Spring training cannot be too far away when we read the Torah’s first “doubleheader”, this week’s combined Torah portion: “Vayakheil-Pikudei!” In a more serious vein, this double parsha is the first of seven combined Torah readings.
Each Torah portion has its own unique lesson that it conveys. A combined reading contains not two independent messages, but a message in which each of the two separate themes complement one another.
Vayakheil – which means `And he gathered’ - refers to Moses’ return from Mount Sinai upon receiving the second set of tablets. On the very next day, Moses gathered all of the Jewish people to give them G-d’s instructions concerning the building of the Sanctuary in the desert (the Mishkan). This structure was to be G-d’s way of expressing His desire to have a relationship with the Jewish people, not just with some elite individuals.
The message of Vayakheil is thus the message of community. Vayakheil underscores the importance of Jewish unity to facilitate G-d’s dwelling in our midst.
Pikudei, on the other hand, refers to the detailed accounting Moses made of all the components of the Sanctuary. This reflects Judaism’s emphasis on the need for every detail to be properly preserved. Every ounce of gold, silver and copper was to be accounted for.
These two themes appear mutually exclusive. How can we simultaneously put aside our individuality to form a collective identity, a holy nation, while being obsessed with detail and nuance? Are these two ideals not impossible to combine?
To be sure, it is not inconceivable for a person to alternate between dedication to a community and focus on the individual. But to combine both characteristics – as the double nature of the Torah reading suggests -- seems to be rather an elusive goal.
A journalist and communal activist wrote of his experience with the Lubavitcher Rebbe. When he had a private audience with the Rebbe, the Rebbe after responding to his private needs would use the opportunity to channel the discussion into a communal area. And, conversely, when he attended a public gathering, where the Rebbe addressed thousands about communal, national and international concerns, he was struck by the way in which the Rebbe, during a brief break between six hours of discourse, expressed interest and concern for some personal matter that affected this journalist.
The journalist was impressed with the Rebbe’s ability to see the nation through the eyes of the individual and to see the individual through the eyes of the nation – Vayakheil and Pikudei.
As we approach the month of Nissan, the month of Redemption, when the Jewish people emerged from Egypt as a nation, we have to focus on both messages: the message of community and the message of individuality. In some years – as it is this year – we have the additional responsibility to combine the two themes.
When we get together for a community function, we should not allow individual concerns to be swept under the carpet. Likewise, when we focus our attention on an individual we have to find ways for this private matter to serve and help the entire community.
This is our version of “spring training,” the way we prepare for the Spring Festival of Passover – as well as the imminent future Redemption of the Jewish people.