Thursday, February 20, 2014

Parsha Perspective

By Rabbi Yisroel Shusterman, Dean, Cheder Chabad of Monsey

This week’s Torah portion, Vayakhel (Shmos [Exodus] 35:1-38:20) begins with an immense gathering of the entire Jewish people. The opening words tell us that Moses assembled everyone together. It must have been a remarkable sight: the huge crowd, Moses himself addressing them, and Mount Sinai in the background.

One reason given for this gathering was because the Jewish people had just lived through very stormy and unsettling events. About three months previously a large proportion of the nation had served the Golden Calf, causing Moses to break the Tablets of the Law.

Then followed a long period during which Moses, pleaded with G-d on behalf of the nation. Finally, Moses received the second set of Tablets as a sign that the people had been forgiven by G-d. On the tenth of the Hebrew month of Tishrei, the day which was later to be Yom Kippur, Moses descended the mountain carrying these second Tablets of the Law.

On the next day came the vast gathering described in our Torah reading. Moses spoke to the people about building the Sanctuary, a dwelling for the Divine Presence and also about keeping Shabbat.

The Rebbe discusses this point. Why did Moses wait till the next day in order to instruct the people about the Sanctuary? Surely everyone was together with him on that Yom Kippur. Why not use that occasion to tell them about the Sanctuary? Why should this take place in a separate gathering the next day?

The Rebbe suggests this is because that first Yom Kippur, a day of immersion in the essence of the Torah, was so sublime and so totally absorbing, that it was not the moment for the highly practical instructions concerning the building of the Sanctuary. On that day the focus was the holiness of the Torah itself.

However, the Jewish people could not remain forever immersed in that sublime mood. The next day they had to gather again in a very purposeful way, to learn how to build the Sanctuary, an activity which would take them several months of dedicated work.

Here, says the Rebbe, we learn an important instruction for our own lives. Indeed there are times when we must be totally immersed in Torah study. Yet it is also important that we should be able to move to the next stage: to work at building a better world, the Sanctuary of daily life. Torah study is sublime, and it has to be part of our daily life, but we also have to know that there is a time to emerge from the Torah.

The Sages point out that this gathering in which the people heard about Shabbat hints at the fact that later on in history we would gather together on Shabbat. We gather in the Synagogue or the Study House, hearing Torah teachings from the rabbi. We also gather at the Friday Night table. This family "assembly" has also in some ways the same function as that remarkable gathering of long ago described in the Parshah. After all the ups and downs of the week, we come together to refocus, to remember who we are, where we are going, and what we need to accomplish in the world.

 (Excerpts from )

May you have a meaningful and uplifting Shabbos!

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