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Vayakhel 5760

By: Rav Alex Israel

Our Parsha opens with the Mitzva of Shabbat.The question is "why?" What do I mean? Well, the Jews have already been commanded to keep Shabbat, not once but on FOUR different occasions in the Book of Exodus [16:23, 20:7-10, 23:12, 31:13-17, ] . (This, in addition to the teaching at Marah [15:25] where according to Midrash we learn that the Jews were also commanded to keep Shabbat. [See Sanhedrin 56a, Rashi 24:3.]) Why would a further time be necessary?


Clearly, Shabbat is a mitzva that is basic and fundamental to everything that Judaism stands for. Shabbat straddles the division between the world of Bein Adam LaMakom and the world of Bein Adam Lechavero.

On the one hand Shabbat is a symbol of God's creation of the world, "For six days God made the heavens and earth, the sea and all that is in it and rested on the seventh day." (Shemot 20:11)

On the Other hand Shabbat is rooted in the experience of the Exodus and acts as a symbol of freedom, a day on which all of God's creations engage in rest: "Six days you shall labour and do all your work, but the seventh day is a Sabbath of the Lord your God, you shall not do any work - you, your son or your daughter, your male and female slave, your ox or your ass, or any of your cattle ... Remember that you were a slave in the land of Egypt and the Lord your God freed you from there with a mighty hand ... therefore the Lord your God has commanded you to observe the Sabbath day." (Devarim 5:13-15)


But if we have been dealing with the question of the Mishkan in recent weeks, we cannot help but observe an unusual but emphatic connection between Shabbat and the Mishkan. This connection emerges in three very clear ways:

i. Explicitly through the pesukim in the Torah

ii. The structure of the parshiot

iii. The Halakhic definition of Shabbat.


As we have noted, Shabbat appears in a variety of contexts in Torah. But there are certain places where Shabbat and Mishkan (or mikdash) are deliberately interlinked:

"You shall keep my Sabbaths and venerate my Mikdash, I am the Lord." (Vayikra 19:30)

And this is repeated in Vayikra 26:2:

"You shall keep my Sabbaths and venerate my Mikdash"


The parshiot of the Mishkan are structure in the following way:

CHAP 25-31 The command to build the Mishkan

31:12-17 SHABBAT

CHAP 32-34 Egel Hazahav and the subsequent renewal of the covenant

35:1-3 SHABBAT

CHAP 35-40 Moses command and the construction of the Mishkan.

There is an interesting symmetrical structure (called by academics, a chiastic structure: a-b-c-b-a) It places the Mishkan at the extremes, then Shabbat and in the centre, the story of the egel. It is beyond the scope of this shiur to discuss the relationship between the egel and the Mishkan. We probably all know the basic theories: either the Mishkan is a Kappara (atonement) for the egel, or possible a spiritual response to the religious failure of the egel, but whichever way we see it, what is Shabbat doing here? Why is Shabbat so intimately connected to the story of the Mishkan? There would seem to be some connection!

(We might raise a suggestion, that Shabbat is connected to the egel story and not to the Mishkan. After all, if Shabbat is about belief in God, and the egel is about idolatry, then Shabbat would seem an appropriate mitzva to place surrounding the egel story. I shall go in a different direction however, and see Shabbat as connected more to the Mishkan aspect of the order of parshiot (semikhat parshiot) than the egel.)


Here is really one of the most interesting of connections. Our parsha begins:

"Six days do melacha (work) and the seventh day shall be for you

Holy, a Shabbat Shabbaton for God; whoever does melacha (work)

shall be put to death. Do not burn fire in all your habitations on the

Shabbat day." [Exodus 35:2-3]

We may reduce these verses to two central ideas:

1) a prohibition against a certain type of work, called melacha, and

2) a prohibition against the use of fire.

Some questions arise immediately: What is "melacha"? Why is fire excluded from the category of "melacha" and mentioned separately?

These questions are treated extensively in the Talmud, and surely no laws of Shabbat may be understood without halacha -- that is, without specific definitions of work on the one hand, and the unique category of fire on the other.

The general framework of this section is built upon placing it into the context of the building of the Miskhan, the Tabernacle. The word melacha is the key to the section describing the work for the Mishkan [for example 35:21, 35:31, 35:33, 35:35, 36:1, 36:2, 36:3, 36:4, 36:5, 36:6, 36:7, 36:8], as well as the key to our Torah portion, where Moses teaches the laws of Shabbat observance. In fact the Gemara in Masechet Shabbat deduces the number 39 for the 39 melakhot on Shabbat from the 39 occurrences of the word "Melakha" in the story of the Mishkan! Surely God is creative enough to have provided a "word play" in any section of the Torah that He so chose, which would have elicited any number of alternative definitions for the key word melacha. Why specifically here, in the section which describes the building of the

Mishkan, are the laws of Shabbat derived? There must be some intrinsic relationship between Shabbat and the Mishkan.

Chazal went further and applied the Shabbat-Mishkan connection to the TYPES of construction work performed in the Mishkan. Hence, the legal definition of carrying on Shabbat, writing, cooking, weaving etc. all take their initial definition from the Mishkan. In a word, the melacha prohibited on Shabbat is the very same melacha used in constructing the Mishkan.

So, now, from three perspectives, we have reinforced the connection between Mishkan and Shabbat. We have to understand the source of this connection.


We know that Shabbat is linked to creation. As we mentioned in our opening lines, the first Shabbat WAS the Shabbat of creation, when God rested after six days. Shabbat is brought in the Torah with the explicit aim of reminding us of creation God says:

"It shall be a sign for all time between me and the people of Israel, that in six days the Lord made heaven and earth and on the seventh day, he ceased from work .." (31:17)

But there is likewise, a linkage between Mishkan and creation. This link is more subtle, but it is reinforced through textual parallel and through midrashic themes. In a minute, we will develop these themes, but at this stage , let us simply note that if these connections are true, we have an interesting triad of themes, or rather a connecting cycle of themes:


We have an ongoing circle of interconnected ideas. Let us first establish the MISHKAN-CREATION link and then we will have to move on to a further stage; the question of significance. (If you want to read an excellent article on this topic, which I have used in my preparation for this shiur, see Nehama Leibowitz on Parshat Teruma, "Make me a sanctuary for me to dwell in." (the second article) see pg. 475-483)

1. CHOCHMA, TEVUNA , DAAT : Midrash Pirke d'Rabbi Eliezer 3

"In ten sayings the world was created .. and in three it was finalised. And these are they: Chochma, Tevuna and Da'at; as it is stated: 'The Lord in Chochma founded the earth, by Tevuna established the heavens, by his Da'at the depths were split asunder.' (Mishlei / Proverbs 3:19-20) With the same three, the Mishkan was made, as it states (about Betzalel the craftsman for the Mishkan): 'I have filled him with the spirit of God, in Chokhma, Tevuna and Da'at.' (Shemot 31:3) With the same three qualities the Temple was built; 'His mother was from Naftali, his father from Tyre, and he was filled with Chochma, tevuna and Da'at.' (I Melachim 7:14)"

The implication here is quite clear. The qualities of building the Mishkan are the same qualities with which the world was created. Or maybe we can rephrase that. The creative power neefor the Mishkan is identical to the God's creative power. There is some creativity in the Mishkan, which is the same as that of the creation of the world.


a. The root "A-SS-A"

The root "A-SS-A" and more specifically the word "Vaya'as" - and he made, is used throughout the creation chapter (see 1:7,16,25) and is also mentioned over 200 times (!) in the "making" of the Mishkan.

b. The phrases of completion in both events are identical:

."The heavens and earth were FINISHED (veyechulu hashamayim ve'ha'aretz) ... and God FINISHED his WORK which he had made. " (Bereshit 2"1-2)

likewise with the Mishkan:

"Thus was FINISHED all the WORK of the tabernacle of the tent of meeting ...

and Moses FINISHED the work." (Shemot 39:32-40:33)

c. Here is a third literary parallel. God observes his work and remarks upon it that it conforms to plan. God does this seven times in Bereshit, proclaiming that the world is "good" or "very good."

"And God SAW everything that he had made and BEHOLD it was very good, And God BLESSED the seventh day" (Bereshit 1,31. 2,3)

likewise with the Mishkan, Moshe also observes and comments upon the work of the Mishkan. He cannot claim that it is "very good". Instead he comments that it is exactly according to God's plan.

"And Moses SAW all the work, and BEHOLD they had done it as the Lord had commanded ... and Moses blessed them." (Shemot 39:43)


What are the meanings of these parallels? I leave you with this question for next week!

What is the nature of the MISHKAN -CREATION ; SHABBAT - MISHKAN link?

(Answers to before I write the answers in next week's shiur!)


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