A ‘Bissel’ of Torah: VAYAKHEL (EXODUS 35:1 – 38:20)

By Joy Scott, Am Haskalah Congregant


This week, we read parsha Vayakhel, which is replete with contradictions and multiple interpretations.

The first enigma is the question of why it exists at all. In both parshiot Terumah and Tetzaveh, we read descriptions of every one of the Sanctuary’s dozens of components, as dictated by God to Moses. Just as we thought that the Tabernacle was built, including the Eternal light and internal perfumed incense, with just a few modifications, we read these same instructions a second and third time.

The explanation of renowned rabbinical scholars from the Middle Ages, claim that the first description of the details to build the Sanctuary, was not an order for Moses to start to have the Israelites bring all the necessary materials required for such a massive endeavor. Their theory is that the details provided to Moses were merely a blueprint of how God would want the ‘Tent of Meeting’ to be furnished (1). More modern rabbinical scholars believe that the Biblical writers probably translated Vayakhel approximately three hundred years later (most likely unaware of the text already being included in the Torah), as a means for the Israelites to atone for the sin of the ‘Golden Calf’. Based on this theory, the Israelites would make amends for their sin of creating a false idol. Both men and women would be compelled to undertake the back-breaking work of carrying the heavy wood and metals required for the building of the Sanctuary. They would be required to work day and night to complete the job according to the strict specifications which God had related to Moses (2).

One major deviation from the previous parshiot about the details of the Tabernacle is stated at the beginning of Vayakhel: “Six days of work may be done, but on the seventh day, you shall have a day of complete rest to sanctify the Lord” (3). This theme of the importance of Shabbat is repeated throughout this week’s parsha. This is because the Torah wishes to emphasize the centrality of Shabbat to the Jewish collective identity and the core of Jewish life. “More than the Jews have kept Shabbat, Shabbat has kept the Jews” (4).

The other deviation from the parshiot Terumah and Tetzaveh is proving the value of both leadership and teamwork. Vayakhel is Moses’ response to the wild abandon of the crowd which constructed the ‘Golden Calf’. He does something fascinating: he uses the same motivation which drove the Israelites into a frenzy to create a false idol in the first place.

“A tribe, including many members, who from possessing common values, fidelity, obedience and courage, would always be ready to aid each other and to sacrifice themselves for the common good” (5). Moses uses this logic to mobilize the Israelites to act in accordance with God’s commands and simultaneously atone for their heinous sin. This is what Moses understood, and did as their leader.

He knew, instinctively, that to build a team, you must create a team that builds!



(1) Rashi, etal, 9th and 10th century rabbinical scholars

(2) EXODUS REVISITED (Jerusalem Press), 2010

(3) EXODUS (35:2)

(4) Rabbi Ahad HaAm  (19th century)

(5) Charles Darwin, “The Descent of Man”