Friday, March 16, 2007

VaYakhel/Pekudei & Parshas HaChodesh 5631 First Ma'amar

The details of building the Mishkan and its vessels are related twice in the Torah, first as instructions and a second time in parshiyos VaYakhel and Pekudei when the Mishkan was actually built. In both cases the command to keep Shabbos is also mentioned. The first time, the command to keep Shabbos is mentioned at the conclusion of the instructions. The second time, at the beginning of parshas VaYakhel, it is mentioned before the building of the Mishkan. Why?

There is a relationship between the Mishkan and Shabbos. The thirty nine primary categories of “work” which are prohibited on Shabbos are derived from the activities of the Mishkan. The purpose of the activities of the Mishkan was to bring the presence of God into our lives. (“ועשו לי מקדש ושכנתי בתוכם/Make a sanctuary for me and I will dwell amongst them.”)

We can take a lesson from the Mishkan in our daily activities. We have the ability to bring an awareness of God’s presence into our lives through our actions. When we contemplate before every activity that our goal is to accomplish the will of God, we sensitize ourselves and become aware of His will in our actions. On Shabbos, we will feel God’s presence according to how well we worked at it during the week. Our work during the week, then, is actually a preparation for Shabbos. This is the reason that the instructions for building the Mishkan precedes the command to keep Shabbos.

Why then, does the command to keep Shabbos precede the recounting of the building of the Mishkan in our parsha? The Chidushei HaRim explains. He notes that the sin of the golden calf occurred between the instructions to build the Mishkan and its vessels and the actual building. The instructions were given before the sin but the Mishkan was built following the sin.

Before the sin of the golden calf, the nation of Israel accepted to serve only God. This was our raison d’être. Before the sin we said, “נעשה ונשמע/We will do and we will listen.” The Chidushei HaRim explains that “נעשה/We will do” corresponds to the activities involved in building the Mishkan. It connotes a level of the angels whose sole reason for existence is to do the will of God. We were ready to do whatever God required of us without question. “נשמע/we will listen” connotes learning. It corresponds to keeping Shabbos because Shabbos brings knowledge of God as the pasuk says regarding keeping Shabbos, “לדעת כי אני ה' מקדשכם/… in order to know that I am God who sanctifies you.” Performing the activities of the Mishkan during the week led inexorably to an unsurpassed Godly experience on Shabbos. The reason is that all the activities of the Mishkan had the common goal of revealing God’s presence with the completion of the work. Shabbos has the same exact goal. In this sense, the work of the Mishkan was a preparation for Shabbos.

However, after the sin God said to us, according to the Midrash, “You corrupted ‘נעשה/We will do.’ Be careful with regard to ‘נשמע/we will listen.” As a result of the sin we were no longer on a level of “נעשה/We will do.” as our sole reason to live. Our activities no longer had a common goal. We needed to experience the inherent holiness of Shabbos to bring us back to a level on which we could focus our intent to build the Mishkan properly. So, after the sin, the command to keep Shabbos preceded the building of the Mishkan.

For this reason the Torah makes a point of telling us that Moshe Rabeinu gathered the entire nation together before commanding them to keep Shabbos, “ויקהל משה את כל עדת בני ישראל .../Moshe gathered the entire community of the children of Israel …” .” Regarding no other mitzvah does the Torah tell us that we were gathered together. Why here, before the mitzvah of Shabbos and building the Mishkan does the Torah mention that we were gathered together? The reason is that “ויקהל/He assembled” connotes a unification. The noun associated with this verb is “קהילה/community” which signifies a group of people having common interests. The purpose of Shabbos is so that we may recognize that there is a Oneness that underlies and permeates everything. On Shabbos it is easier to experience this. The realization that the power behind everything, even our own actions, is God, leads us to dedicate all our desires and actions to their Source. In fact, God sent us into this world to do this. By using every action to serve God we reveal the holiness inherent in all our actions.

The concept that we can find the spiritual inherent in our activities is alluded to in the beginning of parshas HaChodesh that we read this Shabbos, “הח­ֹדש הזה לכם ראש חדשים .../This month will be for you the beginning of the months …” The word in Hebrew for month (חֹודש) suggests renewal and novelty because it has the same root as the word for new (חדש.)

Where do we find novelty and renewal in the material world? The answer is that we don’t. All renewal comes from the spiritual. Shlomo HaMelech taught us this in Koheles, “... אין כל חדש תחת השמש/… There is nothing new under the sun.” “Under the sun” is a metaphor for the material world. The implication is that in the material world there is no renewal. All renewal comes from “above the sun”, in the spiritual.

The Sfas Emes understands this concept from a pasuk in Yechezkeil which we read in this week’s Haftorah. Yechezkeil in describing the third Beis HaMikdash says, “... שער החצר הפנימית הפונה קדים יהיה סגור ששת ימי המעשה וביום השבת יפתח וביום החדש יפתח/The inner courtyard gate that faces east will be closed during the six workdays but on Shabbos it will be opened and on Rosh Chodesh it will be opened.” The gates of the temple opening and closing are a metaphor for spiritual gates opening and closing. On Shabbos and Rosh Chodesh there is a spiritual revelation that we don’t find naturally during the week. The Sfas Emes explains that Rosh Chodesh represents faith that in nature there is a continuous renewal coming from the spiritual source of the physical.

The way to become aware of the novelty and renewal, to bring into the material world, is by realizing that our actions have primarily spiritual meaning. When we understand that we can use our actions to serve God, to do His will, we have found the spiritual within our actions. By using our actions to accomplish God’s will, we will constantly see new meanings and receive new understanding in the very same activities. This ability to bring renewal into the world from the spiritual was given to us in parshas HaChodesh.

In fact, the Midrash tells us that God gave the secret of the lunar calendar to the nation of Israel whereas the solar calendar was given to the nations of the world. The Midrash explains that the sun is fire so the nations of the world will be judged by fire. The moon is light so the nation of Israel will inherit the light. The Midrash concludes that this is the reason God told us, “החֹדש הזה לכם/This month is for you.” It is ours because we have similar qualities. The moon sheds light during the night. Our mission, as well, is to bring the light of the Torah, the light of spirituality into the spiritual darkness of the material world. As we’ve said, we do this by intending to accomplish the will of God through our actions.

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