We have a highly practical society that prides itself on efficiency. As a result we have gadgets that save time and labor, facilitate communication and raise our standard of living. Therefore we can watch an assortment of Hollywood movies in our living rooms or while waiting for a plane, all the while munching on a pizza from a famous chef cooked in our microwave oven! But have we really elevated the quality of living, and are we truly more efficient?
Though we value all of our trinkets, we throw them out when they break or have outlived their usefulness. Then we are on to the next great thing. My phone now contains all of my mp3 music, and its expandable memory allows me to carry my entire extensive music library. As a result my 10 year old ipod, with its puny 1gig memory is lying in a desk drawer awaiting its ill fate. I have a box that becomes the holding station for dated technology that does not find a home. Then, unceremoniously, yesterday’s marvels become today’s recycled material. If my discarded iPod could speak I imagine it would exhibit the same histrionics as Woody and the other discarded Toys in Toy Story 3.
Both little kids and grown up kids “love” their toys, but such love is merely functional and conditional love. So long as they work and fill a niche we “love” them; the minute they stop we replace them or junk them. With some things like cars and computers we even plan for future obsolescence. If we are not careful we might just extend this planned obsolescence to the people and relationships in our lives! It is not surprising then that we often feel disconnected, rootless and adrift, alone without purpose.
This week’s Torah portion offers us a completely different view of relationships. It begins with the words, “Vayakhel Moshe (an Moses gathered). Moses often called the people together but what is so unique about this gathering is that it occurs directly after the sin of the golden calf. In some odd way this “gathering” is a corrective of the collective sin of the people. Torah tells us that when Israel gathered at Sinai they did so as one people with one heart. Israel was completely unified when they spoke as one and said “all that Hashem has spoken we will do.”(Shemot 19:8-9)
According to Jewish mystical tradition during the 49 days between Pesach and Shavuot Israel was learning to increase their desire to share. This unity and desire to share were the seed of Revelation at Sinai, that which will inevitably remove pain, suffering and death from the world. This is often misunderstood as being a cause and effect relationship, and that the awakening of love allowed Israel to receive the Light of Torah. In actuality the tradition teaches that unity and love and the Revelation of Sinai are one and the same. Therefore the ultimate unity is eternal life, while the ultimate separation is eternal death. When we allow ourselves to be separate from others we are parting ways with the Creator. Likewise when we depart from Hashem’s path a schism is formed.
When Israel built an idol to worship division soon grew in their midst. The Levim were quick to judge and blame others and as a result 3000 fell to their swords. Somewhere in the exchange of life for death they failed to notice the culpability of Aaron, “one of their own”. The ultimate result was disharmony, malice, separation and death. The first lesson of Vayakhel is to learn how separated we are from each other. Even if we spend all day praying and studying Torah, if we see ourselves as separate and apart from others we shield ourselves from the Light of the Spirit of Hashem. Moses first act after returning among he people is to gather them together, create solidarity of purpose, and bring unity into the community. He again gives Israel Shabbat as a common sign and treasure, and provides opportunity for them to freely share their time, talents and possessions.
When Mashiach Yeshua walked among the children of Israel he took talmidim (disciples) to himself and called them friends. To walk with the Messiah, to live with the Messiah, to learn from the Messiah, was to be a friend of the Messiah. So it is today. If we live with the light of the Mashiach then we learn what it is to be truly one with another. The love of Messiah is not a functional convenience but a wholehearted sacrificial love, a love that will outlast our youth, beauty, or even the life that we presently know in this age. Unity with Mashiach is unity with the Father, for just as they are one, so we are one with them, if only we can be unified with each other.
Every day at the conclusion of the Daily Amida we pray “Barchenu avenu kulanu k’echad, bless us our father, all of us as one.” Perhaps we should pray as fervently as wholeheartedly as when we pray the Shema, “Hear O Israel Hashem is our God, Hashem alone.”