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Shemot/Exodus 31:13 "And you, speak to the Children of Israel, to say: 'Nevertheless, you shall keep My sabbaths ...'"
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The first aliyah of this week's parasha is very long - 45 verses - and our text comes from near the end of it. Unusually, the parasha break itself seems to split a literary unit, dealing with the last few items ofHaShem's instructions to Moshe - on Mt. Sinai - concerning the tabernacle. The unit actually begins with the last aliyah of the previous parasha (30:1) and contains seven identifiable items:
Like the week, with its six days of work leading to the pinnacle of shabbat, the holy day, the time to rest and enjoy G-d's presence and blessing, this program has six units of work that Moshe is to do or commission, followed by the instruction to observe shabbat. Even the work of constructing and setting to work the Tabernacle, with its regular sequence of sacrifices and ritual to be performed every day - then including Shabbat - as a means of visualising and maintaining relationship with G-d, is to stop for the observance of Shabbat for it is a sign of the covenant that has to be remembered and observed for ever.
Nahum Sarna points out the deliberate contrast between the Bible's Creation narrative, which has as its high point the seventh day of rest, when G-d blessed the seventh day and declared it 'holy', and "the Babylonian cosmology, which culminates in the erection of a temple to Marduk, thereby asserting the antithetical primacy of the holiness of space." Our G-d, the One True G-d, is not concerned with holy space so much as with holy time, when everyone "downs tools" and comes to focus on Him. Solomon commented about the impossibility of building a physical house that would contain G-d: "But will God indeed dwell on the earth? Behold, heaven and the highest heaven cannot contain Thee, how much less this house which I have built!" (1 Kings 8:27, NASB).
The first word that Moshe is to say to the Israelites - , an adverb with a range of meanings such as only, but, now, surely or certainly - attracts the attention of the commentators. Friedman selects 'just' and says that "the force of this word here seems to be to say that the section preceding this tells what the skilled craftsmen will do, and what G-d will do, to produce the holy place and the holy objects; and now it will be specified what the people must do to become holy themselves." He seems to be suggesting that although the paraphernalia will take a great deal of care and detail to produce, all the people have to do is to keep Shabbat.Nechama Leibowitz, on the other hand, seems to prefer 'nevertheless'. She points to Rashi's comment that "Though you should prosecute the work with the utmost dedication and enthusiasm, do not let it override the Sabbath" and brings other commentators to confirm that the work on the Tabernacle is not to be allowed to override the weekly "ceasing" from work to observe Shabbat. Benno Jacob observes that in verse 16, the text uniquely says "The Children of Israel shall keep the sabbath, to make the sabbath ...", so Leibowitz comments "One 'making' overrides all the other makings involved in the construction of the Tabernacle (80 in all) beginning with 'Let them make Me a sanctuary' (25:8)." Shabbat is not something that just happens by itself, that Jewish people observe by just sitting and looking at it; on the contrary, it has to be actively made and we have to participate in and cooperate with its regulations to bring it about. That making is more important than all the other makings that led up to it and may follow after it, even to the extent of stopping the making of Tabernacle in order to make Shabbat each week.
Each of the six steps can be seen as an additional step of holiness moving the people towards the holiness of Shabbat. Starting with mechanical construction (the incense altar), then moving through atonement (everyone giving the same to draw near to G-d), washing, anointing, preparation for worship (making the incense) and the indwelling of the Spirit (in the craftsmen and their appointment), the Children of Israel move closer to being able to rest on Shabbat: to rest in G-d. Their work prepares the way for what He has given them and their time with Him. It is not insignificant that the giving of these instructions is followed by the incident of the Golden Calf. The enemy was desperate to prevent Israel reaching that point of obedience and holiness, so blew up a storm of rebellion and idolatry in order to interrupt Moshe's time with G-d and send Israel almost to the brink (if that were possible) of being destroyed or cast off as G-d's chosen people.
There are three things to learn from this. The first is that our approach to G-d, our drawing near to G-d, our becoming like Yeshua, is accomplished by a series of steps of obedience. We do what He tells us and as we follow His instructions, He builds His throne in our midst. As we worship Him, He comes and dwells among us and is pleased to let His presence be heard, seen and felt both by ourselves and by others who are drawn to what G-d is doing in and through us. Just as without Him there is nothing, so also without us there is nothing; we make and He comes, we make and He blesses, we make and He brings His fire! "Oh that You would rend the heavens and come down, that the mountains might quake at Your presence -- as when fire kindles brushwood and the fire causes water to boil -- to make Your name known to Your adversaries, and that the nations might tremble at Your presence!" (Isaiah 64:1-2, ESV)
The second thing to learn is that holiness has to be made; it requires effort and sacrifice on our part. Holiness, for example, before the theophany at Mt. Sinai required the people to be ready: "The L-RD said to Moshe, 'Go to the people and warn them to stay pure today and tomorrow. Let them wash their clothes. Let them be ready for the third day; for on the third day the L-RD will come down, in the sight of all the people, on Mount Sinai'" (Shemot 19:10-11, JPS). If we are to see the holiness of G-d manifested in our midst, then we must be ready to prepare, to work, to set time aside, to pray, to engage in spiritual warfare, to create both the time and the space for G-d to come. Holiness is not all about G-d simply turning up and zapping everyone with His holiness; on the contrary, it is about people - under the guidance of the Spirit - working to make the moment for G-d to come; by fasting, prayer, confession of sin, humbling their hearts, seeking His face, singing and shouting the Scriptures.
Thirdly, we must be aware that our obedience and work will be like a beacon in the spiritual realm; it will be clearly seen by both the heavenly host and the forces of the enemy. Our steps toward holiness will act as magnet to draw and attract the enemy as he seeks to distract us, to shut us down, to trip us up, to tear us part - anything to prevent us from entering into the holiness of G-d and being effective channels for G-d to break through into this world. We must be vigilant and on our guard, ever ready to defend the L-rd's work and call on His name. The people who rebuilt the walls of Jerusalem in Nehemiah's time knew what it took to build: "From that day on, half of my servants worked on construction, and half held the spears, shields, bows, and coats of mail. And the leaders stood behind the whole house of Judah, who were building on the wall. Those who carried burdens were loaded in such a way that each labored on the work with one hand and held his weapon with the other. And each of the builders had his sword strapped at his side while he built. The man who sounded the trumpet was beside me" (Nehemiah 4:16-18, ESV).
In these days, G-d is calling out a people who will be obedient and are prepared, under His instruction, to work to prepare for Yeshua's return, to bring in the harvest and to make a place for Him to dwell among them. As the people of G-d, we must be prepared to "Stand by the roads, and look, and ask for the ancient paths, where the good way is; and walk in it, and find rest for your souls" (Jeremiah 6:16, ESV) as He calls us back to the ways that He has chosen for us. Only in His way will we find rest for our souls!
Further Study: 2 Chronicles 2:5; Psalm 144:5-9
Application: Are you serious about seeing the kingdom of G-d? Then we must work together under His leadership and work to bring Shabbat, not just when Yeshua returns, but now, each week, as a sign for all to see that G-d exists, has always existed and will always exist.
© Jonathan Allen, 2011
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