Drash on Parashat Vayakheil-P’kudei (Hachodesh)

Drash on Parashat Vayakheil-P’kudei (Hachodesh)        

Rabbi Moshe Givental
North Shore Temple Emanuel, Chatswood, NSW

About a decade ago now, deep into climate activism work, I had a period during which I spent a lot of time at climate protests. The majority of my work was providing pastoral support to activists, helping them process the fear, anger, and grief which naturally come along with understanding what is at stake. However, I also felt that it was my responsibility to put my skin literally on the line and join them on the front lines. It was here that the rubber really hit the road. What was I to do with my own feelings, especially my own anger? A hilarious situation ensued. Each time I encountered the amazing beauty of the art work and music that my colleagues worked very hard to craft in order to get the word out to the rest of the world, I’d become even more angry. I’d mumble to myself, “Why are you wasting your time on this beauty? There is real work which needs to be done!?”

That anger built and built until the ridiculousness of being angry at beauty became impossible to ignore. I realized that while I was training to become a Rabbi, I was still looking at the world like the engineer (a road I prepared for but didn’t take earlier in life) and not even a very wise one at that. I was thinking about the climate crisis like a physical problem which required a physical solution, and anything which veered from that seemed like a waste of time and a distraction. 

However, this week’s Torah portion reminds us that no engineering project is just an engineering project. I think this is just as true in the building of the Mishkan as it is with rebuilding a truly life-sustaining civilization.  All of the gold, silver, and copper, the blue, purple, and crimson wool, the gold plated panels, and so on and so forth are not in the Mishkan because of an engineering need. Especially in the face of surviving a recent catastrophe (slavery in Egypt) or preparing to overcome future challenges (life in the Holy Land) - the Temple needed to inspire a vision of something beyond itself, a positive vision for us to move towards. 

The same is true for climate work. In addition to thoughtful analyses of the problem, in addition to possible engineering solutions, we need positive visions of what a truly life-sustaining and thriving world will look like. Art and beauty are absolutely essential to that. Music and poetry are absolutely vital to that. We need artisans like Bezalel in every field in order to help us build this new world and treat it like a Temple. As the beloved song refrain goes olam hesed yibaneh / “and we will build the world with love” (Psalm 89:3). This work and the vision for it must come from a place of joy. As the prophet Elishah said, “now get me a musician… and the hand of God came upon Him” (2 Kings 3:15). From this the Zohar learns, “the Divine Presence does not dwell in a place of sorrow, but it does dwell in a place of joy” (Zohar 1:180b). We must build this new world from a place of vision, of love, and of joy.

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