years. If you cannot be present tomorrow evening, then email events@NerSimcha.org and schedule a time to come over to the temple during this next month. The value of your participation will reward you and many others for years to come.
The second half of this week’s Torah reading is about the clothing and adornments that are worn by the Cohen Gadol, the High Priest leader of the people. But again, given that God probably doesn’t care about what we wear, why is this so detailed.
There is a folk tale that tells of a kingdom in which everyone had drunk from a poisoned well and gone crazy. The king and his chief minister, who drank different water, faced a conundrum. They didn’t want to go crazy, but if they did not drink from the well, they would be unable to have relationships with the people. So the minister suggested that they both drink the water, but that he and the king each first put a mark on their foreheads to remind them of the truth of their situation. Each time they saw the mark on each other, they would remember the truth of their situation and their deeper values beyond the craziness of the world they lived in.
The description of the High Priest’s diadem and clothing (Ex. 39:30) is at the root of this story. By keeping the reminder to be “Holy to the Lord”, which is written in the High Priest’s crown, Aaron and his descendants would always remember their true purpose as spiritual leaders. They were to be servants of God and the people. By wearing the specific adornments (like we do with our tallisim or kippot today), it is easier to remember our true purposes in life.
When we wear special clothing, our internal attitudes change. A man acts differently while wearing a tuxedo than he does when wearing shorts; and a woman has a different self perception when wearing an evening gown than she does when wearing sweatpants. We teach our children to “dress for the occasion”, so that they will also act appropriately. When we put on our yarmulka or tallit, we help our consciousness shift to an awareness of spirituality rather than the mundane.
Again, we see that the instructions found in this week’s reading are for our personal benefit rather than God’s.
Philosophers and writers from Homer to Mark Twain to the movie “Kingsman: the Secret Service” have repeated the phrase “vestis virim facit”--- “clothes make the man”. Robert Bly used to teach that if wearing a particular color made you feel happier, you should consciously wear it (Bly would sometimes come out to lecture wearing a cape). The Torah’s specific instructions of what to wear are for our benefit, so that each of us, especially our leaders, remember to serve God and each other fully in our positions in life.
The underlying theme of this Parsha is deep, important, and true. Our physical reality affects our inner reality and consciousness. By being conscious in our physical choices of clothing, adornments, and participation in the physical manifestation of a community project, we raise our consciousness and appreciation of life. We become better versions of ourselves, and all become more vital and important participants in making the world a better place.
I hope to see you tomorrow night as we dedicate the sanctuary, and may we all manifest our best selves in community participation and through changing our physical reality to enhance our inner worlds.
Kavannah: Do two things this week. Each day wear something that will make you feel special in some way. If you work from home, decide to “dress for work” instead of staying in your sweats or pajamas. When you go out, wear something that helps you internally feel the way you ideally wish to feel. And take a bit of time this week to add your talents, finances, gifts, and/or energy to the building of a community. The rewards will be both immediate and long lasting.
Rabbi Michael Barclay
March 3rd, 2022
30th of Adar 1, 5782