Moses gathered together the entire Israelite community. . .
This week’s double portion, Vayakhel-Pekude, begins with Moses convoking all of the children of Israel at God’s behest. The root of the opening word, vayakhel/to gather, is also the source of the word kehillah—Jewish community. Our Jewish calling is to be a kehillah kedoshah, a holy community. As Rabbi Ron Wolfson notes in his powerful book, Relational Judaism:
Our obligation to each other is rooted in the biblical notion that every human being is made in the image of God. The image of God is within, but the presence of God is found "in the between," in our relationships. . . . Covenants form the foundation of "community"—a group of people bound together in relationships based on reciprocal responsibilities.
It is rather ironic that we encounter this portion grounded in gathering during a week when, across the globe, we are quarantining ourselves; it’s also timely, because in this season of fear and anxiety our sacred challenge is to find ways to remain in community with one another, in spite of the COVID 19 virus. Indeed, now, more than ever, we need community. This is why I reject the phrase “social distancing.” For the sake of public health, especially for the most vulnerable among us, physical distancing is necessary and entirely in keeping with our core Jewish value of pikuach nefesh—saving life. But we need social connection. One cannot live a rich Jewish life without community, even—or especially—in this strange and difficult time.
In this spirit, we at CABI will be busy working from our homes to find fresh ways to connect with each of you. As we do, please give us feedback. We are all learning as we go. Text or email us. Call us. And reach out through some of the new platforms that we will be using. This past weekend, we livestreamed our Shabbat services for the first time. We plan to continue that practice, and hope to add opportunities that allow for more dialogue, in real time, between us.
Fittingly, the portion ends with the final chapter of Exodus—and therefore after reading it, we proclaim the words that our tradition prescribes for the conclusion of each book of Torah: Chazak, chazak, v’nitchazek—Let us be strong! Let us be strong! And let us strengthen and draw strength from one another!
Davar Acher—An Additional Interpretation: COVID19 is a potent reminder of just how globalized our world has become. The virus testifies to the utter artificiality of national boundaries.
Facing this reality is, in some ways fearful and painful but it also points the way to a brighter future, for just as borders are inconsequential to a pandemic, so, too, in the matter of climate change. Long after the coronavirus has come and gone, we will continue to reckon with existential ecological concerns. Let us hope and pray and labor to bring our fractured world together in responding to COVID 19—and in so doing, generate new paths of hope and cooperation on climate.