Vayakheil: Will My Cup Run Over?April 15, 2011 at 3:18 pm | Posted in Vayakheil | 1 Comment
(This blog was first published on March 7, 2010.)
And they took, from in front of Moshe, all the gifts that the children of Israel had brought for the work of making (the place for) the service of the holy, in order to make it. And they all continued to bring him voluntary gifts, morning after morning. (Exodus/Shemot 36:3)
nedavah = voluntary gift, spontaneous generous offering
Psalm 23 travels from “Though I walk through the valley of the shadow of death” to “My cup runs over”. I see the same journey in the double Torah portion we read this week, Vayakheil (“And he assembled”) andPekudei (“Inventories”). In last week’s Torah portion, Ki Tissa, the people thought they had lost their leader, that Moses would never come back down from Mount Sinai. They were so caught up in anxiety and dark imaginings that they made a golden calf and treated it like an idol. When Moses saw them, he was so caught up in anger that he had a few thousand people killed.
In the next Torah portion, Vayakheil, the people’s hearts overflow with the desire to give materials to build a sanctuary for the God of Moses. They donate so many materials of their own free will that they give more than enough.
How do you get from the constriction of fear and anger, the valley of the shadow of death, to the feeling that your cup is running over, that you have been given so much, you want to give to others?
For the children of Israel in the book of Exodus, the shift happens when God and Moses change their approach. At first both are furious about the golden calf worship. But then Moses asks God for a different vision of the divine, and receives the thirteen attributes of God, which include compassion, tenderness, patience, forbearance, and kindness. (Exodus/Shemot 34:6-7) Then God lets the people build a portable sanctuary despite their stiff necks and their relapse to idol worship. As soon as Moses assembles the sanctuary, God’s presence or glory fills it. (Exodus 40:34, Pekudei) God also travels with the people once more as a pillar of cloud and fire, which signals when they should camp and when they should march. (Exodus 40:36-38)
In other words, God forgives the people and acts generously. And the people respond with their own generosity.
I wish I had a fool-proof formula for making that shift in consciousness from the valley of the shadow of death to the overflowing cup. Sometimes, I think, the shift just happens by the grace of God. But I’ve learned my consciousness is more likely to change if I keep practicing appreciation.
I remain aware of my anxieties. But I practice noticing how much good there is in my life, and how even in the shadow of death, the world is also filled with life and beauty and interest. Then, sometimes, I can relax and give myself generously, without worrying.
There are many techniques for practicing appreciation. My favorite is singing prayers. Blessing and praising God means blessing and praising this whole abundant universe we live in, including human beings, who carry the divine inside them. And praise flows deeper with a melody.
There is no record that the children of Israel had a formal prayer practice, at least not until after the sanctuary was built and the priests were charged with blessing the people. Instead of giving words, the people gave animals to sacrifice to God, and materials to build the sanctuary. In that way their own cups ran over.
May our hearts overflow as well.
Do you have a different appreciation practice? Feel free to make a spontaneous gift by describing it in a comment on this blog.