Parshas Vayakhel & Parshas Hachodesh
Dr. Nosson Chayim Leff
Sfas Emes (Zechuso Tagein Aleinu), Vayakheil and Parshas Hachodesh, 5631
Please note: this Ma'amar of the Sfas Emes is printed in Volume 3,
(the volume on Sefer Vayikra), in your Sfas Emes set.
In 1871 (5631) -- the year in which the Sfas Emes became the Gerer
Rebbe -- Parshas Hachodesh coincided with Shabbos Parshas Vayakheil.
The Sfas Emes spoke on both topics. Perhaps because the Sfas Emes had
so much to say on this double-decker Shabbos, his notes for this
Shabbos are unusually cryptic. But here we go, for our best try.
The parsha starts with "Vayakheil". The plain, simple meaning of that
word (i.e., its pshat pashut) here is that Moshe Rabeinu brought Bnai
Yisroel together. From the context, it seems abundantly clear that
the reason Moshe assembled the people was to tell them about building
the Mishkan. But then -- seemingly out of nowhere -- Moshe Rabeinu
transmits HaShem's command that we observe Shabbos. What is the
connection between the "bringing together" and the seemingly
irrelevant command about Shabbos? The Sfas Emes answers, telling us
that "coming together" or "bringing together "is what Shabbos is all
about ... For on Shabbos, all of a person's powers and desires can
come together to cling tightly to their Source -- ultimately, HaShem.
Thus, the pshat meaning of "Vayakheil" has Bnei Yisroel coming
together with each other. The nonpshat reading that the Sfas Emes has
just given us sees the "coming together" on Shabbos as our opportunity
to come together with HaShem. The Sfas Emes drives home this reading
of "Vayakheil" by quoting the Zohar on the pasuk: " ... Ahl yeitzei
ish mim'komo ba'yom ha'shevi'i" (Shemos, 16, 29). The Zohar
understands the word "Makom" as an appellation of HaShem (as in the
Pesach Haggada, where we say: "Boruch Hamokom, Baruch Hu"). Thus, the
Zohar (and the Sfas Emes) read the pasuk quoted above as saying: "Let
no person lose his individualized relationship with HaShem on
Shabbos." Why "individualized"? Because we are referring to the
"makom" within each person.
The Sfas Emes now offers us another way to understand the "coming
together" on Shabbos. He does this by quoting three words from the
Zohar -- actually words that Nusach Sefarad says every Friday night
(in the paragraph that begins "Kegavna"). The key word from that
paragraph that the Sfas Emes quotes is "mis'achadim ". This word
comes from the root "E'Ch'D" (one). Hence, this new nonpshat that the
Sfas Emes proposes for "Vayakheil" has the sense of "coming together
as one" You may be wondering: Who comes together as one? Read on..
Mention of "misachadim" takes us to a glorious perspective on Shabbos.
The word "mis'acha'dim" evokes a picture in which on Shabbos, all
Creation comes together as one to honor HaShem. And by reading
"Vayakheil" in this sense, the Sfas Emes is saying that we too can
join the rest of the cosmos in coming together to honor HaShem. (Lest
this idea sound fanciful, pretentious, or bizarre, have a look at the
chapters of Tehilim (Chapters 29, 93. 95-99) that comprise Kabbolas
Shabbos. As you will see, a principal theme in these Tehilim is the
elements of nature coming together to honor HaShem.)
At this point, two questions come to mind..The nonpshat readings that
the Sfas Emes offers are not at all self-evident. Hence, you may be
wondering: what are the Sfas Emes's sources for these radical nonpshat
interpretations? As we have seen, the Sfas Emes addresses this
question directly, telling us that he is quoting from the Zohar.
Another question says: granted, that each of the three readings of
"Vayakheil" is true. But which is the "most true"; i.e., the one to
be taken most seriously? I see this question as naive. Why? Because
it misses a key feature of reality -- that all of these readings can
be equally valid; and all can apply at the same time. Hence, there
may be no need to choose between them. And in the rare case where one
must choose, choice will surely vary with the context and with the
chooser -- inevitably subjective and inconclusive
The Sfas Emes moves on now to another topic. He cites a question that
his Grandfather had posed concerning the connection between Shabbos
and construction of the Mishkan (the Tabernacle). The Chidushei HaRim
noted the following nuance in the Torah's presentation. Before we
sinned with the golden calf, the Torah discussed the Mishkan before it
spoke to us about Shemiras Shabbos (Sabbath observance). Thus,
building the Mishkan came first (in Parshas Teruma and Parshas
Te'tzaveh). Only later (at the beginning of Parshas KiSisa) does the
Torah give us a statement about Shemiras Shabbos.
By contrast, after the episode of the golden calf, the sequence is
reversed. First comes a discussion (in the beginning of Vayakheil) of
Shabbos, and only later (in Parshas Vayakheil and in Parshas Pekudei),
do we have details concerning building the Mishkan. Why this reversal
of sequence? More than a matter of style must be involved. What are
the issues of substance?
The Chidushei HaRim (and with him, the Sfas Emes) provide a
straightforward answer to this question (see below). But en route to
presenting that answer, the Sfas Emes makes some mind-boggling
statements about the Mishkan, Shabbos, and their interaction. These
ideas cry out for explication, so we digress now to discuss them.
One statement that I find mind-boggling is: "Ki avodas hachol hu inyan
meleches hamishkan." Translated loosely (but accurately), that is:
"How does a person serve HaShem on the weekdays? By building the
Mishkan". Further, the Sfas Emes continues with another puzzling
statement. By so doing, (i.e., by being engaged in building the
Mishkan), we can extend HaShem's Presence to the very heart of the
weekday world of work. In the words of the Sfas Emes, we will be able
to: "le'hamshich hashra" as HaShechina ba'ma'aseh ma'mash".
This is certainly a bold, new way of thinking about work and about
yemos hachol (the weekdays). Boldness aside, how does this work in the
real world? I suggest that it comes from a perspective in which our
weekday work activities are viewed as preparing this world to be
HaShem 's dwelling-place. (What does it mean to speak of "HaShem's
dwelling-place"? That term refers to a state in which -- so to speak
-- HaShem feels comfortable and "at home" -- presumably a state in
which Bnai Noach observe their commandments, and we observe ours. That
perspective may be too much for most of us to handle. For this
reason, HaShem gave us a more accessible representation of His
domicile in this world: the Mishkan. ma'mash". Thus, a person can
view his/her weekday avoda as an effort at preparing HaShem's domicile
-- in the first instance, the idea of HaShem's domicile in this world
refers to the Mishkan. But bearing in mind the parallel between the
Mishkan and the world as a whole, our weekday labors can be part of an
effort to make the entire world fit to be a dwellng-place for HaShem.
The parallel between the Mishkan and the world as a whole has an
important halachic implication. On Shabbos, HaShem abstained from
creating; and He has commanded us likewise to abstain. A problem
comes to mind. We cannot create like HaShem. How, then, can we
emulate Ha Shem in abstaining from creating? That is: for practical
halachic purposes, what actions should be proscribed on Shabbos?
As noted, we can view our weekday labors as preparing a dwelling place
for HaShem. What activities do we employ in doing our weekday labors?
If symbolically, we are building the Mishkan, the answer comes back
loud and clear: the the melachos used in constructing, equipping, and
maintaining the Mishkan. Because of the mishkan/world parallel, the
Mishkan's melachos can be a proxy for whatever HaShem used to create
the world. And because these actions were used in the Mishkan, they
are the activities that HaShem proscribed on Shabbos. And just as
HaShem abstained from creating the world on Shabbos, so too, we
abstain from doing these activities on Shabbos.
We return now to the main line of this ma'amar. Recall that the
Chidushei HaRim and the Sfas Emes raised a question concerning the way
the Torah sequenced presentation of two topics: Shabbos and the
Mishkan. More particularly, they asked why was the sequence reversed
after cheit ha'egeil? We are now ready for an answer.
Before we went wrong with the golden calf, what we did during the week
-- the melachos of the Mishkan -- constituted a preparation for
Shabbos. Thus, during the week, we prepared a dwelling place for
HaShem. After that spiritual preparation, when Shabbos came, we could
simply be in HaShem's Presence. We could rise to a spiritual height
-- an 'aliya' -- and an awareness of HaShem's Majesty. That aliya, in
turn, would enable us to achieve a degree of "hisbatlus" -- to
substitute HaShem's agenda for our personal agendas. Thus, before the
sin of the golden calf, we were at a high level of ruchniyus. Because
we were in that state, HaShem could tell us, first, to build the
Mishkan. Only later did He give us detailed instructions concerning
Shabbos. But after the unhappy experience with the golden calf, what
we do during the week is no longer on so exalted a level. Now, we need
Shabbos to get us through the week in one (spiritual) piece. This is
the reason why after cheit ha'eigel, the Torah had to tell us about
Shabbos before telling us about building the Mishkan. Now we need the
Kedusha of Shabbos to flow into yemos ha'chol. Our everyday
activities are now less effective in making this world HaShem's home.
The Sfas Emes moves on now to teach us Torah appropriate for Parshas
HaChodesh. He begins from "Hachodesh ha'zeh la'chem"
(Lliterally,"This month shall be for you ...") -- the words that begin
this Shabbos's special Torah reading, (from Shemos 12:2). The
SfasEmes had much to say on these words. Here are two of his
As you might have expected, the Sfas Emes sees the word "chodesh"
(month) as an allusion to the word "chadash" (newness,
freshness). Thus he reads the pasuk just quoted ("Ha'chodesh ha'zeh
lachem") as telling us: You have it within yourselves to find the
Newness -- i.e., the Presence of HaShem -- in everything that you do
("be'chol ma'aseh")! Surely, it would help us attain that goal if we
see our everyday work activities as building HaShem's dwelling in this
Later in this ma'amar, the Sfas Emes reads "Ha'chodesh ha'zeh la'chem"
in another way. The word "chodesh" can also refer to the moon. Thus,
the Sfas Emes reads "Ha'chodesh ha'zeh la'chem" as giving Klal Yisroel
a mission. The moon ("hachodesh") lights the darkness. So too it is
our assignment to shine light, and thus to find HaShem's Presence in
the Hester behind which He often chooses to hide Himself.
Copyright © 2004 by Dr. Nosson Chayim Leff and Torah.org.