Light from the Sidra


Exodus 35:1 - 38:20

After the awful events of Sidra Ki Tissa, Vayakhel comes as a breath of fresh air. How willing the people were to bring their offerings for the construction of the Tabernacle! Moses told the people what was needed and day after day the gifts piled up. From the lowest to the highest the people brought what they could, and those with skill to weave and sew made the cloths and coverings of skins needed.

And what about the women who gave their mirrors! In one brief statement in 38:8 the devoted daughters of Israel met daily at the entrance of the tent of meeting to be useful in God’s service. They freely gave their bronze mirrors to make the laver of bronze (the kiyor) which contained water for the priests to wash. There was a real sacrifice, and how many ladies would do it? For these daughters of Israel it was more important to be clean spiritually than to look good. What a good example they set.

We are told that in the end the people had to be restrained from bringing as they had given more than enough. What a healthy spiritual condition the people are in when they have to be held back from giving! God loves a cheerful giver. After the event of the golden calf this must have delighted the LORD as their repentance was shown so earnestly. We are not told that everyone in Israel responded, but obviously many did. It was surely a high point in Israel’s sojourn at Sinai. How do you give to God? Cheerfully or grudgingly?

When Moses records all this he stresses to us that the people gave willingly, from their hearts. This was the most important element. A few were able to contribute the expensive stones on which the names of Israel would be engraved; most brought much less. But what mattered was the heart attitude of each giver.

A famous teacher was once sitting in the temple with some of his disciples, next to the chest in which the people put their gifts. Many who came gave large amounts. Then a poor widow came up and put two small coins of very little value into the box. The teacher commented that she had put in more than all the others, because what the rich had given cost them little, but what she gave was all that she had at that time. What matters to God is not the amount we give but our willingness to give and the personal cost to us.

How different this is to what many other rabbis teach about mitzvot. They recognise that many do not find it easy to do good things, especially Baal t’shuvah. To encourage good deeds they say it does not matter whether you feel like doing good, just do it and you will grow to be more willing. This is a dangerous teaching because it provides an excuse for mere outward religion and hypocrisy. This is what had happened in the days of Isaiah, who spoke against the religious practices of the people with these words from the LORD, “This people draw near, and with their mouth and their lips do honour me, but have removed their heart far from me, and their fear of me is a commandment of man learned by rote” (29:13). People were going through the motions because their teachers just gave them a lot of rules to keep, and the consequence was that their hearts were not in their worship.

From King David’s words of repentance in Psalm 51 it is clear that even actions commanded by God are no good without a right attitude of heart, “You have no pleasure in burnt offerings. The sacrifices of God are a broken spirit”. But David goes on to say that when the heart is right God is pleased with such offerings, “Then you will delight in the sacrifices of righteousness.”

The right approach, when we are aware that our hearts are hard and unwilling, is not to just go on regardless, but to come humbly before God and confess our sin and to cry to him to give us a heart of flesh instead of a heart of stone. He can do what we cannot do. David knew this, which is why he prayed, “Create in me a clean heart O God, and renew a steadfast spirit within me.”

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