Vayakhel – Home Sweet Home
We learned to appreciate our home after being away. Having a place to hang your cap is critical for stability. A rootless drifter has many advantages in terms of his flexibility. There is nothing tying him down to one place and he can easily relocate when the situation calls for it. However, that very advantage also limits his ability to build and settle. A structure can only be built high if its foundations are sufficiently deep. A person who has roots, who has a permanent residence, can develop and build a far more lasting edifice with his life than the drifter can.
Parshat Vayakhel records the building of the Mishkan, the ‘home’ of the Almighty. What stability does G-d need? How does the concept of a home relate to the Tabernacle of G-d?
The second book of Samuel (Chapter 7) relates that King David was inspired to build a house for the Lord. “See how I live in a palace of cedar while the ark is housed in a structure of cloth,” King David declared to Nathan the prophet. The prophet initially gave his blessings to David but was then given different instructions by the Almighty. G-d’s response through the prophet is strange. “Will you indeed build me a house in which I will dwell? …was the matter ever spoken by Me… why have you never built Me a house of cedar?” G-d dismisses David’s goodwill.
Interestingly, while G-d initially rejects David’s sentiments He then informs David that his son will succeed him as king and he will then build a Temple for G-d. I read someone’s take on this passage which summarizes as follows: G-d’s challenge to David, “I have never asked for a house of cedar,” is a message for David that his desire to build a house for G-d stems not from his concern for G-d. Building a more regal Temple to replace the old Tabernacle is for the benefit of man, not for G-d. Man needs a Temple, a spiritual home. Once G-d communicated this to David, and David understood the nature of his sentiment, the green light was given to build. It was his son, however, who would build and not he. His son would now be educated from the onset that the purpose of the Temple is not so that the Lord will have a residence but so that man will have a center of spirituality, a synagogue of a sort.
G-d does not need a residence but for human beings it is essential. When I was 16 years old I moved up to a more advanced Yeshiva. I knew no one and felt out of place. I was homesick. A day or two into the year someone in a nearby room played some music (in those days it was a tape) that we used to play at home. I instantly felt better. It didn’t take me home but it reminded me that I have a home.
Everybody needs a home. Every individual, every family, every nation. Rabbi Wein tells of his experience of the State of Israel’s decleration of independence. He was a teenager walking to shul with his father on Friday afternoon and his father was weeping openly with emotion. For nearly two thousand years the Jews did not have a homeland, they did not have a place to rest their weary legs. They had not the luxury of a capital city or a central government. No one expected it to last a week, let alone 65 years. With five armies surrounding the stubborn handful of Jews living in Israel, aided by the trickle of refugees smuggled in, there was no expectation that they could win. But that didn’t matter. Even if Israel existed for a day it would have been worthwhile. We would have a home.
The Ark was housed in a structure of cloth, a tent. “I never asked for a house of cedar,” says G-d. The ark, the Torah, has been the home of the Jewish people for milleniia. Without a home, without a country, wandering in exile for so many hundreds of years, the Jewish people have always been anchored by the Torah. The Torah itself has a home in our hearts. It was placed in a temporary cloth home because it does not need a structure of cedar. It lives within us. We are the home of the Torah.
The Talmud states about the Torah that if Torah scholarship is present in a family for three generations, from that time on it will follow that family. Once the Torah has a home, solidified by three generations of worthy students toiling to master its lessons, it will then always feel a kinship with that family even if later generations abandon the study of Torah. Torah will hover near the door, waiting for the opportune time when a scion of that family once again searches to unearth our heritage. A home is a concept of belonging, a foundation of existence.