Parshas Vayakhel

In this week’s Sedra Moshe Rabeinu recounts to Klal-Yisroel all that Hashem had commanded him regarding the construction of the Mishkan/Tabernacle. However, as Moshe begins to do so he seems to start with a redundant statement. Moshe says to Klal-Yisroel “this is the matter upon which Hashem commanded; saying: take from yourselves donations for God, all those of generous hearts should bring the donations of God etc.” (35, 4-5). Aside from being redundant the second half of this statement appears to be phrased oddly. Instead of saying “donations of God” it would seem more appropriate to have said ‘donations for God’ just as it was phrased in the first half of the statement. Why this seeming redundancy? Why this peculiar phraseology?

The Seridei-Aish Ztz”l (חידושים על הש”ס מהדורא קמא ס’ לד’) explains: all objects, even non movable objects, and even real-estate properties, belong to Hashem. Hashem however, so as to allow society to function, allowed mankind ‘rights of ownership’. In other words, mankind (or, more specifically, any given person) in essence owns nothing because everything entirely belongs to Hashem; that we ‘own’ things is merely a conceptual ownership that Hashem granted us. The Seridei-Aish further explains that what gives us this right of ownership is one of two things: either that a given object is contained within our physical boundaries or that psychologically we think it ours.  Thus the Seridei-Aish maintains that for someone to relinquish ownership of something he has to let it out of his personal boundaries both in the physical sphere and as well in the mental sphere. (See Birchas-Shmuel Kessubos, essay 41).

Adopting the aforementioned lomdus-Talmudic logic from the Seridei-Aish (see Kessav-Soffer) perhaps we can now understand the peculiar structure of Moshe Rabeinu’s instruction to Klal-Yisroel. If indeed nothing belongs to mankind, but rather all we have is in essence Hashem’s, so then how on Earth can we give anything to Hashem? It’s already His! Moshe Rabeinu is emphasizing just this idea. Superficially Man can think that since a given object is ‘his’, it should stand to reason that he can give it to Hashem. Comes Moshe Rabeinu and tells us no! A person can’t really give to Hashem for everything in essence is Hashem’s, but what one can do is to remove his mental ownership on a particular item instantly causing it to be fully Hashem’s. However there is still a problem with doing so: the concept of Hephker (ownerless) that allows for anybody to come and claim ownership over the given object. Thus it remains crucial that when one relinquishes mental ownership over a given object he doesn’t merely remove it causing it to be ownerless, but rather that he ‘gives/donates’ it to Hashem.

Essentially when we give to Hashem it’s not so much that we are giving, but rather that we are not taking. Perhaps it is for this reason that we can take something physical and thus allow it to become a resting place for Hashem’s Divine Presence. Since we didn’t take that given object from Hashem but rather allowed it to remain purely His, to the exclusion of anyone else’s claiming it, it remains Hashem’s, allowing the Divine Presence to rest upon it. What we did is to cause something not to be able ever to become mundane, but rather to stay holy forever. This capability of creating a status in which we relinquish our ownership while at the same time not allowing anyone else to claim ownership for himself is only because it’s still ‘ours’, it’s just for Hashem.

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This week’s Sedra opens with Moshe Rabeinu commanding Klal-Yisroel that six days a week they are to toil and the Seventh day is to be a Sabbath on which they are meant to refrain from all work. The reason for this directive to Klal-Yisroel at this point is related to the fact that Moshe Rabeinu is in the midst of instructing Klal-Yisroel to construct and craft the Mishkan and its vessels (see Mechilta and Rashi).

There are 39 specific Melachos (categories of actions) in our oral tradition that are prohibited on Shabbos.  The Gemarah in Shabbos (97b) and the Yerushalmi (Shabbos 7, 9) explains that although these 39 Melachos were given through the Oral Tradition that Hashem transmitted to us via Moshe Rabeinu at Har Sinai, we can learn and understand them from the acts used in building the Mishkan. The aforementioned Chazals explain that this is hinted to explicitly in the psukim in the word Ehleh – the Aleph being equal to 1, the Lamed to 30, and as Hay and Ches are interchangeable we can count it as eight bringing the total to 39.

The fact that the Binyan-Hamishkan consisted of 39 types of Melachos that happen to correspond to the Melachos forbidden on Shabbos could be coincidental. Thus since the Torah did prohibit crafts then whatever was required in building the Mishkan would most likely be things that would be forbidden. What is more intriguing, however, is Chazal’s point that the Torah hinted to the fact that the Melachos of the Mishkan are the ones that are forbidden on Shabbos. Moreover Chazal seem to be restricted in explaining the particular aspects of Melachos within their categories by what and how things were done in the Binyan Hamishkan.

There are a number of ways to answer this question, and most of these are intertwined with each other. There is one answer however, that would seem to be simple yet profound and fundamental to life. Moshe Rabeinu prior to telling Klal-Yisroel not to do work on Shabbos prefaced it by saying all work should be done during the six day work week. Moshe Rabeinu could have said merely not to do work on Shabbos and it would have been implicit then that whatever work needs to be done has to be done during the week and not on Shabbos.

The fact that Moshe Rabeinu was redundant in stressing the idea that work is to be done during the six day work week would suggest that there is something to be learned from it.

In the direct context of the Passuk Moshe Rabeinu is referring to the work that was performed in order to construct the Mishkan. This work was surely holy work. Thus Moshe Rabeinu is enriching the contrast between working and not working because Moshe Rabeinu is telling us that although we can use work for holy purposes we still have to rest from it on Shabbos. The holiest  thing is pulling back from all work – even holy work. Moshe Rabeinu nevertheless still gives holy work its weight as holy work, as something noteworthy.

Many a time we can’t just bask in the warmth of Torah study, but are somehow forced into performing various tasks. These tasks always can be viewed in one of two ways: either as physical functions, needs, or desires totally divorced from any holiness, or as Avodas Hakodesh and an opportunity to be Mekadesh Shem Shamayim.

The latter transforms the former into true Avodas Hashem and something quite noteworthy.

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This week’s Sedra is by and large a repetition of Parshas Truma.  The main difference between the two Sedras is that whereas Parshas Terumah was Hashem’s instructing Moshe to tell Klal-Yisroel of the construction, and likewise the God-given Instructions as to the building of the Mishkan and its Keilim, this week’s Sedra starts briefly with Moshe Rabeinu’s instructing Klal-Yisroel and then goes in great detail about how Betzalel (and Ahaliav etc.) actually built the Mishkan

While this is the main thrust and idea of the Parsha, there is a contrast drawn at the beginning of the Parsha between the six days of work and Shabbos Kodesh. This is done pertaining to the Mishkan as Moshe Rabeinu is instructed to work towards building the Mishkan for six days and to stop on Shabbos for it is to be a Holy day.

The most obvious question on this Parsha is: why does the Torah spend so much time reiterating exactly how the Mishkan was built? – wouldn’t it suffice just to tell us that Betzalel built the Mishkan exactly as instructed by Hashem without any deviations? Furthermore if the Torah did for some reason feel it necessary to say how Betzalel built the Mishkan in all its detail – why did the Torah have to go through these details earlier in Truma? Could we not have learned them from here?

Another question is: Why is it that the Torah chose to teach us the thirty nine Melachos ( the 39 categories of work forbidden on Shabbos) from the construction of the Mishkan?

The Meiri in his introduction to Meseches Midos (the tractate that deals with the measurements of the First and Second Temples) asks the following question: if the Mikdash of the First and Second Temples(Bayis Rishon and Sheini) is never to be rebuilt [the Third Bayis has its own dimensions as prescribed by the Navi] why is it that Chazal felt it necessary to dedicate an entire tractate to it? The Meiri answers that every part of the Mishkan had an intrinsic Kedusha to it that was supposed to infuse us as well with some sort of Kedusha – that every part of the Mikdash was meant to channel some type of Kedusha into the world. Since in our day and age we have no Mikdash to channel these elements of Kedusha to our world, we must at least have a tractate that tells us about them and explains to us their structure and make up, so that through our learning and even reading we should somehow be influenced by their intrinsic Kedushos.

From the Meiri’s approach it follows that the actual act of constructing the Mishkan /Mikdash and its furnishings was actually an act of creating Kedusha in the world. When Betzalel built the Mishkan and its Keilim he was actually funneling Kedusha into the world. Therefore when the Torah accounts for the actual construction of the Mishkan it is truly something worth saying in great detail.   Had the Torah not repeated these details, we might perhaps not have realized the importance the Torah is attaching to them.

The Torah therefore chose the building of the Mishkan to teach us what is considered a Melacha and what not. The Torah wishes to impart to us the potential that we have to create Kedusha with our every mundane act if we so choose.

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This week’s Sedra opens by telling us that Moshe Rabeinu assembled all of Klal-Yisroel.  Moshe Rabeinu did so in order to instruct Am-Yisroel to give for the building of the Mishkan. The Ramban points out that when the Torah stipulates that the nation was assembled it is indicating that the entire nation was present – men and women alike (and it would stand to reason the children as well). Moshe Rabeinu first instructs them to work for six days on constructing the Mishkan and then to refrain from all work on the seventh day. After this minor interlude of Shabbos Moshe Rabeinu continues to list all the various materials needed for all the objects that need to be constructed and all the objects that need to be constructed.

Why did Moshe Rabeinu’s instructions need to be relayed at a moment of Hakehel – Assembly?  Furthermore, why does the Torah need to make mention of the fact that this was said when the entire nation was present?

Why does the not go into a detailed list of how precisely all the vessels were to be made, and instead has Moshe Rabeinu merely listing all the objects? One would think that the Torah would either once again delve into all the detail or, alternately, just list the materials needed – and then follow that up with an explanation that all these items are necessary to construct all the objects and vessels of the Mishkan. What is the meaning of this compromise of mentioning everything, but without any detail?

The Meiri (in his preface to Tractate Midos) explains that every vessel and every inch in the Mishkan – and later in the two temples – served somehow to influence Klal-Yisroel through their being able simply to see them. The Meiri goes further in saying that even discussing their dimensions influenced people.

We know that hearing something is generally considered by the Torah as if the ‘hearer’ himself utters whatever was said. Thus perhaps the mere mention of each vessel and each part of the Mishkan had an impact on Klal-Yisroel.  It is therefore for that reason that the Torah stressed the importance of the entire Am-Yisroel being assembled to hear Moshe Rabeinu’s mere rendition of all the parts and props of the Mishkan.

Talking about holy things has a holy impact on a person and so too even hearing holy things has equally as great an impact.  As such it is really important to make sure that everything we even listen to should be appropriate for us to hear.

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This week’s Haftorah is in essence a continuation of the Haftorah we read for Parshas Terumah. It tells us of how Chiram built the Beis Hamikdash as per the directives of Shlomo Hamelech. Much like our Sedra this piece of Navi seems to be redundant. The sedros starting from Teruma all the way through Pekudei deal primarily with the banyan Hamishkan. While they come across as repetitive they are at least reiterations of Hashem’s instructions of how to build the Mishkan. Our Haftorah, however, is different – it merely tells us of how Chirom – a gentile, built the Beis Hamikdash. What is so important about telling us that a non-Jew built the Beis Hamikdosh?

The Haftorah we read for Parshas Terumah tells us that Hashem gave חכמה to Shlomo Hamelech; the implication being that it was through this חכמה that Shlomo Hamelech was able to build the Mikdash. There is an interesting Midrash that tells us that Shlomo Hamelech received the blueprints for the Mikdash from his father Dovid Hamelech. The Midrash says that these blueprints were given by Hashem to Moshe Rabeinu and handed down from Moshe to the leader of every generation. There are many construction workers who spend their life building and have limited intelligence. The real intelligence in building is drawing up good plans. If Shlomo Hamelech received ready made plans what great Chochma did he need to build it?  Furthermore, not only did he not draw up the plans, but he didn’t even build it. Chiram built it. So where was it evident in Binyan Beis Hamikdash that Shlomo was a Chochom?

Chazal tell us that החכמה יותר מן הנבואה that wisdom is even greater than prophecy. How is it possible, however, for man’s finite wisdom to be greater than prophecy? The answer is actually simple: a prophecy is limited to what the Navi saw and how he interpreted it. Wisdom, however, gives its possessor an encompassing outlook and perspective. An outlook is not limited.

Shlomo Hamelech received the task of building the Mikdash. Building the Mikdash was definitely a big undertaking. Nonetheless, it was an opportunity to build Hashem’s House. As such who wouldn’t want to build Hashem’s house himself? Shlomo made a smart choice. He chose not to build the Mikdash himself because he knew that he wasn’t capable to do so. He took a Chirom – a gentile – to build it because he would do the job best. Shlomo Hamelech was truly wise and he understood that in Avodas Hashem one must make sure that the job is done in the best way possible. He understood that if he really cares for Hashem’s Bayis to be as great as possible, it must be done by someone who is capable to do so.

There are two fundamental lessons to be learned from our Haftorah. The first is that in Avodas Hashem we must make sure the best possible job is done.  The second is that when Retzon Hashem is fulfilled even a gentile’s handiwork can be Kodesh.