February 16, 2024 – ז׳ אַדָר א׳ תשפ”ד
דַּבֵּר אֶל־בְּנֵי יִשְׂרָאֵל וְיִקְחוּ־לִי תְּרוּמָה מֵאֵת כׇּל־אִישׁ אֲשֶׁר יִדְּבֶנּוּ לִבּוֹ תִּקְחוּ אֶת־תְּרוּמָתִי׃ (שמות כה:ב)
Tell the Israelite people to bring Me gifts; you shall accept gifts for Me from every person whose heart is so moved. (Exodus 25:2)
The Mishkan (Tabernacle) was a national endeavor. It was not a project undertaken and underwritten solely by the wealthy or by one or two tribes. It came as a result of the collective effort and generosity of the entire nation, of all Israelites. It was purposefully situated in the middle of the Israelite camp which allowed this structure to become the House of God for all. It was not the precious gold and silver, nor was it the incredible workmanship that made this Mishkan into the domicile of the Divine; it was the collective energy and national cohesion created by undertaking this sacred task as one people with one heart that allowed the Divine to rest in this special place. At a time when most Israelites might have identified more with their tribal identity than any other, the Mishkan served as both neutral territory and as a centralized institution unifying the tribes towards a common and singular higher purpose.
The secret to the success of the Mishkan was not just its ability to unify, but two key factors: every person was involved and each gave from the heart.
These two essentials in the construction process are most relevant for today’s reality and play themselves out in three areas: Israeli society, a Palestinian State, and world Jewry.
- נשיאת הנטל – Carrying the Weight in Israeli Society
The socialist Zionist enterprise was built along the notions of egalitarianism and a sense of shared responsibility for building the country. The kibbutz movement grew under the Marxist notion of “from each according to one’s ability, to each according to one’s needs.” With the erosion of the socialist sentiment of the country that was eventually superseded by a free market economy, the one remaining unifying factor in Israeli society war. The massacre on Simchat Torah came at a time when Israeli society was ripping apart at the seams and was deeply divided over the government’s legislative agenda and attempted judicial overhaul. Then, all of a sudden, Israel felt vulnerable and became unified. It felt like every single person was affected. No one was left unscathed. While divisions still exist, and many in Israeli society are skeptical of their government, the vast majority mobilized and came together – each doing what he/she can: from reservist soldiers leaving their families and jobs to every volunteer of Israeli society. Last week, however, the IDF published a plan to increase mandatory military service which ignited a long-term debate over the continued exemption of Haredim (the ultra-Orthodox) from military service. On Tuesday, IDF Chief of Staff Herzi Halevi said that conscription should apply to all of Israeli society. “In these challenging times, one thing is very clear – everyone should do their part to protect our home. This is a different time, and prior realities should be reexamined,”
Several members of Netanyahu’s coalition urged the PM to “expand the circle of those who carry the burden, in that a reality where some groups carry it more than others can no longer continue.”
Many in the Haredi communities have demonstrated a renewed sense of participation in the collective experience by volunteering for the draft, helping the war effort, and realizing that they cannot continue to live in isolation from the rest of society. The Haredi leadership, however, still regard the draft as a dangerous redline threatening their insular way of life and their adherence to Torah and Mitzvot according to their particular interpretation. They seem to have no moral hesitation in taking from the State without paying into it. Many in the Haredi community believe they are “soldiers in God’s army.” By doing the work of spiritually protecting and preserving Judaism they believe that they are contributing in an equal and legitimate way as those who put their lives on the line for the country. This problem is not going away and calls into question what is meant by “everyone” participating in our national project.
- Re-building Gaza and a Palestinian State
Gaza is in shambles with no clear path forward. I believe that the outcome of this war should be a functioning democratic demilitarized Palestinian state that provides for the needs of the Palestinian people. It needs to exist beyond a raison d’etre of destroying Israel and must no longer fly the flag of resistance. In short, Hamas rule is an impossibility. Gaza needs to be rebuilt by an international coalition of Arab and Western States – including Israel and the organized Jewish community who should see it as being in our own security interest. Read more on that here and here.
The question of leadership for the Palestinians is a hot topic of conversation as many are skeptical of the almost 88-year-old Mahmoud Abbas’ ability to unify the Palestinian people. Much banter has been focused on Marwan Barghouti, the Palestinian activist jailed for multiple terrorist attacks and murders of Israelis in the early 2000s. Some regard him as a potential Nelson Mandela of the Palestinian people, especially as Hamas has been demanding his release as part of a potential hostage exchange. Read more about that here and here.
The most important thing about a Palestinian state is that it cannot and should not be imposed on the Palestinian people by foreign powers. We’ve seen that before in Iraq and Afghanistan, and we should not make the same mistakes that the U.S. made. It needs to come “from every [Palestinian] person whose heart is so moved,” to paraphrase Exodus. The key is for the non-Hamas-affiliated Palestinians to have agency and to build their state with as much aid and support as it takes. If not, it will not stick.
The Role of World Jewry
When the Mishkan was built and every single member of the Israelite community took part; that meant everyone. That means that world Jewry also has a significant role to play. In the days and weeks after October 7, the world Jewish community stepped up in a major way in fundraising (the JFNA/Federations campaign raised roughly $750 million) to support the Gaza envelope (those kibbutzim and cities surrounding the Gaza Strip) area, the troops, and much of civil society. What now?
Each of us has a significant role to play and must do what our hearts move us to do. Whether that means working with local elected officials and city councils, supporting specific causes, running and participating in Israel education in one’s own community, traveling to Israel on visits and missions, supporting aid packages in Congress – for aid to Israel and critical humanitarian aid for Gazans (that doesn’t get siphoned off to Hamas). 132 days later there are still over 100 hostages being held, and despite the dramatic rescue of two kidnapped Israelis this week, much more needs to be done.
The lesson of the Mishkan is that each individual effort matters. Each person’s contribution is essential for the larger good. No effort is too large, and no effort is too small – the point is for us to build together.