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Tuesday, March 9, 2010

A Gathering--Parshat Vayakhel

Back after popular demand--well, back after one follower asked me why I haven't been posting. The answer is just that my energy levels were extremely low for a while, in part as a result of having given up smoking. So in the short term it put me off my game but should be better for the long term.

We left off in the middle of trying to understand what Moshe received at Sinai. I am a little torn as I want to fill out more about that theme while still keeping up with the weekly parsha. I am going to opt for now to focus on the latter but we will yet have occasion to talk about the former.

The first word of the parsha is ויקהל vayakhel meaning 'and he gathered' (or congregated--or, according to the new JPS version 'he convoked'!). The first verses are:

שמות פרק לה (א) וַיַּקְהֵל מֹשֶׁה אֶת כָּל עֲדַת בְּנֵי יִשְׂרָאֵל וַיֹּאמֶר אֲלֵהֶם אֵלֶּה הַדְּבָרִים אֲשֶׁר צִוָּה יְקֹוָק לַעֲשֹׂת אֹתָם:
(ב) שֵׁשֶׁת יָמִים תֵּעָשֶׂה מְלָאכָה וּבַיּוֹם הַשְּׁבִיעִי יִהְיֶה לָכֶם קֹדֶשׁ שַׁבַּת שַׁבָּתוֹן לַיקֹוָק כָּל הָעֹשֶׂה בוֹ מְלָאכָה יוּמָת:
(ג) לֹא תְבַעֲרוּ אֵשׁ בְּכֹל מֹשְׁבֹתֵיכֶם בְּיוֹם הַשַּׁבָּת: פ

Exodus 35 (1) And Moshe gathered all of the congregation of the children of Israel and he said to them, "These are the things (or words) which God commanded to do them.(2) Your m'lacha will be done for six days and on the seventh it will be holy to you, a shabbat shabbaton to God; anyone doing m'lacha on it will die.(3) Do not kindle fire in all (or in any) of your dwelling places on the day of the shabbat.

Moshe then goes on to give the children of Israel the commandments/instructions to build the mishcan, the tabernacle.

The word vayakhel comes from the root קהל kahal meaning congregation. Variations on the noun form in the Torah are not uncommon--several popped up in B'reishit. However, as a verb form it is less common. 

The only other place in the Torah so far where we see a verb form from that root happens to be from last week's parsha, to wit:

שמות פרק לב (א) וַיַּרְא הָעָם כִּי בֹשֵׁשׁ מֹשֶׁה לָרֶדֶת מִן הָהָר וַיִּקָּהֵל הָעָם עַל אַהֲרֹן וַיֹּאמְרוּ אֵלָיו קוּם עֲשֵׂה לָנוּ אֱלֹהִים אֲשֶׁר יֵלְכוּ לְפָנֵינוּ כִּי זֶה מֹשֶׁה הָאִישׁ אֲשֶׁר הֶעֱלָנוּ מֵאֶרֶץ מִצְרַיִם לֹא יָדַעְנוּ מֶה הָיָה לוֹ:

Exodus 32 (1) And the people saw that Moses tarried in coming down from the mountain and the people gathered themselves (Heb. ויקהל vayikahel) about Aaron and they said to him, "Arise and make gods for us which will go in front of us. For this man Moshe who brought us up from the land of Egypt--we  don't know what has become of him."

This passage is, of course, an integral part of the story about the golden calf. The people are expecting Moshe to return but they get antsy when he doesn't seem to return 'in time.' So they gather themselves together and press Aaron to make them gods to somehow replace Moshe.

The verb form is different than our parsha's: Vayakhel, from our parsha, is a causative form. So it means "he made them (or caused them) to gather." In last week's parsha it is vayikahel a reflexive form meaning "and they gathered themselves." 

I would say that Moshe's action of causing the people to gather now in preparation for the building of the mishcan is an intentional contrast to the people's self gathering for the purpose of introducing false gods. Both bring the people together in pursuit of worshiping God but the former, when done by the people themselves, is misguided as they are gathering out of some kind of fear that their leader is gone and they feel more comfortable creating a representation of their leader in the form of an idol or idols. By contrast, Moshe now brings the people together to make the mishcan which is literally a dwelling place for God--but not God incarnate as the people would have had it, but rather a dwelling place for the Divine Presence, the sh'china,
which will be represented by the tablets placed in the ark in the Holy of Holies. 


  1. As usual very unique and interesting perspective
    as for gathering
    i had my own personal association which was to wonder
    the gathering we have in the synagogue is it that of Moses or is it of the golden calf?
    it is supposed to be like that of moses but often seeing how people behave i wonder..
    still one can only strive to improve one own's qualities and seek the goodness in others i know
    but i cant help thinking we are still in many ways living the lessons of the thora and not progressing behind, i should speak for myself but it is also from seeing others.
    my shadow is also a collective shadow, if to make a new use of the jungian term, the collective unconscious
    i wish we as jewish people would be collective conscious
    i think moses wanted that too ..but it seems a long therapeutic path
    each must make on their own
    sorry i got side tracked but thank you for the inspiration and continue the good path
    i have experience with a friend who recently quit smoking and i hope eventually you will have More energy , it is perhaps an illusion that smoke gives energy like the people of israel thought gold means strength and good things to come when actually it often takes away strength

    yeshar koach

    keep writing !!

  2. Good to see you back. Very interesting take on the differences between yakhel and yikahel.

  3. ziggi: Your question about why we or others choose to gather in synagogue is a good one; that is, what is the motivation. Ultimately, as you intimate, we can only know ourselves and our reasons. I personally experienced this dilemma of feeling uncomfortable in shul because of what I perceived as other people's less than stellar reasons for being there. Even worse, though, I felt really uncomfortable feeling that I was somehow sitting in judgement of those people. I have not completely worked this out for myself. Best to continue working on ourselves and our own reasons than to worry too much about others.

    Sophie: Thanks!