At the outset of the parsha we find written the matter of Shabbat, even though it had already been declared at Marah, repeated at Ma’amad Har Sinai, then at the beginning of the Mishkan and in Ki Tisah. Why was it necessary to repeat it here? Furthermore, the verse, “These are the words that you shall command,” that refers to the commandments of the Mishkan, is presented both before and after the matter of Shabbat.
We can accept the words of the Ramban that Israel received with great joy and spiritual elevation Moshe’s transmission regarding the Mishkan and its laws, when he descended for Sinai with a message of their forgiveness for the Golden Calf and the granting to them of the covenant that Hashem would reside in their midst and that He would do great miracles for them. These words simply make the question of repeating the subject of Shabbat more significant, as the center of Moshe’s commands to them had to do with the Mishkan that they received in such joy.
However, two important laws will explain the necessity of the Shabbat reference at this particular time, since without this reference we would not know them.
Firstly, now when the laws of the Mishkan were given to the Children of Israel, in contrast to Parshiot Trumah and Tetzaveh when they had been given to Moshe alone, they had to be told that the work of the Mishkan did not abrogate any of the types of work forbidden on Shabbat (Shmot, 35:1- 3). Furthermore, the use of the term’ in all your habitations’ in the next verse teaches that the laws of Shabbat apply not only in the Land of Israel but also in the Golah. To these laws was added the injunction against fire on Shabbat (Shmot, 35:3). This injunction also forbids the making of ‘ochel nefesh’ on Shabbat even though it is permitted on the Chagim.
Secondly, although the making of fire was permitted in the Mishkan for the korbanot, the reference to the laws of Shabbat at this juncture highlighted the intrinsic difference between the kedushah of the Mishkan and the rest of the world. [The Shem Mi Shmuel has a similar idea when he uses this intrinsic difference to explain why we do not blow shofar when Rosh Hashanah is on Shabbat while but they did so in the Mikdash. The shofar represents the appeal to open the hearts of men to Hashem. However, Shabbat is wholly wisdom of the mind and the brain of men, which is something contradictory to the emotions, joys and ecstacy of the heart. The Mikdash has the ability to merge the contradictory roles of the heart and the mind, so that there the Shofar can be blown even when Rosh Hashanah falls on Shabbat. However, that ability does not exist outside the Mikdash, so there the shofar does not have a place on Shabbat].
The use of ‘chacham lev’ to represent the skilled artisans (verse 10) is strange, since these skills are acquired by training and study, which are functions of the mind and the intellect rather than of the heart. However, Israel never had the opportunity to acquire these skills in Egypt, so all they had was the innate talents that spring from the heart and these they freely donated to the work of the Mishkan. In their honor the text repeats the list of all the vessels of the Mishkan as well as the coverings, the amudim that were made by the free will offerings of these inspired artisans. These were in addition to the gifts brought by the women and men of Israel. The text is careful to mention the women first and from this we may learn that the men actually lagged behind their women in their devotion and philanthropy. All the gifts and donations were “offerings unto the Lord; whoever is of a willing heart, let him bring it, an offering of the Lord” showing that these were not poll tax of a fixed sum binding on all nor taxes based on income or wealth. Rather they were to be the outpouring of the individuals generosity. Furthermore, unlike the pattern that was the norm throughout the generations, then the people themselves brought their gifts rather that having the gabbai tzedakah collect them. The fact that they were ‘offerings unto the Lord’ signifies that the people brought them out of love and dedication to their holy task rather than out of considerations of public status or honor. [These free will donations are in contrast to Bet Hamikdash that was funded by royal funds and built by means of a labor tax. Furthermore, there the skilled labor was provided by artisans from Phoenicia. Rabbi S. R. Hirsch see in these difference the reason why Bet Hamikdash was able to be destroyed whereas the Mishkan just sort of faded away].
We may conclude as did Rashi that the bigdei hasrad (verse19) refer to the cloths that were used to cover the vessels during the journeys. However, from the repletion in pekudei we would rather infer that theyt refer to the cloths that were used to clean and shine the vessels of the Mishkan. They had no intrinsic spiritual worth unlike the vessels themselves who all were symbols of important religious and elevated ideas.
Text Copyright © 2005 by Rabbi Meir Tamari and Torah.org.
D r. Tamari is a renowned economist, Jewish scholar, and founder of the Center For Business Ethics (www.besr.org) in Jerusalem.