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By Rabbi Yitzchak Etshalom | Series: | Level:

לע”נ א”מ מרים בת יצחק ורבקה הכ”מ



After concluding the many commands regarding the construction of the Mishkan (Tabernacle), God gave the following instruction to Mosheh:

You yourself are to speak to the Israelites: You shall keep my Shabbatot, for this is a sign between me and you throughout your generations, given in order that you may know that I, Hashem, sanctify you. You shall keep the Shabbat, because it is holy for you; everyone who profanes it shall be put to death; whoever does any work on it shall be cut off from among the people. Six days shall work be done, but the seventh day is a Shabbat of solemn rest, holy to Hashem; whoever does any work on the Shabbat day shall be put to death. Therefore the Israelites shall keep the Shabbat, observing the Shabbat throughout their generations, as a perpetual covenant. It is a sign forever between me and the people of Israel that in six days Hashem made heaven and earth, and on the seventh day he rested, and was refreshed. (Sh’mot 31:13-17)

This is not the only place where the commands regarding the Mishkan and Shabbat are juxtaposed. Following the tragic narrative of the Golden Calf, ​at the beginning of our Parashah, ​

Mosheh prefaced his presentation of the commands of the Mishkan to the B’nei Yisra’el with a short statement about Shabbat:

Mosheh assembled all the congregation of the B’nei Yisra’el and said to them: These are the things that Hashem has commanded you to do: Six days shall work be done, but on the seventh day you shall have a holy Shabbat of solemn rest to Hashem; whoever does any work on it shall be put to death. You shall kindle no fire in all your dwellings on the Shabbat day. (Sh’mot 35:1-3)

Immediately afterwards, he presented the details of the Mishkan to the people, whereupon they began their donations and building.




Beginning from the Mekhilta (at the beginning of Parashat Vayakhel), many commentaries maintain that the juxtaposition of Shabbat with the construction of the Mishkan teaches us the limits of the Mitzvah of building a Mishkan – that even that, the noblest of human endeavors, must cease on Shabbat. Note R. Hirsch’s words (from his commentary at the beginning of​our Parashah):

The mastery of Man over matter, in getting, producing, changing, manufacturing the raw materials of the world, attains it highest meaning in the Temple. The world submits to Man, for him to submit himself and his world to God, and for him to change this earthly world into a home for the Kingdom of God, to a Temple in which the Glory of God tarries on earth. The building of the Temple is a sanctification of human labor, and in the context here, it is represented as being a combination of all those creative activities of Man, by the cessation of which – by cessation from all M’lakhah – the Shabbat is made into an acknowledgment of man’s allegiance to God…




There is another significant connection between the Mishkan and Shabbat made by the Rabbis.

The Torah, in its initial command to avoid a certain class of activities on Shabbat, does not specify those actions. Rather, the Torah states: “Do not do any M’lakhah”. (Sh’mot 20:10). This command is repeated in many other Shabbat-passages (31:14-15, 35:2, Vayyikra 23:3, Devarim 5:14). What is the meaning of M’lakhah? This key word – which is not only the principal phrase of prohibited work on Shabbat but also on the other Holy Days of the calendar (see Sh’mot 12, Vayyikra 23) – means something akin to “work” and is first used in the description of God’s creation of the world (B’resheet 2:2-3). Nevertheless, it is not at all clear which type of work is prohibited on Shabbat. How do we distinguish prohibited actions from those which are permitted on Shabbat?

The Gemara (Shabbat 49b) records a B’raita that indicates that the definition of M’lakhah is based upon its meaning in the Mishkan (see Tosafot ibid. who indicates that this is the reason that the two sections were juxtaposed in the Torah) – any activity which was an integral part of the construction of the Mishkan is defined as M’lakhah and is, therefore, prohibited on Shabbat.

This association, while explaining the significance of the Torah’s juxtaposition of these two institutions on one occasion (most probably at the beginning of Parashat Vayakhel) does not explain our section, nor does it explain the passages cited below from Vayyikra. [As to why the operative and categorical definition of prohibited “work” on Shabbat should be derived from the Mishkan – that is a topic in and of itself, beyond the scope of this shiur].




There are two other places in the Torah where Shabbat and Mishkan are linked – but, in those passages, the importance of both of these institutions is linked within one verse:

Et Shab’totai Tish’moru v’et Mikdashi Tira’u, Ani Hashem – You shall keep my Sabbaths and reverence my sanctuary: I am Hashem. (Vayyikra 19:30, 26:2)

Why does the Torah associate the observance of Shabbat with proper reverence for the Mikdash?

These questions lead us to a larger one regarding Shabbat as presented in our Parashah. Up until this point, the commands regarding Shabbat (in the Mahn and in the Ten Statements) were framed in terms of a “gift from God” (Mahn) or testifying to God as the Creator (the Ten Statements). In addition, the selection in the Ten Statements would seem to imply that Shabbat should ideally be observed by all of humanity, as God created us all and we should all testify to that fact. Yet, in our Parashah, Shabbat is clearly presented as a uniquely Israelite practice, one which does not “belong” to other nations. (Indeed, the Rabbis stated that a non-Jew should not observe Shabbat – see BT Sanhedrin 58b, MT M’lakhim 10:9). Besides this “nationalistic shift”, several new terms are introduced in our Parashah:

* Chillul: A term with which we are most familiar, denoting a violation of Shabbat, is Chillul Shabbat. This term shows up, for the first time in a Shabbat context, in our Parashah – M’challeleha (everyone who profanes it – 31:14). Although translated “desecration”, the word Chillul actually means “defilement” or “pollution”. It is usually associated with holy people (e.g. Kohanim – Vayyikra 21:9), places (e.g. the Mishkan – Vayyikra 21:23) or sancta (e.g. Terumah – Bamidbar 18:32). How can such a term be associated with a time period, such as Shabbat? How can a day become polluted or defiled?

* Ot: Shabbat is a sign of a covenant between God and the B’nei Yisra’el. Although hand-T’fillin are called an Ot (Sh’mot 13:9,16), as was the blood to be placed on the doorposts in Egypt (ibid. 12:13), Shabbat was never previously referred to in this manner. Each of these two earlier occasions are “signs” which tell us (or remind us) about some other event (e.g. the Exodus) and might properly be called an Ot – but how can a day be considered a “sign”? What “other event” is signified here?

* Karet: the punishment of being “cut off from the people” for violating Shabbat. Until now, we have not been told what the punishment is for a violation of Shabbat – but why is it Karet – and why is it first mentioned here?

* laDa’at Ki Ani Hashem M’kadish’khem – “that you may know that I, Hashem, sanctify you.” How does the “sign” of the Shabbat inform us that God sanctifies us? In addition, why mention this here, instead of earlier (e.g. during the Mahn narrative)?

In this shiur, I would like to suggest an additional reason for the Shabbat-Mikdash association (besides the two mentioned above – that even the building of the Mishkan ceases for Shabbat and that the activities involved in the construction of the Mishkan define “M’lakhah” for Shabbat) – one which would explain the appearance of these new terms in our Parashah.




In order to understand the significance of this command regarding Shabbat given at the conclusion of the command regarding the Mishkan, we have to go back and review the purpose of the Mishkan:

v’Asu Li Mikdash, v’Shakhanti b’Tokham –

“Let them make a Mikdash for Me, that I may dwell among them” (Sh’mot 25:8).

The phrasing here is odd – it should have said “Let me dwell in it (i.e. the Mishkan)”. The implication is that by constructing this sanctuary, God will cause His presence to be manifest among the people.

This signals a fundamental change in the relationship between God and the B’nei Yisra’el – one which implies a unique statement not only about that relationship but also about the quality and nature of the community of the B’nei Yisra’el. Up until this point, God had made covenants, promises and oaths to our ancestors which He began to fulfill through the Exodus. God has commanded us and brought us close to Him in order to be a “kingdom of Kohanim and holy nation” (19:6) – but none of these events, commands or promises imply anything about our direct encounter-relationship with the Divine.

With the command to build the Mishkan, that relationship shifts from a purely command-driven one to an encounter-laden one. Besides sanctifying ourselves and becoming God’s Kohanim (see Yeshayahu 61:6), we are now God’s people and stand in His Presence – at least potentially. God “walks in our camp” (Devarim 23:15 – compare with B’resheet 3:8).

How is this new relationship manifested? What indicates – both to us and to the rest of the world – that God is, indeed, “in our midst”?




Before answering this question, let’s examine the difficult word “Chillul” which is first introduced into the lexicon of Shabbat in our Parashah.

Although, as mentioned above, Chillul is translated as “defile” or “pollute” (see BDB, p. 320), it has another meaning which may be informative in both the context of Mikdash and that of Shabbat.

A Challal (same root) is a corpse (see B’resheet 34:27, Bamidbar 19:18). The Mikdash becomes defiled by bringing Tum’ah (impurity) into it (or by contact on the part of a person who is impure with the sancta). The most essential source of Tum’ah is a corpse (read Bamidbar 19 carefully); since the Mikdash is the focus of the encounter between the B’nei Yisra’el and the Living God (see Sh’mot 29:43), any contact with death (a Challal) serves to defile (Chillul) that encounter.

We can see this most clearly from the closing verses of Parashat Yitro:

Make an altar of earth for Me and sacrifice on it your burnt offerings and fellowship offerings, your sheep and goats and your cattle. Wherever I cause My name to be honored, I will come to you and bless you. If you make an altar of stones for Me, do not build it with hewn stones, for by your sword upon them vat’Challalehah (you will defile it).

As Rashi points out (ad loc.), since the purpose of a sword is to shorten a man’s life and the altar’s purpose is to lengthen man’s life, it is inappropriate to wield the “shortener” on the “lengthener”. This comment becomes more impactful when viewed against the backdrop of the previous promise, “…I will come to you and bless you.” The encounter with God (which, at this point in Sefer Sh’mot, is limited to the place and time of an offering and not extended to the entire community, as it is through the construction of the Mishkan) is defiled via contact with (an instrument of) death.




The punishment which is introduced (along with death) into the Shabbat vocabulary in our Parashah is Karet – excision. Whatever Karet may mean, it implies some sort of disconnection or excommunication (by God) from the people of Yisra’el.

The first occasion where Karet is found (explicitly; it may be the notion behind Man’s exile from Eden) is in B’resheet 17. Avraham is commanded to circumcise himself and all of the males in his household, and “If any male fails to circumcise the flesh of his foreskin, that person shall be cut off (root: K-R-T) from his people; he has broken My covenant.” (17:14)

Karet here seems to be the natural result of communal disassociation – since this individual is unwilling to demonstrate his fellowship with the people of Avraham via circumcision, he is, indeed, separated from them.

The second occurrence of this punishment (although not mentioned explicitly until later, in Bamidbar 9:13) is failure to participate in the Korban Pesach (Pesach offering). Here again, the individual who doesn’t see himself as a member of the people and does not identify with their destiny and history is excised from the people.

These two Mitzvot ‘Aseh (which are the only two which carry this punishment for non-fulfillment), in combination, serve as rituals which affirm the individual’s identification with- and allegiance to – the history (Pesach) and mission (B’rit Milah) of Am Yisra’el. (Rabbi Soloveitchik zt”l refers to two covenants – the B’rit Goral – covenant of fate – and the B’rit Yi’ud – covenant of destiny – shared by all members of K’lal Yisra’el.)

Put together, we see that Karet is a punishment given by God to someone who denies the special Godly character of the B’nei Yisra’el.

This can be seen in several of the Mitzvot Lo Ta’aseh which carry this punishment. Karet is the indicated Divine punishment for entering the Mikdash (or eating sancta) while in a state of Tum’ah; in the same way, performing some of the rituals unique to the Mikdash outside carry this punishment. See, for instance, earlier in our Parashah (30:33,38); using the special formula for the K’toret (incense) or Shemen haMish’chah (anointing oil) for your own purpose makes the violator liable for Karet.

One other example of this Karet-communal identity connection is found in the laws of Yom haKippurim. Someone who fails to afflict himself on that day of atonement is excised from the people. “Indeed, any person who does not afflict himself throughout that day shall be excised from among his people” (Vayyikra 23:29).




We can now understand the enhanced nature of Shabbat as reflected in this Parashah – and the import of this new “terminology” we find here.

As opposed to the earlier presentation, Shabbat is presented here as a “sign” (Ot) – because, with the introduction of the Mishkan, God’s Presence will become manifest among the people. Shabbat is the weekly sign of that constant Presence. Unlike the physical Mishkan, the existence of which has not always been assured in our history, Shabbat is an eternal (l’doroteikhem – for your generations) focal point and sign of our ongoing encounter with God. Note that unlike the earlier presentation (in Sh’mot 20), where we are told that in response to His “rest”, God sanctified and bless the day of Shabbat (which is why we should avoid M’lakhah) , here, we are just told that on the seventh day Shavat vaYinafash – He rested and had repose. We cease work on Shabbat out of a sense of shared repose with God, much more than just the commandedness implied in the earlier passages.

Since Shabbat is the sign of the special relationship between God and the B’nei Yisra’el and of the “shared experience” between the two (as evidenced by the twinned phrases “holy for you” and “holy to Hashem”), this special “place in time” must be guarded carefully.

The newly introduced phrase “Sh’mirat Shabbat” takes on a new meaning in this light. As opposed to the purely Halakhic meaning – avoiding M’lakhah (see BT Berakhot 20b and Rashi ad loc. s.v. biSh’mirah) – “guarding” Shabbat means that it is now a possession (as R. Hirsch points out) and a “closed circle” between God and the B’nei Yisra’el which must be protected. This also explains why Shabbat is not to be celebrated or observed by other nations; even though creation is a universal experience which should be declared by all creatures, the partnership-fellowship with God which is unique to the B’nei Yisra’el and which informs the meaning of Shabbat is not to be shared with others.

This sense of “Sh’mirah” is perhaps best expressed by Rambam in his prescription for the mood and mode just before the onset of Shabbat:

What is honor? – This is what the Sages have said, that it is incumbent on one to wash one’s face, hands, and feet in hot water before Shabbat because of the honor of Shabbat, and he wraps himself in tzitzit and sits seriously, waiting for to greet the Shabbat, as one who goes out to greet the king. The early Sages would gather their disciples before Shabbat and wrap themselves (in the tallit) and say: Let us go out to greet the Shabbat king. (MT Shabbat 30:2)

Someone who violates the Shabbat by bringing mundane activities into this sphere is not only violating God’s commandment – and failing to testify to God’s creation of the world, he is also denying the special Godly nature of the Jewish people. This is as much of a Chillul as bringing impurity into the physical Mishkan.

Shabbat is a Mishkan in time, where Am Yisra’el and HaKadosh Barukh Hu encounter each other as the beloved and lover of Shir haShirim (the Song of Songs) (which explains the custom to read this beautiful love song every Friday evening at the onset of Shabbat).

Text Copyright © 2014 by Rabbi Yitzchak Etshalom and The author is Educational Coordinator of the Jewish Studies Institute of the Yeshiva of Los Angeles.