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. (“וְעָשׂוּ לִי מִקְדָּשׁ וְשָׁכַנְתִּי בְּתוֹכָם/Make a sanctuary for me and I will dwell amongst them.” (Shmos 25:8))
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 precede 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 Chiddushei 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
However, after the sin God said to us, according to the Midrash, “You corrupted ‘נַעֲשֶׂה/We will do.’ Be careful with regard to ‘נִשְׁמָע/we will listen.” As a result of the sin we were no longer on a level of “נַעֲשֶׂה/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 Rabbeinu gathered the entire nation together before commanding them to keep Shabbos, “וַיַּקְהֵל מֹשֶׁה אֶת־כָּל־עֲדַת בְּנֵי יִשְׂרָאֵל .../Moshe gathered the entire community of the children of Israel …” (Shmos 35:1) 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 “וַיַּקְהֵל/He assembled” connotes a unification. The noun associated with this verb is “קְהִילָה/community” which signifies a group of people having common interests. The purpose of Shabbos is to help us 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, “הַחֹדֶשׁ הַזֶּה לָכֶם רֹאשׁ חֳדָשִׁים .../This month will be for you the beginning of the months …” The word in Hebrew for month (חֹודֶשׁ) suggests renewal and novelty because it has the same root as the word for new (חָדָשׁ.)
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 (1:9), “... אֵין כָּל־חָדָשׁ תַּחַת הַשָּׁמֶשׁ/… 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, “... שַׁעַר הֶחָצֵר הַפְּנִימִית הַפֹּנֶה קָדִים יִהְיֶה סָגוּר שֵׁשֶׁת יְמֵי הַמַּעֲשֶׂה וְּביוֹם הַשַּׁבָּת יִפָּתֵחַ וּבְיוֹם הַחֹדֶשׁ יִפָּתֵחַ/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.” (Yechezkeil 46:1) 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 it 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