Va Yakhel and the next parshat, Pekudei, are read together. Some weeks have double entries to make the number of Torah portions conform to the lunar calendar. But this time the pairing makes sense. Both parshot are completely concerned with setting up the Tabernacle and readying the Priests as the previous chapters have outlined. A nice thing about parshah Va Yakhel is the communal sense of building something together. The tabernacle is meant to be set up with great precision, including being adorned with jewels, gems, and other things. Artists contribute what they can, women contribute their weaving, and what is really being constructed and weaved together is community through space.
Pekudei is the final parshah of the book of Exodus. Exodus ends not with a dramatic narrative moment, but with a continuation of the preparations for Moses to descend from the mountain and for Yahweh to completely forgive the people for the golden calf so that he may dwell in the Tabernacle as opposed to on Mount Sinai. The idea is one of cycles: rebirth for the people is possible. Thus it is fitting that the day the Tabernacle is finally completed is New Year’s Day – the first day of the first month. This marks the second year of freedom. The people have had the opportunity to learn from their mistakes. The new year gives the chance for a fresh start and for new beginnings. Thus it is fitting that the book of Exodus – the story of the rebirth of the people from slavery to freedom – ends at the beginning of a new year.
Each new year and season we too have the opportunity for a mini-rebirth. We are not created completely afresh, but we can freshen up ourselves, our goals, and our relationships. We can use the markers of time’s passing to remind us to be reflective, always changing and growing to become the best versions of ourselves we can. Our Jewish texts teach us that to do so, to engage in a process of self-renewal, is an act that connects us with our Jewish legacy. Exodus has taken the people from slavery to freedom. The text places important emphasis on the relationship between the people and their leaders, their space, and their hope. We find many Humanistic lessons in the Torah, but these lessons are embedded perhaps most meaningfully in the narrative of Exodus. This is the foundational narrative of our people, told annually at Pesach, and remembered always when we hear of struggles for freedom and justice.