Moses then convoked the whole Israelite community and said to them: These are the things that the LORD has commanded you to do: On six days work may be done, but on the seventh day you shall have a sabbath of complete rest, holy to the LORD; whoever does any work on it shall be put to death. You shall kindle no fire throughout your settlements on the sabbath day.
Six days: He intentionally mentioned to them the prohibition in reference to the Sabbath before the command about the building of the Mishkan in order to intimate that it does not supersede the Sabbath.
An intimate tension is set up between Shabbat and the Mishkan … [an] absolute tension between Shabbat and Mishkan, doing and not doing … the Mishkan work holds such an obsessive power that emphatic limits have to be placed on it.
Shemot Rabbah 51:6
Aaron said to them: “Break off the golden rings …” (32:2) And the people broke off their golden rings and showered them upon him until he was compelled to exclaim: “Enough!” This was the point of Moses’ rebuke: “And Laban, and Hazeroth, and Dizahab.” (Deut 1:1) This can be compared to a young man who came to a city and found the people collecting money for charity, and when they asked him also to subscribe, he went on giving until they had to tell him that he had already given enough. Further on his travels, he came to a place where they were collecting for a theater, and when asked to contribute toward it, he was also so generous that he had to be told, “Enough!” Israel, likewise, contributed so much toward the Golden Calf that they had to be told, “Enough!” And they contributed so much gold to the Mishkan that they had to be told, “Enough!” as it is said, “For their efforts had been more than enough for all the tasks to be done.” (37:7) The Holy One Blessed be He then said: “Let the gold of the Mishkan atone for the gold they brought toward making of the Golden Calf.”
Unnervingly, the midrash leads the reader to question the difference between the Golden Calf and Mishkan, charity and theater.
Shemot Rabbah 43:7
“And Moses entreated God, saying, ‘Why O God, should Your anger burn against Your people?'” (32:11) … R. Nehemiah said: When the Israelites committed that sin, Moses began to appease God. He said: “Master of the Universe, they have provided You with help, and You are angry with them! This calf that hey have made will help you: You will make the sun rise and it will take care of the moon; You will bring forth stars and it the planets …” God answered: “Moses! Are you, too, misled like them! For there is nothing in the idol!” And Moses replied: “If so, why are you angry with Your children?” — as it is said: “Why, O God, should Your anger burn against Your people?”
If the idol is nothing, why is God so upset, Moses is saying.
Shemot Rabbah 43:7
“Why, O God, should Your anger burn against Your people?” This can be compared to a king who entered his house and found his wife fondling a dalpakei, a wooden figure. He was furious, but his friend said to him, “If it could give birth, you would have a right to be furious … !” The king replied, “I know that this figure has no power at all, but this is to teach her that she should not behave like this.”
Of course, what Moses is missing, in these midrashim, is the emotional intensity. It is that emotional connection to the idol that is angering God. The Mishkan is a form of art that transforms that energy into a more acceptable form to God. The Mishkan, by architecturally representing Creation and the Sinai Revelation, links the people’s yearning back to God.
the creative work of the Mishkan can become a frenzy … for the sake of the fullness of the work, there must be a Shabbat. … if the counter-principle of Shabbat is not respected, [the frenzy] will consume that form and ultimately itself. … Shabbat, as time for reverie, for contemplating the work of fire [creative energy] and internalizing it, counteracts the hunger for premature certainties, for completed images that deaden the imagination.