Parshat Vayakhel/Pikudei Parshat HaChodesh

At the end of this weeks lengthy double parsha,

the first Act of this journey from Mitzrayim ends with this final pasuk:

כִּי עֲנַן ה' עַל-הַמִּשְׁכָּן, יוֹמָם, וְאֵשׁ, תִּהְיֶה לַיְלָה בּוֹ--לְעֵינֵי כָל-בֵּית-יִשְׂרָאֵל, / בְּכָל-מַסְעֵיהֶם

"For over the Mishkan was a cloud of God by day, and fire would appear on it by night, in the view of all the house of Israel throughout their journeys."

This cloud and fire on the Mishkan regulated Bnei Yisrael's travel: they would encamp so long as the cloud or fire rested on the Mishkan, and would pick up and travel once the cloud or fire lifted. In light of this, the final words of this last pasuk – "be-khol mas'eihem" ("throughout their journeys"), requires some explanation. The cloud and fire did not appear only "throughout their journeys," as Bnei Yisrael traveled; they were there at all times, even during the periods of encampment. Why, then, does this final verse describe the fire and cloud as hovering over the Mishkan only throughout Bnei Yisrael's journeys?

Rashi explains that it refers specifically to the periods of encampment, and not at all to the periods of travel. He explains this pasuk, "In every trip on which they went, the cloud would rest in the place where they would encamp." – the cloud rests when Bnei Yisrael encamps. Rashi continues by addressing the obvious question of how the pasuk could describe their encampment as "their journeys": "Their place of encampment is also called ‘masa' [journeying]… because from the place of encampment they continued traveling." This idea in Rashi highlights that since Bnei Yisrael eventually embarked from every point of encampment to continue their journey renders these encampments eligible for the description, "mas'eihem" – "their journeys."

These temporary stopovers are also "journeys" due simply to their ultimate departure from that site? Rav Yehuda Leib Ginsburg explains in his Yalkut Yehuda, that these encampments are referred to as "journeys" because they helped facilitate the next leg of the journey. A stopover for purposes of gathering strength and energy to continue further may indeed be defined as a "trip" insofar as it constitutes a necessary contribution to the trip.

In effect, then, Rashi here teaches that if activity A helps enable activity B, then a person involved in activity A may be said to be currently involved in activity B. Since that person engages in that which will ultimately lead to B, we may view him or her as already involved in activity B.

Rav Ginsburg proceeds to apply this concept to religious life in general. Even when engaging in the mundane life of serving on a shul board, helping to set up or clean up, preparing for a minyan, finding baa’lei kriyah for a long leining, etc., we nevertheless have the opportunity to transform even those mundane pursuits into something meaningful and holy. This also teaches that taking a break from one’s workload – Shabbat for example, is a Kadosh endeavor. Pausing or engaging in the mundane is necessary to absorb what one has done, facilitating one's planning ahead and re-calibrating for future endeavors. These preparatory stages are crucial. This message of pausing and appreciating the preparation before embarking on the journey ahead of us is necessary for each one of us, We all have other pursuits and milestones ahead that we are anticipating, or not. But, to pause and prepare for what is in our future as we transition throughout life to the next destination is just as significant as the arrival to that place.

With the proper perspective, even our "encampments" can be transformed into "journeys." Couple this idea with the additional maftir of Parshat HaChodesh this Shabbat. This parsha serves to motivate us to prepare us for the holiday of Pesach. Before we engage in the physical preparation for Pesach, the Rabbis placed the reading of the Parshat HaChodesh as we are m'varchin the month of Nissan (or when Rosh Chodesh Nissan falls on Shabbat) to serve as a reminder that we must ready ourselves before Pesach. We are now in the preliminary stages of readying ourselves by preparing for the journey ahead, where we re-experience our collective birth as a nation - one in support and connectedness. We emerge, refreshed and strive to motivate, strengthen and unify actively with each other and in the service of Hashem. This is the ideal. As we finish reading the second Sefer of the Torah: Sh’mot, this coming Shabbat, we will declare Chazak Chazak v’Nitchazaik, Aseach of us, as individuals, families, communities and a people proceed onward, may it be one where there is recognition that each pause has the capacity towards hitkadmut, advancement, in both the individual and collective journeys of religious life. Shabbat Shalom.

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