OU Torah Insights Project
March 4, 2000
Rabbi Aaron Cohen
Our sages note the juxtaposition of Shabbat and the Mishkan at the beginning of Parshat Vayakhel.
The Mishkan, the "resting place" of the Shechinah, was built to serve as the focal point of religious life for the Jewish nation. But therein lay a latent dangerthe possibility that the Jewish people would contrast the pristine spiritual world of the Mishkan to the mundane society at large and mistakenly perceive that any significant kedushah, any closeness to G-d, could be achieved only within the confines of the Mishkan.
Such a perspective, however, undermines the very essence of the Mishkans message: "veshachanti betochamand I [G-d] will dwell among them." Ultimately, G-d desires not an oasis of kedushah, but a spiritual wellspring that quenches the thirst of a Jew for closeness to G-d, influencing, inspiring, and elevating all those encamped around itnot just inside it. G-d wishes to dwell among us.
Similarly, we are commanded to "remember the Sabbath day to sanctify it." The Ramban points out that in addition to the obligation of reciting Kiddush on Shabbat itself, another obligation exists: to maintain Shabbat as a focal point throughout the week. When an opportunity arises to purchase something special, such as food or clothing, one should purchase it for Shabbat.
Shabbat, like the Mishkan, is not an isolated day of spirituality, distinct and separate from the other days of the week. Rather, the rest of the week revolves around Shabbat, and Shabbat elevates and infuses the other days with its kedushah.
This is the message of both Shabbat and the Mishkan: kedushah is not isolated, but woven into the fabric of everyday life. A focal point for kedushahin time and in placeis indeed essential, in order to experience unadulterated kedushah. Nonetheless, that source of kedushah must enrich and elevate all of life, so that the Shechinah may reside "betocham"among us.
Moreover, the relationship between Shabbat and the Mishkan is expanded due to the sin of the golden calf, prior to Parshat Vayakhel. The Meshech Chochmah explains that the root of Israels transgression was their attribution of intrinsic and absolute power to Moshe Rabbeinu. When Moshe did not return from Mount Sinai on the expected date, the people despaired and turned away from their faith.
What they failed to understand, explains the Meshech Chochmah, is that nothing possesses intrinsic religious significance. People, places and things are valuable only insofar as they further ones commitment to G-d and to Torah. For this reason, Moshe reacted to the sin of the Golden calf by breaking the luchot, a dramatic demonstration to the Jewish people that their failure to uphold the commandments of G-d, caused the very words fashioned by His own Hand to lose their significance.
This tragic misconception left open the dangerous possibility that the Jewish people might once again attach themselves to an entity that appeared to possess intrinsic kedushahthe Mishkan. Was this not the dwelling place of G-d Himself? Such thinking, which distracts ones focus from the proper emphasis on personal responsibility to G-d, had already brought disaster and tragedy once, and the Torah wanted to prevent it from reoccurring. Hence, Shabbat.
With the introduction of Shabbat at the beginning of our parshah, we are taught that although particular times and places possess Divinely-granted kedushah, ultimately our primary responsibility lies in our allegiance and commitment to fulfilling G-ds will, which infuses that very kedushah into the totality of our lives.
Rabbi Aaron Cohen
Rabbi Cohen is the rabbi of Congregation Tifereth Israel in Passaic, New Jersey.