Vayakhel / Shekalim 5784

This week’s Torah portion, Vayakhel, resonates with the theme of communal unity and purpose. It beautifully ties in with the special Shabbat Shekalim, a time when we reflect on the collective responsibility of supporting our community. In a serendipitous alignment, these themes also echo in my current experience of undertaking a month of reserve military service, immersing myself in the role of a chaplain within the Australian Defence Force.

Vayakhel, which means “and he assembled,” recounts the gathering of the Israelites as they contribute materials and skills to construct the Mishkan (Tabernacle). This assembly serves as a powerful reminder of the strength that emerges when a community unites in a common purpose. The Israelites, through their generous donations and shared effort, create a sacred space where the Divine Presence can dwell among them. In my current reserve service, I am witnessing a similar sense of unity and purpose among my fellow servicemen and women.

Shabbat Shekalim, observed this week, involves the reading of a special additional portion that discusses the half-shekel contribution required from every member of the community for the upkeep of the Tabernacle. The symbolism here is profound – each individual, regardless of their status or wealth, contributes equally, emphasizing the importance of collective responsibility. Just as the half-shekel unifies the community in supporting the Mishkan, my military service continues to reveal the strength that emerges when individuals from diverse backgrounds come together to serve a common cause.

Rabbi Shlomo Ephraim Luntschitz, a 16th-century commentator known as the Kli Yakar, sheds light on the significance of this communal effort in Vayakhel. He emphasizes the idea that the Mishkan is not just a physical structure but a representation of the collective soul of the Jewish people. Similarly, my experience as a chaplain in the Australian Defence Force has reinforced the understanding that the military community is not just an organization but a living, breathing entity with its own unique soul. It requires spiritual care, support, and guidance to thrive.

In Vayakhel, Bezalel and Oholiab are singled out as the chief artisans, chosen for their exceptional skills and devotion to the task at hand. Rabbi Samson Raphael Hirsch, a 19th-century commentator, points out that the Torah emphasizes not only their craftsmanship but also their inner qualities, their “wisdom of the heart.” This underscores the importance of character and spirit in contributing to the communal purpose. As a chaplain, my role extends beyond practical tasks to providing spiritual support, guidance, and fostering a sense of community spirit among the military personnel.

As I immerse myself in the challenges and triumphs of military service, I am reminded of the timeless lessons embedded in Vayakhel and Shabbat Shekalim. The Torah’s wisdom continues to guide us, emphasizing the significance of unity, collective responsibility, and the understanding that each individual, regardless of their role, plays a crucial part in the greater purpose.

In this week’s portion, we find inspiration to reflect on the power of community, the importance of contributing to a shared purpose, and the role of character in the pursuit of communal goals. As I continue my journey as a chaplain in the Australian Defence Force, I am grateful for the guidance provided by the Torah and the valuable lessons learned from Vayakhel and Shabbat Shekalim. May we all find strength in unity, purpose, and the wisdom of the heart as we navigate our individual paths within the broader tapestry of our communities.

Shabbat Shalom,
Rabbi Rafi Kaiserblueth

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