Newsletter #10, 2015

Parasha Vayakhel-Pekudei ויקהל/פקודי (Exodus 35.1-40.38)

In this parasha, Moshe gathers around the people of Israel to reiterate HaShem’s commandment regarding the observance of the Sabbath. He also conveys Adonai’s instructions concerning the construction of the Mishkan (Tabernacle). With overwhelming enthusiasm the people of Israel provide the required materials including gold, silver, copper, precious stones, and different types of color-dyed wool, animal skins, wood, herbs and olive oil. The response is so overwhelming that Moshe has to tell them to stop giving!
Besides the materials, the Israelites also have a team of talented individuals who make the furnishing for the Mishkan including gold-plated wall panels, silver foundation sockets, cherubim, seven-branched menorah, altar and many more items that are meticulously described in parasha readings of Terumah, Tetzaveh and Ki Tisa. vaiakhel_pekudei_DeborahOther talented individuals like Betzalel, Aholiav and their assistants make the eight priestly garments to the precise specification of Adonai’s instruction to Moshe. The magnificent Mishkan is completed and Moshe anoints all of its components.
G-d appears in a cloud with his divine presence and dwells among his people.
It is interesting to note that in this parasha, Moshe reiterates one of HaShem’s commandments that says; “For six days you may perform melachah, but the seventh day is a complete Sabbath, holy to the L-RD … it is an eternal sign that in six days, the L-RD made heaven and earth, and on the seventh day he rested and was refreshed.” -Exodus 31:15-17. Most people have different definitions of what is work; but most of the time, it is thought of as employment or physical labor. Work can be both pleasant and unpleasant. Some people like to work, while some just hate it. Some people might be perplexed about the validity of the Sabbath law. For example, if a Rabbi leads a service on the Sabbath, wouldn’t that be considered as “work”? If so, does the rabbi violate the Sabbath because of working on that particular day?
The problem lies not in Jewish law, but in the way most people think about the common definition of work. In the eyes of the Jewish law the work has a different meaning. The Torah does not prohibit “work” as most people would think of the common definition. The Torah prohibits “melachah”, מלאכה which is usually translated as work, but it is not exactly the same thing. “Melachah” in the Jewish law refers generally to the kind of work that is creative, or that exercises control or dominion over your environment. One of the best examples is HaShem’s work of creating the universe and ceasing and resting on the 7th day.
Notably, the Sabbath restriction is reiterated in this parasha during the building of the Mishkah and the creation of the sanctuary vessels. We can reasonably assume that the Israelites were so enthusiastic that they also wanted to continue on the Sabbath on this grandiose project. Thus, Moshe had to remind them that the work of creating the sanctuary had to be stopped for Shabbat. From this event, our Sages concluded that the work prohibited on Shabbat is the same as the work of creating the sanctuary. The Talmud tells us about 39 categories of forbidden acts, which all related to types of work that were needed to build the sanctuary. Our Sages put additional prohibitions that would interfere with the “spirit” of Shabbat; for example, it is not allowed to travel, buy and sell, and use electricity, etc.
The challenge is to determine if all of these additional prohibitions are valid in this modern world? Over the last century, rabbis tried to figure out how to apply the ancient laws to modern inventions. For example, it was decided that a Jew cannot drive on the Sabbath because it involves both moving an object and igniting the fuel, both of which are prohibited. However someone including myself might ask the following questions regarding the Sabbath:
*Is it wrong to use electricity to use my computer to study the Torah?
*Is it wrong to turn my TV on to watch a Rabbi’s teaching on Torah?
*Is it wrong to drive on the Sabbath to a synagogue if there are none nearby?
*Is it wrong listening to spiritual and uplifting Jewish prayers and songs through the radio?
*Is it wrong to dance and give praise to HaShem?
Different Jewish denominations have different opinions about how to keep the Shabbat holy. One thing is certain: Adonai wants Shabbat to be sweet and joyful! HaShem want us to enjoy the Sabbath with his company. He wants us to be refreshed and renewed both physically and spiritually after the Sabbath.
Sabbath should be wonderful and we should be sad when it is over. If Sabbath is a burden to you, then it is time to reevaluate the true meaning and purpose of it.
Shabbat Shalom! ~~~~~~~~ Yosef.

Read the latest newsletter from the European Union for Progressive Judaism. Click here to read and download.

Read this week´s commentary by Rabbi Benjie Gruber, Rabbi of Kibbutz Yahel and the Arava Region. Torah from Around the World #263 de la WUPJ.

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