by Rabbi Baruch Binyamin Hakohen Melman
There are times when it is painstaking to hear certain sections of the Torah which are repetitive. Endless detail. No minutiae are spared in the retelling. Parshat Vayakhel is one of those times.
Way back in Parshat Mishpatim Moses ascends Mt. Sinai. And for two whole parshas Hashem is teaching Moses all the details of the construction of the Mishkan (Tabernacle) and its various holy accoutrements (Parshat Terumah),and of the holy garments to be worn by the priests while serving in the Mishkan (Parshat Titzaveh). And then, following a short break in Parshat Ki Tissa, over another two whole parshas (Vayakhel and Pikudei), the entire instruction manual of the Mishkan, its holy vessels, and of the garments of the priesthood is repeated all over again as Moses is now teaching it to the people, recounting all he had learned while up on the mountain.
The forty days he ascended the mountain correspond to the six weeks/parshas which span the narrative! And the two extra days symbolize the two ascents! Of course, the fulcrum for the two accounts is the Golden Calf narrative. We are taught that G*d always provides the cure/therapy (teruphah) before the sickness (machalah). G*d seemingly realizes that the people are in great need for a visceral, experiential taste of spirituality. A dispassionate embrace of an intellectualized cerebral appreciation of the ethical monotheistic ideal would have to await a future sojourn to Lithuania.
Meanwhile, the people needed more. Hence the Golden Calf. So G*d is instructing Moses in the minutiae of the Golden Vessels so that their spiritual needs may yet be met. To journey from a land and a consciousness of towering god/statues, pyramids, gold-suffused spiritual iconography to a "mere" stark contemplation of the Infinite One was too much to ask. It was stress inducing. And G*d knew it. But Shabbat is the centerpiece, the calm and tranquil eye in the middle.
Before unveiling the blueprints for the physical structure of the Tabernacle, we are given the blueprint for the spiritual garment of the soul, namely the Sabbath.The absurd finitude of the Golden Calf is contrasted with the ultimate infinitude of the Sabbath. And the Sabbath itself by definition is a deja vu experience for the soul, much as the narratives surrounding it in the Torah powerfully suggest a certain ring of familiarity regarding the construction of the physical Tabernacle. How so?
In Genesis, in the Creation of theWorld, the realm of the infinite was given an abode in the realm of the finite. Heschel teaches that the Sabbath is a Palace in Time, much as the Tabernacle was a Palace in Space. Indeed the word for "world" in Hebrew (olam), also means "infinite." The notion of "the world" suggests infinity in terms of space, much as the idea of "forever" connotes infinity in terms of time, each sharing a common quality of endlessness. The soul, an aspect of G*d which was exiled from the infinite realm of the upper world to the finite realm of this world, once again gets to taste the spiritual bliss of the Infinite One.
And once again, through the construction of the Mishkan, the material qualities of this world are likewise infused with the spiritual essence of heaven. This is the deepest meaning of the neshama yeterah, the extra soul that we receive on the Sabbath. The Sod Yesharim (Rabbeinu Gershom Chanoch Chenech of Radzin/ son of the Holy Izbeca) explains that just as Moses gathered ("vayakhel") the people as one nefesh (body and/or soul) a second time with regard to teaching the Sabbath, so too is the body infused with a second soul on the Sabbath. Resting on the Sabbath draws down an extra aspect of Divine Light into the world.
In addition, the Baal Haturim teaches that the word "la'asot," meaning "to do," and which we say each time we recite the kiddush on Shabbat, and which we read in connection with the First Sabbath (Gen 2:3), is an allusion to the Tabernacle which is constructed in this week's parsha of Vayakhel. Rearranging the letters spells the letter *lamed* ( 30) and the word *tesha*(9). By refraining from the 39 creative labors involved with the construction of the Mishkan, we can vicariously experience the celestial chariot (the Merkavah) that was envisioned by the Prophet Ezekiel.
VayaKHeL, means"he gathered." The truest, deepest gathering is for tasting holiness, for experiencing G*d. In Babel they tried to gather to *build* a tower to heaven. But not for holiness. In contrast, at Sinai the tower/mountain was *given* to them. But we have learned that building a tower was not necessary to meet G*d. Precisely by *not* building, just by refraining from all work on the Sabbath, we are given the means by which to recreate the heavenly holiness of Sinai, paraphrasing the Creation, where heaven first met earth. In Babel, mankind wanted unity to displace G*d. At Sinai, G*d wanted unity only so that they could receive Him. And to be holy like Him.
What do the letters of KaHaL stand for? Kedushat Hashem LeOlam. The holiness of G*d is forever. But we have a part to play as well, for it also stands for Kodshei Hashem LeOlam. The holy ones of G*d are forever. And what is the key by which to access that holiness? Shabbat.
Just as the Golden Calf episode functions as the fulcrum between the narratives of the construction of the Tabernacle in all their painstaking detail, so too, in Parshat Chayei Sarah (Gen 24:22) the placing of the Golden Ring (haNezem haZahav) functions as the fulcrum in the painstaking retelling by Rebecca of her encounter with Eliezer, Abraham's servant. A seeming precursor to our own parsha of this week, not a single twist is left out of the retelling. But why? What is the connection?
First is the idea of kindness, that through the kindness that we show one another we may bring redemption to the world. The other idea linking the two narratives is embodied by the very bracelets themselves. When Eliezer placed the Golden Ring on Rebecca, for all time would Jewish women, her descendants, wear that ring. And never take it off.
When Aaron was forced into making the Golden Calf he approached the men and the women for their gold rings and bracelets, with which to make the idol. Many men gave. But all the women refused! As the first post- Sinaitic refuseniks in history, the women were rewarded with their own holiday- Rosh Chodesh, the New Moon, symbolized by the shape of the Ring which they refused to give up. And today our holy women refuse to give up the Sabbath. They are its guardians, who envelop the home with the sanctity of the Shechinah, the Indwelling Presence of the Heavenly Abode.
Jewish women gather together in the home each Friday towards evening, in homes all around the world, together kindling the fires, the holy flames that burned on Sinai, and thus subduing the other opposite fires, the fires that burn in Gehennom. Lo tivaru eish bechol moshvoteichem beyom haShabbat (Ex 35:3). It is taught that we are not to kindle fires in our homes ON the Sabbath day. But before? It's the holiest mitzvah.
Our mothers, the Jewish women who embody the qualities ofkindness and mercy (chesed verachamim), also embody the peace and serenity of the Sabbath. Therefore, we are known as "rachmanim b'nai rachmanin-merciful ones, the children of merciful ones (our mothers)." Just as Shabbat brings peace to the soul, kindness brings peace between people. Shabbat is the recharging mechanism for our souls, helping us to bring peace and kindness into the world. It has a heavenly taste, being that it is a joyful gathering of light, peace and love, the hallmarks of the heavenly realm.
© 2000 - 2009 by Rabbi Baruch Binyamin Hakohen Melman
These words of Torah are written in the merit of my beloved father, Israel J. Melman, obm, Yisrael Yehoshua ben Harav Ya'aqov Hakohen Melman, z"l
Chabibi stands for CHidushei Baruch Binyamin ben Yisrael Yehoshua
(a chidush, from the word chadash, means a new, original or fresh perspective)
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