Vayakhel/Pekudei 5781

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One mitzvah, or many?[1]

ויקהל משה את-כל-עדת בני ישראל ויאמר אלהם אלה הדברים אשר-צוה יקוק לעשת אתם: ששת ימים תעשה מלאכה וביום השביעי יהיה לכם קדש שבת וגו’ ויאמר משה אל-כל-עדת בני-ישראל לאמר זה הדבר אשר-צוה יקוק לאמר: קחו מאתכם תרומה ליקוק כל נדיב לבו יביאה את תרומת יקוק וגו’‏
Moshe gathered the entire assembly of the Children of Israel. He said to them: “These are the matters which Hashem commanded to do: Six days you shall work, and on the seventh day it shall be for you a Holy Shabbos”…Moshe said to the entire assembly of the Children of Israel, saying: “This is the matter that Hashem commanded, saying: Take for yourselves a donation for Hashem. All those with a generous heart will bring their portion for Hashem”[2]

This week’s parsha begins by speaking about the mitzvah of Shabbos. It then continues with a detailed description of the construction and materials of the Mishkan, the portable Temple the Jews built in the wilderness. There’s a discrepancy with how these two mitzvos are introduced. The mitzvah of Shabbos is described as, “these are the matters which Hashem commanded”, and the mitzvah of constructing the Mishkan is described as, “this is the matter”. Besides the inconsistency, these descriptions are also counterintuitive. One would think that Shabbos is only one prohibition, to refrain from creative labor. This is unlike the construction of the Mishkan, which involves many parts, such as the Ark, the Altar, the Menorah. Why then is Shabbos described in the plural, and the Mishkan in the singular?

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Terumah / Zachor 5781

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Amazing abode allusions[1]

דבר אל בני-ישראל ויקחו-לי תרומה מאת כל-איש אשר ידבנו לבו תקחו את-תרומתי: וזאת התרומה אשר תקחו מאתם זהב וכסף ונחשת
Speak to the Children of Israel: “Take for Me a portion from each person. [From] those whose heart feels generous, take My portion. This is the portion that you should take from them: gold, silver, and copper”[2]

This week’s parsha introduces us to the Mishkan, or Tabernacle, the portable Temple that the Jews constructed and used in the wilderness. It was literally a place for Hashem’s presence in this world. His presence was palpable, and allowed the Jews a chance to connect with Hashem in a way we can only imagine. The Torah tells us that the Jews were asked to take part in its construction. Each person would donate the materials needed for the Mishkan, donating what they saw fit. Besides gold, silver, and copper, many other materials are listed. However, if we focus on these three materials, we’ll find an amazing allusion hidden in their letters[3].

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Terumah 5780

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Confusing orders[1]

וזאת התרומה אשר תקחו מאתם זהב וכסף ונחשת: ועשו לי מקדש ושכנתי בתוכם: ועשו ארון עצי שטים וגו’‏
This is the contribution that you shall take from them: gold, silver, and copper. Make for Me a sanctuary, such that I will dwell amongst them. Make an Ark of acacia wood…[2]

After reading the Torah’s delineation of all the various parts of the portable Temple known as the Mishkan, we notice something strange. The Torah first lists all the vessels that are part of the Mishkan, detailing all of their dimensions and materials. Then, the Torah describes how to construct the Mishkan itself, with all its hooks and the tapestries that are used as partitions. Why did the Torah list them this way? Describing the structure of the Mishkan, and only then the vessels, would seem to be more logical. Usually one builds a house before you figure out the furniture.

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Vayakhel / Shekalim 5779

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Universal labor[1]

ויקהל משה את-כל-עדת בני ישראל ויאמר אלהם אלה הדברים אשר-צוה יקוק לעשת אתם: ששת ימים תעשה מלאכה וביום השביעי יהיה לכם קדש שבת שבתון וגו’‏
Moshe congregated the assembly of Israel and said to them: “These are the matters to which Hashem commanded, to perform them: Six days your work shall be done, and the seventh day shall be Holy, a shabbos of rest…[2]

This week’s parsha begins with a strange combination of verses. First, we are told that what follows are the commands which Hashem expects us to perform. Then, we are warned against performing work on shabbos. This is telling us not to do something. This anomaly forces us to read the verses in their proper context. This parsha details the vessels and materials that went into the creation of the Mishkan. What this verse is referring to is that the Jews were adjured to construct the Mishkan and all that went into it. However, the verse is followed by another command: to observe shabbos properly by refraining from work. We learn from here that the very constructive activities that go into the creation of the Mishkan are the forms of creative labor which are forbidden on shabbos[3].

This understanding by our Sages goes further than expected. Not only are the acts of construction for the Mishkan forbidden on shabbos, they are the sole criteria for defining what the Torah means by “work”. That is, anything that wasn’t involved in the creation of the Mishkan, is permissible on shabbos. Furthermore, acts similar to those involved in the Mishkan, if they are lacking the essential characteristics of that particular form of labor, are permitted on a Torah level (although usually forbidden Rabbinically). For example: digging a hole in the ground for agricultural purposes is forbidden, as that is what they did for the Mishkan. However, digging a hole to retrieve and use the dirt, is permissible (again, on a Torah level). This begs the question: if the purpose of shabbos was to give us a day of rest, why did Hashem make the forbidden labors dependent on what was necessary for the Mishkan, regardless of their necessary level of exertion? Why is it so dependent that the same act, with the slightest of changes, can change from absolutely forbidden to completely permissible?

It is revealed in many sources, some of them exegetical[4], some of them more esoteric[5] and Kabbalistic[6], that the Mishkan wasn’t just a portable Temple structure for the Jews’ travels in the wilderness. It was a microcosm of the universe, and of all the sub-universes within, both the spiritual and the physical. Its physical structure was aligned with all the aspects of the spiritual and physical universe. Not only that, but Betzalel, the chief architect of the Mishkan, used the very acts that went into the creation of the universe to create the Mishkan[7].

What’s the essence of the day of rest known as shabbos? It’s testimony that there’s a Creator in this world[8]. The Torah tells us[9] that He created the universe in six days and rested on the seventh. This “rest” meant cessation from creative activities. By following suit throughout or lives, by working throughout the week, being involved in creative tasks, and resting on the seventh day, we are mimicking our Creator. By doing so we are demonstrating our belief that Hashem created the universe.

If so, Hashem wants us to rest from the very creative activities that He used to create the universe. Only then will there be proper testimony through observing shabbos. However, how could we ever know which creative acts were used to create and form the universe? We learn it from the Mishkan. It’s form and structure are a microcosm of the universe, and it was constructed the same way as the universe. By studying and observing the creative labor that went into the Mishkan, we can deduce how to properly observe shabbos. Doing so will testify to all that there is a Creator, who rested on the seventh day.

Good Shabbos

[1] Based on Be’er Yosef to Exodus 35:1-2

[2] Exodus loc. cit.

[3] Mechilta ad. loc. See Ramban and Malbim ad. loc.

[4] Shemos Rabbah 33:4; Midrash Tanchuma Pekudei § 2. See also Megillah 10b

[5] Nefesh HaChaim 1:4

[6] Rabbeinu Bachaye to Exodus 25:9; Shnei Luchos HaBris Torah Shebiksav Terumah, Vayakhel and Pekudei

[7] Berachos 55a

[8] Mechilta to Exodus 20:14

[9] Genesis Chapter 1

Ki Sisa 5779

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Order of greatness[1]

וידבר יקוק אל-משה לאמר: ראה קראתי בשם בצלאל בן-אורי בן-חור למטה יהודה: ואמלא אתו רוח אלקים בחכמה ובתבונה ובדעת ובכל-מלאכה: ואתה דבר אל-בני ישראל לאמר אך את-שבתתי תשמרו כי אות הוא ביני וביניכם לדרתיכם לדעת כי אני יקוק מקדשכם
Hashem said to Moshe, saying: “See that I have called to prominence Betzalel, the son of Uri, the son of Chur, from the tribe of Yehudah. I will fill him with a spirit of G-d, with wisdom, understanding, knowledge, and every workmanship [ability]…And you shall speak to the Children of Israel, saying: ‘However, guard my Shabbos, since it is a sign between Me and You, for your generations, to know that I am G-d, who sanctifies you’”[2]

This week’s parsha contrasts the construction of the Mishkan with the observance of Shabbos. The Mishkan was an incredibly complicated structure, with intricate details to its vessels and overall set-up. Hashem chose Betzalel to be the master architect behind the project. In order for him to be fit for the job, it wasn’t enough that he be the most talented and qualified individual. He had to receive Divine assistance. The Torah tells us that he received an extra level of wisdom, understanding, and knowledge.

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Eikev 5777

Order matters[1]

בעת ההוא אמר יקוק אלי פסל-לך שני-לוחת אבנים כראשנים ועלה אלי ההרה ועשית לך ארון עץ: ואעש ארון עצי שטים ואפסל שני-לחת אבנים כראשנים ואעל ההרה ושני הלחת בידי
At that time Hashem said to me: “Carve for yourself two stone tablets, like the first ones [that you broke], and come up to Me to the mountain and make for yourself a wooden Ark. I [then] made an Ark of Shittim-wood, and I carved two stone tablets like the first ones; I went up to the mountain and the two tablets were in my hand[2]

In this week’s parsha, Moshe continues his rebuke of the people. He reminded them of their sin with the Golden Calf[3], and all the events that happened afterwards. In his fury at their betrayal, Moshe broke the stone tablets which had the Ten Commandments engraved on them. Moshe then had to plead with Hashem that He not destroy the people. After receiving forgiveness, Hashem commanded Moshe to make new stone tablets to replace the ones that were smashed. He then told Moshe to create a temporary[4] wooden Ark to store them in, until the golden Ark would be created. However, a careful reading of the verses shows Moshe didn’t exactly follow these instructions.

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Vayakhel – Pekudei 5777

It’s the effort that counts[1]

ויקם משה את-המשכן ויתן את-אדניו וישם את-קרשיו ויתן את-בריחיו ויקם את-עמודיו
Moshe erected the Mishkan; he placed the sockets and inserted the beams, placed the bars and erected its posts[2]

This week’s parsha includes an accounting of the materials of the Mishkan, the Tabernacle, the manufacturing of the clothing of the Kohanim, and finally the construction of the Mishkan itself. The verse describes how Moshe erected the Mishkan, placing the kerashim, the beams, into their sockets. The Midrash[3] describes the prelude to this: how everyone came to Moshe and said to him that they couldn’t construct the Mishkan; it was too heavy. The beams were massive, and weighed a ton, especially since they were plated in solid gold[4]. Moshe responded by asking them what they expected him to do about that. Moshe was an elderly man in his eighties; they couldn’t reasonably demand that he do it for them. Hashem told Moshe to make an attempt to erect it. Even though his own efforts would have been meaningless, Hashem would do the rest. He made the attempt and was able to erect the beams.

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Terumah 5777

Four Golden Children[1]

ועשית שנים כרבים זהב מקשה תעשה אתם משני קצות הכפרת
You shall make two golden Cherubs; you shall make them beaten out [of a solid piece of gold] from the two sides of the ark lid[2]

The Ark of the Covenant is a well-known part of the Mishkan, the Tabernacle. It contained the tablets from the Ten Commandments[3], and represents the Torah as a whole. It signified the bond between the Jewish people and Hashem, forged by the acceptance of the Torah. On top of the lid of the ark stood two golden angels, known as Keruvim, or Cherubs. There is a lot written on the significance of these Keruvim, what their purpose was and what they represented. The Torah says explicitly[4] that Hashem’s voice to Moshe emanated from the point between the two Keruvim. They were tremendously important to the prophecy which Moshe transmitted to the Jewish people.

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