Readings for Saturday, March 25, 2017
Two scrolls are used on this Shabbat. The first is for the regular weekly portion. The second is for the special reading for Shabbat HaChodesh
To make this Shabbat even more special, we are finishing the second book of the Torah!
This year, 5777, is not a leap year which means Vayakhel and Pekuday are read on the same Shabbat
In leap years two portions are read on separate Sabbaths. They are both comparatively short and contain material on a related subject - Leprosy. When the portions are read on the same Shabbat, it is seamless and only one Torah scroll is used.
35:1-38:20 Shemot (Exodus)
Vayakhel is the tenth sedrah in the Book of Shemot. It takes its name from the first Hebrew word in the first sentence of the reading. “Vayakhel Moshe” or “Moses assembled (Vayakhel) all the congregation of the children of
and said unto them....” This
comparatively brief sedrah describes the actual building of the Tabernacle and
all of its furnishings. It appears to be
a recapitulation of the information presented in Terumah. According to the sages, Terumah described the
plan. Vayakhel describes the actual
construction of the holy dwelling places and its vessels. As the commentators in Etz Hayim point
out, Terumah began with a description of the items in the Mishkan and ended
with a description of the Mishkan. In
Vayakhel, the order is reversed which would be logical. First you build the edifice and then you make
the things that will go inside. (First
you build the house, then you buy the furniture.) The basic explication of the text will follow
the divisions in Etz Hayim combined with sub-headings from the Stone
Chumash as well as a couple from the author.
Together, they provide definition for the reading while avoiding the
numbing detail found in some other texts.
The parenthesized notations indicate earlier mention of these items in
1. The Convening of the People - 35:1-19
The People’s Response - 35:20-29
The Master Craftsmen - 35:30-36:1
· The Sabbath
· The Contributions for the Tabernacle
· The Construction of the Tabernacle
The sedrah begins with Moshe assembling “Kol Adat B’nai Yisrael,” literally “all the congregation of the children of
.” He has returned from his second trip to the
top of Israel Mount Sinai. He has returned with the new set of
Tablets. So now it is time to reassemble
the whole nation; to re-kindle the original spirit that had existed when the
whole nation had stood at Sinai before the Golden Calf episode. Moshe has called them together to begin the
building of the Mishkan. But he starts
with a repetition of the commands concerning the observance of Shabbat. From this we learn that the observance of
Shabbat is of critical importance; it is even more important than building the
and the holy vessels. Ark
2. The Overabundance of Donations - 36:2-7
The generosity of the people was overwhelming. Moshe finally had to call a halt. He had what was needed. To go beyond that would be the kind of greed or self-aggrandizement associated with potentates, not Moshe or the Lord he served. This generation stands in stark contrast to the behavior of the leaders described earlier (35:27-28). They made their donations of precious stones for the breastplate only after the rest of the people had brought their donations. According to some commentators they waited until last for what they thought was a good reason. They assumed that there would be a shortfall in the offerings and they planned to make up for whatever had not been given. If this was their fear, then they should have lead by example - if they had made generous contributions at the outset they would have encouraged the rest of the nation to do likewise. In the game of life, leaders ante up first.
3. The Work of Construction - 36:8-36:37
· Making the Curtains
· Making the Cover
· Making the Planks and Their Components
· Making the Partitions
· Making the Screen
4. The Manufacture of the Furniture and Accessories - 37:1-38:20
· Making the
· Making the Cover
· Making the Table - 25:23-30
· Making the Menorah - 25:31-40
· Making the Incense Altar - 30:1-10
· Making the Oil and Incense - 30:22-37
· Making the Elevation-Offering Altar - 27:1-8
· Making the Laver
· Making the Courtyard - 27:9-19
· Making the Screen
114. The prohibition against making a fire on Shabbat (35:13): “You shall kindle no fire throughout your settlements on Shabbat.”
Biblical Literacy by Rabbi Joseph Telushkin
In reading Shemot, we have seen laws pertaining to Shabbat given over and over again. Considering the obvious importance of Shabbat, it is quite fitting that the last commandment in Shemot should be one concerning the observance of our most frequent holiday. The placement of the commandment just before the description of the building of the Mishkan and its furnishings provides the source for the Rabbis to deduce the 39 types of activities that constitute work and are thus prohibited on Shabbat. According to the Oral Law, the prohibition against “kindling any fire” means you cannot create a fire on Shabbat but you can enjoy the heat and light from a fire started before Shabbat. The Karaites, an eighth century sect founded in
Babylonia, rejected the Oral Law. Amongst other things, this meant they had no
fires burning in their homes at all on Shabbat.
In modern times, the question has arisen if turning on an electric light
violates this prohibition. For the
Orthodox it does. For Reform it is a
meaningless question. And as usual, the
Conservative Movement is split.
Once again the Torah provides examples of the importance of women. They contribute along with the men when Moshe makes his request. There are those who say that it was really the women who gave the jewelry because the men had wasted theirs on the Golden Calf. Also, it was their mirrors that provided the copper for the holy vessels. Finally, there is the explicit mention of the “skilled women” who did the spinning and weaving.
The Sukkah and the Mishkan
According to the commentators, Moshe told the people about building the Mishkan on the day after Yom Kippur. In English we call the Mishkan the Tabernacle. It is customary to start building a Sukkah after one comes home from the synagogue at the end of Yom Kippur (which is technically the day after Yom Kippur). In English we call the holiday of Sukkoth The Feast of Tabernacles. Is there a connection between these two building activities? Supposedly we build these booths to remind ourselves of the time our ancestors spent in the Wilderness. Is a Sukkah a “poor man’s” Mishkan? This is a question you can discuss at Sukkoth when you sit in your Sukkah.
The same Hebrew word that begins this sedrah is also found in Shemot 32:1. In the earlier reading which describes the making of the Golden Calf, the text states, “the people assembled against Aaron” and demanded that he “make us a god.…” Here, Moshe assembled the community to tell them about building the Tabernacle and to prove that God had forgiven them for the Sin of the Golden Calf. Once again, it is not just what you do, but why you do it that matters.
More on the Mishkan
The Torah spends quite a bit of time describing the Mishkan or Sanctuary. The question one must ask is why the Torah devotes so much space to describing a temporary edifice that will only be used until the building of the
Why is so much time and attention devoted to what is a “one shot
deal?” When the Temple was destroyed and the Jews were exiled
to Temple Babylonia, why didn’t they build a
Mishkan? Again, when the
was destroyed, why didn’t anybody build a Mishkan since they had the complete
blueprint? (In fact, they used an
edifice that is not mentioned in the Torah - the Synagogue or Shul.) This is your chance to supply the answer
because I do not have one. Second Temple
The Shabbos Goy
“Reb Nachum of Chernobyl once spent Shabbat at the home of Reb Shimon of Shlomo… In accordance with the custom of the household a long candle was lit before sunset which was to last until morning, in order to give light to anyone wanting to rise and study Torah before daybreak. A little after midnight, the host and his family saw Reb Nachum groping his way about the house like one moving in absolute darkness, and were afraid lest he bump into something and hurt himself. Hearing that they were also awake, Reb Nachum asked them: ‘Why did you not light a candle to last through the night?’ This they could not fathom; that very room was in fact illuminated by the candle they had lit. They investigated and found that it had earlier blown out, and the gentile maid had relit it. But because it had been lit on Shabbat, the tzaddik was able to see nothing by its light.”
This Chassidic tale is included in a compilation by Rabbi Shlomo Yosef Zevin of blessed memory. The story is intended to reinforce the commandment found in this week’s Torah portion: “You shall kindle no fire…on the day of Shabbat” (35:3). But Reb Nachum may have been trying to teach us a deeper lesson. Reb Nachum was no slouch since he was a disciple of the Maggid of Mezritch, the successor to the Baal Shem Tov. It was a common practice among many observant Jews to retain a “Shabbos Goy,” a gentile who would perform functions on Shabbat that were Jews were forbidden to perform. In the story we just read, it would not make sense for Reb Nachum not to have seen the light if the candle had been lit by a Jew. But the gentile maid was not violating a commandment by lighting the candle on Shabbat, since only the Jews are commanded to “observe the Sabbath and keep it holy.” So if Reb Nachum could not see the light from a candle kindled by a “Shabbos Goy” lit in violation of the commandments we can assume that we are not supposed to hire people to perform activities forbidden to Jews. For Reb Nachum, hiring the “Shabbos Goy” was not a way around the law, it was just another way for Jews to violate the law.
Pekuday (Count or Enumerate)
38:21-40:38 Shemot (Exodus)
Pekuday is the eleventh and last sedrah in Shemot. It is also the fourth and final sedrah dealing with the construction of the Mishkan. The sedrah takes its name from the second Hebrew word in the first sentence of the portion. “Ayleh Pekuday Hamishkan” or in English, “These are the countings (or enumerations) of the Tabernacle.…” It is a brief sedrah. Based on Etz Hayim Chumash and The Stone Chumash, the sedrah may be divided as follows:
1. A Tally of the Metals - 38:21-31
Moshe insists on a tally of the precious metals used in the construction. The need for honest accounting did not begin with the financial meltdowns in the last decades of the 20th century and the first decades of the 21st century. The author(s) of the TaNaCh understood that people were only human where great wealth was involved. The givers need to be assured that their offerings did not stick to any fingers. And anybody can be accused of having sticky fingers, including Moshe. In Devarim, he will proclaim his virtue by announcing that he never took anything and that nobody ever proved that he did.
2. The Making of the Priestly Vestments - 39:1-31
· The Ephod
· The Breastplate
· The Robe of the Ephod
· The Tunics of Linen
· The Headplate
The message here is quite clear. How we dress, how we appear to others says volumes about who we are and what we do.
3. Completion and Inspection - 39:32-43
According to Rashi, Moshe did not do any of the actual construction work himself. But when the people brought the Mishkan to him, the walls were lying down. It was Moshe who miraculously lifted the walls. Also according to Rashi, when Moshe accepted the work of the people the blessing he offered included a prayer that God would rest in the Mishkan and the spirit of the Lord would abide among the people.
4. Assembly and Dedication - 40:1-15
Moshe is commanded to set up the Tabernacle and to anoint Aaron and his sons. According to the text, this was all supposed to happen on the first day of Nissan, the month of the Exodus. According to the Midrash, the work was actually finished in the month of Kislev. In order not to hurt the feelings of Kislev, God promised that another Sanctuary would be dedicated during Kislev. This promise came true with Chanukah when the Second Temple was re-dedicated.
5. Fulfilling the Instructions - 40:16-33
Here the Tabernacle is actually erected. According to the text, Moshe did all of the work himself. Earlier, we had wondered where the Tablets were kept before the
was built. According to a comment by
Ramban on 40:20, Moshe kept them “in a wooden box in his own tent…” There is one difference between the
instructions given to Moshe (40:1-15) and what he actually does (40:16-33). He is instructed to anoint Aaron and his
sons. But, here at any rate, he does not
do actually do it. Ark
6. Appearance of the Divine Presence - 40:34-38
The sedrah and Shemot end with God showing his acceptance of the work of the Israelites by filling the Tabernacle with His glory. This scene is reminiscent of the last part of the Seder called Nir’tza or Accepted. It is a request that God accept the Seder we have completed. For no matter how correctly we may think we have done it, without God’s approval it was for naught. Well, the same is true of building the Tabernacle, or any other endeavor. Until it has found favor in God’s sight, it has no real value. God had “learned” from the experience of the Golden Calf. The Israelites needed tangible proof of His presence. So a cloud filled the Mishkan as a symbol of the divine presence. When the cloud rose up it was time to move. When the cloud stayed put, so did the Israelites. The cloud was with them in the day and a pillar of fire showed that He was with them in the night.
Interestingly enough, there are none in this last sedrah of Shemot. Could it be that God and Moshe sensed that the Israelites needed a rest from learning and needed time to savor what had happened?
All that has been described took place in the first month of the second year of the Exodus. The next book, Vayikra (Leviticus) primarily concerns itself with laws pertaining to the Priests and the sacrifices. The book following Vayikra, Bamidbar (Numbers), picks up where Shemot ends since its first words are “On the first day of the second month in the second year following the Exodus.…”
Moshe is told to anoint Aaron’s sons as well as Aaron. This is proof that Moshe accepts the leadership role that is passing to his brother’s house. Moshe does not ask for special favor for his two sons. As a father, Moshe may have been bothered by the lack of a special place for his offspring. But as a leader, he accepted the divine plan without a hint of complaint.
The phrase “that God commands” is written eighteen times concerning the building of the Tabernacle. There are eighteen benedictions found in the Amidah. Could it be that each time we recite the Amidah we are building our own Tabernacle, which we hope God will enter?
What went into the
? The text says Moshe put the Tablets in the
Ark. In Hebrew the word used is “Ay-doot”
which is a plural form of the word. From
this, the commentators concluded that Moshe had put both the First (the broken)
Set and the Second Set in the Ark In our highly disposable society it is
interesting to note that our ancestor clung to the broken stones. There is no mention of a place for the
Torah. Only in Devarim will we read of
the Torah being placed in a special spot just outside of the Ark of the
Limitations of Language
In Hebrew Moses puts the “Ay-doot” in the Ark. The problem is that different authors use different English words in translating “Ay-dut.” According to at least two sources, the word “Ay-doot” is the plural form of the word for Testimony so the Commandments can be viewed as a testimony to the relationship between God and the Jewish people. “Ay-doot” is also the plural form of the word for a female witness. There are those who believe that the Shechinah is a “female manifestation” of God and that it is the Shechinah that settles into the Tabernacle at the end of this Torah portion. For those who believe this, it would be fitting to see the commandments as the perpetual witness who saw the development of the unique relationship God and the Jewish people begin at Sinai and who is always there to remind us of its timeless existence.
“And when Moses saw they had performed all the tasks - as the Lord had commanded…Moses blessed them” (39:43). According to the Gersosnides, the 14th century French Talmudist, “We learn from this that a leader ought to bless those under his direction when they obey him so that they will be readier to do his will.” Once again, we are reminded that one of the reasons that the Torah has been studied for so many centuries is because it speaks to the human condition without regard to time or place. Here the Torah teaches the importance of saying thank-you and not taking it for granted when people behave in a desired manner. Psychology majors will recognize what Moses did as the forerunner of B.F. Skinner’s concept of Operant Conditioning using Positive Reinforcement. Since Judaism believes in the concept of Free Will, people can choose to do the right thing or to do the wrong thing, it is appropriate to thank them (in this case with a blessing) when they choose the right path.
The Hebrew word for fire is “aysh.” At the beginning of Shemot God first appears to Moshe “b’lahbaht aysh,” “in a flame of fire.” At the end of Shemot we read that “fire” or “aysh” is the nighttime sign of the Lord’s presence. Not only that, but “aysh” is the last symbol of the divine presence that is mentioned in Shemot. In other words, God’s first and last revelation comes in the form of fire. He begins by revealing Himself in fire to one man. He ends by revealing Himself in fire to the entire nation. There is an even stronger connection in non-leap years when Vayakhel and Pekuday are read on the same Shabbat. Vayakhel begins with a command prohibiting the kindling of fire or “aysh” on Shabbat. Fire is a symbol of the divine presence. We are allowed to enjoy a pre-existing fire on Shabbat. We just are not allowed to create a fire on Shabbat. This means that by observing Shabbat we enjoy the divine presence (fire) that is with us all week long but which we can only fully appreciate on the Day of Rest.
“The Medium Is Not the Message” by Mordechai Beck
The best known Jewish statement of principle on art is, unfortunately, the ban given at Sinai on making graven images with a likeness of “anything in the heavens above or the earth beneath”. Despite this prohibition, a few chapters later the same jealous God commands Moses to erect a tabernacle and fill it with objects of beauty that are described with such precise detail as to suggest Divine acceptance of the power of the visual on the imagination of His children. How do we explain this radical change of heart? Is art not only to be permitted but even lauded as a means of reaching the Divine?
The key to this riddle is found in the figure of Bezalel - or to give him his full name, as it appears when he is first mentioned and again at the beginning of Pekudei - “Bezalel, son of Uri, son of Hur, from the tribe of Judah” (Exodus 31:2, 38:22), who “made all that the Lord had commanded Moses.” He was an artist and craftsman capable of fashioning objects that inspired awe, in the same way, perhaps, that the works of Leonardo and Michelangelo did for their contemporaries. Does this mean that God repented his objections to the visual image? What did Bezalel bring to his work that made it kosher? According to Midrash Tanhuma, the answer lies in the very lineage mentioned in the Bible when Bezalel is introduced. “What need is there to recall here the name of Hur? Because he (Hur) gave up his soul for the Holy One, Blessed be He. In that hour that they sought to make the (golden) calf, he stood before them - between the people and his uncle Aaron, the high priest - and rebuked them; and they stood against him and killed him. Said the Holy One, blessed be He, to Hur: ‘By your life, I will compensate you for this…by elevating all your progeny.’ Thus it is written: ‘See, God has called Bezalel, son of Uri, son of Hur…and filled him with the spirit of God.’”
The sudden explosion of Bezalel’s artistic activity is here seen as a response to the incident of the golden calf. That incident proved to the hidden mysterious God that a spiritual life on earth was impossible without some visual, external props. To this He agreed, but on one condition: that the objects act merely as a medium, valuable only insofar as they brought greater glory and praise to God. Said the invisible Creator of the Universe, recounts the midrash: “Even My own children are not prepared to recognize the truth. And if they, who saw with their own eyes all the wonders and miracles which I wrought in Egypt and in the Exodus from Egypt, do not believe, how much more so those who did not see such things!” So God searched for someone who could distinguish between art and idolatry. He searched and He found Bezalel. Not that Bezalel was a born artist; rather, God saw his potential to serve the Divine purpose with his hands and heart and, given his lineage, could be presumed able to remain pure of idolatrous intent. King Midas, of Greek myth, had hands whose touch turned everything to gold. Everything gold touched by Bezalel turned into something holy. Bezalel got similar results from silver, copper, ram skins, and acacia wood, as he did from stone and other materials crafted with sophisticated cutting techniques of high artistry.
The Torah’s extended descriptions of the objects of the Tabernacle fill chapters of Exodus, suggesting awareness of the profound need for the aesthetic in our lives. Visual art, the Torah seems to concur, is a powerful tool. It touches the root faculty of our humanity - our imagination. It can be used to enhance or destroy us, depending on the purpose to which the artistry is put. The medium, that is to say, is not always the message. Often the artist’s technique disguises his true purpose. The objection to idolatry is not to the materials themselves - since all material has its source in God - or to their being worked into tangible images. The objection is to the assumption that material - or the image - has some intrinsic value. For idolatry is when the material presence replaces the reality it represents. This is what modern philosophers call reification, and what the Sages in their wisdom saw as a substitution of the container for the content.
Conclusion of the Reading
This marks the end of the reading of the book of Shemot. Each time the congregation completes the reading of one of the Five Books of Moses it is customary to recite “Chazak, Chazak, ve-nit-chazek” or in English, “Be strong, Be strong, and let us be strengthened.” Variants of this statement appear in several places and are tied to the study of the Torah. One of the most common references is to the Book of Joshua where the statement Chazak ve-matz (Be strong and of good courage appears three times in Chapter one, verses 6 through 9). In the mention in verse 7 the reference “is directly tied to importance of the observance of the Torah.” So this Shabbat, you will have earned the right to stand and recite Chazak, Chazak, ve-nit-chazek.
Shabat Ha-Chodesh (Sabbath of the Month)
12:1-20 Shemot (Exodus)
Shabbat Ha-Chodesh is the fourth of the four special Sabbaths (not counting Shabbat Ha-Gadol) that proceed the holiday of Pesach. Each of these special Sabbaths has a special connection with the story of the Exodus or the preparations for observing the holiday. On Shabbat Ha-Chodesh two scrolls are taken from the ark. The first scroll is used for reading the sedrah of the week. The second scroll contains the special reading for the holiday.
This passage opens with the words “This month (ha-Chodesh ha-zeh) shall mark for you the beginning of the months.” The month referred to is Nissan, the month in which Pesach falls. The reading that is part of the sedrah called Bo describes how the Israelites are to behave on the night of the first Pesach. This also provides us with the basic rules for observing the holiday in the future. The Torah portion is always read on the last Shabbat before Rosh Chodesh Nissan. If Rosh Chodesh Nissan falls on Shabbat then it is read on Rosh Chodesh Nissan. When Shabbat Ha-Chodesh falls on Rosh Chodesh a third scroll is taken from the Ark. The special reading for Rosh Chodesh (Bamidbar 28: 19-25) is read after the regular weekly reading but before the special reading for the special Shabbat.
Special Haftarah for Shabbat Ha-Chodesh
The Man: Ezekiel was one of the three Major Prophets. He was a younger contemporary of the Prophet Jeremiah. He was part of the Jewish population that went into exile after the destruction of the First Temple. He preached to the Jews of Babylonia in what were some of the darkest days in ancient Jewish History.
The Message: In this reading, Ezekiel describes the rituals and ceremonies that will be observed in the Temple that will be built by the returning exiles. There is a strong message of ritual observance and purification in the public place most connected with the manifestation of the Divine Spirit.
Theme-Link: This is one of those times when the connection between the haftarah is with the calendar and not the regular weekly Torah portion. The emphasis of the special Torah portion is on the on the observances tied to the first Pesach. The prophetic portion deals with the observances connected with the Pesach of the future. Both Torah and Haftarah are directed at exiles. The message of Shemot is directed at the exiles who are about to experience the Exodus. The message of Ezekiel is directed at the exiles in Babylonia who are waiting for the day when they will be told that they are returning to the Promised Land.
March 25 Connection
On the Jewish calendar, March 25, 2017 is a Shabbat of double importance – We finish the reading of the second book of the Torah and observe on the Special Sabbaths that are the harbinger of Pesach with all that that means for our people. But March 25 is also the anniversary of the Triangle Shirtwaist Company Fire a horrific event that claimed the lives of 146 garment workers, many of whom were young Jewish female immigrants. This tragic event was one of the seminal events in the development of the Jewish community in America and the American labor movement. This Saturday becomes a tale of two buildings. One is the Mishkan – a Tabernacle built with specific instructions to provide a home designed to express the spirituality of the Jewish people. The other was a factory that came to personify the sweat shops of the garment industry where the drive for profit replaced the words of Moses, the Prophet who reminded us that God will judge us based on how we treat the widow, the orphan and the stranger in our midst.
Copyright; March, 2017; Mitchell A Levin