Parshas Vayakhel – The Freedom of Shabbos

In this week’s parsha, Parshas Vayakhel, the parsha begins by reiterating the command to keep Shabbos.  And Moshe assembled the entire assembly of the Children of Israel and said to them…  שֵׁשֶׁת יָמִים, תֵּעָשֶׂה מְלָאכָה, וּבַיּוֹם הַשְּׁבִיעִי יִהְיֶה לָכֶם קֹדֶשׁ שַׁבַּת שַׁבָּתוֹן – For six days work shall be done, but the seventh day shall be holy for you, a complete rest for Hashem; whoever does work on it shall be put to death.  לֹא-תְבַעֲרוּ אֵשׁ, בְּכֹל מֹשְׁבֹתֵיכֶם, בְּיוֹם, הַשַּׁבָּת, you shall not kindle a fire in all your dwelling places on the Shabbos day (Shemos 35:1-3). 

As we come to the end of Sefer Shemos, it is noteworthy to remember that this is hardly the first time we have been commanded regarding Shabbos.  In fact, since the redemption from Egypt, Shabbos has been a theme in every parsha and/or topic

In Parshas Beshalach, days after leaving Egypt, and even before Matan Torah, the Israelites were commanded regarding Shabbos (Rashi to Shemos 15:25); when the manna fell for the first time (Shemos 16), more was learned about Shabbos than the manna itself (Shemos 16, Chazal and commentators); in Parshas Yisro Shabbos is the fourth of the Aseres Ha’Dibros (20:8-11); in Mishpatim, once again, we are commanded regarding Shabbos – שֵׁשֶׁת יָמִים תַּעֲשֶׂה מַעֲשֶׂיךָ, וּבַיּוֹם הַשְּׁבִיעִי תִּשְׁבֹּת–לְמַעַן יָנוּחַ, שׁוֹרְךָ וַחֲמֹרֶךָ, וְיִנָּפֵשׁ בֶּן-אֲמָתְךָ, וְהַגֵּר, For six days you shall do your work, and on the seventh day you shall cease from work, so that your ox and donkey may rest and your slavewoman’s son and the stranger may be refreshed; in regard to the command to construct the Mishkan (Parshios Terumah, Tetzaveh and Ki Sisa 30-31), the Torah makes sure to tell us that the mileches ha’Mishkan must be stopped in honor of Shabbos – אַךְ אֶת-שַׁבְּתֹתַי, תִּשְׁמֹרוּ:  כִּי אוֹת הִוא בֵּינִי וּבֵינֵיכֶם, לְדֹרֹתֵיכֶם – And you shall speak to the Children of Israel saying, Just my Sabbaths you shall observe, for it is a sign between Me and you for your generations… (31:12-17 with Rashi).  And finally, in our parsha, once again, we are commanded regarding Shabbos.

Immediately prior to our parsha, and the command to keep Shabbos, the Torah tells us that when Moshe came down from Har Sinai, the skin of his face was radiant with light and beaming from kedushas ha’Torah

What is the connection between the end of last week’s parsha, and Moshe’s beaming face, and the beginning of our parsha, and the keeping of Shabbos?

The Ba’al Ha’Turim answers: לומר שאינו דומה קירון פנים של שבת לשאר הימים – to teach you that the glow of a person’s countenance on Shabbos is not the same as it is on the other days of the week (35:1). 

How powerful and important is Shabbos to the destiny, continuity and eternity of Knesses Yisrael, that throughout Sefer Shemos, also known as Sefer ha’Geula (the book of Redemption), we are commanded regarding Shabbos over and over again

It is so powerful, in fact, that the glow of a person’s “Shabbos face” is not the same as that of his “weekday face.”

R’ Soloveitchik zt’l teaches that, “As noted in the beginning of this week’s parsha, Hashem appends a warning regarding keeping Shabos.  The Beis HaLevi explains that there are basic necessities to maintain physical life, and there are luxuries which are greatly enjoyed but do not constitute necessities.  In our spiritual lives, too, there are mitzvos which are basic to our existence as Jews, and there are other mitzvos which, although beautiful, we can survive without as a people if necessary.

Knesses Yisrael have survived for nineteen hundred years without a Temple, sometimes very well.  Without the Beis Ha’Mikdash (BHM”K) we produced Tanaim, the Mishnah was written, the Gemara followed.  Without the BHM”K we had the Geonic period, Rishonim, mekubalim, Chassidic leaders.  Of course, Jews pined for the rebuilding of the Temple.  Obviously, the presence of prophets and a BHM”K widens one’s religious horizons.  Yet we can survive without these.  On the other hand, a Klal Yisrael without Shabos cannot exist.  Shabos to the soul is like water and bread to the body…

“If one reads the Shabos Shuva derashos that were delivered to the Jews in Europe over the last few centuries, they never contained warnings to keep Shabos, kashrus, to wear tefillin, or to give children a Jewish education.  Such exhortations were unnecessary, as the people recognized that their very existence depended upon these fundamentals.  Instead, these derashos contained warnings, for example, about how one should not spend excessive time in front of mirrors, being overly concerned about one’s appearance, or how one should not dress too luxuriously.

“Only in this generation, with our skewed priorities, are exhortations regarding basic spiritual necessities necessary.  Reciting kaddish over a deceased parent, a relatively minor custom, is considered more important  than Shabos and Jewish education…” (Chumash Masores ha’Rav Shemos, p.320-321)

Perhaps the repeated, underlying theme of Shabbos, which courses through almost the entire book of Shemos, is meant to teach us that there is no geula, there is no redemption, without Shabbos.  For six days work can – and shall – be done, and on the seventh day, all connection and interaction with this mundane, finite world proverbially ceases, as we dedicate ourselves to kedushas Shabbos, to reconnecting with Hashem, to accessing a tiny fraction of the קָרַן עוֹר פָּנָיו, the radiant skin of the face (34:29), which a Jew is worthy to receive only on Shabbos Kodesh – when we build a Mishkan in our lives and make room for Hashem in our homes.

בברכת בשורות טובות ושבת שלום,


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