Parashah #22: Vayak’hel ( He assembled) Sh’mot (Exodus) 35:1-38:20

Parashah #22: Vayak’hel (He assembled) Sh’mot (Exodus) 35:1-38:20
Haftarah: M’lakhim Alef (1 Kings) 7:13-26
B’rit Chadashah: Revelation 11:1-13

You may recall your elementary school days when your teacher emphasized something of great importance such the answer to an upcoming test question, they would make some gesture such as repeating the information several times. They may have also made a comment “you may see this again so make sure you remember it.” Our G-d uses some of the same techniques. In our parashah this week, the first sentence is a reiteration of the command to observe Shabbat. Not just “make note” of it, but to observe it as a complete day of rest.

There is an added command/law in this parashah; not to “kindle a fire in any of your homes on Shabbat (Ex. 35:1). Today we are going to focus on the law because it is another source of confusion and misinterpretation among rabbinic Jews, and Christians. As Messianic Jewish believers, we need to understand the intent of this law, enabling us to shine just a little brighter for our G-d as our world becomes darker. How appropriate considering the subject!

Let’s begin with the fact that the fire in the Tabernacle had to burn perpetually, being kept up by the priest, even on Shabbat. “And the fire upon the altar shall be burning in it: it shall not be put out: and the priest shall burn wood on it every morning and lay the burnt-offering in order upon it; and he shall burn thereon the fat of the peace-offerings. The fire shall ever be burning upon the altar; it shall never go out (Lev. 6:12-13). The command to not kindle a fire on Shabbat provided a stark contrast to G-d’s command for the priest to keep the altar fire burning. We will revisit this point in a few minutes.

In the Chumash we find a different explanation that aligns with Jewish rabbinical law and the Oral Torah that is not always in line with G-d’s Torah. Nevertheless, it is important to discuss the rabbinic Jewish interpretation that we may better understand why Yahshua, the prophets, and apostles addressed such issues in the way that is recorded on G-d’s Torah. We need to understand that the Oral Torah incorporates manmade laws and traditions that Yahshua and Sha’ul warned against as an erroneous application of G-d’s instructions, in some cases placing the Oral Torah above G-d’s Torah, although the Sages of old may have had good intentions in an effort to “protect” men against transgressing the Word of G-d. But as is usually the case, when man seeks to promote his own rendition of an original Work such as G-d’s Torah, there are additions to and subtractions from the Word which G-d commands against (Deut.4:2; Rev. 22:18-19). Adding to and subtracting from G-d’s Torah occurs in Christianity and in several Jewish sects. We must learn to discern the truth of G-d’s Torah and this can only be done through humble, prayerful consistent study of G-d’s Word.

According to the rabbinic Jewish commentary in the Chumash, specifically (Rashbam) we read: “By singling out fire from all the other forms of Sabbath labor, the Torah alludes to the law that- unlike the Festivals when food preparation is permitted (12:16)- even such work is forbidden on the Sabbath. Since kindling fire is necessary for cooking and baking, the Torah uses it as a prototype labor that is necessary to prepare food. Therefore, by specifying here that fire may not be kindled on the Sabbath, the Torah indicated that since food preparation is forbidden on the Sabbath, surely other work is prohibited as well (p. 517).
Stay with me as we continue “The prohibition is indicative of the Jewish principle that the Torah can be understood only as it is interpreted by the Oral Law, which G-d taught to Moses, and which he transmitted to the nation. The Oral Law makes clear that only the creation of a fire and such use of it as cooking and baking are forbidden, but there is no prohibition against enjoying its light and heat. Deviant sects that denied the teaching of the Sages misinterpreted this passage to refer to all use of fire, so they would sit in the dark throughout the Sabbath, just as they sat in spiritual darkness all their lives (p.517). This refers to the Kariites who made a different set of rules. They maintain that a fire started before Shabbat can burn throughout Shabbat without disobeying this law.
In addition to the opening verses of this parashah that present the concept of the six-day work-week and the specific prohibition against creative labor on Shabbat, this specific prohibition may be more easily understood in terms of the broader underpinnings of Shabbat as a microcosm or imitation of G-d’s creation of the universe. B’resheit recounts the origins of creation, first in the general statement, “In the beginning G-d created the heavens and the earth”, then with the specific act of creation: “Let there be light.” In much the same fashion, we are commanded in a general sense to observe the Shabbat, and then immediately commanded to desist from using the creative force of fire. In a very real sense, our use of fire, our ability to harness energy, is the primary manifestation that man is created in the image of G-d. In echoing the dramatic call, “Let there be light,” there may be some who delude themselves into believing that they too are gods. The fact that we do not make creative use of this power on Shabbat allows us to regain our perspective, to readjust our sights, and to reconnect with the True Creator.
However, the creative activities from which we refrain on Shabbat do more than re-adjust the playing field in terms of our relationship with G-d. The laws of Shabbat also serve as great democratizers, allowing us to readjust our social perspective as well. One prohibition in particular, the prohibition to carry or transfer material from one location to another, poignantly illustrates this aspect of traditional Jewish law.
In a sense, these two activities – harnessing the power of fire and transporting objects from place to place – seem almost diametric opposites. The former stands at the forefront of human achievement, transforming both the object to which it is applied and our lives in general; the latter simply transports but does not transform. Moving an object does not alter it in any way, and hardly seems creative. Yet, it is considered work and in some traditional circles, it is a “weakly creative” activity.
One may logically conclude that using fire to cook and bake may be prohibited simply because cooking and baking are work that can be done before Shabbat; not because one had to use fire. Indeed we see Shabbat lamps sold in some of the Jewish magazines that make it possible to have light without flipping a switch. The prohibition against flipping switches is not addressed in either of the oral laws mentioned in the Chumash because there were no switches at the time the Chumash was written. Obviously, these laws were made since that time. Just as we were given free will, we are expected to use our brains to apply G-d’s Torah to life and to pray for answers to our questions at the right time.

The Ruach HaKodesh will guide us as we seek to understand the concepts in G-d’s Torah. Although the Ruach had not yet been given in the Old Testament, G-d answered questions in ways such as through the Urim and Tumim used by the Cohen Gadol (Ex. 28:30). Another example of G-d providing everything we need to know or do for His purpose is found in Exodus 35:35; “ He has filled them with the skill needed for every kind of work, whether done by an artisan, a designer, an embroider using blue, purple, and scarlet yarn, and fine linen, or a weaver- they have the skill for every kind of work and design.”

This brings us back to the fire on Shabbat issue. If we look at the Hebrew translation of this phrase we read: “not you light fire in any of you dwellings on day of the Sabbath”. If, as the rabbis say, we can enjoy a fire for heat and light, would this mean we can light a fire for either of these purposes in our homes? G-d’s Torah does not allow for this provision. Therefore, it must mean something else. The Hebrew pair ‘am and ’ish should presuppose a non- urban background, in common with other West-Semitic elements. In a nomadic society, the isolated individual has little chance of survival. Such an environment imposes unremitting group effort and a constant struggle against rival groups. In these circumstances, careful attention to blood ties promises maximum security. The family is paramount; but it will prosper or fail depending upon the initiative and enterprise of its individual members.
In short, among the ancient Western Semites (not only in Israel), an ’ish did not exist apart from a larger group, conceptually speaking. More recently, the late Alison Grant examined more than two thousand instances of ’ish in the Bible. Her investigation was a straightforward lexicographic survey to distinguish the usage of ’ish from the similar term ’adam. She concluded: ’ish . . . relates primarily to an individual as a member of a particular group. . . . [An] ’ish . . . would not be thought of as an individual with an independent existence . . . but always in relation to his particular group or community” [pp. 9–10; emphasis in the original]. In sum, in remote antiquity in the Near East, nobody was viewed as an isolated individual. First and foremost, everyone belonged to—and was identified with—a household, a lineage, a clan, a nation. Alternatively, one could take on a temporary identity as someone else’s agent—a task-specific or role-specific affiliation. But each person was attached to something or
Someone; and it appears that the biblical usage of ’ish reflects such a mind-set.
In biblical Hebrew, the primary meaning of ’ish appears to have been “an affiliate” or “an associate,” for this is what most handily accounts for all senses of the term and more well-recognized senses. The word is always to be understood in reference either to a group (in the case of a member) or to a principal (in the case of an agent). That is, it can mean husband, human, humankind, or man, in addition to fire.

According to the Brown-Driver-Briggs Hebrew Lexicon: ׁesh (pronounced “eesh”) can mean all the following: fire; fire, flames; supernatural fire (accompanying a theophany) fire (for cooking, roasting, parching); altar-fire; G-d’s anger (figuratively) Part of Speech: noun feminine Relation: a primitive word.
The English word “kindle” originated from an old Nordic word which meant to set on fire (the English word candle, while later taking a meaning of its own, is merely a variant spelling of kindle; both words have the same origin). As is the case so often in translations of the Holy Scriptures from the original Hebrew and Greek (and Chaldean and Aramaic), whereby a single English word is used to translate several different words of the Holy Scriptures as they were actually written, “kindle” is used to translate at least a half-dozen Hebrew words.
• baw-ar, which means to consume, by fire or eating
• khaw-rar, which means to melt, or to burn
• yaw-tsawth, which means to set on fire
• kaw-dawkh, which means to inflame (note the difference in this and other terms related to human emotion application)
• ore, which means luminous
• daw-lawk, which means to flame, or to flicker
“For the L-RD thy God is a jealous God among you, lest the anger of the L-RD thy G-d be kindled against thee.”
“Kindle” could be used to refer to people becoming angry, as in these two examples; first, Jacob’s frustration anger when his wife remained childless, and the jealousy anger of Potiphar when his adulterous wife falsely accused Joseph of molesting her to cover up her molesting of him.
And when Rachel saw that she bare Jacob no children, Rachel envied her sister; and said unto Jacob, Give me children, or else I die. 30:2 And Jacob’s anger was kindled against Rachel: and he said, Am I in G-d’s stead, who hath withheld from thee the fruit of the womb?” (Genesis 30:1-2 KJV)
And it came to pass, when his master heard the words of his wife, which she spake unto him, saying, After this manner did thy servant to me; that his wrath was kindled. 39:20 And Joseph’s master took him, and put him into the prison, a place where the king’s prisoners were bound: and he was there in the prison.” (Genesis 39:19-20 KJV)
“Kindling” of anger was not limited to humans. The anger of the L-RD was also kindled when people foolishly failed to obey Him (Exodus 4:14-15; Exodus 11:1; Deut.6:15 KJV). Kindling was of course also used to refer to fire (Exodus 22:6). The term was also used figuratively, whereby the wise do not kindle strife. Where no wood is, there the fire goeth out: so where there is no talebearer, the strife ceaseth. 26:21 As coals are to burning coals, and wood to fire; so is a contentious man to kindle strife.” (Proverbs 26:20-21 KJV)

The Tosafot (authors of a collection of commentaries that strive to
explicate the exegesis of earlier authorities and of Rashi in particular), date back to the generation of Rashi’s pupils and descendants, who undertook to expand, elaborate, and develop their teacher ‘ s commentary on the Bible and the Talmud. The Tosafot had much to say about the verse in question; moreover, the comments vary significantly. Sorne Tosafot adopted a midrashic (using a story to convey a Biblical concept or teaching) approach to understanding the text, suggesting that Ex. 35:3 teaches that one must refrain from sinning on the Sabbath, because one ‘s sins create the igniting of fire in hell. In l other instances, the Tosafot relied heavily on earlier rabbinic texts, while adding some of their own insights and opinions.
Rabbi Samuel ben Meir (Rashbam 10807-1174), a French Tosafist and Rashi ‘ s grandson, interprets this verse like Ibn Ezra, which is reflective of their common search for pashat (literal meaning). Rashbam explains that Ex. 35:3 teaches that no cooking or baking whatsoever is to be done on the Sabbath. Martin Lockshin explains that the Rashbam’s interpretation is essentially pashat: “Rashbam provides a more pashat-like explanation-that since kindling a fire is always permitted on some days when “work” is forbidden, the text has to tell us that on the Sabbath that is not the case.
The Zohar, written in the 13th century, returns to the ancient association of fire with magic and divinity. It discusses the biblical prohibition against kindling fire on the Sabbath day, and its position, stated in the name of Rabbi Simeon, is based on the notion that fire symbolizes judgment. He suggests that on the Sabbath, the permissible fire of the Temple, consumes the fire of judgment, which is forbidden. As such, God is free to reveal Himself more on the Sabbath day, because it is a day when He does not judge His people at all. The fact that the association between fire and judgment presents itself in a Jewish context as late as the medieval period may be attributed to coincidence, exegetical ingenuity, authentic oriental tradition, or other possible influences. In any case, this text further reinforces the association between fire and judgment seen earlier in both the Zoroastrian religion and rabbinic literature Rashbam is reiterating the notion that had the Bible not singled out the lighting of a fire as being specifically prohibited on the Sabbath, one would not assume kindling of a fire to be included in the general prohibition against doing work particularly since kindling a fire is permitted on festivals.
The Italian exegete Obadiah ben Jacob Sforno (c.1470-c.1550) explains that the prohibition of kindling was singled out to indicate that the act of kindling was specifically prohibited. He clarifies that without deliberate mention of kindling, one might erroneously assume it to be an acceptable Sabbath activity, because fire is destructive by nature, and destructive activities are permitted by the Torah on the Sabbath. Thus, the singling out of Ex. 35:3 teaches that kindling is forbidden. Sforno explains that because fire is the means for most of the work involved in the construction of the sanctuary, the kindling of a fire is rendered a constructive activity and is therefore forbidden the Sabbath.
Moses Alshekh (1508-1603) was an exegete with a keen interest in halakha. His commentary on Ex. 35:3 questions why God is telling Moses about the Sabbath laws at this point in the story, rather than including them with the instructions previously given for building the tabernacle. Additionally, he addresses the ambiguity of the phrase “within your settlements” explaining that the injunction against kindling refers to your residences, not My G-d’s) residence. In this fashion, he explains that in the tabernacle fire may be used on the Sabbath for the purpose of burning sacrifices.

So what are we to make of this verse? There is no doubt that it is tied to Exodus 35:2 that commands rest from the mundane world of work on six days of the week, including arguing among ourselves in our own residences and in the gates of our cities. The point that fire is not to be kindled in one’s house provides an exception to fire that was to be kept burning at the Temple that was commanded by G-d. Kindling may not have been traditionally thought to have been “creative” as are the other types of work prohibited, because wood burned is destroyed. However, it takes work to kindle a fire whether a physical fire or an argument, both of which are prohibited by G-d. The aforementioned description of the many meanings of “kindle” and “ish” indicates a close connection in any context between the prohibition of kindling fire; whether considered as provoking the fire of judgment by G-d, and ceasing all work for one day to reflect and worship the One who so carefully explicates His instructions. Our worship and reflection on our G-d should be as a perpetual burning fire, just as that in the Temple.
Haftarah: M’lakhim Alef (1 Kings) 7:13-26
This passage reflects the reality that G-d provides those who love Him what they need when they need it to accomplish His purpose for their lives. In this case it is Hiram from the tribe of Naftali who was “a bronze worker filled with wisdom, understanding and skill for all kinds of bronze craftsmanship. He came to King Solomon and did all his bronzework.” The challenge for those who submit to laws\decisions by the rabbis or other religious leaders is to compare what is given as halakha or law to G-d’s Torah. It is also wise to pray for wisdom and understanding on your own behalf. Clergy do not have a monopoly on wisdom and knowledge as the Torah makes very clear.
B’rit Chadashah: Revelation 11:1-13
The focus of this passage is the two witnesses of whose identity there exists much debate. It seems logical these two will represent grace and law as they are described as “the two olive trees and the two menorahs standing before the L-rd of the earth.” Are these two Elijah and Enoch? These are the two individuals identified in the Bible that did not die before being taken to heaven. Or could one of them be Moshe? We will not know for certain until the designated time. These two will be given what they need to accomplish G-d’s purpose for them as described for others who served G-d in the parashah and the haftarah. Of this provision we can be sure if we are serving G-d. These two witnesses are given the power to destroy, hold back rain, turn the waters into blood, and to strike the earth with every kind of plague as often as they want. However, to whom much is given, mush is required. After 1,260 days of calling people to repentance as evidenced by their sackcloth garments, the Antimessiah will kill them. Their bodies will lay in the streets of Jerusalem for 3 and ½ days while those who reject their prophesies and G-d, laugh, rejoice, and exchange gifts as they celebrate their deaths. But there is more to come. After the 3 and ½ days G-d calls them to heaven. Once this witness for G-d is gone, there is a great earthquake killing 7,000 and causing others to give glory to the G-d of heaven. This does not mean these people became believers. Many people give glory to G-d in a time of fear. Nevertheless, this is the end of the second woe. The worst is yet to come for those who will not repent. However, the best is yet to come for the true believer.

Shabbat Shalom,
Rabbi Tamah Davis-Hart