OzTorah: Torah reading –Vayakhel

Written and Submitted by Rabbi Dr Raymond Apple



The word “heart” punctuates this sidra.  In building the Tabernacle, the people had to have their hearts in the right place. Three categories of heart are mentioned in Ex. 35 – generous, wise and uplifted. The ideal person combines all three. His whole being utilises the open hand (generosity), the thinking mind (wisdom) and the visionary eye (upliftedness).

The question we face in the real world is what to do if people have only one or two of the three characteristics. If we looked for an order of priorities, which would be the top attribute?

Talya Fishman's book: Becoming the People of the Talmud: Oral Torah as Written Tradition in Medieval Jewish Culture.
Talya Fishman’s book: Becoming the People of the Talmud: Oral Torah as Written Tradition in Medieval Jewish Culture.

There is an analogy in the Talmudic discussion (Kidd.40a) about religious study and practice, or if you like, theory and action. Most people would vote for action above theory, but the Talmud takes the opposite view. It prefers theory, because theory leads to action: study leads to practice.

In our case, we might say that the top attribute is vision. Vision inspires thought; thought leads to generosity.


The portion seems to open with a strange anomaly. In contrast to the Ten Commandments, which say,

“Six days shall you work”, the portion says, “Six days shall work be done”.

There are two aspects of this law – the work and the worker. The work must be worthwhile in itself and be carried to its conclusion; the worker must be honest and energetic and have the right attitude to what he does.

Only if and when the worker can say he has done his very best and the task has been duly completed can he feel satisfied. As Psalm 128:2 puts it,

“When you eat the labour of your hands, you shall be happy and it will be well with you”.

One of the Songs of Ascents, Psalm 122 appears in Hebrew and English on the walls at the entrance to the City of David, Jerusalem, Israel.

This reward is subdivided in Pir’kei Avot chapter 4:

“You shall be happy in this world and it will be well with you in the world to come”.

If we wanted to take the thought further, we could try to read the mind of the work itself, and say,

“When you are handled and performed properly, you will have a smile on your face, and the world will say, ‘This is a happy, satisfied piece of work’”.


According to rabbinic commentary, the assembly which Moses convenes at the beginning of Parashat Vayakhel took place on 11 Tishri, the day after Yom Kippur.

In a sense there is a second day of Yom Kippur. Not another day of fasting, which would be an unbearable strain for most people, but a second day of self-searching.

Jews Praying in the Synagogue on Yom Kippur, by Maurycy Gottlieb (1878)

In the Book of Jonah, the Yom Kippur afternoon haftarah, the prophet watches the city of Nineveh to see what is going to happen after the drama of his call to repentance.

On 11 Tishri God specially watches the people of Israel to see if the Day of Atonement has done its work and whether they have maintained the serious sense of dedication which marked the fast day.


Working and Shabbat are opposites. On Shabbat there is no work; on workdays there is no Shabbat. The contrast comes with the opening of the sidra:

“Six days shall work be done, but on the seventh day you shall have a holy day, a sabbath of solemn rest to HaShem” (Ex. 35:2).

To Judaism this is axiomatic. Hence the build-up of excitement as the week winds down (or rather, builds up) to Friday night, followed by just over 24 hours enriched by a “n’shamah y’terah”, an additional soul, and then the poignant farewell to Shabbat as Havdalah proclaims the distinction between holy and profane, between the seventh day and the six days of work.

But it would be a mistake to think that Shabbat should be missing from weekdays and work from Shabbat. Not in the literal sense, but metaphorically. So what “work” is appropriate for Shabbat? The Creation story says,

“God finished on the seventh day His work which He had done” (Gen. 2:2).

The Midrash asks,

“What did the world lack after the six days of work? Rest. So God finished His labours on the seventh day by creating the day of rest”.

Likewise, there is “work” for us to do on the seventh day, the effort to give the day a Shabbat spirit, flavour and feeling. And what way should Shabbat be part of the weekdays? By instilling a sense of purpose. Why do we work? In order to earn Shabbat. How should we work? By means that are above board and honourable. The Prayer for Parnasah says,

“O Lord God, bless me through my occupation, that I may be able to support myself and my household by lawful and not by forbidden means”.

Rabbi Dr Raymond Apple Blogs at http://www.oztorah.com

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