Parasha Vayakhel: A Mirror of the Holy Whole
Cherie Karo Schwartz
My Mom, Dotty Karo of blessed memory, was an ultimate crafter. She had a room stuffed with kaleidoscope-colored treasures she’d collected or had been gifted by neighbors: shelves with every kind and texture of cloth imaginable, skeins of threads and yarns, jars of costume jewelry pieces and glitter, multi-purpose buttons and hooks. There was an abundance of raw materials! From these, piece by piece, she created handmade original, practical and whimsical, beauteous masterpieces. Mom’s creations fit together with precision and great beauty. Her overflowing sewing room was her sanctuary, her holy place. And I, I will always remember.
My art, however, is in my writing and storytelling. I weave worldwide Jewish folktales, sacred stories, spiritual journeys, historical tales, and original ideas into the tapestry of our Jewish world.
Parasha Vayakhel is not only my adult Bat Mitzvah parasha (and therefore precious), but it is also the one which lifts my spirit and lets my Elder soul soar. Here, we actually take all of the plans for building the Tabernacle and make them manifest. We are creating Mishkan.
And who does it take?
We are told:
All of Us.
It is not only the strong nor the men nor the young nor the important ones. It is
All of Us!
Is there another place in Torah or even in life where it takes
All of Us?
Here is a paradigm of the power of unity in community. Without all of the materials donated, and all of the people inspired by G!d, there is no Mishkan.
This creation of glorious Sanctuary comes into being by each of us offering the very best of ourselves. What parent or teacher could want anything more from our children? So, too, with G!d and Moshe. And central to this holy task is the inclusion of the Elders, leading the way for people in wisdom, skill, willingness and heart.
Throughout Vayakhel, we see that this essential creation requires the planning, work, expertise and involvement of all. With this parasha, we have a blueprint for Elderhood. Whatever we bring forward and offer from our accumulated life wisdom has value and worth. We meet Bezalel, Master Crafter, appointed by G!d to oversee creation of Mishkan. He is endowed with
“…the spirit of God, in practical wisdom, in discernment and in knowledge and in all kinds of workmanship….” Exodus 35:31 (FOX)
Bezalel has elder wisdom (despite Sanhedrin 69b saying he was 13!).
At times, we as Elders feel disregarded, and made to feel less than valued members of community. Vayakhel reveals that we are all central in establishing beauty and holiness. Each piece of Mishkan, each piece of life, comes together to form the whole.
Among all who contribute, Elders– those with seasoned life experience, practice, and patience– can make great contribution. Vayakhel teaches:
Exodus 35:5 “Everyone whose heart is moved…shall bring… gifts for G!d” (JPS)
35:10 “And every [person] wise of mind among you…” (Fox)
35:21 “Everyone whose mind uplifted him, and everyone whose spirit made-him-willing brought [G!d’s] contribution for the skilled work on the Tent of Appointment….” (Fox)
35:25 “And every woman wise of mind, with their hands they spun and brought their spinning…. And, every one of the women whose mind uplifted them in practical wisdom….” (Fox)
The colors, textures, metals, poles and rods, planks, rings, goat and dolphin skins, embroideries, and so much more all create on Earth the divinely-inspired image of the Tabernacle. There is a particularly poignant lesson in the listing of all of these pieces, and in seeing in lengthy detail how they all fit together.
As we mature and grow through life experience, we wrestle with how things have fit together in our own lives. Here: we connect to each other with our offered gifts. Each unique piece fits into another to form the whole, individually and communally. As with the Mishkan, so with our lives. At our best, we create holiness piece by piece, step by step, by using our G!d-given gifts wisely and well. What a metaphor for life! We create an interwoven holy tapestry of life.
Over six decades ago, as I prepared to weave my emerging adult life with upcoming college experience, my Mom made me a quilt. She lovingly took leftover pieces of fabric from clothes she had made for me or helped me to create, for one side of the quilt. On the other, she lovingly took leftover pieces from flannel footie pajamas and nighties she had made me since I was tiny. Each piece told a story. Carefully, she sewed them together, each piece to another, into a whole warm quilt for me, so that I had a sense– a feel– of home. I was surrounded in my safe place, my sanctuary. I still have the quilt and remember the care, dreams and hopes woven into it by my loving Mom.
Mishkan, our Sanctuary, was made precisely by taking all of the pieces gathered, sewn and created, and fitting them together with exact placement, all according to the plan revealed by G!d. This is our holy Sanctuary, and within it, the Holy of Holies.
Today we remember, as we soak in the waters of Torah: we are holy, our selves made in the image of G!d, are a mirror of this precise and perfect plan. As Elders, we have seen how– as each generation has– that even though there may be stretches and tears in the fabric, poles come loose in their fittings, tapestries fading, yet the Torah of the Mishkan holds true, upright and whole. It is our job to help repair the broken parts, and to help pass on, as Sages of the Story, the faith that the whole remains Holy. We have been woven into the texture of the fabric of our families and communities by our ancestors. Our job in turn is to pass on not only the memory, the skills and gifts and wisdom, but the heart of giving to next generations, lovingly weaving them into the One.
Cherie Karo Schwartz is a Storyteller, Author and Educator in Denver, Colorado. She teaches, performs and offers Storytelling courses and workshops throughout the country and abroad for over fifty years so far, sharing spirit-filled tales of wishes and wisdom. She is the author of three Judaic books, including Circle Spinning: Jewish Turning and Returning Tales. Cherie was on the Faculty of the Jewish Spiritual Education Maggid training program, she founded and teaches for the NewCAJE RISE Jewish Storytelling Initiative for Judaic teachers, and teaches Mystical Tales for the Kabbalah Experience.