Vayakhel/Shabbat Shekalim

By Sandy Antignas — March 9, 2024

Shabbat shalom!

Thank you for the honor to share some Torah with you this morning. 

In this week’s parsha – Vayak-hel – “He Assembled”-– Moses gathers all the Israelites and tells them of God’s commandment to build the Mishkan.  

Moses then goes on to tell the Israelites: “Take from among you gifts to Adonai; everyone whose heart so moves him shall bring them….”  

And then the parsha, as we just read, goes into great detail about the specific items and skills that are needed to build the Mishkan.

Later, it says: “Thus the Israelites, all the men and women whose hearts have move them to bring anything for the work that Adonai, through Moses, had commanded to be done, brought it as a free will offering to Adonai.”

God commanded Moses that Mishkan be built.

Moses asks, but does not command, each Israelite to voluntarily contribute to this endeavor what their “heart —so moves them”.   

Moses asks, but does not command.  

In Mitzrayim when Pharoah commanded that something be built, the Israelites were compelled to build it or face severe punishment.

The Israelites are no longer in Mitzrayim. They are not slaves to anyone.  Not to Moses. Not to God.

When God “commands” the building of the Mishkan, he trusts –or probably- more likely hopes– that the Israelites will follow Moses’ leadership. That the Israelites will “step-up, —show-up” and do it, because they want to.   

A few weeks ago, we read Parashat Yitro.

It tells of the encounter between God and the Israelites at Mount Sinai, —–the moment —-we became a People.

In this parsha, at this moment, —through the building of the Mishkan—, I suggest that we became a “community”.  

People form and maintain communities to meet common needs.

Members of a community have a sense of trust, belonging, safety, and caring for each other.

They have an individual and collective sense that they can, as part of that community, influence their environments and each other, better than they could alone.

Being part of a community brings with it benefits and responsibilities.

But, in its essence, being part of a community, supporting the community, is a voluntary act.

By becoming a “community” with the building of the Mishkan, the Jewish People was operationalized.

As a Community, the Israelites unified and performed the Jewish People’s first communal act, —a sacred act–, the building of the Mishkan.

The Israelites came together to do this of their own free will. Reflecting the broad popular support for this endeavor. 

The act of a single Israelite or group of them could not have built the Mishkan.

Only the cumulative impact of many, voluntary individual acts make community and communal undertakings possible.

This made the Mishkan possible.

The Jewish People have thrived and survived over the centuries because, we are a community. 

We have progressed, achieved much and are resilient because, we are a community.  

Albeit, not without high costs internally and externally inflicted.

The Jewish People is comprised of many types of communities – geographical and otherwise.

Importantly, we are also part of the broader communities in which we live. 

Each of us, are part many communities – Global Jewry, American Jewry, our local communities and more…..

We voluntarily gather as community, for tefillah. To perform acts of Hesed. For the joy of partaking in others’ celebrations. To support each other during times of hardship and sorrows. And, to ensure the future and so much more. 

Jewish community is possible only because we “step-up, —show-up”.

This Library Minyan Community is possible because you –“step-up, —show-up.”

In New York, where I serve as the Vice President of the Jewish Community Relations Council, I see every day the importance of “stepping-up, ———-showing-up”. 

This is not just for the diverse array of Jewish communities in New York. But critically, also for the broader and other communities in which New York Jewry is part of and lives among.  

The same holds true for Jews here in Los Angeles and everywhere.

We must “step-up, ——-show-up” for others!  

I arrived here yesterday directly from Israel.

I spent two weeks there being with friends, family and met Israelis across the country. Some of whom or their kids had been or are fighting in Gaza and or deployed to the Lebanese border.    

In my role as a member of board of the Jewish Federations of North America and Vice-Chair of United Israel Appeal, I was there to attend the Board of Governors of the Jewish Agency among other things.

I also spent a few days surveying the immediate needs funded by the Federations’ Israel Emergency Campaigns over the past 5 months.

As well as, the planning underway to meet the range mental health, community resilience and physical reconstruction needs over the next few years.

But most importantly, I stood in solidarity with our Israeli brothers and sisters and bared witness. Bared witness, to the horrors of October 7th.

I traveled to the Gaza Envelope and visited Kibbutz Nir Oz, Kibbutz Kfar Azza, and Sderot which were overrun, as well as the killing fields of the Nova Music Festival.

I met with head of Kibbutz Nahal Oz, which is the Kibbutz closest to the Gaza border. They decided to relocate as a community, as a community, to Kibbutz Mishmar Ha Emek, which is “stepping-up and showing-up” for them until they can return home, which is at least a year away. 

For the refugees from the Kibbutzim in the Gaza Envelope, staying together with their communities, hosted by other communities, has and will continue to be a source of strength and resilience, as they navigate grieving for their losses, the return of their hostages and the rebuilding of their homes and livelihoods.

I don’t have the words to express what I saw and heard, and the impact it had on me. 

About what happened and is happening now. What is expected to happen.

What I heard from survivors of the attack. Former hostages. The families of hostages. The families of those murdered. Those who served or have family members serving in the Gaza or in the North. Those who still cannot return to their homes in the north and south. And, Israelis writ-large. 

Across Israeli society, there is a high level of individual and collective trauma……,  pain, loss, disbelief, and an existential sense of insecurity and uncertainty.

Israelis are preparing themselves for escalation in the north with Hezbollah. Which would be much more dangerous and more destructive for both Israel and Lebanon than Gaza.

But, I also saw the resiliency of the diverse communities that make up Israel.  Israelis immediately, immediately, on October 7th came together as an “Israeli Community“.

They have been meeting the urgent needs of this moment that require collective action.

One can only be inspired by their strength, resilience, determination and commitment.

This is anchored by their sense of mission and “community”, despite,…. despite, governmental disfunction.

Israelis have been “stepping-up, showing-up” for each other, putting aside, for the most part, Israel’s deep societal divides.  Endless giving….

While standing along the Gaza border and hearing the explosions from Gaza, one must also acknowledge the pain, suffering and loss of the innocent among the Palestinians triggered as a consequence of Hamas’ reign of terror.

Israelis are very uncertain about the road ahead. Not only about the Palestinians and the threats from Hezbollah in the north, but also internally about the future of the state and their society.

The tensions, the divides, present on October 6th, are beginning to make their way back to the forefront.

The strength of Israeli civil society and community….., community has and we pray will enable Israel to navigate the moment and the uncertain future.

But, the near term is very fraught internally and externally.

We, American Jewry, have been “stepping up, showing up” for Israelis since October 7th in extraordinary ways.  

All the Israelis I met feel this and thank us.

As part of the Global Jewish Community, making sure that Israelis know and feel that they are not “alone” is one of the most important things we can do.

We have also been “stepping-up, showing-up” for each other. As our community now faces major challenges and threats since October 7th that you are all aware of.

Israelis and American Jewry will meet and overcome the challenges and the rough road ahead.

We will persevere. We will persist. We will survive. We will thrive as a People, as we have for millennia. 

We will, because we are a community.

Just like the Israelites in today’s parsha, each of us, voluntarily, in our own way, “steps-up, shows-up” to make the communities in which we are part of possible and better.  

We do this through small or large actions. By making material contributions or by volunteering our skills.

We “step-up, —show-up” because our “hearts, “our hearts… move us”.

I would like to dedicate this Drash in honor of my father, John Antignas, whose 90th Birthday we celebrate today.

He instilled in me a sense of awareness and responsibility for community, the world around us and the importance of “stepping-up, showing-up”.

Toda Raba.

Am Yisrael Chai!

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