Everything, not just the Torah, can read like a commentary on the coronavirus these days. This week, it’s about how a community responds to the moment before them.
Exodus ends on this Torah cycle with Parshas Vayakhel and Pekudei read back-to-back. Both follow a similar narrative. God reiterates some rules, like the importance of keeping the Sabbath (do work and die) and He asks for some gifts. Well, sort of.
“Take from among you gifts to the Lord; everyone whose heart so moves him shall bring them––gifts for the Lord.”
Snarky Joe would read that and hear my grandmother’s voice. “I mean, do it if you want to…” Which, of course, meant you damn well better want to do this nice thing she’s hinted at.
Moved To Do So
Nowadays, the world isn’t in dire need of snark. What it needs is people committing to a common cause because it, indeed, moves them to do so. A literal interpretation of this Parsha might not be so moving in a modern context. Who really feels moved to bring gifts for the Lord? But who, I wonder, feels moved to do the right thing during a pandemic? Can we put our ego, our selfish desires aside and do what medical experts tell us to do to flatten the curve and beat this thing with as minimal fatalities as possible?
I don’t know. Just as the Israelites often needed God to step in with harsh treatment to get them to do the right thing, so too it seems we need governments to step in and save us from infecting our neighbors. Germany is trying everything it can to avoid the last resort of a government-inforced lockdown. I imagine given their history, the idea of doing so doesn’t sit well. The decision is probably being deliberated as I write this with some regions already imposing a lockdown.
“Let All Among You…”
I get the impulse not to self-isolate. For many of us, the threat is invisible. If you don’t know anyone personally impacted by the crisis, it can seem like we’re suddenly and arbitrarily being OCD hermits. Nonetheless, I know (and I hope you know) that the best thing to do is listen to the medical experts and stay home, minimizing social contact as much as possible.
But I get that the neanderthal sections of our brains don’t get it and think that if we feel fine, we should be able to go outside and lick things if we want to lick them. We’re forcing ourselves to follow rules that don’t always instinctively make sense. And it’s a lot like the Israelites in these last two Parshas being given very specific instructions on how to build the Tabernacle for God. Why the strange level of specificity? Is it all really necessary to get to the Promised Land?
“And let all among you who are skilled come and make all that the Lord has commanded.” That line stuck out, but with some modern twists.
“And let all among you who are skilled in medicine come and take care of the sick.”
“And let all among you who are financially well off come and donate to those who need it.”
“And let all among you who can stay home––stay home.”
That last one certainly applies to me. I’m not building a Tabernacle for a god. I often find myself frustrated with myself that I can’t do more. But I can make a post for the Tabernacle or a bar. Something small. I can do my small part for the good of my neighbors, for the people in my neighborhood by staying home. I might not fully understand why what I’m doing helps, but just as Moses had faith in following God and His (at times) mysterious instructions, I believe adhering to the best available medical advice is me doing my small part to help humanity get to the other side of this crisis.
The Parsha, and the Book of Exodus, ends with the Tabernacle completed. The Lord’s presence fills with the Tabernacle. When it lifts, the Israelites can set out on their journey. But if the cloud (or God’s presence) did not lift from the Tabernacle, they would stay put.
Methinks the Tabernacle is occupied at the moment and we all need to stay put.
Onward with Parsha Vayikra.