Many years ago I returned from Israel and planned to move to Philadelphia. I spent a few weeks at home before the move. The first Friday I was home I bought a timer for the lamp next to my bed so that it would go off at certain time allowing me to sleep. I did not realize that I did not understand the directions how to use the timer. I went to bed, was able to read for a bit until the timer turned the lamp off at the time I wanted. Unfortunately around 2:30 am the timer turned the lamp back on and I suddenly had bright light shining on me. Needless-to-say I did not get much sleep that night.
This week we read the double parsha of VaYakhel/Pekudei and in doing so we complete the Book of Shemot. The main thrust of these two parshiyot is the completion of the building of the mishkan, the portable sanctuary the Israelites were commanded to create during their sojourn through the desert. As we discuss last week embedded in all these parshiyot is Shabbat, that one special day in the Jewish week that takes on a different dimension.
The parsha opens with Moshe gathering the people together and relates the following Divine command,” on six days work may be done, but the seventh day shall be holy for you, a day of complete rest . . .” Two words are significant here. First is the word for work. The Hebrew is melacha. The second work is that for complete rest which is Shabbat. Unfortunately these translations are not adequate.
What exactly is melacha? It really isn’t work. The reason that the concept of Shabbat occurs often in these parshiyot regarding the Mishkan is that melacha is related to those activities that were used to create the Miashkan. The rabbis generated 39 categories of creative activity that were employed to build the Mishkan. It is these activities from, which we must refrain on Shabbat.
The first time the word Shabbat is used, as well as the word melacha, is the beginning of the second chapter of Bereshit. There had just been six days of activity to create the world. On the seventh day there is none; that creative activity has come to an end. If one reads the first verses of that second chapter it reads, “. . . and He stopped on the seventh day, from all His melacha that He did.” What did HaShem stop (the word is Va’Yishbot – the root is the same as Shabbat)? He stopped doing melacha. However, the word melacha is not defined. Not until Parshat VaYakhel do we understand the word for melacha is related to the activities for the mishkan.
HaShem used “melacha” to create the world. Humans, through the Divine command, used melacha to create the Mishkan. Shabbat is the cessation of the creative activity necessary to build and maintain the mishkan, to create and maintain the world. In a bit of a twist, one must actively stop in order to create Shabbat.
The Mishkan was another dimension in space; it was created to be a dwelling place for the Divine presence (however that truly worked). Shabbat is our Mishkan in time; it is another dimension to experience something special that the regular week can’t capture.
Chazak, Chazak, v'nitchazayk
Rabbi Yaakov Traiger