VAYAKHEL (Exodus, 35:1-38:20) — “The King’s Day Off”

What’s wrong with driving on Saturday?  If G-d doesn’t want me to work, fine, I’ll take off from work.  I’ll spend a pleasant day with the family.  We’ll drive to the local orchard and pick apples.  Then go to the park and have a barbeque, maybe take in a movie.  Then we’ll go home and I’ll help my son build a tree house.  What could be more relaxing?

In fact, work per se is not prohibited on Shabbos.  This week’s Torah Portion opens with an important warning:

Moses assembled the entire Israelite community and said to them, “These are the words that G-d has commanded you to doOn six days, MELOCHAH may be done, but the seventh day shall be holy for you, a day of rest for G-d… (Exodus, 35:1-2)

The issue is MELOCHAH. To quote the Fifth Commandment:

Remember the Sabbath day to keep it holy.  For six days you may work and do all of your MELOCHAH, but the seventh day is the Sabbath for G-d; don’t do any MELOCHAH.  (Ibid, 20:9-10)

The problem is not work.  If you enjoy moving furniture around your house, do it all day.  That’s AVODAH – work.  What you may not do, no matter how easy it may be, is MELOCHAH –­ CREATIVE work.  What is prohibited is action that shows man’s mastery over the world.  We may not build, we may not cook, we may not use electricity, or ignite gasoline with an internal combustion engine.

(I suspect that there may be a connection between the word “MELOCHAH” and the word “MELECH” – King.  AVODAH, hard work, back-breaking work, “Schlepping” work, is something done by an EVED, a slave.  MELOCHAH, innovative, inventive work, is done by a MELECH, a king who demonstrates his G-d-given sovereignty over the world by causing it to function creatively.)

There are 39 prohibited Melochahs.  These 39 activities were necessary for the building of the Tabernacle, the portable Temple that Moses built in the desert.

The above-quoted warning not to do Melochah on Shabbos is stated right before the Mitzvah to build the Tabernacle.  Moses cautioned the Nation that in spite of their intense desire to build this miniature Temple and have G-d’s presence dwell among them as soon as possible, they were not to build it on Shabbos.

Our Sages learned from this prohibition that any activity necessary for the construction of the Tabernacle is forbidden on the Sabbath.  No more and no less.  If a particular activity is linked to one of the 39 Melochahs that were performed in building the Tabernacle, it is prohibited on the Sabbath.  If not, it is permitted.

My Rebbe, Rabbi David Feinstein, (Kol Dodi on the Torah, page 148) asks why there are no prohibited activities on the Sabbath other than those required for construction of the Tabernacle.  Surely there must be other constructive activities, actions not required for Temple construction.  If we’re not supposed to do constructive activities on Shabbos, let’s not do ANY constructive activities on Shabbos!

Rabbi Feinstein answers by pointing out the G-d did Melochah in creating the world:

On the seventh day G-d finished His Melochah that He had done.  (Genesis, 2:2)

The reason our Rabbis emphasize that every possible Melochah was done in building the Tabernacle is to equate the Tabernacle with the world.  The Tabernacle was a special place where G-d rested his presence.  Yes, it was a very holy place.  But it was also a very physical place.  It was built by human hands.  Wood was cut, metal was molded, and fabric was woven.  It was a place that was built with human creativity.  Just like your house, and just like mine!

The Tabernacle was built with 39 varieties of creation.  The world, says Rabbi Feinstein, was built with those same 39 varieties of creation.  If G-d is willing to dwell in one, He is willing to dwell in the other.

Your house can be G-d’s house.  Just invite Him in!

Have a great Shabbos.

Rabbi Yerachmiel Seplowitz

(A wonderful book on the 39 Melochahs, for children of all ages, can be found by clicking here.  An in-depth analysis of all the Laws of Shabbos, based upon these 39 Melochos, can be found here.)



Some years the two Torah Portions of Vayakheil and Pekudei are  read together, and some years they are read on two separate Sabbaths.  For your convenience.  For your convenience, I present both Portions:


Links to this week’s first Torah Portion:

“Mirror, Mirror In The Sink…” (2010)

 … Moses had a dilemma.

Donations were coming in for the Tabernacle…The problem was that women had donated their polished copper mirrors.  They wanted to have their mirrors melted down and made into a copper sink.

Moses was repulsed.  How could he accept these mirrors?  The Tabernacle was to be a holy place filled with holy vessels! These mirrors represented vanity.  Women would sit in front of these mirrors for hours on end preening and painting and brushing themselves…What could be more secular and unG-dly than a woman trying to make herself beautiful? How could Moses permit such vanity in G-d’s house? …

Read more.


“The Architect” (2008) 

The donations were pouring in.  Moses had put out the word that he was accepting contributions of precious items for the construction of the Tabernacle…

It was a massive project.  There were plenty of good-hearted people willing to help.  What was still needed was someone to pull it all together…

Now the Tabernacle crew had a foreman.  Bezalel, the head architect and his assistant Oholiav, were given their mandate:  Coordinate the volunteers into a cohesive, organized work force, and build the House of G-d.

… the Torah uses a very unusual terminology:  “Observe that G-d has selected Bezalel…”

What did Moses mean by “Observe…”?  What is there to observe?  …

Rabbi Feinstein answered that Bezalel’s assignment should have been obvious…

Read more.


 “The King’s Day Off” (2006) 

What’s wrong with driving on Saturday?  If G-d doesn’t want me to work, fine, I’ll take off from work.  I’ll spend a pleasant day with the family.  We’ll drive to the local orchard and pick apples.  Then go to the park and have a barbeque, maybe take in a movie.  Then we’ll go home and I’ll help my son build a tree house.  What could be more relaxing?

Read more.


 “(Madison Square) Garden of Eden” (2005)

… Lublin, Poland.  Once a center of Jewish life, it was one of the first Polish cities that the Nazis succeeded in declaring Judenrein… The Nazis derived great pleasure in burning the library of Yeshiva Chachmei Lublin in 1939.  There were so many books that the dastardly deed took twenty hours to complete.  But in their perverted sense of values, twenty hours were a small investment to pay for the dividend of destroying Rabbi Shapiro’s work and silencing the voice of Torah study.  Jewish Lublin was dead.  The Rabbi of Lublin’s dream was crushed and destroyed, never to rise again.

Or, perhaps not…

Read more.


“Missing Yud = Missing YID!” (2003)

… the High Priest… wore an Ephod, a type of apron that had two jewels on the shoulder strap, and a breastplate that had twelve stones.  These 14 stones were donated by the Nesi’im, the Princes of each tribe.

… there was something lacking in their donation.  When Moses let the word out that he was accepting contributions for building the Tabernacle, the twelve Tribal Princes, men of great wealth, offered to underwrite the project.  They committed themselves to make up whatever shortfall there might be in communal donations.  There was no shortfall.  The Nation of Israel responded to the call, and in two days, Moses had more than he needed.  There was nothing left for the Princes to donate except for the 14 stones.

Why are the Nesi’im criticized?  Shouldn’t they be praised for taking the initiative to insure that everything would be provided? …

Read more.


Links to this week’s second Torah Portion:

“Four-tenths of an Ounce of Prevention…” (2008)

…Haman hated Jews.  He wanted, more than anything, to destroy them.  Being a superstitious man, he decided to draw lots (“Purim” in Hebrew) to see when would be a good time to wipe out his enemies.  He drew the month of Adar.  Haman was thrilled.  Well-versed in Jewish history as he was, he knew that Adar was the month during which Moses died.  Obviously, Adar must be a bad month for Jews.  His mistake was that Moses was also BORN during Adar, a particularly auspicious event for the People of Israel.

…Haman hated us so much that he was even willing to pay the bill for our slaughter.  And the king, no lover of Jews himself, told Haman he could keep the money.  The extermination would be “on the house.”

Miscalculating the significance of the month of Adar was not Haman’s only mistake…

Read more.


 “Wasting Shekels and Wasting TALENTS” (2005)

Beware the Ides of April!

With tax time little more than a month away, we must to remember to do it right.  Make sure you have receipts for all your donations and business expenses.  After all, what will happen if the IRS calls you in for an audit?

On the Jewish calendar, this week is tax time AND audit time. …

Moses feared the appearance of impropriety.  First, he collects precious stones, metals and other materials for the Tabernacle.  Suddenly, he’s driving a Lexus!  Now, how does that look?  He ordered an audit in order to demonstrate that everything collected was used for the Tabernacle.  Nothing was “skimmed off the top.”…

“That’s it?!” I asked out loud in my passenger-less car.  THAT eyesore is what two intelligent people spent twenty-one million dollars of their own money on?! …

Read more.


 “I Saw the Face of G-d!” (2004) 

…”The cloud covered the Tent of Meeting, and G-d’s glory filled the Tabernacle.”  (Ibid. 40:34)

G-d allowed the Shechina, His Divine Presence, to be apparent for all the world to see.  The Tabernacle, and later, the Temple in Jerusalem, was a place where miracles were a daily event.  One could not spend the day in this place and deny the existence of G-d.

Sadly, this Divine Presence is much harder to perceive than it used to be.  Even in the Second Temple, many of the blatantly obvious miracles no longer took place.  G-d is no longer so easy to find.

Or is He?…

Read more.


“You have to PRAY Attention!” (2003)


… Every family has its own private jokes. One of ours is “Delicious Soup.”…

Read more.


“Sure, You’ve Got the Keys, But Who’s Really Driving?”  (2001)

…The entire Nation of Israel worked together — weavers, embroiderers, silversmiths — craftsmen of many disciplines performed this labor of love to build a House of G-d… the people brought all the parts to Moses because they weren’t able to put it all together due to the weight of the beams.  Now Moses was expected to do it for them!

How, wondered Moses, would any human be able to put those massive timbers together?!  …

Read more.


 This is the weekly message at   Copyright © 2000-2011 by Rabbi Yerachmiel Seplowitz.  May be reprinted. Please include copyright information.


Rabbi Yerachmiel Seplowitz is a Mohel (  and chaplain in Monsey, New York. For information about scheduling a Bris or a lecture, or just to say hello, call (800) 83MOHEL.


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Published in: on March 23, 2006 at 8:07 am  Comments (1)  

One CommentLeave a comment

  1. I think that an answer can be found in the names of the Sedarim of Melochas. Seder Lechem, Seder B’gadim, Seder Banim. Food, clothing, shelter, plus one that doesn’t fit, Hotzoa. Hotzoa doesn’t fit because it is a “without which, nothing”. Matter needs to be moved in time and space in order to be used.

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