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Sefat Emet: Vayakhel II

Moshe assembled the entire community of the children of Israel and said to them, ‘These are the things that God commanded to do them.” This first pasuk of our parsha is referring to the building of the Mishkan. However, immediately following this pasuk, before beginning to recount the building of the Mishkan, there are two p’sukim commanding us to keep Shabbos. Why is this? The answer to this question lies in the common theme that we find in the Mishkan and Shabbos. The goal of both the Mishkan and Shabbos is to bring an awareness of God into our lives.

When the nation of Israel stood at Mount Sinai to accept the Torah, Chazal tell us that we stood united. We were united and one with God. The sin of the golden calf separated us from God and divided the nation. This is the influence of the plurality of paganism which is diametrically opposed to the oneness of monotheism.

In order to rectify the sin of the golden calf and the results of the sin, the Midrash tells us that God gave us the Mishkan. How did the Mishkan rectify the sin? Building the Mishkan entailed many different activities. In fact, building the Mishkan entailed every major category of human activity. These are the thirty nine categories of work which are prohibited on Shabbos and are derived the Mishkan. Every activity in the Mishkan was dedicated towards the same goal – the manifestation of the Divine Presence. Building the Mishkan, then, united us and our actions in the service of God. Once the Mishkan was built the barrier between us and God caused by the sin of the golden calf was removed.

But before the Mishkan was built we were divided. In effect, we needed the unifying influence of the Mishkan in order to build it. How were we able to overcome this problem? The answer is through the mitzvah of Shabbos. God unified the nation by giving us the mitzvah of Shabbos first. Shabbos, the day on which creation was completed and God, the ultimate Unity was revealed was the day on which we could unite in serving God, the source of unity. This is also the reason the parsha starts with the word “וַיַּקְהֵל/He assembled.” No other mitzvah in the Torah begins with this word. Why does the mitzvah of building the Mishkan begin this way? The reason is that “וַיַּקְהֵל/He assembled” connotes a unified group. The noun associated with this verb is “קְהִילָה/community” which signifies a group of people having common interests. Once we were united in serving God and with God through the mitzvah of Shabbos we were ready to build the Mishkan to complete the rectification for the sin of the golden calf.

Shabbos unites the Creation under God, the source of unity. The Mishkan unites individual actions towards the goal of serving God. From the Mishkan we learn that all of our seemingly mundane activities during the course of the week can be consecrated in the service of God.

(Note: Parshas VaYakhel is usually ready together with parshas Pekudei. This was the case in 5637 (1877) when the Sfas Emes first said this ma’amar. The ma’amar therefore contains references to both parshiyos. This year VaYakhel and Pekudei are read on two separate Shabbosim.) We find this relationship of general unity (i.e. Shabbos) and unity in the details (i.e. Mishkan) in parshiyos VaYakhel and Pekudei. Parshas VaYakhel starts with Shabbos, the revelation of the Divine Presence, and proceeds to describe the building of the Mishkan. This is a top down approach. Parshas Pekudei lists every detail of the Mishkan. The end result is unity through revelation of the Divine Presence. This is a bottom up approach. As we’ve seen, the first approach leads directly to the second. First God reveals Himself through Shabbos showering blessing upon us from above and influencing our actions (i.e. top down). Then we build the Mishkan and God is revealed through our actions in this world (i.e. bottom up).

When contemplating the intricate detail in which the Torah describes the Mishkan and its vessels the following question comes to mind. Chazal tell us that blessing is found only in things which are not counted. Here we find a detailed list of every part of the Mishkan! How, then, is blessing found in the Mishkan? To answer this question the Midrash brings a pasuk in Mishlei which states, “אִישׁ אֱמוּנֽוֹת רַב־בְּרָכוֹת וְאָץ לְהַֽעֲשִׁיר לֹא יִנָּקֶֽה/A man of faith will abound in blessings but one who impatiently pursues wealth will not be exonerated.” The Midrash tells us that “אִישׁ אֱמוּנֽוֹת/A man of faith” refers to Moshe Rabbeinu. The Midrash explains that because Moshe Rabbeinu was a man of faith he abounded in blessings when he built the Mishkan. As a man of faith, Moshe Rabbeinu dedicated his every disparate action towards one common goal thus turning the many into one. This is why there was blessing in the Mishkan even though the details were listed.

This same idea applies to our daily activities. The Mishkan itself and the work we did in it can be viewed as a microcosm of our daily lives. The Mishkan experience enabled us to apply this focus on serving God to our daily activities. If I go about my daily activities with faith in God, I dedicate all my actions to the common goal of serving God. As a result, God showers blessing upon me and all my daily activities.

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