By Rabbi Avraham
Fischer. A publication of the Orthodox Union in cooperation with the Seymour
J. Abrams Orthodox Union Jerusalem World Center
March 1, 2003
Moshe begins his instructions for the building of the Mishkan
with a reminder to observe the Shabbat:
Six days shall work (MELACHAH) be done, but on the seventh day there shall be
for you holiness, a complete Shabbat to Hashem . . . (Shemot 35:2).
It is well-known that the 39 categories of creative work, referred to here as
MELACHAH, are derived from those activities that were necessary for the
building of the Mishkan. These are examples of labors that demonstrate skill
and talent, as seen in the description of the one who was appointed to build
And Moshe said to the Children of Israel, “See, Hashem has called by name
Betzalel, son of Uri son of Chur, of the tribe of Yehudah. And He has filled
him with the spirit of G-d, with wisdom, with insight and with knowledge and
with all work (MELACHAH); and to make plans (MACHASHAVOT), to work in gold,
and in silver, and in copper; and in the cutting of stones for setting, and in
carving wood, to make all the work of planning (MELECHET MACHASHAVET). And to
[be able to] teach has He put in his heart; he, and Oholiav, son of Achisamach,
of the tribe of Dan. He filled them with wisdom of heart to do all the work (MELECHET)
of the craftsman and weaver (V’CHOSHEV) and embroiderer in blue and in purple,
in scarlet and in linen, and weaving, makers of all work (MELACHAH) and makers
of plans” (35:30-35).
MELACHAH is creative, the type of action in which man emulates the Creator:
And G-d completed on the seventh day His work (MELACHTO) that He had made, and
on the seventh day He ceased from all His work (MELACHTO) which He had made.
And G-d blessed the seventh day and He sanctified it, for on it He ceased from
all His work (MELACHTO) that G-d created to do (Bereishit 2:2-3).
Hirsch (Rabbi Shimshon Raphael Hirsch, 1808-1888) connects MELACHAH to MALACH,
Just as MALACH, a messenger, is the bearer and executor of the thought and
intention of another, so MELACHAH is a thing which has become the bearer and
executor of the thought and intention of a mind. Every material to which a
directing mind has given a form conforming to a definite purpose, by being
given that form, becomes the MELACHAH of that mind, its actual messenger.
When Hashem creates, intention and action, design and execution are one:
And G-d said, “Let there be light.” And there was light (Bereishit 1:3).
But when man acts, his plans are often disappointingly different from his
results. This will not do, however, when it comes to building the Mishkan
which, as Hirsch writes,
is the very highest conceivable plan for human artistic activity. The mastery
of Man over matter, in getting, producing, changing, manufacturing the raw
materials of the world, attained its highest meaning in the Temple. The world
submits to Man, for him to submit himself and his world to G-d, and for him to
change this earthly world into a home for the Kingdom of G-d, to a Temple in
which the Glory of G-d tarries on earth. The building of the Temple is a
sanctification of human labor.
Thus, when Hashem commands the Children of Israel to build the Mishkan, He
demands the highest standard of action, in which thought and deed are
synchronized. This, as we are told when Betzalel is designated by Moshe, is
called MELECHET MACHASHEVET, purposeful work, the closest Man can come to the
Divine synthesis of design and execution.
Since, as we have said, the Mishkan is the prototype for all MELACHAH, the
standard of MELECHET MACHASHEVET defines the type of MELACHAH prohibited by
the Torah on Shabbat. In a number of places (Beitzah 13b; Chagigah 10b; Bava
Kama 26b, 60a; Sanhedrin 62b; Zevachim 47a; Keritot 19a), the Talmud states
categorically that, insofar as Shabbat is concerned, the Torah prohibited a
MELACHAH only if it is MELECHET MACHASHEVET.
Torah Temimah (R. Baruch ben Yechiel Michel HaLevi Epstein, 1860-1942) puts
the matter this way:
Just as in the Mishkan they performed actions in accord with earlier thought
and design, so one is not liable on Shabbat except in a similar manner, and
not if it has been changed from what it was in thought and design.
Unless an action is deemed MELECHET MACHASHEVET, the perpetrator is exempt
from the punishment of stoning if he did it intentionally, or from atonement
(sacrificing a chatat, sin-offering), if he did so unintentionally. This is
because, when it comes to Shabbat, only MELECHET MACHASHEVET is MELACHAH.
(Nevertheless, such an action is, in the majority of cases, prohibited by
There are a number of halachic ramifications of the principle, “The Torah
prohibited MELECHET MACHASHEVET.” Among them, one is guilty of performing a
MELACHAH according to the Torah only if it was done:
• In the usual manner (k’darka).
• For a productive purpose (m’takken), rather than for destruction.
• For the purpose as was done in the Mishkan (tzarich legufo).
• With intention (kavvanah).
It is noteworthy that the term MELECHET MACHASHEVET, which is so central to
the laws of Shabbat, is mentioned only once in all of Tanach, and only in the
context of the building of the Mishkan. It is the Mishkan which, as Hirsch
is represented as being a combination of all those creative activities of Man,
by the cessation of which . . . the Sabbath is made into an acknowledgment of
man’s allegiance to G-d.
Hashem created the universe according to His design, and then formed Man to
bring Him into permanent residence in the universe. When Betzalel is appointed
to build Hashem a sanctuary, he finally fulfills Hashem’s design for the
universe. And when we safeguard Shabbat, we build Hashem a sanctuary in time.
Torah K'Torat Eretz Yisrael!"- Torah from Aloh Na'aleh*
Holiness is not the realm of the individual. Holiness
is the result of a group effort of all the segments of Klal Yisrael
uniting, each contributing their unique part. Only when there is total
unity can we begin to emulate the Divine and be included in His Oneness
and total unity.
This unity is expressed in the first pasuk of this week's reading in three
ways: "VaYakhel," signifying the physical gathering of the Jewish people
together in an assembly; "Adat," related to eidut, testimony, all united
in common ideas and goals; and "Yisrael," which is an acronym of the words
Yesh Shishim Rivo Otiot L'Torah (there are six hundred thousand letters to
the Torah), signifying that each Jew is unique and contributes his
individual portion to the Torah.
Only in Eretz Yisrael do we have the potential to truly be one nation, and
to realize our potential to be a kingdom of God's servants, a holy nation.
All Jews in Eretz Yisrael are united physically as opposed to being
"scattered and divided amongst the nations (Esther, 3:8)". Hence, the "VaYakhel/kahal"
aspect is achieved. Eretz Yisrael, with its unique atmosphere of purity
and holiness, unites the ideas, ideals and goals of its inhabitants
centered around and focused on the holiness of the Beit Hamikdash. Hence,
the "Adat/eidut," aspect is achieved. And lastly, each tribe finds its
unique portion in Eretz Yisrael and develops and realizes its unique
contribution to the nation. Hence, the "Yisrael" aspect is achieved.
Every Jew whose spirit moves him to make aliyah, to fulfill the mitzvot of
Eretz Yisrael, to be part of this unity, promotes the holiness of Klal
Rabbi Zev Leff
Rav, Moshav Matityahu
Rosh HaYeshiva, Yeshiva Gedolah Matisyahu
*D’var Torah from Aloh Na'aleh:
an initiative of former North American Rabbis and laymen who successfully
made Aliyah, aimed at highlighting the centrality of Israel and promoting
Aliyah. They send emissaries – Rabbis, academicians, and others – on
speaking-tours throughout the U.S. and Canada.
Tel: 972-2-566-1181 ext. 320