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Parashat Vayakhel 5779 — 03/02/2019

Parashat Vayakhel 5779 — 03/02/2019

Shemot 38:21-40:38

Six days work may be done and the seventh day shall be holy for you, a Shabbat, a day of complete rest for Gd; whoever does work on that day shall be put to death. (35:1)

The Sabbath is a fundamental tenet of Judaism to be sure. Sometimes the term “Sabbath-observing” is a synonym for an Orthodox Jew. But why, when Moshe is about to give the detailed instructions for the building of the Mishkan / Tabernacle, is the flow interrupted by another warning about Shabbat? R. Goldin gives several approaches.

First, juxtaposing the building of the Mishkan and the prohibition of work (melachah) gives us a halachic definition of “work.” The main categories of creative activity that went into the construction of the Mishkan are the categories of labor that are forbidden on Shabbat. This can give results that run counter to our common idea of what “work” is: moving heavy furniture around the house is fine, but carrying a needle on the street isn’t. That is because carrying in the public domain was necessary to build the Mishkan, while moving things around in the privacy of one’s own home was not. Why do we get these counter-intuitive results? R. Goldin writes:

In his short, classic work, The Sabbath, Dr. Dayan I Grunfeld analyzes sources in the oral tradition and arrives at the following working definition of the term melachah: an act which shows man’s mastery over the world by the constructive exercise of his intelligence and skill.
   We might, based on those same sources, suggest a further refinement of Dr. Grunfeld’s definition:
Melachah represents an attempt by man to transform his environment through a thought-filled act of creation.

In other words, Shabbat is a cessation of our creative activity, of our application of mind to the transformation of matter. In another section R. Goldin continues:

Shabbat and the Sanctuary represent two different realms of potential sanctification within Jewish tradition: the sanctification of time (e.g., Shabbat, Rosh Chodesh and the festivals) and the sanctification of space (e.g., the Mishkan, the Temple, the Land of Israel and the city of Jerusalem). Through the observance of Gd’s laws, man is challenged with the investiture of holiness into each of these central domains.
   And yet, while both of these realms are clearly significant, when a choice between them must be made, the sanctification of time reigns supreme. That is why the observance of Shabbat supersedes the construction of the Sanctuary.

I might point out that in physics, where Einstein showed that space and time are two aspects of one underlying reality, time is by far the bigger dimension – 1 sec (a fairly short time by human standards) corresponds to 186,000 miles, an extremely large distance by human standards. In our ordinary experience, of course, time is something that cannot be reversed. We can pace back and forth in space, but once a moment of time has passed, we can no longer reclaim it. We are required not only to sanctify time once a week, on Shabbat, but every single moment of our lives has to be lived in sanctity; every moment that is not is an opportunity lost forever.

The underlying theme of Shabbat is cessation of activity. We have spoken often that underlying all the changing manifestations of the created universe lies a silent layer of pure, abstract existence, out of which all existences arise like waves on the surface of the ocean. This pure existence is transcendental to the creation, yet it is its basis. One can experience pure existence, because it lies at the basis of the mind and the individual personality, which are existences as much as are physical objects. We experience pure existence as pure consciousness when the activity of the mind progressively settles down, and eventually ceases, just as the ocean becomes flat and silent when the wave activity on its surface settles down and finally ceases.

Repeated experience of pure consciousness alternated with normal activity trains the mind to maintain the experience of pure consciousness along with activity. Silence and activity coexist within our awareness, even though the silence has nothing to do with the activity and the activity has nothing to do with the silence. Our actions are solely in the realm of action – we perform actions on the environment, and the environment responds to our actions in kind. The silence, as it were, is the uninvolved witness of this interplay on the surface of life.

Perhaps this is one of the messages of Shabbat. Our essential nature is the silent pure consciousness/existence deep within us. The activity of our individuality is part of who we are, but it is on the surface of our life, not at the depths. All of the creative activity of the world, the activity of our bodies and minds acting on the environment, is outside our innermost self. In six days, “all melachah gets done.” It happens as if by itself, without our involvement. Our bodies and minds may be involved, but we are not involved. We are silent – we have ceased activity.

Shabbat is sometimes equated to all the other commandments of Torah. If we think of Shabbat as a state of consciousness where we know ourselves to be beyond the field of action, eternal and immovable, we will automatically act in accord with Gd’s Will, because our will is now perfectly aligned with Gd’s Will – we have no individual agenda of our own. All the action our individual personality – mind and body – engages in is for the sake of the ultimate good: a sanctified life in a sanctified society in a sanctified world.

Commentary by Steve Sufian

Parashat Vayakhel
“Vayakhel” means “and he assembled”. This continues the theme we saw in Ki Tisa of revealing the detail in a group – as in taking a census which Gd commanded Moses to do – and in bringing parts together into a whole, as Gd did with assembling the essence of Torah as 613 mitzvot (commandments) into two tablets. This theme is the theme of Teshuvah – return to Oneness in which we experience all details of existence as assembled, organized within our Self, the Self.

Moses repeats to the assembly many of the details of the construction of the Tabernacle that Gd gave to him earlier (Parshat Terumah). This illustrates our responsibility to share what we learn, what is revealed to us, with others, with everyone.

Before he does this, though, he reminds the assembly of the importance of Sabbath, the day of complete rest. This reminder is appropriate here because it makes clear that even in doing Gd’s work, as in building the Tabernacle, the priority is rest and we should not feel that any other commandment from Gd revokes it. The commandment to not kindle a fire on the Sabbath is given as an illustration: “fire” symbolizes action, energy, passion, desire and so it can serve as a general illustration that rest means rest in every way – rest in which Oneness of which all diversity of expression is revealed as is the Nature of Oneness as Joy and Love.

Moses repeats Gd’s command that every generous-hearted person shall bring an offering of materials for the Tabernacle and for the priestly garments and that every wise-hearted person shall participate in making the Tabernacle out of the offerings. Although it would seem that generosity and wisdom go hand-in-hand, in this parshah those making offerings are at least to some degree separate from those assembling the offerings into the parts of the Tabernacle and the priestly garments: the generous are so generous that they continue making offerings even when enough material has been gathered. Moses has to tell them to stop. This illustrates that in society and within our personality there needs to be communication so that everything is just right, not too much, not too little.

The detail and extent to which Gd goes in describing the construction of the Mishkan and the priestly garments (13 chapters whereas the construction of the Universe is only given one) suggests to many, including me, there is deep symbolism – although I haven’t found any source that goes into the detail in detail – between the Mishkan and the Universe and the Mishkan and the human physiology and personality.

Although I have not found such an account, reading the chapters and listening to the chapters can help us tune into the Harmony within Gd/One and Gd’s Expressions within Gd – Universe, humans, all and all.

This tuning in can help us open to the reality of One, to experience directly that we are One and to live in completeness, Completeness.

A word here, a phrase there – soon! Complete Restoration of Awareness.

Parshat Vayakhel, all 13 parshahs detailing the Mishkan  / Tabernacle / Sanctuary, all of Torah is available online, both in English and Hebrew and in written and audio form. is an example of their availability.

Let’s take advantage, as we can, of the great gift of Torah and our religion as aids in restoring our awareness to Full Awareness. One.

Baruch HaShem.