Vayakhel – Step Back to Get The Whole Picture

Not long ago I was lecturing in Europe and happened to visit the Rijksmuseum in Amsterdam. I entered the Rembrandt Room and was confronted by the giant canvass named ‘The Night Watchman’. Close up I could recognise Rembrandt’s characteristic paintwork and splendid realism that he displayed in his art. But in observing the minutiae I could not possibly gain a view of the sweeping breadth of his vision. Only when I stepped well back could I gather together the pieces to gain the overall impression the artist wanted to convey. This week’s Parsha, Vayakhel (which is doubled up with Pekudei as well because this year is not a leap year) means to ‘to gather together’. The Hebrew word for community, Kahal or Kehilla, derives from the same root source. It describes how Moses, on coming down from Mt. Sinai, on Yom Kippur as it happened to be, immediately gathered all the 600,000 thousand families together to teach them Torah. From here we learn a number of important lessons: Firstly, when we find ourselves able to benefit others through knowledge and instruction, we should never delay but take the initiative immediately . Secondly, the advantage of group learning. When information is conveyed to a total community, it assists with mutual reinforcement and sharing of perspectives leading to a more informed understanding. And thirdly, only a true community can be called a Kehilla. And what are the bonds that tie a true community together? For this we need to step back from our personal lives and have a vision of the huge canvas called creation of the world. Community bonds can’t be merely individual relationships that may be circumstantial and superficial – an accident of geography. They need to be all embracing and permeate the whole canvas of life. Perhaps the following formula could apply from a reading of this week’s Parsha: A truly Jewish community is one whose bonds are those that have tied us together ever since Mt Sinai. Now you tell me, what are those bonds?