“Judaism Sanctifies Time, Not Space
(Updated and revised from Vayakhel-Pekudei 5761-2001)


by Rabbi Ephraim Z. Buchwald


On this coming Shabbat, two Torah portions are read, Vayakhel and Pekudei. With these two parashiot the reading of the Book of Shemot, Exodus, is completed. Whereas the previous three portions dealt with a description of the structure of the Tabernacle and its furnishings (blueprints, if you will), these two parashiot describe the actual construction of the Tabernacle and its furnishings, as well as the names of the craftsmen who fashioned the Tabernacle and its furnishings.

Parashat Vayakhel, provides the details of the manufacture of the curtains and the covers, the planks and the partition curtain–the parochet and the curtain that served as the gate to the Tabernacle. This is followed by a description of the construction of the actual structure of the Tabernacle and its furnishing, the construction of the Holy Ark, the Table of the Showbread, the Menorah, the Altar of Incense, the Sink, and the courtyard construction.

In parashat Pekudei there is an exact accounting of all the materials used in the construction. Even the great Moses had to account for every piece of gold, silver, and copper that was brought. The parasha continues with a description of the design and sewing of the vestments–the garments for the Kohanim, the priests. Parashat Pekudei concludes with the actual setting up of the Tabernacle and the spectacle of G-d’s glory filling the Tabernacle.

Unexpectedly, in the middle of the description of the Tabernacle plans and its construction, the Torah, in Exodus 35:1, declares: אֵלֶּה הַדְּבָרִים אֲשֶׁר צִוָּה השׁם לַעֲשֹׂת אֹתָם, שֵׁשֶׁת יָמִים תֵּעָשֶׂה מְלָאכָה, וּבַיּוֹם הַשְּׁבִיעִי, יִהְיֶה לָכֶם קֹדֶשׁ, שַׁבַּת שַׁבָּתוֹן לַהשׁם , These are the things that G-d commanded you to do. Six days shall you do your labor, but on the seventh day, it should be a day of sanctity, it shall be an ultimate Sabbath to G-d. As we say in Yiddish: In miten drinen, all of a sudden, an exhortation for the Sabbath appears in the text! Why?

One might have thought that the building of the Tabernacle–the ultimate dwelling place of the Divine presence, would take precedence over Shabbat. But, Rashi boldly proclaims: הִקְדִּים לָהֶם אַזְהָרַת שַׁבָּת לְצִוּוּי מְלֶאכֶת הַמִּשְׁכָּן, שֶׁאֵינוֹ דוֹחֶה אֶת הַשַּׁבָּת , G-d precedes the building of the Tabernacle with the warning for the Sabbath, to tell us, that the building of this prestigious building does not take precedence over Shabbat. To the contrary, on Shabbat, everything stops, even the building of G-d’s house.

In a world obsessed with aesthetics and material possessions, the Torah seems to be way out of sync with the times-–and it is! As opposed to contemporary values, the Torah declares that Jews sanctify time, not space, not land and not earth. Material possessions that are lost or forfeited can often be recovered. In fact, sometimes they are replaced with superior possessions, in both value and beauty. But, time that passes, can never be recovered. Time is truly sanctified. That is why the Sabbath and the lessons of Shabbat are very, very special.

In Exodus 20:8-11, the fourth of the Ten Commandments records the concept of the Shabbat being “a sanctified day of rest.” The Torah tells us that the Sabbath day is to be both observed and sanctified, because G-d created the world in six days and rested on the seventh.

In 1883, Frederick Engels (1820-1895), who collaborated with Karl Marx on The Communist Manifesto (1848), published a fascinating study entitled the Dialectics of Nature. Engels presents a simple, but beautiful, theory arguing that everything in nature that breathes or moves has a “thesis” and an “antithesis,” an active and a passive stage. A flower blossoms and a flower dies; the sun rises, the sun sets; the moon waxes, the moon wanes; the tide goes in, the tide goes out; the heart beats and the heart rests; living creatures inhale and exhale. Virtually everything that breathes or moves has these active and passive stages that are built in to the world’s physical design. Humans, as creatures of nature, have these natural active and passive stages as well. Humans need to rest to regenerate their strength–they need to sleep at night. But, beyond the daily rest, the humans require a collective day of rest, a Shabbat. Shabbat–the day of rest, is an inviolate law of nature for humans.

Why do humans require this collective day of rest? A very interesting theory has been propounded by Rabbi Binyamin Efrati, a noted Israeli scholar and educator, relating the concept of a day of rest to the building of the Tabernacle. After all, the building of the Tabernacle was an attempt by mortals to construct the ultimate structure, to build the most perfect dwelling place for the Divine Presence.

Surprisingly, Rabbi Efrati suggests that the primary impetus for “creativity” is “frustration.” What does this mean? Because the horse-and-buggy mode of transportation moved very slowly, passengers were left frustrated. This “frustration” ultimately led inventors to develop the internal combustion engine, which led to the development of the automobile, the bullet train, and eventually to jet transportation. Creativity, in effect, results from frustration.

It was Israel’s desire to build the ultimate Dwelling Place for G-d, that provides the Jewish definition of “work,” based on the 39 creative labors that were employed in building the Tabernacle: weaving, planting, tanning, making fire and carrying. Engaging in any of these “creative labors” leaves the worker with a feeling of frustration. Six days we labor, six days we obsess with creativity, resulting in many creative and constructive ideas. But, at the same time, because of the creativity, a surfeit of frustration accumulates. That negative “waste” collects in our souls, in our very essence. The Sabbath removes those wastes. In the same manner that the respiratory and circulatory systems operate in the human body, the Shabbat cleanses the accumulated wastes of the past week, and provides fresh oxygen/energy for the coming week.

Besides the rest and spiritual regeneration that are the extraordinary byproducts of Shabbat, there are many other added benefits to the Day of Rest. Ironically, in our day and age, with so much emphasis placed on “communication,” people rarely properly communicate! Despite the advances in technology, internet, cable television, cell phones, social media, there’s significantly less true communication today than ever before. The average parent speaks to their child no more than 12 minutes a day, while the average family spends 49 hours a week watching television or surfing the internet! From my personal vantage point, overlooking Riverside Park in New York City, I see that everyone seems to be plugged in, and no one is talking to each other. It’s absurd! We no longer communicate! The Sabbath provides intimacy–intimacy without cell phones, without the internet, without texting. Shabbat is an invaluable opportunity to return to the primordial state, to communicate with one another in the most primitive and basic manner, face-to-face, eye to eye, word to word, without artificial interruptions.

And, that is why the Torah speaks of the Sabbath embodying two basic fundamental human needs: natural rest and freedom. Creativity ceases on the Sabbath day, and we rest, just as the Al-mighty did after six days of creation. But, Shabbat, as the fourth commandment of the Ten Commandments in Deuteronomy 5:12-15 states, is also a liberation from a slavery.

And that, perhaps, is why the verse in the opening of parashat Vayakhel, Exodus 35:2, concludes, כָּל הָעֹשֶׂה בוֹ מְלָאכָה, יוּמָת , anyone who performs creative labor on the Sabbath shall surely die. While no one today will be stoned for working on Shabbat, those who fail to benefit from that great island of tranquility, that oasis in time, the 25 hours of Sabbath, are killing themselves, missing out on one of the most meaningful treasures that G-d has given humankind.

Shabbat teaches that “You can’t have quality time unless you have quantity time.”

That is why the rabbis of the Talmud, Shabbat 10b, declare that

G-d announces: “I have a wonderful gift in My treasury, and

Shabbat is its name–go and tell the people about it!”

May you be blessed.

This Shabbat, also known as Shabbat HaChodesh, is the last of the four special Shabbatot that surround the holiday of Purim. On this Shabbat, a thematic Torah portion concerning the new month, Nissan, is read from Exodus 12:1-20. This year, Rosh Chodesh Nissan, which marks the first day of the month of redemption, will take place on Wednesday evening and Thursday, March 25-26, 2020.