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Parashat Vayakhel-Pekudei: Heart

Below are the words I shared today at Chizuk Amuno's Sisterhood Shabbat. I hope you enjoy!

Take a moment and feel your heart. Go on, put your hand over your heart. Feel the steady dah dah, dah dah, dah dah. Get lost in your own unique rhythm. When you feel your heartbeat and get lost in its rhythm, what do you start thinking about? Perhaps, thoughts of the day, things on your mind, your family, friends, work, things you have to do, or maybe nothing. Just a moment of quiet. Hold onto all of that and save it for later. Now with your hand still on your heart I want you to ask yourself, what does your heart do for you? What is your heart’s purpose? I know this seems like a funny question, the obvious answer is that of course with the steady beat of your heart and the blood pumping through your veins, your heart helps give you life. But, is that all your heart does for you? Is it just part of the biological machine that is your body, or is it that and more?

Heart in Hebrew is Lev (lamed vet). In biblical Hebrew, in the Torah, throughout the Tanakh (our Torah/Prophets/Writings), the heart, the lev is where we feel feelings, think thoughts, and make choices motivated by own desires. As Proverbs 4:23 says, “Guard your heart above all else, for out of it are the issues of life.” Our hearts not only help us physically live, but also emotionally, intellectually, and spiritually. If we follow the biblical Hebrew understanding of heart then, life is meant to be handled/guided/shaped with our hearts. Every aspect. It is how we achieve and overcome anything we face/experience in our lives. The heart is a powerful tool.

In this week’s parasha, Torah portion Vayakhel-Pekudei, Moses commands the Israelites to start building the Mishkan/the Tabernacle, where G-d will dwell with them. He says, “This is what the Lord has commanded: Take from yourself an offering for the Lord; kol nadav libo every generous hearted person shall bring it, the Lord’s offering (Exodus 35:4-5)... ” Additionally Moses commands the Israelites, “And kol chacham lev every wise-hearted person among you shall come and make everything that the Lord has commanded: The Mishkan, its tent and its cover, its clasps and its planks, its bars, its pillars, and its sockets, and more (Exodus 35: 10-11).” What are you starting to notice in this chapter? And it doesn’t end with that, after Moses commanded, the Israelites came, “Kol eish nesao libo every man whose heart uplifted him came, and everyone whose spirit inspired him to generosity brought the offering of the Lord for the work of the Tent of Meeting, for all its service, and for the holy garments. Ha’anashim al’nashim kol nadav lev the men came with the women; every generous hearted person brought… (Exodus 35: 21-22)” “V’kol eisha chamat lev and every wise hearted woman spun with her hands… V’ kol nashim asher nasa liban and all the women whose hearts uplifted them with wisdom, spun the goat hair (Exodus 35: 24-25).” Whew! That is a lot of heart. 6 times the word heart is used. The amazing piece here is all the Israelites (men and women) came and contributed to the building of the Tabernacle. They all had heart, so much so that eventually Moses had to ask them to stop bringing their offerings/gifts. Every single piece of the Tabernacle was built/created by heart, the hearts of the Israelites. So what does it mean? Keep in mind that words are very specific in the Torah, what is so important that the Tabernacle needed to be built specifically with heart? What does heart do? Why couldn’t the Israelites just be commanded to build?

According to Rabbi Lord Jonathan Sacks in one of his commentaries on this week’s Torah portion, “This is a stroke of genius (meaning, building the Tabernacle). It is as if G-d had said to Moses: if you want to create a group with a sense of collective identity, get them to build something together. It is not what happens to us, but what we do, that gives us identity and responsibility. What transformed the Israelites is not what G-d did for them, but what they did for G-d.” Furthermore, Rabbi Sacks continues, “When G-d acted for the Israelites (liberating them, dividing the sea, giving them water from rock and food/manna) they quarreled and complained – but throughout the construction of the Tabernacle there were no quarrels, no complaints, they gave instead (wealth/time/skill). This is new behavior for the Israelites. The Israelites were transformed – not by a miracle, but by their own efforts. What we do, not what is done for us, changes us.” In other words, it was the actions of their own hearts that changed them, that transformed them into a People/Nation. Perhaps that is what heart means. Perhaps that is what heart does. Heart transforms and brings people together. Heart changes things for the better. Heart builds sacred dwelling places, and Nations.

Now, go back for a moment to the thoughts you were thinking about when you felt your heartbeat earlier. Feel your heartbeat again. Remember. Remind yourself. What has your heart done for you? Ask yourself more. What has moved your heart to action during your life? What happened when it did? Were you transformed? Did it impact the lives of others? Did it change things for the better? What succeeded and what failed? Was your heart involved? Moreover, think of all the strong successful men and women you know. What makes them strong/successful? What underneath it all motivates them to succeed/to build/to grow? I for one have always done things, made life choices with my heart. Nothing comes easy. I have found when you want something badly enough, put your heart, your whole Self into it – then great things happen – great things are built. I have learned that heart leads to perseverance, strength, passion, bravery, grit – going after the things you dream of. I would not be the rabbi/the woman I am today if it hadn’t been for my heart, or the hearts of all the strong rabbinic women before me. Every step, every facet of my life has been shaped/built with my heart. In all the big moments, and even in the small details my heart powered me through. And imagine when we put all of our hearts together even greater things are built – nations are made – we land on the moon – learn how to fly – fight for our rights – grow/build thriving companies, change the landscape of what is possible in the world – build synagogues from scratch, build a Sisterhood to make a difference – build a team. We advance medicine, technology, battle hunger and poverty – heal, save, and try to make the world we are a part of better. Heart is the key ingredient to all of this. Heart is what gives us purpose, and when we have purpose in life, magic and miracles happen. Like Rabbi Sacks pointed out, the transformation of the Israelites didn’t happen when G-d did everything for them, it happened when they did for G-d. When they built the Tabernacle together. When our hearts are truly in something we hold the ability to shape the world.

Let’s take this to another level, as the world/society/people evolve. Everything changes, transforms in some way – what have you noticed has been successful, what hasn’t? Religion for one as a whole has been struggling – aspects of Judaism – synagogues – organizations. Maybe you have noticed (yourself or people you know included) that people no longer join things as easily. Things that were once strong and thriving are struggling to retain members (for lack of a better term), get new ones, inspire and connect people. What is missing here? Is heart still a part of the equation? What would happen if we encouraged people like G-d encouraged us to build with heart? If you want to build something strong that will stand the testament of time Tabernacle/Israelites/Jewish People/Sisterhood it must be done/constructed with heart. Women here today of the Chizuk Amuno Sisterhood you have heart. You are in fact an integral part of the heart that powers the body of Chizuk Amuno. There is no doubt that the Sisterhood was built with heart, and continues to build with heart. Similar to the Israelite women who helped build the Tabernacle, you spin and weave with your heart. You give, support, and power with everything you have (wealth/skill/time). That is what G-d was trying to teach us all along. In order for something to succeed/thrive/grow/inspire, there must be heart. The heartbeat here is strong and steady, and if you continue to invite and call for others with heart to build. They will come. Women will come. The next generation is poised to come, if you let them do/build with their hearts, Sisterhood will continue to be transformed and there will be miracles. Just as Israel’s National Anthem, Hatikvah reminds us, “As long as within our hearts/The Jewish soul sings/As long as forward to the East/To Zion, looks the eye/Our hope is not yet lost/ It is two thousand years old/To be a free people in our land/The land of Zion and Jerusalem.”Thank you to all the strong, generous hearted women of the Chizuk Amuno Sisterhood who invited me to speak today. Shabbat Shalom!

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