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Parsha Perspectives

Parshat Vayakhel-Pekudei: Unifying Forces

By Rabbi Yoav Druyan

ששת ימים תעשה מלאכה וביום השביעי יהיה לכם קודש שבת שבתון ליהוה… לא תבערו אש… ביום השבת

“For six days, work may be done, but the seventh day shall be holy… You shall not kindle fire in any of your dwellings on the Sabbath day” (Exodus 35:2-3).

Moses came down from Mount Sinai for the third time, and G-d instructed him to build the Tabernacle (Mishkan). The congregation of Israel was assembled, awaiting Moses’s directives. Yet instead of hearing about this lofty task, Moses instead began speaking about Shabbat.

Why did G-d take a seeming tangent to Shabbat? And why single out one prohibition — kindling fire — and no other?

The answers lie in understanding what the Tabernacle was meant to achieve. The colossal, nationwide effort to collect the materials for the Tabernacle and then assemble it was an incredibly unifying force. Similar to a far-flung community working together to build a synagogue where none previously existed, the common purpose and energies needed in the process can unify a diverse group of people like nothing else.

According to Rabbi David Feinstein (Kol Dodi), “The purpose of the Tabernacle is to teach us that G-d’s Presence can dwell anywhere in the world.” However, as we see later when the Temple in Jerusalem (the successor to the Tabernacle) was destroyed, G-d cannot dwell where there is dissension.

The verse states, “You shall not kindle a fire in any of your dwellings on the Sabbath day.” Rabbi Yeshaya Halevi Horowitz (known as the Shlah Hakodesh) teaches that this prohibition of fire in our homes on Shabbat is because of the unique opportunity Shabbat brings us. On Shabbat, we refrain from our usual pursuits, and whether we are at home or in the synagogue or in the park, we have more time and more opportunities to interact with other people. Interacting with others can be enriching and unifying — much like the building of the Tabernacle. At the same time, we have to invest a little effort in making sure that our conversations stay positive. If we let hurtful words or gossip slip in, the social benefit gets displaced by the harmful fires of embarrassment and dissension.

This, Rabbi Horowitz explains, is the reason for the explicit warning of the verse to keep from kindling fire in on Shabbat, precisely when we have more opportunity than usual to interact with others! We can also understand, then, why this warning preceded the directions for building the Tabernacle. What sort of unifying effect could the building project have if anyone kindled a fire in the process?

As members of a Jewish community, we are presented with numerous opportunities to assist in the “building” of our community. Whether it is by volunteering for a synagogue or school project, serving on the board of a local institution, or getting involved in some other way, there is so much we can accomplish. By presenting the injunction against kindling a fire on Shabbat even before presenting the instructions for building the Tabernacle, the Torah is teaching us how careful we need to be to avoid the fires of dissension — especially when we are engaged in holy endeavors.

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Word of the Week

By Rabbi Mordechai Becher


The Tabernacle was surrounded by a curtain held up by posts. The posts had ווים — vavim attached to them to hold up the curtains (Exodus 36:36).  What is a וו?  Radak translates vav as “hook,” noting that the form of the letter  ו — vav in fact looks like a hook. Rabbi Samson Raphael Hirsch explains that when placed before a word the letter vav means “and,” hence it also acts as a linguistic “hook” or connector.  In a responsum of the Geonim (Harkaby Edition 358), the author cites that the reason the vav is so called is because it looks like a hook. He sees this as evidence that the forms of the letters that are used today in the Torah scroll are identical to the original letters of the Torah.

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Hey, I Never Knew That

By Rabbi Mordechai Becher

“Do not light a fire in any of your dwellings on the Shabbat day” (Exodus 35:3). Many activities are forbidden on the Shabbat (39 major categories). Why does the Torah single out “fire”?  Rashi cites an opinion in the Talmud that fire is singled out because it is a less severe transgression than the other activities; the other opinion maintains that fire is singled out in order to teach that every single one of the prohibited activities on Shabbat is considered a distinct prohibition, not just a generic desecration of Shabbat. Some commentaries (Ramban, Rashbam) explain that since the Torah permits cooking on the festivals for the sake of the festival, the Torah emphasizes that in contrast, cooking on Shabbat, even for the sake of Shabbat, is forbidden. The Sforno points out that since fire actually destroys that which it burns, and the only activities forbidden as desecration of Shabbat are constructive actions, one might think that fire is permitted. Therefore the Torah goes out of its way to explain that fire is indeed forbidden on Shabbat.

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Table Talk

By Rabbi Dovid Gilman

On Shabbat, the day which commemorates the day in which G-d “rested” after creating the world, we are commanded to follow G-d’s lead and desist from creative activity. A total of 39 categories of melachah, or creative activities, are forbidden, all of which are derived from the activities associated with the building of the Tabernacle (Mishkan).

  1. As Shabbat commemorates the creation of the world, why would its laws be derived from the creation of the Tabernacle? What connection might there be between the creation of the world and the construction of the Tabernacle?
  2. As noted by Rabbi Yechiel Epstein (Aruch Hashulchan), all 39 categories of forbidden activities create a change in the object on which the act was performed (Orach Chaim 301:1).  One of the forbidden categories is hotza’ah, carrying an object from one domain to another, i.e. from the street into a house. What “change” could there be when carrying a key, for example, from one’s house into the street?

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A Question for the Rabbis

By Rabbi Mordechai Becher

When the Jewish people finished building the Tabernacle, they brought it to Moses. The Torah states, “And Moses blessed them” (Exodus 39:43). Rashi says that Moses blessed them with a prayer that the Divine Presence would reside in the work of their hands, and he quotes Psalm 90, which begins, “May the pleasantness of G-d be upon us,” as the exact phrase that Moses used. Later authorities cite this as the source for the custom to recite Psalm 90 after the evening service at the end of Shabbat (Avudraham, Seder Motzei Shabbat; Raaviah, Tractate Shabbat 378). Before we begin the work week, we ask G-d that His Divine Presence, His pleasantness, reside in the work of our hands, as the Divine Presence resided in the Tabernacle.

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2 Comments to “Vayakhel Pikudei-5772”

  1. Pablo Stanfield Says:

    Reb Mordechai Becher,
    I appreciate your comments, especially this week. But i must say that your Word of the Week was a bit of a tautology: of course a vav looks like a hook or a peg or a fence post with a crutch at the top, that’s what the ancient Semitic word WaW meant, long before there was writing in Hebrew. We all should be aware that the Old Hebrew/Sinaitic/Canaanite-Phoenician alphabet, the great gift to the world and ancestor of all alphabetic systems was inspired by the difficulty of Egyptian hieratic script, a short-hand of the hieroglyphs. The Semites in the eastern territories of the Egyptian Empire realized that their language worked better if they simply used a few words for their first consonants, -a from -alfayim, a pair of oxen, b- from beit, a bayit or house, d- for dalet or door, and w or v from vaw, a peg or hook — commonly used every day by our beduin ancestors, like Father Abraham in his tents. All one needs do is look at ancient Hebrew writing to see the clear peg/ stake/ hook shape of the vav, which also developed into Greek upsilon and Roman Y. No need to turn it all into some esoteric, mystic oh-wah-wah and pretend that it is not a simple, logical human invention. It is. As it says in Genesis, ha-Shem gave to humans the responsibility for naming things, and the intelligence to figure out how to write our language. That these symbols in the “Assyrian block script” that became standard after the Babylonian captivity have acquired Qabbalistic connotations does not change their history or human origins in everyday objects.
    b’shalom ~ dpablostanfieldh

  2. Pablo Stanfield Says:

    p.s.: For centuries after the return from Babylon, the Holy Name continued to be written in the ancient letters separate from the block letters around it in scriptures. It’s one way you know that ancient writing is from Bnei Yisrael and not some idolator.

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