Congregant Rachel Landis gave a stirring d’var Torah last week on Erev Shabbat, and in case you missed it, we’d like to share it with you. Hard copies of this d’var Torah are also available at Congregation Rodeph Sholom. Yasher koach to Rachel!
Shabbat Shalom. This week’s Torah portion is Parashat Vayakhel-Pekudei, one of the few double parshiyot we get to read this year. In Vayakhel, G-d outlines the the materials necessary for building and decorating of the tabernacle, and Moses sends the Israelites off to perform their duties. Every skilled worker is told they must use their craft to decorate the tabernacle so it’s holy and beautiful enough for God’s presence. Later, in Pekudei, the priests are anointed and God’s presence finally settles in the tabernacle.
One idea is that is stressed over and over again in these parshiyot is the idea of a “holy space”. What makes a holy space? Is it always a place of worship? Or is it anywhere miraculous things happen, or wherever we feel safe?
To me, a holy space is somewhere I’m surrounded by friends, where I can learn, change, and grow. I know to most of my peers, that’s what school is for us. School is somewhere we can go to be challenged while still remaining safe. However, in the past few weeks, the idea of my school as a holy space has been ripped away from me, as it has been for many others my age.
As I’m sure you all know, almost four weeks ago Marjory Stoneman Douglas High School in Parkland, Florida suffered a terrible shooting, claiming seventeen victims. Countless more will forever feel unsafe in their own school. And even beyond Parkland, kids around the country are beginning to see that this tragedy could have happened to any school, and are starting to worry that their school may be next.
As Jews, it is our duty in every generation to create holy spaces, from tabernacles to temples to synagogues to safe schools. In Deuteronomy, we are told “Tzedek, tzedek, tirdof”: justice, justice, shall you pursue. Activism is one of our Jewish values, and one we must stress now more than ever.
Teens from the North American Federation of Temple Youth, or NFTY as I’m sure we all know it better, are leading national change on gun reform alongside our brothers and sisters in Parkland and around the rest of the country. On March 24th we’ll all join together in the March For Our Lives, and I invite everyone here to get involved. Whether you travel to DC or stand up in New York, your voice is necessary to keep the national conversation centered around gun control and pressure our representatives to making public areas safer for us and our children.
In Vayakhel, G-d lays out very specific instructions for how the Tabernacle should look. The tabernacle requires several precious metals and gems, dolphin skins, oil, yarn, spices, a lampstand, two altars, and vestments for the priests in order for it to be holy enough for G-d to dwell in. After being told their jobs, the entire community of Israel leaves Moses and sets out to do their work. If just one Israelite had fallen short, if just one Israelite had decided “I’m too tired, and there are so many people already bringing silver”, if just one Israelite had decided to not do their part, the tabernacle would not have been fully holy and G-d would not have been able to dwell in it.
When the tabernacle is holy and G-d’s eternal presence enters the holy space, only then could the Israelites pause in their journey and rest. Similarly, we can only rest when we know G-d is present, which will only be when we create holiness in spaces for our children. If we work together, and march together, and advocate together, we can create a holy space that extends beyond our community and outwards. In the Torah Women’s Commentary, Rabbi Andrea Weiss discusses the phrasing of how the Israelites whose “hearts were so moved” gave gifts to them temple. Even if G-d had not asked them to, she believes they would have done so anyway because it is their essence to do good. So if your heart is so moved, if you feel your essence if telling you to, please join us on March 24th, and seek some justice to make the world a holier place.