Portion “Vayakhel” continues the decsription of the building of the temple. We meet the chief artist, Betzalel in Exodus 35, who is given the charge of construction manager. The portion opens, however, with an interesting reminder regarding Shabbat. “Moses convoked the entire Israelite community and said to them These are the things that the Lord has commanded you to do. On six days work may be done, but on the seventh day you shall have a sabbath of complete rest, holy to God, whosoever does work shall be put to death” (Exodus 35:1,2). Seems like very room for discussion here.
The idea however, of putting people to death for violating the law of Shabbat was, it seems, never taken literally. The Etz Hayim, the commentary by the Conservative movement, notes a statement by Rabbi Eybeschutz that this refers to a death of the soul, a death of the “spiritual dimension of life”. I think this concept becomes quite clear to us as we age. No matter how you interpret the laws of the Sabbath, the concept of the Shabbat is powerful. It is a command to stop, to change, to put aside the issues of the week, and to reaffirm one’s link with the idea of creation (look at the Shabbat rituals of candles, wine and challah and Havdalah) and celebrate, what may be one of mankind’s greatest creations, that of time.
Heschel notes that “The meaning of the Sabbath is to celebrate time rather than space..on the Sabbath we try to become attuned to holiness in time. It is a day on which we are called upon to share in what is eternal in time, to turn from the results of creation to the mystery of creation,from the world of creation to the creation of the world.”
What can this mean for us? Let me suggest that it reminds us that time is to be celebrated, that we all will eventually run out of it, even thought it is eternal. It is a reminder that we become so much more aware of time’s passing as we get older and that, we hope, we can focus more on the mystery of life and the mystery of being part of this world. It is reminder that we exist as part of a gradual unfolding of time and that our “time” here, if it is to mean something, must count for more than material goods; that we are to be about the creation of souls and self and not just goods and services; for to only be about that, leads to a spiritual death. That idea of Shabbat, no matter how you celebrate it, is more than just a “day off”; it is spiritual concept that helps us focus on what is unique and sacred in our lives and to take the time to celebrate that.
Rabbi Richard F Address
Rabbi Richard F. Address, D.Min, is the Founder and Director of www.jewishsacredaging.com. Rabbi Address served for over three decades on staff of the Union for Reform Judaism; first as a Regional Director and then, beginning in 1997, as Founder and Director of the URJ’s Department of Jewish Family Concerns and served as a specialist and consultant for the North American Reform Movement in the areas of family related programming. Rabbi Address was ordained from Hebrew Union College-Jewish Institute of Religion in 1972 and began his rabbinic career in Los Angeles congregations. He also served as a part time rabbi for Beth Hillel in Carmel, NJ while regional director and, after his URJ tenure, served as senior rabbi of Congregation M’kor Shalom in Cherry Hill, NJ from 2011-2014.