Photo of Rabbi Ettedgui

Parashat Vayakhel - 5774

My friends,

This Shabbat we read the portion of Vayakhel (he assembled). Upon coming down from Mt Sinai, Moses assembles (vayakhel) all the Children of Israel and informs them of the major project they will be undertaking - the building of the Tabernacle. Every Israelite will have a part in this project by contributing the items needed as well as contributing from their respective skills. The request for donations and instructions for the Tabernacle, and the calling upon the artisans, are preceded by two short verses:

"Upon assembling all the people Moses said: These are the things that G-d has commanded us: Six days work may be done, but the seventh day shall be holy to you. It is a Sabbath of Sabbath to G-d. Whoever does work on that day shall be put to death. Do not light a fire throughout all your dwellings." (Leviticus 35:1-3)

The question is asked: Why is Moses repeating the rules of Shabbat again? They have heard about the Shabbat when Manna was given, and at the Revelation at Sinai, and just last week in the portion of Ki Tisa, where Shabbat was dealt with at great length. Why so much emphasis on Shabbat?

Here are some of the answers:

(1) Although they will soon be involved in a very Holy task of building the Tabernacle - a very Holy and sacred project - the Mitzvah of Shabbat preceeds the building of the Temple.

(2) Now that Moses has the attention of all the people - he has assembled them after coming down from Sinai and they are all eager to hear G-d's message - the first Mitzvah he shares with them is the Mitzvah of Shabbat. Because Shabbat belongs to the entire community. It is not given only to the rich, the learned, or the employers, but it is a Mitzvah for every Israelite. No one should be required to work - not even the servants or the animals.

Avraham Joshua Heschel, Z'L, points out that the term 'holy' was first used in the Creation story, as related to the Shabbat - when G-d 'sanctified the Shabbat and made it Holy'. Before the Revelation at Sinai, when the sacredness of humans was added, the sacredness of Shabbat was always there.

For us today, Shabbat is what we have no matter where we live. It has wandered with our people from land to land and has kept us as a people. We are asked to make this day special. I know that many of you observe the Shabbat in some way. That's what keeps you connected to G-d and the Jewish people. Every Shabbat, we are the witnesses to G-d as the Creator.

Have a wonderful Shabbat. Come to Shul when you can.

Shabbat Shalom,

Avram