The meaning of actions we do not carry
out on Shabbat
Vayakhel: He assembled
Shemot (Exodus) 35,1
- 40, 38
- Summary of the parasha
- Themes in the parasha
- Linguistic study of the peshat, the basis of all
- Torah study
III. Study according to the midrash
- The role of Shabbat in this plan
- The Jewish people must live in our land in harmony
with Hashem, with nature and with the ethos of the
- 8 examples of the links between creation and the
- From Torah study to real life
- Application to our lives: space.
- Application to our lives: time
- All levels of existence are inter-connected in Jewish
- But are the Jewish people capable of fulfilling
such a plan?
IV. Personal exercises
- Study for advanced students
- The meaning of work and its
- connection to Shabbat.
Listen parasha Vayakhel
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Listen to the haftara
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Summary of the parasha
This parasha teaches us the order of the universe, temporal
laws, and our role in this context: to "assemble"
to be together in holiness,
to act accordingly within space (to live according to the
ethos of the sanctuary),
and within time (according to the ethos of Shabbat),
according to the model given by Hashem,
in a mutual relationship (reciprocating the great gift he
has given us).
This is the material which we will study.
It is not surprising that this parasha is read after the
festival of Purim which revealed to us that, despite all
the difficulties faced by the Jewish people and by each
of us personally, the order of the world is governed by
the goodness of the Creator.
It is important not to lose awareness of this, once Purim
In this context, after having understood that we do not
dwell in the home of those who pretend to rule the world,
this parasha teaches us that we dwell in our own home, in
a magnificent place called the mishkan or mikdash (place
of residence and of holiness). God says: I shall be "mikdasheh"
by them, which means, I shall reside within them (literal
translation of the Hebrew).
is not in the heavens but in our world.
Parasha Vayakhel invites us to live at the highest level
And to be together, men, women and children; living as individuals
and as a community.
When foreign dignitaries visit Israel, their statements
are always made with a view to safeguarding their relations
with the Arab world. If they dare to make an anti-Arab statement
(such as when Prime Minister Lionel Jospin called the Hisbolla
terrorists), stones are thrown at them and they have to
make a quick return home.
women and children do not run when stones are thrown at
them. They remain here and fight the terrorists.
Assembled together, our hearts go out to these young people
and their parents who are fighting daily for our homeland.
Here, with the permission of his family, is the story of
was born in Jerusalem on the 14th of Heshvan 5740, 20 years
ago. He studied at the Himmelfarb secondary school. A dedicated
educator, he led a group of Bnei Akiva scouts, young, religious
Like many other Israelis, Yedidya wanted to defend his country
and his people against terrorist attacks. He was serving
on the Lebanese border in a combat unit, in which he had
chosen to serve out of idealism. He was both a soldier and
a medic in his unit. Here is his picture.
all of us doing on Sunday the 30th of Shevat? Israelis were
back at work after Shabbat. Modia's commentary on parasha
Teruma was put on the site. On the border, the hisbollah
attacked. Yehidya's unit fired back. Many were wounded.
Under fire, Yedidya ran to help the wounded. He saved Avi,
then David, then Assaf. His comrades owe their lives to
him. But he was fatally wounded. As is written in parasha
Teruma, Shemot 25, 2: "of every man whose heart maketh
him willing ye shall take My offering."
Yehidya died for us. These young men have chosen to be our
living shields. Yedidya sacrificed himself, not out of a
sense of obligation, but out of a deep sense of who he was
as a Jew and as an Israeli. He was loved for his modesty
and courage. He fought so that his people could live at
the level of Vayakhel.
The parasha continues with the ordinances governing the
sanctuary, which is to be built through the gifts of the
people and then describes the construction of the sanctuary
and its utensils.
There is only one mitzva in this parasha, the 115th, which
is the prohibition against lighting a fire on Shabbat (lo
tevaaru esh.. beyom haShabbat, Shemot 35, 3).
according to the peshat, the basis of all Torah study
The peshat is the literal meaning of a text, and is similar
to the foundations of a house; the Torah, says Rashi, is
never far removed from the peshat, even when we have a duty
to learn the other levels of meaning.
There are many words in Hebrew which mean "assemble"
and it is important to know all the different nuances and
the significance of the word vayakhel, used in this parasha.
Let us look at the different nuances and learn them:
the verb kalal means to assemble in a general context: the
klal is a general rule. Its opposite is the prat, the particular.
A kollel gathers together people who have a common goal.
the verb assaf means to assemble in a particular place for
purposes of protection and conservation; an asefa is a meeting
of professionals or others;osef is a collection of objects,
papers, materials. This word is also used for gathering
one's strength. To assemble, in this sense, is lehitasef.
the word kenes means a gathering together; a kenes is a
congress or conference of people who have been invited to
participate. To gather together, in this sense, is lehitkanes.
the verb ganaz means to assemble together in a hidden place;
a geniza is the place where precious, ancient documents
the verb haver means to assemble through a common link;
a hevra is a meeting of people who are tied by friendship
or a common goal.
the word kate means to assemble in a limited way; a kate
is a sect.
the word eda means to assemble according to a common origin:
an eda is an ethnic community, such as the eda of Ethiopian
the word tzibur means to assemble an anonymous public: the
tzibur is the public.
the verb kabetz means to assemble in a centralized way:
a kibbutz is the place which assembles different people
who have a common goal. One uses the term kibbutz galuyot
to describe the coming together in Israel of dispersed Jews.
To assemble, in this sense, is lehitkabetz.
the verb shama (to listen) means to "grasp morally"
and to assemble by convoking together as in the I Samuel
15, 4 and 23, 8. The verb zaak has the same meaning.
the word im means with, and the word am (which has the same
spelling) means a group of people who have a mutual sense
of identity: the Jewish people, haam hayehudi.
the verb kalat means to assemble by picking or harvesting.
It also means, I have "grasped" and understood
what you said.
the root laked signifies the idea of tying together in a
bundle; we speak of the likud as a political party united
together. Lelaked means to assemble together for a noble
cause. The assembler is a melakked or a lakhdan. To assemble,
in this sense, is lehitlakhed.
the word hamon means an anonymous crowd.
the root kahal means an assembly of important people; a
makhela is a chorus, assembled together for the beauty of
song. In synagogue, the person who addresses the assembly
declares kahal kadosh venekhmad, holy and pleasant assembly.
The kehila is a congregation. The rosh hakahal is the respected
president of the congregation. The kehilia is a commonwealth,
republic or a community bonded by a common language. Kehal
hatsofim is an assembly of spectators. Daat hakahal is the
opinion of the public. Hitkahalut is a group which assembles
for political purposes in the street.
I listed all these words and asked readers to learn them?
It is because Judaism lays out a concrete code for the coming
together of men. Some people, mistakenly claim that this
is a moral code, unrelated to the concrete life or mission
of the Jewish people. Judaism, in fact, aims to unite men
together in the best of all possible worlds, not for "his"
sake, but to gather men together under the source of divine
benediction. There is not some imperialist doctrine or one
that promises gain. It is purely for yirat shamayim, the
fear of Heaven, tzniut, humility and kehuma, service: it
means to be the cohen who brings the light of benediction
to the world for the good of everyone. We can see here from
where Jews derive their desire to help others in whatever
country they live and their will to fight for civil rights.
They have been accused of "being everywhere,"
which is correct. They have been given this mission but
they must first live according to the Torah, together, in
a unity which consists in the Torah, the land of Israel,
and adherence to the Jewish people and to Shabbat. This
is a single reality, which we shall discover now.
is the form of the word vayakhel, which is in a hifil, a
grammatical form which means "to make happen."
Moshe made an assembly. Rashi explains the reason for this
The hifil is used because the children of Israel had committed
the sin of the golden calf and would therefore not have
gathered together out of their own free will. They would
also have been troubled by Moshe's luminous presence and
would have sought to run away, as we often try to run away
from the Torah, because it is too divine and beautiful.
They also numbered among them the erev rav, who were not
bnei Yisrael and who had infiltrated themselves among the
children of Israel for dishonest reasons and it is they
who influenced the people away from God; this group would
have rejected a simple, direct demand. In Judaism, it is
not a question of assembling men together as in a political
rally; the goal is to bring them together so that they will
be moved by a divine presence. This is why it is so important
to learn Hebrew in order to fully understand the Torah.
Rashi's greatness lies in his ability to understand the
essence of every word of the Torah.
Do you want
to see the greatness of the plan envisaged by Moshe in this
word kahal? You can see it in King David's Psalm 89, which
praises the faithfulness of God and his kehal kedoshim (89,
6), the congregation of saints. You will see how every verse
of this Psalm describes the universe of a Jew who is faithful
to God and to his people.
according to the middrash
Basing himself on these two points, the Shla comments on
the link between Shabbat and the sanctuary.
Note: the issues which connect these two themes are so important
and so numerous in the conclusion of the book of Shemot,
that I would not dare to choose one over another. I have
therefore chosen to set out the Shla's main comments.
Let us study
Shemot 38, 21: "elle pekudei hamishkan mishkan"
(these are the accounts of the tabernacle, the tabernacle..).
According to the middrash, many teachings can be found in
the repetition hamishkan mishkan, which are based on the
parallel between the sanctuary in this world and the sanctuary
in the world above:
1. shamayim vearetz, the heavens and the earth, are connected
in the Torah.
2. there is there a force that influences us: this is the
Temple, for the sanctuary in this world attracts the force
of the sanctuary in the world above.
3. Hashem ensures the connection between the two (as notes
Rabbenu Bahya): "bano vaniti beit zevul lakh makhon
leshivtekha olamim, I have surely built thee an house to
dwell in, a settled place for thee to abide in forever"
(I Kings 8, 13).
4. But this is not some ethereal or mystical plan, for King
Shlomo (Solomon) tells us that we can live this plan in
the state of darkness (arafel), which characterizes human
existence: "az amar shlomo Hashm amar lishkon baarafel,
then spake Shlomo: Hashem said that he would dwell in the
thick darkness" (I. Kings 8, 12).
of Shabbat in this plan
The role of the sanctuary is to re-establish the harmonious
relationship which existed between God and man: thus through
Shabbat we become participants in this "world to come"
which will recreate the initial harmony. This world will
be completely Shabbat ; every member of the Jewish people
has a part in it. In the way Shabbat organizes time, space,
personal relations and our relationship with ourselves,
we can feel this world to come. Through Shabbat, the Jewish
home becomes a mikdash katan, a small sanctuary. This is
why the Torah and our Sages set out specific rules and prohibitions
in order to safeguard Shabbat, for we cannot live in such
a state of harmony without concrete laws. These laws help
us to separate from the pre-occupations of work and daily
We do not invite friends without preparing for their visit.
It is the same in respect of Shabbat, which is much more
I will now elaborate on what the commentators have written
on this parasha.
people must live in our land in cohabitation with Hashem,
in harmony with nature and the ethos of the sanctuary.
The Sages stress that all that is good in this world is
a reflection of the sanctuary in the world above.
Indeed, if we are this place-sanctuary (as in Shemot 15,
17: "makhon leshivtekha paalta Hashem" (translated
literally: a place in which to dwell You have made, Hashem),
the word mishkan (dwelling place), which has a static meaning,
can also be understood as something dynamic, mekhuvan (directed),
as midrash Tanhuma writes on Pedukei ch. 2.
of the Temple
This means that our sanctuary in this world connects us
in a living way with the sanctuary On High, where Shabbat
and joy are supreme. We can thus understand the importance
of the Temple as the center of Jewish life, prayer and history.
Let us now,
through examples from the Torah, examine the connection
between creation, the sanctuary and us as individuals, the
goal of which is to help us discover where and how to fulfill
the divine plan.
shows us that Moshe accomplished this task when he built
the sanctuary, for the same expressions are used to describe
Moshe's construction of the sanctuary as those used to describe
the creation of the world. Middrash Tanhuma (on ch. 2 of
the parasha), Rabbenu Bahya and the Shla comment on the
similarity of space-time in creation and in the sanctuary.
from the Torah
Example no. 1: for the curtains
in the creation of the world, Hashem creates the heavens
as a curtain: "It is he that stretches out the heavens
as a curtain and spreadeth them as a tent to dwell in."
(Isaiah 40, 22) and Psalm 104, 2: "who stretches out
the heavens like a curtain" (note shamayim kareria).
similarly in the placing of the curtains of the sanctuary:
"And thou shalt make curtains of goats'hair to be
a covering upon the tabernacle" (veasita yeriot izim
leohel izim al-hamishkan, Shemot 26, 7).
It is important to feel and perceive in a deep way the implications
of this parallel in creation and in life. As we have seen,
our mission is to dwell with Hashem, man must reflect the
glory and beauty of Hashem in his deepest being and in his
appearance, even in his garments (cf. preceding parasha).
Thus, the organization of his dwelling and his curtains
should reflect the organization of the divine world as the
common dwelling place of joy.
no. 2: for water
In the story of creation, it is written: yikavu hamayim,
"let the waters be gathered" (Bereshit 1, 9);
similarly, for the sanctuary, it is written: veasita kior
nehoshet, "thou shalt make a laver of brass" (Shemot
no. 3: for the light
In the story of creation, it is written: yehi meorot, "let
there be lights" (Bereshit 1, 14).
similarly, for the sanctuary, it is written: veasita menorat
zahav taor, "and thou shalt make a candlestick of pure
gold" (Shemot 25, 31.
no. 4: for the birds
In the story of creation, it is written: veof yeofef, "let
fowl fly" (Bereshit 1, 20);
similarly, for the sanctuary, it is written: vehayu hakeruvim
preshei khenafim, "and the cherubims shall stretch
forth their wings" (Shemot 25, 20).
no. 5: the creation of man
In the story of creation, it is written: veyivra elokim
et haadam, "And Elokim created man" (Bereshit
similarly, for the sanctuary, it is written: ve ata kakrev
eleikha et aharon, "And thou take unto thee Aharon
thy brother" (Shemot 28, 1).
no. 6: completion
In the story of creation, it is written: vayekhulu hashamayim
veet haaretz, "Thus the heavens and the earth were
finished" (Bereshit 2, 1). The potential of the world
has been laid out, like a table, so that man will complete
it. This is reflected in the blessing for the kiddush on
similarly, for the sanctuary, it is written: vayekhel kol-avodat
mishkan, "thus was finished all the work of the tabernacle;"
the bnei Yisrael had followed every commandment given to
Moshe by Hasehm (Shemot 3, 42).
Moses executed the work in every detail: vayekhal Moshe
et ha melakha, "So Moshe finished the work" (Shemot
In respect of ourselves, we should all ask ourselves if
we have finished the task demanded of us personally in the
construction of a better world and if the Jewish people
have finished building their nation as a sanctuary, their
country, Jerusalem, the site of the Temple, etc.
no. 7: holiness, keddusha
In the story of creation, it is written: vayevarekh elokim
et yom hashevii vayikadeth oto, "And Elokim blessed
the seventh day and sanctified it" (Bereshit 2, 3).
similarly, in respect of the sanctuary, it is written: vayevarekh
otam Moshe (Shemot 39, 43) and vayehi beyom kalot Moshe..
vayekadesh oto veet kol kelav, "the day when Moshe
fully set up the tabernacle, and sanctified it" (Bemidbar
no. 8: for the rhythm of Shabbat
In the story of creation, it is written: ki vo shabbat,
"because on this day he rested;"
similarly, for the sanctuary, it is written: sheshet yamim
taase melakha uve yom hashevii yiye lakhem kodesh shabat
shabaton la shem, "six days shall work be done, but
on the seventh day there shall be a sabbath of rest to Hashem"
(Shemot 35, 2).
study of the Torah to real life
This detailed study of the Torah, according to the traditional
method of study, is essential in order for us to understand
our history, the centrality of the land of Israel as our
dwelling place, and what we must do in order to fulfill
the mission given to the Jewish people for the good of all
Middrash Tanhuma stops here, but Rabbenu Bahya elaborates
more extensively on this point.
The parallel between our world, the sanctuary and the sanctuary
On High, as we have described above, has many direct implications
the two parallel levels, that of the sanctuary On High and
that of the sanctuary below, are reflected in the heavens
and the earth: lehodiakha sheshekula malekhet hamishkan
keneged shamayim vaaretz.
a direct application of this is given to Moshe: kehu meitekhem
teruma laShem (take ye from among you an offering unto Hashem..,
Shemot 35, 5).
The unique mission of Jews thus applies on three levels:
the sanctuary On High, the sanctuary below, and us as a
this parasha teaches us the order of the universe, order
in time and our task in this context, which is to follow
the model given to us by Hashem, in a relationship with
Him that reflects the great gift He has given us.
Bahya then urges us to apply this rule in many ways (mi
tokh ha clal ha ze she lamadnu nukhal lehadesh ulehotzi
ktzat min hapratim): he applies this first to the issue
in creation: "these are the generations of the heavens
and of the earth when they were created" (Bereshit
in the sanctuary: "for the cloud of Hashem was upon
the tabernacle.." (Shemot 40, 35).
to our lives: space
The aim, in all this, is not to propagate some abstract
theory. Our Sages teach us that the aim of the knowledge
and laws we have been given is that we should apply them
in our lives: "asher bara Elokim laasot" (translated
literally: which God created to be fulfilled, Bereshit 2,
3). The Shla calls this Derekh hayim, way of life.
of our Sages on these parallels raise some important questions:
about the light in our lives, is it strengthened every day
as was the case with Aharon?
" what about our ability to safeguard Hashem's presence
within our lives, as a constant force and presence? As it
is said: "ve atem hadevakim be Hashem Elokekhem hayim
kulkhem hayom, Ye that cleave unto Hashem your God are alive
every one of you this day" (Devarim4, 4).
" what about the tension in our wings and our ability
to go towards the other person (like the cherubs in Shemot
37, 9), is there movement, is there the presence and word
of Hashem in this place which is that of the Shekhina, the
" What about our mission to fulfill Hashem's dream
for His people and for His creation?
Tradition obliges us to ask these questions, as in the Pesah
Haggada. The poet Jean-Jacques Goldman rightly said: "I
shall fulfill all of my dreams." Do we as Jews individually
and as the Jewish people collectively fulfill all of the
dreams of our Creator?
to Israel, our space
Many of us feel that our nation, Israel, has become imbedded
in petty quarrels and has lost many of the ideals of its
founders. The reason for this is that we built the nations
without adequately paying attention to the beacon and the
source of all this reconstruction. We are too much concerned
with the superficial issue of "land" in terms
of what is defensible and what is not. Traditions teaches
us that much more is at stake and that the issue is not
simply of being able to defend ourselves in order to live
with a ceasefire or in peace with our neighbors. Our task
is to discover the "nature" of "this"
place, "its" power as a source of life, "its"
character as a place of meeting and radiance.
hears people lament that there is a sense of cultural "emptiness"
in Israel today and that Israelis want to be "like"
other nations, like the rest of the world.
The fact is that it is silly to accuse people of lacking
awareness of their culture when the education system teaches
them so little about their own tradition and values. This
is the result of having lived in exile in other countries,
having undergone persecution and been pressured to assimilate.
The task now is to REGAIN AWARENESS of our own home and
our own heritage. We need to re-found our common home, to
share as within one family and not to disparage others.
This is the goal of the modia site.
The time spent in arguments and confrontation should be
used to draw together from this source of life. There are
many who have knowledge of this source. It is their duty
to share it.
of the land of Israel on this site and the image of Moshe
on the homepage should be viewed in this context.
Israel can then become the heart of a living body and not
just a dreamland, a vacation site or place of retirement,
but "the home which is the basis and source of our
to our lives: time
In the last page of his commentary, the Shla elaborates
on a concrete example of the application of these teachings:
the prohibition against lighting a fire on Shabbat (lo tevaaru
esh.. beyon haShabbat, Shemot 35, 3). This, of course, refers
to lighting a "real" fire (this is the literal
meaning called the peshat), but it is also a commandment
to avoid anything that resembles anger or inter-personal
conflict on Shabbat. This is in order to create on Shabbat
a state of harmony with divine benediction.
We now understand why Aharon, the high priest, is called
a "man of peace," and why he wore on his heart
12 precious stones, representing the 12 tribes of Israel.
life, all levels of existence are inter-connected
Men today are primarily interested in technology, but they
express surprise when it is used to destroy and to carry
out genocide. The problem stems from the fact that they
have separated the different levels of existence. Rabbenu
Yosef Caro demonstrates that R. Elisha ben Abuya erred when
he tried to present the universe as made up of separate
entities. True, the world On High is entirely good and can
never be damaged, while the world of human relations has
been damaged by our sins and has become opaque like Adam's
skin, which lost its radiance after the fall. Man harms
himself. But we have the ability of making this world a
holy place and a place of true encounter between men.
We now understand
better what is demanded of the bnei Yisrael during the construction
of the sanctuary so that Hashem can "dwell among them"
and what is demanded of us as human beings - to live a full
live in harmony with creation.
Every day Jews are urged to listen: shema Yisrael, Hear
the Jewish people capable of fulfilling such a plan?
Let us look at Moshe, who is given to us as an example of
courage and determination.
1. It is written in Shemot 39, 33: "and they brought
the tabernacle unto Moshe, the tent, and all its furniture
(veyaviu et hamishkan..). Rashi comments: "because
they were not able to erect it (this is truly our problem
as individuals, families, and as a nation)
no one could
erect it because of the enormous weight of the boards which
no one could lift up."
2. So Moshe
erected the sanctuary.
Moshe, according to Rashi, had asked Hashem: "how can
the sanctuary be erected by the hand of man?" (eikh
efshar akamato al yede adam?).
Hashem answered: "carry out the work by your own hand
(assok ata beyadekha) and it will seem to you that you erected
it" (niree kemekim).
it is through man's actions, that the sanctuary was erected
and built by itself (vehu nizkaf vekam meelav) and this
is the meaning of Shemot 40, 17: "and it came to pass
the tabernacle was reared up" (vezehu she
neemar hukam hamishkan hukam meelav middrash).
We have a duty to do three things, according to Middrash
to study the Torah and develop all levels of existence,
to be humble and trust in He who gives us everything,
and to act: "carry out the work by your own hand (assok
beyadekha veata mare lehaamido vehu omed meelav) and it
will seem that you erected it and that it reared up by itself."
We can now
read again and fully understand Psalm 91 and Psalm 23: "Surely
goodness and mercy shall follow me all the days of my life:
and I will dwell in the house of Hashem for ever" (akh
tov vahessed yirdefuni kol yemei veshavti beveit Hashem
leorekh yamim, Psalm 23).
1. Re-read the above commentary above and identify the main
2. Look up the references cited in the commentary, particularly
3. Study the commentary until you can repeat by heart the
plan and the main themes.
4. Identify the main, existential, questions and try to
5. Return periodically to the commentary in order not to
forget it and in order to remember it clearly in all its
6. Discover what this site tells you about the land of Israel.
What part did women play in the construction of the sanctuary,
On what day was the sanctuary dedicated?
When was Moshe allowed to enter the sanctuary, and why?
and expressions to be learnt by heart
sanctuary, the tabernacle: hamishkan
the permanent sanctuary, the Temple: hamikdash
let there be light: yehi meorot
pure gold: zahav taor
all the work of the tabernacle: kol-avodat hamishkan
to accomplish, to do: laasot
way of life: derekh hayim
on the Sabbath day: beyom haShabbat
listen, Israel: shema Yisrael
goodness and mercy: tov vahessed
for advanced students
(literal meaning) is the basis of Torah study and contains
all the levels of meaning, but we must study further in
order to fully understand these levels. The middrash will
open our minds and our hearts to these deeper levels.
The next level of study is that of the remez, allusion or
suggestion. Before attempting to study this level, students
must first complete the preceding stages of study, otherwise
they can easily get lost or confused. The only acceptable
interpretations are those transmitted by Moshe and the chain
of disciples. This is an absolute rule in the study of the
Torah. Devarim, chapter 30, tells us that even if someone
can find the basis of his theories in the Torah and even
if these are reinforced by the miracles he accomplishes,
this person still remains a false prophet. The Torah is
solely Torat Moshe. Those who wish to study Judaism and
the Torah must relinquish all other ways of study and interpretation.
The Tur (refer to his biography) comments on the first verse
of Shemot 35: "These are the words which Hashem hath
commanded, that ye should do (laasot) them." The word
laasot has a special form here, for it lacks the letter
vav, whose numerical value is 6. The other letters in the
word are lamed (numerical value 30) and the letters (taf,
shin,ayin) which form the word tesha (9). This tells us
specifically that the 39 labors required for the construction
of the Temple will be carried out solely during the 6days
of the week, and not on Shabbat.
The Tur elaborates: these labors must possess a certain
quality and adhere to the Torah. Indeed, the last word of
verse 3 is hashabbat and the first word of verse 4 is vayomer,
and together they form the word Torah. This tells us that
man must not only adhere to the teachings of the Torah in
all that he does, but that the essence of the Torah is that
should free himself from the worries of daily life. The
source for this teaching is Tractate Shabbat 96 in the Jerusalem
Talmud. This tells us that man should never abandon the
level of Shabbat during the rest of the week. This connects
us to the meaning of the word Vayakel in the parasha. I
recently read a lengthy commentary on this parasha, attributing
this idea to the modern Hassidic movement, which is a mistake
for it is in fact a traditional teaching. Hence the importance
of teaching the Torah through the traditional sources, going
back to Moshe, for this prevents erroneous attributions
such as these. It is said that he who cites sources brings
geula (redemption) to the world (kol ha omer davar be shem
omero mevi geula la olam. Pirkei Avot 6).
teaching emerges from the remez level of interpretation.
When the Torah says Moshe spoke to the kahal, to whom does
this refer? The Zohar II 195 tells us that this refers to
men, women and children, for it is written in Devarim 31,
12: "hakel ..gather the people together, men, women
and children and the stranger (ger)
" The Torah
also writes that Yehoshua heard the "noise of the people"
during the episode of the golden calf (Shemot 32, 17), which
means that Moshe did not hear them. This teaches us about
the social structure of the people. Moshe stood so high
that he could not hear the people, while Yehoshua, like
the moon which receives the sun's reflection, received Moshe's
radiance but also was part of the darkness and could hear
the dark murmurs of the people. But once the people have
been pardoned and Moshe gathers all the children of Israel
together, they stand at a level of purity and radiance and
the impure erev rav are excluded. This is the interpretation
of the Zohar. The Zohar also comments on the way the men
and women were placed, for they came separately. It is from
here that the custom derives of separating men and women
at moments when they are vulnerable, as at funerals.
In his book
Or Hahayim, Rabbi Hayim ben Attar argues that because Moshe's
radiance could have kept part of the people away (Shemot
34, 30), Moshe had to gather "all the people,"
including women and children. Using the remez level of interpretation,
he bases the separation between men and women on the use
of the word "sons" of Israel in reference to all
The he comments on the connection of the word laasot (which
he deems superfluous) with Shabbat and refers to levels
of interpretation higher than the remez which show that
the verb laasot "to do" has the meaning of tikkun
(to repair), as Rashi indicates in his commentary on Bereshit
18, 8. After having sinned against the Torah, the people
will repair their sins through Shabbat, which includes all
remains: what is the role of the erev rav (the masses who
joined the children of Israel and did them harm)? The Ari
zal, tells us that the numerical value of erev rav is the
same as that for daat, supreme knowledge. This would mean
that the process of attaining Moshe's level and the level
when Moshe led the people must include this imperfect section
which exists in creation and which harms the Jewish people.
A synthesis of the remez level of interpretation is given
by Rabbi Yaakov Abuhatzera: Shabbat vanquishes all that
is impure and a purification process takes place through
the holiness (kedusha) of this day.
now discover the meaning of the days of the week and of
work, and their connection to Shabbat:
days of the week are necessary in the same way as the erev
rav is necessary -- in order to create a mixture of impurity/purity
and to elevate it.
Two) the days of the week are thus an essential preparation
for Shabbat and a process of reparation, tikkun.
Three) Shabbat depends on the work we have or have not accomplished
during the week.
Four) every day of the week is therefore included IN Shabbat;
this is the reason why the days are named thus:
the first day in Shabbat (yom rishon be shabbat), corresponds
the second day in Shabbat (yom sheni be shabbat) corresponds
the third day in Shabbat (yom shelishi be shabbat) corresponds
the fourth day in Shabbat (yom revii be shabbat) corresponds
the fifth day in Shabbat (yom hamishi be shabbat) corresponds
the sixth day in Shabbat (yom shishi be shabbat) corresponds
This is a far cry from the names of pagan gods and idols
given to the days of the week in English or other languages.
This helps us to understand what Tractate Ketuvot 110b says
(not me, Yehoshua Rahamim): he who does not live in the
land of Israel is as one who does not have Hashem, for in
his daily language he automatically adopts the gods of the
culture he lives in and this as though he has adopted idol
Five) every day of the week is directed towards the level
of Shabbat (kulam mekhuvanot keneged hashabbat) through
the purification of the world which is accomplished by work.
There is therefore a Jewish meaning to "work"
which is not that of chasing after money or social status.
This is why it is written: during 6 days you will work and
accomplish all your work, for it is a commandment to do
Six) Jews remind each other of this when they greet each
other with "shabbat shalom" during the days preceding
Seven) Already during the week one adheres to Shabbat by
preparing for it through work, and not just by preparing
the meals for Shabbat. Rabbenu Yaakov Abuhatzera (alav hashalom)
stresses this aspect: lakhen tzrikhim atem liyot zehirim
uzerizim beshemirat shabbat karaoui ve shemirat shabbat
hi teluya be sheshet yeme hahol (this is why you must be
zealous and attentive in keeping Shabbat as is due and the
keeping of Shabbat is dependent on the six days of the week).
Eight) In order that this should be clearly understood,
the Rav adds: "and if man has not worked hard (ve im
lo tarah haadam) during the 6 days of the week, studying
Torah, praying and carrying out the mitzvot
he enter Shabbat, for the essence of the 6 days of the week
is to illuminate everything that is impure. This is the
meaning of the words "ele ha devarim" (these are
the things/words) in the first verse of this parasha.
Nine) This is why the word kahal is used to describe the
people when it attains this level, for the two highest forms
for Hashem's name have the numerical value of 135, which
corresponds to the word kahal, a community that is in a
state of kedusha, holiness.
Ten) The work of the honored members of this community is
called melakha (not avoda, work which is carried out by
quasi slaves), for it comes from the word mekekh (king),
melakhim (kings) who were stripped of their state of holiness
almost from the beginning of creation. Judaism has a revolutionary
view of history.
not elaborate further, but those who study with a master
can go on to other texts that treat this subject. Indeed,
every Jews should learn or be shown the wealth of his heritage
and history, which includes a wonderful view of man, human
existence and self identity. It is senseless to turn to
substitutes, to crumbs from the table, when one has at one's
disposal the Shulkhan Arukh, the table that has been prepared
This parasha has shown us, in just a few verses, the connections
between the different levels of Torah study (the peshat,
drash, remez) and personal, community and social life. This
is what the Torah is about. And all this has been "given"
to us. Furthermore, we have been given the commandment (mitzva)
and we have the DUTY to live by the Torah and to transmit
it, as is written in the first verse of the parasha.
We now understand why the 39 labors necessary for the construction
of the Temple do not apply on Shabbat: we have reached the
heart of the Sanctuary and we cannot regress back to the
levels of the week when we were constructing the sanctuary.
The is the reason why observant Jews abstain from the 39
labors on Shabbat.
These are not prohibitions which we impose on ourselves
out of religious duty. This is the choice of a people who
with to live according to the Torah and their mission for
the good of the world. The assumed freedom of those who
choose not to keep Shabbat derives, in fact, from ignorance
of the wealth of our heritage.