Vayak’heil – Exodus 35:1 to 38:20
This parsha takes place after the Golden Calf incident … and the return of Moses with the second set of Tablets. All but the first three verses tell about the collection of materials for the Tabernacle and its construction. The fact that the three verses about Shabbat appear at the start of this parsha, before the details of the Tabernacle construction, indicate that the celebration of Shabbat – a day of rest – takes precedence over the construction of the Tabernacle.
“Moses then convoked the whole Israelite community and said to them: “These are the things that the Eternal has commanded you to do: On six days work may be done, but on the seventh day you shall have a Sabbath of complete rest, holy to the Eternal; whoever does any work on it shall be put to death. You shall kindle no fire throughout your settlements on the Sabbath day.” (Ex. 15:1-3)
Another reference to Shabbat appears earlier in Exodus after God gave manna to the Israelites. : “ ‘Mark that it is the Eternal who, giving you the Sabbath, therefore gives you two days’ food on the sixth day. Let every one remain in place: let no one leave the vicinity on the seventh day’… So the people remained inactive on the seventh day.” (Ex. 16:29-30) Here we get the hint that we should not travel on Shabbat …. Is travel work?
Then in Numbers, there is a very “dark” story that reinforces the Shabbat restrictions. “Once, when the Israelites were in the wilderness, they came upon a man gathering wood on the Sabbath day. Those who found him as he was gathering wood brought him before Moses, Aaron, and the whole community. He was placed in custody, for it had not been specified what should be done to him. Then the Eternal said to Moses, ‘The man shall be put to death: the whole community shall pelt him with stones outside the camp.’ So the whole community took him outside the camp and stoned him to death – as the Eternal had commanded of Moses.” (Num. 15:32-36) While I don’t think that this should be a guide for us, it does point to the importance that Torah places on Shabbat.
Beyond the above text, there is little instruction on what to do on Shabbat…. Or what not to do.
What is work to one person, can be rest to another. For example… To the writer who sits in front of a computer all week, it’s restful to care for a lawn and garden….. But is this work, or not? The Rabbis of old also asked the question: What is work? They looked to the opening lines of this week’s parsha and saw that, on Shabbat, God prohibited the work of building the Tabernacle. As a result, they decided that the 39 tasks needed in its construction should be considered work and prohibited. They are listed in Mishnah – Shabbat 7:2. (Click here to see an article listing them.)
Rabbis also saw this day of rest as a day of reflection and contemplation. With work, during the week there was little time for anything else but meals and sleep. Shabbat was the day when Torah could be studied, time could be spent with family and friends, a day that a person could become more holy to themselves, their families, and God.
I also approach the question of work and rest from a different angle. In the creation of the world, God created the world in six days… and rested on the seventh. It is also noted that on the sixth day God created mankind “In his own image.”
So we are told that as we were created in God’s image… we should also strive to copy the ways of God….
If, in the beginning God worked or created for six days and rested on the seventh, Torah tells us that that should also become our guideline…. We should work or create for six days and rest on the seventh….. So work is defined as “creation.” On Shabbat we shouldn’t create … create material products… create plants in the garden … create ideas for a book one may be writing. We are to cease creation and rest. This concept helps define what is “work” and “rest.”
But what about technology … the computer, the telephone, the television, or an electric car…They don’t use fire and aren’t work. And in many cases, don’t create anything…. Well, the rabbis have inferred, that by specifically excluding fire on Shabbat, technology should also considered to be work. In biblical times, fire was technology. It wasn’t exactly work …. Yes, God did create light on the first day, and the sun and moon on the fourth day…. And fire is light …. This fire/light is used in the creation of meals, comfort in living places, and metals for the work place. Thus, like fire, technology is also used in the creation of work…. And so it is also classified as “work.”
So, on the Shabbat, the people should not work, but rest…. As God did. By doing so, we – ordinary people – can become more holy, more God-like in our ways. By celebrating the Shabbat with rest, we gain a special time that is not possible during the work week. It is a time to think about how we can make the world a better place for ourselves, our families, friends, and all mankind… a time to think about how we can become more effective creators on the other six days. This could involve study, worship, time spent with family and friends… or just an afternoon of much needed rest.
Have a restful Shabbat.