1. What is the title of the parsha? What does it mean?
A: Vayakhel – and he (Moshe) congregated.
After the sin of the calf, and all the plagues and executions and despair which ensued, Moshe was told to reorganize the nation and get them prepared for the elevating task of building a temple for Hashem, so that the divine presence and the blessing which accompanies a favourable, intimate relationship with the Creator, could once again return into our midst.
2. Why is lighting fire singled out as a prohibited act on shabbos?
A: Halachically, there is a principle in exegesis, whereby when a single member of a group is singled out for a certain law, it is learnt not merely to that item, but to reflect on the entire group. The countering opinion in the gemarra includes our verse into a different principle – simply that it is only coming to teach about itself, the implication being that while all other melachas are punishable by stoning to death (on condition that there were 2 valid witnesses who properly warned him and he accepted and went on anyways), transgressing with fire (igniting) is like other negative commandments, and only receives lashes. Furthermore, we learn that one is obligated for transgressing any individual prohibited act of shabbos, and if one transgresses a multiple of laws simultaneously, then a multiple of repercussions follow.
There are many interesting explanations as to why fire was singled out among the 39 categories of melacha (creative acts). Perhaps since heat and fire are found in nature (unlike sewing or writing), perhaps one would think it is less stringent. The Sforno adds that since fire is generally destructive and not creative one maight think it is lighter, however since it is harnessed in so many creative acts it is actually as severe as the rest. The aRamban and his sparring contemporary Ibn Ezra offer a viable reason why fire might have been demoted in severity, since lighting fire and carrying are the two melachas which are permitted on yontiff, misleading one to think that they are not as serious as the other melashas of shabbos. Or perhaps fire is the ultimate force to change nature, reminiscent of havdallah, when we shift back into the week of activity by bringing our hands (our tools of action) to fire (natures creative force).
We’ll finish off with some more spiritual comments of the sages –namely that the kabbala shows from this verse that even in gehennom, the fires are so to speak, vanquished on shabbos, as the entire creation top and bottom participates in attesting to Hashem as the creator by resting on the seventh day. (Some try to hold onto shabbos for just a little longer, in order to offer a respite to those poor souls who have a tough year of surgery and rehab in gehennom before they are nice and clean for the Garden of Eden.)
Lastly, we are told that one is forbidden to let oneself become angry on the holy Sabbath, for anger, in Torah is proverbialized as fire – which is the ultimate destructive and unsettled state one can be in, and thus a total contradiction to the spirit of shabbos.
3. How were all the items for the mishkan collected? Did the women and men bring equally? How did the princes/leaders respond, and what was their ‘just desserts’?
A: Moshe asked for donations, and the nation brought with alacrity, until Moshe had to tell them they had already gave more than sufficient.
The women led the men in giving – which also goes to prove retroactively, that the reason the women were reluctant to contribute to the golden calf, was not due to stinginess and overattachment to their materialism, but rather due to a true loyalty to Hashem, which they now had the opportunity to demonstrate in a positive sense.
The princes decided to wait and whatever the nation did not manage to bring, thy would fill in. After they saw that the nation had quickly supplied almost everything needed, they ended up offering the 12 stones for the choshen (breastplate of the high priest), and the 2 stones for his eiphod, and spices and oil. Because they were so laidback in their service, and especially as leaders should have led the nation with zeal and joy, they are punished in having the letter yud missing from their title. The yud is a spiritual letter, it is the only letter that doesn’t touch the ground, and halachically can be scribed with a mere dot, since it is not a physical element. This fits the crime of lacking a spirit of enthusiasm, for it is not enough just to do, but Hashem wants the heart, not lip service and dulled efforts, that’s not why we were chosen, and that won’t make us much a light unto the nations, – nobody wants their loved one to do for them begrudgingly. They learned their lesson, ant at the inauguration of the altar (in Numbers), they all offered first.
4. Who made all the different items?
A: All the wisehearted of the Jewish people helped. Betzalel did most of the work with the vessels, and most hold he made the ark himself (therefore his name is written by it). The women took a special role in spinning the yarn, and goats hair.
Where did these estranged slaves born of slaves learn to do all the intricate and skilled crafts needed for building the temple? See the parsha page>
5. What was special about preparing the goat’s hair which was used for covering the mishkan? Why was this necessary?
A: It was spun on the backs of the goats!!! (if your Hebrew is proficient you can see how this lies in the simple reading of the verse). The Sforno says that a certain lustre would only be retained this way. Still, this far out requirement is obviously not merely for a minor amelioration in sheen, especially since the goat hair layer of the mishkan was essentially covered on the inside and out by the interior and exterior layers.
The gemarra says that there are 4 brazen ones in the world – Rooster among the birds, Dogs among the animals, Goats among the small animals, and Israel among the nations. Generally, obstinance is a negative character trait (as we discussed last week by the golden calf when Hashem wants to wipe us out for being ‘stiff-necked’), but virtually every trait has a good and bad side, depending on its application. When one is being seduced or coerced to do something improper than stubbornness is his best friend to keep him on the straight and narrow. It is hard to find a very successful person who does not have a decent level of obstinance in his arsenal which he has employed to get himself to achieve his harder goals.
One can check and see, that the more important something is, the more stringencies will surround it. For example, the physical state of an athlete is more important than that of the batboy or the commoner, thus we expect to find his diet much more precise, and he will even have others helping and monitoring his diet. The letters written by a president or contract lawyer are more weighty than your average penpal, and that is why a team of experts pores over its p’s and q’s. Nobody would expect a heart surgeon to be casual about the tools he uses, or to bend to the janitor if he tells him, “stop asking for more sterilizing fluid, just wipe it on your shirt.”
The Jewish people have a unique identity and role in the world, and natural entropy and diffusion should have seen our disintegration, but our trait of affinity and resistance has kept us honest. We are careful about what we put in our mouths, because our bodies house holy neshamas. We avoid every speck of chametz on pesach, because we appreciate what it means to be a slave and what it means to be a Jew.
The role of the cohen, and service in the temple is an even more concentrated aspect of uniqueness, and holiness, thus the priests need an even greater level of obstinance to maintain their service according to all its demands and detailed statutes. (The tribe of Levi just merited this exalted role of temple service in the last parsha when they were able to overcome their natural emotions to break away from the rest of the nation at the golden calf, and then eradicate on Hashem’s command, all of the perpetrators of the crime, even if they were a friend or relative.) The lustre of the goats hair brings out to potential and also serve to remind them of this essential trait they need to fortify when one comes into the mishkan.
6. What is significant about the construction of the mishkan that Hashem repeated it extensively in our parsha?
A: Judaism is not religion of theology – it doesn’t help to be orthodox if one is not orthopractice (although if you have ortho-align you’re off to a good start). Until know we just spoke about the great task of building a place whereby the Creator can dwell, in a revealed sense, among the creation – what a fantastic and mind blowing idea! But it remains philosophical conjecture with little benefit to anybody until it is realized, and the Torah, which is otherwise the epitome of pithiness and brevity, goes at great length to detail the actualization of the idea, and how dreams become reality.
7. What did the Keruvim on the ark resemble? Why?
A: Angels that resembled children, who are looking both at the ark of the Torah, and at each other. Like chevrusas, they come to the Torah with childlike curiosity and innocence, eager to learn and know and do. At the same time they look at each other for the man is supposed to be a social creature, and Torah as well is meant to be learned with others, in order to hear other views, and to challenge your own. Also the greater the number of Jews together for a good cause, the more the divine presence rests upon them.
The Keruvim also reflected the relationship between Israel and their Father in Heaven – when we were good, then they faced each other, when we were bad, in other words when we turned away from Hashem and His mitzvos, than the second Keruv turned away in kind.
We hope everybody has a splendid shabbos –a day so special that the building of the Mishkan stopped for it!!
-Beth Shifra Crew