Always on Fire
This week's double portion discusses the actual building of the Sanctuary and the actual designing of the Priestly Garb. However, before the Jews begin to engage in this construction, they are cautioned to observe the Sabbath.
This warning makes the message clear; even though they are erecting a House of God, nevertheless, they must protect the sanctity of the Sabbath by not producing anything on it. Rather, they must rest on the seventh day by disengaging from any creative activity.
The verse which cautions the Jews to guard the Sabbath says, "These are the things that God commanded you to do, six days you shall do work, and on the seventh day it will be for you holy, a day of solemn rest to God, anybody that does work on it will be put to death, do not light a fire in any of your dwelling places on the Sabbath day", (Ex. 35:1-3).
It seems a bit strange that out of the thirty nine different types of creative activity that could have been mentioned in scriptural verse, only kindling a fire was stated (See Mishnah Shabbos, chap. 7, "Klal Gadol", pg. 73a). Why was burning a fire chosen from all the other Sabbath prohibitions? (See Rashi citing the Talmud in Shabbos, chap. 7, "Klal Gadol", pg. 70a, the opinion of Rebbi Nasan; and also see the Rashbam for different approaches in resolving this question).
The Chassam Sofer (Rabbi Moshe Sofer, pg. 151b, the paragraph starting with the words "Lo Siva'aru") teaches a deeper dimension to the Torah's choice of the prohibition of lighting a fire on the Sabbath. He says that the verse is telling us that preferably a Jew's heart should be on fire with the love of God, prayer, and the study of Torah the entire week.
This means that a Jew should work at being so ablaze with fiery passion to serve God the whole week, that by the time the Sabbath comes, the spiritual fire burns on its own.
In other words, regarding the prohibition of starting a flame on the Sabbath, the Torah is trying to say, "Do not 'BEGIN' to kindle the spiritual flame on the Sabbath, rather, that process should start from the beginning of the week, so that by the time it is the Sabbath the person is already 'on fire'".
The Shvilei Pinchas (Rabbi Pinchas Freidman) suggests that this approach of the Chassam Sofer broadens the meaning behind the commandment to remember the Sabbath every single day (Ex. 20:8, and the Ramban citing the Mechiltah there).
He says that this commandment is meant to remind us to work at developing a sizzling desire of service to God every day of the week. Only then will the spiritual candle 'burn bright' on the Sabbath day.
After all, it says, "One who toils on the eve of the Sabbath will have what to eat on the Sabbath, however, one who does not toil on the eve of the Sabbath, from where will he eat on the Sabbath", (Tractate Avodah Zarah, chap. 1, "Lifnei Eideihen", pg. 3a).
There is one particular vessel in the Sanctuary which personifies this relationship between the weekdays and the Sabbath and that vessel is the Menorah (Candelabra).
We are told that the lighting of the Menorah must be done in such a way that the flame goes up by itself (See Rashi in Num. 8:1 expounding on the word "Biha'alosecha"). Isn't it obvious that the Kohen must hold the lighter to the candles of the Menorah until they can stay lit on their own? If the Kohen pulls the lighter away from the wicks before they catch fire, it is evident that he has not fulfilled the commandment. Why then was it necessary to specify that the lighting of the Menorah must be done until the flame goes up by itself?
The Shem Mishmuel (Rabbi Shemuel Sochotchover, Parshas Biha'alosecha, pg. 188) explains what is going on based on the Yalkut Shimoni which says that the seven branches of the Menorah correspond to the seven days of the week. The central post of the Menorah (which is attached to the base) represents the Sabbath.
The six branches which stem out of the central post (three on each side) represent the six days of the week. We also know that the wicks at the top of the six branches lean toward the central post (Rashi on Num. 8:1).
All this comes to enlighten us! The six branches facing the center post teaches us that the six days serve the seventh. Just as the brightness in the center post is assisted by the other six branches, so does the spiritual light of the Sabbath burn bright when assisted by the other six days.
Perhaps we could suggest that it is for no small reason that the portions of Vayakheil and Pikudei are read together with Parshas HaChodesh on Shabbos Mevarchim. Shabbos Mevarchim represents the beginning of a new month. Parshas HaChodesh represents the beginning of a new lunar year.
These two beginnings fit in well with the Chassam Sofer's message. Not just are we to begin generating that spiritual spark at the beginning of the week, but the emphasis now is to work on creating spiritual light at the start of each new month and at the beginning of our new lunar year.
This lesson is empowering as much as it is demanding. We all have active and busy lives. There are so many projects that demand our attention. Although we should attend to these matters, we must never lose sight of the spiritual opportunities that surround us. By doing so, we actually build our own Sabbaths which is tantamount to building a Sanctuary.
So, may we all be blessed to sow the seeds of passion, excitement, and fun into our hearts as we glowingly learn Torah, pray, and do Mitzvos during the week, thus creating our own blazing 'Sanctuary of Time'. In that merit, may we all deserve to light the Menorah in our permanent House of God speedily in our days.