Va-yakhel-P'kudei – Come Together, Right Now…

Stephen Richer
Come Together, Right Now…
Va-yakhel-P’kudei
Exodus 35:1 – 40:38
3/12/2010

Sadly, this week’s double Torah portion marks the end of the book of Exodus.  True, this doesn’t seem so bad when you consider that we spent most of the book slaving away in Egypt.  But the story of Moses has been my favorite ever since I saw Charlton Heston turn his staff into a snake that then destroyed Pharoah’s snakes (I imagine the English literature majors have a field day with this episode).  And I don’t know of any amazing movies made from the next three books.

This concluding Parsha is unexpectedly tame.  After parting the red sea, eating manna in the desert, building a golden calf, and watching Moses throw down the original tablets in a fit of temper, it seems like the book should have concluded with a duel between a wet and angry Pharoah and a cool and collected Moses.

But instead, the Parsha begins with the decree of Shabbat, “Six days work may be done, but on the seventh day you shall have sanctity, a day of complete rest to the Lord; whoever performs work thereon [on this day] shall be put to death.” (Exodus 35:2) and then launches into a lengthy how-to guide for constructing a tabernacle.

Why does the Parsha transition so quickly between two seemingly unrelated subjects? The sages–and more directly, Rabbis Teitelbaum and Schwersenski–tell us that the Tabernacle and Shabbat run parallel courses.  The construction of the Tabernacle is a guide to Shabbat.  Anything that is done to create the Tabernacle is prohibited on the day of rest (and this is where we get the 39 categories of no-nos).

But what about those of us who aren’t carpenters and aren’t too terribly concerned with the prohibitions of Shabbat?  What do we get out of the Parsha?

Two things.  First, the Parsha teaches us that Shabbat is the home of the Jewish people.  More than Israel, and more than our local synagogue, Jews are at home when the sun sets on Friday.  As Dr. Barry W. Holtz of the Jewish Theological Seminary (JTS) says, “the Tabernacle is God’s dwelling place”–we are constructing the Tabernacle for God, and we construct the Sabbath for ourselves.

If we continue to draw lessons from the construction of the Tabernacle, then we learn the second lesson: that Shabbat is a communal event.  The Portion more than once refers to the Tabernacle as the “Tent of Meeting.” (e.g. Ex. 40:2)  And the creation of the Tabernacle requires the work of the “entire community” (Ex. 35:20), specifically Bezalel, Oholiab, and Ithamar.  Similarly, Shabbat is not a one-man show.   We each have our parts, whether it is lighting the candles, cutting into the Challah, or simply showing up with a bottle of red wine.

Jews are often stereotyped as solemn individuals–staying late at work or pouring over books in the early morning–but “no man is an island,” and on the Sabbath, God strongly encourages us to celebrate life, and what’s a celebration without a friend or two?

Shabbat Shalom!