Rabbi David Walk, Education Director

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Wednesday, February 27, 2019

Walk Article



Rabbi David Walk 


In the movie, History of the World Part I, that marvelous send up of human history, when King Louis XVI (played to perfection by Mel Brooks, the master himself) is told that the peasant mob is 'revolting', he responds, 'You can say that again!' But is the mob, the masses, always 'revolting'? Not according to this week's Torah reading. In a flash, last week's trauma of swarm psychology is assuaged by God's instruction to Moshe to summon that same crowd for a Torah themed rally. And the parallel is completed by using the same verb to describe both events. In Shmot 32, it says, 'They gathered (VA'YIKAHEL) around Aharon and said to him 'Make a god for us (verse 1).' And our parsha begins, 'And Moshe assembled (V'YAKHEL) the entire Israelite community (35:1).' 

What was the important message to the assembled masses? 'Six days work may be done, but on the seventh day you shall have sanctity, a day of complete rest to the Lord; whoever performs work on this day shall be put to death (Shmot 35:2).' 

Professor Amos Chacham in the Mosad Rav Kook edition of Tanach points out another textual analog. Back in B'shalach God tells Moshe to inform the entire community (KOL ADAT B'NEI YISRAEL) abut collecting the MAN (16:9). That phrase is repeated in our verse. Only here the purpose is to inform them of keeping the Shabbat. The precept of Shabbat is as necessary to our survival as food itself. Of course, the MAN also reinforced the status of Shabbat, because it didn't appear on that day. 

So, here we have the entire populace gathered for a holy and wholesome reason. This is immediately after the disturbing story we discussed last week. This is critically important. The importance of the 'entire community' is crucial to our nation's survival. We can't start to fear the average Jew on the street. Judaism is extremely democratic in its approach to nationhood. Much more so that ancient Greece, which strictly limited its democratic institutions. In ancient Athens only about one tenth of the population had full citizen rights (approximately 30,000 voters out of a total population of about 300,000). 

When did this massive meeting take place? Rashi says on the day after the first Yom Kippur, when god forgave the Jews for the sin of the Golden Calf (31:18). It was at that momentous time of reconciliation that God commanded about the Mishkan and about Shabbat. Why then? The Talmud suggests that the Jews only sinned so that we could learn about Teshuva, and these two mitzvot (Shabbat and Mikdash) guide us toward Teshuva (Avoda Zara 4b). I understand the connection between the Holy Temple and Teshuva, many offerings atone for sin, and, historically, most private sacrifices were about repenting, but what about Shabbat? Even if you follow Rashi's position that the command to build Mishkan was only given after the sin, why is Shabbat here? Shabbat had already been commanded concerning the MAN and in the Ten Commandments. We're missing a connecting point. 

The Meshech Chachma (Reb Meir Simcha Hachohen of D'vinsk, 1843-1926) lends a helping hand. First of all, he asks the famous question about the order of the instructions to build the Mishkan. In the original rendition of the material (chapters 25-31), first we have the portable Temple, then we have a piece about Shabbat: Only keep My Sabbaths! For it is a sign between Me and you for all your generations, to know that I, the Lord, make you holy (31:13). However, starting in our parsha, we reverse the order. We begin with: Six days work may be done, but on the seventh day you shall have sanctity, (35:2). Then we have the restatement of the building plans for the Mishkan, from the donations through to the dedication, when 'the glory of the Lord filled the Mishkan (40-34). Why the switch? 

The Meshech Chachma suggests that it's because the relationship of the Mishkan (and later, Holy Temple) to Shabbat is complex. Sometimes the sacred tasks (M'LACHA) of the Divine Service superseded Shabbat, for example slaughtering and burning the offerings. But the actual structure and its utensils could not be made on Shabbat. In the Temple, as well, only the acts of service would be allowed on Shabbat not preparation for those acts. Moreover, Rav Meir Simcha explains that the message of each mitzva was different. Shabbat is testimony to the Big Bang and the 'week' of Creation; the daily offerings express our belief in God's continual relationship with our universes. The continuity of the Temple service (and now our prayers) corresponds to our faith that God 'renews with Divine goodness the act of Creation, daily.' 

So, keeping Shabbat reminds us that God created us and deserves our eternal loyalty. That belief should spark a renewed relationship with our Maker and Divine Parent. That, of course, is the essence of Teshuva, reforging the bond of filial love. 

As an aside, Reb Meir Simcha explains that no abrogation of Shabbat rules could be allowed during the construction of the Mishkan, because there was no Shechina (Divine Presence) in the camp until the Mishkan was complete. There had been Shechina amongst the Jews from the giving of the Torah until the sin of the Golden Calf, when it departed. Shechina returned with the Mishkan's completion, and will return, please, God, with the dedication of the third Beit Hamikdash. That's why in the first iteration we have Mishkan first, prior to the sin Mishkan construction could have taken place on Shabbat. After the sin, Shabbat precedes the building. 

Shabbat and Temple partner to teach us that God is both Creator and Supervisor of the entirety of the cosmos. This idea is critical to our theological maturity. There is no room in this scenario for 'other gods', because God does it all. This is the Torah's response to the sin of the Golden Calf, and a wonderful reason for this mass meeting.