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The Giving Heart of the "Gangs of Washington"

Photo of car buried in snow with only the side-view mirror and antenna protruding. By Shai Gluskin

An amazing thing happens in this this Torah portion. The generosity of the Israelites exceeds both God's and Moses' expectations. The gold and other precious materials required to build the mishkan (tabernacle) are the building project of the week. But the resources for the project cannot be imposed on theIsraelites. They can only come from the lev nadiv, the generous, free-willing heart of individual Israelites.

The response of the Israelites is overwhelming. This campaign for Jewish needs ends with a strange twist: The authorities responsible for the "campaign" have to ask the contributors to stop providing anymore gifts (although, according to another source, Moses and Aaron begin creating a reserve, suspecting that another golden calf incident might lead to the destruction of the mishkan and the need to create another one).

Within the parasha, individual participation is balanced with communal commitment. Me'am Loez notes that the introductory phrase of the portion Vayakhel (meaning to congregate; the same root as the Hebrew word kehilla, or community) appears only once in the Torah in this verb form. The imagery evoked is of a community in formation, instantly assembling to hear again what Moses had heard atop Mount Sinai.

The day before writing this column, my wife and I had an opportunity to discover what a quick-forming community of mitzvah doers might be like. We were visiting our children in Washington, D.C., and got caught in the middle of Washington's third worst snow storm of the past 100 years. Having barely dug out from the snow once earlier that day, we sat quite discouraged on Connecticut Avenue stuck in another drift.

Within three minutes, a gang of six individuals descended upon our car. Of course, our worst fears were that they were out to exploit us. Perhaps a scene from "Gangs of New York" transposed to Washington. The "gang" surrounded our car and quickly began giving us instructions on the proper way to straighten the wheel. They literally pushed us out of the drift.

Vayakhel - they gathered quickly. B'lev nadiv: They generously gave their material energy to help us. We had encountered a gang of mitzvah doers.

Reprinted by permission of the Cleveland Jewish News.

This dvar Torah is one of a series influenced by the Me'am LoezSephardic Torah commentary.
Read the introduction to the series.

Topics: Divrei Torah
Type: Dvar Torah