[Based on a shiur given by Rav Moshe Taragin]
The first perek of Parshat Vayakhel can be roughly broken into 3 sections:
1. Psukim 1-3: Moshe gathers the entire nation and discusses Shabbos.
2. Psukim 4-20: Moshe speaks to the entire nation and gives them instructions on gathering items for the Mishkan and what would need to be built. (end of Rishon)
3. Psukim 21-35: The actual Mishkan process begins; details of the actual logistics and carrying out of the instructions for constructing the Mishkan.
An easily “overlooked” passuk is verse 20:
|כ וַיֵּצְאוּ כָּל עֲדַת בְּנֵי יִשְׂרָאֵל מִלִּפְנֵי מֹשֶׁה||And all the congregation of the children of Israel departed from the presence of Moses.|
…Obviously Bnei Yisrael were not going to be doing the actual building in the exact same place where the instructions were given. In order to gather the materials for the Mishkan and execute the instructions, they would first have to physically leave Moshe’s tent! It seems like a very technical passuk – they had to leave Moshe’s tent in order to go get the items for the Mishkan – so why do we need it? What is message of vayeitzu kol adas B’nei Yisrael?
Rav Taragin offers 3 possible answers:
1. Eagerness and Relief: The Midrash says the exit was a combination of eagerness and cathartic joy that they were brought back into Hashem’s and Moshe’s good graces after the Cheit Ha’Eigel. No more mask on Moshe – he was now accessible and communicative with them.
The Midrash says: “k’shenisbasru Yisrael b’mechilas oso ha’avon, samchu simcha yeseraih v’yatzu b’zrizus” — When Bnei Yisrael heard that they were absolved of the sin [of the Golden Calf], they had tremendous joy and exited with fervor/excitement. They channeled their relief and joy into positive, creative energy. There are moments in life we feel we’ve been spared or been granted something magnificent. We take this new-found relief and joy and try to use it to propel ourselves to new heights.
2. Unity, attained (2 types): Encountering Hashem is experienced most acutely through the collective. We are most effective when we are together (hence the gathering of ALL of Bnei Yisrael to build the Mishkan, and the concept of a minyan, importance of community, b’rov Am hadras Melech, etc.). But there are two ways of becoming a collective unit:
a) Unification by a skilled leader: During and after the Cheit Ha’Eigel there was a great deal of disunity among the nation; disunity between Shevet Levi (non-transgressors) and the rest of Bnei Yisrael, between the women (also non-transgressors) and the men, the consequences of the killing of Chur, etc. The incredible strength of Moshe’s personality, was that he was able to unite the entirenation. This occurs in the first 19 psukim of Perek 35. And then comes verse 20…
b) Unification through realization of commonality and shared goals: Verse 20 says that Bnei Yisrael left “mi’lifnei Moshe” – they all departed from the presence of Moshe. That is to say, they all decided to go out together “despite” Moshe, so to speak. The project assigned to them of building the Mishkan, created a unified spirit. With this goal in mind, they no longer needed to be held together quite so firmly by the strength of an individual. (This should not be taken as a diminishing of Moshe, chas v’shalom, rather a commentary on how Moshe “put them back together” and gave them a collective mission, which allowed them to move forward as a unit). The internal unity of common interest and agenda is arguably stronger and more enduring than unity borne out from the imposed charisma of a leader.
3. Empowerment to the people (through building): The Torah’s inclusion of Bnei Yisrael walking away from Moshe is a metaphor for taking their newly acquired sense of power and purpose, which was just bestowed upon them:
Bnei Yisrael needed Moshe more than ever in Parshat Ki Tissa and the Golden Calf episode. Part of why Moshe’s name is absent from Parshat Tetzaveh is to contrast it with his towering presence in Ki Tissa, where he “defies” Hashem’s threats, davens relentlessly, doesn’t eat drink or sleep on Har Sinai, he comes down the mountain with his face is shining brightly, etc. He achieves tremendous heights at a time Bnei Yisrael needed him in the worst way.
How do you deliver self-respect back to the people, in an empowering way, without fostering a dependence and a feeling that only the great Moshe could build a house for Hashem? How do you make them not feel small and ashamed?
Moshe appoints Betzalel and Ohaliav. He empowers all men and women to contribute toward the Mishkan and assist in its construction. He activates people, giving them autonomy, and important roles, thus gives them back their dignity and confidence. This is especially critical for a ba’al cheit – to not suppress a sinner in his/her fragility and futility.
Moshe downgrades himself, in a sense, taking a less central role in building the Mishkan, and empowers the nation. He takes a shattered people and rebuilds their unity and allows them to recognize and exercise their talents and confidence, which sustains itself long after they’ve “departed” and walked away from the presence of their leader. THEY build the Mishkan, and this is one of the crowning achievements of Moshe Rabbeinu. After the nation’s most damaging collective sin, he is able to do what is needed to prop them back up to re-assume the role of the Chosen people of HKBH.
Obviously, there are many links between Shabbos and the Mishkan. I would like to suggest that this last idea connects to the first section of the chapter, regarding the observance of Shabbos: We are instructed in psukim 1-3 to work for 6 days, to stop on the 7th day because it’s kodesh, and not to kindle a flame on Shabbos.
The Chasam Sofer explains that when the passuk states, “Six days you shall do your work”, it is teaching us that it is our duty during the six days of the work week to kindle a flame of devotion to Hashem by engaging in Torah study and serving Hashem with fervor… “But the seventh day shall be holy for you, a day of complete rest for Hashem”– so that come Shabbos, this flame of spiritual fervor will blaze on its own. The Torah concludes: “You shall not kindle fire in any of your dwellings on the Sabbath day.” The Torah is telling us not to wait until Shabbos to kindle this flame of spiritual fervor; rather, begin to kindle this flame during the six weekdays. We can’t expect to gain the full potential of d’veikus with Hashem that Shabbos is supposed to bring, unless we make Hashem a part of our lives during the rest of the week. L’havdil, we would never rush into the palace of a king of basar v’dam having given no thought to the visit, so kal vachomer we shouldn’t show up to the palace of the Melech Malchei Hamlachim, without making proper hachanos.
Every day we say at the end of davening, “hayom yom X b’shabbat.” On a daily basis we try to draw down the kedusha of shabbos, but really it’s a two-way street; ouractions during the week influence our Shabbos, and an ideal-Shabbos will hopefully influence our week. By properly utilizing the 6 other days of the week, we have the power to make the occurence of Shabbos even greater.
This is true as we prepare in the days leading up to Shabbos, and certainly on Shabbos itself. The central commandments of Shabbos are Zachor and Shamor. I think that they reflect the power of what Hashem did during the first 7 days of Creation and every day since, on the one hand, and what we are empowered to do with our observance of Shabbos, as well:
Zachor: Stopping to remember that Hashem created the world for 6 days, and then rested. It is a commemoration of what Hashem did during the 6+1 days of Creation, which we try to emulate. There are countless aspects of the world to marvel at, and so much about the power of creation to inspire us, yet there is also something wonderful about taking a day to stop creating. So we try to remember this and the lessons of Creation. It seems to me, however, that this is slightly more passive than Shamor. The 7th day of the week is going to come no matter what; Shabbos occurs regardless of our remembrance. But its mere occurrence is only one piece of Shabbos.
Shamor: Our active role in observing and enjoying Shabbos. As we say, Yismichu b’malchuscha, Shomrei Shabbat v’korei oneg am mekadshei shevi’i — we are given an active part in sanctifying Shabbos, just as Hashem and Moshe gave Bnei Yisrael a key role in the construction of the Mishkan. Shabbos is about so much more than eating, taking naps and being mindful of all the things we can’t do. We are empowered to elevate the day of Shabbos through our actions (teffila, Talmud Torah, appreciation of what we have, dibuk chaveirim, etc.) and observance, and hopefully merit to use each passing week to enhance the week to come.