Vayak’heil – P’kudei

Vayak’heil  (And he convoked or And he assembled) Exodus 35:1 to 38:20
P’kudei – (Records or Accounts)Exodus 38:21 to 40:38

Final chapters of Sh’mot/Exodus– a double parsha. In Vayak’heil the materials for the construction the Tabernacle and the and the priestly vestments are assembled. The importance of Shabbat is again emphasized. In P’kudei the Tabernacle is constructed.

The Isrealites have built a “home for the Eternal” … a home that will serve as a constant reminder of God’s presence.

Vayak’heil opens with yet another reminder of the importance of Shabbat:

“Moses then convoked the whole Israelite community and said to them:”

Vayak'heil“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; who ever does any work on it shall be put to death. You shall kindle no fire throughout your settlements on the Sabbath day.” (Ex. 35:1-3)

The importance of Shabbat can not be overstressed. It is in the Ten Commandments… then, repeatedly stressed throughout the following parshot. The Tabernacle is viewed as the space in our communities for God. Shabbat provides a frequent time to reflect on God. It a full day when we can leave our secular lives and enter a period devoted to special, personal thoughts and actions.

As stated above, no work is to be done on Shabbat. The Mishnah lists thirty-nine tasks that are seen as work and thus forbidden on Shabbat. Basically, these included all the chores that were completed in building the Tabernacle. These tasks are listed at …. However, only one task is specifically forbidden in Torah….. As stated above: “You shall kindle no fire throughout your settlements on the Sabbath day.” It should be noted that most translations state that there should be no fire in your “dwellings” or “households”…. While Plaut translates this as “settlements.”

Rabbi Abraham Issac Kook (1865-1935 – The first Chief Rabbi of pre-state Israel) commented on this prohibition. He asked why is fire prohibited only in your dwellings and not in other locations.

He answers: “The control and use of fire is unique to humanity. It is the basis for our advances in science and innovations in technology. Even now, fuel sources for burning, coal and oil, are what power modern societies. In short, fire is a metaphor for our power and control over nature, the fruit of our God-given intelligence.”

“What is the central message of the Sabbath? When we refrain from working on the seventh day, we acknowledge that God is the Creator of the world…. Human technology is artificial and perhaps alien to the true purpose of the universe. Therefore, the Torah specifically prohibits lighting fire on the Sabbath.”

Along with this prohibition, Rav Kook also states that all the advances of mankind are part of God’s ultimate design for the universe. “Our advances and inventions contribute towards the goal of creation in accordance with God’s sublime wisdom.”

Fire in the Temple

Rav Kook then points out that while fire is prohibited in the home, the Talmud (Shabbat 20a) explains that fire is only forbidden in private dwelling, but in the Temple, it is permitted in order to burn offerings to the Eternal.

He notes: “The holy Temple was a focal point of prophecy and Divine revelation. It was the ultimate source of enlightenment, for both the individual and the nation. The fire used in the Temple is a metaphor for our mission to improve the world through advances in science and technology. We need to internalize the message that it is up to us to develop and advance the world, until the entire universe is renewed with a new heart and soul, with understanding and harmony. Permitting the technological innovation of fire in Temple on the Sabbath indicates that God wants us to utilize our intellectual gifts to innovate and improve, in a fashion similar to God’s own creative acts.

We need to be constantly aware of our extraordinary potential when we follow the path that our Maker designated for us. At this spiritual level, we should not think that we are incapable of )accomplishing new things. As the Talmud declares, ‘If they desire, the righteous can create worlds’ (Sanhedrin 65b). When humanity attains ethical perfection, justice will then guide all of our actions, and scientific advances and inventions will draw their inspiration from the source of Divine morality, the holy Temple. (Rav Kook Torah, Technology and the Shabbat )

And with these thoughts, we end our study of the Book of Sh’mot/Exodus …. And, as )usual, at the end of each book of Torah we say … Chazak, Chazak, Venitchazak: From strength to strength we strengthen each other. May we continue to find strength and friendship through our study of Torah.

Earl Sabes

Fire Image courtesy of supakitmod at

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