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Parshat Vayakhel: Shabbat Again? - Compiled by Adena Muskin (SFW '08)

By: SFW Students & Alumna
Adena Muskin (SFW '08)

Special thanks to those who contributed to this week’s dvar torah, including: Jessica Bruder, Esther Coren, and Naamah Jacobs.

This week’s parsha begins with Moshe commanding Bnei Yisrael regarding the observance of Shabbat, specifically the prohibition of kindling a fire on Shabbat.

“1 And Moses assembled all the congregation of the children of Israel, and said to them: 'These are the words which the Lord has commanded, that you should do them. 2 Six days shall work be done, but on the seventh day there shall be to you a holy day, a Sabbath of solemn rest to the Lord; he who does any work therein shall be put to death. 3 You shall kindle no fire throughout your habitations upon the Sabbath day.'”

The question arises as to why we are commanded yet again about Sabbath observance. The Torah has already mentioned this command in 5 other places in Shemot (16:23, 20:7-10, 23:12, and 31:13-17). Why was it necessary to relay this command Bnei Yisrael once more, and why specify kindling fires?

Rashi says that Moshe first told Bnei Yisrael that it was forbidden to work on Shabbat before commanding them to construct the mishkan in order to teach them that even the necessities of the mishkan do not override Shabbat. It is stated in the Mechilta that Hashem commanded Moshe observe Shabbat after commanding to build the mishkan. When Moshe told over the mitzvot to Bnei Yisrael, however, he reversed the order in order to convey the message that working on the mishkan does not override Shabbat. Hashem was able to tell this to Moshe in the form of a commandment, but Moshe had to convey the same message through the order in which he told it.

The Ramban also claims that the mitzvah of Shabbat is repeated here in order to emphasize the importance of Hashem’s day of rest, that even building the mishkan is not ãåçä the Shabbat. He adds that after the tremendous failure with the Cheit HaEgel, Bnei Yisrael were probably eager to serve G-d properly, and they would therefore want to build the mikdash immediately. However, G-d warns the Jewish People cot to get ahead of themselves with their excitement by reminding them that the mishkan cannot be built on Shabbat. With regard to the second question why specifically mention the prohibition of kindling a fire, the Ramban asserts that this prohibition is to teach us that we cannot cook, take hot baths etc. on Shabbat. These are acts which one might think would be permissible on Shabbat because they add to Menuchat Shabbat, so the pasuk clearly forbids them. The Torah takes pains to mention this halacha because kindling fires, cooking, bathing, etc. were not used in the binyan hamishkan.

Abarbanel also maintains that the commandment of Shabbat was repeated in Parshat Vayakhel to stress the importance of Shabbat, that even the sacred mishkan – home to the Shechina – cannot take precedence over the Divine day of rest. Abarbanel adds that this aspect is imperative to properly observing Hashem’s mitzvot properly. Man, according to Abarbanel, is inclined to believe that perfection lies in action; that performance is preferable to inaction and rest. Actual work seems to be a more expressive statement of devotion to Hashem than refraining from it, since man views action as a positive deed and inaction as a negative deed. This is especially true concerning an act of immense sanctity such as constructing the mishkan. One might have argued that binyan hamishkan would have adequately confirmed not only that the Shechina dwelled in the midst of the machane, but also to Hashem’s complete dominion over the physical world as its Creator. Hence, refraining from work would be unnecessary to affirm that statement. Hashem therefore tells Moshe to command the Jewish People not to construct the mishkan on Shabbat. Although binyan hamishkan is of extreme importance, it mustn’t supersede Shabbat.

Necham Leibowitz quoting Professor A.J. Heschel suggests that the reason that Shabbat overrides binyan hamishkan and not vice versa is due to the difference between what man considers sacred and what Hashem does. Man is convinced that to extend his power over the world he must occupy more and more space through his constructions and creations. Hashem, however, is more concerned with time than space. The first time the Torah uses the word kadosh is not to describe something physical, as would be expected, but to describe the non-physical – time. Hashem uses the word kadosh to describe the seventh day, His day of rest. In fact, no physical being is described as kadosh until Bnei Yisrael are told that they will be to Hashem an Am Kadosh at Ma’amad Har Sinai. Only after the downfall with Cheit HaEgel is an object – the mishkan – referred to as kadosh. But that object was used for the sole purpose of housing the Shechina. Thus even the mishkan was not holy in and of itself. It was holy because in provided a place for the Shechina to occupy. It is interesting to note that when the mishkan was erected it was sanctified by man, as stated in Bamidbar 7:1 “And it came to pass on the day that Moses had made an end of setting up the tabernacle, and had anointed it and sanctified it, and all the furniture thereof, and the altar and all the vessels thereof, and had anointed them and sanctified them.” However, when Shabbat was established it was sanctified by God Himself, as stated in Bereishit 2:3 “And God blessed the seventh day, and sanctified it; because that in it He rested from all His work which God in creating had made.”

Another possibility is that this was mentioned as a reminder to Bnei Yisrael not to get ahead of themselves. The Torah warns the Jewish People that they are to build the mishkan the way Hashem wants it and no other way, else no good will come of the construction. The Torah mentions the mitzvot of Shabbat here because it is after the command to build mishkan and after Cheit HaEgel, but before the actual construction of the mishkan. We see that this ultimately worked, for the end of Sefer Shemot, which describes in detail binyan hamishkan, concludes with Hashem’s shechina finally coming to dwell within the machine, as it says in Shemot 40:34 “Then the cloud covered the tent of meeting, and the glory of the Lord filled the tabernacle.”


Categorized under: 1: Parshat Shavua > Vayakhel