Congregating – Vayakhel


וַיַּקְהֵל מֹשֶׁה אֶת כָּל עֲדַת בְּנֵי יִשְׂרָאֵל וַיֹּאמֶר אֲלֵהֶם אֵלֶּה הַדְּבָרִים אֲשֶׁר צִוָּה ה' לַעֲשֹׂת אֹתָם (שמות לה, א).

The timeline of our parsha is a little confusing, so the first thing we need to do is to sort things in the correct order.

On the 6th of Sivan was Matan Torah, following which Moshe went up to Har Sinai to receive the luchot.

40 days later, on the 17th of Tammuz, Am Yisrael sinned with the egel. Moshe returned and broke the 1st luchot. Moshe and the Levi'im dealt with the sinners and then Moshe went back up to plead with HKB"H for mercy. HKB"H responded סָלַחְתִּי כִּדְבָרֶךָ and Moshe wrote the 2nd luchot.

According to Rashi, the day after Yom Kippur (11th Tishrei), Moshe returned with the 2nd luchot and this was when parshat Vayakhel took place.

In Vayakhel we find the post construction summary of the building of the Mishkan. The Torah runs through each and every component and describes how Betzalel, Oholiav and their helpers made each – an exact match, to the letter, of what HKB"H commanded Moshe in Truma and Tetzaveh.

When was the Mishkan completed? Chazal say 70 days after 11th Tishrei, on the 25th of Kislev - Channukah. It was not inaugurated on that date, but was kept in storage until the 1st of Nisan when Moshe erected the Mishkan and it was inaugurated.

If the timeline is as described above (which it is), then why does Vayakhel, which was on the 11th of Tishrei contain the post construction summary of the building of the Mishkan from the 25th of Kislev? The correct order would be to first have Vayakhel (11th Tishrei), then parshiyot Truma and Tetzaveh describing the commands to build the Mishkan and finally the post construction summary on 25th Kislev. The whole sequence seems out of order?!

This touches on the famous debate between Rashi and the Ramban regarding the purpose of the Mishkan, which we explored in the shiur on Truma 2021.

According to Rashi, the only purpose of the Mishkan was to atone for the sin of the egel and the reason the sequence is "out of order" is because אֵין מֻקְדָּם וּמְאֻחָר בַּתּוֹרָה. Chronologically, according to Rashi, it was like that – the first part of Vayakhel, then Truma, Tetzaveh and lastly, the post construction summary in the last part of Vayakhel.

According to the Ramban (who incidentally, like Rashi, also says that Vayakhel was on the 11th of Tishrei), the command to build the Mishkan was given before the sin of the egel, therefore Truma and Tetzaveh are before Ki Tisa which describes the sin of the egel and Vayakhel is in the right place, after HKB"H forgave us. If this is the case, a question on the Ramban is then why Truma and Teztaveh were not before parshat Yitro, before Matan Torah?

Either way, the question remains, both on Rashi and also on the Ramban – if Vayakhel supposedly took place on 11th Tishrei, why does it contain the post construction summary that applies to the 25th of Kislev?

The first thing Moshe does after returning with the 2nd luchot, on 11th Tishrei, is to congregate the entire Am Yisrael in a Hakhel ceremony, the men, the women, the infants … everyone. What is the purpose of this Hakhel?

Firstly, to give everyone the good news, that HKB"H has forgiven Am Yisrael and show the 2nd luchot. Secondly to tell us that the mitzva of Shabbat supersedes the mitzva of building the Mishkan – you are not permitted to build the Mishkan on Shabbat. Thirdly to tell Am Yisrael to build the Mishkan and about the appointment of Betzalel and Oholiav. This is then followed by the post construction summary.

In fact, if you look closely, parshat Vayakhel is split into two parts. The first part (Shmot chapter 35) is an abridged repeat of Truma/Tetzaveh with the command to build the Mishkan. This is followed by the remainder of the parsha (chapter 36 onwards) - the post construction summary. It therefore follows that between chapters 35 and 36 there was a 70-day break until Channukah.

In this shiur we will be exploring the topic of Hakhel. In a previous shiur, Vayeilech 2021, we discussed the mitzva of Hakhel as it applies after Am Yisrael are settled in Eretz Yisrael – the ceremony held on Sukkot at the end of a Shmita year in the Beit HaMikdash. We will not repeat what is already discussed there, but rather concentrate on this specific Hakhel ceremony, held after the sin of the egel and prior to building the Mishkan.

The Midrash Aggadah (Shmot 35a), following Rashi's opinion that the Mishkan was a response to the sin of the egel, says –

לְפִיכָךְ אָמַר מֹשֶׁה רַבֵּנוּ ע"ה וַיַּקְהֵל,  תָּבוֹא "וְעָשׂוּ לִי מִקְדָּשׁ" (שְׁמוֹת כה, ח), וּתְכַפֵּר עַל מַעֲשֵׂה הָעֵגֶל, שֶׁנֶּאֱמַר בּוֹ "קוּם עֲשֵׂה לָנוּ אֱלֹהִים" (שָׂם לב, א), וְתָבוֹא קֹהֶלֶת מֹשֶׁה רַבֵּנוּ, שֶׁנֶּאֱמַר "וַיַּקְהֵל מֹשֶׁה אֶת כָּל עֲדַת וְגוֹ'" וּתְכַפֵּר עַל קֹהֶלֶת אַהֲרֹן, דְּכָתִיב "וַיִּקָּהֵל הָעָם עַל אַהֲרֹן" (שם), תָּבוֹא אֲמִירַת מֹשֶׁה רַבֵּנוּ שֶׁנֶּאֱמַר "וַיֹּאמֶר אֲלֵיהֶם מֹשֶׁה", וִיכַפֵּר עַל אֲמִירַת אַהֲרֹן, שֶׁנֶּאֱמַר וַיֹּאמְרוּ אֵלָיו קוּם עֲשֵׂה לָנוּ אֱלֹהִים". תָּבוֹא אֲמִירַת "זֶה הַדָּבָר" (פּסוק ד), וּתְכַפֵּר עַל אֲמִירַת "כִּי זֶה מֹשֶׁה הָאִישׁ" (שם לב, א), תָּבוֹא "אֵלֶּה הַדְּבָרִים", וּתְכַפֵּר עַל אֲמִירַת "אֵלֶּה אֱלֹהֶיךָ יִשְׂרָאֵל" (שם, ד). תָּבוֹא נְתִינַת הַזָּהָב הַתְּנוּפָה, וּתְכַפֵּר עַל נְתִינַת זְהַב הָעֵגֶל וכו'

The Midrash contrasts key words in the first five psukkim of our parsha with their counterparts in the sin of the egel (Ki Tisa) and shows how they serve as atonement for the different components of the sin.

As opposed to their perfect unity at Matan Torah (וַיִּחַן שָׁם יִשְׂרָאֵל נֶגֶד הָהָר), during the sin of the egel Am Yisrael were divided. Chazal say that in addition to the central egel, each tribe (except for Levi) made their own individual egel. The first order of the day was to restore unity in Am Yisrael, to the way it was at Har Sinai. Moshe accomplished this by doing Hakhel, requiring everyone to be present, men, women, children, even infants – exactly as it was at Matan Torah.

The question is why the women had to be present? The women took no part in the sin of the egel, as it says in Kohelet (7, 28) וְלֹא מָצָאתִי אָדָם אֶחָד מֵאֶלֶף מָצָאתִי וְאִשָּׁה בְכָל אֵלֶּה לֹא מָצָאתִי. The reason Aharon told the sinners to bring golden earrings is because he knew that the women would not part so easily with their jewelry. It was not that they coveted the gold - they simply wanted no part in the egel. The men had to literally tear the earrings out of their wives' ears by force (Pirkei d'Rebi Eliezer 45). Just like the women took no part in the egel, they took no part in the sin of the spies. For this reason, all the women (except for Miriam and the females of adat Korach) who left Egypt - entered Eretz Yisrael, while all the adult men who left Egypt died in the 40-years in the desert (except for Yehoshua and Kalev).

Similarly, the infants took no part in the egel. The passuk (Shmot 32, 6) says וַיַּשְׁכִּימוּ מִמָּחֳרָת וַיַּעֲלוּ עֹלֹת וַיַּגִּשׁוּ שְׁלָמִים וַיֵּשֶׁב הָעָם לֶאֱכֹל וְשָׁתוֹ וַיָּקֻמוּ לְצַחֵק. Rashi says that the meaning of לְצַחֵק is both שְׁפִיכוּת דָּמִים and גִּלּוּי עֲרָיוֹת. It is patently obvious that a 1-year-old baby could not possibly participate in the above nefarious activities, so why did the babies have to present at this Hakhel? (If, as Rashi says, that גִּלּוּי עֲרָיוֹת was involved, this would seem to indicate that the women were also present, although we said above that they were not participant. A possible answer to this is that it is not referring to גִּלּוּי עֲרָיוֹת mamash, but rather the תּוֹלָדוֹת of גִּלּוּי עֲרָיוֹת, such as unclean thoughts, in which case it is possible that only the men were involved – in fact, this was most probably the case as we will see later).

If so, the divisiveness that needed tikun was only amongst the men, not the women and infants. Moshe should have simply congregated the men alone, without the women and babies. What was the purpose of a "full" Hakhel, with everyone present?

The first answer is that this Hakhel was a reset. After HKB"H forgave Am Yisrael with the egel, Moshe wanted to do a reset and re-enact the reality of Am Yisrael at Matan Torah. Just like at Matan Torah – each and every neshama was present, so too here – Moshe wanted to recreate that reality.

However, it goes beyond that. From this Hakhel that Moshe held after Yom Kippur, we learn a profound lesson about – congregating.

There are two main categories of "congregations", one is called a קָהָל and the other is called an עֵדָה. Each of the categories can be subdivided into sub categories – a "good" קָהָל/ עֵדָה or a "bad" קָהָל/ עֵדָה.

First let us examine the difference between a קָהָל and an עֵדָה.

The Mefarshim (מלבי"ם and others) say that a קָהָל is a coming together of different people, with no mutual, singular intrinsic purpose. When Yitzchak blesses Yaakov before he leaves for Charan, the passuk says – וְאֵ-ל שַׁ-דַּי יְבָרֵךְ אֹתְךָ וְיַפְרְךָ וְיַרְבֶּךָ וְהָיִיתָ לִקְהַל עַמִּים (בראשית כח, ג). Onkelos translates לִקְהַל עַמִּים as לְכִנשָׁת שִׁבטִין – a gathering of tribes. As we know, Am Yisrael do not all have the same mutual, singular intrinsic purpose. Each of us has a different/unique singular intrinsic purpose in life and role to accomplish, as do the Twelve Tribes. When you have a gathering of diametrically opposed people in one place, that is called a קָהָל.

An עֵדָה on the other hand is a cohesive group of people, all with the same singular intrinsic purpose and agenda.

Each type of "congregation" has its own pros and cons.

The strength of a קָהָל is unity, the ability to gather together diametrically opposed people in a single space without killing one another. The fact that they do not all have the same agenda is irrelevant, the essence of all of them being together in one place – that on its own has value.

The strength of an עֵדָה is productivity. The fact that they are all together in the same space, is only the beginning. Since they all have the same singular intrinsic purpose, the outcome of such a gathering is some kind of product – some tangible result.

Both these types of groups can be either "good" or "bad". What determines which way they go - is the head of the group. The head of the group determines whether their gathering will end badly or well.

When you have a קָהָל with someone like Nimrod at the head, like at מִגְדַּל בָּבֶל, consisting of diametrically opposed people working in the same space, the effect was unifying but the outcome destructive.

When Am Yisrael stood at Har Sinai they were a קָהָל, Matan Torah was a Hakhel event. It was a "hotchpotch" of people that couldn't be more different. Men, women, children of all ages and dispositions. You had the tribe of Levi who were extremely דְּבֵקִים to HKB"H. You had the tribe of Dan who were "stragglers" at the "rear" of the camp – lax in their faith (which is why Amalek targeted them – Targum Yonatan, Devarim 25,18). You had people like the Mekalel (whose father was Egyptian and whose mother was Shlomit bat Divri from the tribe of Dan). You had Moshe Rabbeinu. You had Korach. You had Zimri ben Saluh from the tribe of Shimon, who later slept with the Midianite princess Kozbi. You had troublemakers like Datan and Aviram and tzaddikim like Aharon and Miriam.

Having all these people in the same space is a recipe for disaster. The truth is when they crossed the Red Sea, each tribe had their own separate "lane", they didn't all mingle in the same highway. When Am Yisrael travelled in the desert, it was in separate camps. They came together here at Har Sinai because of one reason and one reason only. Their presence was required. No neshama that stood at Har Sinai was there for the same purpose, they were simply all required to be present at the event – because their descendants had to inherit their "presence' at Matan Torah, as if we too had actually been there.

What made this gathering "good" was Who was at the head of the gathering – HKB"H. If the organizer is good, the outcome is good. It was so good in fact, that it was unprecedented, before and ever since. Even though Am Yisrael camped around Har Sinai in their separate camps, it was like one cohesive camp וַיִּחַן שָׁם יִשְׂרָאֵל נֶגֶד הָהָר. It was at this point we became a nation. This was the model.

Similarly, a gathering in the form of an עֵדָה can go either way – it depends on who is running the group. When someone like Korach is running the עֵדָה it ends badly and the outcome is destructive. On the other hand, אֱ‍-לֹקִים נִצָּב בַּעֲדַת אֵ-ל (תהילים פב, א), when ten people or more gather to make a minyan – they all have the same singular intrinsic purpose – to serve HKB"H (at least that should be the purpose and not merely for social reasons). When HKB"H is heading the group – the outcome is constructive.

Moshe wanted to create unity after the sin with the egel, so he did a Hakhel, using the model, the prototype Hakhel – at Har Sinai.

However, it goes beyond that. The women had to be there and also the babies, not simply because that was how it was at Matan Torah, but for another reason. Neither the women or the babies were complicit in the sin of the egel, they didn't have anything to atone for – it was the men.

The reason is because men act differently in the presence of women. Sometimes they behave better when women are present, they maintain more decorum - because they don't want to look stupid. Sometimes the presence of women does the opposite. In Shirat Hayam, Miriam and the women didn’t sing and dance in the presence of the men because in that scenario their presence was detrimental, so they separated from the men to sing and dance.

However, the presence of a woman is not always a failsafe against a man behaving badly. Sometimes the woman behaves worse than the man! To ensure that someone behaves themselves – you make them bring their kids along.

Take an example from a different type of "congregation" - the demonstrations that plagued Israel (on both sides) before October 7th. How many children… babies, did you see at those demonstrations? The answer is zero! This is not incidental. Nobody took their kids and babies along because if things became violent, they did not want their kids in harm's way. This is true in the one direction, but it is also true in the opposite direction. If the demonstrators would have taken their children and babies along, the chances of that demonstration ending violently are close to zero!

The Gemara (Chagiga 3a) asks "Why are you commanded to bring infants to Hakhel?" the answer is לִתֵּן שָׂכָר לִמְבִיאֵיהֶן. Chazal say that if the fathers and mothers and their older children are all required to be at Hakhel, who is going to stay home to babysit? The parents will have no choice but to shlep the babies along too. Since they are bringing them anyway, HKB"H commands us to bring them and in that way the fact we bring them is not a "by-the-way", it is a mitzva and we get rewarded for it.

When Am Yisrael sinned with the egel – the men in Am Yisrael, what do you think would have happened if their wives had been present while they were going "ape"! It is a good chance that they would not have gone so far off the deep end - but it is not a certainty. One thing is for sure, if the person(s) who killed Chur had their kids with them at the time, it is a certainty that Chur would not have been killed and the sin of the egel would not have happened. Nobody (unless they are psychotic) commits murder in front of their children. Had Am Yisrael included their wives and children in the egel episode, it would have ended differently. לִתֵּן שָׂכָר לִמְבִיאֵיהֶן, if Am Yisrael would have brought the kids along they would have received שָׂכָר. What שָׂכָר? They would have been rewarded that they were saved from one of the most catastrophic sins that has ever beset our nation.

This is what Moshe is trying to teach us in parshat Vayakhel, in the ceremony of Hakhel – if you want to prevent sin, preserve unity and get שָׂכָר - when you congregate, bring the family along with you!

Only a brief 40 days after the epiphany of Matan Torah did Am Yisrael forget the experience and sin with the egel. Only a brief 5 months ago we experienced a Holocaust, punishment for the disunity in Am Yisrael that threatened the very fabric of our nation. Immediately following that, a wave of unity flowed over us with the promise of hope for our people. Only 5 months ago, but already we are all back up to our shenanigans of old. We are an עַם קְשֵׁה עֹרֶף and again the specter of self-destruction looms on the agenda.

How do we preserve the unity amongst us? If we learn the lessons from parshat Vayakhel, we will have the beginnings of something, the seeds which hopefully will grow into the solution.

We should actively press for legislation to ban public demonstrations - unless the whole family attends, husband, wife and kids. If you are a single adult without a family, then you can only attend a demonstration if you bring your parents along. In this kind of demonstration there can be no violence, it is a kind of a Hakhel effect. It is not much, but it is the minimum hishtadlut that we can do and we have to do some kind of hishtadlut.

A much more difficult problem to solve is determining who is the head of the "congregation". In this respect, I believe there is very little we can do. Our only recourse is to leave it up to HKB"H. Moshe had no solution to Korach except davening to HKB"H to intercede, which He did. We all need to devote enormous energy right now davening to HKB"H for help. It is becoming patently obvious to all concerned that placing our faith in mere mortals is a dead end, whether it is our leaders, our army, our "allies", even our brave soldiers who are fighting and sacrificing their lives עַל קִדּוּשׁ ה'. Solution to the problems that surround us are beyond human ability. We have to let go and submit ourselves to HKB"H אֵין לָנוּ עַל מִי לְהִשָּׁעֵן, אֶלָּא עַל אָבִינוּ שֶׁבַּשָּׁמַיִם. This is how we were redeemed from Egypt, out of a realization that we cannot solve the problem and crying out to HKB"H.

Vayakhel begins with an admonition to not violate the Shabbat, even to build the Mishkan! Let us all strengthen our Shabbat observance, this kind of hishtadlut is within our capability. This week is also Shabbat Shekalim that reminds us that we are only "half" a shekel and to be whole, we need the other half. Let us also be more mehader in the mitzva of Tzedaka.

 בִּזְכוּת זֶה HKB"H will have mercy on us and send a wave of reconciliation to wash over our nation, restore unity among us and bring about the Geulah and rebuilding of the 3rd Beit Hamikdash this Rosh Chodesh Nisan, בבי"א.

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