Beit Midrash

  • Torah Portion and Tanach
  • Vayakhel
קטגוריה משנית
To dedicate this lesson
Translated by Hillel Fendel

This week's Torah portion of Vayak'hel describes how the various artisans executed the different activities necessary for the construction of the Mishkan (Tabernacle) and the special furniture it held. These include, of course, the Menorah, Holy Ark, table, and altars.

Something interesting stands out in this account, however. When the Holy Ark was fashioned, the Torah emphasizes that it was Betzalel ben Uri ben Hur who did it – but regarding the other items, the Torah simply says, "He made," over and over. Why does the Torah not seem to "care" who exactly made the other vessels?

On a simple level, we can assume that Betzalel himself built the Ark because of its sanctity and special virtues. But if we delve a bit deeper, we will reveal the following important idea: The work of building the Ark includes that of fashioning the cherubim atop it. And to make the cherubim, special pure and clean intentions were required. Why? Because the Torah in general clearly wishes us to stay away from any type of picture or sculpture regarding Divinity – and yet, here we are commanded to actually make two cherubim inside the Holy of Holies! Clearly, this could be misconstrued, Heaven forbid, as a violation of that prohibition. Therefore, it had to be specifically Betzalel who built them, for it was his grandfather Hur who was killed by the mob when he refused to cave in to their desire to make a golden calf. G-d chose Betzalel to build the cherubim because He knew that only he, Hur's grandson, would do so without a single impure thought of any type.

Another point worth noting is that when G-d issued the commandments to build the Mishkan, as recounted in the portions of Terumah and Tetzaveh, He concluded them [in the next portion, Ki Tisa] by reminding us about the mitzvah of Shabbat – whereas here, when the Torah speaks of the actual construction of the Tabernacle, the Sabbath is mentioned at the beginning!

Rav Meir Simcha of Dvinsk, known as the Meshekh Chokhmah for the Torah commentary he authored, explains this in a fascinating manner: Terumah and Tetzaveh appear before the Sin of the Golden Calf, when Israel's spiritual level was at a great high, and the Divine Presence dwelled in their midst even without a Mishkan! As such, the construction of the Tabernacle is a form of Temple service that defers Shabbat, just like offering sacrifices as part of the Temple service defers Shabbat. But after the great spiritual deterioration that came with the Golden Calf, the Divine Presence appears only in the Temple or Tabernacle, and therefore as long as they are not built, there is no real revelation of the Shechinah within Israel – and therefore the Temple may not be built on the Sabbath.

In light of these concepts, let us look at the first verse of this Torah portion, which states, Vayak'hel Moshe, "Moshe assembled the entire nation of Israel." It does not mean to tell us only that he gathered them together, but also that the entire purpose of constructing the Mishkan was to raise up the level of the nation from its great deterioration of the Golden Calf. Moshe knew that just like the Torah was given to Israel only amidst their unity – "Israel camped [in singular] opposite the mountain [Mt. Sinai]" - so too the great ascent of the building of the Tabernacle can only come to pass with unity, with Moshe's assembling of "the entire nation of Israel."

This idea is found also in the Scroll of Esther, when Esther tells Mordechai, "Go and gather all the Jews." There, too, this was not merely a technical matter, but rather the contra to Haman having identified the Jewish Nation as one that was "dispersed and separated."

Today, as well, when were are surrounded by enemies near and far who scheme constantly to destroy the Jewish Nation and State, we know that the only thing that can help us withstand them is our internal unity. Such unity can come only in the context of spiritual values that can raise us up and unite us. To speak vacantly about "unity" without internalizing the spiritual values that bring this unity has no purpose or benefit.

May it be that our people truly understand and internalize what Rav Saadiah Gaon said over a millennium ago: "Our nation is a nation only through its holy Torah." And in this merit, may we speedily merit a Divine redemption in our days, Amen.

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