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Parsha Ponderings – Vayakhel – E Pluribus, Unum

ויקהל משה את כל עדת בני ישראל ויאמר אליהם אלה הדברים אשר צוה ד’ לעשות אותם: ששת ימים תעשה מלאכה וביום השביעי יהי’ לכם קדש שבת שבתון לד

Moshe gathered the entire assembly of the Israelites and said to them: “These are the things that God has commanded, to do them. Six days, work shall be done, and the seventh day shall be holy for you, a day of complete rest for God.”

Moshe, having finally won God’s atonement for the sin of the Golden Calf, calls an assembly to tell the Israelites of the command to erect a Tabernacle representative of the renewed Covenant. Interestingly, however, he prefaces that announcement by reiterating the Mitzvah of Shabbos observance: “These are the things that God has commanded, to do them. Six days, work shall be done, and the seventh day shall be holy for you, a day of complete rest for God.”

The questions abound. Why was it necessary to interject the already-known Mitzvah of Shabbos precisely at this juncture? Additionally, why does the Torah use the plural “things that God has commanded to do them”, when in fact only one Mitzvah, Shabbos, is mentioned; a Mitzvah which, incidentally, is more about not doing, than doing?

Ramban resolves these difficulties by suggesting that the “things that God has commanded” actually refers to the forthcoming commandments involved in building the Tabernacle, not the Sabbath. Thus, Moshe first introduced the Mitzvos of the Tabernacle in general, and only then did he interject a reminder about Shabbos before continuing with the details of the Tabernacle. The intention, explains Ramban, was to stipulate that all work on the Tabernacle stop on Shabbos, and not be allowed to override the importance of Shabbos observance, its own importance notwithstanding.

While Ramban’s explanation certainly resolves our earlier questions, it gives rise to another, entirely new difficulty. When Moshe finally does get back to the details of the Tabernacle, he begins as follows:

זה הדבר אשר צוה ד’ לאמר

This is the thing that God has commanded

He then goes on to elaborate on the myriad details of the Tabernacle and its vessels. The question begs to be asked: How did the construction of the Taberancle, referred to mere verses earlier as “the things God has commanded” in the plural, suddenly coalesce into the singular “the thing” that God has commanded?

What gives?

As the only “thing” between the original “things” and the eventual “thing”, Shabbos is obviously the culprit, somehow turning “things” into “thing”.

But how?

The erection of the Tabernacle, was comprised of many seemingly unrelated commandments, pertaining to many, seemingly unrelated items and procedures. Indeed, it is hard, if not impossible, for the human mind to conceive a universal theme to every legalistic and architectural nuance of the Tabernacle and all its accompaniments. In that sense, it is not much different than the whole of Torah, whose diversity of topics and multiplicity of commandments simply defies the mortal mind attempting to intellectually tie it all together.

Only one thing allows the Jew to intuit, even if not comprehend, how it all comes together.

That thing is Shabbos.

On Shabbos, the Jew meets his soul, and intuitively senses how that lofty character residing within, is the cohesive result of all his efforts in observing the seemingly unconnected Mitzvos of the Torah. How the fifth branch of the Candelabra makes him the better Jew, he does not know; how kashrus observance enhances that same Jewish soul, he cannot fathom; how not driving on Shabbos can make him holier, he cannot explain. Yet he knows that it does. As the Shabbos profile of his soul dances before his eyes, he knows that somewhere, somehow, all those “unrelated” efforts to observe all those “unconnected” Mitzvos, are being streamlined to produce the very same product: a holier, loftier, more spiritual Jew. Yes, the assembly line is a bit too complicated for him to grasp its entire scheme, yet as he sees its finished product on Shabbos, he instinctively knows that its many stations are all there to create one single “thing”, not multiple, unrelated “things”. And that thing, he knows, is nothing other than him himself.

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