Tag Archives: shabbat

Parshat Vayeshev

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We usually consider little actions to be of little importance. Even things we utter by the way, we do not think of them as having any big consequences. It is as if crucial outgrowths could only come from important and programmed deeds. Moreover, drastic changes in history come only from famous people, who are experienced and well known in the field which is being transformed. At least, this is the widespread opinion.

Our parashah shows us a different reality, a more frequent one that happens every day, a reality more like ours. We may think it is a fortuitous reality. But it is not.

Yaakov had sent Yosef to search for his brothers, who went to pasture their father’s flock at Shechem. Yosef did not find them. He wandered seeking them, but it was of no avail.

Up till now, this is a simple story of something that could also happen to us. We set an appointment at a certain place but we cannot find each other. What do we do? We wait, we search, and after a while we decide to go back. We couldn’t meet this time, so we’ll do it later on.

But in the parashah Yosef finds a man, an anonymous man, whose task is to ask him “what are you looking for?” meaning “have you lost something? Have you get lost? May I help you?” A simply deed of everyday life. A generous one, but simple all the same. Something done by an unknown person. A deed that is not intended to cause any significant revolution. “They went to Dothan”, this is all the contribution of this anonymous man.

Is it?

Wasn’t this man interested in Yosef and hadn’t he offered him this simple information, Yosef would neither have been sold, nor would he have arrived to Egypt, nor would he have become Vizier. He would not have brought his father and siblings into Egypt and would not have become slaves in a strange land. We would have then never been liberated, would not have received the Torah at Mount Sinai, we would have never entered the Promised Land and the slavery we suffered would have never become the example and the basis for foundational mitzvoth of the Jewish civilization such as Shabbath, loving the stranger, respecting the rights of the slaves and paying them a compensation for slavery time, judicial justice, justice for the vulnerable, social justice and support for the needy.

It was only because one little thing by an anonymous man that our history developed as it developed.

God had said to Abraham that his descendants would be enslaved in a strange land and that He would redeem them. But He did not state neither the place, nor the time, nor how things would develop. He did not even say who exactly would be those involved and how they may respond to the developments. All this was in man’s hand.

And that anonymous man, with his so little deed, changed our whole history.

We all are that anonymous man. We should never belittle the importance of what each one of us may do. We should neither forget the power of our words – power either to build or to destroy.

The Sanctuary, God and us

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When Moses tells the people of Israel the commandments of God regarding the building of the Tabernacle, what to do and how to do it, the Torah repeats the same data already detailed ten chapters earlier. The parasha Vayaqhel seems to copy in a kind of routine the contents of the parasha Terumah.

There is a little omission, though; there is a short sentence that Moses did not tell:

V’asu li mikdash v’shakhanti b’tokham”, “They will build Me a sanctuary and I will dwell among them” (Exo. 25:8).

How is it possible that Moses failed to remember such an important thing, the reason and the goal of the whole act of building?

Maybe he did not forget.

Maybe Moses gave us the interpretation of what this building had to be.

Let’s see – God said to Moses, even before telling him the list of tasks for the construction, “they will build Me a sanctuary and I will dwell among them”. Moses told the people, even before transmitting God’s orders regarding this building, “work shall be done for six days, but on the seventh day there shall be something sacred for you [yihyie lakhem kodesh]” (Exo. 35:2)

Moses did not say that the seventh day shall be holy, but rather that ON the seventh day (“UVAyom hash’vyi’yi”) there shall be something holy, something sacred for you (“yihyie lakhem kodesh”)

This is the sanctuary, the Mikdash (Kodesh and Mikdash come from the very same Hebrew root) that is to be built, for God to dwell among us. This is the true mobile Temple, the true holy place. It is not a physical place, but a kind of island into the time: it is the Shabbat. It is an island into the time that we have to build with our soul, putting the week between brackets; this week full of rush, troubles and desires. In doing so we give birth to a new dimension that reveals its sacred nature.

Moses teaches us that God’s commandment “they will build Me a sanctuary” really means “on the seventh day there shall be something sacred for you”, something sacred that we have to create, to build, so as to let God dwell among us: “and I will dwell among them”.

Let’s be good builders of the sacred.