This week’s parshah of Vayakhel and next week’s of Pekudei deal with the planning and construction of the Mishkan which was discussed earlier in the Parshiyos of Terumah and Tetzaveh. In fact, these two parshiyos are almost exact copies of Terumah and Tetzaveh in some places. There are however a few extra concepts which are discussed. We will deal with one found at the very beginning of this week’s parshah.
The parshah starts off with Moshe gathering together Bnei Yisrael in order to give over everything Hashem had told him about the Mishkan’s construction. Before he begins however, he repeats the mitzvah of Shabbos, and only after that does he begin to talk about the Mishkan. Rashi discusses what the pasuk is trying to teach us. He says, “הקדים להם אזהרת שבת לצווי מלאכת המשכן לומר שאינה דוחה את השבת” “He first told them the prohibition of working on Shabbos before the commandment of constructing the Mishkan to say that the construction of the Mishkan does not override Shabbos” (35:2). In the people’s excitement of building the Mishkan, they might have come to disregard Shabbos since building the Mishkan was a direct commandment from Hashem, for Hashem. Something which is being built for Hashem you might assume would be beyond the Torah which Hashem himself wrote. Moshe made sure this wouldn’t happen by reiterating the commandment of Shabbos before the mitzvah of the Mishkan.
The Gur Aryeh asks how you could even make this mistake in the first place! When it comes to pushing off one mitzvah to preform another, we have a rule that any mitzvah which has both a positive and negative commandment attached to it cannot be pushed off by a mitzvah made up of only a positive commandment. In our case, Shabbos with its positive commandment of resting on the seventh day and its negative commandment of not working will not be pushed off by the positive commandment to build the Mishkan! The Mizrachi explains that we bring the Korban Pesach and the Korban Tomid on Shabbos even though we desecrate Shabbos several times in order to bring them. The reason we can do this is because they are brought for the sake of heaven. The Gur Aryeh says not to bring this as a proof because the reason those Korbanos are able to be brought on Shabbos is because they have a set time to be brought (as well as being for the sake of heaven). Something which is for the sake of heaven and can only be brought at a certain time must be brought on Shabbos. (This is why we fast on Yom Kippur even if it falls out on Shabbos when we are not allowed to fast.) However, the building of the Mishkan did not have a set date they had to finish by, therefore not fulfilling the condition to be able to push off Shabbos!
The Gur Aryeh answers his question by explaining what the purpose of Shabbos is. On Shabbos, we put aside all physical needs and focus purely on the spiritual. Any work which is done on Shabbos should be done purely for spiritual reasons. Therefore, when it comes to building the Mishkan, there is a strong reason to assume that it would be allowed since there could be nothing more spiritual than that! The construction of a building which would house Hashem’s presence in this world and would give Bnei Yisrael the opportunity to bring korbanos would definitely qualify as purely spiritual work! Therefore, the pasuk comes along to tell me that not only is man’s physical work prohibited on Shabbos, but even Hashem’s physical work is not allowed.
How much does this show us about Shabbos that even the holiest work possible is prohibited. Moshe is saying that any physical labor automatically has some piece of gashmius attached to it, even though the Mishkan was built for spirituality and nothing else, when you preform physical labor it becomes a gashmius activity no matter what the purpose. And no amount of gashmius is allowed on Shabbos no matter what the reason for it. We must use this to realize what Shabbos is supposed to be like and hopefully have a more rewarding and fulfilling Shabbos because of it.