Parshas Ki Sisa
Shabbat Precedes the Building of the Mishkan
The Torah reading of this week is naturally dominated by the description of
the tragedy of the Golden Calf and its consequences. But the story of the
Golden Calf in the parsha is preceded by teachings regarding the sanctity of
the Shabat. The rabbis attributed the presence of this Shabat subject in the
parsha as a further indication that even the construction of the Mishkan
cannot take precedence over the sanctity of Shabat.
But there is another insight that is available here as well. The dangers of
Golden Calves, false gods, apparently shining and enticing ideals that only
lead to eventual disaster, is something that is always present in Jewish
society. In our long history as a people there is a long list of Golden
Calves that have led us astray and at great cost to us.
Paganism, Hellenism, false messianism, Marxism, secularism, nationalism,
humanism and unbridled hedonism, just to identify some of these Golden
Calves, have all exacted a terrible toll from us over our history. The
Shabat and its holiness and its enforced withdrawal from the mundane and
impious world have always stood as the bulwark of defense against these
The Shabat is our first and strongest line of defense against the sea of
falseness and evil that constantly threatens to engulf us. Without Shabat we
are doomed and lost. With Shabat we are strong and eternal. There are not
many things in history that are that simple to discern but the saving grace
of Shabat for Jewish society is one of these really no-brainers.
This is why later in the Chumash in parshat Vayakhel the admonition
regarding the laws of Shabat is again repeated in conjunction with a further
review of the construction of the Mishkan. The Torah wishes to emphasize
that short of human life itself, no cause no matter how seemingly noble
takes precedence over the sanctity of the Shabat.
For all human causes, no matter how noble, contain dross with its gold. The
Shabat in its eternity and God-given holiness is likened to the World to
Come, eternal and everlasting. For many times in our rush to build, we
destroy, and in our desire to accomplish great things we trample upon
nobility and moral righteousness. The great sage, Baba ben Buta in the
Talmud warned King Herod not to destroy the old until the new has already
The world oftentimes believes that the destruction of the old is somehow a
necessary prerequisite to construct the new. The Torah comes to teach us
that the old Shabat already observed by the People of Israel even before the
granting of the Torah to Israel at Mount Sinai will definitely outlive and
outperform the shiny new Golden Calf that is now being worshipped so avidly.
Golden Calves come and go but the eternity of Shabat and Torah remain valid
for all times and circumstances. This reflection is buttressed in the Torah
by its repetition of the sanctity of Shabat many times in these parshiyot
that mark the conclusion of the book of Shemot. Our Mishkan is built only
with Shabat and never in contravention of Shabat.
Rabbi Berel Wein