The portion of Vayakhel is often read together with the following portion, Pekudei. They deal with the fulfillment of the instructions from the last three portions regarding the Tabernacle. In the portion of Vayakhel, Moses collects donations from the Children of Israel, and with those contributions the Tabernacle parts are constructed. Vayakhel contains a description of building the Tabernacle’s constituent parts.
This section begins with a repetition of the commandment to observe the Sabbath day on the seventh day of each week. It continues with Moses instructing the people to collect from their belongings all manner of materials which would be suitable for constructing the Tabernacle in accordance with the instructions he had received from God. As the Israel Bible points out, the Tabernacle was intended to foster a deep connection between God and the people. Those who donated were moved by this lofty purpose. The people were generous to a fault, and eventually Moses had to command them to stop bringing gifts.
Moses asked for more than just material donations. He called upon those whose hearts moved them to take part in the construction of the Tabernacle, as well. The women wove fabric and the men served as artisans under the direction of Bezalel and his assistant, Oholiab. God filled their hearts with the wisdom needed to do the work.
Points to Ponder
The text states that “every man” who was motivated (and from the rest of the story it is apparent that is most, if not all, the people of Israel) brought what was needed for the Tabernacle, but singles out the leaders of the community as having brought the stones for the breastplate and Ephod. Why do you think they were singled out, and the details of their contribution mentioned specifically?
Building the Tabernacle
This very lengthy passage reiterates much of what was written in the previous three Torah portions. The order, however, is different. Whereas Moses was first instructed regarding the inner vessels of the Tabernacle, then its outer structure, then the outer vessels, here we see that Bezalel and his team first constructed the parts for the Tabernacle’s structure — its various curtains, planks and sockets — then the Ark, Table and Menorah with their attending utensils, and finally the vessels of the courtyard — the Incense Altar, the larger Altar of Elevation Offerings and the Laver — along with the enclosure of the courtyard itself.
The Tabernacle and its vessels are rife with symbolism and lessons. As the Israel Bible explains, the woven fabrics of the Tabernacle were so unique, that when similar fabrics are described in the Book of Esther as adorning King Ahasuerus’s palace, the Sages learned that the Temple treasures which were looted during the fall of the Judean Kingdom made their way to the Persian treasury. Those Jews who elected not to attend Ahasuerus’s grand party in the beginning of the story were demonstrating their loyalty to God and mourning the loss of the Temple in Jerusalem.
The Menorah, which was made of pure gold and burned pure olive oil, represents the duty of the Jewish people to serve as a Light unto the Nations. As the Israel Bible indicates, the purity of the materials reflects the pure intentions needed to spread the light of Torah and God’s will.
The laver was made of copper mirrors, donated specifically by the women of Israel. The Israel Bible references a tradition from the Sages that the women used these mirrors in Egypt to beautify themselves for the sake of their husbands upon their return from a hard day’s labor. These women never forgot God’s promise of redemption and worked to ensure the continuity of the nation using these mirrors. They were therefore worthy of being used in the Tabernacle.
The section ends with a complete accounting of all the materials used to prepare the Tabernacle.
Points to Ponder
Why do you think the Torah goes into such detail once again in describing the construction of the Tabernacle? Would it not have been enough to say “Bezalel built the Tabernacle as God instructed Moses”?