Written by: Rabbi Mordechai Raizman
Coming Together as a People
In this week’s Torah portion Vayakhel, the Bnei Yisroel are gathered together to build the Mishkan. Rashi tells us this happened right after Yom Kippur when Moshe came down from the mountain receiving the second Luchos (tablets). We as a people sinned with the egel hazahav (golden calf), and now it was time to rebuild. The second Luchos were given and the building of the Mishkan would begin. It was time to recognize the goal of serving G-d alone and for the Divine Presence to rest amongst us in this world. It was a time to rededicate ourselves to the values that were given to us at Sinai. It was a time to become united as a people.
A few years ago, I was part of the JUF Shimshon Mission that traveled to Poland and Israel. More than 20 day school leaders participated in this mission as we connected to the past in ways that none of us could have imagined beforehand. Walking through Auschwitz, Birkenau, Majdanek and Treblinka was extremely emotional. One could only grasp a bit of the horrors that our ancestors went through. In Auschwitz and Birkenau, it was a rainy, cold day. All of us were dressed warmly, in coats, gloves, boots, hoods, and after three hours of walking, we were shivering as we got back to the bus. We all asked, “How could they possibly survive such conditions?”
We were trying to relate but couldn’t quite connect to that reality. The enormity of the devastation and destruction hit us as we walked through the death camps. Three million out of 3.3 million Jews in Poland were killed. One participant commented, “In our group of 25 people, two or three would have made it based on those numbers.”
One person asked, “What is our take away from this experience? Communities that were vibrant and alive were destroyed and they are gone. Rabbis, scholars, laymen, religious, secular, parents, grandparents, children – it didn’t make any difference, if you were Jewish, you were persecuted. How do we relate to this?”
It is a heavy question; there is much to say and many lessons to draw from it. I would like to focus on one take away. The fact that more than 70 years later we are visiting these sites, praying and connecting to our people, reinforces the important lesson of Vayakhel – gathering together for eternity. These 6 million kedoshim are not gone. They live within every one of us.
All Jews throughout all periods of time are eternally connected. We feel that responsibility to rebuild and to replenish what was lost. We are one people with one mission with one G-d and a value system that has kept us going for thousands of years. We are connected to the past and its memory inspires us to do more for our people in the future.
Vayakhel is the gathering of Jews throughout time. We continue to build from the past and rebuild the future. We have much to be proud of in our community as we see tremendous growth in our day schools, synagogues and Jewish life. We have dedicated Rabbis, lay leaders, and volunteers living daily by the values handed down to us. We have dedicated organizations such as the JUF with committed staff to work on behalf of the community of Jews here and abroad. We are one people gathered together over time.
Let us continue to strengthen our commitment to each other in the memory of those lost, to continue to build the legacy of the Jewish people until the rebuilding of the Bais Hamikdosh (Temple). May it come speedily in our times. Amen.