Shabbat and Israel

The principal theme of Vayakhel-Pekuday, the last two Parashyot in Shemot, is the construction of the Mishkan, but the importance of Shabbat is also emphasized. 


Moses assembles the entire children of Israel. They are commanded to construct the Mishkan (the Tabernacle), but prohibited from doing so on the Shabbat. This law is repeated several times to emphasise that Shabbat takes precedence over the Mishkan. The sanctity of a period of time takes precedence over the sanctity of a space or structure. Both the Mishkan and Temples would one day disappear but while the people could continue to observe the Shabbat, a break in the covenant with G-d would not occur.


Shabbat was to be holy to the Jewish people, the seventh day, a day of  rest. This was the day in which creation was completed and G-d rested from creation on that day.


Use of fire is regarded as a key component of a creative act. This was the time that this archetypal symbol of work  was prohibited.  R SR Hirsch writes that man is able to transform material in the world, an act of domination,carried out for six days.On the seventh day, by acknowledging G-d’s  mastery of creation, man is symbolically stating that he has only a borrowed authority during those six days.


Abarbanel posed the question as to why the commandment to keep the Shabbat, which had already been mentioned in the  the fourth of the Ten Commandments, is repeated in Ki-Tisa and again in Vayakhel. He answered by saying that although the further work on the Mishkan was sacred and of great importance this should not be override Shabbat , which should be observed.


AJ Heschel writes a that man must not surrender unconditionally to space and become enslaved to things. “We must not forget that it is not a thing that lends significance to a moment, it is the moment that lends significance to things.” He points out that the first reference to holiness is in the story of creation when

“G-d blessed the seventh day and made it holy”. A holy place, or holiness in space was not commanded until after the people had succumbed to the temptation of worshipping a thing, a golden calf. A midrash maintains that holiness was applied to place solely at the insistence of Israel whereas the holiness of time was pronounced by God at the very beginning of things. To prove the point, Nechama Leibowitz compares the sanctification of the Tabernacle  which was completed and then sanctified by Moshe when Shabbat was sanctified by G-d.


It is a general saying that “more than the Jews have kept Shabbat, Shabbat has kept the Jews”. Debates continue to rage in Israel as to how much work can be done on Shabbat. There is continued tension in relation to the provision of public transport and business activities on Shabbat between religious and secular groupings of Israeli society. It is a remarkable experience, though, to be in a place in Israel where the majority of Jews are observing Shabbat – in a town or village or a city such as Jerusalem or Zfat.

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2 thoughts on “Shabbat and Israel

  1. Tom - Randwick March 22, 2009 at 8:43 pm -

    Although I wouldn’t say that I keep Shabbat – Friday night dinner with candles and Challah is the level of it – I love the concept of a place where Shabat is really kept – and remember a great stay I had in Jerusalem. Buying Matza today for Pesach reminded me that in Australia we live in a great country but it is a country where Easter is the main holiday, and Pesach is something we do in our own time. How many countries are there where Christianity is the dominant religion, and how many countries are there where Islam is dominant – and how they fuss and splutter and whinge and scream about the one tiny country – Israel – where Shabbat and Pesach is the national celebration.