Commentary on Parashat Vayakhel, Exodus 35:1 - 38:20
Moses gathers the Israelite community to share all that the Lord commanded on Mount Sinai. Moses says to the people: “These are the objects which God commanded to be made. On six days work may be done, but the seventh day, they should observe a Sabbath for God by refraining from work; whoever does work on the Sabbath shall be put to death. You shall kindle no fire throughout your settlements on the Sabbath day.
“Everyone whose heart so moves him shall bring gifts for the Lord–gold, or silver, wool or linen, wood or oil, spices or stones, anything to make the Sanctuary more glorious for God,” said Moses.
“And let all among you who are skilled come and make all that the Lord has commanded for the Sanctuary: the Tabernacle, its tent and its covering, the Ark and its poles and utensils, the lamp stand and the oil for lighting, the oils for anointing, the altar for burnt offerings, and the sacred garments for Aaron the High Priest and his sons who are to officiate in the Sanctuary.”
Finding Gifts for God
The whole community of Israelites left Moses’ presence to find gifts for the Lord. Everyone whose spirit was moved brought offerings for the Dwelling Place of the Lord. Men and women, moved by their hearts, brought all kinds of golden objects, colorful wools, silver, copper, and acacia wood for the Lord. Men and women worked together using their skills to make the sacred Sanctuary for God.
Moses then says to the Israelites, “See the Lord has called Bezalel. God has filled Bezalel and Oholiab with the spirit of God, with wisdom, insight, knowledge and talent for all manner of craftsmanship and the ability to teach.” Moses then gives to Bezalel and Oholiab the gifts of the Israelites so they could begin to lovingly craft the holy Sanctuary.
Still, the Israelites continued to bring more offerings. Finally, Moses proclaims, “Bring no more gifts for the Sanctuary.” But the gifts had been enough for all the work, and there was extra.
Then, with precise instructions given to Moses by God, the Tabernacle was built. Bezalel made the Ark of acacia wood and overlaid it with pure gold, inside and out. He made a cover for the Ark of pure gold. He made two cherubim of gold with wings spread out above the Ark, shielding the cover with their wings. The faces of the cherubim faced each other and turned toward the cover.
He made the table of acacia wood with rings of gold and poles of wood, overlaid with gold, to carry the table. The utensils to be upon the table–its bowls, ladles, jugs, and jars with which to offer libation–he made of pure gold.
He made the lamp stand of pure gold with seven lamps also of pure gold. He made the incense altar and its poles of acacia wood and overlaid it with pure gold. Bezalel then expertly prepared the sacred anointing oil and the pure aromatic incense.
Bezalel made the altar for burnt offerings of acacia wood with horns for the four corners and overlaid the altar and the wooden poles with copper. He made all the utensils of the burnt offering altar–the pails, basins, flesh hooks and fire pans–also of copper. Bezalel made the basins of copper from the mirrors of the women who had gathered at the entrance of the Tent of Appointed Meeting.
Bezalel made an enclosure for the Tent of Appointed Meeting with specific hangings on each side of fine, twisted linen of blue and purple and crimson, with silver hooks and copper posts.
Parashat Vayakhel Discussion Questions
1) At the beginning of this portion, Moses specifically says that working on the Sanctuary for God may not be done on the Sabbath. If this work is done on the Sabbath, it is punishable by death. Do you think death is a just or unjust punishment? Why?
2) The Israelite people brought so many gifts for the making of God’s Sanctuary that they had to be restrained from bringing more. As a giver of gifts to God, what do you do: give extra, give the exact amount, give just enough, or try to get away with giving a little less?
3) “God has filled Bezalel and Oholiab with the spirit of God, with wisdom, insight, knowledge and talent for all manner of craftsmanship and the ability to teach.” What has God filled you with? How do you use it?
Reprinted with permission from Jewish Family & Life!