Rabbi Yosil Rosenzweig
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PARSHAT VAYAK'HELShemot 35:1 - 38:20
SHABBAT SHEKALIMShemot 30:11 - 16
Haftorah - II Kings 11:17 - 12:17
This Shabbat is special because it is the eve of Rosh Chodesh (the new month of ) Adar II and it is also called Shabbat Shekalim. On Shabbat Shekalim we recall that while the Temple stood a census was taken of all men 20 years old and over; each man was required to donate half a Shekel of silver (Shemot 30:11-16), and the money collected was used for the upkeep of the Temple and for the various communal offerings. Every year, on the Shabbat before Rosh Chodesh Adar we remind ourselves of our Galut (exile) by reading a special Maftir (the last Aliyah) and a special Haftorah.
Since Sunday is Rosh Chodesh Adar II, we add to the end of the special Shabbat Shekalim Haftorah, the first and last verses of the Machar Chodesh Haftorah. For these reasons, the VORTIFY heading above mentions two Torah readings and two Haftorah readings.
I am not going to analyze a particular passage of our Parsha this week in my usual manner. I have decided instead to explain how the thirty nine forbidden actions of Shabbat were determined, because the Mitzvah of Shabbat is so central to the Jewish experience. Let me begin by saying that from the time that the commandment of Shabbat was given (at Marah, prior to receiving the Torah, see Rashi Shemot 15:25), the 39 "forms of labor" were revealed. However, after 1,500 years, the transmission of the law was muddled and a biblical reference had to be determined.
Our Parsha begins with Moshe assembling the B'nai Yisrael and teaching them the Mitzvah (commandment) of observing Shabbat. To put the event into perspective, we know that Moshe ascended Mount Sinai on the 7th of Sivan (which we celebrate as the festival of Shavu'ot) and returned on the 17th of Tammuz (observed as the day that the sieges of Jerusalem took place in both the first and second Temple periods). broke the tablets and carried out the judgement against the transgressors.
On the 19th of Tammuz he again ascended Mount Sinai (Devarim [Deuteronomy] 9:18), this time to plead for mercy for the Israelites, and returned on the 29th of Av, when Hashem agreed to forgive the people and give them the second tablets. Moshe ascended Mt. Sinai (for a third time) on Rosh Chodesh Av, again, for a period of 40 days and nights and descended with the second tablets on the 10th of Tishre (Yom Kippur), which now puts Yom Kippur as a Day of Atonement into perspective, since Hashem forgave us for the sin of the golden calf and continues to forgive those who call out in prayer, repentance and charity.
The very next day, the scene of assembly takes place. Rashi (Shemot 35:2) emphasizes that despite their enthusiasm to show their love and gratitude to Hashem by building the Mishkan (the tabernacle), the B'nai Yisrael were instructed not to allow the erection of the Mishkan to take preference over observance of Shabbat.
But the question remains, what is forbidden to be done on Shabbat? The Torah mentions in many different places that "MELACHA" (creative labor often translated as "work") is forbidden. But a definition of Melacha is not provided. However, from the juxtaposition of the Shabbat and the Mishkan in this week's Parsha, the Talmud in Tractate Shabbat 97b deduces that the 39 Melachot (plural of Melacha) that went into the CONSTRUCTION of the Mishkan define the FORBIDDEN actions on Shabbat.
To understand this connection, we must understand that our Halachik (legal) tradition helps us to understand obscure words or phrases in the Torah. These traditions were passed down orally from Moshe Rabbaynu until the time of the Talmud. When the oral tradition was written down so that it would not be lost, Rabbi Ishmael authored a Braita (authoritative draft of the law, some of which were refined to become Mishna - the written oral tradition). His Braita was included in the introduction to the Sifra (a Midrashic work that exhaustively clarifies the Book of Vayikra - Leviticus). The Braita lists the Thirteen Rules by which the Torah can be properly interpreted within the context of our oral tradition (the Thirteen Rules are similar to the axioms of geometry).
The second of the thirteen rules is the Gezerah Shavah (similar words in different contexts are meant to clarify one another). In our case, regarding Shabbat, the word Melacha (..."do not do any form of Melacha." Shemot 35:2) is undefined, while in connection with the building of the Mishkan the word Melacha or Malechet is defined by 39 forms of creative labor. The Talmud then reinforces our traditional understanding of Melacha with a biblical passage proving the connection. A list of the Thirteen Rules can be found in the Morning Service of any Siddur (prayer book) after the review of the daily sacrifices. In the Artscroll Siddur, it can be found on pages 48 - 52 (with an excellent overview and description) and in the Birnbaum Siddur on pages 41 - 45.
I have listed below the 39 Melachot and the purpose of the Melacha: 1. Plowing 2. Planting 3. Harvesting 4. Gathering 5. Threshing 6. Sifting 7. Selecting 8. Winnowing 9. Grinding 10. Kneading* 11. Baking* Purpose: To grow and process plants needed to make dyes to color the wool and skins used in the Mishkan. * The Jerusalem Talmud holds that the purpose of kneading and baking were to prepare the 12 "show-breads." 12. Shearing 13. Bleaching 14. Dyeing 15. Spinning 16. Weaving 17. Combing 18. Separating thread 19. Threading a loom 20. Threading a harness 21. Tying a knot 22. Untying a knot 23. Sewing 24. Tearing Purpose: To prepare the wool and weave it into curtains. 25. Trapping 26. Slaughtering 27. Skinning 28. Tanning 29. Smoothing 30. Marking 31. Cutting to a shape Purpose: To prepare the skins for the Mishkan covering. 32. Writing 33. Erasing Purpose: To rebuild the Mishkan properly, letters were written on the courtyard pillars to identify their position. Letters were often erased and rewritten. 34. Building 35. Demolishing Purpose: To assemble and disassemble the Mishkan when travelling. 36. Kindling 37. Extinguishing a fire Purpose: To light the fires needed for dyeing the wool and smelting the metals. Fire was also extinguished to produce charcoal. 38. Final hammer blow (completing) Purpose: To complete the metal construction 39. Carrying Purpose: To move the pillars from the wagons to a Public Area and vice versa; to bring the tithes from the tents to a Public area.
The above listed Melachot are the sources of all Torah and Rabbinic Law regarding what is permissible and not permissible on Shabbat and Biblical holidays. However, categorizing certain areas of technology has become confusing. For instance, where does the use electricity fit into a category of Melacha? There are two main schools of thought: The first, is that it is fire and since kindling and extinguishing are forbidden, the use of electricity is also forbidden.
Another school of thought holds that while electricity can be used for light, it is but a minor use of electricity. Electricity is used to heat and to cool, to power engines and to power utensils, all of which are activated by a switch. The activation of a switch completes a circuit which allows the electricity to flow and therefore falls into the category of "the final hammer blow" or, completing something (the circuit) on Shabbat that was incomplete prior to Shabbat.
Shabbat is central to the Jewish experience. Without it our Jewishness begins to fade. Its observance is our way of expressing that Hashem created the world in six days and rested on the seventh; that He took us out of bondage and gave us the right to choose between good and evil; it allows us to be unhindered by the labors of life in an ever increasing technological world; and, it allows us to interact with those most dear to us, Hashem and our families.
The Talmud says: "If the Jews don't keep the Shabbat, then the Shabbat will not keep the Jews." Shabbat is our lifeline to eternity. The more we put into our Shabbatot the more we receive in return. Shabbat Shalom,
Rabbi Yosil Rosenzweig
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