Parshat Vayakhel: The sanctuary we share with God

We may say that the book of Exodus narrates our bondage and liberation from Egypt with one primordial purpose that the following verses summarize.

“You will bring them [the children of Israel from their slavery] and plant them in the mountain of Your inheritance, The place, O Lord, which You have made for Your dwelling, The sanctuary, O Lord, which Your hands have established. [Because it is our destiny to proclaim that the Lord have reigned, the Lord reigns and] The Lord shall reign forever and ever.” (Exodus 15:17-18)

We rejoice in our destiny.

“Jubilant are those who dwell in Your house, [because] they are praising You forever. Jubilant the people who are like this. Jubilant the people whose God is the Lord.” (Psalms 84:5, 144:15)

This is also the primordial purpose of Israel in the entire Torah, since the covenant with Abraham until our permanent settling in the promised land as the home from which we fulfill our destiny.

We have to reveal in all levels of consciousness who we are as the children of Israel, the meaning of our divine deliverance from slavery in Egypt, and what is this place built by God’s hands as His house in the material world. All these define our essence and true identity with which we become aware of our eternal bliss as the people whose God is the Creator.

The verse above clearly states that we as Israel are destined to dwell in the same house where the Creator wants to dwell on Earth. Indeed it is a physical place in the land of Israel and within its eternal and undivided capital, Jerusalem.

“Blessed be the Lord from Zion, He who dwells in Jerusalem!” (Ibid. 135:21)

This is the city that He also built in our consciousness because His domain reigns in all time and space.

“And [king] David blessed the Lord in the sight of all the congregation [Israel]; and David said, ‘Blessed be You, Lord, the God of our father Israel in all the worlds and times. Yours, Lord, is the greatness, the power, the glory, the victory, and the majesty! For all that is in the Heavens and in the Earth is Yours. Yours is the kingdom, Lord, and You are exalted as Head above all.” (I Chronicles 29:10-11)

The awareness that all belongs to God leads us to humble our vain selfishness as the premise to unconditionally fulfill His ways and attributes as our true identity and destiny.

The sanctuary is the time and space where we are fully aware of God’s ways, in which we realize His love and our love as the common bond with Him. The process of building the sanctuary in our consciousness requires our individual and collective effort as the work that we do in this world.

“Six days work shall be done; and the seventh day shall be holy to you, a Shabbat of solemn rest to the Lord. Whoever does any work therein shall be put to death.” (Exodus 35:2)

Our sages point out that “work shall be done” implies that labor is the means and not the end of life, and this explains why the sentence is not “you shall do work”. What is the kind of work that has to be done or needs to be done? Again, the sages refer not to the kind of work to be performed but the way we are entitled to do it.

This means that anything we have to do or choose to do must be done in consonance with God’s ways and attributes. Hence in love’s ways and attributes because the whole point of life is about love as the material reflection of God’s love in His creation.

We have mentioned (see in this blog our commentary on “Parshat Vayakhel-Pekudei: “The Sanctuary of God’s Love” on February 19, 2014) that in this sense the Shabbat is a culmination or finalization of the way we have worked the previous six days. Our sages teach that we must emulate the Creator in His ways and means that He used in the six days of His Creation, and with the same magnanimity, goodness and loving kindness with which He relates to His creatures.

The Shabbat is a time beyond the material creation, therefore beyond our comprehension. Most of us Jews don’t assimilate the transcendence of this “day” that is more about stillness than rest. Stillness in the sense of belonging to something completely impossible to describe. There are more than 39 “fences” to “guard” and “protect” the Shabbat.

Hence let’s reflect for a moment on what is being so heavily fenced, guarded and protected. Many of us got trapped looking at the fences and not on what they protect, to the extreme that most of us forgot what that is and its meanings.

The Torah warns that whatever material thought or illusion that leads to transgress the Shabbat makes us liable to the death penalty. It is not difficult to deduce that we are indeed dead if we are out of what those fences guard.

The Torah is clear about the penalties and punishments for our transgressions, and we have said many times that such penalties and punishments are simply the consequences of our own separation from our essence and true identity.

We already know that we must choose between love’s ways and attributes and ego’s materialistic fantasies and illusions. Either choice has its consequences.

We can choose love’s ways with the same intensity we may choose lust, greed, indolence, envy, impudence, anger and impatience. With this intensity or passion we can give to build the sanctuary for God and us, as our ancestors did.

“And they spoke to Moses saying: ‘The people bring much more than enough for the service of the work, which the Lord commanded to make’.” (36:5)

Another example is the following verse.

“And he made the washstand of copper and its base of copper from the mirrors of the women who had set up the legions, who congregated at the entrance of the tent of meeting.” (38:8)

Our sages say that that the Israelite women had mirrors in which they looked to adorn themselves to arouse their husbands’ desire, and Moses rejected those mirrors because they were used to arouse lust. God told Moses to accept them because they were more beloved to Him than everything else, considering that with those mirrors the women begot many children in Egypt. When their men were exhausted by forced labor, the women would bring them food and drink, and they used the mirrors to arouse their husbands to cohabit with them, and conceiving and giving birth under the oppression of slavery.

“When the cloud rose up from over the sanctuary, the children of Israel set out in all their journeys. But if the cloud did not rise up, they did not set out until the day that it rose. For the cloud of the Lord was upon the sanctuary by day, and there was fire within it at night, before the eyes of the entire house of Israel in all their journeys.” (40:36-38)

These final verses in the book of Exodus make us aware that God’s love in His ways and attributes dwells always in the highest level of our consciousness to protect us and guide us in our approach to life and the material world in all their aspects and dimensions. If this awareness is away from us, we must wait until we reconnect with it.

This is the way we do work six days because in the seventh day we are rewarded with the permanent dwelling in His Place, the dwelling in the Sanctuary that His hands have built, and where we are jubilant to be the people whose destiny is such.

About the Author
Ariel Ben Avraham was born in Colombia (1958) from a family with Sephardic ancestry. He studied Cultural Anthropology in Bogota, and lived twenty years in Chicago working as a radio and television producer and writer. He emigrated to Israel in 2004, and for the last fourteen years has been studying the Chassidic mystic tradition, about which he writes and teaches. Based on his studies, he wrote his first book "God's Love" in 2009. He currently lives in Zefat.
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