These and Those

Musings from Students of the Pardes Institute of Jewish Studies in Jerusalem

Parshat Vayakhel: Diversity and Inclusion

Posted on March 8, 2016 by Melinda Jones

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Every Friday is a rush in my family. Everyone runs backwards and forwards getting ready for Shabbat. In order to have a peaceful and relaxing Shabbat, it seems we need to have lots of stress and much too much shouting. So nothing makes the point of having a day of rest better than that moment when we light candles and say that whatever hasn’t been done will just have to wait until Sunday.

If this is your experience too, you will surely understand that we need all hands on deck in our Shabbat preparation. If a child is too young to cook they put out serviettes or set the table. If the child can’t cut, they have responsibility to check that the bathrooms are clean enough for guests and to ensure there is toilet paper and hand towels. If someone bakes, then that becomes his or her job. If someone likes order, they do whatever it takes to ensure all the books, newspapers and toys that are lying around find their proper home. We need people to cook, people to sweep, people to help bathe those who need help, to cut fingernails, to peel vegetables… the list goes on and on. In other words, we need everyone to contribute to the preparation however they are able to and whoever they are. And in my house, no one helps me get ready. Rather they share the responsibility of being members of a household.

The idea that all members of a community should contribute and be agents in their own destiny can be found in Parshat Vayakhel. When we look at the Torah’s descriptions of building the Mishkan – the Tabernacle to house the Tablets of Law – here and elsewhere, it is striking that this task is dealt with in such detail and at great length. The very many different tasks involved in its building also means that there is a role for each and every member of Bnei Yisrael. Every skill and every person is needed – independent of matters such as gender or disability.

Coming on the heels of the episode of the Golden Calf, Moshe knows that if we are to be one people, then we must all embrace communal projects. There is too great a risk that anyone not included will fall by the wayside. So not only must we recognize the diversity among our people, we must also value that diversity.

In my house, particularly on Shabbat, dinner will be messy if no one sets the table. Our guests will feel unwelcome if there’s no clean hand towel. And the day of rest would not be restful if there is chaos wherever we turn. I don’t know about you, but I really need all hands on deck. No one is expendable. And if there is anyone who has not played a role in the preparation, they will have less enjoyment of our joint achievement.

There are so many jobs that need doing. Some require one ability, some require a different ability. To build the Mishkan, just as to build a household or a k’hilla, there is a need for everyone to be valued and every contribution appreciated. Excluding some people results not in just a loss for that individual but also in a loss to our people.

Melinda Jones