Positive Reinforcement – Parshat Vayakhel-Pekudei


Since we moved to Portland, our dog Stanley has required a little extra love and attention. We even brought in a trainer again to help us work on some of his behavior issues. In the last session with our trainer, it became clear that just as important as having consistent expectations for him is the positive reinforcement we give him. An enthusiastic “Good boy!” should be the words out of my mouth when he does the right thing. Animals – and people alike – appreciate a “Job well done!” at the end of a task.

The double portion we read this week, Vayakhel-Pekudei (the final portions in sefer Shemot), teaches about the work of building the Tabernacle. Moshe, the great leader of the Israelite people from Egypt back to the land of Israel, is given enormous responsibility. He is asked not only to lead the people and be the emissary between the people and God, but also to take care of the accounting of the materials needed to build the Tabernacle and all that goes with it.   These parshiyot end with the establishment of the sacred space, with God and the people taking a good look at what they have accomplished.

Over half of the narrative in the book of Exodus, which we complete this week, has to do with building the priestly vestments, the Ark, and the Tabernacle. The building of these holy spaces and articles is important; it is the continued work of creation performed by the community.

In Bereshit (Genesis) we get an accounting of each day of creation, and at the end of it, God has the positive reinforcement, “Ki tov” – “it was good.” Up until the seventh day, the reinforcement is “good,” but on the final day of creation, God offers a blessing to the world, the blessing of Shabbat and divine approval.

The book of Exodus has the same pattern and ends the same way. “So the Israelites had done all the work. And when Moses saw that they had performed all the tasks – as the Lord had commanded, so they had done – Moses blessed them.” The Israelites had done more than a good job creating this space, and Moses, God’s mouthpiece, blessed them. The midrash Tanchuma supplies the words “May it be God’s will that the divine Presence rest upon the work of your hands.”

May we enter this Shabbat with not only the positive reinforcement of a week well lived, but with the blessing of using what we’ve built in the future to come.

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