Vayakhel: A Home For God

Jewish Unity

How did the Jewish people redeem themselves after the Sin of the Golden Calf?

Table for Five: Vayakhel

In partnership with the Jewish Journal of Los Angeles

 Edited by Salvador Litvak, the Accidental Talmudist

The men came with the women; every generous hearted person brought bracelets and earrings and rings and buckles, all kinds of golden objects, and every man who waved a waving of gold to the Lord.

-Ex. 35:22

Rebbetzin Miriam Yerushalmi, CEO, SANE; Author, Reaching New Heights series

The name of this parshah is Vayakhel, meaning, “and he gathered.” Moshe Rabbeinu gathered the thousands of individuals in the wilderness and joined them, through a holy purpose, with achdus, unity. They became a single entity, Klal Yisrael, intent on building the Mishkan, a dwelling place for Hashem.

“The men came with the women, …bringing all kinds of golden objects” to contribute to this national project. This unity was in corrective contrast to the action of a portion of the populace in the previous parshah. In that instance, rather than everyone bringing their golden ornaments with a “generous heart,” the men who wanted it had to take these objects by force from their wives, their sons, and their daughters to make the golden calf. What were these golden objects? While there undoubtedly were many household and decorative items donated, only four are singled out here by name: bracelets, earrings, rings, and buckles. These are ornaments for our bodies and our garments, worn to beautify and protect our physical selves. Perhaps they were specified to point out their spiritual correlative. Tanya teaches that the mitzvos we do create “garments” for our souls, beautifying and protecting our spiritual selves.

Any positive action by an individual is good, but the unified action of our people is very special in Hashem’s eyes. Let us learn from this parshah to unite for the purpose of doing good, for the purpose of helping each other, and thereby build a dwelling place for Hashem in our days.

Rabbi Chanan Gordon, International Motivational Speaker


The request made by Moshe Rabbeinu to the Jewish People for contributions to assemble the Mishkan was preceded by the greatest collective sin ever committed by the Jewish People – i.e. – the making of the Golden Calf.

To ensure that there would be a complete redemption for the misdeed committed by the Jewish People of building the Golden Calf, Moshe understood that atonement could only be achieved by the Jewish People acting together in concert – this time by making a home for the Divine presence as they earlier sought to make a substitute for it.

Moshe motivates the people for good, as they had once been assembled for bad, by emphasizing that everyone has something different to give, regardless of gender or financial class. The Commentators point out that there were several unique redeeming qualities of the Jewish People in responding to Moshe’s request that resulted in Hashem’s forgiveness, including the fact that the gifts were donated voluntarily, and the most precious mineral, gold – a symbol of purity, holiness, and divinity – was offered as a sign of respect. The greatness of the Tabernacle, however, was that it was a collective achievement.

The life lesson for all of us is the paramount importance of unity. If the achdus that the Jewish People are now experiencing in this scary post 10/7 time continues, G-d Willing we will see the rebuilding of the “final Mishkan,” the Third Temple, soon in our days!

Kari Gila Bookbinder Sacks, Therapist/Chai Lifeline Case Manager

Vayakhel” showcases one of the most noble “unity gatherings” in the history of the Jewish people – the collective beautification of the Mishkan, G-d’s dwelling place in our midst. Moshe Rabbeinu summons the people, but they voluntarily assemble with their most prized possessions in hand. From the kindness of their hearts, each member of Klal Yisroel offers up their precious valuables for the good of the whole nation.  It is notable that the Torah distinguishes the unique role of the women in this convocation. While women appear all throughout the TaNaKh, it is rare that they participate in public events. We usually see our Matriarchs impacting the world from the private inner sanctum of their homes and close relationships. In fact, women are often lauded for their virtue of inner glory and not going along with the crowd.  For example, they didn’t complain during the Exodus, they did not participate in the sin of the spies and they did not dance with the golden calf.  Here, women are singularly praised for being “willing-hearted” to donate their own jewelry of sentimental value to the Mishkan.  Today, we carry the legacy of these generous, extraordinary women. 

Since October 7th, it is beautiful to see so many women gather in prayer, study and volunteering for our war-weary brothers and sisters in Israel. It is no wonder that the Arizal Hakadosh said it will be the righteous Jewish women who lead the ultimate redemption. May we merit the final Geula, where we will dance together again soon.

David Brandes, Writer/producer of “The Quarrel”

An important narrative driving the Torah’s drama is the transformation of the Israelites from slaves to free people. Living as slaves for 400 years imbedded trauma in the collective consciousness of Jews until this day. This week’s story can be seen as an important stepping stone in overcoming that feeling of victimhood.

It seems counterintuitive that God asked “victims” to give away what little they had – jewelry from the Egyptians. But God is a master therapist and a closer look reveals that giving is a necessary step in transforming victimhood. God understands that giving of yourself is a way to leave behind the feeling that as a victim you have nothing to give.

How do once-damaged people keep alive feelings of freedom over centuries? Through memory. When we acknowledge “we were slaves in Egypt” we are acknowledging the damage we collectively once felt. As free men constantly reminding ourselves in prayer and dramatically at the Seder we use the imbedded collective memory of slavery for good – by treating generously the strangers among us.

Israel’s reaction to the Hamas savagery of Oct. 7 shows that the Jewish people have well internalized the lesson in the wilderness. We have come together as a wounded people to help each other. We have all heard stories of the selflessness. Helping one another has been the cornerstone of uniting a country of factions into a united front necessary to fight and triumph. Am Yisrael Chai!

Cantor Michelle Bider Stone, Temple Beth Am

Haifa University’s Ruderman Program for American Jewish Studies estimates that the North American Jewish community raised $1 billion for Israel within the first month of October 7th. Over $600 million was raised by the Jewish Federations of North America (including Federations across the country) and the other $400 million raised by various Israeli organizations. Never before has so much money been raised in such a short period of time. And it hasn’t stopped. As of today, JFNA has raised approximately $800 million, plus the hundreds of millions raised directly by Israeli institutions, which will support Israel in the myriad ways it needs to recover.

In this week’s parsha, the people are commanded to bring materials to help build the mishkan, the sanctuary, for God to live among them while they wander through the desert. Each person is asked to contribute what they had – yarn, wood, silver, etc. This verse describes the “generous hearted” ones who bring their gold jewelry. We later learn that the Israelites brought too many gifts and were told to stop giving. This is what we do. When there is a need, we rise to the occasion. In ancient times, when God told the Israelites, “build Me a home so that I may dwell among you”, the gifts came pouring in. Between 1939 and 1950, JDC raised $370 million in refugee aid after the Holocaust. And today, our community raised well in excess of $1 billion to support Israel. This is who we are. Am Yisrael Chai.


Image: Frontispiece of Hebrew Bible, Catalonia c. 1325 (Schottenstein Collection)  [bible gold ink]

With thanks to Rebbetzin Miriam Yerushalmi, Rabbi Chanan Gordon, Kari Gila Bookbinder Sacks, David Brandes, and Cantor Michelle Bider Stone

Get the best of Accidental Talmudist in your inbox: sign up for our weekly newsletter.

Share to

You Might Also Like

Sign Me Up

Sign me up!

Our newsletter goes out about twice a month, with links to our most popular posts and episodes.