Vayakhel: Rabbi Abraham

Lessons for Humanity

Torah Reading: Exodus 35:1-38:20


The parshah of VAYAKHEL opens with the words: “And Moses gathered together all the Community of Israel.” (Exodus 35:1). According to our sages, Moses’ gathering of all of the Community took place on the day following Yom Kippur, when he had secured atonement for the sin of the golden calf.

This gathering consisted of all of ADAS YISRAEL, the Community of Israel. The Zohar (beginning of VAYAKHEL) states specifically that this Community was made up of all who remained faithful to the true Covenant of Israel, accepting no deviation from the Torah and no prophet other than Moses. The Zohar emphasizes that they could only build the Sanctuary after being purged of all the Mixed Multitude who went astray after the golden calf, which was half ox (Edom, Christianity) and half donkey (Ishmael, Islam). Both deviated from the finality of the Torah and the supremacy of Moses as G-d’s true prophet, seeking to displace them in different ways by erecting new prophets and intermediaries standing between man and G-d. They and all the nations are excluded from membership of ADAS ISRAEL and from contributing to the Sanctuary.

The materials and manpower for the construction of the Sanctuary for the One G-d were to be contributed only by this Community of true Israelites, those willing to abide by the Law of Moses. This accepts no intermediary between man and G-d and permits no form or idol in worship. The only forms permitted in G-d’s Sanctuary and Temple and nowhere else are those of the two golden Cherubs over the Ark of the Covenant and the other Sanctuary vessels. The only scriptures are the Sefer Torah.

The commandment to build the Sanctuary was addressed to the whole Community of Israel. Each member of this community was to have his or her personal share in this joint national project of building the Sanctuary that Moses was to announce. For the true Israelite, there is no intermediary between man and G-d. Man faces G-d directly. Each one contributes — and each one has responsibility for his own actions. Only one who truly INTENDS to do what he does can be said to be responsible for what he does and, if he does good, fairly take the reward. Only then is there merit in his contribution.

How can one INTEND what he does? Taking precedence over all the commandments about contributing to and building the Sanctuary addressed to the Community of Israel is the commandment to observe the Shabbos — to spend one entire day every week WILLFULLY ABSTAINING from many kinds of actions and activities.

Moses’ discourse to the Community of Israel about the building of the Sanctuary opens with the following words:

“Six days labor shall be performed, and on the seventh day you will have a holy Shabbos of rest in honor of G-d: anyone who performs a labor on Shabbos shall be put to death.” (Ex. 35:2).

It is a commandment to labor — “Six days labor shall be performed”. Part of that same commandment is the commandment to observe the Shabbos by willfully abstaining from labor when so commanded. So stringent is this commandment that its willful infringement is punishable by execution. The example of forbidden labor given in the Torah text is that of kindling fire on the Sabbath day, which is infringed by acts as simple as flicking on a light-switch, lighting a cooker or starting a car ignition.

The ability to observe Shabbos and the ability to engage in truly meaningful labor on the other days of the week are bound up together. Only when a person can consciously abstain from action and willfully NOT perform a particular range of actions as instructed by G-d on Shabbos can he be said to have true INTENTION when he does perform the action in honor of G-d on the six days of the week. Only then does his action have true merit.

Only the observance of the commandment to abstain from labor on the Seventh Day in honor of G-d gives true meaning to the building of the Sanctuary in the wilderness and the Temple in Jerusalem in G-d’s honor.

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The greater part of our parshah of VAYAKHEL is devoted to a detailed description of how Betzalel and his fellow craftsmen made the Sanctuary and its vessels in accordance with the plan whose details we studied three parshahs earlier in TERUMAH. While TERUMAH taught how they were to be made when they were still on the level of thought — BE-KOACH, in POTENTIALITY — our parshah of VAYAKHEL teaches how they came to made BE-PHO’AL, in ACTUALITY, on the level of ASIYAH, action.

It is significant that all of the laws of what constitutes forbidden MELACHAH, labor, on Shabbos are learned from the 39 archetypal forms of labor that were involved in the making of the Sanctuary on the six days of the week. It is only when we abstain from performing forbidden labor on Shabbos BECAUSE IT IS SHABBOS that performing those labors “for G-d” on the six weekdays can be said to be truly intentional and meritorious. The labors that are forbidden on Shabbos are called MELECHET MACHSHEVET, a labor that involves MACHSHAVAH — i.e. it is intentional.

When we observe the Shabbos FOR G-D, abstaining from forbidden labors because that is His command, this gives the intentional labors that we perform on the other six days of the week in pursuit of our livelihood and all our other needs the sanctity of BUILDING THE SANCTUARY. Our intention in pursuing all these needs is that we may serve G-d, pray and keep the commandments. Our going about our daily lives in our homes, at work and elsewhere is all part of BUILDING THE TEMPLE, a dwelling place for G-d’s presence. For each one of us has our own contribution to make to the construction of this Temple. Each person’s mitzvah and good intention help to draw G-d’s Indwelling Presence into this world and within the sanctity of our homes.

According to a tradition handed down by the Kabbalah, Betzalel accomplished the “labors” required to build and construct the sanctuary vessels through manipulations of the 22 Hebrew Letters of Creation, as taught in Sefer Yetzirah. Successful manipulation of the letters to produce actual physical constructions in the world without performing any physical action requires the greatness of a Betzalel or the Maharal of Prague, who created a Golem. Nevertheless, even a simple Israelite has the power to “manipulate” the letters of creation by using them to compose prayers to G-d to bless his material efforts in the actual world of Asiyah with success. With the help of G-d, our very words themselves have the power to serve as vessels within which G-d’s presence can dwell in this world. Through our words we contribute to building the Sanctuary — the House of Prayer — to G-d.

May we soon be worthy to contribute to the Building of G-d’s House in Jerusalem quickly in our days. Amen.

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