Drash on Parashat Vayakhel 2014

Rabbi Kim Ettlinger
Temple Beth Israel, St Kilda, Melbourne, Victoria

How much is too much?

Our parashah this Shabbat is usually a double Parasha – Vayakhel Pekudei and is one of seven that is read separately depending on the number of shabbatot during the year.  Next week Pekudei is read.  

This week Moses appoints Bezalel and Holiab, skilled crafts men, to oversee the building of the Mishkan (sanctuary) and to receive the gifts given by the Israelites.  These fine craftsmen report to Moses that the Israelites have been overly generous in giving to the building of the Mishkan and therefore no more gifts are necessary.  I believe that this is every shule treasurer’s dream.  Imagine, a time when a treasurer says, no thanks, our giving campaign has reached its goal and we no need your donation.  I think the Moshiach might come sooner.  

We live in an era of unbelievable wealth and poverty, where the difference between rich and poor is vast and enormous.  We live in an era where consumerism is at its finest.  At TBI in our religious school’s curriculum (TBI Tamid) we teach our year sixes and year sevens about consumerism.  Items and gadgets are so easily replaceable.  We purchase goods knowing that they have a shelf life of only a few years.  I hear people so often shake their heads and mutter “They don’t make things like they used to!”  Things, items are never meant to last forever anymore.  Those days are gone.  Even houses that were built 30 years ago are sometimes considered dated and old, kitchens are ripped up and redone to be modernised after 15 to 20 years.  This is not a criticism, but merely an observation.  

Judaism is not a religion of denial.  Yet neither is it a religion of indulgence.  Moses stops the building campaign when there is enough and he recognises this and does not take more than necessary for the sanctuary coffers if you will.   Certainly, moderation characterises the ideal way of life.     

Our tradition teaches us that it’s not about what we have, but about our appreciation of what we have.  Objects and materialism doesn’t bring happiness.  In Pirkei Avot, the Ethics of our the Fathers 4:1 we learn from Ben Zoma who asks the question and then answers:  ”Who is rich?..One who is happy with what one has!”   Imagine being happy with our lot.   With this comes an appreciation of so many things:  a roof over our heads, food, family, friends, community and the list continues.  Perhaps, it’s a combination as sometimes it difficult to have it all.  Having it all is impossible – yet, ‘having it all’ is different for each of us.  And, life, throws us challenges along the way as we know.  But as all these things interlink so we can support each other through life’s difficulties too.  

With over consumerism too comes a compromise in the quality of life and again, we may lose focus on what is important.  We lose motivation in what is important and displace individual, familial and societal values for material goods.  Our difficulty lies in mastering the traits of modesty, moderation and contentedness as our culture and society links happiness with ownership, materialism and accumulation.  

What has endured through the generations, through time and something that we never have given too much of, or share enough of is values.  The values of community, family, and all the things I’ve outlined previously have endured.  The buildings and the edifices stand no longer.  Further there is also the value and the mitzvah of giving.   Giving, tzedakah, like the Israelites giving to build the Mishkan.  Giving begins with Torah and it has endured.  God has endured too because in all of this we are partners with God with a sense of Kedusha, holiness.   Yet, interestingly holiness has endured.  When we say a blessing we become aware of God’s presence in our lives and we don’t take it for granted.   Let us not take for granted the things in our lives which bring us meaning.  They are often right there and we so frequently take them for granted. 

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