Shabbat Shekalim
March 4-5, 2016 – 25 Adar 1 5776
Annual (Exodus 35:1-38:20): Etz Hayim p. 552; Hertz p. 373
Triennial (Exodus 36:20-28:20): Etz Hayim p. 558; Hertz p. 377
Maftir (Exodus 30:11-16): Etz Hayim p. 523; Hertz p. 352
Haftarah (2 Kings 12:1-17): Etz Hayim, p. 1276; Hertz p. 992

PDF Vayak’hel 5776 

Welcome to the new “Torah Sparks” direct from the Conservative Yeshiva in Jerusalem! The CY’s beautiful Beit Midrash is full of students learning Jewish texts and enhancing their relationships with Jewish prayer and the Jewish community. Torah Sparks brings you a taste of their enthusiasm for Judaism and Jewish text from Jerusalem every week.

What is Humanity That You Should Count Them?

By Rabbi Ilana Goldhaber-Gordon, CY Kollel Alumna 
and Rabbi Educator at Congregation Beth Jacob, Redwood City, California

The Shabbat Shekalim reading (Ex. 30-11-16) tells Moses how to take a census, by counting half-shekel coins. But what was the spirit of a census in the Torah? Were the Israelites counted the way my grandmother z”l loved to count her children’s birthdays:  “In April I have one – Alan; in May I have two, your mother and Maynard; in June . . .” Or was it more like the way I count my forks before setting the table? 

Twice the census came up with the same number: 603,550 (Exodus 38:26 and Numbers 1:46).  To explain this seeming coincidence Ha’amek Davar (19th C, Lithuania) suggested that this number was the required retinue for the King of Kings.  Before God and Israel could begin their travels, they counted the men up to 603,550.  “From then on, even if many more boys came of age they were not counted — unless someone died or left the camp for another reason, then they would fill the retinue with others.” Like my forks – I don’t care how many I have altogether, so long as I have enough for each person.

Rashi had a different take (Num 1:1). He claimed the two counts were done close together in time and the number had not changed. God counted the Israelites in Exodus, like a shepherd who loves his sheep (Ex. 30:13, 16). As for the census in Numbers, “God counts them frequently [kol sha’ah] out of affection for them.”

Though Rashi and the author of HaEmek Davar lived eight centuries apart, their opinions are printed on the same page, and together they reflect a chasidic saying attributed to Rabbi Simcha Bunim of Peshischa: “A person should have two notes in his/her pockets.  On one should be written: ‘The world was created for me (Sanhedrin 4:5).’  On the other: ‘I am but dirt and ashes (Genesis 18:27).’” 

In the age of science, we need those notes in our pockets more than ever. I know more secrets of creation than even Moses himself could have known. I can search the sequence of the entire human genome with my computer.  A few keystrokes, and Google Maps can direct me to any point in the world, much of which Moses never knew existed. 

When we feel this powerful, it is easy to forget that a few milligrams of cholesterol in the wrong location (God forbid!) and I would be goneHa’amek Davar’s commentary reminds us: my disappearance would matter little to God, so long as another person could fill out the numbers.  And with 7 billion people in the world, filling out the numbers should be no problem.

How could my life possibly matter to the Rock of the Universe?  Our galaxy alone contains 100 thousand million stars, and the universe contains millions upon millions of galaxies.  What matters one planet or one little star, let alone one life on that planet?  

But Rashi reminds us that the Holy One counted the people one at a time, treasuring each and every one.   Who am I to claim a limit on how high the Infinite One can count?

The Psalmist asks (8:5): “What is humanity, that You should remember them?”  But the very next verse affirms: “Yet You have made them but little lower than the angels, and have crowned them with glory and honor.” Two verses, two notes – two so different, yet complementary, views.

A Vort for Parashat Vayak’hel
By Rabbi Daniel Goldfarb, CY Faculty

Rashi says that Moshe gathered the whole community (Ex. 35:1) “on the day after Yom Kippur.”  Rabbi Shlomo Efraim Luntschitz (Poland, 16th, the Kli Yakar) in his book Olelot Ephraim explains that on Yom Kippur all the Jews are well-behaved, kind to their fellows, radiating love, peace and unity, but that this idyllic atmosphere dissipates with the exit of the Hag.  The gathering of all together on the day after Yom Kippur was to challenge them to demonstrate these positive qualities not only on Yom Kippur itself but in the days, weeks and months afterwards as well.

Table Talk
By Vered Hollander-Goldfarb, CY Faculty

We have reached the point of action. After receiving lengthy instructions for building the Mishkan (Tabernacle), it is finally happening. What will it look like when put into practice?

Note that this is Shabbat Shkalim, the first of several Shabatot on which we read a special Maftir (last section of Torah reading) due to a seasonal event. The Maftir is found in last week’s reading and the first question of last week’s Table Talk relates to it.

1) This Parasha of building the Mishkan opens with some of the restrictions on Shabbat (35:1-3). Why do you think this topic was placed here, at the opening of the description of building the Mishkan?

2) There were 2 types of donations for the Mishkan: People donated materials, but there was another form of donation as well (35:9, 25-26). What was that donation? What are the positive sides of each of these types of donations?

3) The people in charge of actually creating everything that Moshe had been commanded to make are Betzalel and Aholiav. What qualified Betzalel? Is this the way you would define wisdom? Why do you think that they, not Moshe who received the details, build the Mishkan(36:1-2)

4) The dream of any fundraiser comes true when the people are told to bring their donations for the Mishkan. What do the artisans ask Moshe to tell the people (36:4-5)? What do we learn about the people of Israel and about their relationship to the Mishkan?

5) The instructions for the Mishkan (found in Parashat Terumah) began with the ark. What is the first part of the Mishkan to be created (36:8-38)? Why do you think that they build this first, rather than follow the order of the instructions?