This week’s parsha starts off with a gathering of the entire nation to remind them once again about the mitzvah of keeping Shabbos. Why is this repeated here? Rashi explains that G-d wanted it known that, as important as the construction of the Mishkan was, it did not pre-empt the laws of Shabbos; work on the Mishkan had to completely cease for the duration of Shabbos.
There is good reason to assume otherwise. After all, the point of the Mishkan was to create a medium through which to better relate to G-d. Shabbos is extremely holy; however, the Mishkan was going to be a place from which the Presence of G-d was going to be visible … What else could one ask for in terms of connecting up with G-d Himself!
Nevertheless, the Mishkan-experience was one of G-d in This World-Shabbos is an experience of G-d in another, more lofty dimension (as the Talmud points out, Shabbos in This World is one-sixtieth of the World-to-Come; Brochos 57b). The building of the Mishkan was a “process” to get to the experience of G-d; Shabbos is that experience already. Therefore, it would have been counter-productive to have continued building the Mishkan even on Shabbos.
Having said this, it is worthwhile to look at some of the things the Talmud has to say about Shabbos.
G-d told Moshe, “I have a wonderful gift in My storeroom called Shabbos, and I wish to give it to Yisroel. Go and inform them.” (Shabbos 10b)
For some people, Shabbos is anything but a gift, especially when it runs contrary to their “lifestyles.” In a very real sense, one’s enjoyment of Shabbos in spite of the myriad of halachos that must be observed is a good measure of how much one relates to his soul instead of his body. Perhaps this is why the Talmud states:
All who pray Erev Shabbos and say “VaYechulu … (And He completed; also the first paragraph of Kiddush Friday night)” is accompanied by two Ministering Angels who place their hands on his hand and say, “And your iniquity shall be removed, and your transgression will be atoned for.” (Shabbos 119b)
Imagine that! Every week Shabbos is a miniature Yom Kippur, allowing us to wipe our slates clean! This is why, it is pointed out, that the word Shabbos itself (shin, beit, tav) is an acronym for the words “Shabbos bo tshuva,” which means, “in Shabbos is tshuva.” Somehow Shabbos, when observed with love and enthusiasm connects a person up with his soul, which is the basis for tshuva. No wonder the Talmud concludes:
If the Jewish People would only keep two Shabbosos, then they would be redeemed immediately! (Shabbos 118b)
National repentance would certainly spell the end of exile, immediately!
Not only that, but:
One who says “VaYechulu” Erev Shabbos is considered as if he was a partner with G-d in making creation. (Shabbos 119b)
A “partner” in creation? Isn’t that going a little too far? What does keeping Shabbos have to do with making creation?
Well, take a look around you. One of the hottest issues today is the origin of creation, and all that is in it. No matter how complex science becomes, the underlying premise is quite simple: What is it, and how did it get to what it is today? Or, more accurately, “Is G-d responsible for all this?”
When one recounts and gives testimony to the fact that, in spite of all the evidence to the contrary, that G-d is the Creator, Maintainer, and Sustainer of all of existence, he fulfills the purpose of creation. Creation was made to “hide” G-d, so that man, through the use of his intellect and free-will, would reveal His existence to all. When this mandate is left unfulfilled, then creation is, at least in the eyes of G-d, as if it never existed.
Therefore, fulfilling creation’s purpose, which is inherent in the whole concept of Shabbos (and ceasing from creative activity), in a very real sense not only justifies creation, but gives existence to it. This is what is meant when it says that Shabbos was “the last to be created, but the first to be considered.” Inherent in Shabbos itself is creation’s raison d’être.
Hence, when a Jew testifies to G-d’s creatorship once a week, he becomes a “partner” with G-d in giving creation reality. Perhaps this is why the Talmud bemoans:
Had the Jewish nation kept the first Shabbos (in the desert after the splitting of the Sea), no nation could have had any power over them, as it says, “And it was on the Seventh Day that the people went out to collect …” (Shemos 16:22). What is written after: “And Amalek came …” (Shabbos 118b)
It is as if to say that, when we keep Shabbos properly, we are like our Creator, and no longer subject to the attacks of man; all that we do on Shabbos and for Shabbos takes on a loftier dimension. This is why we say the prayer “Ana b’koach” during Kabballos Shabbos (right before the song “Lecha Dodi”); each letter of the 42 words adds to comprise the 42-letter name of G-d that prophets used to meditate on before entering into a state of prophecy. It is as if we too ascend at that point to a supernatural reality called “Shabbos”!
All of this is implied from the following account:
The Caesar said to Rebi Yehoshua ben Chananyah, “Why does Shabbos food smell so good?” He answered him, “We have a special spice called ‘Shabbos’ which we put into it and it smells good.” He told him, “Give me some of it!” He answered him, “Only for those who protect Shabbos does it work!” (Shabbos 119a)
And everyone knows that “protecting” Shabbos takes plenty of preparation, as the Talmud points out:
Anyone who troubles himself Erev Shabbos will eat on Shabbos; but one who doesn’t trouble himself Erev Shabbos, from what will he eat? (Avodah Zara 3a)
This statement doesn’t refer only to the preparation of physical food, but it also refers to the preparation of intellectual “food.” And it is definitely worthwhile to be ready for Shabbos, for:
All who eat all three meals on Shabbos will be spared from three punishments: the troubles in advance of Moshiach’s coming, from the judgment of Gehinom, and from the war of Gog and Magog (which can precede the arrival of Moshiach). (Shabbos 118a)
And, as if that wasn’t enough …
All who take delight in Shabbos will have the desires of his heart fulfilled … (Shabbos 118b)
It’s not for no reason that Shabbos is called the “cornerstone” of Jewish faith. This is not just because a Jew has to take a step back from daily life for the Seventh Day, and cease from controlling creation, and acting like a god. Shabbos, like Torah itself (both of which are called “Tree of Life”) embodies all the axioms of creation, waiting to be realized through the learning and the personal experience of each.
This does little to explain what Shabbos is all about, and there is much more to add to this. However, it does inspire one to find out about what it really means to “protect” Shabbos, and it helps to make clearer why the mitzvah of Shabbos overrided even the building of the portable House of G-d.
We mentioned last week that Betzalel was chosen as the architect to construct the parts of the Mishkan. This week’s parsha reiterates his appointment, and gives us cause to re-examine the midrash mentioned last week. The Talmud states:
Betzalel was named as an indication of his wisdom. When The Holy One, Blessed is He, told Moshe, “Tell Betzalel to make Me a Mishkan, an Aron, and implements,” Moshe switched the order and said, “an Aron, implements, and a Mishkan.” He [Betzalel] asked him, “Moshe Rabbeinu, is it not the way of the world to first build a house and then after put the vessels into it? And yet, you are telling me to first make the Aron and the implements! Where shall I put them?” He answered him, “[You’re right!] That’s how The Holy One, Blessed be He, told me to do it … Make a Mishkan, an Aron, and then the implements. Perhaps you were in the shadow of G-d (b’ztel E”l)?” (Brochos 55a)
The question we did not ask last week was, why did Moshe switch the order of the construction around (we can safely assume that his memory had not failed him)? Was it merely to test Betzalel, to make sure he was “good for his money” (that he knew what G-d wanted, even when told the opposite by someone he trusted explicitly)?
Perhaps. On the other hand, perhaps this episode alludes to something far deeper.
It is brought down that when Adam ate from the Tree of Knowledge of Good and Evil and caused mortality and his expulsion from the Garden of Eden (and every single tragedy in the history of mankind since), he had done so for all the right reasons. If so, wherein lay his grave error? The Holy Books answer, not in what Adam did, but in the order of what he tried to do.
To make a long and complicated explanation simple and short (albeit not-so-satisfying), Adam thought that the special “light” he was to draw down into creation from Above, to elevate creation to its highest level and thereby redeem mankind once-and-for-all, required preparation. After all, when G-d made man, did He first create his soul and then his body, or the other way around? Hence, there had been good precedence for Adam’s approach to rectifying creation.
Adam knew that creation, upon his “arrival” was good but not perfect. He knew that he had been created and given godly “powers” to finish the job, and that G-d had great expectations for him. He understood that he possessed the ability to usher in the Messianic Age himself, and that doing this meant bringing into creation a higher level of spiritual “light” than creation, at that time, could handle. Therefore, immediately, he set about the task of preparing the “body” of creation for a loftier “soul.”
However, as history testifies only too well, he greatly erred. True, G-d had first made man’s body and only then had breathed the soul of life into it. However, that was not the way G-d had planned to bring the redemption of creation; in this case, the higher light was to be drawn down first, thereby purifying and elevating creation and man, making them better able to handle even more light. More such light would then elevate creation again, allowing it to receive an even higher level of light, which in turn, would elevate creation even higher. And so the process of perfection would go.
This is not unlike what had happened in Egypt. When Moshe had first informed the Jewish people that G-d was about to redeem them, they told him, “Impossible!” They told Moshe that no one ever left Egypt forcefully, let alone a downtrodden and enslaved nation such as they were … That is, not without great miracles and great miracles, they told Moshe, only happened for people who were worthy of them.
Not so, Moshe told his people. When G-d decides to redeem “big time” the light comes down no matter how ready we are for it, and its very revelation becomes the source of our elevation and freedom. As we see from the Torah and recount Seder Night, this is precisely what happened; for, each miraculous plague, the result of an exposure of Divine light, both destroyed Egypt and elevated the spiritually-depressed Jewish nation, preparing them, as a result, for the actual exodus from Egypt.
And this, the Holy Books add, is precisely the way the “Final Redemption” will occur as well: we will not be fitting for such a light and the miracles that will result from its emanation. However, we will benefit from all of this just the same.
The Mishkan represented, at least to Moshe, not just a “home” for the Divine Presence, but a portal to another level of existence, one far above the mundane reality of the physical world, perhaps even to the spiritual plain of redemption itself. Maybe this is what Moshe was alluding to when he switched the order of the Mishkan’s construction when instructing Betzalel, implying that, contrary to what Adam did, let us first draw down the light and let it “build” the “container” so-to-speak. If we do it that way, then, maybe, the rectification of the Mishkan will not be temporary, but permanent.
However, when Betzalel responded, “Moshe Rabbeinu, is it not the way of the world to first build a house and then after put the vessels into it? And yet, you are telling me to first make the Aron and the implements! Where shall I put them?” Moshe had to accept that Betzalel was chosen to build a Mishkan for This World, not the Next World (being in the “shadow of G-d” could then be taken to mean that had Betzalel been in the “light of G-d,” where the knowledge of the Hidden Light of creation and its rectifying powers can be found, he would have comprehended Moshe’s approach, and followed it).
This discussion also represents two approaches to learning Torah as well. There are many who believe that a person must be spiritually and intellectually capable of receiving the level of Torah he is being taught. Others, on the other hand, have approached Torah education with the belief that teaching above the person’s present ability helps the student to rise above his present level and to excel.
Historically, each approach has had merit and demerit, and has struggled with the other on the personal and national level. However, from the above discussion, perhaps, we can learn that each approach to Torah-education is correct, and that it is up to the truly wise Torah-educator (and student) to figure out when to use each.
This year (in case you didn’t already know), VaYakhel and Pekudei are read on the same Shabbos. Therefore, we are already at the end of Sefer Shemos. Chazak!
What a low-keyed ending to an action-packed book! We began with the enslavement of the Jewish people, we witnessed the miraculous redemption of our ancestors from the cruel hands of the mightiest power of that time, and are now about to end it all by … counting and recounting.
What can we learn from this?
Let’s take a cue from the end of the Megillah. The last line of the Megillah (which we may pay little attention to on Purim since we’re relieved that we heard every word of the reading as is the mitzvah and because we still have much to do to properly celebrate Purim), is a little unusual. It says,
… For Mordechai the Jew was second to the king; he was a great man among the Jews, and popular with the majority of his brethren … (Esther 10:3)
“The majority of his brethren”? “The majority of his brethren”? What does the Megillah mean by this? It should say “by all his brethren”! After all, was this not the same Mordechai who risked his life for his entire people? Was this not the same Mordechai, who, single-handedly, orchestrated the victory over Haman? Are we not referring to the same Mordechai who was the catalyst for the redemption from Haman?
How could any Jew have harbored a complaint against such a Jewish hero?
Well, says the Ibn Ezra, people, you know, they get jealous. Or, some look past the positive aspects of a person right into his lacking, and find reason to complain. Perhaps we should just be happy that Mordechai had gained the respect of at least the “majority” of his people, and call it a day.
Perhaps, though, the Megillah is making another point.
Yes, the story of Purim is incredible. For sure Haman’s downfall was the result of Divine Providence, and is a miracle to be proclaimed and celebrated. But in the process of getting “drunk” on the euphoria of Good’s triumph over Evil, don’t forget the sobering reality of everyday life, where events still go wrong, where bad things still happen to “good” people, and where new disasters can be lurking around the corner.
And they are. In the next book, at the height of the celebration of inaugurating the Mishkan, Nadav and Avihu, sons of Aharon HaKohen, will die at the hand of G-d. In the book after that, the Jewish people will send out spies and precipitate 38 extra years of wandering in the desert. Moshe himself will even lose the right to enter the land he so loved and coveted!
Perhaps then, Sefer Shemos is relaying a similar message: G-d’s there, and He’s involved in our destiny. He’s even prepared to turn history upside down to save us from the world (and even ourselves) when necessary. However, until the final redemption, it’s not over and reality has time to impact our lives, and not always in way for which we planned. Therefore, be ready … Be prepared. Celebrate the miracles, but work hard to avoid disaster. Life can be exciting, but it can be mundane too. Take advantage of every moment and create your own inspiration.
Then, and only then, can you truly be an architect of your own Mishkan, and your portion in The World-to-Come.
On the other hand, the Torah does end this book with somewhat of a bang. The Mishkan was completed, and we are given a “sneak-preview” of how the Cloud of Glory descended onto the work of Jewish hands, and enveloped the Mishkan filling it with the Divine Presence.
Perhaps one of the most satisfying aspects of the Mishkan was the way it was the vehicle to communicate the will of G-d:
When the cloud would rise up from the Mishkan, it [would be a signal] for the Jews to move on … Whenever the cloud did not rise, they would not move on … (Shemos 40:36)
Look what has happened to us since. We have lost the Mishkan, the Temple, and even prophecy, and as a result, we have lost our unity and identity. The Jewish nation is fragmented, and we have difficulty agreeing with one another as to the future of the nation. Many, tragically, are even uncertain about whether or not there should be a future for the Jewish people (someone showed me such opinions in articles written by Jewish students in their college newspapers).
Is there no hope?
The Talmud and our tradition teaches that our Torah leaders are supposed to be our link to the will of G-d. Though it is true that, even should they today be worthy of receiving prophecy, still, they won’t get prophecy because we are unworthy of hearing it. Still, “Da’as Torah” (literally, the “Knowledge of Torah”), which is what one seeks when they visit a Gadol b’Torah (a great Torah scholar), is made up of at least three parts: an incomprehensible understanding of all of Torah (written and oral), a fear of erring in their teachings that stems from their belief in G-d and His willingness to them accountable, and, perhaps most important of all, help from G-d (si-yitah d’Shamayah), which comes with the “job.”
We may lack Clouds of Glory hovering above that can tell us more than whether or not it is going to rain today, and the only prophets in our midst may be spelled: p-r-o-f-i-t-s. However, we do have Torah leaders steeped in true Torah knowledge and tradition going back thousands of years. They are people who fear G-d and, as a result, get help from heaven.
It remains for us to seek them out, and take full advantage of the direction in life they can offer us, to help us to know when it is time to “move on,” and when it is time to “camp.”
Have a wonderful and enlightening Shabbos, filled with “movements” in the right direction.
Have a wonderful and enlightening Shabbos, filled with “movements” in the right direction.
Copyright © by Rabbi Pinchas Winston and Project Genesis, Inc.
Rabbi Winston has authored many books on Jewish philosophy (Hashkofa). If you enjoy Rabbi Winston’s Perceptions on the Parsha, you may enjoy his books. Visit Rabbi Winston’s online book store for more details! www.thirtysix.org