Israel-Gaza War 5784: Vayakhel – A Sabbath Ceasing, A Generous Heart

At the beginning of this week’s Torah portion, Vayakhel, Moses assembles the people and reiterates the prohibition against melachah (“work”) on Shabbat. This prohibition was given in last week’s portion, right after communicating all the instructions for making the mishkan and its contents. Now, before the actual work of constructing the mishkan begins, the prohibition is repeated. Evidently it is important.

Our portion then tells us that Moses directed men and women, those with generous hearts, to offer gifts to Hashem. G-d did not command the people to bring gifts. They were to be free-will offerings. The Torah is filled with commandments—613 in all—and some concern offerings, but here G-d says, If you are willing, give to Me.

The message is: refraining from work on Shabbat and giving with a generous heart are both important and valued by G-d.

Recently, an organization called Kesher Yehudi (Jewish Connection) organized a Shabbat program for the families of hostages. The program brought together mostly secular family members with religious Jewish Israelis. It was a full Shabbat, starting with candle lighting and singing over dinner Friday night, continuing with a Saturday service that included the Acheinu prayer, and finishing with Havdalah Saturday night, followed by more singing. The mother of one hostage noted that it was the first time since October 7th that she had been able to get away from an endless stream of news and social media, and yet she still felt connected. The organizers have promised to stay in touch with the families, so the empowering connection will continue.

Since October 7th, the families of those kidnapped have known no rest. Theirs is an endless cycle of marches, demonstrations, and interviews with whoever will hear them. They have dedicated every waking minute to both public and behind-the-scenes nonstop efforts to get their loved ones released from Hamas dungeons and returned safely home. One group of relatives bypassed official channels to get medicines to the hostages via Egypt—as well as medicine and dialysis machines for Gazan children, a freewill offering if ever there was one, given from generous hearts. It is especially generous because it is unknown if medicines intended for the hostages, whether through this channel or others, have reached them. Recently, the IDF found medications labeled with names of the hostages in a Gaza hospital.

In this dire situation, how can there be time to rest? The Torah gives us two reasons why observance of Shabbat is so important. Even G-d ceased from creating on the seventh day. Six days we labor in partnership with G-d, striving to bring holiness and overcome evil. On Shabbat, we cease being human doings and return to our essence as human beings.

Shabbat is also a time to remember that G-d freed us from slavery when He took us out of Egypt. We are awed and grateful for this gift of freedom, which the hostages eagerly await.

For well over six days—more than 150 days at this writing—the families have labored with all their might to redeem their loved ones from slavery. It may be the most important work that they will ever do. Yet recently they ceased their work for Shabbat. Even in this crisis, they took time to return to their essence and to connect, as our ancestors did in the mishkan, with the Ever-Present One.

On Shabbat, we chant the V’Shamru prayer, which ends by saying: Between me and between the children of Israel it is a sign forever that in six days, Hashem made the heaven and the earth, and on the seventh day he ceased and was refreshed—vayinafash, from the Hebrew nefesh meaning “soul,” so He was “ensouled.”

May the labors of the families, as well as those helping them, whether private citizens or leaders, whether in Israel or abroad, along with the soldiers fighting to free the hostages, bear fruit. May our hearts continue to move us to give freewill offerings, from sharing Shabbat to donating money, food, clothing, supplies, support, whatever is needed. May those who labor be given brief respite to reconnect to the ultimate Redeemer, to be ensouled that they may continue in strength to fight for good. May those enslaved in Gaza, between the land of Israel and the sea, be brought from the darkness of the tunnels and captivity to the light of freedom and redemption. May they be brought home, now, speedily, at a time that draws near.

Our brothers and sisters, all the house of Israel
The ones given over to trouble and captivity
The ones that are between the sea and the dry land
May the Ever-Present One have mercy, have mercy on them
And bring them out from trouble to freedom
From darkness to light, from bondage to redemption
Now, speedily, and at a time that draws near.

About the Author
I was born in Washington, DC, and raised in the suburbs, but now reside in the temperate rain forest of the Pacific Northwest. I am a retired editor and proud Zionist. I can be found at and @KosherKitty1.
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