Vayakheyl - A Heart Unconstrained by Fear

by Rabbi Shefa Gold

The Blessing

Vayakhel describes the actual construction of the Mishkan. Our spiritual work is laid out before us; our enthusiasm is kindled. When Moses calls the people together for their final instructions for building the Mishkan, we are first warned that there must be a holy rhythm to our lives. We are blessed with the knowledge that rest and reflection are absolutely necessary to the success of this project. The warning is that without the practice of Shabbat, this work, even though it is holy work, will kill us. The blessing of Shabbat will make this work possible. Our work becomes life giving and wholesome when it is balanced with Shabbat.

In the practice of Yoga, each series of poses is followed by a resting pose in order to integrate and fully receive the benefits of the preceding postures. The practice of Shabbat fulfills this same purpose, creating a space to receive, integrate and deepen the benefits of our spiritual work. For six days we work at building the Mishkan and on the seventh day we can enter into that Holy dwelling and simply receive the Divine influx.

Vayakhel blesses us with the awareness of the true nature of the heart that is unconstrained by fear. Even though the disaster of the Golden Calf is still a fresh memory, Moses can look out at us and see that our true nature is ruled by the generous heart. When he calls on the gifts and talents and generosity of the people, it is not only for what they can offer to the communal project. We are called to know our own gifts and experience the blessing of the generous heart. When we can experience the flowing and giving heart, freed from the constraints of fear, we begin to know and trust ourselves as if for the first time. We can relax and let go of worries about not having or being enough, because the experience of flowing generosity feels effortless and infinite. Vayakhel tells us that Moses had to tell the people to stop giving because they had become so intoxicated with their experience of generous flow. We are reminded that together we have more than enough to complete the task of making a place for God to dwell among us, between us and within us.

The Spiritual Challenge

At the entrance to our sanctuary the laver is built. Here we wash and prepare ourselves for the holy encounter. The laver is made from the mirrors that the women bring.

When I was 22 I went on a 3-week trip kayaking down the Green River in southern Utah. It was quite an adventure and those 3 weeks proved to be life transforming. Besides getting my first real experience of wilderness and solitude, it changed the way I perceived myself. For those 3 weeks I didn’t look at a mirror and so began to know myself from the inside — out. Without the daily reminder of outer appearance and the worry about how others might see me, I discovered my inner beauty and strength. I was surprised by a new image of myself that arose in the context of my relationship to water and rock and sun. I had been so used to believing what others saw and reflected back to me. A new woman emerged that hardly resembled the image that others perceived or that I perceived through their eyes. The mirror had lied to me. It merely showed me the surface.

In our culture where it seems we (women especially) are judged by our appearance, we are given the spiritual challenge of knowing ourselves from the inside. We bring our mirrors as offerings to build a vessel of purification. Washing ourselves of others projections and expectations, clearing away judgement and the need for approval, wiping away shame, cleaning out every pore of the need for artifice, till the skin can let your radiance shine through. Only then will you be ready to encounter God in the Tent of Meeting. Offer up your judgements, criticism, and vanity that obscure the depths. The spiritual challenge of Vaykhel asks: How do we transform the mirror, (our self-image), into an instrument that prepares us for the Divine encounter.

A distorted self-image can be an obstacle on the spiritual path yet this obstacle can be transformed. I once had a dream that I was dying. All of my friends and family were gathered around me. Some of them were grieving; others trying to heal me. Everyone was caught up in the escalating drama. I excused myself to go to the bathroom and there I looked into the mirror. I was for the first time profoundly grateful for the face that had served me through my incarnation. I felt some remorse at how I had wasted so much time worrying over that face (Did it look alright?) or avoiding it (I didn’t want to be vain). Finally I could see myself — the self that was shining through from my eternal soul, and I felt such peace with who I had been and who I was becoming through the passage of my death.

When we are freed from the obsession of self-image, we can begin to play with the gifts of incarnation. We can play with style and color and texture, bringing joy to the image we project and letting it express the truth and uniqueness of the inner dimensions of beauty that we encounter on our journeys. Without the worry about how I look or about how others might see me, I am free to explore and expand my understanding of beauty. I can be grateful for the face I have been given and I can allow it to shine with God’s radiance.

Guidance for Practice

After a period of prayer or meditation, gaze into a mirror. Let yourself gently release any judgements that arise. Try staring into one eye, then gradually expand your focus to include your whole face. Then stare into the other eye, gradually expand your focus. Look for the spark of your uniqueness. Continue to let go of judgments. Who is it that looks out from behind this face? Watch the outer face transform as the inner face emerges.