Completing the work

Finding light in the darkness – Reflections from Rabbi René, Parasha Pekudei

The end of the Book of Exodus describes the completion of the Tabernacle. The text says, va’yekhal Moshe et ha-melakhah (Exodus 40: 34), And Moses completed the work. It is the same verb that was used to describe the end of the Creation, va’yekhulu ha-Shamayim ve’ha-A’retz, And the Heavens and Earth were completed, the very verses we sing during the Friday evening Kiddush.

They must have felt happy, elated, when they saw the result of their hard work. God saw that the Creation was good, and Moses and the people felt fulfilled when they finished to build this portable sanctuary that would become God’s abode.

This feeling of completion is called in Hebrew Shelemut, which is from the same root as the word Shalom, Peace. It is how we should feel on Shabbat, when we greet each other with these words, Shabbat Shalom. And yet…

How can we feel complete when war is raging in Eastern Europe? How can we be at peace when refugees are fleeing Ukraine, and when we have no idea what is going to happen tomorrow? There is so much uncertainty ahead that, in comparison, Covid seems pretty harmless.

I can’t believe I am actually talking about a war that is happening at our doorstep and might overflow and flood Europe. I remember stories when I was a child of our elders who had to flee the German armies in May 1940, planes flying over them and shooting at columns of refugees, destruction, and desperation.

And yet, in these troubled times, people were ready to help, to bring food and water, shelter and protection. The same is true today. We’ve seen countless volunteers going to the borders with Ukraine to help with food, clothes, medication. My friend Rabbi Julia Gris and her daughter Izolda spent 40 hours travelling from Lviv, in Western Ukraine, to the Polish border. They slept in the cold and the dark. They walked with thousands of other refugees. They also encountered people who helped them and brought them in a safe place.

We feel powerless in the face of such a tragedy, and to some extent we are. We cannot stop the Russian army. But there is still so much we can do. We can offer our help, our hand, we can support those who help these refugees.

Liberal and Reform Rabbis are preparing a document to be send to all Progressive communities in the UK with advises, where to send money, how to petition the government to let refugees come in, where to talk if we want to host someone. It will be circulated soon.

We have each other. We are not alone in feeling powerless, but we are also not alone in the many ways we can help. We live in dark times indeed, and the dangers are many. But I strongly believe that there is much power in a community. We are strong and resilient, and together with people of good will all over the world, we can turn the tide and bring light in the darkness.

You can watch Rabbi René deliver this message here: