This is Vayakel, one of the “Home Depot” portions of Exodus. Lots of directions, lots of details….LOTS of details of all it took to build the Tent of Meeting. The entire community came together to create a holy space for God to live while amongst the Israelites. There were all sorts of beautiful objects that went into the project: brooches, earrings, rings, all sorts of gold jewelry. There was yarn and linen, in blue, purple, red, gold. Acadia wood, lapis lazuli, copper, silver and more.
They were building the center of the community; it all happened here. And the Torah is quite clear that whatever was brought was done as a “free will offering” (Ex 35:29)
And then we read, “Men and women, all whose hearts moved them, all who would make an elevation offering of gold to Adonai, came….” (Ex 35:22). The women wove, and spun with their own hands, making the Mishkan beautiful. Their work was essential to the space.
When I read these words, I am curious as to how it developed that women were excluded from holy places as Exodus became living Judaism. There was such joy in creating this space, and it took every heart and hand to do it. Why eliminate so many, with such talent and passion? Why put up obstacles, literally, to access the holy space. It’s not the same to say that there are “other” holy spaces to occupy. The Tent of Meeting, the Mishkan, was indeed the holiest spot in town, and it was created with everyone’s hands.
When I read these words, I am validated in my choices to learn how to chant Torah, to lead a service, to sit next to my husband, to become a full and equal part of what happens in the holy space of prayer.
When I read these words, I am heartened by the women I know who are bringing such creativity and joy to their pulpits, teaching, music and daily Jewish lives.
When I read these words, I think about what my offerings are, how intentional they are. Am I coming to the sacred space with free will and a heart that is moved? Am I honoring those women in the wilderness who made something out of the leftovers of a former life?
And so I continue to read these words.