Vayakhel 5763

Posted on March 23, 2011

by Josh Sowalsky, 2003 Rel/Ed IGB, 5763

This week’s Parsha begins with Moshe instructing B’nai Yisrael to observe Shabbat. He tells them that it is a commandment from Hashem that they can work only for six days. Shabbat is a holy day on which they may not work, under penalty of death. He then adds that they may not make a fire in their homes on Shabbat.

This is all that our Parsha says about Shabbat. The Parsha then discusses in great detail the building of the mishkan (Tabernacle).

However, in last week’s Parsha, Ki Tisa, Hashem had told Moshe to speak to B’nai Yisrael about Shabbat. Presumably, in Vayakhel we have Moshe carrying out what Hashem had told him to do. But there is a huge difference between what Hashem told Moshe and what Moshe told B’nai Yisrael. Hashem told Moshe to tell them that Shabbat was a sign of their covenant with Hashem. Hashem also told Moshe that in six days Hashem created heaven and earth, but on the seventh day Hashem rested. In Vayakhel Moshe never mentions anything about creation or anything about the covenant. Instead, he tells them about making a fire, which Hashem never had even mentioned in Ki Tisa.

The obvious question is why did Moshe change Hashem’s message to B’nai Yisrael? Hashem told Moshe specifically what to say, and yet Moshe told them something different. Did Moshe disobey Hashem? Wouldn’t it have been easier just to repeat everything that Hashem had said? And what does the fire have to do with any of this?

A very important event took place between the time of Hashem’s instructions to Moshe and Moshe’s lesson to B’nai Yisrael. Most notably, there was the making and destruction of the Golden Calf. Right after Hashem had brought B’nai Yisrael from Egypt, they returned to idolatry. This must have had a profound impact on Moshe and how he viewed his people.

I think that Moshe knew that if he were to teach B’nai Yisrael to keep Shabbat, he could not use the language that Hashem had used with him. Hashem’s explanation to Moshe was spiritual, but after the events of the Golden Calf Moshe knew that this was not the way to tell B’nai Yisrael to observe Shabbat. They were not ready for a spiritual explanation and would not have understood it. Instead, he shortened the message, told them what they could and could not do, explained the penalty for violation and gave one simple example through the directive of not making a fire on Shabbat. I think that Moshe knew that if B’nai Yisrael learned to observe Shabbat, then eventually they would understand and appreciate its spiritual source.

This is an important message for all of us in USY who have come to feel the importance of Shabbat in our lives. We often try to tell others how wonderful it is to have a day of rest and prayer, and they think we are nuts. We try to explain what a special feeling it is at USY Shabbatons, Kinnusim and conventions to dress differently and act differently on Shabbat, and some of our friends just don’t have a clue. Sometimes, in our chapters, we may even become disillusioned when we cannot convey these feelings in a way that others understand and follow. If we can be like Moshe, and encourage the people around us to appreciate the beauty of Shabbat, hopefully they, too, will grow to understand and appreciate its spiritual source.