(Torah Portion Vayakail) One Thousand!
Our leader Moshe gathered the entire nation and addressed them immediately after returning with the second set of the Ten Commandments. Moshe began by reiterating their responsibility to uphold and observe the laws of the Holy Shabbos and then launched a campaign for donations towards the construction of the Temple.
Commentators ask why it was necessary for Moshe to gather everyone together, why wasn’t it enough for him to address each tribe individually?
Rabbi Yaacov Kamenetzky o.b.m. explains: The Jews unquestionably reached the pinnacle of spirituality and unity when they stood at Mount Sinai and heard G-d Proclaim the Ten Commandments. At that point the Torah attests that the Jews were at one with each other. This harmony and togetherness remained with them until the sin of the golden calf.
The intention behind the golden calf was to have a ‘middle man’ between them and G-d, to serve as a replacement for Moshe, who they assumed was dead. Each tribe (aside for Levi) perceived the intermediary differently and so they became disjointed. In fact, the Medrash says that there were 13 golden calves, one additional one for each tribe. Each calf represented the warped ideas of that particular tribe how to connect to G-d.
When G-d forgave the nation for the sin of the golden calf, He immediately instructed them to build a Temple as a symbolism of His forgiveness. Moshe gathered and unified the entire nation at that time charging them with a common sanctified purpose to rectify the mistake of their various perceptions during the sin.
This is the reason Moshe spoke to all of them at once concerning the building and contributions to the Temple. What still needs explanation is why did he gather the entire congregation to teach the laws of Shabbos?
Rabbi Moshe Feinstein o.b.m. explains that there are certain laws in the Torah that represent our testimony to G-d’s existence. The Holy day of Shabbos is this type of Mitzvah, for G-d proclaims, “Shabbos is an everlasting Ois – Sign, between Me and the Jewish people that I created the world in six days and ceased from creative activities on the seventh day.”
It was essential that a law such as Shabbos, which is a transparent and public display of a Jew’s allegiance to G-d, should be addressed in a public forum of all the Jews.
Indeed, the weekly Shabbos functions as a communal display of our faithfulness to G-d, for on the Shabbos families and friends have the time and opportunity to come and join together. Also, attendance at Shul on Shabbos is in a more congregational setting than during the weekdays.
Moshe spoke about the holiness of Shabbos in conjunction with the building of the Temple to set the rule that all activities had to come to a halt on Shabbos. Even the construction of the Temple was forbidden on the Shabbos. In fact, the categories of forbidden activities on Shabbos are derived from the specific work, manufacture and production that was necessary to create the Temple.
Although the Torah specifically prohibits igniting and using fire on Shabbos for construction of the Temple, once the Temple was created and placed in a functioning mode, fire for the Menorah and to offer the various sacrifices on the Altar was allowed to be kindled on Shabbos.
The Torah specifically permits these activities, which would otherwise be prohibited, to be performed in the Temple on Shabbos. The Temple’s pure and holy distinction placed it in a realm that did not have to comply with certain laws of Shabbos.
An idea occurred to me: The Torah through its laws and instructions gives us tools to infuse holiness into our lives and become as close to G-d as possible.
Certainly one can never reach a level of personal spiritual completeness to regard themselves as being as holy as the completed Temple – to the point when they no longer have to comply with some of the laws and restrictions of Shabbos.
Essentially, our lives are always a spiritual work in progress. Just as the Temple when it was under construction was bound by all the regulations of the holy day of Shabbos, so too, we should regard ourselves as continually being in the mode of Spiritual building and development. The exercising of our exclusive privilege to observe, honor and take delight in the holy day of Shabbos is a foremost expression of our spiritual expansion and elevation.
Wishing you a restful, peaceful and inspirational Shabbos!
Rabbi Dovid Saks