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Parashah Shorts: Vayakhel Pekudai

The Light and Dark Sides of the Bell

“A bell and a pomegranate, a bell and a pomegranate, on the hem of the Robe, all around”[1] (פַּעֲמֹן וְרִמֹּן פַּעֲמֹן וְרִמֹּן עַל שׁוּלֵי הַמְּעִיל סָבִיב)

The High Priest’s Robe, with the bells on its hem, is unique in that it has what one might call, a voice. The sages learned from this that the Robe atones for the sin of lashon hara (evil tongue): “The Holy Blessed One said: ‘Let an item that has a voice come and atone for the actions of a voice.’”[2]

When describing Samson’s inspiration for leadership, Scripture writes, “And the spirit of God began to resonate (לְפַעֲמוֹ) in him”[3] (וַתָּחֶל רוּחַ הוי' לְפַעֲמוֹ). The Sages explain that these words mean that the Shechinah, the Divine Presence, began to reverberate before Samson like a “bell” (פַּעֲמֹן).

From this we can understand that the bells of the High Priest’s robe allude to the dwelling of the Spirit of God (Ru’ach Havayah). Fittingly, the numerical values of “bell” (פַּעֲמֹן) and “spirit of God” (רוּחַ הוי') are both 240. Furthermore, the High Priest’s Robe is also called, “the Robe of the Ephod”[4] (מְעִיל הָאֵפֹד), a phrase whose value is also 240!

Thus, the bell has two sides to it, a light side and a dark side. It can reflect evil voices who mean to harm through their poisonous words. But it can also reflect the Spirit of God. How can we merit to always connect with the light of the Spirit of God that resonates like a bell? By carefully refraining from saying anything detrimental to others.


The Run and Return of Shabbat

Both parashat Ki Tissa and parashat Vayakhel contain mentions of the Shabbat and the Tabernacle. The difference is in the order. In Ki Tissa, we first read about the construction of the Tabernacle and then at the very end, the Torah mentions the Shabbat,[5] but in parashat Vayakhel the order is reversed. First, the Torah mentions the Shabbat and only then proceeds to describe how the Tabernacle was constructed.

The Tabernacle and its construction represent the toil of the six weekdays that are affected in two ways by the Shabbat. On the one hand, the six weekdays are used to prepare for Shabbat and this preparation represents an ascent from a lower level to a higher level. On the other hand, the Shabbat is the source of Divine blessing for the six weekdays that follow it. Thus, the order is Tabernacle-Shabbat-Shabbat-Tabernacle, a run (ascent) from the physical dimension to the Shabbat and then a return (descent) to bring back the Shabbat’s blessings to the physical dimension.

(from Ma’ayan Ganim, Vayakhel)


Working with Pleasure

In parashat Vayakhel, we find a particularly special mention of the Shabbat, “On six days work shall be done, but on the seventh day you shall have holiness, a Shabbat of complete rest [dedicated] to Havayah[6] (שֵׁשֶׁת יָמִים תֵּעָשֶׂה מְלָאכָה וּבַיּוֹם הַשְּׁבִיעִי יִהְיֶה לָכֶם קֹדֶשׁ שַׁבַּת שַׁבָּתוֹן לַהוי'). The Shabbat’s holiness is expressed through the mitzvah of oneg Shabbat, or the delight of the Shabbat, which in this verse is alluded to in the words, “you shall have holiness” (יִהְיֶה לָכֶם קֹדֶשׁ)—even that which you have for yourself, which gives you delight, or pleasure, will be holy. Delight or pleasure is one of the highest powers of the soul. In most cases, it is what an individual finds pleasurable that motivates his will and eventually his actions.

Indeed, the goal is that even our actions during the weekdays feel easy and natural, without requiring us to expend special effort. This is what the verb “shall be done” (תֵּעָשֶׂה), appearing in a passive inflection, is implying: that the work be done as if independently, by itself. The key to reaching this state of mind is to apply the delight of Shabbat to our toil during the week. It is then that we can feel that all our actions are in truth being motivated and performed from Above.

(Ma’ayan Ganim)


Light and Shadows

Moses said to the Israelites: “See that Havayah has named Betzalel, son of Uri, the son of Hur of the tribe of Judah, endowing him with a Divine spirit of skill, ability, and knowledge in every kind of craft, and inspiring him to work with gold, silver, and copper…”[7]

וַיֹּאמֶר מֹשֶׁה אֶל־בְּנֵי יִשְׂרָאֵל רְאוּ קָרָא הוי' בְּשֵׁם בְּצַלְאֵל בֶּן־אוּרִי בֶן־חוּר לְמַטֵּה יְהוּדָה. וַיְמַלֵּא אֹתוֹ רוּחַ אֱ-לֹהִים בְּחָכְמָה בִּתְבוּנָה וּבְדַעַת וּבְכָל־מְלָאכָה. וְלַחְשֹׁב מַחַשָׁבֹת לַעֲשֹׂת בַּזָּהָב וּבַכֶּסֶף וּבַנְּחֹשֶׁת.

Let us take a look at the name of the artisan selected to lead the Tabernacle’s construction: Betzalel son of Uri, the son of Hur. Betzalel literally means “in the shadow of God,” meaning that he is tuned into the Divine. Betzalel, who thus represents shadow is the son of Uri, whose name means “light.” His grandfather’s name, Hur, means “white”[8]; it is written identically to the Hebrew word for “pale” (חִוֵּר) but pronounced differently. So we might say that the Tabernacle’s primary artisan was “A shadow the son of light, the son of white,” all relating to art whose foundation is the interplay between light and shadows.

A shadow seems to be dark. It would seem that God’s light does not illuminate where there is a shadow. As such, a shadow symbolically represents the empty void created after God contracted His Infinite light allowing and in which reality can be sustained. Initially, our consciousness tells us that we are in a dark place, one that is distant and detached from the Almighty. But wondrously, into the darkness of the void, a ray of Divine light penetrates and fills the created reality. So first there was darkness and then “there was light”—Betzalel the son of Uri, the son of light. But even more amazing is that the space of the dark space left after the contraction, which seems at first to be a black hole (חוֹר, with the same letters as Hur), turns out to be white (חוּר), because the contraction did not cause God’s light to actually recede but only to be concealed—the contraction is only a metaphor—and God’s infinite light is here with us, right now.

(Otzar HaNefesh, p. 247)


[1]. Exodus 39:26.

[2]. Arachin 16a.

[3]. Judges 13:25.

[4]. Exodus 39:22

[5]. Exodus 34:21. See Rosh Hashanah 9a for Rabbi Yishma’el’s opinion (against Rabbi Akiva’s) that this verse is indeed speaking of the Shabbat and not of the Sabbatical year. See also Torah Temimah loc. cit.

[6]. Ibid. 35:2.

[7]. Ibid. v. 30-32.

[8]. For example, Esther 1:6, “White cotton and blue wool” (חוּר כַּרְפַּס וּתְכֵלֶת).

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