25 Adar1 5782 

The Mystery of the Shabbat

We’ve been watching the news about the war in Kiev, Ukraine and we need to pray for the people of Ukraine. We have friends here who have family there. My great-grandparents were born and lived in Kiev until they moved to Canada in 1906. I thank God for their courage and because of them we were spared from the horrors of the Holocaust.  

What we see happening now in the world is not new.  The world has been at war since Cain and Able and although Canada has been a peaceful country, whether we realize it or not, we’ve been in a war for the past several years – there has been biological or viral warfare which have forced us into isolation for the past two years; the people we voted into power have slowly been revoking our freedom and the worst war we are experiencing is the war against words. This sets the stage for God’s Words, the Torah and especially His Ten Commandments written by His own Hand, to become the enemy. Ultimately it is a war against the Master of the universe.

I won’t want to listen to the words of the modern-day prophets who want to tell us that we are entering Armageddon or the War of God and Magog because if they’re wrong, we need to stone them.  I prefer to listen to what our Hebrew prophets tell us.  They help us to read the times.  Noah shows us that God destroyed the world in his day because every imagination of the heart of man was evil, and violence was everywhere.  The destruction of Sodom and Gomorrah shows us that when Abram prayed for God to spare the cities if there were 10 righteous people.  There weren’t.  As far as I can tell, the evil in the world has not spread to those levels yet.  Our prophet Ezekiel in 38:11 tells us that our enemies will come against Israel when the north shall say: “I will go up against the land of unwalled villages; I will come upon them that are at quiet, that dwell safely, all of them dwelling without walls, and having neither bars nor gates;” That day will come but that day is not today. Those days are described in both Judaism and Christianity as “chevlei ha Mashiach”, the birth pangs of the Messiah.  The world’s birth pains are not strong enough yet so let’s look at what do we can do today to be part of the healing of the world to bring in tikkun olam.

I had a revelation when I was in my teens, and I have lived by it all my life.  It’s seeking out the root of the problem instead of putting on Band-Aids. That’s what the Torah does for us. It is a pattern for our behavior.  It shows us the root cause of disease, physical, emotional, and spiritual that plague our world.  So, do we watch the news and fall apart, or do we trust God?  Do we continue to move forward to fulfill our calling, or do we cower in fear in our small corner of the world?  What is God asking of this small community? The good news is, as the darkness grows the light can shine more brightly.  That is our role in this small remanent of a community, here and now. We learn to live and spread the light of the Torah wherever we go. The Torah teaches us how to have shalom in our lives, how to choose to have joy as we grow to trust God. Through these stories we learn principles of wisdom which give us the tools to handle our daily struggles.  The solution is simple; the tough part is putting them into action.  Sometimes we’ll take two steps forward, and then fall one step backward, but we must continue to move forward.

So, let’s see what this second to the last parashah in Exodus is teaching us; In Parashat Vayakhel we seehow gold was used to fashion many of the holy (kadosh) items for the construction of the Mishkan. In lastweek’s portion, Ki Tisa, gold was also used, but to fashion a golden calf. Same gold – but each time “kadosh” – “set apart” –– for a different purpose. The gold was given willingly to the Israelites by the Egyptians because God had put that on their hearts. The gold had served a purpose, both for good and for evil, because of the gift of free will.  God has also given us “gold” in our lives in the form of the gifts and talents that He has placed within us. Chapter 35: 5 says “Take from among you an offering to the LORD, whoever has a willing heart, let him bring it, the LORD’S offering and Chapter 36:2 says, “And Moses called Betzalel and Aholiav, and every wise-hearted man, in whose heart the LORD had put wisdom, everyonewhose heart stirred him up to come to the work, to do it.” Let’s each ask ourselves, “Am I using the gifts that God gave me – first, to give back to Him and second, to give to the community, both with a willing heart?” 

In last week’s parashah Ki Tisa, in Chapter 31:2-3, we also read about Betzalel in whom “Hfilled with the spirit of God, in wisdom, in understanding, in knowledge, and in all manner of workmanship.” After the many other items fashioned for the Mishkan, the Torah continues with the injunction for the Shabbat (verses 13 -17). Now in Vayakhel, it begins with the injunction about the Shabbat and then is followed by the calling of Betzalel, mirroring the words in chapter 31. Our rabbi used to say that the building of the Mishkan, described before and after the story of the golden calf, was to envelop this tragic event, a pivotal moment in the history of our people. This shows us how great God’s mercy is. No matter how much we fail, He provides a covering for us and helps us to start again. When we have that golden calf moment in our lives, it should humble us, and push us to work harder to make restitution and help us to give with a willing heart.

In these two parashot, the Shabbat is emphasized both as a covering and as a “sign”. The Torah repeatedly depicts that God always covers and protects His people. The Shabbat is a “sign” of that, not only for His chosen people Israel but for the world. It wasn’t meant to be just for the Israelites; it was also for the servants, for the stranger among us, and even for the animals showing us God’s great compassion.Remember Israel wasn’t the first to be chosen by God. Adam and Eve were the first …followed by Noah, and Abram, to name a few, but now Israel would be chosen for a very special purpose.  This nation was toteach and disseminate to all the world, His perfect gift, worth far more than gold – the Ten Commandments. We would come to understand that there is only one God and that all people make up one human race, that we come from one family, from Noah, and that all are equal in the sight of our Creator. 

The Shabbat is a sign to all humanity that the Creator exists and that He created the universe in a set amount of time. How else would the world have known that there are only 7 days in a week, not 8 or 10?  The fact that some religious leaders tell us that we now worship God on Sunday, shows us that they don’t understand what the Shabbat is; they ignore that it is the 4th of the Ten Commandments; that it is not simply a day of worship; it is so much more. The fact that other religious leaders have added hundreds of regulations on how to observe the Shabbat, shows that they also don’t understand its true purpose. It’s an ordinance, a choke, a sod, a mystery which only God truly understands.  For me, the sod, the mystery of the Shabbat is that it is a day when we can wholly, entirely focus our eyes upon Him in a way that we cannot the rest of the week.  Focus is the key; I cannot emphasize this enough.  God had to change our focus from the gold that made the golden calf to the gold that built the Mishkan. If we focus on our fears, our pain, our illnesses, or on any of our problems more than we focus on Him, they will continue to haunt us. 

Our rabbi used to say that the Shabbat is the glue for our community and that the Tent of Meeting was where the people would assemble once a week and on the Moedim, also Shabbats. Although we no longer have a physical place to assemble, we can rejoice because those who don’t live here in Montreal can now fully participate with us. We’ve been forced into living a very different paradigm; we’re a virtual assembly, but one that can be just as vital as a physical one; especially during these difficult days where many of us have been forced into isolation in our own homes. Yet even that can be used for good if we dedicate our homes to God.

The priests had to wash and present themselves clean before entering the Tent of Meeting. Although we are at home, we can still present ourselves clean before the Master of the Universe who we are inviting in; we can still choose to clean ourselves up as if a special guest was coming to visit. When we did attend a physical congregation, we were never presenting ourselves “to a building” or dressing to impress others as many do in synagogues or high churches. We are presenting ourselves on Shabbat to the “fire that appeared in the cloud”, to the One who sees all and knows all. Let’s take this one day and truly set it apart not only for ourselves but to show the next generation, our children, that this day is NOT like all the others; it’s a day when we can say that we are “Holy to the LORD” as we read in Tetzaveh “And you shall make a plate of pure gold, and engrave upon it, like the engravings of a signet: HOLY TO THE LORD. The meaning of the word holy has been changed by theology. We know that it means “separated” to something or someone. It might have been better to spell it in English as wholly which means entirely. We are to be wholly or entirely dedicated to the LORD.  

In building the Mishkan, every type of worker was equally important, from the ones who sewed, to the ones who chopped wood, to the priests who served every Shabbat. Every person had value. Kehilat She’ar Yashuv is our Mishkan and each of us, no matter how insignificant we are in the eyes of others, has great value within this community. I remember in Fiddler on the Roof, even Nachem the beggar was important. He helped others to learn what it means to give. No one is the center of a community except our Creator.  We have a relationship with Him, and He helps us to have a relationship with each other whether in person or on Zoom.

As I read the details that went into the making of all the items for the Tent of Meeting, I wondered, if the Israelites hadn’t been slaves and hadn’t been forced to do all types of manual labor, would they have able to do all this intricate and at times grueling work in the middle of a hot desert? Wasn’t it because my peoplehad lost everything in the Holocaust that we were finally ready and able to fight and work so hard to build our modern state of Israel?  Wasn’t it because I had suffered and lost so much in my own life, that now I am so grateful for everything that God did for me and am now so willing do things to serve the One who saved me? 

It’s vital to understand that we don’t guard the Shabbat; the Shabbat guards us. If we don’t observe it in the simple way that He is asking us to do, we are only hurting ourselves, not Him. He provided this day so that we can understand that we are no longer slaves who are forced to work seven days a week without a break, and that our freedom was restored.  We are free to set this day apart in the same way that we are free to set our God apart from all the other gods in our lives. In fact, the Shabbat is so important that the LORD told Moses (chap.35:2): “Six days shall work be done, but the seventh day shall be to you a holy day, a sabbath of solemn rest to the LORD; whoever does any work on it shall be put to death.”  Those are serious words when we consider what they mean spiritually – cut off from our people. 

Today many of us are crying out for freedom, and the Torah is clear about Who gave us freedom, but freedom comes at a cost. Many good men and women have suffered and died in the last century fighting for our freedom, and the question is…what do we do with this freedom once we have it? True freedom demands responsibility and the willingness to serve others. Have we been using the freedom wisely that was won for us at a such high cost? And will we use our freedom wisely when it is restored? If not, the next trial will come from above because our Creator wants more from His creation. 

Gold was used both to fashion the holy items as well as the golden calf.  The gifts and talents that the Creator has given to each of us are like gold. We can use them in whatever way we please because He gave us free will. But let’s ask ourselves, how are we using them… is it solely to fulfill our own pleasures and desires or are we willing to use them for a higher purpose? We were each called to be part of a holy nation. Do we have the inscription “HOLY TO THE LORD” everywhere we are, on the doorposts of our homes so that when we enter, we can say like Joshua did “As for me and my house, we will serve the Lord; is it on the handles of our cars so that when we drive, others can see that we are patient and kind; is it on the doorpost of our workplaces, on everything that we own and in everything that we do? That’s our challenge and our process.  Are we Wholly dedicated to the Creator of the universe or are there areas that are off limits to Him?  Let’s take this Shabbat and every other Shabbat to fully focus on Him, to allow Him to dwell among us as a community; this helps us to “know” that He is our covering, our protector and that we are safe! It sets the stage for the rest of the week until the following Shabbat.

This will allow us to bring His Shalom to all who know us.

Shabbat Shalom  Peggy Pardo