Friday, February 21, 2014

The Time/Space Fusion

What’s the connection between the Mishkan and Shabbat? What is the relationship between the Synagogue and the days set aside to come and pray in the Synagogue? This question comes to the fore quite shockingly in this week’s parsha. The Parsha is clearly about one theme—the building of the Mishkan. Each verse focuses on some aspect of the preparation and/or the implementation of the construction of the Mishkan.

It is therefore odd to see one verse which stands out starkly to the rest of the parsha, and at the beginning of the parsha no less.

“And Moses assembled the entire congregation and said to them, these are the things that God has commanded you to do. Six days work shall be done but on the seventh you shall have a day of holiness, a Shabbat for God, anyone who works will die. Do not light a fire on the Shabbat day. And Moses spoke to the entire congregation saying this is what God has commanded you to do. Take a voluntary offering for God, everyone with a generous heart should bring it, the offering for God, gold silver and copper… All the skilled of heart should come and make everything God commanded: the sanctuary, its tent, and its cover; its clasps, and its boards; its bars, pillars, and bases. (Translation by Rabbi Y. Henkin)”

As I said, the rest of the parsha details the laws concerning the construction of the Mishkan, and yet the initial statement from God pertains to keeping the Shabbat, why?

The Talmud (Yevamot 6b) learns a fundamental principle from the fact that Shabbat is presented first. It comes to teach us that though the building of the Mishkan is paramount, it does not preclude the observance of Shabbat. Indeed, no work on the Mishkan took place on Shabbat. Moreover, the definition of ‘melacha’ and the delineation of 39 categories of ‘melacha’ all relate to the ‘melacha’ used in order to build the Miskhan—sewing, writing, tying, building, tracing, erasing, extinguishing, etc.

Clearly the connection between melacha and the Tabernacle stems from these verses. However, is this the only reason behind the almost intrusive Shabbat verses in a Temple parsha? Surely the Torah could have positioned the verses about the significance of Shabbat somewhere else in the parsha other than front and center!

Let us recall the pitfalls involved in building a Temple whereby God would dwell. There are two concerns: if you wanted to find God, He would be in the (confined to the) Temple. One might walk away with the erroneous perception that God is found in Temple, and hence engage in a split-personality Judaism. When in the Temple, we cover our heads, pray, don’t gossip, are respectful of others, have faith in God, but when we leave at the end of service, we leave the practices behind with the head coverings.

Comes along the Torah to teach us that first and foremost today is Shabbat. And it is Shabbat from Friday evening at sunset, until Saturday night when the stars come out. It is Shabbat at shul, at our homes, on the roads, in the air, in our kishkas.

Shabbat is not about a place but a time; we do not look for it somewhere, we feel it every week. God commands Shabbat before Adam, before the Ten Commandments, and before the Mishkan. On Shabbat we are not forced to go and find God, he is with us when we light Friday night candles, until the Havdalah candle.

There is a question though. What happens when Shabbat is over? When the time is up? Is our Godly experience over too? The answer is, for this we have the Temple. It is a physical place, it is always there, it is tangible. The Mishkan complements the Shabbat, Shabbat complements the Mishkan. The two together, the time in Judaism and the space provide for us the necessary ingredients in seeing God in our everyday lives.

We Jews recognize the religious value of time and space. Of those special days in our Jewish calendar as well as our Shuls, Schools, Mikvahs, Jewish Homes, and all the other places where our Jewishness can radiate.

Let us hope that we never forget the message that Shabbat teaches the Mishkan in our Parsha. Let us always cherish those holy times and those sanctified places.