Could there possibly be an unnecessary parsha/Torah portion? All Vayakhel seems to do is repeat the extensive instructions how to construct the Mishkan, God’s sacred dwelling-place in the wilderness, all of whose details were given earlier, in Parshat Terumah. Why, therefore, repeat? It is because God wanted the Israelites to familiarize themselves with all the accoutrements of the Mishkan, because both God and His people were to rejoice in His having a place to dwell on earth, among His chosen people.
Further, this parsha reiterates God’s mitzvah/commandment to observe Shabbat, stating that “whoever works on it shall be put to death” (Ex. 35:2). How could this priceless gift, that of Shabbat rest, possibly be connected to death? Accordingly, the Talmudic rabbis were quick to soften this harsh decree by explaining that, Shabbat-observant Jews receive a mystical neshama y’tayrah, or second, spiritual soul, which allows them to enjoy Shabbat twice as much. then those who violated it would lose this extra soul, and suffer a spiritual, not actual, death.
Moving into the listing of the construction of the Mishkan coverings, we note the “Ten strips of cloth…made of fine twisted linen, blue, purple, and crimson yarns; [into which the weavers] worked a design of cherubim” (Ex. 36:8). Why those particular colors, and what purpose did the cherubim-pattern serve? Blue was the color of the Sinai Wilderness sky, reminding us of God’s protection of His people. Purple is the traditional color of royalty, referring to God as king. Crimson reminds us that we should serve God with every fibre of our being, every drop of blood.
As for the cherubim, sphinx-like mythological creatures who carried prayers to God, they reminded our ancestors that, although they sprang from a pagan background, they were to pray to God alone, not to His messengers.
The wonder of the Mishkan is that it represents a prototype of the Holy Ark in the synagogue, a place so charged with holy energy that we rise when it is opened. I have seen pious Jews reach out to the open Ark with spread palms and touch their faces, “gathering” the God-force that emanates from the sacred cabinet’s interior. The Ark poses a challenge to all of us: how to “capture” the ineffable spirit of God and make our bodies vehicles for it.
What part of your physiology carries God, Reader? Is it your heart, your brain, your soul—or some other part of you?