I was standing by the crematoria at Auschwitz/Birkenau yesterday, part of the work I and several other Rabbanim do for the Holocaust Educational Trust, taking over 3000 non-Jewish sixth form leaders a year to visit the death camps.
What always strikes me while at the camp is that Birkenau, unlike Auschwitz I, had to be built from scratch. The Nazis therefore had to have a clear vision how to design a camp for all-out extermination. By June 1943, the four major gas chambers and crematoria were in place – and that was when the maximum killings began. They had the concept – and within a short space of time, they had built their monstrosity.
It is shocking to realise, but at the same time it reminded me of a comment one of my Rabbis made to me just after 9/11. He said we had to realise that so much evil was committed by just 19 men, and therefore conversely how much good can be done by a few people. We much have the same passion and commitment for good as they do for evil.
It is also not just to enough to dream up the solution, to have the ideas for positive change, you have to actualise those ideas, that is what takes the effort, the expense, the commitment and the drive.
We can see this idea in this week’s Parasha.
You always get a sense of déjà vu when we read these Parshiot. They seem to be a repetition of Terumah and Tetzaveh – dealing with the construction of the Mishkan and the clothes of the Kohanim. One of the clues that we are dealing with similar material, is the almost absence of Rashi’s commentary on the Parshiot, as if he is saying, ‘I already commented on this in Terumah and Tetzaveh – go check there!’
This of course begs the question – why? Why the need for the repetition? The answer I think links back beautifully to the ideas above.
According to the Ramban, Terumah and Tetzaveh were the presentation of the plans, the ideas the concepts of Hashem to Moshe and Bezalel of the vision of the Mishkan and the Bigdei Kehuna. However, it is only now in Vayakhel – Pekudei that the Mishkan is actually constructed and the clothing made. These are the Parshiot of action, however without the vision of Terumah and Tetzaveh there would be no vision to build – we need both. Firstly the ideas, the vision and the concept and then the work, the effort and the drive to turn those plans into reality.
The ideology of Religious Zionism and Modern Orthodoxy is beautiful and powerful. It is expressed poetically in the works of Rav Kook, Rav Soloveitchik , Rav Lichtenstein and others – it is the way to live our lives constantly inspired by our land, our people and our Torah. As an ideology, it is all about synthesising ancient lofty ideals into the context of the modern world. We have the ideas, the concepts and the vision – but without action, that is all they will remain.
Mizrachi UK is determined along with all of our supporters to make sure that this ideology is a living, inspiring reality for the UK community. That it is not simply an idea, but it is being practiced and built wherever it is needed.
Whether that means putting the passion and drive into creating the future Rabbis and educators for our schools and communities. Or putting the time and money into bringing over the top educators to inspire the community continually throughout the year. Or putting the effort and coordination for our showcase Day of Inspiration at Kinloss in just seven weeks (click here for more details) when we are bringing sixteen of the top names in Israel to forty communities and thousands of people across the UK over Shabbat and then for an unparalleled day of learning at Kinloss.
We have to make sure we are putting in as much energy, passion and drive as our enemies did to destroy Yiddishkeit as we strive to build it. We cannot stand by anymore and say ‘it would be good if this happened’, it is time to move beyond the vision of Terumah and Tetzaveh to the action of Vayakel and Pekudei.
I had a phone conversation with someone just before Purim, someone who has recently come on board to generously support the work we are doing. I asked him if he knew of any people who would want to contribute to supporting our programmes and people. His reply was priceless. ‘I have friends in my circle who always moan that these people and programmes don’t exist, I will tell them someone is actually doing something about it and tell them to stop moaning and start giving’.
I am proud that Mizrachi UK is perceived as an organisation of action, but we have a long way to go.
Please feel free to email me on firstname.lastname@example.org if you wish to get more involved in the work we do. We are looking for partners in our mission and as we were reminded back in Terumah “from every person whose heart inspires him to give” (Shemot 25:2).
Rabbi Andrew Shaw