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Vayak'hel - February 27, 2022 - Torah Portion

Torah portion for Sunday 27th February is called Vayak’hel where the word Kehilla comes from and means “Assembled.” This Torah portion is called “He assembled” and is from Exodus 35:1-40 : 18 and the New Testament Acts 7: 37-38

This week’s Torah reading from Exodus 35:1 reads: Moses says to the people “These are the things the Lord has commanded you to do. For six days work is to be done but the seventh day shall be your holy day, a Sabbath of rest to the Lord” and the second command was to build a Tabernacle to prepare a place for the presence - the Glory of God.

Moses says to all the congregation of the people of Israel, this is what the Lord has commanded “From what you have, take an offering for the Lord. Everyone who is willing - whoever is of a generous heart and let him bring the Lord’s contribution of gold, silver or bronze.

In this week’s Torah reading, God doesn’t force anybody to give towards His work or His ministry. He is saying, all who want to give out of a generous heart, please consider, especially this week-end, in alignment with the instruction in the Torah reading, to give for the work in your community church to enable them to preach the gospel to the ends of the earth.

In Exodus 35:1 Moses assembled the whole Israelite community.. That word assemble was “Kehilla” and translated into Greek in 132 BC to Ekklesia.

Wikipedia says: “Most English translations of the New Testament generally use the word church as a translation of the Ancient Greek: ecclesia, found in the original Greek texts, which generally meant an "assembly" or "congregation." In total, ἐκκλησία appears in the New Testament text 114 times, although not every instance is a technical reference to the church.[12] As such it is used for local communities as well as in a universal sense to mean all believers.”

There was an Ekklesia at the foot of Mount Sinai an “assembly” As a matter of fact, in the Greek Septuagint which was written 132 years before Jesus, the word Ekklesia was used 70 times. The Ekklesia didn’t start 2000 years ago in the Book of Acts at Pentecost, it started 3500 years ago at Mount Sinai at Pentecost and non Jews were grafted into that assembly, too. The Holy Spirit fell on the assembly (the Ekklesia) in the Book of Acts. Your church is a community - an Ekklesia.

In Acts 7 verses 37 and 38 it reads “ This is what Moses who told the Israelites, “God will send you a prophet like me from your own people. He was in the assembly – (we would say the Ekklesia) in the desert with the angel who spoke to him on Mount Sinai, and with our fathers, and he received the living words to pass on to us” – the 10 commandments – this links us into last week’s Torah reading.

What do you do when your people have just made a Golden Calf, run riot, and lost their sense of ethical and spiritual direction? How do you restore moral order – not just then in the days of Moses, but even now? The answer lies in the first word of today’s Torah: Vayak’hel meaning He assembled.

But what does it mean for us today?

A survey by Robert Putnam in 2010 called “American Grace” showed that frequent church- or synagogue-goers are more likely to do voluntary work, help a homeless person, feed the hungry, clothe the naked, spend time with someone who is feeling depressed, offer a seat to a stranger, or help someone find a job. They are more likely to give money to charity, regardless of whether the charity is religious or secular.

On almost every level, people who go to church are demonstrably more kind, compassionate and selfless than non-worshippers.

He continued “Frequent worshippers are also significantly more active citizens. They are more likely to belong to community organizations, neighbourhood and civic groups, and professional associations. They get involved, turn up, and lead. The margin of difference between them and the more secular is large.” (i)

Tested on attitudes; church or synagogue attendance is the best way to predict altruism and empathy in a community. It is better than education, age, income, gender, or race. Perhaps the most interesting of Putnam’s findings was that these attributes were related not to people’s religious beliefs but to the frequency with which they attend a place of worship.

Religion creates community, community creates a society more charitable, more selfless, considerate, kind, and decent, turning us away from self and toward the common good. Putnam goes so far as to speculate that an atheist who went regularly to synagogue or church (perhaps because of a spouse) would be more likely to volunteer or give to charity than a religious believer who prays alone. There is something about our relationships within a community, our home groups and prayer groups that make it the best tutorial in good neighbourliness.

Jesus said concerning the 10 commandments - they really boil down to two. “Thou shalt love the Lord your God with all your heart, with all your soul and with all your strength and love your neighbours as yourself.”

What Moses did after the Golden Calf was assemble the people together – turning the Israelites into a kehillah, an Ekklesia and a community. He did this in the obvious sense of restoring order. When Moses came down the mountain and saw the Golden Calf, the Torah says the people were “wild,” “disorderly,” “chaotic,” “unruly,” “tumultuous.” He “saw that Aaron had let them get out of control and so become a laughingstock to their enemies” (Ex. 32:25).

They were not a community but a crowd. Moses did it in a more fundamental sense as we see in the rest of the Torah. He began by reminding the people of the laws of Shabbat. Then he instructed them to build the Tabernacle, the Sanctuary, as a symbolic home for God.

Why? Because the Sabbath and the Tabernacle are the two most powerful ways of building community. The best way of turning a diverse, disconnected group into a team is to get them to build something together. Hence the Tabernacle.

The best way of strengthening relationships is to set aside dedicated time when we focus not on the pursuit of individual self interest but on the things we share, by praying together, studying the Bible together, and celebrating together.

Shabbat and the Tabernacle were the two great community-building experiences of the Israelites in the desert.

More than this, community is essential to our spiritual life. When we celebrate or mourn we do so as a community, in our family groups, our house and prayer groups. Even when we confess, we do so together.

This week’s Torah Portion is no ordinary episode in the history of Israel. For us, too, it shows the essential insight of how to emerge from the crisis of the idolatry of the Golden Calf.

We find God in community. We develop virtue, strength of character, and a commitment to the common good. Your church is local and it is an “Ekklesia” with a human face. It is not government. It is not the people we pay to look after the welfare of others. It is the work we do ourselves, together, here in this assembly.

Community is the antidote to individualism on the one hand, and over-reliance on the state benefits system on the other. Robert Putnam has documented its value in sustaining “social capital” meaning “the tangible assets that count in the daily lives of people: namely goodwill, fellowship, sympathy, and social interactions among the individuals and families who make up a social unit” for the common good. (ii)

And it began in our Torah portion this week, when Moses turned an unruly mob into an assembly an “Ekklesia” and a loving community.

Shabbat Shalom


(i) Wikipedia on Ekklesia [11] This term appears in two verses of the Gospel of Matthew, 24 verses of the Acts of the Apostles, 58 verses of the Pauline epistles (including the earliest instances of its use in relation to a Christian body), two verses of the Letter to the Hebrews, one verse of the Epistle of James, three verses of the Third Epistle of John, and 19 verses of the Book of Revelation.

(ii) Quote from Robert D. Putnam and David E. Campbell, American Grace: How Religion Divides and Unites Us, New York: Simon & Schuster, 2010.

(iii) Quote from Author Lyda Hanifan “Social Captial”

(iv) Notes taken from Rabbi Sacks teaching on Vayak’hel

(v) Notes from El Shaddai Ministries on Vayak’hel

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