Parshat Vayakhel 5771: Shabbos, the Mishkan and Unity

by Moshe Burt

Our Parsha Vayakhel is dedicated to teaching B’nai Yisrael about Shabbos which has always, until recent times, been the unifying, defining factor of Judaism. It alludes to all else — Yishuv HaAretz, Kiddushin, etc. It symbolizes the Jew’s faith in Hashem. And the melachot involved in the construction of the Mishkan were meant to define the paradigms of melachot prohibited on Shabbos.

The parsha begins by stating that “Moshe assembled the entire congregation of B’nai Yisrael…” (Perek 35, Posuk 1) Torah’s loshen (language) “Adat B’nai Yisrael”, in the context of learning the laws of Shabbos as related to the construction of the Mishkan, seems to indicate a unity — the Assembly of the B’nai if one single entity.

The introduction of Parsha Vayakhel;

“…These are the words that Hashem commanded you to do” (Sefer Sh’mot, Perek 35, Posuk 1)

is not merely an introduction but a rectification, a kapparah for the Chait HaEigel.

But there is question. Was Vayakhel meant only as a Mitzvah in the times of Moshe Rabbeinu and the Malchei Yisrael? Or was it also meant to have application for B’nai Yisrael throughout our travails in Galut? Was it meant to apply in our current troubled times where divisiveness, me-first self-centeredness — which carries the consequence of indifference and insensitivity toward one’s fellow Jews? Was it meant to apply to self-aggrandizement amidst a bitter war against murderous Arab terror threatens to destroy us from within in ways that the Arabs alone would never be able to accomplish were we truly “Adat B’nai Yisrael”?

The word Vayakhel — Assembling together of Kol B’nai Yisrael, introduces the building of the Mishkan (Tent of Meeting), the forerunner of the Beit HaMikdash, which would serve as a kappara (atonement) for the Eigel Zahav (Golden Calf).

A few years ago, Rav Arye Gordon said on our Parsha;

Vayakhel, when used for Tov, is to actualize immense power and potential which is capable of being used for the most lofty, noble goals — building, growing and developing love for our fellow Jews, Kavod shel Shemayim V’Torah (man’s recognition of Hashem’s control of the world and Torah as Hashem’s blueprint for man’s service).

Vayakhel, when used for rah, is capable of being used, Heaven forbid, to undermine and destroy. Or if the vehicle, Vayakhel is not used at all, the reticence and inability of Am Yisrael to come together and even talk about unity is something for which we all would be held accountable.

Mida keneged Mida, Vayakhel of our Parsha, by Moshe Rabbeinu’s emphasis on the holiness of Shabbat and his appeal for funds and donations toward the building of the Mishkan, he serves to bring about rectification of the previous misuse both of gathering together and of the donations of gold which went into the making of the avodah zora. The message of Parsha Vayakhel seems meant to atone for the Chait HaEigel.

Much later on, as the B’nai Yisrael is finally about to enter the Land of Israel after their 40 years in Bamidbar, Moshe calls together the Kahal in parsha Vayeilich to give over his final discourse on Torah and Halacha before his passing.

Harkening back to a rendering of
Sefer Sh’mos, Perek 22, posukim 21-23 (pages 470-473) as well as commentary
— both by R’ Shimshon Rafael Hirsch, z’l in the new Hirsch Chumash (published by Feldheim in 2005 and translated to English by Daniel Haberman) which express true national unity and which seems symbolic of the spirit of sanctification of our national and private lives as well as dedicated to fulfillment of His Commandments:

Posuk 21: “You shall not let any widow or orphan feel their dependent state.”

Posuk 22: “Woe [to you] if you, too, should let them feel their dependent state! For if they must cry out to me, I will certainly hear their cry.”

Posuk 23: “And then My anger will grow hot and I will let you die by the sword, and then your wives will become widows and your children orphans.”

Stand up for them and uphold their rights…

Woe unto you, if their only resort is to cry out to Me; for I will assuredly hear their cry; I will make the state and society pay dearly for it, if their weakest members must appeal to Me to find justice.

Do the above renderings of posukim as well commentary not apply as well to the aggreived estranged single parent and child, to the physically abused child — either at home, at school or in any other venue, the victims of fraud and other forms of criminality — either in home, or by the merchant, or by his fellow?

Perhaps in our times, our Vayakhel conjures up a tikkun, an atonement for the disunity among us which has rendered us ineffective in opposing wrongdoing on a local, communal level, as well as in opposing successive Israeli regimes which have merciful to the cruel and cruel to the merciful, as exemplified by the expulsion and by failure to remove and eradicate the resultant terror threat from Gaza. The mercy shown by successive regimes before the enemy has consequences resulting in vindictive cruelty shown by Israeli governance towards her own citizenry which is manifested by loss of life and crushing trauma amongst significant segments of Israel’s Jewish population, including and particularly the 10,000 former residents of Gush Katif and the 4 Shomron towns.

And to comment on how wrongdoing on a local, communal level should be opposed, we would all gain from these profound words from a biographical sketch of the Aish Kodesh found in his Sefer Chovas HaTalmidim (by HaGaon Rav Kalonymous Kalmish Shapira), page 595:

The Rebbe would work tirelessly to obtain release of any of his chassidim who had been drafted into the Polish army, often disbursing great amounts of funds to bribe the Polish clerks. He would concoct many different schemes, and would not rest until the young man was released. He was once asked by one of his confidants why he put so much effort into this, to the point of self-sacrifice… Rav Kalonymous Kalmish responded: “A Rebbe who is not willing to enter gehinnom in order to prevent one of his chassidim from sinking into the depths cannot consider himself a Rebbe.

May we, the B’nai Yisrael be zocha that our brethren — the refugee families from Gush Katif be permanently settled and be made totally whole — be totally restituted for all that was stolen from them at leftist-agendized, supreme court legalized gunpoint, that our dear brother Jonathan Pollard, captive Gilad Shalit and the other MIAs be liberated alive returned to us in ways befitting Al Kiddush Hashem. May we have the courage to prevent the eviction of Jews from their homes and to prevent the handing of Jewish land over to enemies sworn to Israel’s and Judaism’s destruction and eradication. May we fulfill Hashem’s blueprint of B’nai Yisrael as a Unique people — an Am Segula, not to be reckoned with as with “the nations” and may we be zocha to see the Moshiach, the Ge’ula Shlaima — the Ultimate Redemption bim hay v’yameinu — speedily, in our time”, as Dov Shurin sings; “Ki Karov Yom Hashem V’Kol HaGoyim” — Achshav, Chik Chuk, Miyad, Etmol!!!

Good Shabbos!

Moshe Burt, an Oleh, is a commentator on news and events in Israel and Founder and Director of The Sefer Torah Recycling Network. He lives in Ramat Beit Shemesh.