03 Mar 2016

Vayakhel-Shekalim 5776

Vayakhel-Shekalim 5776


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Wherein lies happiness? In that which becks 

Our ready minds to fellowship divine,

A fellowship with essence; till we shine…’

 — John Keats

Picking up the pieces in the aftermath of the debacle of the Golden Calf Moshe arrives before the Children of Israel on Yom Kippur[1] in order to present them with a new way forward into the future with G-d at their side. With a new set of Ten Commandments, to replace the ones Moshe shattered upon seeing the people worshipping the Calf, Moshe returns to the people for the purpose of rebuilding. He presents the project to construct the Tabernacle, the place in which G-d’s presence will reside with Israel throughout their sojourns.

This new programme for rebuilding the future was not presented to the nation’s leaders or dignitaries alone but to the entire population. Everyone was there.

Moshe assembled the entire community of the Children of Israel….(35:1)

This included the entire population of Israel…men, women and children. (Nahmanides, ibid.)

What was different about this instance from the others in which the entire population is asked to be present?

There are times in the movement and growth of any group of people in which all those who are part of the group must come together. This is particularly crucial at times of planning, vision and reflection.

When I was headmaster of Barkai Yeshivah Day School in Brooklyn, there were few times when every single staff member was asked to be present together. In fact, it only occurred twice during the school year, once at the beginning and once at the end. This meeting included not only administration, teachers and aides but also office and business staff as well as building managers and technicians. These meetings were special because, while they involved specific information about procedures, they centred around philosophy, purpose and goals. To me these meetings were essential in order to build a sense of mutual investment and collaboration within the staff. But more important, with these gatherings the entire community of practice was present in all of its facets and everyone involved could see all who were sharing responsibility in our mutual endeavour.

At Vayakhel’s beginning Moshe is speaking to a nation who feared approaching him[2], who had lost morale[3], and who did not quite know what future they might have with G-d[4]. Moshe, having secured G-d’s involvement, literally regroups the entire people to motivate towards a vision of building and progress. By having all members of the nation standing together, the words, thoughts and perspectives for development could be heard collectively and all could recognise the fellowship that they shared. It is upon such powerful networks that growth occurs with integrity and strength.

The nation was, in essence, a great family; descendants of brothers dedicated to a mutual and holy ideal. Moshe acted as the parent providing vision, wisdom and instruction through which the people’s objectives could be met. We can learn from this not only for our businesses, congregations and community institutions but also for our own families.

It is crucial for a cohesive family to spend time together talking about their core values, how they will work together to meet the challenges that they face and what they need from each other in order to flourish. Whether this happens around the dinner table or at a family meeting, time should be taken for it. Perhaps in a poetic sense, it is significant that the first message Moshe shares with the assembly is that of Shabbat.

For six days is work to be made, but on the seventh day, there is to be holiness for you, Shabbat, ceasing for G-d. (35:2)

At the point of gathering, Moshe presented the people with a need for a time to cease from production and consider their purpose in G-d’s creation. Historically, Shabbat has been a time when Jewish families have taken a period of rest from work and used it as a time for mutual reflection and connection.

Life grows in complexity with every passing day. In our struggles to navigate its challenging path we do so with partners of all kinds. Now and then it is crucial to find the moments when comrades of purpose can gather, share and draw strength from each other.

[1] See Rashi, 35:1

[2] 34:30

[3] 33:4

[4] 32:30

Law and Lore

Torah Reading

Order of Aliyot – First Aliya and Cohanim

On Shabbat we are required to call a minimum of seven people to the Torah. If necessary, more than seven people can be called to the Torah but care should be taken not to call so many that would cause extensive lengthening of the service.

It is customary to call a Cohen to the Torah for the first aliya. This is essentially done for darkei shalom/to ‘keep the peace’ so Cohanim do not feel as though their special status in the nation is being overlooked. There is no formal law, however that requires a Cohen to be called to the Torah first. There is an opinion in the Talmud[1] that this honour for the Cohen need only be performed on Shabbat and Yom Tob when the synagogue is full, but not on Mondays and Thursdays when instead, a Torah scholar should be given the honour.

However, due to the custom and sensitivities involved there were some Ge’onim who ruled that when there is a Cohen in the synagogue even the highest official in Israel cannot be called in his place. Maran, Ribbi Yoseph Karo writes in Bet Yoseph that this is difficult to accept as the Talmud does not assert the custom with such stringency. Maran resolves this by saying that since the whole source for the honour is to ‘keep the peace’ the Cohen is only not to be replaced when he is insistent on receiving the aliya. But when the Cohanim are prepared to yield it is permitted to call a Hakham first.

However, Rambam, in his gloss on Mishna[2], saw the custom of giving Cohanim the first aliya over a Torah scholar as an aberration:

Know that this is well-known in every place that a Cohen is called up [to the Torah] first in the synagogue whether he was a Torah scholar or ignorant, and even when there is someone in synagogue present who is greater than the Cohen in wisdom. This, of course, is something that has no foundation in Torah at all, nor is it mentioned in the Talmud…I am shocked that even the most refined among our people who are healthy thinkers and removed from all odd customs, practise this as well. I have no idea from where this blemish has come to them. Rather the appropriate formula for [aliyot] is as I will explain: A Cohen is called before a Levi and a Levi before a Yisrael. This is done because we are told in Torah (Lev., 21:8) to sanctify the Cohen. We understand this to mean that when it comes to acts of sanctity the Cohen should be honoured with blessing first, being served first etc. This, however, is only when there is not a scholar greater than him present…. 

However, even Rambam, in his legal code[3] accepted the prevalent custom and recorded it as common practice.

The custom is wide-spread today that even a Cohen who is ignorant is called up before a great scholar in Israel.  

The S&P in London record the custom as follows[4]: 

Indeed some Rabbis hold that if there is only one Cohen present, and he is an ignorant man (Am ha-Arets), and if there is also a Talmid Haham (a learned scholar), it would be proper to ignore the ignorant Cohen and to call in his place the scholar; but in our London Congregation, we generally call the Cohen first (if one is present), irrespective of his knowledge or lack of it.  

The custom in London is to call the people to the Torah by name (more on this custom in later weeks). The call for the Cohen is: Cohen kera vekhahen ya’amod hashem hatob …. likro baTorah veyishmerehu tsuro  –  ‘Call the Cohen and have him serve, let the good name …. come up to read in the Torah and his ‘Rock’ protect him’. The Cohen arrives at the Sepher and recites the opening berakha, after which he turns and bows to the individual who accompanied the Sepher (que accompanhara o Sepher Torah) who remains standing upon the Teba until this acknowledgement from the Cohen. At this point the Accompanhar sits on the Teba.

If a Cohen wishes to step outside the synagogue for the first aliya so that it can be given to a non-Cohen he is permitted to do so.

[1] Gittin, 59

[2] Gittin, 5

[3] Hilkhot Tephila, 12:18

[4] The Mitsvot, Whitehill, p. 10

Parasha Perspectives

X Vayakhel

58             Moshe calls an assembly.  ‘Work’ for six days, rest
on Shabbat (35:1-3)
59             Mishkan donations are requested and given wholeheartedly (35:4-29)
60a           The craftsmen (35:30-36:7)
60b           Construction of the outer curtains (36:8-13)
61a           Construction of the inner curtains (36:14-19)
61b           Construction of the boards (36:20-38)
62             Bezalel constructs the Ark (37:1-9)
63             Construction of Table and its vessels (37:10-16)
64             Construction of Menorah and accessories (37:17-24)
65a           Construction of incense altar, anointing oil and aromatic incense (37:25-29)
65b           Construction of the Burnt offering Altar and its accessories (38:1-7)
65c            Copper Laver is constructed from mirrors of women (38:8)
65d           Construction of the Court of the Mishkan (38:9-20)

Taken from, ‘Torah for Everyone’ by Rabbi Dr Raphael Zarum, Dean of LSJS