Bar-Ilan University's Parashat Hashavua Study Center

Parashat Vayakhel-Pekude 5762/ March 9, 2002

Lectures on the weekly Torah reading by the faculty of Bar-Ilan University in Ramat Gan, Israel. A project of the Faculty of Jewish Studies, Paul and Helene Shulman Basic Jewish Studies Center, and the Office of the Campus Rabbi. Published on the Internet under the sponsorship of Bar-Ilan University's International Center for Jewish Identity.
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Inquiries and comments to: Dr. Isaac Gottlieb, Department of Bible,

Parashat Vayakhel-Pekude 5762/ March 9, 2002

Of Time and Space

Dr. Schubert Spero
The Helene and Paul Schulmann Center for Basic Jewish Studies

In the description of how to the construct the Tabernacle, Scripture incorporates two passages with instructions pertaining to the Sabbath. One is to be found in last week's Parasha, Ki Tissa, after the summary enumeration of all the items which had to be built: "Speak to the Israelite people and say: Nevertheless, you must keep My sabbaths" (Ex. 31:13). The other, in this week's reading, introduces the actual construction of the Tabernacle: "Moses then convoked the whole Israelite community and said to them: These are the things that the Lord has commanded you to do: On six days work may be done, but on the seventh day you shall have a sabbath of complete rest, holy to the Lord" (Ex. 35:1-3).

Rashi, following the Sages, explains the verse in accord with its context: it is a warning to the people constructing the Tabernacle that although they are engaged in holy work, it does not override the prohibition against working on the Sabbath: "He prefaced the commands concerning the building of the Tabernacle with a warning to observe the Sabbath, to indicate that it does not override the Sabbath."

The Sabbath is mentioned along with the Sanctuary in one other source, but not in connection with construction of the Tabernacle: "You shall keep my sabbaths and venerate My sanctuary: I am the Lord" (Lev. 19:30). Here, too, Rashi followed the Sages in his interpretation: constructing the Sanctuary does not override the Sabbath. Nahmanides accepted this interpretation, and added an observation: "Warnings about the Sabbath are as numerous as those about idolatry, because it, too, is considered as weighty as all the other commandments."

I would like to suggest an explanation for the recurring connection between the Tabernacle/Sanctuary and the Sabbath. The reason for this connection is not only the fear lest working on the Tabernacle lead to violation of the Sabbath, or that we might mistakenly think that building the Temple overrides the Sabbath; rather, the Torah, here as in other places, wants to maintain a proper balance between different sorts of commandments. This is especially evident in the passages of Torah that are a deliberate mix of laws and ordinances, commandments pertaining to relations between people and commandments pertaining to relations between a person and G-d, commandments concerning morality and commandments concerning ritual. All this is done simply to stress that all are of equal importance; all derive from the same source, and therefore one must oppose any preference- due to personal reasons or historical circumstance - that gives undue importance to one sort of commandment or detracts from the value of another.

In my opinion, the instructions pertaining to observance of the Sabbath (in Exodus 31 and Exodus 35) were given because of the great enthusiasm of the Israelites to build the Tabernacle. Proof of this enthusiasm lies in the fact that the people were willing, as we read in the current parashot, to contribute above and beyond what was necessary. The concern was that the people might have the impression that Tabernacle, and later the Temple, was the central source of sanctity, and that only there a person could obtain proximity to the Divine Presence. To prevent such a misimpression, exaggerating the value of the commandments concerning the Tabernacle in comparison with other commandments, the Torah (as per Nahmanides' hint) deliberately stressed the importance of the Sabbath in the passage on the Tabernacle.

Why was the Sabbath chosen to be stressed in the context of the Tabernacle?

1. Clearly the Temple represents sanctity of place, in contrast to the Sabbath, which represents sanctity of time. The concept of consecrated places existed among pagan religions since time immemorial and seems to follow common sense. In contrast, the notion of sacred time, essentially a kind of sanctity that is not fixed and does not pertain to a specific tangible object, is harder to conceive. In addition, there are practical limitations to an institution based on a sacred place; individuals must make an effort to reach the special sacred location, and not everyone can enter at once. Sacred time, on the other hand, can apply to everyone, everywhere, "throughout your settlements" (Lev. 23:3). To give everyone the possibility of experiencing sanctity and internalizing the presence of the Lord, nothing could be more effective than the Sabbath, which enables each and every individual, anywhere, to sense the cyclic nature of every seventh day: "Six days may work be done, but on the seventh day there shall be a sabbath of complete rest, holy to the Lord" (Ex. 31:15).

2. The reason for the people's enthusiasm about building the Tabernacle was the unusual opportunity that had been given each and every one of them to be part of worshipping the Lord, not only through donation of personal objects to the Tabernacle, but also through contributing their effort and talent, making artistic articles to serve in the Tabernacle - the dwelling-place of the G-d of Israel. In line with the view that construction of the Tabernacle was commanded after the sin of the golden calf, it answered the need for more concrete means of worshipping the Lord, channeling the artistic creative drive in a positive direction.

To dispel the impression that the Tabernacle is the only ideal place for worshipping the Lord, an impression that emerges from the fact that the last several parashot are devoted to the Tabernacle, a directive concerning the Sabbath is included: "The Israelite people shall keep the Sabbath, observing the Sabbath throughout the ages as a covenant for all time" (Ex. 31:16). The Sabbath should be the weekly challenge of every family, to make the Sabbath a special day, bringing out the pleasure in it, enhancing its rest, and delving into its spirituality. All this is done by putting one's effort and talent into creating articles to enhance the Sabbath - candlesticks and kiddush cups, dress clothes for the Sabbath, Sabbath hymns and special tasty dishes for the Sabbath meal.
Thus, not only the Tabernacle provides an opportunity for artistic expression. We see that the Torah enables everyone to create works of art and experience sanctity and spirituality in all things associated with the Sabbath.

What impressed the Israelites with respect to the Tabernacle, and later with respect to the Temple, was that its physical presence and magnificence had an impact not only on those who worshipped the Lord, but on the entire world, so that "From east to west the name of the Lord is praised" (Ps. 113:3). Likewise King Solomon declared at the inauguration of the Temple in Jerusalem: "Or if a foreigner who is not of Your people Israel comes from a distant land for the sake of Your great name, Your mighty hand, and Your outstretched arm, if he comes to pray toward this House, may You hear in Your heavenly abode... Thus all the peoples of the earth will know Your name ... and they will recognize that Your name is attached to this House that I have built" (II Chron. 6:32-33).
The Torah stresses the Sabbath - more than the Tabernacle, especially after the destruction of the Temple - as safeguarding the Jewish people, wherever they may be and whatever their circumstances, and as introducing sanctity itself into the Jewish home. But the Torah goes even further, stressing that the Sabbath, like the Temple, serves as everlasting testimony to the entire world, attesting the existence of the Creator of Heaven and Earth and His covenant with the people of Israel. Since the Classical era, maintaining the character of the Sabbath has actually done more to draw the world's attention to the Jews and their G-d than observance of any other practical commandment. Therefore the Torah proclaims: "Nevertheless, you must keep My sabbaths, for this is a sign between Me and you throughout the ages [Heb. le-olam], that you may know that I the Lord have consecrated you" (Ex. 31:13). Rashi interprets both "that you may know" and le-olam as referring to the nations of the world, "to all the people of the world."

In conclusion, perhaps we can say that in Leviticus the Torah combines both commandments in a single verse - "You shall keep My sabbaths [plural] and venerate My sanctuary [singular]" (Lev. 19:30) - in order present them as equally important, teaching that a Jew must experience both sanctity of place and of time. But closer examination shows that perhaps the Sabbath has a certain pre-eminence, since the Sabbath recurs in a regular cyclic fashion, hence the plural, "My sabbaths," whereas there was only one Sanctuary/Temple, and even that exists no longer.