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Va-yakhel

Vayak'hel records the actual implementation of God's instructions on how to build the Mishkan (Tabernacle), recounted earlier in the Parshah of Terumah. Indeed, Vayak'hel is very nearly a repeat of Terumah -- the same details that in Terumah are prefaced with the words, "And they shall make..." are here presented following the preface, "And they made..."

But first,

Moses convenes the entire people. Just as the laws of the Tabernacle end with the laws of the Sabbath, so too, the process of building it begins with a reiteration of the holiness of the Sabbath, mandating that the people refrain from work and from kindling fire on Shabbat.

Moses then calls for contributions from the people and asks those with talent and ability to participate in the project. The response is so generous and enthusiastic that all the men and women whose hearts moved them to bring anything for the work that the Lord, through Moses had commanded to be done, did so as a freewill offering. Bezalel and Oholiab take the donations and begin to work, and the donations are so bounteous that Moses has to order the people to stop giving.

The people join in the work of construction, sewing and building and Bezalel turns to fashioning the furniture and accessories of the Tabernacle: the ark, the table, the menorah, the altar of incense, the anointing oil and incense, the altar of burnt offering, the laver and the enclosure.

THEMES:

1. Does Parsha Vayakhel simply repeat Parsha Terumah?

The basic difference between Terumah and Vayakhel is quite simple. Parshat Terumah records God's commandment to Moshe concerning the laws of the Mishkan. Now, in Parshat Vayakhel, Moshe conveys these mitzvot to B'nei Yisrael.

According to Ramban, the book of Exodus concludes with the story of the Mishkan because its construction marks the completion of Israel’s redemption. Ramban’s explanation can help us understand the manner in which the Torah repeats the details of the Mishkan in Parsha Vayakhel.

Although Israel had already achieved 'spiritual redemption' at Sinai, this special level was lost as a result of Golden Calf. God had removed His Sh'china (his Holy spirit) from Israel, effectively thwarting the redemption process.

Moses’ intervention on Israel’s behalf certainly saved them from destruction and secured their atonement. However, it could not restore Israel to the spiritual level achieved at Sinai. God’s spirit, which was to have resided in their midst, instead remained outside the camp.

God's thirteen 'attributes of mercy' allowed Israel a 'second chance,' but the return of the Sh'china did not occur automatically. To bring the Sh'china back, Israel had to do something; they had to actively and collectively involve themselves in the process of building the Mishkan.

In other words, Israel required what we might call 'spiritual rehabilitation.' Their collective participation in the construction of the Mishkan helped repair the strain in their relationship with God brought about by the Golden Calf.

2. The reiteration of the Sabbath and the punishment for not following the laws of Shabbat.

Kedusha (holiness) is the link between the Mishkan and Shabbat. The very first time the word kodesh appears in the Torah, (a leading indicator of its essential theme) is in the context of Shabbat. Similarly the very commandment to build the Mishkan (and the subsequent batei mikdash) is encompassed in the phrase v’asu li mikdash (Shemot, 25:8). Thus Shabbat and Mishkan have convergent themes. The former speaks of holiness in time and the latter highlights holiness in space.

This is a concept that was greatly elaborated upon by Rabbi Abraham Joshua Heschel.

Abraham Joshua Heschel writes in his book The Sabbath, “Six days a week we wrestle with the world, wringing profit from the earth; on the Sabbath we especially care for the seed of eternity planted in the soul” (p. 13). Shabbat has served to remind Jews, among other things, of essential humanitarian values, especially regarding the wellness of others. It is interesting that Moses says these words before the Israelite community, “Six days work may be done, but on the seventh day you shall have a day of complete rest, holy to the Lord”’ immediately preceding the account of the Tabernacle’s construction. Shabbat seems to be that constant reminder that we need to remember our well-being, taking the time to have that spiritual “mental-health day” to re-group and energize from the tiring, yet meaningful work we do six days a week.

3. The idea of working together to achieve success. God exemplifies compassion and mercy to Israel, and in an extreme act of faith and devotion, the Israelites mass together, work collectively. All members of the community, men and women alike, respond with great generosity to Moses’ call and freely contribute their most precious possessions as well as their skilled labour services to produce a holy structure which they are proud of, feeling a sense of accomplishment for what they believe acceptable and appropriate for God.

4. The idea of learning from our mistakes (Golden Calf) and moving beyond them. Perhaps the ultimate message of this parasha is that we must learn from our mistakes and take comfort in the fact that God recognizes our humanity, and hence our fallibility.  Ideally, perhaps, there would be a more just relationship between the Jewish people and God—a relationship in which we were perfect and never erred.   However, this “ideal”, with the best intentions, is never met. Everyone makes mistakes.  Everyone sins.  You would be hard pressed to find anyone here who has not made a mistake or a single transgression before. What is important is what we do after the fact. Do we say “I’ve sinned; therefore, I’m giving up” or do we work harder on ourselves to change our ways.

The Israelites do just that! They work harder, and through their efforts they manage to create a magnificent holy structure where God will dwell. Everyone has a job and a task to do, and they fulfill it as best they can by the skills they have. All their effort and energy is bound up in a task of pleasing another and themselves. Doing and working for the glory of God, yet at the same time working and banding together for the greater good of community to have something which they are proud of, something which has meaning for them. The whole Israelite community (Exod. 35:1): this is to restore the sense of unity and shared purpose that had once existed on Mt. Sinai before the golden calf episode introduced divisiveness and disillusionment [Eretz Hem-dah].

5. The prohibition of lighting fire on Shabbat. The verse "Do not kindle any fire in all of your settlements" (Exodus 35: 3) may form a key to understanding the connection between Shabbat and the Mishkan. 

This provides the basic differences between Rabbinic Judaism and the Karaites version.

During the 9th century C.E., a number of sects arose that denied the existence of oral Torah. These sects came to be known as Karaites (literally, People of the Scripture), and they were distinguished from the Rabbanites or Rabbinical Judaism.

The Karaites believed in strict interpretation of the literal text of the scripture, without rabbinical interpretation.They believed that rabbinical law was not part of an oral tradition that had been handed down from G-d, nor was it inspired by G-d, but was an original work of the sages. As such, rabbinical teachings are subject to the flaws of any document written by mere mortals.

The difference between Rabbanites and Karaites that is most commonly noted is in regard to the Sabbath: the Karaites noted that the Bible specifically prohibits lighting a flame on the Sabbath, so they kept their houses dark on the sabbath. The Rabbanites, on the other hand, relied upon rabbinical interpretation that allowed us to leave burning a flame that was ignited before the sabbath. Karaites also prohibited sexual intercourse on the sabbath, while Rabbanites considered the sabbath to be the best time for sexual intercourse. The Karaites also follow a slightly different calendar than the Rabbanites.

According to the Karaites, this movement at one time attracted as much as 40 percent of the Jewish people. Today, Karaites are a very small minority, and most Rabbinical Jews do not even know that they exist.

So looking at our Parsha this week, the warning not to kindle fire during Shabbat has two distinct interpretations.The Karaites understood this verse to mean that no fire should burn on Shabbat. The rabbinic understanding of this proscription is more complex. Limited use of existing fire is permitted on Shabbat including for the purpose of bringing sacrifices/korbanot. The root of korban is KRV, meaning "close". In this context, fire is acceptable on Shabbat for the purpose of bringing one closer to God. 

Fire represents a duality: it can destroy or it can create. In last week's parsha, the Israelites' fire and passion caused them to commit the sin of the Golden Calf – this is fire in its destructive mode. In this week's parsha, the Israelites' fiery passion for God is demonstrated by their gifts of materials to build the Mishkan – fire in a creative mode. Each of us has the capacity to emulate the various roles played in Mishkan construction into an aspect of creating our own mikdash me'at: Like the Israelites, we must tap into our fire, our passion, and give deeply of ourselves in order to create a holy space for God in our homes. Like Moshe, we must work with the multi-fired blueprints God has given us to plan this holy space. Like Bezalel, we must use the fire of our imaginations, wisdom, knowledge, understanding and talent to construct this holy space.

6. Jewish tradition teaches us that the home of each Jew is to be a "mikdash me'at" – a little sanctuary, a little Mishkan. This week's Torah portion discusses the building of God's sanctuary and it may be a blueprint for how to create a home that becomes a fitting sanctuary for Jewish living. In order to sanctify the mundane, we must learn how to reveal God's presence in everything that is, and everything that happens. Therefore, we must develop an attitude that directs our motives and actions toward serving God. With the proper attitude we are able to acknowledge God's ever present presence and sanctify every activity by directing them toward serving God.

The Mishkan was to be the one place where God's presence remained overt and in evidence. Therefore, it was essential that every aspect of the Mishkan's construction be directed toward serving God and being aware of His presence. The Torah in this week's Parshst emphasizes that from the moment the materials were donated to the final assembling of the Mishkan everything was done, "as commanded by God to Moshe."

In Devarim 28:10 Moshe told the Jews that if they sanctify themselves by following the commandments of God, "The other nations of the world will see that the name of God is upon you and they will be in awe of you!"

RELATIONSHIP TO OUR LIVES

Our success in influencing the other nations to recognize God and sanctify their own lives is in direct proportion to the degree that God is evident within our own lives. To the extent that "God dwells in our midst," is the extent to which we accomplish the reason for our separation from the rest of the nations and why we were given the Torah.

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