Parshat Vayakhel: Connecting Jews to Judaism

I’m sure you’ve suffered it many times before: you’re at a Shabbat meal, enjoying the company of others, and then, it comes to a “pause” when someone announces: “Let’s hear a D’var Torah” / “Time for a speech” and so forth. I can’t think of anything more annoying, let alone out of place, then hearing these words, that, literally, put a partition between the fun we are having preceding and proceeding it.

In my humble opinion, this is not just a nuisance, but actually creates true DAMAGE and is profoundly DETRIMENTAL to the Torah, and the impact it should have on our lives. And it runs counter to the most traditional method of teaching, which was taught by the greatest teacher of Torah of all time, Moshe.

Why Did Moshe Gather All of Israel?

After all, our parsha of “Vayak’hel-Pekudei” does not begin with the above “intro,” but rather with the words: “And Moshe gathered all the congregation of Israel and said to them: ‘These are the things that G-d commanded.’”

All rightfully ask: why does the Torah, which doesn’t waste words, have to tell all generations to gather? That, first, Moshe “gathered all the congregation of Israel” and only then spoke to them? In a world void of email and texts, how else would he be physically able to teach them?

Moreover, as the Jewish custom has been to “name” the parsha by a phrase in the first verse of it, why not brand it with the “meat”, i.e. with the actual words of Moshe from G-d? Why name it after the “plate” upon which the main dish is served, the mere means of getting them through the door?

Answers Rabbi Yechiel Michel Epstein, in the name of the Midrash:

ובתנחומא פרשה ויקהל: מתחלת התורה ועד כאן אין בה פרשה שנאמרה בה קהלה בראשה אלא זו בלבד. ולמה כך? אלא אמר לו הקב”ה למשה רד ועשה לי קהלות גדולות בשבת כדי שילמדו הדורות הבאים אחריך להכנס בבתי כנסיות ובתי מדרשות ללמוד בהם תורה לרבים) ערוה”ש, או”ח, ר”צ:ב(

In the Midrash Tanchuma, at the beginning of Parshat Vayakhel, [it says;] “From the beginning of the Torah until here, there is no parsha that begins with the word “congregation” except this. Why is that? Because G-d said to Moshe: “Go down, and gather large congregations on Shabbat in order for them to be taught for generations to come, to [first] go into synagogues and study-halls, and [then] learn Torah publicly.” (Aruch Hashulchan, OC, 290/2)

I believe that the above Midrash is teaching us a vital lesson on how to teach/preach, and more importantly, how to inspire and influence people via our words of Torah, which can be best illustrated with the following story:

My revered Rebbe and mentor, Rav Amital z”l, once hosted students at his home Friday night following the meal. There was singing, questions asked and answered and a very informal discussion, with words of Torah spiraled into it. When things got quite, one student declared: “O.K, now that we’re about to leave, perhaps the Rabbi would like to say a D’var Torah.” Rav Amital, notably agitated, quickly quipped: “And what would you like me to do? Put on my Gartel! What did we do until now if not learn Torah?!”

First Connect – Then Teach

In order for one’s Torah to resonate, one has to first must CONNECT to the JEWS, to where they are currently, to what they’re doing presently, and then, naturally, allow the words of Torah to flow into the concerns, quests and challenges that they are currently in. Declaring “Let’s hear a D’var Torah” will not only create a partition between what the people are interested in and what, perhaps, they should be, but moreover, this creates a partition between the Torah and their lives!

Silhouettes of People Waving the Flag of IsraelThus, first Moshe engages in “Vayak’hel,”, he gathers all the congregation of Israel, sees who is in front of him, gets to learn where they are, what they are busy with, and then, and only then, does he begin to say “to them, these are the things that G-d commanded.”

Starting with the latter, and not being as concerned with the former, creates a tragic separation between “life” and “Torah,” which are intended to march together, rather than parted. First, one establishes the “Vayak’hel”, the “Kehilla,”, the one learns about and analyzes the “congregation” to know the people are, and only then, one should allow the values of the Torah to flow naturally, un-partitioned, into their lives.

This is the plea of the above Midrash, which calls to us to allow our Torah teaching to flow naturally from where people are “gathered,” and not separated from them. And indeed, towards the end of his life, at the very beginning of his long speech, going from the beginning of the book of Devarim till its last 12 verses, Moshe again first describes where the people are: “These are the words which Moses spoke to all Israel on that side of the Jordan in the desert, in the plain opposite the Red Sea, between Paran and Tofel and Lavan and Hazeroth and Di Zahav. It is eleven days’ journey from Horeb by way of Mount Seir to Kadesh Barnea, It came to pass in the fortieth year, in the eleventh month, on the first of the month.”

Then, and only then, does the Torah state that “Moses spoke to the children of Israel according to all that the Lord had commanded him regarding them.”

We have the ability to connect the eternal values of the Torah to the Jewish people. But if we authentically want to connect Jews to Judaism, dare we create a partition between the two by introducing its teaching with the above separator of “Let’s now hear a D’var Torah”? Let us instead follow the tradition of Moshe, the greatest teacher of all time, and insure that we go to the very heart of where the Jewish people are, penetrate it with the Torah’s teachings, and thus insure that Jews will march with Judaism. In the words of our sages:

לעולם ילמוד אדם תורה במקום שלבו חפץ (;עבודה זרה י”ט עמוד א’)
A person should learn Torah in a place where his/her heart desires, (Avoda Zara 19a)

Let’s learn where the Jewish people’s heart is, and there, let’s allow the words of Torah to enter it!

Rav Yehoshua GrunsteinRav Yehoshua Grunstein, a member of Beit Hillel, is the Director of Training & Placement at the Straus/Beren-Amiel Institute of Ohr Torah Stone in Israel, where he also mentors community rabbis and educators all over the globe. Formerly the Rabbi of Halifax, Nova Scotia (Canada), he is a popular teacher and lecturer internationally, and is the author of “Daven Your Age – An Adult Journey Through the Daily Prayer Service” (Gefen Publishing House, 2013).

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