Then the whole Israelite community withdrew from Moses' presence . . . - Exodus 35:20
The Torah portion for this week is a double reading, Vayakhel-Pekudei, from Exodus 35:1-40:38. Vayakhel means "assembled," and Pekudei means "counting." The Haftorah is from 1 Kings 7:51-8:21.
This week's Torah portion begins by telling us that "Moses assembled the whole Israelite community" (Exodus 35:1). Moses then proceeded to teach the people about the Sabbath and he gave them more details concerning the construction of the Tabernacle. A few verses later, Scripture tells us that "Then the whole Israelite community withdrew from Moses' presence." However, if we already knew that the children of Israel were in the presence of Moses, why do we need to be told that when they finished learning, they left "Moses' presence"? Isn't that obvious?
Have you ever met someone who had such a presence that you felt different when you were around them? Perhaps you knew a grandparent who made you feel loved and valued. Or maybe it was a mentor who left you feeling inspired and motivated. Sometimes an encounter with a stranger with inexplicable charisma can leave us wanting to be a better person. There are some people whose presence is felt - and by being in their presence, we are profoundly impacted.
It's not surprising to learn that Moses had this effect on others. When the Torah specifies that the Israelites left Moses' presence, it is telling us that Moses' presence had a huge impact on the people when they were with him. They left Moses as different people than when they first came to him. They left uplifted and inspired.
In Judaism's oral tradition, Rabbi Shammai teaches, "Greet every person with a pleasant expression." We don't need to have the presence of Moses to have a palatable and powerful presence. We can start with a smile, a word of encouragement, or sincerely asking someone how they are. No one should leave our presence exactly the same as when they encountered us. A simple warm smile can have effects beyond our imagination.
A rabbi in Jerusalem once spoke about a student who had abandoned the life of a secular Jew completely detached from God's Word or any Jewish tradition. When the rabbi asked the student what made him change his ways, the student explained that he grew up in a secular Israeli neighborhood, but there was one old man who was observant and wore a yarmulke on his head. That old man always greeted him with warmth and enthusiasm. Later in life, when the student realized that he wanted a more meaningful life, he remembered that special smile and was inspired to enroll in a Jewish seminary to study the Bible.
Today, try to greet everyone you meet with a pleasant presence. Let the light of your face shine onto each individual. You never know what impact you can make or what soul you might ignite.
With prayers for shalom, peace,
Rabbi Yechiel Eckstein
Founder and President