A Time and A Place
Vayakhel-Pekudei (Exodus 35:1-40:38)
The closing chapters of the book of Exodus, (Vayakhel-Pekudei), include within them a reprise of the commandment to observe the Shabbat, and a retelling of the detailed instructions for building the mishkan - the tabernacle. Thus concludes the book of Israel's miraculous escape from Egyptian servitude. Why here? And why with a repetition of things already described?
In the previous Torah reading of Ki Tisa, we learned of the debacle of the golden calf, an error which nearly caused the destruction of the Israelite nation. From the nature of that error we can greater appreciate the Torah's above mentioned "repetition." The golden calf "misunderstanding" involved two basic issues - time and place. Timing, of course, was the factor in the people's miscalculation of when Moshe - Moses - was due to return from the mountain. Concerning the element of place, or more to the point, the dimension of space, the people erred grievously in believing that they could create on their own initiative, and with their own hands, a thing, an object, of width and length and depth, that they could point to, and call G-d.
As cataclysmic as their folly was, their intentions seem true. After all, if G-d resides beyond the constricts of time and space, and yet we exist in a world totally dependent upon and circumscribed by time and space, how do we relate to G-d? Having given up on Moshe as gone for good, weren't the children of Israel right in pursuing a direct relationship with G-d?
Torah provides the answer in the opening verses of Vayakhel. The first hint is in the very use of the word vayakhel - "assembled":
"And Moses assembled (vayakhel) all the congregation of the children of Israel, and said to them: "'These are the words which HaShem has commanded, that you should do them." (Exodus 35-1)
This is the same word used in the earlier verse: "And when the people saw that Moses delayed to come down from the mount, the people gathered (vayikahel) themselves together unto Aaron, and said to him: 'Up, make us a god who shall go before us; for as for this Moses, the man that brought us up out of the land of Egypt, we don't know what is become of him.'" (ibid 32-1) However, this time, unlike before, Moshe is assembling the congregation of Israel in order to impart to them an inner truth concerning their relationship to G-d, and their purpose on this earth:
"Six days shall work be done, but on the seventh day there shall be to you a holy day, a sabbath of solemn rest to HaShem; whosoever does any work therein shall be put to death. You shall kindle no fire throughout your habitations upon the sabbath day.'" (ibid 35-2-3)
This description of the day of rest is followed by an in-depth description of the elements of the tabernacle. From this juxtaposition our sages derive that the very work forbidden us on the sabbath day is the labor involved in the building of G-d's Sanctuary. Resting on Shabbat is not a matter of "not breaking a sweat," but of not involving ourselves in the Divine creative process. For six days we cling to G-d by imitating His act of creation, in order to perfect His creation, by creating within it a place for His presence to dwell. On the seventh day we cling to G-d by imitating His act of resting from creation. By leaving off the act of creating, we are allowing for a moment in time which His presence can fill. In this manner the Shabbat and the Holy Temple provide the portal, as it were, in time and space, and out of time and space, for the nation of Israel to reach out to G-d. From the error of the golden calf we can greater learn the correct path in which we are to relate to our Creator. It is clear at this point in the Torah narrative that the Israelite nation has fully emerged from its bondage in Egypt and has inherited the means for becoming a free people, binding itself wholly to HaShem. Exodus, the book of Israel's freedom from slavery, is completed.
Can we still maintain this claim today? Are the people of Israel "fully emerged" from servitude and folly today, recognizing the spiritual potential inherent in both the sabbath and the Holy Temple? Hear Rabbi Chaim Richman and Yitzchak Reuven as they learn together the lessons of Vayakhel-Pekudei, and sound off on "official" Israel's lack of regard for the spiritual treasures of the Jewish nation, all on on this week's TEMPLE TALK.
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