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It comes down to the children

Moses called the whole community of the children of Israel to assemble, and he said to them: “These are the things that the Lord commanded to make. Six days work will be done, but on the seventh day you shall have sanctity, a day of complete rest to the Lord; whoever performs work thereon [on this day] shall be put to death. [Exodus 35:1-2]

This week’s Torah portion, Vayakhel, begins with an assembly of the Children of Israel — women and children included. The first order of business is the Sabbath. Well, not exactly. As the Torah puts it, you first work or have the work done for six days. Then, comes the holy rest.

Is there an obligation to work? What if you’re rich; what if you’re living on your pension; what if you’re simply mooching off mommy and daddy? Are they included?

The short answer is yes.

“Rabbi Elazar said, ‘Man was created to work.'” [Talmud. Sanhedrin. 99b]

And that was the whole point of the Mishkan, or Tabernacle. There was no need to do anything physical in the desert. G-d took care of the food, water, clothes, air conditioning, you name it. The only time the Jews needed to do anything in this incubator was the Mishkan. Everybody had to contribute, and many were entrusted with the actual construction.

But G-d’s house was no different from anything else. The work was six days. On the seventh day was the Sabbath, and nobody violated it for anything, even the Mishkan.

Did this mean G-d didn’t appreciate the efforts of the Israelites? On the contrary. The Torah refers to the building of the Mishkan no less than five times, along with the details of the work. Moses Ben Nachman, or the Ramban, says this reflects the love of G-d for the work done by His children as well as the reward they will receive.

There was one donation special to G-d. And that was the hundreds of thousands of copper mirrors brought by the women. Moses did not want the mirrors: They had been used by the women to look beautiful and thus inflame the passions of men. This was not suitable for the purity of the Mishkan.

And he made the washstand of copper and its base of copper from the mirrors of the women who had set up the legions, who congregated at the entrance of the tent of meeting. [Exodus 38:8]

On this point, the commentators are divided. Most interpret the donation as a declaration of independence. The women would no longer be driven by vanity. They have given up their mirrors and are now leading a life of prayer and penitence.

That’s not how Shlomo Yitzhaki, or Rashi, sees this. He says the mirrors reflected the fidelity of the women during the slavery in Egypt. Their husbands would complete a day of back-breaking labor bereft of physical strength. All they wanted was to flop down on some mattress.

But that wasn’t what their wives wanted. They would meet their husbands along the way with food and drink. The women would lead their men to a shady spot and feed them. When the men were somewhat revived, the games would begin.

“Then they [women] would take the mirrors and each one would see herself with her husband in the mirror,” Rashi writes. “And she would seduce him with words, saying, ‘I am more beautiful that you.’ And in this way, they aroused their husbands’ desire, copulate, conceive and give birth there.”

G-d ordered Moses to accept the donation. The mirrors, He said, “are more precious to me than anything because through them the women established many legions.”

The nation of Israel begins with children. That, the Midrash in Psalms 8 explains, is why G-d gave the Israelites the Torah. The children represent the guarantee that the adults will learn and observe the Scriptures.

Amid the wars and betrayals, we must not ignore the miracles of G-d. Perhaps the biggest miracle, as reflected in Vayakhel, is the Jewish population explosion in the Land of Israel over the last 30 years. For decades, demographers, echoing Yasser Arafat, warned that the Arabs will overwhelm the Jews through a vastly higher birth rate. The only answer, they said, was to withdraw from Judea, Samaria and Gaza. Some even added that Israel must give up portions of the pre-1967 lines, such as the Triangle.

On Feb. 24, 2024, the Central Bureau of Statistics put pay to all of this gloom. In its monthly report, the bureau said annual Jewish births in Israel increased by 69 percent from 1995 to 2023. In contrast, the Arab births rose by 17 percent. [b2.xls (cbs.gov.il] Overall, the Jewish fertility rate has reached 3.03 births per woman versus 2.75 for Arab women. In Judea and Samaria, the Arab fertility rate dropped from six births per woman in 1969 to 3.13 in 2015.

In short, the Jewish fertility rate surpassed every other Middle East country except for Iraq. The most dramatic rise in Jewish births stems from those who label themselves secular, making Jewish women the only ones in the world with a direct correlation between fertility and education.

In 2023, there were 43,353 Israeli Jewish deaths, compared to 31,575 in 1996, a 37% increase, compared to a 43% increase in 2022 (while the size of the population almost doubled!), which reflects a society growing younger. In 2023, there were 6,108 Israeli Arab deaths, compared to 3,089 in 1996, a 98% increase, which reflects a society growing older. [The Ettinger Report. March 5, 2024]

This miracle cannot be exaggerated. In the Diaspora, Jewish communities are rapidly shrinking from assimilation and a low birth rate. Since the Second Temple nearly 2,400 years ago, Jews struggled to maintain a majority in their land. Today, high fertility combined with a major drop in abortions and emigration have transformed the Jews into a solid majority despite the best efforts of the international community.

The sages say that before the advent of the Messiah, there will be miracles that cannot be imagined. Amalek might still be around, but meanwhile G-d will make the Jewish people bigger and stronger regardless of the threats from the outside. And that relates to our Torah portion which begins “Six days work will be done.” You might think you’re doing the work. But really G-d is taking care of everything.

We just have to believe it.

About the Author
Steve Rodan has been a journalist for some 40 years and worked for major media outlets in Israel, Europe and the United States. For 18 years, he directed Middle East Newsline, an online daily news service that focused on defense, security and energy. Along with Elly Sinclair, he has just released his first book: In Jewish Blood: The Zionist Alliance With Germany, 1933-1963 and available on Amazon.
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