Vayakhel: A Part and Apart

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Pocket Watch

Our parsha connects two worlds that seem so different and yet share so much. Shabbos and Sanctuary (Mishkan). For the semi halachically literate, these two worlds share profound halachic similarities. Simply consider that:

Intuitively, kedusha (holiness) links Mishkan to Shabbos. Kodesh – the word, appears for the first time in the Torah, (a leading indicator of its essential theme) in a Shabbos context (2). The Mishkan imperative (as well as the batei mikdash) emerges from the verse v’asu li mikdash (Shemos, 25:8). Thus Shabbos and Mishkan themes converge; while the former speaks of holiness in time, the latter highlights holiness in space.

But what happens when these worlds collide – when Mishkan and Shabbos conflict; may one violate the Shabbos for the sake of Mishkan?

Here we are left with a profound paradox.

On one level, this is a no-brainer. Rashi here (35:2) and in Ki Tisa (31:13 s.v. ach) derives from that Shabbos–Mishkan juxtaposition that ein binyan beis hamikdash docheh shabbos (3), i.e. one may not build the Mishkan on Shabbos. In other words, in the battle between Shabbos and Mishkan, it is Shabbos that is the clear winner.

But is that not obvious?

Consider: With few exceptions (4), only pikuach nefesh (saving a human life) pushes away Shabbos. The Torah need not record that hammering in a mezuzah is prohibited on Shabbos; in a world of competing priorities, the mighty Shabbos defeats a simple positive mitzvah. We are then troubled: what’s the hava amina – why must the Torah even teach us that Shabbos defeats building the Mishkan?

One classical answer (there are many) runs as follows.

Remarkably, Avodah docheh shabbos – the Kohen “violates” Shabbos in the context of serving within the Mishkan/Mikdash. Every Shabbos, he slaughters and burns the daily and special Shabbos communal offerings; he burns incense on the altar and he lights the menorah.

Perhaps this would indicate Mishkan sanctity supersedes Shabbos holiness – thus permitting Mishkan construction even on Shabbos. In Abarbanel’s formulation, the active kedusha of Mishkan might trump the passive (no melacha) kedusha of Shabbos. Hence the Torah must explicitly warn us: No! One may not build the Mishkan on Shabbos.

Our paradox now emerges. If Shabbos is of paramount value, representing higher sanctity than Mishkan, why does the Torah sanction explicit and special Shabbos violation within its portals. I’m still looking for a great answer – but in the interim here is an idea to think about. I welcome your thoughts.

Perhaps the notion is like this: The Mishkan/Mikdash occupies its own world. Its construction mirrors Creation (and the creation of Adam) – the midrash explicitly stating that Hashem used the 39 melachos to create the world (5). As such, these melachos represent total engagement with the world (6).

Mishkan – the world, is untainted, representing our glimpse at a world of tikkun (perfection) not a world of asiyah (doing). In it, time and space play no role. According to Chazal, the Holy ark took up no space. The midrash (7) records that Moshe pondered how an infinite God can be limited to the Mishkan. The response: build the mishkan and don’t worry. Thus Shabbos as a pure halachic reality was not relevant in Mishkan world (8). However, the creation of that Mishkan emanated from our world – from the raw materials – the building blocks, the stuff of everyday engagement. Once achieved, it was a separate domain, a perfected reality. Until that time, it was very much limited to the halachos of this world.

An esoteric thought to be sure! I have often thought that in our bustling world where time and space play such a major role in our lives, it is critical to build our personal Mishkan, a place/space where we can focus on purpose and meaning, and if for but a moment not be hindered by time (which is somewhat paradoxical). In a world where it absolutely positively has to be there overnight, we must construct a place where it does not. Minimally, we call that place Shabbos, but perhaps on a daily basis we can construct our own personal Mishkan – a place of reflection and service that emanates from a part of our world but is very much apart from it.

Good Shabbos, Asher Brander

1. Thus, on a Torah level, the same act of digging on Shabbos may either be prohibited because of binyan, (buiilding) choreish (plowing) or not at all – depending upon one’s subjective intent and its connection to the original act done in the Mishkan
2. Bereishis, 2:3, Vaivarech Elokim es yom hashevi’i vayikadeish oso
3. The precise textual source is a matter of question (cf. Ramban 31:13, Kli Yakar, 35),
4. These exceptions are Bris Milah, Kiddush HaChodesh, Avodah, Ketziras Omer
5. See Shemos Rabbah 35:6
6. It is remarkable that the Torah employs very same nouns (chochma, bina, da’as) for creation of the Mishkan, creation of the world and creation of man – for each occupies an olam biphnei atzmo. See Mishlei, 3:19-20, Shemos, 35:31, Shemos Rabbah 48:4. Cf Ohr Gedalyahu who expands this notion
7. Peskita D’rav Kahana Parsha 2 בשעה שאמר לו ועשו לי מקדש, אמר משה לפני הקב”ה, רבונו של עולם הנה השמים ושמי השמים לא יכלכלוך ואתה אמרת
ועשו לי מקדש? אמר לו הקב”ה, משה לא כשאתה סבור, אלא עשרים קרש בצפון ועשרים קרש בדרום שמונה במערב ואני יורד ומצמצם שכינתי ביניכם למטן, דכתי’ ונועדתי לך שם
8. It is significant to note that this is only insofar as the community existed and not the individual. Individual service was prohibited in the Mishkan on Shabbos.

Rabbi Asher Brander is the Rabbi of the Westwood Kehilla, Founder/Dean of LINK (Los Angeles Intercommunity Kollel) and is a Rebbe at Yeshiva University High Schools of Los Angeles

The words of this author reflect his/her own opinions and do not necessarily represent the official position of the Orthodox Union.