Image: The Ark of the Covenant, Drawing by James Tissot, c. 1986-1902. Public Domain.
Vayakhel (“And he assembled”) is the name of this week’s Torah portion, Exodus 35:1 – 38:20. Moses assembles the people and says to them:
On six days work may be done, but on the seventh day you shall have a sabbath of complete rest, holy to the Lord; whoever does any work on it shall be put to death.
– Exodus 35:2
Because this explication of the commandment to keep Shabbat is made in the midst of the building of the Mishkan [Tabernacle,] later when the sages were trying to define “work,” they looked to the various activities required to build the sanctuary. Those 39 categories of labor, called melachot in Hebrew, became the basis for all activities traditionally forbidden on Shabbat.
Then Moses asks the people to bring materials to donate, and collects them. He announces God’s choice of Betzalel and Oholiav as master builders. The parashah describes the building of the Mishkan itself and of much of its furniture.
If all of this sounds familiar, there’s a reason. In an earlier part of Exodus (Ch 25-31) God gave the commands to Moses. Now, in this and the upcoming parashah, Moses has gathered the people and is transmitting those orders to them. In many ways, this is a repetition of the earlier chapters, only with a different speaker and a different audience.
Some divrei Torah from around the Internet:
O Lord, Won’t You Buy Me a Mercedes Benz? by Rabbi Kari Hofmaister Tuling
Collaboration by Rabbi Rachel Barenblat
Power in the Assembly by Rabbi Don Levy
Breath of Fresh Air by Rabbi Amy Scheinerman
39 Ways Not To Work by Benjamin Elterman
“The Collector” by Ari Shacher
A Song About Wise Hearted People by Alicia Jo Rabins