Gleanings from Vayakhel

“He (Moses) assembled,”  Exodus 35:1 – 38:20

In many ways, this week’s Torah portion is a repeat of Parashat Terumah, Exodus 25:1 – 27:19. The primary difference is that in Terumah, HaShem told Moses how to construct the Mishkan (Tabernacle). In Vayakhel, this week’s parasha, Moses assembled all of the people and passed on the information received from HaShem about constructing the Mishkan. 

Before looking at Vayakhel, here is a quick recap of what went on in last week’s portion, Ki Tisa (Exodus 30:11 – 34:35). While on the mountain, HaShem told Moses of the Israelites’ sin with the molten calf and his anger against them (Exodus 32). Moses interceded on behalf of the Israelites asking HaShem to forgive them and continue with them (Exodus 33:12-16). Then, after granting Moses’ request to see his glory (Exodus 33:19-23), HaShem reiterated the covenant he was making with Bnei-Israel (Exodus 34:10-27). 

Now to the assembly Moses called to pass on the words of HaShem (Vayakhel). Intriguingly, the only thing Moses repeats from that which was said at the end of Ki Tisa concerns the keeping or observing of Shabbat.

These are the words which ADONAI has commanded you to do. Work is to be done for six days, but the seventh day is a holy day for you, a Shabbat of complete rest to ADONAI. Whoever does any work then will die. Do not kindle a fire in any of your dwellings on Yom Shabbat.” (Exodus 35:1-3)

Moses might have said more than this one command. However, under the direction of the Ruach while writing the Torah, this is what was deemed most important: “…the seventh day is a holy day for you, a Shabbat of complete rest to ADONAI.” There is no doubt that over the years, the fences or safeguards that have been placed around the observance of Shabbat have, at times, become burdensome. This is evident in Yeshua’s statement to the Pharisees who were challenging his disciples’ observance,

Then He said to them, “Shabbat was made for man, and not man for Shabbat. So, the Son of Man is Lord even of Shabbat.” (Mark 2:27-28)

However, it is important to note that in saying this, Yeshua did NOT negate the keeping of Shabbat; he only softened the man-made safeguards. Let’s look at the command again.

It begins, “Work is to be done for six days…” (Exodus 35:2), echoing Exodus 20:9, “You are to work six days, and do all your work….” This statement indicates that man is like HaShem in that he is to work six days and rest one. Remember the creation account, “God blessed the seventh day and sanctified it, for on it He ceased from all His work that God created for the purpose of preparing” (Genesis 2:2-3). HaShem worked six days and then rested. Without work, what is the benefit of rest? The relation of work and rest may have been in the back of Rav Shaul’s mind when he wrote,

For even when we were with you, we would give you this order: if anyone will not work, neither shall he eat. For we hear that some among you are behaving irresponsibly—not busy, but busybodies. (2 Thessalonians 3:10-11)

There is dignity in work. Without the six days of work, there would be no seventh day of rest; they need each other for distinction. At the end of Shabbat, we recite the Havdalah service that acknowledges this distinction,

Blessed are You, Lord our God, King of the universe, who differentiates between holy and mundane (or secular), between light and darkness, between Israel and (other) peoples, between the seventh day and the six days of work. Blessed are You, Lord, who differentiates between holy and mundane (or secular).

Both the days of work and the day of rest are blessings from and blessed by HaShem. Consider Moses’ reminder in Deuteronomy 8:18, “you are to remember ADONAI your God, for it is He who gives you power to make wealth,” or possibly the ability to work.

Then there is the phrase, “…the seventh day is a holy day for you, a Shabbat of complete rest to ADONAI.” What does it mean, “a holy or kadosh day?” The understanding of holy is “set apart,” specifically for HaShem. Peter wrote in his letter to Yeshua-followers in the Diaspora,

But you are a chosen people, a royal priesthood, a holy nation, a people for God’s own possession, so that you may proclaim the praises of the One who called you out of darkness into His marvelous light. (1 Peter 2:9)

Whether these were Jewish or non-Jewish Yeshua-followers, Peter reminded them that they were linked to Israel as HaShem had proclaimed, “So as for you, you will be to Me a kingdom of kohanim and a holy nation” (Exodus 19:6). So, it is not simply that Israel, along with Yeshua’s followers, are holy or set apart; moreover, they are set apart, distinguished as it were for a reason – that is to be with HaShem. Every mention of keeping Shabbat is linked or related to HaShem. This relationship is articulated in these words from the Shabbat Morning Amidah,

May the people who sanctify the seventh day all find satisfaction and delight in Your goodness, for You favored the seventh day and made it holy, calling it the most cherished of days, a remembrance of the act of creation.

So, while it is true that “Shabbat was made for man, and not man for Shabbat,” this does not detract from the fact that the seventh day should be distinct from the six days of work. In that distinction, we should focus on HaShem, not on ourselves. The prophet Isaiah had this to say about keeping Shabbat,

If you turn back your foot from Shabbat, from doing your pleasure on My holy day, and call Shabbat a delight, the holy day of ADONAI honorable, if you honor it, not going your own ways, not seeking your own pleasure, nor speaking your usual speech, then You will delight yourself in ADONAI, and I will let you ride over the heights of the earth, I will feed you with the heritage of your father Jacob.” For the mouth of ADONAI has spoken. (Isaiah 58:13-14)

If keeping Shabbat was important enough to be the only command reiterated before the construction of the Mishkan began, maybe we should reconsider our practices and traditions concerning Shabbat. Our approach to the seventh day may enable us to discover how we can call Shabbat a delight and an honorable day unto ADONAI.

All Scripture references are from the Tree of Life (TLV) Translation of the Bible. Copyright © 2015 by The Messianic Jewish Family Bible Society.

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