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Shabbat and Unity

Vayakhel-Pekudei (Exodus 35-40 )

by Rabbi Yehonasan Gefen

Shemos, 35:1-2: "And Moshe gathered all the assembly of the Children of Israel, and he said to them, 'These are the matters that God commanded, to do them. Six days you will do work, and the seventh will be holy to you, a Shabbas Shabbason to God, whoever does work on it will die."

The Torah Portion begins by telling us that Moshe gathered (vayakhel) all the people of Israel, in order to briefly give them instructions relating to Shabbat and then to instruct them at length about the building of the Tabernacle. The commentaries note that this term of gathering is not used anywhere else in the Torah, and they offer various reasons as to why, at this point in time in particular, it is stressed that Moshe gathered them all together. This gathering came soon after the sin of the Golden Calf, and, among the other iniquities involved in this sin, the Jewish people also showed great signs of disunity in their actions. Firstly, they were involved in murder, as they killed Chur when he rebuked them. Moreover, Rabbi Yaakov Kamenetzky cites a Yerushalmi that each tribe worshipped a different Calf, indicating that they were not even united in the way that they rebelled against God. Accordingly, Rav Kamenetsky writes, Moshe gathered them all together at this point in particular, in order to rectify the disunity that was shown at this point.

Based on this understanding, another question that the commentaries pose, can be addressed. They note that before embarking on a long discussion of the Tabernacle, Moshe first reminds them of the Mitzvot of Shabbat, something which was already mentioned more than once in the Torah up to this point. Why was it necessary to again discuss Shabbat at this point in particular? Rashi explains that it comes to teach from the fact that Shabbat was discussed first, that the building of the Tabernacle does not supersede the laws of Shabbat. It is possible to suggest in addition, that the Torah wanted to stress the connection between the idea of the unity of the Jewish people and their observance of Shabbat. In this vein, the Lekach Tov[1] comments on this verse, that it comes to teach that on Shabbat in particular, people should gather together in the study hall and learn the laws of Shabbat in groups. Hence, we see a direct connection between Shabbat and the idea of unity.

There are many sources that stress the unique connection between unity and Shabbat to a greater extent than other mitzvot. In the Shemoneh Esrei of Shabbat Mincha, we say, "You are one, Your name is one, and who is like Your people, Israel, one nation in the world." This prayer emphasizes the oneness of the Jewish people, in their service of God. Likewise, the kabbalistic prayer of 'gavna' that is said in Nusach Sefard before Maariv on Friday night, stresses the unity of the Jewish people in their connection to Shabbat. Rabbi Meir Zvi Bergman makes a fascinating point when discussing the idea that we receive a neshama yeteira (extra soul) on Shabbat. He explains that the neshama yeteira comprises the soul of all the Jewish people and on Shabbat, the Jewish people connect on an even deeper spiritual level than normal.

The Shem MiShmuel[2] makes an additional, illuminating, point in this regard. He addresses why there is no mitzva of going to the Temple (Beit HaMikdash), on Shabbat, like there is on Yom Tov. He explains that on a spiritual level, the Jewish people are one entity, and so it is not necessary for every individual to go to the Beit HaMikdash to appear before God, rather it suffices that the Kohanim and people involved in the Temple service do so, and because of the Jewish people's unity, it is considered as if all the souls of the Jewish people were there, even though they are physically distant. This is in contrast to Yom Tov on which the Jewish people do not reach the same level of unity, hence each individual is required to go himself to the Beit HaMikdash.

How do these ideas apply on a practical level? Firstly, it is obvious that one should be extra careful to avoid disputes on Shabbat, because this is the very antithesis of what Shabbat represents.

Secondly, it is important to remember that the majority of Jews today do not keep Shabbat to any degree - given the enhanced unity of all Jews on Shabbat, this means that each Jew's fulfilment of Shabbos is not complete when so many Jews know nothing about it.[3] One way of addressing this problem, is by inviting Jews who have not been exposed to the beauty of Shabbat.

It is well-known that Shabbat is one of the most effective ways to bring a Jew closer to Torah, as it is a totally alien concept in the secular world. It is no coincidence that in the past few years, one of the most successful outreach endeavors has been the Shabbat project, whereby numerous Jews all over the world, try to properly observe one Shabbat a year. There are many stories of people who began their path to observance through the Shabbat projects, and a very powerful aspect of it was the idea that many, different kinds of Jews, were all bound together by their shared connection to Shabbat.


1. Written by Rav Moshe Nagara, zt"l, cited in Shaarei Aharon, Vayakhel, 35:1.
2. Shem MiShmuel, Parshat Bo, Shenat 5677, cited by Ohel Moshe, ibid.
3. It is true that the concept of 'kol Yisrael Areivim zeh lazeh' teaches that this idea applies to every Mitzva, but it seems that it is even more significant on Shabbat given the special stress on unity on this day.


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