Parashat Vayak’heil

Friday, March 1, 2019 /24 Adar, 5779
Parashat Vayak’heil Exodus 35:1-38:20

Dear Friends,

Prudence matters.

There is an interesting, seeming juxtaposition of commandments at the opening of this week’s Torah portion – and in that apparent shifting of the order of commands, there is a meaningful lesson. Let’s take a look.

We are reading from near the very end of the Book of Exodus, when the Israelites are mostly consumed with constructing the Mishkan, the desert tabernacle from which the priests would offer sacrifices and commune with the Most High. Indeed, a dozen-plus chapters are devoted to construction details – the materials, sizes, shapes and design of this desert edifice – such that it appears fully out-of-order that inserted amid the construction verses, is this command, “On six days work may be done, but on the seventh day you shall have a Shabbat of complete rest, holy to the Eternal…” (Ex. 35:2)

What is the meaning of that verse being inserted, just before the penultimate command to complete the final assembly of the Mishkah?

Rashi, our Medieval Torah commentator, offers a simple instruction. He wrote, “He (Moses) put for them the prohibition of Sabbath before the commandment of the construction of the tabernacle to teach that the latter does not supersede the laws of Shabbat.”

Elsewhere, it is taught that all Mitzvot are equal, and that one should rush to do a minor mitzvah as urgently as one hastens to do a major mitzvah. Moreover, we are taught in the Talmud that doing one mitzvah precludes one from doing another at the same time. Thus, Rashi’s comment is fascinating. He implies that one command has priority over another – that Shabbat precedes building the tabernacle.

I believe that Rashi is instructing us about more than order and priority. He is warning us against exuberance and impulsiveness. Upon finally reaching the moment of construction of God’s abode, the desert tabernacle, he teaches that Moses was worried that the Israelites might jump headfirst into the task, and fail to keep Shabbat. Their excitement would get the best of them, or they would think that the tabernacle was of such profound meaning, that it would override Shabbat. But, no; hence, the insertion of the Shabbat injunction prior to the final building.

It is a healthy reminder. There will always appear new, exciting prospects in every human domain, even with seeming Divine imprimaturs. Yet, enduring values, like that of Shabbat, are enduring because they are… enduring values. Prudence matters.

Shabbat Shalom,

Rabbi Doug Kohn