Torah Fax    

Friday - Shabbat, February 25 - 26 Parshat Ki Tisah 

Torah Reading: VaYakhel (Exodus 35:1 -38:20)
Candle Lighting  5:24 PM
Shabbat ends 6:25 PM 

Fire Extinguishers  

One of Thirty-Nine

This week’s Parsha of Vayakhel begins with Moses gathering the entire Jewish nation to convey to them G‑d’s instructions concerning the building of the Mishkan, the portable Sanctuary used in the desert.  However, before discussing the details of the contributions to the Mishkan and its construction, Moses transmits to them G‑d’s command concerning the Shabbat: “For six days work shall be done, but the seventh day should be holy for you, a day of complete rest to G‑d.”

Immediately after this general exhortation to observe the Shabbat by refraining from work, Moses mentions one of the thirty-nine forms of work prohibited on the Shabbat: “You should not kindle fire in any of your dwelling places on the Sabbath day.”

From Talmudic times to the present, our Sages and Torah commentators have addressed the question as to why the Torah mentions only this one Sabbath prohibition. All of the thirty-nine categories of proscribed work are derived in the Talmud by the way the Torah juxtaposes the commandment to build the Mishkan with the requirement to rest on the Shabbat. From this we derive that all those activities that were instrumental in the construction of the Mishkan may not be performed on Shabbat. Why then does the Torah have to specify the prohibition against lighting a fire if it is already implied and included in the general command against work on Shabbat?

Avoid Discord           

One answer with an ethical focus has been offered in which the commandment against lighting a fire is to be understood allegorically as a reference to disputes in which fiery anger and passion are kindled and are very likely to disrupt the tranquility of the Shabbat. The Torah’s message here is thus: While discord and strife is a destructive fire that should be avoided every day of the week, it is even more damaging when it occurs on the Shabbat.

But what precisely is the relationship between this form of fire and the Shabbat? And why is this specific aspect of Sabbath desecration mentioned here in the context of building a Mishkan? The commandment to observe the Sabbath is mentioned several times in the Torah. Why then was this specific command concerning lighting fires not mentioned before? And, more generally, why does the Torah link the laws concerning the Shabbat with the construction of the Msihkan?

To answer all these questions we must first understand at least one aspect of the spiritual dimension of the Shabbat.         

Beyond Rest

Shabbat is more than just a day of rest. It is the day that brings perfection to the entire week that precedes it. When we engage in our everyday activities during the work week—with which we attempt to construct our own personal sanctuaries for G‑d—we may not consciously feel our connection to G‑d. Even when we devote time for daily Torah study and do our best to observe all of the commandments that govern our lives, we frequently feel that the weekday and work-related pressures deprive our Torah study and Mitzvot observance of some, if not most, of their power. Our minds and hearts may be in some other place, and our actions suffer from a lack of soul. Our Mishkans collapse.

All of these distractions can, happily, be remedied with the onset of the Sabbath. Shabbat, with its heightened spirituality, has the capacity to perfect our Torah study and Mitzvot observance and thereby reverse all of the shortcomings of the preceding week. Shabbat, Chassidic thought asserts, not only gives us a respite from the negativity that we experienced during our weekday activities, it actually elevates the days and activities of the past week. 

This concept is based on the Chassidic interpretation of the words we recite in the Kiddush recited as we usher in the Shabbat every Friday night. In this prayer we cite the verse in Genesis that states:

“The heavens, the earth and all their hosts were completed. On the seventh day, He rested from all His work that he had done.”

Completed and Made Complete

By employing the term “completed” the Torah is simply stating that G‑d finished the work of creation before the onset of the first Sabbath. According to Chassidic thought the term “completed” conveys a much more profound idea: all the works which He did during the preceding six days were made complete on the Shabbat.

Without the Shabbat, G‑d’s handiwork is incomplete. By definition then, all of our creations are inherently flawed because we are finite beings. Perfection is the province of the Divine.

When G‑d created the universe during the six days of creation, He withdrew His infinite light to allow for a finite world. However, Shabbat is when G‑d removes the shield that eclipses His infinite light and allows G‑dly perfection to enter the world. As long as we do not create our own obstructions that prevent the infinite light to enter our lives, we can access the world of Divine perfection. As a result, all of our flawed efforts of the past week are endowed with a dimension of G‑dly perfection.

Generally speaking, the things that we can do to render us resistant to the prevailing infinite light on the Shabbat are the thirty-nine forms of work the Torah prohibits. These activities are essentially physically creative acts that demonstrate our own abilities to change the world. G‑d gave us these talents to become His partners in creation. By utilizing these talents we can make the world a better place, one that is suitable for human existence. Once the world is a civilized, habitable world, we can then introduce into it G‑dly energy and transform the world—micro and macro—into a Mishkan.

If, however, we begin to believe in our own abilities and ingenuity and imagine ourselves capable of changing the world without the introduction of the Divine element, we are destined to fail. Only when we withdraw from active creation during Shabbat and disengage from the finite can we become receptive to the Infinite. And the consequence of that is that we acquire the capability of retroactively investing our weekday efforts with the ability to truly make the world holy. By observing the Shabbat all of our efforts at constructing the Mishkan during the preceding week are crowned with success.

However, in addition to the general need to desist from the thirty-nine forms of work (as a means of guaranteeing that the construction of our ”Mishkan” during the week will become meaningful and perfected) there is one other specific imperative for Shabbat to “succeed.”

A Barrier to Shabbat           

If Shabbat turns into a day of division, it creates a new barrier to the realization of the Infinite state of perfection. If the leisure time afforded us by our absence of work should lead to strife and conflict, the perfection of the week on Shabbat is lost to us.

There is a Kabbalistic aphorism: “The Holy one, Blessed is He dwells only in a whole location.” This echoes the sentiment expressed in our daily prayer known as Sim Shalom: “Bless us our father, all of us together as one.” Where does G‑d’s blessing dwell? In a place of peace and harmony, when we are “all as one.” Our Sages articulated this idea most forcefully and poignantly—at the very end of the Mishnah—“G‑d could not find a vessel that contains a blessing other than that of peace, as it says, ‘G‑d will give His people strength; G‑d will bless His nation with peace.’”          

There is no place more holy than the Mishkan, and no time more holy and harmonious than the Shabbat. Only our “fires” of anger and discord can undermine our ability to access the extraordinary blessing of the Shabbat.

Thus prior to commanding us about building the Mishkan in the six work days the Torah commands us to observe the Shabbat. This is to underscore that if we want the Divine to dwell in our midst during the week we must properly observe the Shabbat. And the Torah follows this command with the one of not lighting a fire to underscore that the Shabbat functions as it was designed to only when there is tranquility, peace and unity in our midst. If the fires are kindled on the Shabbat this denies us the opportunity to touch the Infinite.

*    *    *

The Vessel for the Light of Moshiach        

The last time we were privileged to hear the Rebbe’s words spoken in public in 1992, the Rebbe emphasized the theme of Vayakhel: “And he gathered,” with which this week’s parsha commences, that underscores the theme of unity.

For eleven months prior to this talk the Rebbe spoke to us consistently and persistently about the imminence of Moshiach’s coming and the true and complete Geulah. The Rebbe also illuminated the straightforward path we ought to take to prepare ourselves for the Messianic Era: by learning the Torah’s teachings about Moshiach and translating this knowledge into our conduct in our daily lives. In the final Shabbat before the Rebbe suffered a stroke, his final instruction to us to date was: Vayakhel: Jewish unity!


Moshiach represents the introduction of a revolutionary measure of G‑dly light and goodness into the world. It is called "the Shabbat of existence." It is the ultimate manifestation of blessing which will engulf the world, bringing perpetual goodness, holiness and peace in its wake. However, to be receptive to the phenomenal blessing of Moshiach we need peace and unity that is based on genuine Ahavat Yisrael.

May we all take the Rebbe's message to heart and focus our collective energies on that which unites us. And may we march towards the final Redemption as one unified nation with the spirit of boundless joy! 

Moshiach Matters  

"The rulership of King David (and his descendants) is eternal. Even during the Exile ‘King David is alive and well’ (See prayer for sanctification of the New Moon). If at times it is not apparent, it is merely because the Davidic leadership is temporarily hidden...." (The Rebbe Rashab, 5th Rebbe of Chabad, 1917)

Moshiach - It’s a Jewish issue. For more info, visit 
© 2001- 2011 Chabad of the West Side