For the week ending 14 March 2015 / 23 Adar I 5775

Parshat Vayakhel

by Rabbi Pinchas Kasnett
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This Parsha deals almost exclusively with the detailed construction of the Tabernacle in the desert. Curiously, however, it begins as follows: “Moshe assembled the entire assembly of the children of Israel and said to them: ‘These are the things that G-d commanded to do them: On six days work may be done, but the seventh day shall be holy for you, a day of complete rest for G-d; whoever does work on it will be put to death. You shall not kindle fire in any of your dwellings on the Sabbath day’.” (Shemot 35:1-3). The admonition not to violate the Sabbath has already appeared numerous times and seems to be out of place in this Torah portion.

Abarbanel explains that as important as the construction of the Tabernacle was, this construction cannot supersede the sanctity of rest on the Sabbath. The emphasis on “not kindling fire in any of your dwellings” teaches that even those activities related to the preparation of food, such as cooking and baking which require fire, are prohibited on the Sabbath. Even though the people had already been told that all manner of work was prohibited, they also knew that on the holiday of Pesach lighting a fire in order to prepare food was permitted. The phrase “in any of your dwellings” teaches that observance of the Sabbath is not dependent on living in the Land of Israel but is incumbent upon the Jewish People wherever they live. Additionally, since a fire was actually lit on the altar of the Tabernacle on the Sabbath, the phrase “in any of your dwellings” comes to exclude personal dwellings from the permission to use fire. The Tabernacle cannot be referred to as the “dwelling place of the people” as it is clearly considered G-d’s dwelling place.

Since the narrative was interrupted by the commandment regarding the Sabbath, the Torah now returns to the topic of the commandments regarding the Tabernacle with a similar introduction: “Moshe said to the entire assembly of the Children of Israel, saying ‘This is the word that G-d has commanded…’ ”

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