Wednesday, March 14, 2007

Parshas Vayakhel-Pekudei - Chazak!

ששת ימים תעשה מלאכה וביום השביעי יהיה לכם קדש שבת שבתון לד' כל העשה בו מלאכה יומת (35:2)

הקדים להם אזהרת שבת לציווי מלאכת המשכן לומר שאינו דוחה את השבת (רש"י)

In our parsha, the mitzvah of observing Shabbos is related before the commandment to build the Mishkan. In Parshas Ki Sisa, however, the order is reversed (31:1-17). The Meshech Chochmah notes that Rashi explains that here Shabbos is written first in order to teach that the building of the Mishkan may not be done on Shabbos. If so, why is the order in last week’s parsha different?

Rav Meir Simcha points out that after the Mishkan was actually constructed and assembled, the Divine Service which took place inside was allowed to be performed on Shabbos, even thought it often involved otherwise-forbidden labors. He suggests that this is because the entire purpose of Shabbos is to testify to Hashem’s Kingship, in particular with respect to His creation of the entire universe.

In the Mishkan, the Divine Presence was itself palpable and tangible. As such, it was permissible to perform the Service there, since the person doing so was able to nevertheless feel and testify to Hashem’s dominion. Before the Mishkan was fully erected, however, the Shechina didn’t yet rest inside and work on its construction was consequently forbidden, as it didn’t yet offer an alternative means to reach the goal of the observance of Shabbos.

Before the sin of the golden calf, however, the Divine Presence rested throughout the entire Jewish camp, and the Mishkan was merely intended to serve as a place for additional holiness. At that time, it would indeed have been permissible even to construct the Mishkan on Shabbos for the same reason that it was later permitted to bring sacrifices inside once it was completed. In Parshas Ki Sisa, the Torah is addressing the Jews on their pre-sin level, and it therefore reverses the order specifically to teach that at that time, the building of the Mishkan was indeed permissible even on Shabbos!


לא תבערו אש בכל משבתיכם ביום השבת (35:3)

There are 39 creative labors which a person is forbidden to do on Shabbos. Why did the Torah single out and emphasize the prohibition against kindling a fire more than any of the other 38 labors? Rav Yonason Eibeshutz and the Imrei Emes note that the Medrash relates that fire didn’t exist during the six days of creation, as fire was initially produced on the night following the first Shabbos. If so, this wasn’t one of the activities from which Hashem “rested” on the first Shabbos. As the concept of Shabbos is to emulate Hashem’s resting from creative labors, one might have erred to think that it is permitted to kindle a fire, and the Torah therefore singles it out to teach and stress its prohibition!


וכל הנשים אשר נשא לבן אתנה בחכמה טוו את העזים (35:26)

היא היתה אומנות יתירה שמעל גבי העיזים טוין אותן (רש"י)

Rashi writes that the women displayed special skills and wisdom in spinning the goats’ hair while it was still attached to the goats. Why did they do so in this seemingly awkward and inefficient manner, and what unique intelligence did this display?

The Ostrovtzer Rebbe suggests that the women feared that they would be ruled exempt from the mitzvah to build the Mishkan. As it may not be built on Shabbos (Rashi 35:2), it is considered to be a positive time-bound commandment, in which women are not obligated. Although a person who is exempt from a mitzvah and nevertheless performs it receives reward for his actions, the Gemora in Kiddushin (31a) states that the reward for one who is obligated in the mitzvah is much greater.

The reason why the Mishkan may not be built on Shabbos is that the labors involved in its construction are forbidden on Shabbos. However, it is Biblically permissible to perform one of the 39 forbidden activities in an unusual way. Therefore, the women specifically spun the goats’ hair in an unconventional fashion which is Biblically permitted on Shabbos in order to demonstrate that it is possible to work on the Mishkan’s construction even on Shabbos. If so, it is no longer considered a time-bound commandment, which would mean that the women were obligated to assist with it, thus making them eligible for a much larger reward!

Alternatively, Rav Yonason Eibeshutz suggests that among all of the Jewish women, there were surely some who were ritually impure at the time. Those women feared that they would be left out of the building of the Mishkan, as any item they touched would immediately contract their impurity and be rendered unfit for use in the Mishkan. However, they wisely recognized that live animals don’t become impure through contact, and by spinning the hair while it was still attached to the live goats, they were able to have a share in the Mishkan’s construction without rendering it impure!

Finally, a number of commentators (Pardes Yosef, Rav Shlomo Kluger, Imrei Emes, and Taam V’Daas) write that the women of the generation desperately wanted to contribute toward the building of the Mishkan. However, they recognized that Jewish law views any acquisition of a woman as belonging to her husband, apparently leaving them without any possessions of their own to donate.

However, the women realized that the Gemora in Kesuvos explains (47b) that whatever a woman makes, which should rightfully be hers, belongs to her husband in exchange for his providing her with food to eat. Recognizing that in the desert they were miraculously sustained by the Mon which fell daily from the heavens, they had no need to receive food from their husbands, and wisely chose to keep what they produced – including the goat-hair – for themselves so that they could donate to the Mishkan!


מלא אתם חכמת לב לעשות כל מלאכת חרש וחשב ורקם בתכלת ובארגמן בתולעת השני ובשש וארג עשי כל מלאכה וחשבי מחשבת ועשה בצלאל ואהליאב וכל איש חכם לב ... (35:35-36:1)

Upon examining these verses in context, it becomes difficult to understand why the printers began a new chapter at this point. Moshe was in the middle of telling the Jewish people that Hashem has chosen Betzalel and Oholiav to build the Mishkan and has filled them with the necessary talents to do so. In the middle of his address, with no change in topic, seems a peculiar place to begin a new chapter.

Rav Yehoshua Leib Diskin suggests that the printer made an error. In chapter 35, the last verse as we have it is number 35. Before the verse that we refer to as 36:1 was written the number “36,”which actually indicated that ours is verse 36 in chapter 35, but along the way, an ignorant printer misconstrued it to indicate the beginning of a new chapter, and hence verse 36 became chapter 36!


ויבא את הארן אל המשכן וישם את פרכת המסך ויסך על ארון העדות כאשר צוה ד' את משה (40:21)

The Baal HaTurim in his commentary on this verse notes that the Torah emphasizes that every single aspect of the construction and assembly of the Mishkan was done precisely as Hashem had commanded Moshe. In fact, the phrase “as Hashem had commanded Moshe” is used 18 times in our parsha. As there are no coincidences in Torah, he suggests that this number alludes to the 18 blessings recited thrice-daily in the Amidah.

I once heard a beautiful understanding of the Baal HaTurim’s explanation. Hashem told Moshe (31:1-5) that Betzalel should be in charge of the building of the Mishkan, for He had imbued him with Divine wisdom and with expert skills of craftsmanship. We are accustomed to viewing artists as those who are free-thinking and creative, valuing self-expression over adherence to strict rules and guidelines.

As many of the requirements for the Mishkan weren’t absolute, one might have expected Betzalel, with his “artistic spirit,” to improvise and attempt to “improve” upon Hashem’s blueprint. Therefore, the Torah stresses that he followed every instruction to the last detail.

Similarly, many people today complain that they feel constrained by the standard text of our daily prayers established almost 2000 years ago. As our daily needs change, they feel, so too should our expression of them. However, based on the Baal HaTurim’s comparison of the daily prayers to the construction of the Mishkan and its vessels, we may suggest that on a deeper level, he is hinting to us that we also need not feel stifled by the repeated expression of our entreaties in the exact same phrases.

Just as Betzalel followed Hashem’s precise guidelines for the creation of the Mishkan and still found room for creative expression by doing so with his own unique intentions and insights, so too our Rabbis established the standard wording of the prayers with Divine Inspiration, articulating within them every sentiment we may wish to express. Many times, in the middle of a difficult situation, we begin the standard prayers with a heavy heart, only to find a new interpretation of the words which we have recited thousands of times jump out at us, perfectly fit to the sentiments we wish to express.

I once heard a beautiful story which perfectly illustrates this point. A close student of Rav Yechezkel Abramsky once related that an acquaintance of his had recently undergone a difficult kidney transplant. Rav Abramsky sighed, feeling the other’s pain, and then remarked, “I pray every day that I not be forced to undergo such a procedure.”

His surprised student questioned why he made a special point of praying for this daily. Rav Abramsky responded that this request is included in the standard wording of the Grace after Meals, in which we request that we not come to need מתנת בשר ודם – gifts of flesh and blood (e.g. transplants).

The student challenged this explanation, as the simple understanding of the words is that we shouldn’t need monetary gifts from other humans (“flesh and blood”), to which Rav Abramsky smiled and sagaciously explained that the Rabbis incorporated every need we may have within the text of the standard prayers, and any place we may find in which to read a special request we may have is also included in the original intention of that prayer, if we will only open our eyes to see it and “express” ourselves there accordingly!


Parsha Points to Ponder (and sources which discuss them):

1) Why does the Torah include two entire portions – Vayakhel and Pekudei – to record in lengthy detail that the people built the Mishkan and garments for the Kohanim precisely as they had been commanded to do instead of simply stating, “The Jewish people did as Hashem commanded them?” (Ohr HaChaim HaKadosh, Divrei Shaul, Nesivos Rabboseinu)

2) The Mishkan was ten cubits (15-20 feet) tall (36:21). As the Gemora in Shabbos (92a) states that the height of Moshe and the Levites was also ten cubits, how were they able to fit inside to perform the Divine service? (Moshav Z’keinim 26:1)

3) A number of commentators (Tur, Paneiach Raza, Moshav Z’keinim, Arizal) explain that mirrors were needed in the Mishkan (38:8) because the Kohen bringing an offering must intend it for the sake of its owner. When a woman brought a sacrifice, it was forbidden for the Kohen to look at her face, so she stood next to him and he saw her appearance in the mirror, thereby allowing him to bring the offering on her behalf. If it was forbidden to look at the face of a woman why was it permissible to see her appearance in a mirror, and why was it necessary for the Kohen to actually see the face of the animal’s owner in order to bring it on his behalf? (Shu”t Minchas Elozar 3:25, Taam V’Daas, Tiferes Torah, K’Motzei Shalal Rav)

4) Rashi writes (38:8) that Moshe initially refused to accept the mirrors which the women wanted to donate for the Mishkan. He found them disgusting because they were designed to incite a person’s evil inclination, until Hashem commanded him to accept them because the women had used them to arouse their exhausted husbands in Egypt, thereby enabling the conception of their children. Why didn’t Moshe express similar reservations about accepting the כומז, which Rashi explains (35:22) was a type of ornamentation placed opposite the private part of a woman’s body? (Paneiach Raza, Moshav Z’keinim, Sifsei Chochomim)

5) Hashem gave Moshe and Aharon the first mitzvah given to the Jews as a nation, the mitzvah of Kiddush HaChodesh – sanctifying the new moon (12:2). In the blessing recited on the Shabbos prior to Rosh Chodesh, we pray that מי שעשה נסים לאבותינו וגאל אותם מעבדות לחירות הוא יגאל אותנו בקרוב – He Who performed miracles for our ancestors and redeemed them from servitude to freedom, may He redeem us soon. What is the connection between Rosh Chodesh and the redemption which makes it appropriate to specifically recite this prayer at the time when we are blessing the new month?


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