Beth Elohim Messianic Synagogue
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
Generally, the Torah does not spell out specific activities that are prohibited on Shabbat; the scriptural treatment of Shabbat is largely generic, aimed at creating the philosophical framework for its observance. The specifics of the Laws of Shabbat, the 39 categories of creative activity that are proscribed on the weekly day of rest, are transmitted mainly through the Oral Tradition. Rabbinic tradition teaches us that the underpinnings for all the laws regarding creative activity on Shabbat are learned from the context created by Parashat Vayakhel: Because the particulars of the Laws of Shabbat are transmitted in the context of the building of the Mishkan, a line is drawn between the work of the various artisans that would create and furnish the Mishkan, and the activities from which we refrain in observance of the Shabbat. By the way, Shabbat is not a day that we can manipulate, change, ignore, or otherwise desecrate to fit our personal or religious agendas. It was established as the seventh day, beginning sundown Friday to sundown Saturday. It remains as such today, just G-d ordained.
The parallel that the seemingly juxtaposed command against kindling a fire on Shabbat goes beyond the basic categories of creative endeavor: It implies a parallel between God’s creation of the world and man’s ability to give testimony to that creation as well as to produce a microcosm of that creation through the building of the Mishkan.
The opening verses of Parashat Vayakhel are true to this general method, as they present the concept of the six-day work-week and the seriousness of the prohibition against creative labor on Shabbat. The statement that is ‘tacked on’ to this somewhat familiar formula seems uncharacteristically detailed, singling out the prohibition against the active use of fire on the Sabbath. This specific prohibition is best understood in terms of the broader underpinnings of Shabbat as a microcosm or imitation of God’s creation of the universe. Genesis recounts the origins of creation, first in the general statement, “In the beginning God created the heavens and the earth”, and 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 God. In echoing the dramatic call, “Let there be light,” we may even delude ourselves into believing that we, 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 Creator.
However, the creative activities from which we refrain on Shabbat do more than readjust the playing field in terms of our relationship with God. 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.
The Orthodox rabbis say the Oral Law makes clear that only the creation of a fire and such use of it as cooking and baking are forbidden. Remember, this is man’s interpretation. The literal verse is not specific. The rabbis go on to say there is no prohibition against enjoying its light and heat. They say “deviant sects that denied the teachings of the Sages misinterpreted this passage to refer to all uses of fire, so they would sit in the dark throughout the Sabbath, just as they sat in spiritual darkness all their lives.” 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 being disobeying this law. 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 are 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 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.
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. Careful research 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. In reality, 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 Antichrist will kill them. Their bodies will lay in the streets of Jerusalem for 3 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 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.
Rabbi Tamah Davis