As the curtain rises on Parshat Vayakhel, Moshe assembles the nation in order to convey G-d’s commandments concerning the construction of the Mishkan (the Sanctuary).
Suddenly, however, he opens his remarks with the following directives concerning Shabbat:
“Six days work may be done and the seventh day shall be holy for you, a Shabbat, a day of complete rest for G-d; whoever does work (melacha) on that day shall be put to death. You shall kindle no fire in any of your dwellings on the Shabbat day.”
Moshe’s clear purpose in assembling the nation at the beginning of the Parsha is to launch the construction of the Mishkan. Why, then, does Moshe abruptly insert the subject of Shabbat?
Rashi verbalizes the most immediate halachic lesson learned from the encounter between Shabbat and the Sanctuary: “[Moshe] prefaced the commandments concerning the work of the Mishkan with a warning concerning Shabbat – to convey [that work within the Mishkan] does not supersede Shabbat.”
But there seems to be another distinct reason for the interruption of this important Mitzvah.
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 G-d’s laws, man is challenged with the investiture of holiness into each of these central domains.
Both of these realms are significant, but what happens when a choice between them must be made?
The Torah teaches us that the sanctification of time reigns supreme.
That is why the observance of Shabbat supersedes the construction of the Sanctuary.
Man is convinced that to extend his power over the world he must occupy more and more space through his constructions and creations. Hashem, however, is more concerned with time than space. The first time the Torah uses the word Kadosh is not to describe something physical, as would be expected, but to describe the non-physical, namely time. Hashem uses the word Kadosh to describe the seventh day, His day of rest. In fact, no physical being is described as Kadosh until Bnei Yisrael are told that they will be to Hashem an Am Kadosh at Har Sinai. Only after the downfall with the sin of the Golden Calf is an object – the Mishkan – referred to as Kadosh. But that object was used for the sole purpose of housing the Shechina. Thus, even the Mishkan was not holy in and of itself. It was holy because it provided a place for the Shechina to occupy.
The single most precious and tenuous commodity we possess in life is time. Our moments are limited; each moment exists…and before we know it, that moment is gone.
There could be no greater expression of our belief in and our loyalty to G-d than the dedication of some of our limited moments specifically to His service. The sanctification of time – the dedication of time solely to our relationship with G-d – is one of the highest religious acts possible, transcending other acts of sanctification.
Therefore, when Moshe underscores the laws of Shabbat immediately before the launching of the construction of the Mishkan, he reminds the people to remember their priorities. As monumentally historic as the launching of the Mishkan may be, as overwhelmingly important as the Mishkan and all of its symbolism will be across the face of history, even more precious to G-d is the dedication of our own moments of time to His service.
The Gemara (Shabbat 10a) teaches: “One who gives a gift to another must tell him.” Thus, Hashem said to Moshe, “I have a good present in My storehouse, and its name is `Shabbat.’ I want to give it to the Jewish people; go and inform them (Lech Lehodiam)!”
This last part is very interesting as we don’t seem to find by any other mitzvah this idea that G-d tells Moshe that he must go and inform them.
What is the deeper meaning?
Once, a poor man came begging to the house of Rabbi Shmelke of Nikolsburg (1726-1778). The Rebbe was used to giving charity, but this time he could not seem to find any cash at home.
After searching for a while and realising the plight of this poor man, the Rebbe looked through his wife’s drawer and found a beautiful ring. He promptly gave it to the beggar and wished him well. When his wife came home, she asked how his day was and soon after realised that her ring was missing. He explained that he had donated it to feed this poor man. She screamed, “How dare you give that ring, it was worth so much money!”
Upon hearing this, the Rebbe ran out after the poor the man. As he approached, the poor man looked back and, seeing the Rebbe coming close, decided to run for it.
The Rebbe ran faster and eventually, although out of breath, managed to catch up with the poor man.
“Please don’t take away the ring,” begged the poor man.
Reb Shmelke lifted his hands and, still panting, replied: “I have just learned that the ring I gave you is worth a lot of money. Make sure you don’t sell it for cheap!”
The same is true about Shabbat. It’s a very special time, but if we are not aware of its beauty and
power, we will miss the opportunity. We will end up selling it for cheap.
Shabbat is the sanctification of time. It is a time when we are able to stop and be and enjoy the moment. A time out from our busy schedule. A gift from G-d.
If one takes the letters in the word “Rosh”- head- and replaces each letter with the letter that follows immediately after it in the Hebrew alphabet, the result is the word “Shabbat.” The head (Rosh) of our faith and week is Shabbat. Keep it and it will keep you!