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Posted on March 7, 2024 (5784) By Rabbi Yitzchok Adlerstein | Series: | Level:

Moshe assembled the entire congregation of the Bnei Yisrael and said to them, “There are the things that Hashem commanded to do: On six days, work may be done. But the seventh day shall be holy for you, a day of complete rest…”[1]

The parsha opens with quite an anomaly – one that is noted by Yalkut Shimoni. The word vayakhel/assembled appears here uniquely. It does not turn up as the lead-off directive in any other section of the Torah.

The Yalkut sees in this a directive to Moshe. Specifically here, in regard to the laws of Shabbos, Moshe is to make a point of gathering the people in large groups, in order to teach the nation the halachos of Shabbos. This, in turn, should serve as a model for a process meant to continue throughout history. Jews should gather on Shabbos to learn what is permitted and what is forbidden. On this basis, Moshe, according to the Yalkut, established the practice of rabbis holding forth on the laws of each holiday: the laws of Pesach on Pesach, Shavuos on Shavuos, and Sukkos on Sukkos.

This midrash seems to have trouble deciding where it is going. It jumps from place to place. It begins with the laws of Shabbos in particular, moves to general issues of the forbidden and the permitted, and then ends with the laws of the Yomim Tovim!

The days of Creation reached their purpose with the creation of Man. Creation itself explains its intention, or at least what it is not about. If it were meant to be a garden of earthly delights, it is a dramatic failure. Even those privileged enough to enjoy its bounty are plagued by the yearning to enjoy more and more. Man remains restive, unfulfilled, always on the prowl – even when partially satisfying some of his wants. The majority cannot lay claim to even that, because it is not within their power to access all that they wish to enjoy.

Man’s purpose, rather, must lie his perfecting himself through Torah and mitzvos. In this realm, every man can make progress towards his goal. Here, Man is king. Unlike wealth and power, Torah and mitzvos are available for the asking.

Yet even here, Man could easily become so caught up in the demands of life, that he would never take any satisfaction in his activity, or make the great strides in spiritual perfection that he longs for. He needs time to free himself from the exigencies of ordinary living, and devote himself to purifying and sanctifying his soul. That is where Shabbos comes in. Shabbos is the keystone in the edifice of Creation. As the midrash[2] puts it, Shabbos is the choicest of the days of the week, the one Hashem holds most dear. Shabbos is the day that allows Man to devote himself to the most important things in life without distraction.

Let’s look at the Yalkut Shimoni from this perspective. Moshe is instructed – quite uncharacteristically – to “gather” the people together to receive the laws of Shabbos. The gathering, asserts the Yalkut, is the creation of a mold. It would determine practice for all times. Jews were meant to gather on Shabbos to study halacha. It began with the laws of Shabbos. In future times, it would be insufficient to study hilchos Shabbos alone. The special Shabbos study would include everything that is “permitted and forbidden.”

But, wait! You will ask what purpose did Shabbos study serve in Moshe’s generation? The Jews of the Wilderness did not need a special day to focus on ruchniyus. All their needs were miraculously supplied; they had no distractions during the week.

Indeed, Moshe made the same observation. He concluded that there is special value, something that brings glory to Hashem, attached to people immersing themselves in the laws of Shabbos on Shabbos day itself. From this he extrapolated that there is special value in studying the Torah of each Yom Tov on that Yom Tov. He therefore established the practice that rabbonim would hold forth each holiday on the laws of that chag.

The strange jumps in the Yalkut are thus all accounted for.

  1. Shemos 35:1-2
  2. Bamidbar Rabbah 3:8