Vayakhel appears to be a recapitulation of God's instruction regarding the sanctuary, largely in T'rumah. This is odd indeed. Some Torah study groups will spend the week on something else rather than "cover the material over again." But we, like many others, who study with the presumption that the text is there before us for plenty good reasons, will look closely for meaning in it, and will be rewarded for it.
Let's begin with me asking this question: why do you think the Bible would present us not only verses but chapters that, though going beyond the instruction to describe its execution, pretty exactly repeat their details?
(Some believe we get this second account because the first is about God's instruction, and this one is about the people's implementation of the word.
That's worth considering alone.
Others are close to that in saying that it's one thing for the Divine to conceive of a plan for the creation of sacred space and its operation; it's another for Moses, the "general contractor," and his skilled artisans, and the workers to find ways actually to design, build, and furnish. These differences are fascinating and are well worth study.
Others beautifully believe that the fact that this phase proceeds as if in a natural flow from the instruction suggests that the covenant is indeed intact and the people who returned to God after the golden calf episode have been restored.
While we will mostly look at what's new or different here, let's not fail to see and appreciate the beauty in the repetition - that the people build the tabernacle so true to God's specifications suggests very powerfully how important it is to live true to God's word. So, if we read the repetitive language with that in mind, I believe we'll feel the sort of reverence and awe that are intended.)
I. Read 35:1. We first encounter the word that gives name to the portion. Moses "convokes" or assembles the people. Significance?
(It's hard enough for a leader to convoke people in the best of times. Look at current events today! It's an achievement particularly worth not taking for granted after the horror of the golden calf that Moses convoked the people, indeed quite a sizable group of people! )
II. Take note that the first subject of attention is to keep the sabbath. Some would say that is natural since God's instruction concluded with shabbat in 31:12-17. But, recalling that God did not begin the instruction with a discussion of the sabbath, for what other reason might Moses have begun with the sabbath?
(This whole enterprise is about separation, about creating space for holiness and the sacred. It, thus, makes sense to begin there. We must have and protect that space of the sacred, however we conceive and live it. For it is out from there, rested and instructed and brought near to God, that we bring God's word out into the world. And what connotes this sense of separation better than the sabbath which represents the same sort of separation in time?
Further, if God stopped creation on this day to rest and deem the time holy, surely the people should have this cessation for the sabbath day in mind as they begin the work on the sanctuary. Even the work of building and furnishing the sanctuary, as significant as it is, will cease each week for the sabbath.)
III. Read 25:10 and 35:10-11.
A. What's the difference in who does the "making," and why?
(Moses knew that God had instructed that the work be done by the "skilled," and, as the "general contractor," made it clear at the outset that it was the skilled workers who would be called upon, not really all the people for each task. Wouldn't you do the same? And isn't it right? Those of generous heart bring the materials; those of wise heart will do the making.)
B. What's the difference between what's built first, and why?
(Moses mentions the tabernacle itself first, not the ark. This doesn't suggest any lesser importance for Moses in the ark. It seems to me that it just makes sense to build the structure first in order to create a house for the ark when it's constructed.)
IV. Read 35:30-35.
What jumps out at you at the outset in the first verse?
(God singles out Bezalel "by name!" the Hebrew word here is b'shem. The name of this book of the Bible, Shemot, Names. The sages go in fascinating directions here. One I like is that there was a specific function for Bezalel, leading in the building of the sanctuary, as I would suggest there is for each of us, in serving God. That function was associated with his name and was for him alone.)
V. Read 36:2-5
How can people bring too much? Why? What was wrong with it?
(In one way, it's good that the people had such abundant generosity. But it's also right to see a sign and demonstration of the concept of "enough." Simply, the artisans had what they needed and more and didn't need more. Indeed more would have gotten in their way.
Do some give for reasons beyond what's needed? Do people sometimes give excessively and unaccountably? Is this giving more about feeling good than doing good? Is there a sense here of the same sort of frenzy around the need for and creation of the golden calf? We want to be sure what we do and give fits and serves God's ends, and, while generosity and fineness are in order, excessiveness is not.
Or is the real point here that the artisans are unlike those who typically serve kings or other royals where there may not be such a thing as too much. In other words, the order of the day is not acquisition but rather simply building as God has directed, and with the right sort and amount of materials.)
VI. Read 37:1. Do you see a difference here than what you recall from T'rumah in 25:10?
(Bezalel makes the ark himself. It was "they" in 25:10. Surely, this shows the ark is certainly central in the execution! The great artisan builds it himself.)
VII. Read 38:8
The commentators have spent a lot of time on this interesting verse. What do you make of the laver being made of women's mirrors?
(One midrash suggests that Moses was reluctant to accept these mirrors because they were made to arouse sensual desires. But God says to him that they're among the dearer donations for by means of them "the women raised many hosts in Egypt." I love that!
So, that reality is commemorated perpetually in the lavers here, where those who have survived in great numbers because of the passions and wiles of "preparation" give to promote preparation in the operation of God's sacred space.)
I. Read 38:21 and look at 38:24 as an example of an accounting that is done here. What's the significance of there being these detailed records or accounting of what's been done with the resources brought to build the sanctuary?
(It shows transparency that what's been given has been used honestly, for the purpose intended. It shows care and proper stewardship, integrity through accountability. There's delight in the offering as well as in the rendering and the confirmation. The giving and the making were done in response to God's call, and a counting confirms in a way the faithfulness that provoked that response.)
II. Look at Exodus 28:4-5 and 39:1. What are the main impressions of the important differences you get from these two passages?
(The first states the intention, and the second shows it was done and as God had commanded. Those words, "as God had commanded Moses," appear 7 times here, then 3 more, and frequently as well thereafter. This is, as we have discussed, crucial to the text here.)
III. Read 39:21. Any thoughts about the meaning of why the breastpiece should not come loose from the ephod? (Recall the ephod is the shoulder piece.)
(The ephod is associated with worship - the relationship of the people and God. The breastpiece is associated with justice, as we learned in 28. Bloch has this lovely idea that worship and justice should never come loose of each other.)
IV. Read 39:42-43 and 40-1-2 . What does this resonate of, and why?
(It has the feel of the creation story. God. Making. Finishing. Seeing. Work. When done, blessing. This world in which the people have become God's, the covenant is in place, God's presence and nearness are established, and there is a continuing place of instruction of people by God. Thus, the creation of this new "world" is on par with creation of the physical world. Also, the creation here of our covenanted world with God, which involves God's design but also crucially our work, is fundamental to our understanding of how we are to live in the world's as God's people.
And the day of dedication is the first day of the year, the New Year, which is also associated with the creation of the world.
Finally, note that the word for work in 42 is ha'vodah; this is the word we associate with service! So, the work is essentially service to God.)
Let's read the last words of Exodus. It's 40:38. Let's remember as we do that we began this book in the absence of God, but we finish it very much in God's presence.
Finally, let's consider Ramban's closing words in his teaching on Exodus.
God redeemed these people, Ramban taught, and granted them abundant blessings of life, endurance, renewal, guidance, and richness. But as to our part - our duty, our gratitude - each of us is to, I quote, "set his whole heart to seek God, and to His Name offer blessings morning and evening. Blessed be He of Whose bounty we have partaken, And through Whose goodness we live."
We have now completed a book of Torah, so we say: "Be strong. Be strong. And may we be strengthened." And let us say, Amen.