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Jewish National Fund


Each week we feature a different outstanding Florida Rabbi.


Rabbi Richard D. Agler
Congregation B'nai Israel of Boca Raton
Boca Raton

Torah portion begins with an incredible image: "Vayakhel Moshe et kol adat Bnai Yisrael - Moses assembled the entire community of Israel..." (Exodus 35:1) Can we imagine? The full population of the Jewish people--united! And for the sacred purpose of building the mishkan--our very first sanctuary. It must have been a most remarkable event.

Even in ancient times, a united Jewish people was an infrequent occurrence. Accordingly, it draws a healthy measure of rabbinic commentary. Rashi notes that when the Torah was given at Mt. Sinai, Israel was united "as one person with one heart." However, the sin of the golden calf destroyed that unity, as each person acted selfishly and without regard for the well being of the greater whole. The instructions to construct the mishkan were given with the hope that the people would atone for the sin of the calf and return to the state of unity they knew previously. Hasidic commentary goes so far as to say that the successful completion of the mishkan was dependent upon the people maintaining this spirit of unity.1

We compare all this with the well-known Talmudic teaching that the Temple in Jerusalem was destroyed because of sinat chinam, free flowing hatred and enmity that existed amongst the Jews during that time. The lesson is simple: when the Jewish people are as one, G-d's Presence is much closer to us. Disunity, on the other hand, shakes our very foundations.

Today we see both qualities very much in evidence. Most Jews are united in our support of the State of Israel, in loyalty and respect for our heritage, in reverence for the sacrifices of past generations and in the belief that we are obligated to perform acts of righteousness. But we are also divided. Religious conflicts threaten us to the point of schism. On the crucial question of land for peace in Israel, there is nothing approaching consensus. We even hear abstract talk of civil war, which is enough to make any Jew shudder.

Which is the course that we will follow? Only a prophet can answer. The temptation to stake out firm positions, especially when great issues are at stake and convictions are passionately held, is very strong. Unfortunately this is the behavior that has led to so much destruction in our past. Unity is much more difficult to pursue. It requires subordinating personal agendas to those of the greater community. The individualistic spirit of our times makes it hard for us to count on this happening. But if we hope to go forward in blessing, the lesson of Vayakhel is that it must.

Shabbat Shalom.

1 Or Pnai Moshe Itturei Torah; Vol. 3, p. 273