Parshas Vayakhel

Rabbi Berel Wein

Rashi points out that the opening portion of this week’s Torah reading was transmitted by Moshe to the entire Jewish people in public‭, ‬when they were all gathered‭. ‬These laws of the Sabbath that represent one of the core pillars of Judaism‭ ‬‮–‬‭ ‬the observance of the Sabbath day as a day of rest and spirituality‭ ‬‮–‬‭ ‬were communicated to everyone in a public venue‭. ‬No one was obligated to hear it secondhand‭, ‬and take the word of anyone else‭, ‬regarding the proper method of observance of the Sabbath day‭. ‬Everyone heard the instructions simultaneously and clearly‭, ‬publicly‭, ‬and definitively‭. ‬

The observance of the Sabbath day has‭, ‬to a great extent‭, ‬been counted by other cultures as faith at its essence and remains a uniquely Jewish idea and code of behavior‭. ‬The idea of a day of rest from the toil of the week has certainly been adapted by most‭ ‬of human civilization‭. ‬However‭, ‬the methodology of defining and implementing such an abstract idea as a day of rest into reality remains wholly within the purview of Jewish tradition and Torah observance‭.‬

‭ ‬There is‭, ‬perhaps‭, ‬no more striking mark of absolute Jewish identity that exists in our society than that of observing‭, ‬sanctifying‭, ‬and enjoying the Sabbath day‭. ‬It is a truism said by a Jewish 19th century popular thinker‭, ‬that more than the Jews guarded and preserved the Sabbath‭, ‬the Sabbath guarded and preserved the Jewish people‭. ‬To emphasize this point‭, ‬the Torah teaches us‭ ‬that the Shabbat not only preserves the sanctity and spirit of the individual Jew‭, ‬but‭, ‬since it was given publicly with everyone gathered to hear its message‭, ‬it is also the guarantor for the preservation of all Jewish society and the people of Israel throughout the ages‭. ‬

The fact that the Sabbath was so publicly explained and detailed teaches us another important lesson regarding Jewish life in Jewish society‭. ‬There are commandments in the Torah that can rightfully be described as private and personal‭. ‬The Sabbath‭, ‬however‭, ‬has not only a private face to it but a public one as well‭. ‬The Jews are commanded to keep the Sabbath in their private homes‭,‬‭ ‬but there must also be a public Sabbath‭, ‬so to speak‭. ‬It must be apparent on the Jewish street that the Sabbath has arrived and‭ ‬is present‭.‬

Public desecration of the Sabbath by individual Jews was a far more damaging sort of behavior than the violation of other precepts in the privacy of one’s home‭. ‬Part of the struggle here in the State of Israel is for the growth and influence of the public Sabbath to be maintained‭,‬‭ ‬as part of the Jewish identity for all Jews who live here in our ancient home‭. ‬Denying the concept of Shabbat to maintain total‭ ‬freedom of each individual is like a person who drills a hole under his or her seat on a ship and claims it will not affect anyone else‭. ‬It is the public Sabbath as much as the private one that guarantees the survival of Jewish society and the Jewish state as well‭. ‬Shabbat shalom‭.‬

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