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True Freedom: A Sanctuary in Time and Space

Vayakhel (Exodus 35:1-38:20 )

by Eitiel Goldwicht

The book of Exodus did not conclude when the Jews were liberated from Egypt, nor when they received the Torah at Har Sinai. It only reaches its completion once the Mishkan, the tabernacle, is constructed and erected.

The book of Exodus did not conclude when the Jews were liberated from Egypt, nor when they received the Torah at Har Sinai. It only reaches its completion once the Mishkan, the tabernacle, is constructed and erected. The reason for this being because liberation in Judaism is not just about breaking free from constraints and confines placed on us by another nation, rather it’s about using one’s freedom to complete a clear mission and purpose.

A nation cannot complete their destiny if they are enslaved by others. In Hebrew however, there are two words that mean “free” – “cheirut” and “chofshi” and there is a profound difference between them. ‘Chofshi’ implies that there is nothing physically locking us down, no outward restrictions. A person can be released from jail after many years, and while he may be free, ‘chofshi’, he will not be fully liberated until he shakes off the slave mentality, becomes self-sufficient and finds his purpose in life.

The word, ’Cheirut’ means exactly that. Cheirut indicates a full and complete liberation; physically, mentally, and emotionally. Cheirut is the understanding that we have a mission and purpose as the Jewish people, and the wherewithal to proceed with this mission. This is precisely why the book of Exodus concludes only after the Jewish people complete the building of the Mishkan. The Tabernacle acted as the center where Jews came together to understand and connect to their destiny. This is the place which housed the physical manifestation of their mission, the Torah and the Ten Commandments, the core values and guidebook to making this world a better place. They were only truly liberated once its erection was complete, and there existed a physical place that allowed them to focus on their mission as a nation.

The question is what do we do now that we no longer have the Temple? How can we be sure that we are truly free to fulfil our mission as individuals and as a nation?

This is why specifically here, at this point in time, Moshe gathers the entire Jewish people, and before giving the instructions relating to the building of the Mishkan, explains the commandment of Shabbat. Moshe understands that the Mishkan and the Temple will not be with the Jewish people forever. He therefore teaches the Jewish people that just as the Mishkan is a sanctuary in space, Shabbat is a sanctuary in time. Just like the Temple is a place where one can enter and realign himself with his values; a sanctuary that promotes connection to purpose and meaning in life, so too is the goal of Shabbat. We can actually step into that sanctuary of the seventh day and find our own space of silence, purpose, and meaning. Shabbat allows us the ability to connect with our values and regain our footing, aligning ourselves once again with our goals in this world.

Often it is easy to feel overwhelmed, full of noise in our head, flooded with information and tasks. We can all relate at some point to the need to step outside for a moment of silence; just to breathe some air, regain clarity and focus. We all need our personal space, as it allows us to recharge and refocus, reminding us what is truly important. This is what Shabbat and the Temple are all about, They serve as holy sanctuaries that we can enter in either space or time and allow us to become ‘bnei chorin’, a liberated people. A people that have the ability to focus on what’s truly important in life, rather than remain confined and restricted by whatever life throws our way.



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