Karen Miller Jackson

What will convince Haredim to join the IDF?

We must deepen the sense of national loyalty so that all Israeli citizens embrace the call to serve the Jewish nation (Vayakhel)
'The Jewish Tabernacle and Priesthood,' by George C. Needham, 1874. (Wikimedia Commons)
'The Jewish Tabernacle and Priesthood,' by George C. Needham, 1874. (Wikimedia Commons)

“Ask not what your country can do for you; ask what you can do for your country” — John F. Kennedy

Parshat Vayakhel emphasizes the generous contributions to the Mishkan (Tabernacle) from everyone — men and women — to the point that Moshe needs to stop them from donating. Deeper analysis of the Torah’s description of contributing to the Mishkan can shed light on the current debate about who should be contributing to defending the State of Israel. 

The parsha emphasizes the generosity of the donations. Moshe instructs the people to “take gifts from among you,” and then, that everyone whose “heart is so moved,” shall bring gifts to the Tabernacle (Exodus 35:5).The Hebrew root n.d.v. (to donate) appears numerous times, and, as Rabbanit Sharon Rimon points out, the word “lev” (heart) appears 14 times. The Ramban interprets this verse as referring only to voluntary gifts, highlighting the fact that the Mishkan, the center of Jewish life, was built with heart and a spirit of collective giving. 

Yet, we also know that there was an aspect of contributing to the Mishkan that was mandatory for all. The language of “take” implies that everyone had to give gifts to the Tabernacle. Elsewhere, the people are commanded to each give a half-shekel toward the Tabernacle, a required tax. So which is it then? Voluntary or mandatory? The Kli Yakar says that the words “take gifts” refer to both required giving (the half-shekel) and voluntary giving, which were combined to build the Mishkan. 

The idea that contributions to the Mishkan were a combination of mandatory and voluntary was echoed in our people’s response to October 7th. Our heroic soldiers were called up with a command, a “Tzav 8” (calling up reservists). And we also witnessed an unparalleled nedivut (generosity) of heart and spirit, with most others giving what they could. 

Ultra-Orthodox Jews walk outside an army recruitment office in Jerusalem, August 16, 2023. (Chaim Goldberg/Flash90) From TOI News site.

This is what Rabbi Jonathan Sacks zt”l called a nation built on a covenant of “We.” Rabbi Sacks presciently wrote, in his book, Morality, about the need for healing divisiveness in modern societies: “Covenantal politics, by contrast, is about ‘We, the people,’ bound by a sense of shared belonging and collective responsibility; about strong local communities, active citizens and the devolution of responsibility. It is about reminding those who have more than they need of their responsibilities toward those who have less than they need. It is about ensuring that everyone has a fair chance to make the most of their capacities and their lives.” 

The Mishkan was built by individuals giving what they could and everyone contributed. So many have already given too much, the unaskable, for the State of Israel. As we face the need to increase the number of soldiers necessary to defend our country, how can we deepen the conversation to help foster this sense of national loyalty, alongside Zionist pride, so that all Israeli citizens feel they are a part of the “We” covenant and can embrace the call to serve the Jewish nation? The parsha is a reminder that only by fostering this collective sense of responsibility, of Tzav 8 with nedivut, can this problem be solved successfully.

About the Author
Karen Miller Jackson is a Morah l'Halakha, Jewish educator and writer, living in Ra'anana, Israel. She teaches and studies at Matan HaSharon and is the creator of Power Parsha, a short weekly whatsapp dvar Torah. Currently, Karen is a Matan Kitvuni Fellow, writing a book on Talmud Berakhot. She is the host of the Eden Center podcast: "Women & Wellbeing" and she runs Kivun l'Sherut, a guidance program for girls before sherut leumi/army service. Karen is a board member of Kolech - Religious Women's Forum.
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