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Parashat Vayakhel/Pekudei

Dedicated for a Refuah Shelemah for Rachel bat Sarah, Mrs. Shelly Rahmey, from her children, grandchildren, and great-grandchildren.

Parashat Vayakhel/Pekudei

Repairing the Sin of the Golden Calf

In last week’s parasha, before the sin of the golden calf, Hashem spoke to B’nei Yisrael about the importance of Shabbat. And now this week’s Parashat Vayakhel opens with, “And Moshe gathered the people of B’nei Yisrael and said to them, ‘These are the things that Hashem commanded... On six days, work shall be done, but the seventh day shall be holy for you, a day of complete rest for Hashem!’” We see that the Torah brings up Shabbat again, but this time it’s discussed prior to the construction of the Mishkan. Rashi explains that this is to inform the nation of Shabbat’s magnitude, that even building the Mishkan cannot take precedence over Shabbat.

The Or HaChaim explains that idol worship constitutes a repudiation of all 613 mitzvot. Therefore, for B’nei Yisrael’s teshuvah for the golden calf to be complete, and for them to merit the Mishkan in their lifetime, they had to once again accept all the mitzvot upon themselves. Shabbat is equivalent to the entire Torah. Hashem repeated the mitzvah of Shabbat to give B’nei Yisrael the means to accept all 613 mitzvot.

The Or HaChaim continues and says that the first passuk ends with, “These are the things that Hashem commanded, to do them,” which can also be interpreted as, “to repair them — because the commandment of Shabbat was a means to repair the damage of the sin of the golden calf!

Shabbat in Vayakhel

On six days, work shall be done, but the seventh day shall be holy for you, a day of complete rest for Hashem! Whoever does work on it shall be put to death. You shall light no fire in any of your dwellings on the Shabbat day (35:2).” The Shabbat laws were already mentioned in greater detail in last week’s parasha (31:12-17). The repetition this week, at the beginning of Vayakhel, seems redundant. Why is it necessary to begin the section dealing with donating money to the Mishkan with this brief preamble about Shabbat?

Many commentaries deal with this question. Rav Naiman notes in his Sefer Darkei Mussar a peculiarity in the expression, “work shall be done.” A more common expression, as we indeed find elsewhere in the Torah, is “Sheshet yamim taaseh melachtecha” which means “For six days you shall do your work.” It is peculiar to use the passive form of the verb for doing work. The Darkei Mussar suggests that by use of this expression before the passage about charity, the Torah is teaching us a fundamental rule for anyone who is engaged in earning a livelihood. The amount of money a person makes is NOT commensurate with the amount of effort he puts into his job.

Intentions are extremely important. A person is indeed required to try to earn a living and support a family. One who does not make that effort and expects “maan” from heaven will be disappointed! However, it is flawed to make the equation that “The more work I do the more money I will make.” It does not work like that.

The Almighty decides what each of us should earn. We can exhaust ourselves in our professions and either we will not succeed in earning as much as we feel we should earn or we perhaps will earn all that money and then lose it due to unforeseen expenses or poor investments, or a variety of other unforeseen circumstances. On the other hand, one can exert the right amount of effort and the Almighty may bless the actions of his hands to earn large sums of money, far greater than others who work much harder.

This is a fundamental belief in our religion and it really is what Shabbat observance is all about. The common wisdom is, “Of course if one works seven days a week, he will make more money than if he works six days a week.” And yet, the Torah commands us to work only six days. If the Almighty wants to bestow upon us a certain degree of financial success, he will bestow it on us whether we expend six days of effort to earn it or we expend seven days of effort to earn it.

For six days work shall be done.” The work must be done, but one should not think “You shall do work.” The “you” is not what makes the money, it is the “He” (Hashem) that allows “you” to earn a living.

Do Not Kindle a Fire

Moshe conveys to B’nei Yisrael G-d’s command to observe Shabbat, and he specifies the particular prohibition against kindling a flame. “Do not kindle a fire in any of your residences on the day of Shabbat (35:3).”

Rabbi Mansour asks why Moshe would single out this specific prohibition. He answers that this verse alludes to the fire of anger. While we are to always strive to avoid anger, this is especially important on Shabbat, and so Moshe warns in this verse that we not “kindle” the “fire” of anger on Shabbat.

Whenever we prepare to do something great, the Satan tries to sabotage the undertaking. This is one reason given for the custom to break a glass at a wedding ceremony. Knowing that the Satan will try to disrupt this sacred, precious moment, we offer the Satan a “bribe,” breaking an expensive glass, as though telling the Satan, “Here, something went wrong, something valuable was broken. You got what you wanted, so now leave us alone.” This true of Shabbat, as well. The Chida wrote that there is a special yetzer hara that sets in during the final few hours before Shabbat on Friday afternoon. Knowing the immense spiritual benefits of Shabbat, the Satan slyly steps in to interfere on Friday afternoon in order to create tension and strife in the home.

Electricians can attest that more ovens break in Jewish homes on Friday than on any other day of the week. Plumbers will tell you that they get more calls about leaks and clogs on Friday than at any other time. This is very real, and it is no coincidence. This is the Satan trying to arouse anger and tension in the home to prevent us from receiving the precious spiritual blessings that Shabbat offers us.

Let us commit ourselves to foil the Satan’s weekly scheme by being especially patient and calm on Erev Shabbat and by avoiding anger, so we can then receive the great benefits of Shabbat and bring Hashem’s presence into our homes.

A Redeeming End

In Parashat Pekudei, we complete the reading of the Book of Shemot with the completion of the Mishkan. As we learned in the beginning of the chapter, it seems unusual that the book of Shemot, a book filled with a dramatic story of exile, miracles, and deliverances, should end with an almost anticlimactic conclusion of building the Mishkan. Shouldn’t the sefer end with a bang, at Yetziat Mitzrayim where B’nei Yisrael are officially redeemed?

As we learned previously, the Ramban teaches that, “The galut is not over until they [B’nei Yisrael] return to the level of their forefathers... and even once they achieve their freedom from Egypt, they are not considered redeemed yet, for they still wander in the desert. But once they arrive at Har Sinai to receive the Torah and build the Mishkan, and G-d's Shechina dwells upon them - then they return to the level of their forefathers and are then considered totally redeemed.”

Supporters of Torah Scholars

Rabbi Mansour brings down the Gemara of Masechet Berachot (55a), which tells of the conversation Moshe had with Bezalel, the man appointed by G-d to lead the construction of the Mishkan. Moshe told him to first build the ark and the other furnishings of the Mishkan, and then construct the Mishkan in which these items would be kept. Bezalel replied by pointing out that first one builds a house, and then he brings in the furniture. If the furniture were to be purchased first, there would be nowhere to keep it while the house is being built. As such, it would make more sense to first build the Mishkan before building the kelim. Moshe agreed with Bezalel’s wisdom and switched the order.

What is the significance of this exchange? Rabbi Mansour explains, the holy furnishings, like the aron which held the tablets, represent the Torah scholars of the world. The Mishkan, which holds all the furnishings, represents those who hold, or support, those who study Torah.

Moshe mentioned the aron and other sacred articles first to indicate that the scholars of Torah are greater than those who support them. However, Bezalel expressed the other perspective, the viewpoint which sees the supporters as even greater than the scholars. They are the ‘houses,’ providing the framework that holds the ‘furniture.’ If the scholars have no source of material support, they would not be able to study. And so in this sense, the supporters are even greater, as Torah study could not take place without them.

Good Intentions

The Torah says, “Now they brought the Mishkan to Moshe (39:33).” Rabbi Frand reviews an interesting Midrash from Parashat Pekudei. According to the Midrash, the boards of the Mishkan were so heavy that the people could not hold them up next to each other long enough for them to assemble the Mishkan. They kept toppling over. In frustration, the people brought all the boards and poles to Moshe, and he assembled it with miraculous strength that Hashem granted him, especially for this purpose. The passuk in the parasha, however, states that the Jewish people “brought the Mishkan to Moshe.” This would seem to imply that they brought him a completely assembled Mishkan. What does that mean?

Rav Shlomo Breuer explains that Judaism is a deed-oriented religion. It is not enough to say, “I am a Jew at heart.” Deeds count: learning Torah, performing mitzvot, doing chessed. Being a Jew is about doing, from the moment we rise in the morning until the moment we go to bed. At the same time, however, intent also plays a great role in Judaism. If someone is prevented by circumstances beyond his control from doing a mitzvah, the Torah considers it as if he had done it. Judaism demands deeds, but not necessarily results. If a Jew puts in an honest and sincere effort, he is rewarded even if he is not successful. Hashem, in His infinite kindness, considers good intentions as deeds.

When the time came to assemble the Mishkan, the Jewish people made every effort to do it by themselves. Sweat poured from their brows; veins bulged on their foreheads; they strained, and they pushed those heavy boards with all their might, but they could not erect the Mishkan. It was simply beyond them, and they had no choice but to turn to Moshe for help. Nonetheless, the Torah reports that they “brought the Mishkan to Moshe,” because that is what they intended to do and what they tried to do with all their hearts. Hashem considered it as if they had erected the Mishkan themselves, and He rewarded them!

An Effort to Succeed

Rabbi Joey Haber told a story about a man whose effort proved to be invaluable. The man was asked to fly a Sefer Torah from one country to another. He got to the security line and was immediately confronted. “Sir, what is this?” the TSA agent asked. “It’s a very holy religious object.” The agent said, “Well it’s going to have to go underneath the plane with the luggage. You can’t carry that with you.” The man replied, “Absolutely not, please just let me through. This needs to stay with me at all times.” She saw it was important to him and answered, “Okay. You can try to go to the gate with it, but there’s no way they’ll let it on the plane.” And she cleared him through security.

When he approached the gate, the man at the gate stopped him. “Sir, what is that?” “This is my Torah,” he answered. The man at the gate shook his head. “I was cleared through security, and it has to fly with me. I can’t separate from it; it’s really important.” The man at the gate called his supervisor and after some deliberating, he said to the passenger, “If you want you can try to get on the plane but they’re going to stop you at the door again. I’m telling you there is no way they’re going to let you on that plane with that.” The man happily went through and waited for his next hurdle.

As he stepped on the plane with the Sefer Torah, the head flight attendant said, “Uh sir, no you can’t bring that on this plane. You have to gate-check that. Otherwise we won’t be able to take off.” The man stressed how important this holy article was and begged them to let him keep it with him for the flight. The flight attendant went to get the pilot to ask special permission, and the man braced himself waiting for the final answer.

The pilot came out and said, “What’s going on here?” The man started rambling, “This is my Torah and it’s extremely important, and I need it to fly with me so I could make sure nothing happens to it.” The pilot said, “Well you can’t keep it here, but no problem, you can keep it up in the cockpit with me, because that’s where I keep my tefillin.”

When we want to achieve something, we can’t just sit back. We have to do everything in our power to succeed, just as B’nei Yisrael put their blood, sweat, and tears into trying to build the Mishkan. May we see many berachot and successes from our efforts. May we all learn to appreciate the Shabbat and keep it to the highest standards that we possibly can, because it is the true source of all our berachot. Amen!

Shabbat Shalom!

Rabbi Amram Sananes, written by Jack Rahmey

Discussion Point:

  • When we’ve put in effort to succeed in the past, did we benefit from trying hard, whether or not we saw results?

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