In this week’s portion, the Israelites build the Tabernacle (Mishkan), carrying out the instructions earlier given to Moses. First, however, they are reminded of the prohibitions against work on the Sabbath. From the juxtaposition of this command with the description of the Tabernacle construction, along with similar verses in last week’s reading at the very end of the Lord’s instructions to Moses (31:12-17), the sages (e.g., Rashi) derived not only the principle that observing the Sabbath is so important, you can’t set it aside even to build a Tabernacle (or Temple), but also 39 specific types of activities that are prohibited on the Sabbath, namely, those derived form the actions carried out in building the Tabernacle (see the list at, e.g., http://www.ou.org/chagim/shabbat/thirtynine.htm ).
Although the directions for building and furnishing the Tabernacle we read a couple of weeks ago in Terumah are scrupulously followed by the Israelites in Vayak’hel, there is a marked difference in tone. This isn’t the usual sequence of, the Lord tells Moses to tell the people to do X, Moses tells the people to do X, the people do X. The people respond with outsized generosity, giving so much they have to be told to stop. Bezalel and his assistant Oholiab were named in the portion Terumah, but here they, especially Bezalel take center stage. Bezalel in particular, is himself said to have made the ark, cherubim, table and utensils for libations, lampstand and lamp, copper laver, altar and utensils for burnt offerings, incense altar and the sacred anointing oil and the incense. The skills of many, many people, men and women, are needed and used for making linen cloth, metal working (lots of that in gold, silver, copper), woodworking, weaving goat hair, spinning and dyeing yarn, dyeing animal skins, making and hanging curtains, and so on. Artistry and craftsmanship are regarded as divine gifts, those with such talents are called “wise-hearted” in some translations. Beyond the dry numerical specifications you can sense the joy of the people. Of course, this is not just enthusiasm for the project, but happy relief that the nation hadn’t been abandoned after the Golden Calf incident. There’s also a desire to be part of something big, something lasting. I remember when my sister and I visit Salisbury Cathedral many years ago, the cathedral was raising money for renovation. I would have contributed anyway, but the kicker was that each donor could sign a wooden beam that would be put in the roof. Similarly, on a smaller scale, my work group and I helped build a house for Habitat for Humanity. Someday, I’ll have to go look at it. I think I can remember where my nail is.
Altar for incense
And if you want to visit other Tabernacle models, or build your own, I don’t think there’s an app for that yet, but there are a lot of useful links at http://www.bibleplaces.com/tabernacle.htm .