Thursday, February 27, 2014

Vayak'hel

Sh'mot (Exodus) 35:1-38:20

This Torah portion can be difficult to teach, simply because it is very short and spends most of its time restating what we already read in Parasha T'rumah three weeks ago. In normal years this portion is read along with the next portion, Pekudei. Since this is a leap year, we read them separately. So let's see what YHVH has for us in this Torah portion.

The portion tells us again about the voluntary offerings brought to build the tabernacle, all the implements to be used in the tabernacle, and the garments for the priests to serve. It says that the people brought gold, silver, and bronze; fine linen; blue, purple, and scarlet yarn; fine gems and stones, and acacia wood. Do you know where acacia trees grow? They are common in Australia, Africa, and the desert areas of the Near and Middle East. Where were the Israelites when they built the tabernacle? That's right, the desert of the Middle East. Do you think it is a coincidence that anyone who did not have the fine materials, precious metals, or gems could still provide some of the needed materials? All they had to do was give of their time to go out into the desert around them and gather wood. It's YHVH's way of making sure that anyone who was willing would be able to honor Him.

Speaking of willing, the Torah portion repeatedly states that only those who gave willingly were to bring an offering. In the Complete Jewish Bible it says "everyone whose heart stirred him and everyone whose spirit made him willing." We never find out if all of Israel gave, or just some of them. The implication is that some chose not to give, since it keeps mentioning only those who were willing. Interestingly enough, there was no mention of punishment for anyone who chose not to bring an offering. It was truly a voluntary offering. It didn't even require that people brought "things". It stated that those women with skill in spinning brought the yarn and linen. Some women who didn't have yarn, came and gave of their time and energy to spin the goat's hair.

Everyone who gave for the building of the tabernacle, regardless of their gift, knew what it was for and how it would be used. Too many people today give without understanding why. The don't know two important things:
Where is the money going?
What is its purpose?
Unfortunately in many churches and synagogues, the leadership hasn't bothered to answer these questions, either. They often just continue to collect offerings because it's better to have more rather than less. They don't have a plan for how that money will be used for the advancement of YHVH's Kingdom or the betterment of His people. When was the last time you heard a church say "Stop bringing your offerings, it's too much"? And yet that is exactly what B'tzal'el told Moshe to tell the people. They brought too much for the project at hand.

Speaking of B'tzal'el, we learn more about him and his assistant Oholi'av and their roles in building the tabernacle. Wasn't it good luck that B'tzal'el was born with all the knowledge necessary for building the tabernacle? Metal work, sewing, spinning, weaving, setting gemstones, woodworking. He knew it all from birth and was just standing by waiting to be called upon to help, right? No? Well then he must have learned all those skills when he was a slave in Egypt. He obviously apprenticed with all the best teachers to learn metal working, sewing, spinning, weaving, setting gemstones, and woodworking. No? Well then how could he possibly have known all the things necessary for the building of the tabernacle? If we accept a common teaching of modern Christianity that the Holy Spirit is a New Testament thing - as we all know, it came about in Acts 10, right? - then the patently ridiculous options I listed would have to be the only possibilities. However, as readers and students of Torah, we know that the Spirit of God came upon B'tzal'el and gave him the wisdom, understanding, and knowledge of every kind of artisanry. B'tzal'el and his Oholi'av were both given the ability to teach others. Throw in some prophecy and speaking in tongues and they could have had an entire Pentecostal revival right there in the desert!

Clearly, the Holy Spirit is not something new in the New Testament, the B'rit Chadasha. However, we can see a difference in how the Spirit was given and manifested before and after the coming of Messiah Yeshua. In the Tanakh, we see that the Spirit was given to individuals as needed to complete a specific task. B'tzal'el for example. In the B'rit Chadasha, we see the Spirit poured out upon large groups and offered to all believers for all needs. The 120 men of Acts 10. Just as the Tanakh tells the story of a small nation chosen to be YHVH's people, and the B'rit Chadasha shows how all people can choose to be a part of that nation through Messiah Yeshua.

The last thing I want to discuss about this Torah portion is the composition of much of the furniture in the tabernacle and how that relates to the living Tabernacle that YHVH says will be built for His eternal reign. As we see in this portion, the ark, the altar of incense, the table for the showbread, and even the walls themselves were made from acacia wood and covered in fine gold. Why this arrangement? Why not just use wood as most furniture and walls were, or just gold if it had to be so pure?

Acacia wood is very strong, but it is not refined and pure like gold. Gold is pure and very beautiful. However, in its purest form, it is very soft and malleable. By combining the two, they create a strong, beautiful item that is pure enough to serve in YHVH's house. As the building blocks of YHVH's living tabernacle, we must be the same. We cannot just have the strength of the acacia wood. Strength without purity is selfish and worldly. It will break under pressure and show all the scratches and gouges gained through time and exposure. We cannot be pure like the fine gold without support. Purity alone is too weak to stand. It will bend under pressure and can be easily re-formed into a new shape. When we have strength and purity, then - and only then - will we be ready to serve in YHVH's kingdom.

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