Parashat Vayakhel: Rebuilding the World
In Parashat Vayakhel, Moshe Rabbenu assembles Beneh Yisrael to present to them G-d’s commands regarding the construction of the Mishkan and its various furnishings. He introduces this command, however, by reiterating to them the command of Shabbat. Rashi explains that the commands of the Mishkan are preceded by the command of Shabbat in order to emphasize that the work to build the Mishkan must not be performed on Shabbat. The people might have mistakenly assumed that the lofty project of constructing a residence for the Divine Presence overrode the prohibitions of Shabbat, and thus the work must continue seven days a week. To dispel this misconception, Moshe noted that Shabbat must be strictly observed even during the period of constructing the Mishkan.
There may, however, also be an additional explanation.
The Tikkuneh Zohar, in the “Bereshit Taman” section which some have the custom to recite after the daily Shaharit prayer, teaches us that the thirty-nine Melachot (categories of forbidden activity) on Shabbat correspond to the thirty-nine curses which G-d pronounced after Adam and Hava’s sin. G-d pronounced ten curses upon Adam, ten upon Hava, ten upon the snake, and nine upon the ground – for a total of 39, and the Shabbat prohibitions thus correspond to these curses.
What is the meaning of this parallel?
Before Adam and Hava’s sin, they lived an idyllic existence, without having to work at all. All their food and other needs were provided for them, and they did not have to exert any effort to care for themselves. Once they sinned and they were driven from Gan Eden, they needed to perform the thirty-nine Melachot – the various activities that must be done to prepare food, clothing and shelter. On Shabbat, we return, to some extent, to the existence of Gan Eden by refraining from these thirty-nine Melachot, as though reenacting the idyllic conditions in which Adam and Hava lived before the sin, when they did not have to perform any work. And thus the thirty-nine Shabbat prohibitions correspond to the thirty-nine curses – the thirty-nine forms of work which became necessary as a result of Adam and Hava’s sin.
Now our Sages teach that when Beneh Yisrael stood at Mount Sinai and proclaimed, “Na’aseh Ve’nishma” – “We will do and we will hear,” announcing their complete, unconditional commitment to Torah, they rid themselves of all the spiritual effects of Adam and Hava’s sin. At that moment, they rose to the level of Adam and Hava in Gan Eden, having eliminated all the contamination of the sin which Adam and Hava committed. And thus at that point, they were destined to return to the idyllic existence of Gan Eden, whereby they would not have to perform any work.
This changed with the sin of the golden calf. When the people sinned, they repeated, in a sense, the sin of Adam and Hava in Gan Eden, in that they lost the idyllic existence they would have otherwise enjoyed.
Developing this point further, we might say that the sin of the golden calf called the world’s very existence into question.
Our Sages teach that the world was created on condition that Beneh Yisrael would accept the Torah. For the over 2,000 years after the world’s creation until Matan Torah, the world’s creation was not entirely complete. It was like a painting whose ink was still wet. The world was not ready to stand on its own, because its continued existence was in doubt, dependent upon Beneh Yisrael’s acceptance of the Torah.
If so, then the sin of the golden calf, which reversed the great spiritual effects of Matan Torah, rolled back the process of creation. Now that Matan Torah was “undone,” the world’s very existence suddenly came back into question.
Indeed, the Keli Yakar (Rav Shlomo Efrayim Luntshitz, 1540-1619), in Parashat Pekudeh, writes that after the sin of the golden calf, all of creation was about to return to the state of “Tohu Va’bohu” – chaos – that prevailed before G-d created the world. The process of building the Mishkan, then, which served to atone for the sin of the golden calf, meant recreating the world. The world had to be created anew, since the effects of Matan Torah – which had marked the completion of the process of creation – were reversed as a result of the sin of the golden calf. And thus the Gemara in Masechet Megilla comments that the day of the Mishkan’s inauguration was as joyous as the day of the world’s creation – because the construction of the Mishkan marked the recreation of the world.
On this basis, we can understand why Moshe reiterated the command of Shabbat before instructing the people to build the Mishkan. Building the Mishkan was, essentially, repeating the process of the world’s creation. And therefore, just as the world’s creation included the institution of Shabbat, the construction of the Mishkan had to include Shabbat. Shabbat observance is integrally related to the construction of the Mishkan because it was an integral part of the world’s creation – and the world was now being created anew through the project of building Mishkan.