Parshiyot Vayakhel-Pekudei5780: Shabbos, and the Significance of the Basin and its Stand

Shalom Friends;

This week, our Parshiyot HaShevua, Vayakhel-Pekudei is being sponsored by Steven and Debra Glanz and family of Ramat Beit Shemesh dedicated for the success of their children. To the Glanz family, many thanks for your sponsorship and for your continued kindnesses.

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Moshe Burt
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Parshiyot Vayakhel-Pekudei5780: Shabbos, and the Significance of the Basin and its Stand

by Moshe Burt

The word Vayakhel — Assembling together of Kol B’nei 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).

The parsha begins by stating that “Moshe assembled the entire congregation of B’nei Yisrael…” (Sefer Shemos, Perek 35, Posuk 1).

The entire posuk reads:

“And Moshe assembled the entire congregation of B’nei Yisrael and said to them: ‘These are the things that Hashem commanded, to do them:'” (Sefer Shemos, Perek 35, Posuk 1 As rendered to English in “The Sapirstein Edition, The Torah with Rashi Commentary)

Aharon Yaakov Greenberg, in his sefer, “Torah Gems”, volume two, page 226 provides these citings explaining this posuk:

…The second Beit Hamikdash was destroyed because of senseless hatred. Division and disputes always serve to undermine the foundations of social order. Therefore, before erecting the Mishkan, Moshe gathered together all of the B’nei Yisrael. The completion of the Mishkan depends upon the unity of the people. (Or Penei Moshe)

“Moshe assembled…” On the day after Yom Kippur (citing Rashi). Moshe wanted to hint to the B’nei Yisrael that not only on Yom Kippur must people be filled with remorse and contrition, brotherly love and friendship, but that on the day after Yom Kippur one must continue in the same fashion. (R’ Moshe of Kobrin)

People differ in their understanding and appreciation of different commandments. But when it comes to performing them, there is no difference — all have to perform them in the same way. Thus, we see, “Moshe assembled the entire congregation… to do them.” When it came to performing the Commandments, Moshe was able to gather everyone together. ( R’ David of Chortkow)

As was indicated in the Parshat HaShavua for Parshat Ki Tisa, there is a citing of Rashi on Sefer Shemos, Perek 31, posuk 18 (as rendered to English in the Sapirstein Edition: The Torah: With Rashi Commentary:

The incident of the Golden Calf preceded the commandment of the work of the Mishkan by many days — for the Tablets were broken on the seventeenth of Tammuz, and on Yom Kippur the Holy One, Blessed be He, was placated toward Israel, and on the next day they began gathering the contribution toward the Mishkan, and it was erected on the first of Nissan. (Rashi citing Tanchuma 31)

But, as Parshat Vayakhel opens and Moshe speaks to the nation conveying Hashem’s instructions concerning the construction of the Mishkan, Rabbi Shmuel Goldin provides context, questions and approaches in his sefer, Unlocking the Torah Text” on Sefer Shemos, Parshat Vayakhel, regarding Moshe’s digression from giving instructions as to construction of the Mishkan to deliver Hashem’s laws regarding Shabbos (pages 301-303):

Suddenly…, he [Moshe] opens his remarks with the following directives concerning Shabbos:

Six days work may be done and the seventh day shall be holy for you, a Shabbos, a day of complete rest for Hashem; whoever does work (melacha) on that day shall be put to death. You shall kindle no fire in any of your dwellings on the Shabbos. (Rabbi Goldin citing Sefer Shemos, Perek 35, posukim 1-3)

As is evident from the body of Parshat Vayakhel, Moshe’s clear purpose in assembling the nation… is to launch the construction of the Mishkan.

Why… does Moshe abruptly insert the subject of Shabbos? While Shabbos is certainly a hugely important topic, why must it be mentioned… specifically at this historic moment?

Earlier, in Parshat Ki Tisa, on the summit of Har Sinai, Hashem follows his commandments to Moshe concerning the construction of the Sanctuary [the Mishkan] with the immediate warning “However, you must observe My Shabbos…” This admonition introduces a series of further directives concerning Shabbos. (Rabbi Goldin citing Sefer Shemos, Perek 31, posukim 1-17)

The repeated pairing of themes [the Mishkan and Shabbos], clearly intentional, serves as the source for a series of foundational halachic observations on the part of the Rabbis.

The halachic decision granting Shabbos supremacy over the Mishkan is more far-reaching than it may seem, playing a major role in the legal definition of Shabbos observance itself.

…The Oral Law comes to the rescue. Based on the repeated juxtaposition [noun, an act or instance of placing close together or side by side, especially for comparison or contrast.] of the themes of Shabbos and the Mishkan in the text, the Rabbis learn, not only that the tasks associated with the Mishkan must cease on Shabbos, but that the very definition of the activities prohibited on Shabbos is determined by the tasks that were connected to the construction (Rabbi Goldin citing Talmud Bavli 49b; Rashi, ibid), and some say, the operation (Rabbi Goldin citing Rav Hai Gaon; Introduction to the Iglei Tal written by Rabbi Avrohom Bornstein (the Avnei Nezer) for a review of Rabbinic positions on this matter.

Specifically, the Rabbis delineate thirty-nine… major categories of creative labor — associated with the construction of the Mishkan, which are, consequently, prohibited on Shabbos. These thirty-nine general categories of melacha and their derivatives serve as the basis for the laws of Shabbos. (Rabbi Goldin citing Talmud Bavli 49b, Mishna Shabbos 7:2)

The encounter between Shabbos and the Mishkan, orchestrated by Moshe at the beginning of Parshat Vayakhel, is far from arbitrary. Emerging from the intersection of these two foundational phenomena are the laws which define the observance of Shabbos itself.

Our Parshat Pekudei begins;

“These are the accounts of the Mishkan (the Sanctuary), the Mishkan of testimony, which were drawn up on Moshe’s orders …” (Sefer Shemos, Perek 38, posuk 21 — Metsudah Linear Chumash, page 579).

In searching through various s’forim while preparing this vort, this author stumbled upon an old National Council of Young Israel D’var Torah from twenty-four years ago, by, of all people, our own Rabbi Harry Greenspan of Ramat Beit Shemesh, who was then Rav of Young Israel of Long Beach, California.

Within his Drash, Rav Greenspan discusses the numerous recurrences in Parshat Pekudei of the phrase: “as Hashem commanded Moshe”:

These words reoccur many times, says the Beis HaLevi to emphasize that which was rectified upon completion of the Mishkan. Our sin in seeking to approach Hashem while ignoring Torah law [via the Egel Zahav] was forgiven by performing this Mitzvah with meticulous observance of every detail, and by completing the most perfect edifice ever built by man.

Midrash points out that the phrase, “as commanded” is repeated eighteen times, corresponding to the eighteen Brachot of Shemonah Esrei.

In the same way as Rav Greenspan cites the Beis HaLevi who reasons that Our sin [the Egel Zahav] was rectified by performing the construction of the Mishkan with meticulous observance of every detail of Hashem’s Commands, it would seem that the donations of funds and material — such as gold, and the copper mirrors which were then fashioned into the utensils of the Mishkan, could also serve as a kind of rectification?

“The Sapirstein Edition of the Chumash with Rashi Commentary” renders to English Sefer Shemos, Perek 38, posuk 8:

“He [Betzalel] made the Kiyyor [Basin] of copper and its pedestal [stand] of copper, with the mirrors of those… who congregated at the entrance of the Tent of Meeting [Ohel Mo’ed].”

Rabbi Shmuel Goldin, in his sefer “Unlocking the Torah Text” (Sefer Shemos, Parshiyot Vayakhel-Pekudei, pages 316-318) asks questions and discusses the fashioning of the various utensils, the basin and its stand:

Why does the Torah single out the basin and stand… by specifying the origin of the copper used in the fashioning of these vessels? (as per “The Sapirstein Edition of the Chumash with Rashi Commentary” Rashi commentary on Sefer Shemos, Perek 38, posuk 8)

What is the significance of the fact that these items were created from the mirrors donated by the women?

Various scholars, including the Ibn Ezra and the Sforno, believe that the mirrors were suitable for use in the Beit Hamikdash [or Mishkan] specifically because their owners rejected these items’ usual usage. Mirrors are used, then and today, for vain purposes, to cultivate personal beauty and attractiveness. The women who donated these mirrors, as evidenced by their contribution, rejected physical vanity and showed a deep desire to cultivate and focus on a continuing relationship with Hashem.

…Evidencing an equally negative attitude toward personal vanity, the Chizkuni and a number of the Tosafists maintain that the strange passage concerning the basin and the stand refers, not to the origin of these items, but to their placement. The basin and stand were strategically placed, they say, between the Sanctuary [presumably – by this author – the Mishkan or Beit Hamikdash] and the Mizbeiyach so that they could be seen by the women regularly congregating at the Sanctuary.

The water from the basin was used in the Divine trial of a sota, a woman suspected of adultery. (Rabbi Goldin citing Talmud Bavli Sota 15b) The very sight of these utensils… would serve as a reminder of the dangers of licentious behavior. (Rabbi Goldin citing Chizkuni on Shemos Perek 38, posuk 8; Da’at Zekrinim Miba’alei Hatosfot on Shemos Perek 38, posuk 8)

At the opposite end of the spectrum are those commentaries, represented by Rabbi Shimshon Raphael Hirsch, who not only maintain that the basin and its stand were fashioned out of mirrors, but that the mirrors’ normal usage actually recommended them for this purpose. The Mishkan, says Rav Hirsch, ultimately aims to influence the B’nei Yisrael towards the sanctification of their lives. How appropriate… that specifically the basin, used by the Kohanim for the sanctification of their hands and feet as they enter the Mishkan, should be fashioned out of mirrors. The physical… side of man is… not excluded… but is, instead, “the first and most essential object” of his sanctification. (Rabbi Goldin citing Rabbi Shimshon Raphael Hirsch on Shemos Perek 38, posuk 8) ….The very origin of the basin serves as a reminder that all aspects of our lives [including sanctified relationships of love and marriage], properly directed, are potential mediums for holiness.

During rhe period of Mitzri slavery, Pharaoh decreed that the B’nei Yisrael should not sleep at home or… [be] with their wives. Intent on perpetuating the nation in the face of this fearsome edict, the… women went down to the fields of labor, and looking into their mirrors together with their husbands, aroused the men’s desire. In this way, the women succeeded in ensuring that the nation would “be fruitful and multiply.”

…After the dramatic Yetziyot Mitzrayim and the powerful Revelation at Sinai, the… nation begins to build the Mishkan. The B’not Yisrael wonder: What can we contribute to the Mishkan?

As one, they congregate outside the Mishkan and present their mirrors to Moshe. Moshe’s reaction is swift and harsh: What use have we for such mirrors — for items created to satisfy the evil inclination?

Hashem, however, intercedes: These are dearer to Me than all else! Through these mirrors, the women raised up “countless hosts” in Mitzrayim. (Rabbi Goldin citing Midrash Tanchuma Pekudei 9; Rashi on Sefer Shemos, Perek 38, posuk 8)

The Midrash informs us, in the words of Nechama Leibowitz, “The same instinct or impulse which can lead man to perversions, filth and destruction, can also lead him to creativity, the building of a house and the continuity of the nation. (Rabbi Goldin citing Nechama Leibowitz in “Studies in Shemos”, page 694)

To return to Rav Greenspan’s vort, the question is asked:

What do the Mishkan’s construction and Amidah have in common? Perhaps the answer is… as follows:

….The lesson of the Mishkan is…. if we sincerely desire to reach spiritual heights, to become true servants of The Holy One, we need to pray and perform all Mitzvot precisely according to the details recorded in the Shulchan Aruch. If we act in such a fashion, we can hope to receive (in our Shuls and homes) that which our ancestors experienced upon completion of the Mishkan: Hashem’s glorious presence [which] filled the Mishkan and thus was infused into Klal Yisrael.

Rabbi Goldin concludes (ibid):

The basin and stand in the Mishkan serve as a reminder that Hashem grants us gifts. The value of these gifts, however is determined by how we use them.

….The lesson of the Mishkan is…. if we sincerely desire to reach spiritual heights, to become true servants of The Holy One, we need to pray and perform all Mitzvot precisely according to the details recorded in the Shulchan Aruch. If we act in such a fashion, we can hope to receive (in our Shuls and homes) that which our ancestors experienced upon completion of the Mishkan: Hashem’s glorious presence [which] filled the Mishkan and thus was infused into Klal Yisrael.

May we, the B’nei 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 and that the twice expelled families of Amona be restored to their rebuilt homes, at government expense; both due to alt-leftist-agendized, supreme court legalized Yassamnik gunpoint. May our dear brother Jonathan Pollard be liberated and truly free, as Naama Issachar is now free and home — which can only occur when Jonathan is home in Israel and carrying for his ill wife Esther Yocheved bat Rayzl Bracha, and that the MIAs be liberated alive and returned to us in ways befitting Al Kiddush Hashem — as with the return in April, 2019, via Russia, of the remains of Zachariah Baumel, as should the remains of the two chayalim from the Gaza War of five and a half years ago. May we have the courage and strength to stand up and physically prevent the possibility of Chas V’Challila any future eviction of Jews from their homes and prevent Chas V’Challila the handing of Jewish land over to anyone, let alone 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, as Dov Shurin sings; “Ki Karov Yom Hashem Al’Kol HaGoyim”, the Ultimate Redemption, bimhayrah b’yamainu — speedily, in our time”, — 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.