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The Parasha's main theme is the private donations of materials for the Tabernacle, and its construction. It opens with an appeal to the Israelites to supply resources from their valuables. But Moses does not immediately launch into the 'business of the day'. Instead:
Moses assembled the Congregation of Israel and said… "This what G-d has commanded. Six days shall you work. On the seventh day, it shall be a Sabbath… to G-d." (35:1-2)
Following that, Moses appended:
You may not light a fire… on the Sabbath Day. (35:3)
Only after that, does Moses involve the Israelites in the details of the main theme of the Parasha:
Let every generous person bring a donation… gold, silver, and copper… (35:4)
At a special assembly (vayakhel), Moses opens the request for supplies with something that would not be expected at a fund-raising session - a directive on the subject of Shabbat. Nothing to do with donations. Moses then adds the prohibition of only one specific activity on Shabbat - namely kindling a fire. Only after that does he go into the details of supplying materials for the construction of the Tabernacle.
What is the reason for this order? Where does the prohibition of lighting a fire on Shabbat fit in? (Apart from the Halachic derivations outside the scope of this D'var Torah).
One key to understanding the connection is that contributions in the main were entirely voluntary. That means that they were given with goodwill.
People on the whole do business with those they like. They prefer to buy a sandwich at a distant, more expensive retailer who makes them feel welcome, than from the glum 'regulated' salesperson 'around the corner' who 'makes change' on 'automatic pilot'. They also prefer do business with those they feel they go out of their way to serve the needs of the customer, and for that matter, those with whom they can identify with.
This was Moses' approach. 'Moses assembled' - on his own initiative, without G-d's specific instructions. He opened - on his own initiative - with the Sabbath. For the Sabbath is a way of life that unifies the Israelites as one Chosen nation - implying (in a different context) 'For all congregation is holy, and G-d is amongst them'. Indeed, the Almighty sets the Sabbath at the very foundation of the Creation, which He shares with His People: 'It is sign between Me and the Israelites… that G-d created the Heavens and Earth in six days, and He rested on the seventh'.
The Sabbath is thus the emphasized common ground. Moses observed the Sabbath. The people observed the Sabbath. And the building of the Tabernacle also 'observed the Sabbath' as construction was to cease on that day. So Moses reinforced the Sabbath in communicating that the people were at one with him, and at one with G-d. They were 'at one' with observing Shabbat, as extra work was to be done on the day before Shabbat to make the Shabbat possible; because of the prohibition of fire-making and thus the need to prepare food beforehand. No-one was excluded - neither Moses, neither the Israelites, neither the act of constructing the Tabernacle. Therefore the enthusiasm in contributing to the Tabernacle was a product, and logical extension of the common ground illustrated and reinforced by Sabbath observance. It would activate the notion that 'I shall live amongst the Israelites and be to them as a G-d.'
So the Sabbath was a subtle means of bringing the best out of people's goodwill - the quality needed not only to elicit donations, but to make people feel good about giving.
In contrast, Solomon did not involve the people through their goodwill, but used professional artisans and taxes. He only 'assembled' the Israelites when the Temple was completed (Kings I 8:1-2) - at their expense, but without their direct involvement. It proved itself dispensable a generation later when the Northern Kingdom preferred to make their own spiritual arrangements at Beth El and Dan…
For those looking for more comprehensive material, questions and answers on the Parasha may be found at http://www.shemayisrael.com/parsha/solomon/questions/ and on the material on the Haftara at http://www.shemayisrael.com/parsha/solomon/haftara/ .
Written by Jacob Solomon. Tel 02 673 7998. E-mail: firstname.lastname@example.org for any points you wish to raise and/or to join those that receive this Parasha sheet every week.
Parashiot from the First, Second, and Third Series may be viewed on the Shema Yisrael web-site: http://www.shemayisrael.com/parsha/solomon/archives/archives.htm
Also by Jacob Solomon:
This article is provided as part of Shema Yisrael Torah Network
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