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Parasha Vayakhel: The Sabbath and Being Equipped for Service

Vayakhel (And He Assembled)
Exodus 35:1–38:20; 1 Kings 7:40–50; Hebrews 9:1–11

And Moses assembled [Vayakhel Moshe / וַיַּקְהֵל מֹשֶׁה] the whole community of the people of Israel, and said to them:  ‘These are the things which Adonai has ordered you to do.’”  (Exodus 35:1)

Orthodox men-Torah scrolls

Torah scrolls are protected by beautifully crafted, ornate Torah covers.  Sometimes these covers are made of embroidered velvet, as is the case in the middle of this photo.  Sometimes they are made of wood and precious metals, such as silver.

In the last few Parshiot, God instructed Moses how to make the Mishkan (Tabernacle), its vessels, offerings, and the priestly garments.

This week’s Parasha opens with Moses calling for a public assembly of the entire community of Israel.  At this assembly, he relays to them what God told him on the mountain.

The Hebrew verb vayakhel (וַיַּקְהֵל), meaning to assemble, convene, or gather, is related to kahal, meaning assembly, convocation, and congregation.  The word kehilla, a derivative word, can mean community.  (Most Messianic congregations refer to themselves as a kehillah, rather than church, since that word is not derived from Hebrew.)

Less than a week earlier, this Israelite community that assembled before Moses had worshiped the Golden Calf.  Now Moses instructs them in the ways of Adonai.

The first instruction Moses gives the people concerns the Sabbath, which God set apart as a day of holiness, elevating it above the rest of the week.  On this day no work was to be done:

“For six days, work [malekah] is to be done, but the seventh day shall be your holy day, a day of Sabbath rest to the LORD.  Whoever does any work [malekah] on it is to be put to death.  Do not light a fire in any of your dwellings on the Sabbath day.”  (Exodus 35:2)

Lifting the Torah scroll-Western (Wailing) Wall

Lifting the Torah scroll at the Western (Wailing) Wall in Jerusalem

The commandment to keep the Shabbat is so important in the Torah that anyone found working on this holy (kadosh) day would receive the death penalty (Exodus 35:2).

There are two words for work in Hebrew, avodah and malekah, and the one used is this passage does not typically mean physical exertion.

Malekah, traditionally interpreted as the 39 different categories of work that went into building the Mishkan (Tabernacle), is the type of work specified in Exodus 35:2.  Although there is some degree of interpretation regarding what type of work malekah indicates, the Bible specifically forbids some types outright: lighting a fire and carrying a burden.  (Jeremiah 17:21)

Israeli man-barbequing-rooftop

Since lighting a fire is forbidden on the Shabbat, observant Jewish people cook enough on Friday for several meals on Friday evening and Saturday.  Although cooking is not done on the Shabbat, people do eat hot food since it is permissible to keep a fire burning.  Great care is taken to be ready to keep the Shabbat properly.

Essentially, malekah is constructive, creative work that involves producing, making, or creating—anything that demonstrates humankind’s mastery over nature.

Since God created in six days and rested on the seventh, when we rest on the seventh we are declaring that He is “the ultimate Creator and Master.”  (Chabad)

Avodah is also work, but often in the form of cultivating or performing service, whether free or slave.

“Six days you shall labor [avod], but on the seventh day you shall rest; even during the plowing season and harvest you must rest.”  (Exodus 34:21)

So, therefore, both avodah and melakah are mentioned as forbidden on the Shabbat.

Perhaps no society on earth today would impose the death penalty for violating the Sabbath, but the command to keep it holy still stands.

palm branches-Sukkot

Ultra-Orthodox Israelis carry palm branches in preparation for Sukkot.  Since God forbids carrying on the Shabbat, all such work is done Sunday to Friday.

The Seventh Day Sabbath

The Bible defines the Sabbath day (Shabbat) as the seventh day (Friday evening to Saturday evening), not the first or any other day of the week.

Nothing in the Bible commands the Sabbath to be kept on another day.

Because of that, it is clear in Jewish thinking that we simply do not have the authority to change God’s holy days.

According to Daniel, that would constitute acting in the spirit of the anti-Messiah, who will seek to change the times and the laws:

“He will speak out against the Most High and wear down the saints of the Highest One, and he will intend to make alterations in times and in law; and they will be given into his hand for a time, times, and half a time.”  (Daniel 7:25)


In Israel, there is noticeably less traffic due to the Shabbat from Friday afternoon onwards.  In some neighborhoods, there is strictly no traffic.  Although burning fuel to drive a car is prohibited, driving a car to Shabbat services is permitted in some branches of Judaism.

But why, then, do many Christians keep Sunday as the Sabbath?  Who initiated and sanctioned this change in the times and the law (Torah)?  

It is generally acknowledged that the reason many Christians keep Sunday instead of Saturday is because the Roman Catholic Church changed the day to Sunday, believing it has the authority to do so.

The following two quotes from Catholic publications reflect this stance:

“We observe Sunday instead of Saturday because the Church, in the Council of Laodicea AD 364 transferred the solemnity to Sunday.”  (The Converts Catechism of Catholic Doctrine, 1957)

“Sunday is our mark of authority… the Church is above the Bible, and this transference of Sabbath observance is proof of that.”  (Catholic Record of London Ontario, 1923)

Erev Shabbat-dinner

Family and friends enjoy dinner on Erev Shabbat (Friday evening).

Yeshua on the Shabbat (Sabbath)

The observance of the Shabbat is often perceived as burdensome.  Those, however, who do keep it, sincerely seeking the Lord, experience wonderful rest and great joy on this day.

Even Yeshua (Jesus) and His talmidim (disciples) kept the Shabbat, and the Brit Chadashah (New Covenant) states that it was His custom to be in the synagogue on that day, a custom shared by Paul.  (Luke 4:16; Acts 17:2)

Yeshua never spoke against keeping the Shabbat, and completely acknowledged it, calling Himself the Lord of the Shabbat.


“A psalm.  A song for the Sabbath day.  It is good to praise the LORD and make music to your name, O Most High, proclaiming your love in the morning and your faithfulness at night…”  (Psalms 92:1-2)

 There were a few situations in which Yeshua’s commitment to Torah and the Sabbath were called into question by the religious leaders of His day.  He took these opportunities to address some errors in the way the commandment was being applied.

For instance, one day when Yeshua’s disciples were walking through the grain fields on Shabbat, they picked heads of grain to eat because they were hungry.  The Pharisees objected to this because reaping is considered malekah.

Therefore, they accused the disciples of breaking the Shabbat saying, “Look, Your disciples are doing what is not lawful to do on the Sabbath!”  (Matthew 12:2)

Of course, the disciples were not picking grain for the purpose of harvesting; they were simply satisfying immediate hunger.

Yeshua essentially rebuked them, pointing to the fact that David and his companions entered the house of God and ate the consecrated bread when they were suffering from extreme hunger.  (Mark 2:25–26)

In the Jewish understanding of the Shabbat, one should feast on this day.  In fact, the only time Jewish law permits fasting on the Shabbat is on Yom Kippur (Day of Atonement).

Yeshua also pointed out that the priests are not guilty of breaking the Sabbath when they do their appointed work in the Temple.


“At that time Yeshua went through the grainfields on the Sabbath.  His disciples were hungry and began to pick some heads of grain and eat them.”  (Matthew 12:1)

 Immediately after this discussion, Yeshua entered the synagogue and saw a man with a withered hand.  He was then asked if it was lawful to heal on the Sabbath.

He answered, “What man is there among you who has a sheep, and if it falls into a pit on the Sabbath, will he not take hold of it and lift it out?  How much more valuable then is a man than a sheep!  So then, it is lawful to do good on the Sabbath.”  (Matthew 12:11–12)

Although Pharisaic Judaism might have been divided on this issue during the time of Yeshua, this principle that Yeshua is teaching here actually became Jewish law and is taught today in Orthodox Judaism.

For that reason, here in Israel, emergency services run on the Shabbat.  It is a principle of Jewish law that preserving human life overrides virtually any other religious consideration.  Therefore, for instance, if a sidewalk is icy on Shabbat, putting down salt, though it is considered work, is encouraged in order to prevent injury.


A woman from Sderot is transported to the hospital by Israeli emergency services.  All of the laws of Shabbat (including the prohibition of driving) are suspended in life-threatening emergencies.

The Materials for God’s Dwelling Place

“Take a sacred offering [terumah] for the LORD.  Let those with generous hearts present the following gifts to the LORD: gold, silver, and bronze.”  (Exodus 35:5)

With the command to keep the Sabbath reiterated to the Israelites, Moses calls for a freewill offering of the materials needed for the construction of the Tabernacle.

A freewill offering (terumah תְּרוּמָה) is different from the tithe, which in Hebrew is ma’aser, from the Hebrew word eser meaning ten.

While this offering went above and beyond their regular tithe, there was no set amount.  It was to be whatever the Lord put on their hearts.  But that did not result in a small offering.

Indeed, God stirred up the hearts of the people to bring their offerings for the work of the Lord to such a degree, that the people liberally donated building materials.

So true was their spirit of generosity that they gave more than enough.  Moses actually commanded them to stop giving!

“Then Moses gave an order and they sent this word throughout the camp:  ‘No man or woman is to make anything else as an offering for the sanctuary.’  And so the people were restrained from bringing more.”  (Exodus 36:6)

synagogue-Bnei Brak-Israel

A synagogue in Bnei Brak, Israel.

Giving Lavishly to God’s Building Project

The Torah uses the verb heveiu (הֵבִֽיאוּ / they brought) nine times in reference to the generous outpouring of precious, costly gifts.

“All who were willing, men and women alike, came and brought [heveiu] gold jewelry of all kinds: brooches, earrings, rings and ornaments.  They all presented their gold as a wave offering [tenuphah] to the LORD.”  (Exodus 35:22)

Some rabbis suggest that the lavish outpouring of gifts may have been motivated by a lingering guilt over the golden calf incident.

Other Jewish leaders believed that the Israelites gave so generously for the joy of giving to God.

God loves a cheerful giver and promises to provide abundantly in response:

“So let each one give as he purposes in his heart, not grudgingly or of necessity; for God loves a cheerful giver.  And God is able to make all grace abound toward you, that you, always having all sufficiency in all things, may have an abundance for every good work.”  (2 Corinthians 9:7–8)

In order to build the Kingdom of God, which was visually represented in building the Tabernacle, the Lord desires that our offerings be freely given, with a joyful heart and sincere motives to see His work be done on earth as it is in Heaven.

Prayer-Western Wall-Jerusalem

Praying at the Western (Wailing) Wall in Jerusalem

Building the Mishkan

With the generous donations of the people on hand, God anoints wise-hearted artisans (chochmei lev) to make the Mishkan and its furnishings.

This dwelling place for God included 100 silver sockets for the foundation, 48 gold-covered wall panels, three layers of roof covering, the veil (Parochet) between the Holy Place and the Most Holy Place, the Ark, the Menorah, the Table and its Showbread, and all the other furnishings that were detailed in Parshiot Terumah, Tetzaveh, and Ki Tisa.

It is a massive undertaking.


The parochet (curtain) that covers the doors of the Aron Kodesh (Ark), where the Sifrei Torah (Torah scrolls) are stored in the synagogue, symbolizes the curtain that hung in front of the Ark of the Covenant in the Temple.

For this sacred task, a master craftsman is chosen, Bezalel, whose name means in God’s shadow.

“And Bezalel the son of Uri, the son of Hur, of the tribe of Judah, made all that the LORD commanded Moses.”  (Exodus 38:22)

Bezalel is descended from the powerful tribe of Judah, which represents royalty and rulership.  He is filled with a spirit of wisdom (chochmah), understanding (binah), and knowledge (da’at) to build the Divine Sanctuary.

In Hebrew, understanding (binah) and build (boneh) are derived from the same Hebrew root—BNH.  In fact, Scriptures tell us that we all need wisdom and understanding to build our house.

“Through wisdom [chochmah] a house is built [banah], and by understanding [binah] it is established; by knowledge [da’at] the rooms are filled with all precious and pleasant riches.”  (Proverb 24:3)

Bezalel was fully equipped by Adonai to complete the task set before him.

We also have good works that God has appointed us to accomplish in our lifetime, and God will equip us with whatever we need to complete them.

“He who began a good work in you will carry it on to completion until the day of Yeshua HaMashiach.”  (Philippians 1:6)

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