Drasha on Parshiyot Vayakhel-Pekudei, Parshat HaChodesh
Our double sedrah this week begins with the gathering together of the entirety of Klal Yisrael.
ויקהל משה את כל עדת בני ישראל – And Moshe assembled the entire congregation of Bnei Yisrael (35:1)
The gathering of the entirety of Bnei Yisrael is immediately followed by Moshe reminding them of the laws of Shabbat. What is the connection between the gathering of Bnei Yisrael and the laws of Shabbat?
One answer is provided by the Midrash Abkir (a small midrashic collection that exists only for Bereishit and Shemot and derives its name from אבכיר = אמן בימינו כן יהי רצון with which each section ends). There the midrash writes that there is no other parsha in the Torah that begins with the word Vayakhel. It learns from this that Moshe was commanded to assemble the people and to teach them the laws of Shabbat in order that successive generations should gather their congregations together each and every Shabbat to teach, to learn and to study. Unfortunately, due to the unusual circumstances of these days, we cannot gather together on Shabbat, not to teach, not to learn nor to study. But despite the fact that we cannot gather together today of Shabbat can still be used as a day of teaching, learning and studying. In addition to this drasha there is a myriad of material available on the Internet with insights and lessons about the parsha. I strongly encourage you to download and to print out this material so that you have it available to teach and to learn together with your family.
There is, though, another answer. Bnei Yisrael were brought together so that Moshe could remind them that as important as is the building of the mishkan, it does not override the obligation of observing Shabbat. This explanation is brought by Rashi on the second pasuk of our parsha. There are many explanations given as to why the laws of Shabbat take priority over the building of the mishkan. Some of those explanations refer to the priority of the sanctity of time (represented by the Shabbat) over the sanctity of place (represented by the mishkan).
I’d like to share with you another explanation. There is a debate among the meforshim as the purpose of the mishkan. Were we obligated to build the mishkan so that it would travel with us through the desert as a tangible reminder of the Sinai experience? This clearly seems to be the opinion of the Ramban who understands that the command to build the mishkan preceded the sin of the golden calf. Or, perhaps we were obligated to build the mishkan to serve as an atonement for the sin of the golden calf? This seems to be the opinion of Rashi.
Based on this opinion of Rashi we can understand the reason why the building of the mishkan could not supersede the observance of Shabbat. The building of the mishkan was a function of the collective of the Jewish people. Everyone played a role in the building of that mishkan through the giving of the machtzit hashekel, and it was the silver of these shekalim that were used to build the adanim, the foundations for the pillars of the mishkan. If the mishkan was to serve as an atonement for the transgression of the golden calf, then it by definition needed to be a reflection of the tzibor, the entirety of the Jewish people. After all it was the power that comes from that collective that averted annihilation following the golden calf.
We see this expressed as well in the choice of those individuals who would lead this effort to build the mishkan. Betzalel was from the tribe of Judah and Ahaliav was from the tribe of Dan. As the Jewish people traveled through the desert the tribe of Judah led the way and the tribe of Dan brought up the rear. In effect Betzalel and Ahaliav represented the entirety of the Jewish people.
Since the building of the mishkan needed to be a joint effort by the entirety of the Jewish people, it’s construction on Shabbat would be seen as a disregarding by the people of the concept of Shabbat. Accordingly at the beginning of our parsha Moshe exhorts the Jewish people not to desecrate Shabbat by building the mishkan.
On the other hand once the mishkan has been built there were many activities that occurred in it that for the average person was a violation of Shabbat. Animals were slaughtered, fires were kindled and a whole host of other actions were performed that could only be done by the Kohanim in the performance of their service in the mishkan. Since the communal sacrifices of Shabbat were done on behalf of the Jewish people, and were done specifically by the kohanim who serve as the representatives of Hashem, it was not as if the entirety of the Jewish people disregarded the sanctity of Shabbat.
From here we see the incredible power of the collective of the Jewish people. It is a power that enabled us to survive the transgression of the golden calf. It is a power that was responsible for the very foundations of the building of the mishkan. And as a collective it must always keep the sanctity of Shabbat safeguarded.
In these days is obviously much more difficult to preserve the sanctity of Shabbat. Yes, it is certainly possible to avoid the violation of melacha and that is something to which each one of us should be dedicated. It is the positive aspects of observing Shabbat that this separation from each other makes much more difficult. We should make an extra effort to preserve these positive elements of Shabbat and encourage our family members to sanctify Shabbat through them. It could be as simple as ensuring that our Shabbat table is set in its normal fashion and our Shabbat food is prepared and served as it would otherwise have been done. We should dress in the clothing we would normally wear on Shabbat and spend, what will probably be a lot of free time, in davenning with concentration, learning with focus and depth and developing our intrafamily relationships that probably got a little bit tarnished over this past stressful week.
Ellen and I wish you and your family a restful, rejuvenating and healthy Shabbat.