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The Torah's Weekly Portions
Exodus/Shmot - Vayakhel 101
Posted March, 2001
Back to Torah Portions Archive  

Parashah:

Vayakhel

Sefer (Book)

Shmot (Exodus)

Beginning Perek (Chapter):

Lamed Hay (35)

Beginning Pasuk (Verse):

Alef (1)

Concluding Perek:

Lamed Chet(38)

Concluding Pasuk:

Kaf (20)

Key Points of Parashat Vayakhel
This Weeks Psukim
The Focus of the Week
Commentary from the Stone Edition Chumash
Commentary by Rav Samson Raphael Hirsch
Commentary by Reb Yosef


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Key Points of Parashat Vayakhel:

Parashat Vayakhel focuses now on the actual building of the Tabernacle. The previous three Parashot focused on the materials involved and the design. Vayakhel discusses the assembly. Yet, in the midst of this, something else is inserted and, it is that something else, that shall be discussed.

This Week's Psukim - Perek Chav-Gimel (23):

  1. Moses assembled the entire assembly of the Children of Israel and said to  them - "These are the things that Hashem commanded, to do them:

  2. "On six days, work may be done, but the seventh day shall be holy for you, a day of complete rest for Hashem; whoever does work on it shall be put to death:
     

  3. You shall not kindle fire in any of your dwellings on the Sabbath day.'":
     

  4. Moses said to the entire assembly of the Children of Israel, saying - "This is the word that Hashem has commanded, saying:

  5. 'Take from yourselves a portion for Hashem, everyone whose heart motivates him shall bring it, as the gift for Hashem - gold, silver, copper:

  6. turquoise, purple, and scarlet wool; linen, goat hair:

  7. red-dyed ram skins, tachash skins, acacia wood:

  8. oil for illumination, spices for the anointment oil and the aromatic incense:

  9. shoham stones and stones for the settings, for the Ephod and the Breastplate.':

Translation by: Art Scroll Stone Edition Chumash.

The Focus of this Week:
The commandment concerning the Sabbath is inserted prior to the instructions concerning the construction of the Tabernacle with a particular focus on kindling fires. For what reason?

Commentary from the Stone Edition Chumash:
(2) On six days. The commandments of the Tabernacle are introduced with yet another exhortation to observe the Sabbath. In its plain meaning, this was to inform the nation that, despite the transcendent importance of the Tabernacle, it may not be built on the Sabbath (Rashi), because the day that testifies to the existence of God supersedes the Tabernacle, where He is served. Acknowledgment of God must precede service.

Or HaChaim delves more deeply into the commandment of Sabbath observance as a prerequisite to the Tabernacle. The Sages teach that idol worship constitutes a repudiation of all 613 commandments (Horayos 8a); it follows, therefore, that for Israel's repentance to be complete -- and for it to merit the Tabernacle in its midst -- it had to accept upon itself once again all of the commandments. But the Sabbath, too, is reckoned as equivalent to the entire Torah (Shemos Rabbah25:12). Therefore, by reiterating the commandment of the Sabbath at this point, God gave Israel the means to accept all 613 commandments. Verse 1 alludes to this with the seemingly superfluous phrase to do them, which can also be rendered to repair them, for the commandment of the Sabbath was a means to repair the damage of the Golden Calf.

(3) You shall not kindle fire. By singling out fire from all the other forms of Sabbath labor, the Torah alludes to the law that -- unlike the Festivals when food preparation is permitted (12:16) -- even such work is forbidden on the Sabbath. Since kindling fire is necessary for cooking and baking, the Torah uses it as the prototype labor that is necessary to prepare food. Therefore, by specifying here that fire may not be kindled on the Sabbath, the Torah indicated that since food preparation is forbidden on the Sabbath, surely other work is prohibited, as well (Rashbam).

This prohibition is indicative of the Jewish principle that the Torah can be understood only as it is interpreted by the Oral Law, which God taught to Moses, and which he transmitted to the nation. The Oral Law makes clear that only the creation of a fire and such use of it as cooking and baking are forbidden, but there is no prohibition against enjoying its light and heat. Deviant sects that denied the teachings of the Sages misinterpreted this passage to refer to all use of fire, so they would sit in the dark throughout the Sabbath, just as they sat in spiritual darkness all their lives.

Commentary by Rav Samson Raphael Hirsch:
Since Rav Hirsch's comments are quite extensive, I will quote particular highlights only.

This section teaches, as references the building of the Mishkan (Tabernacle) - directed and commanded by God Himself though it be - the Sabbath may not be broken. From this, of course, we can derive that all the activities necessary to further construction of this building constitute that which is included in the idea of a prohibited malachah (activity) on Sabbath.

The building of the Mishkan, if not from the point of view of Art, still surely from the point of view of the idea and the purpose to be realized by the idea is the very highest conceivable plan for human artistic activity. The mastery of Man over matter, in getting, producing, changing, manufacturing the raw materials of the world, attained its 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, the Sabbath is made into an acknowledgment of man's allegiance to God.

The whole idea of social life, of living not isolated, but in a community, in a state, can not be represented more fully than by the relation of the individual to the community and the community to the individual, what the individual has to give to the community and what the community gives and does for the individual, what the individual takes out of his own private possessions and pays to the State, and what he gets back for himself, and finally the furthering of public purposes and needs in the public domain. If accordingly, Man subordinates the use of his powers of matter to the will of God, this may well express the idea of Man's placing his social life too, under the dictates of the Laws of God.

As to pasuk gimel (verse 3), Rav Hirsch says, On the other hand, kindling fire in itself is not a productive, creative, but primarily, rather a destructive activity. But on the other hand, the ability to produce artificially is just that which first gave Man his true mastery over the materials of the world. Only by means of fire can he create his tools, can he analytically and synthetically probe into the inner nature of things.

On the Sabbath, the cessation of work is the belief and acknowledgment that the ability to "master matter," the creative productive power that Man has, is lent to him by God, and is only to be used in His service. This belief and acknowledgment repeats itself independently in each single category of the kinds of this ability. The idea of Shabbat is to be understood, not so much as laying our world at the Feet of God, but as laying our relationship to our world at His Feet.

Commentary by Reb Yosef:
In reading this Parashah, I was reminded of something completely different but no less appropriate for discussion. In his tape series, Let's Get Biblical, Rabbi Tovia Singer of Outreach Judaism, an organization that focuses on helping Jews who have joined other religions find their way home, points out something that tends to go unnoticed. Shabbat (The Sabbath), taken from the word sheva meaning seven, is only practiced by Jews. Shabbat is called Shabbat because it represents the seventh day of the week. In many places, the Torah specifies that Shabbat is given only to B'nei Yisrael (the Children of Israel) and none else. No other religion holds the seventh day of the week as sacred. Some hold the first day, others the sixth day - none but the Jews hold the seventh day, the day commanded by God Himself, as the Sabbath and therefore holy.
 



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