Vayakhel-Pekudei – Shabbath HaChodesh
Updated: Mar 23
Featured Blog by Michael Hillel, March 20, 2020
Tomorrow is Shabbat HaChodesh (“Sabbath [of the] month”), which is the Shabbat that precedes the month of Nisan during which Pesach (Passover) is celebrated (Exodus 12:1-20). Traditionally, Rosh Chodesh Nisan is the first month of the Jewish year according to the schedule of the mo'edim (festivals; Lev. 23). Pesach is probably one of the most Judaically defining of all the mo'edim. Without the Exodus, and therefore without Pesach which commemorates the Exodus, the Jewish people would not exist today. It is also important to note that Pesach is not just a commemoration of a historical event that happened centuries ago; it is re-lived every year. Rabban Gamaliel instructs the Jewish people,
In every generation a man is obligated to regard himself as though he personally had
gone forth from Egypt, because it is said, “And you shall tell your son on that day,
saying: ‘It is because of that which the LORD did for me when I came forth out of
Egypt” (Exodus 13:8). Therefore it is our duty to thank, praise, laud, glorify, raise up,
beautify, bless, extol, and adore Him who made all these miracles for our fathers and
ourselves; He brought us forth from slavery into freedom, from sorrow into joy, from
mourning into festivity, from darkness into great light, and from servitude into
redemption. Let us say before him, Hallelujah! (M. Pesachim 10.5)
Each one of us is to personally consider that we ourselves have come out of Egypt. Notice
that Rabban Gamaliel commended each person “in every generation” to recognize that
Hashem has brought the individual out of Egypt. But in light of this understanding, Gamaliel also states that “ it is our duty…,” the duty of the entire community, “to thank, praise, laud, glorify, etc.,” Hashem for His actions on behalf the Children of Israel way back then as well as for His actions on behalf of us today.
It is often said that a sense of community is at the very heart of the Jewish people. I can
remember going camping on the west side of the Sea of Galilee, arriving in the early
Thursday afternoon so that we could get the tent up before the afternoon winds came.
Often, because of our arrival time, we would be the only one in the campground, which was
usually rather large and spread out. By evening time, the campground had filled with other
week-end campers. What surprised me, at least the first couple of times, is that when
others came into the campground, they seldom chose a separate or more isolated section–
they usually set up their tent either near ours or near the folks that were already next to us.
In the end, though we did not know one another, we were all close proximity to one
another, almost like a mini community. Once a friend described it as an Israeli herd instinct.
Looking back on it though, I think it affirms the fact that community is at the heart of the
On this Shabbat HaChodesh, as we begin thinking about Pesach and our traditional
gatherings as a community with family and friends to commemorate the festival, the
traditional gatherings may well be minimalized or forbidden all together due to the COVID19 pandemic that we are currently experiencing. Jewish lifecycle events all over the world have been curtailed or postponed indefinitely due to the social distancing that the
pandemic has necessitated. So how do we as a community celebrate a festival when we
cannot gather together in our customary fashion due to health concerns and numeric
restrictions? The answer is simple, we create new customs. We do what we can do with
what we have. We focus on Him who is the reason for the festival, and we remember not
only the Exodus, but we remember those times when we celebrated with family and
friends. Aside from just remembering past celebrations, one person suggested to link family
members together via the internet possibly setting up laptops, iPads/tablets, or even cell
phones at individual place settings where family members or friends would normally sit. No,
it is not ideal, but is a way to maintain a degree of community.
Closer to the present, however, this Shabbat (and Sunday for some) most of us will be
subject to local health ministry and governmental restrictions. Meetings in Israel are now
restricted to 10 (some events 5) individuals or less with a 2-meter social distance between
them. For chavurot (house groups) like ours, the number is not a problem, but the social
distancing is. Some congregations are attempting to live stream their services while others
are using applications like FaceTime and Zoom to stay connected and to support one
another during these “interesting” times.
During these “interesting times, let’s remember these words from the writer of Hebrews,
And let us keep paying attention to one another, in order to spur each other on to
love and good deeds, not neglecting our own congregational meetings, as some have
made a practice of doing, but, rather, encouraging each other. (Hebrews 10:24-25,
Even though we cannot meet together physically, today’s technology allows for, even
encourages, us to stay connected and to meet together for support, edification, and
encouragement. I encourage everyone to find ways that work for you and your community
to stay connected and to stay safe.
The readings for this Shabbat are:
Torah: Exodus 35:1 – 40:38
Special Maftir: Exodus 12:1-20
Haftarah: Ezekiel 45:16 – 46:18
Besorah: Matthew 15:32-39