Numbers in [square brackets] are the mitzva-count of the Sefer HaChinuch
Kohen – First Aliya – 20+9 p’sukim – 35:1-29
Moshe gathers the People (according to Tradition, this took place on the “first” Yom Kippur or the day after, following 40 days and 40 nights on Har Sinai) to instruct them concerning the building of the Mishkan. He begins with a warning to keep Shabbat (even while being involved in the holy tasks of the Mishkan).
Observation Notice that when G-d speaks to Moshe, He instructions him concerning the Mishkan (236 p’sukim!) and then warns him that Shabbat is supreme. When Moshe gathers the people to instruct them, he puts the Shabbat warning up front.[SDT] In the opening three-pasuk portion about Shabbat, there are 40 words – 39 plus the word HaShabbat. This can be taken as a symbolic reference to the 39 categories of prohibited Melacha, which define the nature of HASHABBAT. The Baal HaTurim says that the word LA’ASOT in the phrase, “These are the things that G-d commanded TO DO them”, is spelled with a LAMED (30) and an anagram for TEISHA (9) – another remez to the Melachot of Shabbat. He adds that a VAV is “missing” from LA’ASOT, representing the six weekdays when Melachot are permitted.
The “command” here of “Thou shall not kindle fire in all your dwellings on the Shabbat day” has many things to teach us.
Lighting a fire is one of the 39 AVOT MELACHA (categories of creative activities forbidden on Shabbat). As such, we already have the prohibition from Commandment #4 – …Thou shall not do any manner of MELACHA… Why is the Torah singling out FIRE here? The question is two-fold: Why single it out and why command it again.
Sefer haChinuch says that the prohibition here is directed to Sanhedrin, not the individual. We have already been told that we may not kindle fire. The courts, says the Chinuch, may not carry out the capital punishment of burning (S’reifa) on Shabbat. Nor, by Biblical extension, may any capital punishment be carried out on Shabbat, nor may any punishment by the courts be carried out on Shabbat. This allows Shabbat to be a day of rest even for the condemned felon.
We can also look at the Shabbat reminder in a different way. You may not kindle fire in YOUR DWELLINGS, wherever they may be, but you may – nay, you must – kindle fire (and do certain other Melachot) in THE DWELLING, the Mikdash. (That is, when specifically commanded to do so by G-d.)
Some commentators say that the repetition of fire comes to emphasize that kindling a fire is a capital offense of no less strictness, despite the fact that on Yom Tov it is one of the few Melachot that is permitted (i.e. cooking with fire, lighting flame to flame). We might have gotten the impression that FIRE is not THAT major an offense, because of Yom Tov. Comes the Torah here to emphasize the prohibition for Shabbat.
There are yet other reasons for the special mention of the prohibition of fire on Shabbat.
Aside from the first three p’sukim, the rest of the sedra deals with the building of the Mishkan. Parshat T’ruma gave us the command and instructions, Vayak-hel tells us of the carrying out of the instructions.
One senses an impatient excitement concerning the job at hand. Moshe speaks to the people and tells them that which G-d has commanded.
(Notice the similar terminology the Torah uses when Moshe tells about Shabbat and about the Mikdash.)
The different types of materials are named. It is made clear that donations are encouraged, but totally voluntary.
Then each part of the Mishkan and its furnishings are mentioned in detail. After the people heard what Moshe had to say, they left the gathering (apparently enthused and anxious to get busy).
One can speculate, based on the sequence we are presented with in the Torah, that there was a fair amount of guilt from the Golden Calf that was motivating the People.
Many people are moved to give generously in response to Moshe’s appeal. Men and women all give (there are different interpretations as to what the wording in the pasuk indicates). In addition to donations, men, and more so women, donated their talents in weaving, dyeing, woodwork, metalwork, etc.
Repeated reference is made to the hearts of the people being in what they were doing. This was a genuine positive response to G-d’s and Moshe’s call to build the Mishkan.
The leaders of the Tribes supplied the precious stones for the shoulder-pieces of the Eifod and for the Choshen of the Kohen Gadol, and spices and oil for the Incense and the Anointing oil.
Levi – Second Aliya – 13+12+35 p’sukim – 35:30-37:16
Moshe tells the people that G-d has designated Bezalel (from Yehuda) and Aholiav (from Dan) as the chief artisans of the Mishkan. They have been Divinely inspired with intelligence, insight, and the skills necessary for the various intricate tasks ahead. They and those working with them supervised the collection of materials and informed Moshe that they received more than enough material. Moshe “gives out the word” that the people should cease their donations.
When G-d commanded Moshe about the Mishkan, He first commanded the making of the Aron, Shulchan, and Menora. Then, the roofing layers – the Mishkan, the Ohel, and the Orot. Only then were the wall boards and foundation sockets brought into the picture. In the carrying out of the commands, a more “practical” plan was followed. The structure and then the furnishings. But how can Moshe and Bezalel deviate from the commands of G-d? You can’t just do whatever you want in this kind of thing. Commentaries say that Moshe and Bezalel requested and received permission from G-d to take the more human, practical approach.
In this portion, the three layers of ceiling are presented. Note that the first layer was a beautiful, multicolored weave and the fasteners were gold. Over that came the more practical, less attractive, less complicated, weather-resistant Ohel of goat hair. This layer was not seen from inside the Mishkan, and might not have been seen from the outside either, according to the opinion that the Tachash and Red-dyed sheep skin covering (which was also attractive) was not just on top.
Next the Torah describes the construction of the wall-planks of the Mishkan from acacia wood. There were 48 planks – 20 each on the north and south walls, and 8 on the west wall. Each plank was covered with gold. Each was inserted into two foundation sockets.
The Parochet to hang between the Kodesh and the Kodesh Kodoshim, the Masach for the front of the Mishkan, and the Masach for the front of the courtyard were similar in style and material to the first ceiling layer.
With the structure completed, next came the Aron and the Shulchan.
Shlishi – Third Aliya – 13 p’sukim – 37:17-29
Next comes the Golden Menora. With the exception of the oil cups, everything else – the branches, decorative orbs, cups, flowers – was hammered from one piece of gold.
Next, the Golden Altar (a.k.a. Incense Altar, a.k.a. Inner Altar) is described. After this Mizbei’ach was made, the Anointing Oil and Incense were compounded.
R’vi’i – Fourth Aliya – 20+12 p’sukim – 38:1-39:1
The External Altar, Copper Altar, Earth Altar (because it was filled with earth when the camp rested and the Mishkan was erected) is described. Almost all korbanot were brought on this Mizbei’ach. It was considerably larger than the Golden Altar.
The final vessel described is the Washing Basin and its Stand. It was made of copper. Tradition tells us that the copper came from the mirrors of the Israelite women. At first, Moshe did not want to accept them because of the vanity associated with mirrors. G-d, however, told Moshe how very precious this gift was in His eyes, because they reminded Him (so to speak) of the role Jewish women played in the redemption of the people from Egypt. Finally, the courtyard is described.
P’kudei begins with an accounting of the materials collected for use in the construction of the Mishkan, its furnishings, and the garments of the Kohanim.[SDT] We are taught from the fact that Moshe Rabeinu gave a voluntary accounting of the materials he collected, that a person in the position of collecting monies for the community must conduct himself in such a way that he will always be above suspicion. Even if the individual is completely trustworthy, he should take measures to avoid the possibility of appearing improper. The Talmud tells us that the family of Kohanim that was in charge of compounding the Ketoret (incense) did not allow its women to use perfume, lest someone suspect them of taking from the sacred ingredients of the Ketoret. Similarly, the bakers of the Lechem HaPanim did not eat fine bread, so that no one should even get an idea that they were taking the special flour of the Mikdash for their own use. [SDT] In the opening pasuk of the sedra, we find the word Mishkan twice in a row – …HaMishkan, Mishkan HaEidut. Rashi says that this is an allusion to the two Batei HaMikdash. Chatam Sofer adds that the HEI of the first Mishkan is “missing” from the second. This alludes to the 5 special items missing in the second BeitHaMikdash – the ARON, the Holy Fire, the Divine Presence, the Holy Spirit, and the Urim V’Tumim. [SDT] Rashi teaches us that the description of the Mishkan as EIDUT, a Testimony, attests to the fact that G-d had forgiven us for the Sin of the Golden Calf. This is so because the SH’CHINA rested among us, in the Mishkan.
The work of assembling and dismantling the Mishkan throughout the years of wandering in the Wilderness was the domain of the tribe of Levi, under the supervision and leadership of Itamar b. Aharon HaKohen. The chief artisans of the Mishkan, the Torah reminds us, were Bezalel from Yehuda and Aholiav from Dan.
The Torah next details the amounts of gold, silver, and copper which was collected for the Mishkan and its vessels. The Torah also lists the uses of the different metals. Then the Torah mentions the different dyed wools (sky-blue, purple, red) that were used in the making of the sacred garments of the Kohen Gadol, and for the cloths that covered (and protected?) the sacred items of the Mishkan during the traveling from place to place in the Midbar.
Chamishi – Fifth Aliya – 20 p’sukim – 39:2-21
This Aliya contains a detailed description of the Eifod and the Choshen of the Kohen Gadol. Both were woven from the same kind of weave and the two were attached firmly to each other when worn. Two onyx stones (Avnei Shoham) were attached to the shoulder straps of the Eifod. The names of the 12 tribes (actually, it was the 12 sons of Yaakov) were engraved on the stones, six on each stone. In addition to the fabric of these two garments, there were gold settings for the stones, gold rings and chains for attaching Choshen & Eifod.
Shishi – Sixth Aliya – 11+11 p’sukim – 39:22-43
The ME’IL (different opinions – cloak, cape, poncho-like garment) was woven completely of T’CHEILET wool. Its neck-hole was reinforced to prevent tearing. This is the second time that the Torah emphasizes the prohibition of tearing the ME’IL (or allowing it to be torn). None of the garments may be torn; precautions were taken to avoid tearing. Yet the Torah presents the rule specifically with the ME’IL. The hem of the ME’IL was fringed with alternating bells of gold and pompoms of colored wools and linen.
The KUTONET, a long-sleeved, floor-length garment was woven of white linen. Some say that the sleeves were woven together with the body of the garment, rather than made separately and then sewn together. All Kohanim wore a KUTONET. Each had it custom-fitted, since it is forbidden to do AVODA in the Mikdash if the garment was either two long or short (or frayed or soiled).
A turban of linen was worn by the Kohen Gadol in one style, to accommodate the TZITZ. Regular Kohanim wore their turban in a different style.
The belt or sash, called AVNEIT, was woven from the three colors of wool and from linen. It was unusually long (32 AMOT, approx. 15m, about 50 feet long) and therefore needed to be wound around the kohein’s waist many times. (Some say that the AVNEIT was worn higher up.) The winding produced a prominent bulge aound his waist which the Kohen felt whenever his hands were at his sides. This served as a constant reminder to the Kohen of the seriousness of the service in the Beit HaMikdash. The AVNEIT was Shaatnez, as was the Choshen, Eifod, and Me’il. Opinions differ concerning the regular kohen’s AVNEIT.
Next comes the TZITZ, a.k.a. NEZER HAKODESH, made of pure gold and fastened around the KG’s head with ribbons of T’cheilet wool. The TZITZ was embossed with the words KODESH TO HASHEM. There are many different opinions as to how the words were formed from the gold of the Tzitz, and in what order and orientation relative to each other. The TZITZ was like a crown for the Kohein Gadol, yet it was also meant to humble him greatly.
Thus, all the work of the parts of the Mishkan and the garments of the Kohanim came to an end. (All that remained was to assembly and proper placement.)[SDT] Talmud Yerushalmi notes that the phrase, “as G-d had commanded Moshe” appears 18 times in P’kudei. Correspondingly, we have 18 brachot in our weekday Amida (the connection between Service in the Mikdash and Davening is obvious). Thus says Sh’muel b. Nachmani in the name of Rabbi Yochanan. This does not include the first time the phrase is used: And Bezalel… did all the G-d had commanded Moshe. There are differences between the context of the phrase with Bezalel and contexts of all the other uses of the phrase that justify its not being counted together with the rest. On the other hand, our Amida does have a 19th bracha, so the “extra” phrase is accounted for.
All the components of the Mishkan, its vessels, and the sacred garments were brought to Moshe following the completion of the work by many men and women who voluntarily contributed their talents to the Mishkan. Moshe inspected all of the work and found it to be consistent with what G-d had commanded. Moshe blessed the people: “May it be G-d’s will that He will cause His Presence to settle upon your handiwork.” (Rashi)
The Torah once again enumerates all of the components of the Mishkan. And repeats over and over again that the People did everything that G-d had commanded Moshe.
Here’s a thought… The emphasis upon the people doing as commanded stands in harsh contrast to the Golden Calf, which was not at all what G-d had commanded. We can see a rebuke every time the point is made that, “this time we listened, but what happened a couple of months ago…” (To be sure, it is complimentary, that we did as commanded, but we can also see an implied rebuke.)
Sh’vi’i – Seventh Aliya – 16+11+11 p’sukim – 40:1-38
G-d instructs Moshe to erect the Mishkan on Rosh Chodesh Nissan. After the structure is in place, Moshe is to bring in the Aron and hang the PAROCHET which separates the Holy of Holies from the main part of the Mishkan. The Shulchan and Menora were put in their places, followed by the Golden Mizbei’ach. The MASACH was then hung from the posts at the entrance to the Mishkan. The Copper Mizbeiach was placed in front of the Mishkan, opposite its entrance. The KIYOR and base were placed between the Mishkan and the Mizbei’ach, slightly to the side. The courtyard curtains were hung from their posts.
Following all this, Moshe was to anoint all the components of the Mishkan and sanctify them. Then the Mizbei’ach and its vessels were anointed, and the Laver as well.
Then the Kohanim were brought forward. After proper ablutions, they were clothed in their sacred garments and anointed.
And it came to pass that on the first day of Nissan in the year out of Egypt, the Mishkan was completed. That is a bit less than a year after Y’tzi’at Mitzrayim. In this portion, the Torah spells out the step-by-step procedures of finally carrying out the commands of Parshiyot T’ruma, T’tzaveh, beginning of Ki Tisa, and all of Vayak-hel.
Continuing from the last portion, the Torah describes the final stages of the whole job of constructing the Mishkan. When Moshe place the Mizbei’ach where it belongs, he brings the proper korbanot on it.
Imagine the mixed feelings that Moshe would have at this point. He has built the Mikdash and is basically serving as Kohen Gadol. But not for long. During the week-long inauguration of the Mishkan, Moshe did it all. See the mitzva of washing hands and feet before doing Avoda. The command goes to Moshe and Aharon and sons. Rashi says that on the 8th day of the dedication of the Mishkan, Moshe and Aharon were on equal status. But only on that day. After that, Moshe is “only” a Levi, and Aharon takes over the reins. It is said that Moshe would have been the Kohen Gadol, except for the way he spoke to G-d at the Burning Bush. It was then that G-d brought Aharon to Moshe, so to speak, to share the responsibilities and privileges of leadership.
In the final 5 p’sukim of Sh’mot, the Torah tells us that Moshe was not able to approach the Mishkan because it was “covered by a Cloud”. Only when the cloud lifted was Moshe able to approach.
The Cloud was also that which signaled the people to travel or to remain encamped. The Cloud was there by day and the Pillar of Fire by night.
Thus ends the Book of Sh’mot, with the stage set, so to speak, for the Book of Vayikra, Torat Kohanim.
In the course of the Book of Sh’mot, we started out as a family that was in Egypt, enslaved and oppressed there. We grew into a nation, were redeemed from Egypt, accompanied by great wonders and miracles. We received the Torah, and set up the two main aspects of our nationhood – the day-to-day rules of a Torah way of life and the building of the Mishkan to be the focus of our spiritual energies.
G-d’s plan for us is well underway. Everything is there except for our venue for Jewish Life at its richest – Eretz Yisrael. But three books of the Chumash are still to come.
It is customary for the congregation to stand for the concluding p’sukim of each book of the Torah. The Torah-reader reads the final words in a dramatic manner, signaling the congregation to respond with “Chazak, chazak, v’nitchazeik” (Strong, strong, and let us be strengthened). The reader then repeats that phrase. It is considered a special honor to receive this Book-completing Aliya.
Maftir – second Torah20 p’sukim – Sh’mot 12:1-20
This is the fourth of the Four Parshiyot. Parshat HaChodesh is the Shabbat of or the Shabbat right before Rosh Chodesh Nissan. We read of the mitzva to establish the Jewish Calendar (the first two p’sukim), followed by the commands concerning Pesach – the Korban Pesach, Matza, Chametz, etc. (the rest of the 20-pasuk maftir). The main theme of the Maftir is Korban Pesach. K.P. is different from all other korbanot. It is (sort of) a blend of the spiritual and the mundane. The purpose of bringing the K.P. is to eat it. As opposed to the other korbanot where the main feature is the offering of the korban on the Mizbeiach; the eating, when the meat is eaten, is secondary, though not unimportant. All korbanot were brought in the Beit HaMikdash between the two daily T’midim. Except for K.P. which comes AFTER the afternoon Tamid. K.P. can be brought and eaten in a state of ritual impurity. This can be seen as a “compromise” by G-d to facilitate our performance of this mitzva. (An individual is postponed until Pesach Sheni because of TUM’A, but the community brings and eats K.P. while TAMEI, rather than wait the month.) Unlike the portions of the Torah from B’reishit until Bo in which stories of our ancestors are the main themes, and unlike the books of Vayikra and D’varim, in which mitzvot are the main themes, in this portion (as in much of Sh’mot) we find a blend of story and mitzva. Where one ends and the other begins is not always easy to tell. That is, without the Oral Tradition. Do all future Korbanot Pesach have to be roasted? Or is that a requirement only for the original Exodus night? Do we have to eat K.P. with our belts tied and in haste? Or was that just then? The blood on the doorpost? Breaking a bone? Etc. Etc. The answers are clearly presented in the Talmud. The point is that the Written Word alone is not the whole Torah. this is another of many examples of this very important element of Judaism.
The Maftir contains several mitzvot — Making the Jewish Calendar , to slaughter the K.P. , to eat it , not to eat it rare or cooked , not to leave over any of K.P. to the morning , to destroy Chametz from one’s possession , to eat matza on Seder night , not to possess Chametz on Pesach , not to eat any foods that contain Chametz . In addition to these “counted” mitzvot, we also find the source of SHMURA MATZA and the source of the permitted M’LACHOT on Yom Tov.
Haftara – 28 p’sukim -Yechezkeil 45:16-46:18
The Haftara contains the prophecy of the building of the Beit HaMikdash and the restoration of Korban Pesach – hence the connection to the Maftir. Both the Torah and Haftara announce the holiday of Pesach, in very similar words, and both speak of putting blood on the doorpost. Not only do both readings talk about Pesach, but both focus on Rosh Chodesh Nissan.