I was up early this morning. At 4:00 am I found myself in the kitchen chopping vegetables, boiling water as I made a pureed vegetable soup, made gefilte fish and put the meat, barley, potatoes and beans into the crock pot for cholent. Later today my wife will make the chicken. By the time I get home this afternoon there will be a familiar delicious aroma emanating from the kitchen. Shabbat is coming.
This week we read Parshat Ki Tissa. A common theme found within this parsha as well as the two previous parshiyot, Teruma and Tetzaveh and next week’s double parsha VaYakhel/Pekudei, is that of the Mishkan, its construction and maintenance, and the Kohain and his functions. The Mishkan was built to serve a place for HaShem’s presence to dwell. The Kohain was the designated person to oversee and perform the Divine rituals. The idea of kedusha, holiness, was pervasive throughout the camp.
Embedded in these parshiyot is Shabbat. “The Israelites shall guard the Shabbat, to make the Shabbat an everlasting covenant for generations. Between Me and the Israelites it is a sign that in six days HaShem made the Heavens and the Earth and on the seventh day He stopped and was refreshed.” This is but one passage that we read in these parshiyot. This passage is also the introductory verses recited for the Shabbat day Kiddush. Shabbat adds to this idea of holiness. However, whereas the Mishkan was holiness in a place, Shabbat is holiness in time.
In contrast to all this we read the unfortunate incident of the Golden Calf. Moshe was up on Mount Sinai and supposed to return in 40 days. The people counted the days incorrectly and when Moshe did not return at the time they anticipated they became agitated, converged upon Aaron, who took their gold, threw it into the fire and out came a golden calf. Many of the commentators say this was not an act of idolatry, that the calf was supposed to replace Moshe, not HaShem, however given that the people announced, “. . . this is your god, O Israel, which brought you up from the land of Egypt,” there is certainly a idolatrous nature to the event.
There is an idea within the Torah commentators that the some of the events in the Torah are not in chronological order, but rather placed in the order we have them for reasons we may not fully understand. The incident of the Golden Calf is one such example, that it took place prior to the command to build the Mishkan. Despite the miracle of the splitting of the Sea, and spectacular event at Mount Sinai, the people were still accustomed to the religious practices of Egypt. The Mishkan and Shabbat serve to constantly remind the Jewish people that there is but One HaShem in the world, and that presence could be perceived in place through the Mishkan, and in time through the Shabbat.
We no longer have the mishkan, or the Temple. We still have Shabbat, that wonderful, sacred time by which we are reminded of priorities in life. It is the day when we can unplug from the regular week of wrestling with the world and focus on appreciating the world, appreciating what we have, appreciating the holiness of life itself.
The soup, fish chicken and cholent are waiting. Shabbat is coming.
Rabbi Yaakov Traiger