Parshat Vayakhel: From where God speaks

Our challenge is to listen always for the ‘still, small voice’ that carries divine messages.

ark of the covenant (photo credit: Wikimedia Commons)
ark of the covenant
(photo credit: Wikimedia Commons)
‘Bezalel made the ark… He made two cherubs of gold….. at the two ends of the cover…. The cherubs had their wings spreading out upwards… with their faces turned towards each other…” (Exodus 37:1-9)
This week’s portion repeats the detailed instructions regarding the construction of the Tabernacle, including the protective cover of the Holy Ark, which featured the two winged cherubs facing each other. We read in Truma a few weeks ago: “It is there I will set My meetings with you, and I shall impart to you – from above the cover and from between the two cherubs who are above the Ark of the Covenant – everything that I will command to the children of Israel” (Ex. 25:22). Thus, God must have spoken even to Moses “from between the cherubs.”
And the Bible insists that from the time of the Divine Revelation at Sinai until today, the Almighty continues to communicate with us in “a great voice that never ceases.”
The Nahmanides says the Tabernacle was a continuation of the revelation on Mount Sinai; hence the divine Voice was heard from between the cherubs.
But where does that leave us today? How do we hear God without the Tabernacle, and without a Holy Temple? Who “speaks for God” when there is no Sanhedrin (whose sages were infused with Divine Spirit), and no prophet? How does God communicate with us today? I believe the symbol of the cherubs will help us find our answer: God communicates through people. After all, did not the Almighty create the mortal in His own Image? Does not the Bible picture the divine act of creation as God’s “breathing (in-spiriting)” into the dust of earth the breath (nishmat, soul) of life”? And does not the Zohar make the point that: Everyone who exhales exudes the inner essence of Him, as it were? There is a trace of God inside each and every one of us – and it is that Godliness which reaches out and communicates to us.
Remember that when Joseph searched for his brothers, an unnamed personage showed where they had gone.
Rashi suggests this anonymous man was the angel Gabriel – literally, a man of God (Gavri-El). Nahmanides adds that he was merely a mortal, probably unaware of the larger function he was performing, but thanks to him, the entire family of Israel realized its destiny through the enslavement in and Exodus from Egypt.
Rabbenu Tzadok, the famed Pri Tzaddik of Lublin, records how he learned one of the most important lessons of his life from a gentile Polish peasant, whose hay wagon had collapsed. The peasant had asked him to help to gather the hay that had fallen.
“I can’t,” said the Pri Tzaddik.
“You mean you won’t,” said the peasant. “If you wanted to, you could.”
As he helped gather the hay, the rabbi felt the great importance of the lesson God had taught him through this peasant.
Our challenge is to sensitize our hearts, minds and souls to every human encounter – and to listen always for the “still, small voice” that carries divine messages.
Many ago, when visiting my rabbinical “emissaries” in Germany, I was invited to speak in a Munich synagogue.
The congregation consisted of approximately 150 Polish Jews – Holocaust survivors who had come from DP camps outside the city. They had remained in Germany after the war to begin new families and businesses.
It was the strangest congregation I have ever encountered.
They acted as if there wasn’t a service being conducted at all. They walked around, conversed, and even called out to friends from the windows! Although they were respectfully silent for the while I spoke, I could not understand why they came to shul! My host gave me the answer. “Every one of them lost most if not all of his family in the Holocaust. They cannot live with God, and yet they cannot live without Him.
They are traditional Jews, so they come to synagogue, but it is as if they are on strike: they speak to each other but not to God. They are too angry to speak with him. And they let Him know how angry they feel by speaking to each other when the service dictates they should be speaking to Him!” I think about this synagogue a great deal. I even admire their faith; after all, if they denied God’s existence, they couldn’t be angry at Him. I even believe God loves such “prayers.” Does not God Himself say according to the Midrash Raba “Would that you forget about Me and remember My children”? Rav Haim Vital teaches that when we enter the synagogue to pray, we must intone the verse: “You shall love your friend like yourself,” since closeness to God must bring us close to all humanity, to all God’s children.
Reach out to others to find them, God and yourself. As the anonymous poet wrote: “I looked for myself and could not find me I sought my God and couldn’t find Thee I reached out to other others and found all three.”
The writer is the founder and chancellor of Ohr Torah Stone Colleges and Graduate Programs, and chief rabbi of Efrat.