Naomi Graetz

The Ingathering of Family and Hostages–Va-Yakhel

“Moses gathered together the whole Israelite community and said to them: These are the things that God has commanded you to do” (Exodus 35:1)

This week’s parshat Va-Yakhel has only two things that interest me and usually when you read other people’s commentaries about this parsha they point to these two things.  The first is that women’s wisdom is evident in their weaving for the sanctuary:

And all the skilled women spun with their own hands, וְכׇל־אִשָּׁ֥ה חַכְמַת־לֵ֖ב בְּיָדֶ֣יהָ טָו֑וּ and brought what they had spun, in blue, purple, and crimson yarns, and in fine linen. And all the women who excelled in that skill וְכׇ֨ל־הַנָּשִׁ֔ים אֲשֶׁ֨ר נָשָׂ֥א לִבָּ֛ן אֹתָ֖נָה בְּחׇכְמָ֑ה spun the goats’ hair (Exodus 35: 25-26).

Normally, I would use this as a segue to writing about women’s issues, and women’s wisdom (hochmah) in particular, especially since March 8th is International Women’s Day. But having devoted a whole evening session to talking about Rape Culture at our Women’s Study Day, I’m temporarily out of words and energy to discuss women’s issues.


The second topic is equally fascinating: the Israelites’ generosity in bringing gifts to build the sanctuary:

But when they continued to bring freewill offerings to Moses morning after morning, all the artisans who were engaged in the tasks of the sanctuary came, from the task upon which each one was engaged, and said to Moses, “The people are bringing more than is needed for the tasks entailed in the work that God has commanded to be done.” Moses thereupon had this proclamation made throughout the camp: “Let no man or woman make further effort toward gifts for the sanctuary!” So the people stopped bringing. Their efforts had been more than enough for all the tasks to be done  (Exodus 36: 3-7).

Just imagine were this to happen today: there is a Crowdfunding appeal and the donors are told to stop donating.  Actually, something like this did happen in the wake of October 7th when refugees and evacuees fled from the stricken kibbutzim without anything except literally the clothes on their backs (and sometimes, these were pajamas and skimpy nightgowns).  People emptied their closets to such a degree that there were piles of unused clothing all over Israel.  The same with household goods.  The same even with the donations to soldiers who were called up and did not have deodorant, underwear etc. There was so much that many of these donations are still sitting in warehouses waiting to be picked up by needy people and even may have made their way to garbage dumps. Our people did not stop giving after October 7th!


But that’s not what I want to write about this week. About a half year ago, I wrote about my husband’s treatment for cancer and that it would be over by the end of February. Well it is March and today we went in for his treatment.  On Monday, we celebrated his 84th birthday, by having a family Zoom at 8 am to accommodate our worldwide participants in different time zones (India, Los Angeles, North, South and Central Israel). It was wonderful and afterwards my husband and I got long needed haircuts and brought home falafel from our local pizzeria. It was very laid back and during the day some of our friends called or sent E greetings.

Our zoom was The Celebration and my husband, who loves to pun, and whose birthdate in Hebrew is פד (peh daled), pointed out a few weeks ago that it is daf [page] spelled backwards or pad [in English] spelled normally. And he wanted to teach a daf of Talmud from his iPad. And that is what he did. It was a wonderful teaching session. And since this week’s parsha is called va-yakhel (and he gathered together), it was fitting that our family gathered together as one pod on zoom to study the last chapter of Mishnah Eduyot 8:6-8. We gave him blessings that expressed our appreciation of, and love, for him.


During this zoom session, our youngest daughter told us about this new project she is involved in. With her permission I am sharing what she related and later wrote up:

I have joined a somewhat different project that personally and spiritually supports abductees. Some in the group chose whom to accompany, but I asked them to choose a person for me. The instructions were to keep them in our hearts, learn something about them and take them with us. Miraculously or not, I received Amiram Cooper who was kidnapped at the age of 84 and “celebrated” his 85th birthday in captivity. He is exactly the same age as my father/grandpa who turned 84 today. So that is why I am happy about this connection—just thinking about my father in such a difficult situation gives me the chills. So I am glad they chose me to miss him and take care of him.

Amiram was kidnapped with his wife who was released with the first group. He is a special person from Nir Oz who also wrote poetry/songs. Googling him, I found this poem he wrote. A song that describes a moment of presence, vision and grounding and awareness of the change surrounding him. My wish is for all of us to experience Amiram’s essence. During our zoom birthday party, we all talked about the influence Grandpa had on us and our community; how much he is engaged in the pursuit of peace; his unique wisdom and humor. How he spoke to us all at whatever stage of life we were –speaking to us at our eye levels–not easy for such a tall person. How his simple joy of life and optimism influenced us and everyone who knows him. It is true that we celebrated on Zoom and not in person; but we should definitely be thankful for that, especially when you think of Amiram, who is my father’s age, who didn’t even enjoy that and God knows what he is undergoing. As our sages have already said – Who is rich, the person who is happy in his lot.  So let’s enjoy the life we have and be satisfied with what we have. And listen to Amiram’s song, it is truly beautiful.

My daughter also sent out this guided meditation in English with a focus on the abductees and Carmel Gat, in particular, who practices meditation and yoga.

Amazingly, Carmel supported people with whom she is in captivity, with these tools. If you want to stop for five minutes of practice or want to pass the message on to English speakers, here is the video clip that I made. Let’s hope for a good week with good news, Abigail.

After reading this and watching the video, I googled Carmel and found this article. On Friday, May 8th, there will be an event, called Bring Carmel Back in Tel Aviv to commemorate International Women’s Day.

All of these initiatives are coming from the ground up. The private endeavors and contributions are making their way into the public space. In a sense this is similar to what happened in biblical times when the Israelites brought their personal belongings to build the sanctuary. But this time around, no one is telling the people to stop. There is no such thing as too much support for those who have lost so much. Hopefully, all these private efforts will result in bringing back our hostages and in some sort of peace arrangements.

About the Author
Naomi Graetz taught English at Ben Gurion University of the Negev for 35 years. She is the author of Unlocking the Garden: A Feminist Jewish Look at the Bible, Midrash and God; The Rabbi’s Wife Plays at Murder ; S/He Created Them: Feminist Retellings of Biblical Stories (Professional Press, 1993; second edition Gorgias Press, 2003), Silence is Deadly: Judaism Confronts Wifebeating and Forty Years of Being a Feminist Jew. Since Covid began, she has been teaching Bible and Modern Midrash from a feminist perspective on zoom. She began her weekly blog for TOI in June 2022. Her book on Wifebeating has been translated into Hebrew and is forthcoming with Carmel Press in 2025.
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