Vayakhel - Partners in Torah


Parsha Perspectives

  • A Moving Act


    ...ויקהל משה את כל עדת בני ישראל ויאמר אלהם ויצאו כל עדת בני ישראל מלפני משה

    “Moses assembled the entire assembly of the Children of Israel and said to them … The entire assembly of the Children of Israel left Moses’s presence.” (Shemot 35:1, 35:20)

    Parshat Vayakhel begins by relating that Moses gathered together all of the Jews to instruct them about keeping Shabbat and building the Tabernacle.  Nineteen verses later, after he has concluded his instructions, the Torah relates that the Jews left “from in front of Moses.”  As the Torah doesn’t waste an unnecessary letter, why was it necessary to emphasize this fact that should be obvious? Moses gathered them together at the beginning of the parsha and they hadn’t gone anywhere in the interim!

    Rabbi Eliyahu Lopian explains that when encountering a person on the street, it is generally impossible to discern from his appearance and actions where he is coming from.  The apparently superfluous wording is coming to indicate that in this case, it was clear to any passerby that the Jews had just left the presence of Moses.

    In what way was this recognizable?  Although they had just spent time learning about Shabbat and the Tabernacle from Moses , this factual knowledge wasn’t discernible to the naked eye.  Rather, their conduct and interactions with other people were on such a lofty level that it was apparent that they had just been studying Torah.

    The Talmud (Yoma 86a) teaches that part of the mitzvah to love G-d is to cause G-d to be loved and praised through our actions.  The Jews who merited learning Torah directly from the mouth of Moses reached such levels in sensitivity and caring that anybody who saw them would immediately understand from where it originated and would bless G-d and His Torah for producing such conduct.

    This lesson is illustrated in a story about Rabbi Yitzchak Zev Soloveitchik, (the Brisker Rav, 1886-1959), who was renowned for his diligence and toil in the study of Torah.  His daughter once returned home with an axe that she found, and he saw this as an opportunity to fulfill the mitzvah of returning a lost object to its owner (Devarim 22:1-3).

    After discovering that it belonged to a man who lived several miles away on the edge of the forest, Rabbi Soloveitchik took his daughter and the axe and set out on the long journey.  They finally arrived at the owner’s home and knocked on his door.

    Rabbi Soloveitchik expected that the owner would express his gratitude for their efforts, but was taken by surprise by what happened next.  When the man answered his door and realized what had transpired, he was so moved by the Rabbi’s actions that he literally prostrated himself on the ground, exclaiming, “Blessed is the Jewish G-d Who has given His people a Torah which causes them to act with such compassion and mercy!”

    The message of Parshat Vayakhel is that we should conduct ourselves in a manner which loudly declares that we are to be elevated by the Torah we study.  The typical person with whom we interact will not be able to discern this from our Torah insights or Talmudic discourses, but rather through our acts of kindness and exemplary interpersonal conduct.

  • Unifying Forces


    ששת ימים תעשה מלאכה וביום השביעי יהיה לכם קודש שבת שבתון לה’… 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” (Shemot 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’ 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 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.

  • Wisdom Defined


    וכל חכם לב בכם יבאו ויעשו את כל אשר צוה

    “And every wise-hearted person among you shall come and make everything that the L-rd has commanded” (Shemot 35:10).

    Wisdom is usually associated with the brain, not the heart.  Rabbi Eliezer Man Shach asks, what is the meaning of the term “wise-hearted”?  The Mishnah asks, “Who is the wise man? He who learns from every person” (Ethics of Our Fathers, 4:1).  Rabbeinu Yonah points out that it doesn’t say, “who learned,” in the past tense, but rather “who learns,” in the present tense.  Being wise is measured less by what you know or have learned and more by your attitude toward learning.

    A person with an enormous amount of knowledge who disregards the significance of continued learning and growing is not a wise person, but a fool—comparable to a pack of donkeys carrying hundreds of books on dozens of subjects.  However, someone without extensive knowledge who recognizes the value of knowledge and spends time pursuing it is a wise man.

    For this reason, the Mishna says a wise person is one who learns from every person—present tense—because he is in pursuit of knowledge.  One who has already learned from others but is on hiatus from learning is not called a chacham (wise person).

    Based on this, Rabbi Shach explains that when building the Tabernacle Moses wasn’t seeking those who were head-smart but rather heart-smart; people looking to expand their knowledge and people thirsty for learning.  Even if they were not yet proficient, they would become so.

    We see a similar idea in a famous story from the Talmud.  Rabbi Akiva was a simple shepherd, working for Ben Kalba Savua, one of the richest Jews.  At age 40 Akiva was uneducated—he didn’t even know the Aleph-Bet.  To make matters worse, he had a fierce hatred for Torah scholars.  One day after observing how drops of water gradually bored a hole through a boulder, he had an epiphany.  He understood that the Torah could likewise penetrate his heart, even at such a late stage in life.

    Ben Kalba Savua’s daughter Rachel saw that Akiva had become a person in pursuit of knowledge.  She agreed to marry him if he went to study in a yeshivah, and they secretly wed.  When Ben Kalba Savua heard that his daughter married an ignorant shepherd, he vowed to disinherit her.

    24 years later Rabbi Akiva returned home, accompanied by 24,000 students, as one of the leading Torah sages of his time.  Ben Kalba Savua, not realizing that this great rabbi was his son-in-law, asked Rabbi Akiva to try to annul the vow he made years ago that had estranged him from his daughter. Rabbi Akiva asked if he would have made the vow had he thought the shepherd would become a learned man.  Ben Kalba Savua said he wouldn’t have.  Rabbi Akiva then revealed his identity and annulled the vow.  Ben Kalba Savua hugged him and gave Rabbi Akiva half his possessions.

    Tosafot, a commentary on the Gemara, has a problem with this story.  One may not annul a vow based on something that, at the time of the vow, had not yet occurred; and Akiva only became great after the vow.  However, Tosafot explains that since Rabbi Akiva had already committed to learning—since he had already acquired the wisdom of the heart—he was already considered a learned person.

    Wisdom is not about what we know; it’s about what we want to know.

  • Growth Through Forgiveness


    ראו קרא ה’ בשם בצלאל בן אורי בן חור

    See that G-d has called by name Bezalel the son of Uri the son of Chur (Shemot 35:30 )

    As the Jewish people prepared to build the Tabernacle, Moses declared G-d’s desire that Bezalel oversee this holy task.  The Daat Zekainim commentary lends insight into why Bezalel, out of all the people in the Jewish nation, was specifically chosen for this role.  Bezalel’s grandfather, Chur, was attacked and killed when he attempted to prevent the Jewish people from worshiping the Golden Calf.  Since the Tabernacle served as an atonement for this grievous national sin, it was fitting that Chur’s grandson, Bezalel, play a central role in bringing this about.

    Rabbi Henoch Leibowitz, the late dean of the Chofetz Chaim Yeshiva, asks an intriguing question regarding Bezalel’s election to this mission.  The Tabernacle required the purest intentions on the part of those who contributed their efforts towards its construction.  As the leader of the project, Bezalel represented the entire nation and was acting on their behalf.  Yet, it is logical to assume that Bezalel must have harbored lingering feelings of resentment toward the very people who allowed his grandfather to be killed.  Surely, this would have affected his mindset, and as a result, the sanctity of the Tabernacle itself.

    The Medrash, however, relates that the Tabernacle was never destroyed, and the reason given is precisely that it was built without any impure motives.   How was it possible for Bezalel to eradicate all vestiges of hatred and desire for revenge from his soul, to the point where he was able to construct the Tabernacle and imbue it with such an exceedingly high level of holiness?

    Rabbi Moshe Chaim Luzzato, author of the classic ethical work, Path of the Just, explains that the desire for revenge is one of the most intense of human emotions.  He writes that exacting revenge is sweeter than honey; it is the only comfort an individual has to assuage the anger he feels toward those who have wronged him.  At the same time, the Torah commands us not to take revenge.  Thus, with great effort, it is possible to gather the spiritual fortitude necessary to overcome this negative emotion.  Bezalel accomplished this goal.  He drew upon the ability we all have to conquer our desire for revenge, and as a result, his construction of the Tabernacle remained an eternal legacy for the Jewish people.

    Rabbi Baruch Ber Lebowitz, legendary dean of the yeshiva in Kaminetz, Lithuania in the early 1900s, had a daughter who remained single for many years.  Finally, after much heartache, a suitable candidate emerged from the distinguished students of the Kaminetz Yeshiva, and an engagement was declared.  As was the custom at the time, Rabbi Lebowitz presented the groom with a gold watch and a new suit in honor of the upcoming wedding.  With the blessings of his bride and his father-in-law to be, the groom left Kaminetz to pursue his studies without distraction in a different yeshiva until the time of the wedding.

    A short while later a package arrived at the Lebowitz home containing the very gold watch and wedding suit that had been given to the groom.  A short note from the young man stated that he wished to call off the engagement.  No apology.  No explanation.  Naturally, the incident left Rabbi Lebowitz and his daughter devastated.

    A few years later, the young man sent another letter to Rabbi Lebowitz.  He was applying for a rabbinical position in another city and needed a letter of recommendation from his former dean. Rabbi Lebowitz penned a beautiful letter praising his former student.  He then asked three of his most trusted disciples to review his words to ensure they contained no hint of his personal pain.  Only after they assured him that there was no underlying negativity, did Rabbi Lebowitz mail the letter.

    Whether it’s someone taking the last parking spot, or “forgetting” to invite us to a family celebration, or harming our financial interests, hardly a day goes by without someone breaking our trust in some fundamental way.  However, such moments offer us an unimaginable opportunity for growth.   Just as the Tabernacle was built by the very person who had every reason to reject the Jewish people, so too, we offer a precious contribution to our mission in this world whenever we forgive the wrongs done to us and move forward with unity and good will.

Table Talk

For Discussion Around the Shabbat Table

Moses introduced the commandment to observe Shabbat by stating (Shemot 35:1) that this is what G-d commanded them לעשות (to do).  In what positive sense does a person “do” or “make” Shabbat, which is Biblically defined by the labors which may not be performed? (Rabbeinu Bechaye 31:16)

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).

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?

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?

Q: There are 39 creative acts of work which a person is forbidden to do on Shabbat.  In our parsha (Shemot 35:3), the Torah specifically mentions that it is forbidden to light a fire on Shabbat.  Why did the Torah single out and emphasize the prohibition against kindling a fire more than any of the other 38 types of work?

A: Rabbi Yonason Eibeshutz notes that the Medrash teaches that fire didn’t exist during the six days of creation, as fire was initially produced on the night following the first Shabbat.  If so, this wasn’t one of the activities from which G-d “rested” on the first Shabbat.  As the concept of Shabbat is to emulate G-d’s resting from creative work, one might have erred to think that it is permitted to kindle a fire, and the Torah therefore singles it out to teach and stress its prohibition. (Rabbi Ozer Alport)

G-d commanded Moses (Shemot 35:10) to instruct the “wise of heart” to make the utensils for the Tabernacle and the garments for Aaron, the High Priest.  The Talmud (Berachos 55a) teaches that G-d only gives wisdom to one who already possesses it, which seems to present a catch-22.  If G-d only gives wisdom to those who have it, how can a person obtain his initial wisdom? (Nefesh HaChaim 4:5 by Rabbi Chaim Volozhiner, Sichos Mussar 5733:2 by Rabbi Chaim Shmuelevitz)

 Q: The Torah emphasizes (Shemot 35:21) that the artisans who assisted in the construction of the Tabernacle were those whose hearts inspired them.  Why does the Torah stress this point, and what lesson does it teach us?

A: Nachmanides explains that due to the enslavement in Egypt, there were no Jewish craftsmen, as they hadn’t been offered the time to learn these skills.  Nevertheless, there were Jews who recognized their innate talents and through the inspiration of their hearts volunteered to assist in building the Tabernacle, trusting that G-d would enable them to properly perform His will.

Rabbi Yerucham Levovitz derives from here that in any endeavor for the sake of G-d, one who becomes inspired and dedicates himself to a project for the purpose of increasing G-d’s glory, even if he doesn’t possess the talents and skills necessary for the task, will be blessed with Heavenly assistance and success that he never dreamed possible – something to which the writer of these lines can certainly attest. (Rabbi Ozer Alport)

Rashi writes (Shemot 35:27) that the נשיאים – leaders of each tribe – were punished by the removal of the letter “yud” from their titles.  They proclaimed that after the people had completed their contributions toward the building of the Tabernacle, they would donate whatever was still necessary. What was wrong with their decision, which seems to reflect a tremendous sense of responsibility to ensure that nothing would be missing from the Tabernacle? (Rabbeinu Bechaye, Ohr HaChaim HaKadosh by Rabbi Chaim ibn Attar)

Vayakhel, this week’s Torah portion, essentially reviews many of the instructions noted in the three previous Torah portions regarding the construction of the Tabernacle, a tangible place for G-d’s Divine Presence.  Earlier on (Shemot 26), we read that individual contributions were requested towards the construction of the Tabernacle and for its various components.  In contrast to the mandatory half-shekel contribution (Shemot 30:13-15), whose amount was fixed and whose funds were used for communal offerings, the donation of materials requested for the Tabernacle were not fixed. Moses simply specified the materials that were needed, and the people gave, each according to the generosity of his own heart.  In this week’s Torah portion, we read (Shemot 36:2-7):

All the wise people … performing the sacred work came… from the work they were doing, and said to Moses as follows, “The people are bringing more than enough for the labor of the work that G-d has commanded to perform.”  Moses commanded… “Man and woman shall not do more work for the sacred contribution!”  And the people were restrained from bringing.  But the work had been enough for all the necessary work, and there was extra.

Moses wasn’t approached by a single supervisor or a committee; rather “all the wise men” left their work to inform him of the surplus of donations.  What might be the significance of this?

What significance could there be in the fact that “all” those doing the work gave the report that enough donations had been received?  Also, what idea is being conveyed by the phrase that they came “from the work they were doing”?

It would seem from the wording of the verse (Shemot 36:6) that the people wished to continue giving – even after they were told that no more contributions were needed – but they were restrained from giving any more.  If they genuinely wanted to give, why were they restrained? Couldn’t their donations be accepted and stored away for later use?

The Torah says simultaneously (Shemot 36:7) that the communal work for the Mishkan was both sufficient, which would seem to imply that it was exactly enough, and that there remained leftovers. How can these two apparently contradictory statements be resolved?

(Ohr HaChaim HaKadosh)

The Medrash relates that when Moses was building the Tabernacle, the cynics among the Jewish nation scoffed, saying “Is it possible that the Divine Presence rests on the son of Amram?”   Later, when the Tabernacle was built with no sign of the Divine Presence, the cynics asked, “Now it is built, but did not Moses say it would bring the Divine Presence to us?” (ShemotRabah, 52:2)

The cynics seemingly questioned how a mere human being of flesh and blood could possibly bring the completely spiritual Divine Presence of G-d into this world.  While they may have been uninformed about this dimension of human capacity, why are they labeled as “cynics or scoffers” for their first question?

In another section, the Medrash explains that the gap between the time the Tabernacle was completed and the time it was inducted was because G-d, for a reason noted there, intended to wait until the month of Nissan before resting His presence in the Tabernacle.  As the Jewish people could not possibly have fathomed G-d’s considerations, what was wrong with their second question?

Parsha Tidbits

Jumping Points for Discussion and Further Study



     “Moses assembled the entire congregation of the Jewish People and said to them: “These are the things that G-d commanded, to do them” Shemot 35:1

    To Do Them – When it comes to understanding and appreciating the depth of a mitzvah, every person is unique and will comprehend it on his own level.  When it comes to the performance of a mitzvah, however, all are equal and can perform it on the highest level.  Thus, since Moses’ goal at this time was to teach them how to perform the mitzvot related to the construction of the Mishkan (Tabernacle), Moses could gather everyone, for in this regard, all were on par. – Admor R’ Dovid M’Tchortkov

    The one constant when it comes to mitzvot, is performance.  At times, ones heart will be fully into the performance of a mitzvah, while at other times, it’ll be more of a struggle.  On occasion, a person develops a strong appreciation for a particular mitzvah, while others don’t appeal to him the same extent.  Regardless, when it comes to performing a mitzvah, one should try to set aside his personal mind-set at the moment and perform the mitzvah as completely and wholeheartedly as he is able.


     “For six days, work may be performed, but the seventh day shall be holy for you, a day of complete rest…You shall not kindle fire in any of your dwelling places on the Shabbat day.” Shemot 35:2, 3

    Shall not kindle fire – Why does the Torah single out the prohibition against kindling fire from among the myriad Shabbat prohibitions and grant it individual mention?  It is because the Torah had earlier allowed cooking on the primary days of the Passover holidays, days upon which most of the Shabbat prohibitions were in effect, since it was for the purpose of preparing food.  Thus, one might mistakenly assume that on Shabbat it is similarly permitted to kindle fire in order to prepare food.  To counter that notion, the Torah chose to highlight the prohibition against fire to warn us against it on the Shabbat under all circumstances. – Ibn Ezra, Ramban, Rashbam

    Shall not kindle fire – Kindling fire is emphasized because unlike the other prohibitions which are demonstrably creative in nature [building, cooking, dyeing, etc.,] kindling a fire is markedly less so. Therefore, the Torah found it necessary to call attention to its unacceptability. – Chizkuni, Rabbi Yosef Bechor Shor

    Shall not kindle fire – “The Almighty said, ‘My fire, the blazes of Gehinnom, rest on the Shabbat, your fires too, should rest on the Shabbat!’”  Sforno

    Shall not kindle fire – The reason fire is stressed is because most of the prohibited activities are performed through the use of fire.  For this reason, we recite a blessing over the use of fire on Motzai Shabbat (Saturday night) to symbolize that it is now permitted to perform all of the prohibited activities which were previously forbidden by the Shabbat. – Toldos Yitzchak, Sifsei Kohen

    In Tiferes Yehonasan, Rabbi Yehonasan Eibshutz, zt”l, offers an interesting take on this question.  The Talmud says that fire was first created on Motzai Shabbat (one of the reasons we bless over fire in the Havdalah ceremony).  Consequently, it was not one of the acts of creation that the Almighty rested from on the seventh day and would not necessarily have been included in the list of Shabbat  prohibitions which mirror the original rest of the seventh day.  Thus, it was necessary to highlight it from among the others to inform us that it, too, is problematic.


     “And the entire congregation of Israel went out from before Moses. And every man whose heart uplifted him came, and all whose generous spirit impelled him to donate, brought their donations for the work on the Tabernacle… And they came, the men together with the women, all who were generous of heart brought bracelets, nose rings, finger rings, and buckles…” Shemot 35:20-22

    And the entire congregation of Israel went out – What is the point of telling us that they went out from before him if we already knew that they were gathered before to hear him implore them to donate?  How else would they donate if they didn’t go out from before him?  Moses feared that the people, who had been overworked and underpaid slaves up to this point, were unused to giving, and he therefore gathered them together en masse in the hopes that peer pressure would inspire them to give generously.  The verse tells us however that the people did not need that added pressure.  Instead, they disbanded and each man brought his own donation without seeking honor from others who would not be aware of his generosity. – Sifsei Kohen

    And the entire congregation of Israel went out – This indicates that they didn’t just donate, but they did so enthusiastically and with great haste. – Rabbeinu Bachya

    The men together with the women – This term implies that the women were first to donate and the men followed their lead.  This is particularly noteworthy because during the sin of the Golden Calf, the same items were requested for use in creating it, and in that instance, the women refused to donate or partake in its construction in any manner.  One reason was because women are generally loathe to part with their jewelry, but their actions when it came to constructing a Tabernacle lay that claim to rest, since in that instance, they were the first to do so. – Rabbeinu Bachya

    Rabbeinu Bachya adds that the women were highly praised for their righteousness in both situations and were richly rewarded both in this world and in the World to Come.  Rosh Chodesh was granted to them as a holiday which they would celebrate even more so than men, a practice that continues in modern times as well.


     “And the tribal leaders brought onyx stones, and stones for setting into the ephod and breastplate.” Shemot 35:27

    And the Tribal Leaders — R’ Nosson said: ‘Why did the tribal leaders see fit to contribute to the dedication of the altar first, whereas for the works of the mishkan they were the last to contribute?’ They thought as follows: ‘First let the public-at-large contribute whatever they will contribute, and we’ll supply the difference.’  The people however, supplied all that was needed, as it is said: ‘And the work was sufficient,’ and the tribal leaders said, ‘what is left for us to do?’  So ‘they brought the shoham-stones, etc.’ It is for this reason that they later contributed to the altar dedication first, fearful that they would again miss out.  And since, at first, they were somewhat lax, there is a letter missing here, from their name and it is written ‘HaNesiim’ without a ‘Yud’ after the ‘Aleph.’ – Rashi

    Without a Yud – Why is omitting a ‘Yud’ from their name a fitting reprimand to their having delayed their contribution to the Mishkan?  Without a doubt, the leaders consciously intended to do the right thing and figured on making up a significant shortfall in the donations.  Deep down however, in their subconscious, their motive was less pure and they hoped that the people would contribute everything and they’d be free of any practical obligation, while still having made a magnanimous offer.  To demonstrate the nature of their failing and how it resided deep in their subconscious only, the Torah left out a “Yud” from their name, because the “Yud” is the only letter whose absence is not noticed since the word is pronounced the same as if it were present.  This indicates that their failing too was of a nature that even they weren’t aware of, but was very much present in their calculations. – Vilna Gaon (Rabbi Elijah ben Solomon Zalman)

    Humans are very complex beings operating on many layers of consciousness which are not always perfectly in sync with one another. On one level, one’s motives may be pure, while on another, they’re sorely lacking. While admittedly, this reality compounds the difficulty in producing a thoroughly altruistic mitzvah, it also allows for deeper layers of altruism, even where on the surface, ones actions may appear to be selfishly motivated.


     “And Betzalel made the ark of acacia wood, two and one-half amot long, one and one-half amot wide, and one and one-half amot high.” Shemot 37:1

    And Betzalel Made – Why mention only Betzalel in regards to the construction of the Ark when so many others were involved in the construction of the Mishkan as well?  The Ark was the abode of the Two Tablets, which represented the Torah.  Therefore its construction required the exceptional wisdom, knowledge, and understanding that only Betzalel, among all of the builders of the Mishkan, possessed.  Thus, his name alone was affixed to the account of its construction. – Rabbenu Bachya

    The reason Betzalel was the only one mentioned is because all of the other utensils were eventually replaced by others during the period of the first, or second, Bais HaMikdash (Holy Temple). The only exception to this rule was the Ark of Betzalel, which was never replaced once King Chizkiyahu secreted it away in an unknown location toward the end of the First Temple era.  Thus, it could accurately be said of the Ark that Betzalel constructed it, as opposed to the remaining Temple vessels, which were eventually recreated by others. – Meshech Chochmah (R. Meir Simcha of Dvinsk 1843-1926)

    It is no coincidence that of all the sacred vessels, only the Ark was never replicated.  This is partially due to the fact that it represents the Torah, which can never be replaced or recreated.  The Torah that we have today is the very same Torah received on Mt. Sinai from Moses, and even though circumstances may change, the Torah remains unchanged and eternal.


     “He made the Menorah out of pure gold, by hammering its form out (of a solid piece of gold), its base, its shaft, its cups, its knobs, and its flowers were of it.” Shemot 37:17

    Menorah out of pure gold – Generally, when describing how they fulfilled their instructions, the Torah uses identical terms to describe the instructions and their fulfillment.  The only exception is in the discrepancy between the instructions of the Menorah’s construction (“And you shall make a golden Menorah”) and their fulfillment (“the Menorah”).  What does the deviation intend to teach us? The law is that the Menorah need not be made of gold, as it may also be made of other metals too. Calling it a “golden Menorah” initially limited this dispensation only for future generations.  The Menorah of the Tabernacle, however, had to be made of gold. Therefore, in one place it speaks of it as the “golden Menorah,” whereas in the other it only refers to it as “the Menorah.” – Ohr HaChaim

Hey, I Never Knew That


“Do not light a fire in any of your dwellings on the Shabbat day” (Shemot 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.

There is an argument as to whether the boards that surrounded the Tabernacle tapered to a point or were equally wide at the top and the bottom (Shabbat 98a).  A student asked Rabbi Yitzchak Hutner if we would say that both sides of the argument represent authentic Torah views, or since they are arguing about an empirical reality, maybe one is wrong and one is right.  Rabbi Hutner (Collected Letters, 30) answered that it would not make a difference.  Inasmuch as we don’t have the boards of the Tabernacle, and all we have is the Torah’s description, then our only access to the historical reality is our understanding of the verses in the Torah.  Consequently, since each view is based on a legitimate understanding of the verses, we would apply the dictum, “These and those are the words of the living G-d” (Eiruvin 13b) even in an historical argument such as this.

Word of the Week


  • מלאכת מחשבת

    “…to do carpentry and other מלאכת מחשבת” (Shemot 35:33).  The phrase מלאכת מחשבתmelechet machshevet is translated by Onkelos as work of a craftsman, or skilled work.  Rashi (Chagigah 10b) maintains that it means “planned and intentional work.”  Rabbi Hirsch understands it to mean “execution of an intelligent purpose by practical skill.”  Regarding the use of this phrase for prohibited activities on Shabbat, he says it means “practical carrying out of an idea that shows the would-be dominion of the human mind over the world of matter” (Horeb par. 146).


    The Tabernacle was surrounded by a curtain held up by posts.  The posts had ווים — vavim attached to them to hold up the curtains (Shemot 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 responsa 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.

Dear Rabbi

Rabbi Chaim Shabtai of Salonika, Greece was asked if there was an obligation upon all members of a community to help hire a rabbi for the community.  He responded that this was indeed an obligation for three reasons: to develop students who will become Torah scholars themselves; to adjudicate disputes according to Torah law; and to teach people how to observe the Torah.  One of his proofs is the Medrash Tanchuma in the Torah portion of Vayakhel.  The Medrash cites the opening words of the Torah portion, “And Moses gathered the whole community of Israel and told them what G-d had commanded him” (Shemot 35:1).  The Medrash explains that the reason this is stated here is to teach all generations that there is an obligation for every community to have large gatherings in which people will learn how to fulfill the mitzvot of the Torah and how to refrain from sin.  Rabbi Shabtai writes that since these gatherings are obligatory for the community, they must hire someone capable of teaching at these gatherings in an appropriate manner (Responsa Torat Chaim 3:30).

Parsha at a Glance

Moses assembled the entire nation to reiterate the sanctity of Shabbat.  He announced that those whose hearts felt motivated could contribute materials (gold, silver, copper, wools in red, purple and blue, linen, goats’ hair, wood, oil, spices, and precious stones) to the building of the Mishkan (Tabernacle). He invited them to involve themselves in the actual construction as well.

The people immediately approached with the necessary materials.  The women (who had refused to bring gold for the golden calf) now came forward to donate their jewelry and their weaving skills.  The parsha singles out the leaders, who gave precious stones for the ephod and the choshen mishpat (the breastplate of judgment) worn by the Kohen Gadol (High Priest).  The Torah details the materials that the Jewish people contributed.

Betzalel and Oholiav, both highly skilled and learned, were designated as the overseers of the entire construction. After two days, so much wealth and so many skills had been donated that Moses informed the people that there was no longer any need for skilled craftsmen.

The parsha details the construction.  It specifies the measurements of the curtains and beams, which formed the inner and outer structures.  It also describes the material of the cover, the planks, the parochet (partition), and the screen.  Betzalel constructed the Ark, its cover, the table, the menorah, incense altar, elevation-offering altar, washing basin, courtyard, and screen of the gate of the courtyard.