Parshat Vayakhel

Parshat Vayakhel

In this cycle, through the Torah, we will be taking a mystical journey. Our guide will be Rabbi Larry Tabick’s book, The Aura of Torah, published in 2014 by the Jewish Publication Society and the University of Nebraska. Translations of kabbalistic texts are by Rabbi Larry Tabick. Translations of the Torah and other commentaries are from Sefaria, except where otherwise noted. Translations of the Talmud are the Steinsaltz, William Davidson Talmud, on Sefaria.


After the interlude with the Golden Calf we return to the Mishkan, with this parshah describing it’s building, including detailed descriptions of the materials and manner of construction. The building process is preceded by a statement about the importance of the Sabbath, indicating that observing the Sabbath supercedes work on the Mishkan. As a result, the building activities become the basis for defining what is forbidden on Shabbat. The Torah explicitly forbids only one activity, which will be the first verse we will look at.


Shemot 35:2-3

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.


For Thursday

The Talmud section we will look at begins the derivation of the laws of Shabbat from this verse.


Shabbat 70a:3

The Gemara asks: And let him derive division of labors from where it was derived according to Rabbi Natan, as it was taught in a baraita that Rabbi Natan says that it is written: “You shall not kindle fire in all your dwellings on the day of Shabbat” (Exodus 35:3). Why does the verse state this halakha? The prohibition against kindling is included in the general prohibition against performing labor on Shabbat. Rather, it should be understood as follows. Since it is already stated: “And Moses gathered the entire assembly of the children of Israel and said to them: These are the things [eleh hadevarim] that God has commanded to perform them. Six days you shall perform work, and on the seventh day it shall be holy to you, a Shabbat of rest to God” (Exodus 35:1–2), and Rabbi Natan derives as follows: “These are the things,” which refers to the halakhot of Shabbat, there are emphases in this phrase that are superfluous in the context of the verse. The Torah could have simply stated: This is a thing [davar]. When it states: Things [devarim] in the plural, it teaches at least two points. The addition of the definite article: The things [hadevarim], adds at least a third point. The numerological value of letters of the word elehAlef, one; lamed, thirty; and heh, five, is thirty-six. The total numerical value, three plus thirty-six, derived from the phrase: “These are the things.” This alludes to the thirty-nine prohibited labors that were stated to Moses at Sinai.


Shabbat 70a:4

I might have thought that if one performed them all in the course of one lapse of awareness, forgetting that they are prohibited, he would be liable to bring only one sin-offering? Therefore, the verse states: “Six days you shall work, and on the seventh you shall rest; in plowing time and in harvest time you shall rest” (Exodus 34:21), indicating that there are prohibitions specific to both plowing and harvesting. And still I can say: For plowing and for the harvesting he is liable to bring two sin-offerings, as they were stated explicitly. However, for performing all the other prohibited labors, he is liable for only one. Therefore, the verse states: “You shall not kindle fire in all your dwellings on the day of Shabbat” (Exodus 35:3). This is derived in the following manner: Kindling was included in the general prohibition prohibiting all labors, and why was it singled out and prohibited explicitly? It was singled out in order to equate the other labors to it and to tell you: Just as kindling is a primary category of prohibited labor, and one is liable for performing it on its own, so too, with regard to every primary category of prohibited labor, one is liable for performing it on its own.


For Saturday


Tikkunei Zohar, 14th century, Spain

Worthy are those who guard the “Shabbat tent,” that is, the heart, so that no grief from the spleen nor anger from the gallbladder, that is, the fire of Gehinnom, should approach it. Concerning this it is said: “You shall not light a fire in any of your dwellings on the Shabbat day” (Exodus 35:3)), for it is certain that whoever indulges in anger had kindled the fire of Gehinnom.


Tikkunei Zohar is an extended series of writings in various forms on the word and idea of Bereishit. It presents a radical perspective to halacha, viewing it as the maidservant of spiritual development. Here the Tikkunei Zohar is interpreting the prohibition on fire as being a prohibition on anger and depression on Shabbat.


Shemot 38:8

He made the laver of copper and its stand of copper, from the mirrors of the women who performed tasks at the entrance of the Tent of Meeting.


For Thursday


There is not a Talmudic citation related to this verse. The Hasidic commentary cites a passage from Pirke Avot:


Pirke Avot 4:1

Ben Zoma said:Who is wise? He who learns from every man, as it is said: “From all who taught me have I gained understanding” (Psalms 119:99). Who is mighty? He who subdues his [evil] inclination, as it is said: “He that is slow to anger is better than the mighty; and he that rules his spirit than he that takes a city” (Proverbs 16:3). Who is rich? He who rejoices in his lot, as it is said: “You shall enjoy the fruit of your labors, you shall be happy and you shall prosper” (Psalms 128:2) “You shall be happy” in this world, “and you shall prosper” in the world to come. Who is he that is honored? He who honors his fellow human beings as it is said: “For I honor those that honor Me, but those who spurn Me shall be dishonored” (I Samuel 2:30).


For Saturday


Ya’akov Yosef of Polonnoye, 18th century, Poland

I heard in the name of teacher [the Baal Shem Tov] an explanation of the [teaching in the Mishnah], “Who is wise? One who learns from everyone,” according to the parable. One who gazes into a mirror knows his own deficiency, etc. Similarly, one who looks at the deficiency of another knows that there is an element of that within him, etc. “Words from a wise person’s mouth are gracious” (Kohelet 10:12] ….

In this way, you may understand the verse “he maid the basin of brass”–that is, for washing. Is it possible that [a priest] would say that he had no need to wash? But the answer to this is that it was made “of mirrors of the serving women,” so that [a priest] would gaze at others in the mirror and see in what way they were deficient. Then he would feel that the way in which others were deficient is within himself as well, and he would know that he had to wash. Understand!

Moreover, it is precisely the wise person who learns from everyone, just as someone looking in a mirror sees their own deficiency by seeing the deficiency of others. This is not the case with those who do not fall within the definition of “wise.” They do not see their own deficiency in that of others.