VAYAKHEL 5776

 

Torah Reading: Exodus 35:1-38:20,

Haftorah: I Kings 7:40-50

 

GATHERING OF THE PEOPLE

 

The parashat of VAYAKHEL opens with the words: "And Moses gathered together all the Community of Israel." (Exodus 35:1). According to our sages, Moses' gathering of all of the Community took place on the day following Yom Kippur, when he had secured atonement for the sin of the golden calf.

 

This gathering consisted of all of ADAS YISRAEL, the Community of Israel. The Zohar (beginning of VAYAKHEL) states specifically that this Community was made up of all who remained faithful to the true Covenant of Israel, accepting no deviation from the Torah and no prophet other than Moses. The Zohar emphasizes that they could only build the Sanctuary after being purged of all the Mixed Multitude who went astray after the golden calf, which was half ox (Edom, Christianity) and half donkey (Ishmael, Islam). Both deviated from the finality of the Torah and the supremacy of Moses as Yahweh's true prophet, seeking to displace them in different ways by erecting new prophets and intermediaries standing between man and Yahweh. They and all the nations are excluded from membership of ADAS ISRAEL and from contributing to the Sanctuary.

 

The materials and manpower for the construction of the Sanctuary for the One Elohim were to be contributed only by this Community of true Israelites, those willing to abide by the Law of Moses. This accepts no intermediary between man and Yahweh and permits no form or idol in worship. The only forms permitted in Yahweh's Sanctuary and Temple and nowhere else are those of the two golden Cherubs over the Ark of the Covenant and the other Sanctuary vessels. The only scriptures are the Sefer Torah.

 

The commandment to build the Sanctuary was addressed to the whole Community of Israel. Each member of this community was to have his or her personal share in this joint national project of building the Sanctuary that Moses was to announce. For the true Israelite, there is no intermediary between man and Yahweh. Man faces Yahweh directly. Each one contributes -- and each one has responsibility for his own actions. Only one who truly INTENDS to do what he does can be said to be responsible for what he does and, if he does good, fairly take the reward. Only then is there merit in his contribution.

 

How can one INTEND what he does? Taking precedence over all the commandments about contributing to and building the Sanctuary addressed to the Community of Israel is the commandment to observe the Shabbat -- to spend one entire day every week WILLFULLY ABSTAINING from many kinds of actions and activities.

 

Moses' discourse to the Community of Israel about the building of the Sanctuary opens with the following words:

 

"Six days labor shall be performed, and on the seventh day you will have a holy Shabbat of rest in honor of Yahweh: anyone who performs a labor on Shabbat shall be put to death." (Ex. 35:2).

 

It is a commandment to labor -- "Six days labor shall be performed". Part of that same commandment is the commandment to observe the Shabbat by willfully abstaining from labor when so commanded. So stringent is this commandment that its willful infringement is punishable by execution. The example of forbidden labor given in the Torah text is that of kindling fire on the Sabbath day, which is infringed by acts as simple as flicking on a light-switch, lighting a cooker or starting a car ignition.

 

The ability to observe Shabbat and the ability to engage in truly meaningful labor on the other days of the week are bound up together. Only when a person can consciously abstain from action and willfully NOT perform a particular range of actions as instructed by Yahweh on Shabbat can he be said to have true INTENTION when he does perform the action in honor of Yahweh on the six days of the week. Only then does his action have true merit.

 

Only the observance of the commandment to abstain from labor on the Seventh Day in honor of Yahweh gives true meaning to the building of the Sanctuary in the wilderness and the Temple in Jerusalem in Yahweh's honor.

 

PRAXIS

 

The greater part of our parashat of VAYAKHEL is devoted to a detailed description of how Betzalel and his fellow craftsmen made the Sanctuary and its vessels in accordance with the plan whose details we studied three parashat's earlier in TERUMAH. While TERUMAH taught how they were to be made when they were still on the level of thought -- BE-KOACH, in POTENTIALITY -- our parshah of VAYAKHEL teaches how they came to made BE-PHO'AL, in ACTUALITY, on the level of ASIYAH, action.

 

It is significant that all of the laws of what constitutes forbidden MELACHAH, labor, on Shabbat are learned from the 39 archetypal forms of labor that were involved in the making of the Sanctuary on the six days of the week. It is only when we abstain from performing forbidden labor on Shabbat BECAUSE IT IS SHABBAT that performing those labors "for Yahweh" on the six weekdays can be said to be truly intentional and meritorious. The labors that are forbidden on Shabbat are called MELECHET MACHSHEVET, a labor that involves MACHSHAVAH -- i.e. it is intentional.

 

When we observe the Shabbat FOR Yahweh, abstaining from forbidden labors because that is His command, this gives the intentional labors that we perform on the other six days of the week in pursuit of our livelihood and all our other needs the sanctity of BUILDING THE SANCTUARY. Our intention in pursuing all these needs is that we may serve Yahweh, pray and keep the commandments. Our going about our daily lives in our homes, at work and elsewhere is all part of BUILDING THE TEMPLE, a dwelling place for Yahweh's presence. For each one of us has our own contribution to make to the construction of this Temple. Each person's mitzvah and good intention help to draw Yahweh's Indwelling Presence into this world and within the sanctity of our homes.