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   by Jacob Solomon

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For six days, work may be done, but the seventh day shall be holy for you, a day of complete rest, for G-d… (35:2).

This passage immediately precedes the main theme of the final two Parashiot, which relate the actual construction of the Mishkan (Tabernacle), and its inauguration. When, earlier on, G-d spoke to Moses, He first gave the instructions to build the Mishkan and then, directly afterwards, told him of the laws of Shabbat. Yet here, when Moses gathered the Israelites to instruct them, why did he put the Shabbat warning ‘up front’ – before the building of the Mishkan?

In addition, the text uses the rather strange phrase, “For six days work may be done”, in both this and the parallel previous passage (31:16). One would expect Moses to have been forthright and direct in his message: “You shall work for six days”, as in the previous chapter (34:21). After all, one only appreciates rest after hard work. Why, in the context of the Mishkan, has the Torah used the passive – as though encouraging a passive attitude to work?

It would appear that Moses’ deliberately putting Shabbat as the top item of his address to the Israelites, and the Mishkan as only the second, was to teach an important lesson– a message containing values for all time. The message is that the home is the primary center of Torah teaching, and Torah living. The Temple – and today the synagogue, however beautifully endowed, can never act as a replacement for the home. This is elaborated below.

When G-d made Adam and Eve, His Divine presence could be felt on Earth: as the text says, “they heard the Voice of G-d walking through the Garden towards evening” (Gen. 3:8). G-d so loved His creatures that He wished to be with them. When Adam and Eve sinned, they no longer merited having His presence among them, and He withdrew.

The next time G-d explicitly came down to Earth was at the Revelation at Mount Sinai – when He gave the Ten Commandments: “G-d descended to the summit of Mount Sinai” (19:18). Chazal state that at that moment they were like Adam before the Sin – they were spiritually cleansed, and they once more became worthy of having G-d among them.

But that stage did not last for long. Forty days later, when the Israelites sinned with the Golden Calf, their brief intimate association with G-d came to an end. When the Israelites became reconciled to their Creator, they were told by G-d through Moses to build a ‘residence’ for Him – an oasis of purity in an impure world, where it would be fitting for His presence to be felt. That was the place where G-d could be close to His children – as were to be the Temples, built by King Solomon, and Ezra.

The Shabbat is also an oasis of spiritual purity: Chazal have described the Shabbat as “a taste of the World to Come”. It is a day ‘for you’ and ‘for G-d’. A spiritually attuned person feels the Presence of G-d intensifying as he or she ushers in the Shabbat. The Talmud (Shabbat 119a) relates that R. Chanina would wrap himself in his cloak and say, “Come, let us go and meet the Shabbat Queen.” R. Yannai would don his garment and say, “Enter O bride, Enter O bride!” More than a thousand years later, the Kabbalists of Safed extended these practices by introducing the customs of actually walking to the fields to ‘welcome the incoming Shabbat’. Thus the Shabbat in its own right is G-d’s ‘coming down to Earth’. The Shabbat – a day supercharged with the closeness of our Creator – embraces everything on the seventh day.

That idea gives an explanation of why the Shabbat and the Mishkan are presented as one in the Torah. They are both intensifications of the Shechina – the Divine Presence. And the practice of Shabbat is primarily based in the home Shalom Aleichem, Eshet Chayil, the blessing of the children, Kiddush, the festive meals (which always taste special compared to weekdays – even when using the same ingredients), the zemirot, the Divrei Torah, the parent asking the child what he or she has learnt that week… It is an atmosphere super-charged with Divine love: the once a week occasion when the Shechina descends to us.

This message – that home and family are the essential in Torah observance – are reflected in the seemingly passive attitude to work: “ for six days work may be done”. It is not that the Torah opposes working for a living: indeed, King David wrote in Psalms (128:2), “When you eat of the labor of your own hands, you shall be happy and it shall be well with you.” But today work is a pre-occupation for many people – to such a degree that family life suffers.

In Western civilization, many people thoroughly enjoy their jobs. This is partly due to improved working conditions, but it is also a product of the great intellectual satisfaction with the performance of increasingly demanding and specialized tasks. Many people’s identity and ego depend on their achievements at work, and their rate of promotion to positions of higher responsibility, prestige, and salary. They may defend their lack of time spent with their children with, “I am only doing this to give the family a good living”. However, in the heart of hearts they are often glad to be facing all those extra challenges of working overtime, rather than spending an hour or two with their children. The present British Chief Rabbi related that on visiting a school he asked the children to tell him what they found special about Shabbat. One small child piped up, “It’s the only time in the week that I get to see Daddy.”

That is the message of the use of the passive voice – “work may be done”. In the period of the Exodus, people participated enthusiastically in the building of the Mishkan – to the extent that the builders had to tell the Moses that the people had provided more than enough and that there was no room for any further donations (36:4-5). Similarly today people get involved in their work and other projects. This is important, but the pressure and pre-occupation with work must not be allowed to engender a culture where work is the only thing that matters. One must be concerned to provide a living for oneself and one’s family, but not to the extent that all else – including one’s nearest and dearest – falls by the wayside.

So the precedence of Shabbat over the Mishkan is to teach the Israelites for all time a sense of proportion. The real center of the Torah is the home – to where the Shechina arrives on Shabbat – and that neither work nor religious fervor in however worthy a project can go at the expense of a positive home life in accordance with the teachings of the Torah.

This week I made extensive use of the essay: What is Shabbat? by Rabbi David Lister, of the Reading Hebrew Congregation, UK.

These are the accounts of the Mishkan (Tabernacle) that were counted at Moses’ command… All the gold that was used for the work – for all the holy work – the offered-up gold was twenty-nine talents and seven hundred and thirty shekels…(38:22,24).

This Parasha opens with the accounts for the building of the Mishkan, which Moses presented to the Israelites. The Midrash (Shemot Rabba 51:4) brings a tradition as to why Moses – whom G-d describes as, “in My entire house, he is the trusted one”, had to do this. Scoffers, brings the Midrash, mocked Moses, saying:

“How fat is the neck of the son of Amram (Moses)! One who is in charge of the work of the building the Mishkan should not become rich.” Overhearing this arrogant remark, Moses said, “I shall give an account of every donation.”

Nevertheless the text presents the following questions:

1.The accounts themselves open with the heading, “all the gold that was used for the work…”, before “the gold… was twenty-nine talents…”. What are the reasons for, and significance of that heading? Would not, “the gold… was twenty-nine talents…” be enough?

2.The word for, ‘that was made’ is ‘he-a-sui’. This word – a participle – can also be translated into the present tense, rendering the sentence as, ‘all the gold that is used – for all the holy work’. Why is this thought expressed in an ambiguous term?

One way of looking at these problems lies in comparing the Mishkan with the larger, far more expensive and elaborate Temple built by King Solomon. The former was permanent than the latter, as explained and elaborated below.

The Talmud (Sotah 9a) brings the tradition that the Mishkan’s boards, hooks, bolts, columns, and sockets are in existence today – under the site of the First Temple, with their precise location a secret. So the ambiguities of ‘he-a-sui’ are both valid: they were made then, and they still remain ‘made’ today. That also helps to explain why the ‘accounts’ opened with that heading – they are in effect saying that the ‘account’ is permanent – for all time. This contrasts with both Temples, which were utterly destroyed.

The Mishkan, and the two Batei Mikdash (Temples) had different destinies for the following reason. The Mishkan was constructed with a much greater degree of dedication than the Batei Mikdash. The text relates that the walls of the Mishkan were composed of a series of vertically erected wooden boards placed side by side (36:20). The Midrash (Tanchuma 9) brings the famous tradition that the Patriarch, Jacob had been told that, one day, trees would be required for a Divine dwelling place. Jacob therefore planted acacia trees for this very purpose in Egypt, and before he died, he commanded his sons to tell their descendants to carry them up with them when they would leave the country***. Rashi further explains that Abraham had originally planted those trees in Be’er Sheva (Gen. 21:33). This was one of the (non-explicit) reasons that Jacob traveled to Be’er Sheva on his way down to Egypt (Gen 46:1). As the Midrash (Bereishit Rabba 49:1) implies, he infused his entire surroundings with kedusha – holiness. For example when travelers or visitors thanked him for his hospitality, he would say: “Do not thank me; thank the Almighty.” In answer to the response, “Who is He?” he would try to persuade his guests to drop their idol worship and worship G-d. That was the sort of holiness that was absorbed by the very fiber of the boards of the Mishkan.

Because those acacia trees were planted with such dedication by Abraham, and were handled with reverence by generations of Israelites, they survive (in hiding) the vicissitudes of time. Likewise, the gold, silver, copper, and other items that were donated by the Israelites, and fashioned by Bezalel and those which G-d had given ‘wisdom and understanding’ (36:1), had been constructed with the highest degree of lishma – dedication for Divine service.

This contrasts with the first and second Temples, which were built by the Phoenicians and other hired people. It goes without saying that that they did not put the same dedication to the Creator into their work that the Israelites themselves put into the Mishkan. They later fell prey to the enemy and were destroyed.

Going deeper into the issues raised - the Mishkan and the Batei Mikdash were designed with different special spiritual characteristics. The S’forno (40:36) points out that whilst G-d’s glory revealed itself in every part of the Mishkan, it was not felt outside the edifice. It may be derived from here that the Shechina (intense Divine Presence of G-d) must be sought after – it does not descend on It’s own accord. The Shechina does not come to the people: the people have to come to the Shechina. Only when making the prolonged life-long dedicated effort towards spiritual perfection according to the Torah can one have the closest, most satisfying, and most enduring relationship with G-d. And that relationship is of a modest, individual nature – as symbolized by the exclusive nature of the Mishkan (40:35).

The First Temple was designed for a different purpose – a more universal base. King Solomon gave the Temple a wider spiritual appeal in his famous prayer where he dedicated the Temple: “when a stranger who lives in a distant land… comes to worship and pray to you in this Temple… you shall do all that the stranger asks you to do.” (Kings I, 8:41-3). The idea – to promote monotheism and worship of the Almighty by the surrounding nations was of course a most worthy one. However, the cost of including the less spiritually worthy was a lower degree of spiritual perfection and dedication infused into the Temple…

We learn from this discussion that in all our undertakings in life, it is not only the act that counts, but the intention behind it. Put to extremes: as King Solomon expressed it: “Better to eat a meal of vegetables with love in it, than a fattened ox with hate in it” (Proverbs 15:17).

This week I made use of an idea from R. Emmanuel Levy.

***On a previous occasion when I referred to this Midrash, I was asked the following. Naturally growing acacia trees are fairly common within the desert vegetation of that region – as may be seen even today. So why did Jacob have to plant them in advance?

I do look forward to your suggestions…



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