Beit Midrash

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Mishkan Vs. Shabbat


Rabbi Shaul Yisraeli zt"l

"Moshe assembled all the congregation … ‘these are the matters … do not burn fire in all your living quarters on the day of Shabbat’" (Shemot 35: 1-3).
The mitzva of Shabbat, which Moshe taught before an assemblage of the people, is connected to and is actually an introduction to and a prerequisite for the building of the Mishkan. Setting the boundaries between these two lofty goals is one of the most difficult things to do correctly. Work on the Mishkan was a mitzva and on Shabbat is an aveira. However, one can still make mistakes in drawing the lines between one sanctity and another. That is why it is necessary to assemble everyone together so that there not be different versions on the matter from different factions in the nation.
The Mishkan represents the sanctity of place, and Shabbat represents the sanctity of time. Which is pushed off in the face of which? On the one hand, the sanctity of the Mishkan is created by man’s work in a manner that draws to it divine sanctity, as commanded: "You shall make for Me a Sanctuary." Moshe blessed the people: "May it be His will that the Divine Presence will dwell in the work of your hands" (Rashi, Shemot 39:43). On the other hand, Shabbat is all decreed and prepared from Above: "Therefore, Hashem blessed the day of Shabbat and sanctified it" (Shemot 20:10).
The ultimate purpose of erecting the Mishkan was to achieve "I shall dwell in their midst." Shabbat as well is intended to be "an eternal sign between Me and Bnei Yisrael" (Shemot 31:17). It is not just a remembrance of the creation of the world but also a time of rest for the ox and the donkey, the maid-servant and the foreigner (ibid. 23:12). The different elements are all interwoven, where one is nourished by the other and germinates it. But one must still note that Shabbat is from above and is unchanging, and the Mishkan is created by human action at a specific time in history. The decision is that the building of the Mishkan does not push off the fulfillment of Shabbat.
Of all the work that is forbidden on Shabbat, the Torah highlights fire (ibid. 35:3). Fire represents the work of man. Chazal tell us that the first productive work man did was to take two rocks, rub them together, and produce fire (Bereishit Rabba 11:2). Since this was done after Shabbat, we make the beracha on fire at that time. There was no fire during creation; man first produced it. It is only possible, hint the Rabbis, to speak about the contribution of man after the divine creation was complete. It cannot take the place of the actions of Hashem, which would destroy the source from which it must emanate, but it continues them. The sanctity of man must be nourished by the divine sanctity.
It is interesting that specifically the prohibition of making fire on Shabbat was the heart of the dispute between the authentic Rabbinic approach and between the Karites. The latter divorced themselves from the continuation of the giving of the Torah, which took place through the Oral Law. The Karites misinterpreted the prohibition of fire on Shabbat and required people to sit in the dark, not realizing how man can continue that which Hashem gave him to work with.
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