parshat Ki Tisa (exodus 31)
Join Geoffrey Stern and Rabbi Adam Mintz for a discussion recorded on clubhouse on February 17th as they discuss the Torah’s seemingly arbitrary reference to the observance of the Sabbath in the context of building the Tabernacle (Mishkan). The Rabbis learn from this simple juxtaposition that there are 39 forms of labor prohibited on the Sabbath. If you observe the Sabbath you appreciate the deep significance and practical ramifications of this interpretation. We explore the connection between the Tabernacle and the seventh day.
Welcome to Madlik. My name is Geoffrey Stern and that mud leak we let a spark to shed some light on our truest text or tradition. Along with Rabbi Mintz we host my leak disruptive Torah on clubhouse every Thursday at 8pm. Eastern, and share it as the Madlik podcast on your favorite platform. Today we’ll discuss the Torah’s seemingly arbitrary reference to the observant of the Shabbat in the context of building the Tabernacle. The Rabbi’s learned from this simple juxtaposition, that there were 39 ways to break the Shabbat. If you’ve ever asked whether you can ride a bike or take a dip on a Shabbat and were surprised with the answer, this episode is for you. More recently, a great theologian wrote a whole book on the connection between building a tabernacle and sanctifying the seventh day. So join us on our journey as we enter Architecture in Time.
Well, welcome another week of Madlik disruptive Torah. And as you know, this is a podcast and I have been fortunate that my synagogue has started to share a link to my podcast. And I've been hearing from dear friends. I heard from Judy and I heard from Marshall. And it's so exciting. And those of you who listen to this as a podcast, feel free to join us on clubhouse on Thursday night. And also feel free to give us a few stars and say something nice about us that always warms the heart. So Rabbi, here we are, we're in Ki Tisa, and we're still talking about the temple; the tabernacle, I should say. And it's it's getting to the end game and there's a disjunctive connection with Shabbat. So I am going to read from Exodus 31. And you'll see as I read, there's this amazing jump from building the tabernacle, to keeping the Shabbat and that is going to be the focus of our conversation. So in Genesis 31, it says, "יהוה spoke to Moses: (2) See, I have singled out by name Bezalel son of Uri son of Hur, of the tribe of Judah. (3) I have endowed him with a divine spirit of skill, ability, and knowledge in every kind of craft; (4) to make designs for work in gold, silver, and copper, (5) to cut stones for setting and to carve wood—to work in every kind of craft. (6) Moreover, I have assigned to him Oholiab son of Ahisamach, of the tribe of Dan; and I have also granted skill to all who are skillful, that they may make everything that I have commanded you: (7) the Tent of Meeting, the Ark for the Pact and the cover upon it, and all the furnishings of the Tent; (8) the table and its utensils, the pure lampstand and all its fittings, and the altar of incense; (9) the altar of burnt offering and all its utensils, and the laver and its stand; (10) the service vestments, the sacral vestments of Aaron the priest and the vestments of his sons, for their service as priests; (11) as well as the anointing oil and the aromatic incense for the sanctuary. Just as I have commanded you, they shall do. (12) And יהוה said to Moses: (13) Speak to the Israelite people and say: Nevertheless, you must keep My sabbaths, for this is a sign between Me and you throughout the ages," And of course, this is Veshamru bnai yisrael et hashabbat l'asot et hashabbat that we say on kiddish on the day of Shabbat up until this day, it shall be a sign for all time between Me and the people of Israel. For in six days יהוה made heaven and earth, and on the seventh day [God] ceased from work and was refreshed. Va'yinafash. So wow, what a jump between building the tabernacle in depth, kind of really documenting everything that is contained in the tabernacle, from the the minutus little utensil to the clothing and the oil of sanctification, and then boom, it goes right into Shabbat. And again, it's not just a little reference to Shabbat, it is a key reference to making the day holy Ki kadosh hu lachem and it talks about how you are refreshed "vayinafash" So what do you make of this rabbi, this jump between two seemingly totally different subject matters?
Adam Mintz 05:35
I think that the jump from sacred space to sacred time is a really important jump, because actually in Judaism that's what we have. We have two types of of sanctity, we have a place that sacred, that's the temple, that's the synagogue, but you also have sacred time. That's Shabbat, that's holidays. And the question is, what's the relationship between sacred time and sacred place? You may think that sacred places more important somehow than sacred time, that the place is more important than the time? Or that the time is more important than the place? But the answer is NO, the answer is they're equally as important. And that's why the Torah goes back and forth.
Geoffrey Stern 06:26
And of course, we have this reference to holiness, Qi Kadosh hi lachem. And we'll see a little bit later that there are thinkers who have said, you know, it's rare to refer to any place, any thing, any edifice as holy, but time has been holy from Genesis when God rested on the seventh day, and made it holy. So here, we have to be struck by the fact that we've spent at least two if not three chapters, talking about building this, quote, unquote, holy space, this holy edifice, and the first time we actually come across holiness, is with regard to the seventh day. That has to be striking.
Adam Mintz 07:20
Yeah, I think that that that is striking. Now, it's interesting, just generally, how Shabbat has been referenced so far in the Torah, the only reference we've had to Shabbat, so far, is in the 10 commandments. And the 10 commandments are more interested in the prohibitions of Shabbat. Remember the Shabbat to keep it holy, and it says, You shall not work on the Sabbath, the same way that God rested on the Sabbath, we should rest on the Sabbath. This is a different idea. This is about holiness.
Geoffrey Stern 07:57
It is and in obviously, the opposite of holiness is this mahalecha, Hillul Shabbat is to make something unholy that comes up in these words. And you know, the other thing that comes up is, you're not allowed to do Melacha, you're not allowed to do work. And of course, we know from Genesis, it talks about a Menuchah, but none of these terms are ever defined. We don't know exactly what it means to work. And we don't know exactly what it means to rest. And I think that you have to look at Jewish tradition, because this is the fulcrum, this is ground zero, for defining what it is to rest and what it is to work. And before we take off and discuss that I would be remiss if I didn't share with you my favorite verb in the whole Torah that relates to Shabbat. The last word that I said, is "V'yinafash" in the English translation is and you shall be refreshed. But we all know that nephesh means soul. So "V'yinafash" almost means to be re-souled to be rejuvenated. It's such an amazing concept, I think.
Adam Mintz 09:25
And there's an amazing rabbinic tradition that says that we're given an extra nephesh an extra soul on Shabbat. And that's why just to bring it full circle. That's why we smell the spices, the b'samim in Havdalah because we're sad that we're losing our extra soul to make us feel better. We smell sweet spices, so "V'yinafash", we rest our soul and we're given an extra soul. So that idea of a "V'yinafash" really reflects something really fundamental about Shabbat.
Geoffrey Stern 10:05
Yeah, I mean, I think the connection between "V'yinafash", the word nefesh, the word Ruach, the word Nishama. There's all this sense of breath, and smell. And I think the fact that you mentioned the fact that we smell certain things on Shabbat, because we have that extra soul talks about a little bit the ability of Shabbat to bridge the gap between the physical and the spiritual world. And isn't that what we've been discussing for the last two or three weeks, whereas we've discussed a tabernacle, which ultimately is some sort of house or home or abode for God, the ultimate spirit?
Yes, I mean, that has been the topic. But that transition here, from tabernacle to Shabbat, is very striking. It's also interesting, you stopped at Shabbat, but immediately after Shabbat, we have the story of the golden calf. That's also very striking. Like, what's that about? What's the relationship? It goes from tabernacle, to Shabbat, to golden calf? What's the order there? Why is Shabbat in the middle there between tabernacle and golden calf?
Geoffrey Stern 11:28
So we're going to get into this a little bit further on when we discuss Abraham Joshua Heschel's treatment of this all. But he takes I believe, and you'll confirm this, the rabbinic approach. And we've really touched upon this rule a new a number of times, we recently of aiyn mukdam u'muchar b'Torah, that there is no chronology in the Torah. And what Heschel quotes and we'll see it later, is that actually, the Mishkan was only commanded and built after the sin of the golden calf. Is that a mainstream position or a minority position?
Adam Mintz 12:12
There are two views Rashi and Nachmanidies, Nachmanides rejects the idea that there's no chronology in the Torah. Nachmanides thinks that everything is chronological. Therefore, God gave the 10 commandments, they built a tabernacle, and then they worshiped the golden calf. Rashi is a big proponent of the fact of aiyn mukdam u'muchar b'Torah, , there's no chronology, according to Rashi, God gave the 10 commandments, then Moses came down with the 10 commandments and saw the golden calf. And then the tabernacle was built, almost as a concession on God's part, that clearly the people need something, so I will give them a tabernacle.
Geoffrey Stern 12:59
So according to that position, there's a straightforward answer to your question. But I think according to the other position, it's not so clear. I said in the introduction, that this was where the rabbi's determined exactly what ....and I could say qualified, but it because they gave a number, they almost quantified What melacha, What work is, and it's all pretty much based on four words that I read earlier, "ach et shabotie tishmaru" the word "ach" translated here as nevertheless you must keep my sabbaths. And they see that as a link between what came before and what follows. So in a sense, what Rashi says, is that the Ach is is to say that not only did they build the temple, but "ach" also you can't build the temple, you can't build the tabernacle on Shabbat. And he almost is trying to use a rule of hermeneutics. And we know we've come across this chronology thing, there are at least 13 rules of hermeneutics. The Ramban knock manatees, who you mentioned a second ago, says, you know, if you kind of go that way, you can go in a different direction. But ultimately when he quotes rabbi Abuhu said in the name of Rabbi Yohanan. "ach" yea shall keep my Shabbat. The word "ach" has a limiting qualification. And the reason why the work of the tabernacle does not override the Shabbat is not an account of the word Ach, but because he warned about keeping the Shabbat. Here right next to the subject of making of the tabernacle, thus indicating this Shabbat is not to be set aside on account of Shabbat, and in line with the plain meaning of the text, the verse states, you shall not work in the tent of meeting. So Nachmanides kind of takes it, you know, to get almost Machiavellian. He says the ends do not justify the means. Even though building the temple is the holiest pursuit that you could ever do. You can't do it on Shabbat. You can't break the rules to make something holy. I think that's the most natural way that he's saying it. And so it's really one of juxtaposition. Here are all the things you have to do. You have a timeline, you have a budget, you have deadlines, but don't get carried away, you still have to keep the Shabbat. And that's a pretty straightforward connection between what precedes and what follows. Do you agree?
Adam Mintz 15:55
I agree, that's a very nice kind of derivation. The fact that you know, it kind of It pits one against the other, and it says Shabbat wins. Now, I'm not so sure, Geoffrey, that that's so obvious that that's true. And that's what we're going to talk about. That's interesting. Why is it that Shabbat beats the building of the tabernacle, you very easily could have said that Shabbat is important. But building the tabernacle is even more important.
Geoffrey Stern 16:26
And of course, I can think off the top of my head of two examples of that the Brit Mila, the circumcision is done on Shabbat. Come what may eight days you do it.
Adam Mintz 16:40
Geoffrey Stern 16:40
And saving a life is done a Shabbat, come what may. But there are things that we all know are not done in Shabbat. You can't blow a shofar on Shabbat. So we have a rRosh Hashannah that occurs one of those days on on Shabbat, we don't blow. So I think you're right, it's a kind of a gray area. It's not like everything has to bow down and give right of way to Shabbat. But building this tabernacle seems to.
Adam Mintz 17:14
Right. And I think right and that's, that's potentially surprising, right? I mean, I don't know if... You know, it makes sense. But you could have said it the other way.
So here's the interesting thing. Shabbat is, I would say, prominent, I would say it's the essence of Judaism. And we know in Shabbat, we have to rest and we know in Shabbat, we can't do Malacha work. But the truth is Rabbi, would you not agree with me, the only thing it says out in the open is Exodus 35. "You shall kindle no fire throughout your settlements on the Shabbat day." That is the only thing that is explicitly forbidden. And then we'll get to stories of collecting the manna on Shabbat. And somehow that breaks the Shabbat. So you could say in addition to lighting a fire, you're not permitted to hunt and gather, you're not allowed to move things from one area to another. But really, in terms of this kind of dynamic between the written law and the oral law. If you look only at the written law, that's about it. can't light a fire maybe can't even carry Is that Is that am I am I on the right track?
Adam Mintz 18:36
You are 100% Right? Where the other categories come from, is not so simple. Who made them up? The Torah doesn't say them.
Geoffrey Stern 18:46
So there is a Mishnah, obviously Mishnah in Shabbat, chapter seven. Number two, and it basically says that there are 40 Less one forbidden mrlschoy; Forbidden acts of work on Shabbat. And in the source notes that you can see if you look at the podcast, they all have to do with what was necessary to construct the Tabernacle. They go from planting, plowing, reaping, gathering, threshing, winnowing, then they go to garments hearing, dyeing spinning, warping, issues of hides trapping, killing, flewing skinning, they go to construction, writing, erasing construction demolition extinguishing a fire. So at the end of the day, the common assumption amongst most Jews who are aware of this 39 melachot, these 39 acts that considered work is learned from the building of the tabernacle. In truth, there's only one sage, as far as I can tell, who actually made the link Rabbi Hanina Bahama in Shabbat 49b says they correspond these 39 laws of work correspond to the labors in the tabernacle. And he goes, these are the ones that weren't enumerated as primary categories. Rab Yochenan son of Rav Eliezer said to them, and he said, No Melacha is mentioned 40 times less one, they weren't even 100% clear of what the connection is. But there was a very deep, I believe, assumption that somehow we learned those 39 things that are forbidden from the work that was necessitated in building the Mishkan.
Adam Mintz 20:57
Right. So that's the rabbinic jump. And that is the answer to your first question, which is, why does Shabbat follow the laws of the Tabernacle? The reason is, because you derive the 39 types of work that are prohibited on Shabbat, you derive them from the building of the tabernacle. Whatever work was done in the building of the tabernacle, that's what's forbidden on Shabbat.
Geoffrey Stern 21:35
It's a fascinating connection. And again, as you've pointed out, on numerous occasions, it almost shows that there's a necessity for an oral tradition. We all know that your grandma gives you a recipe. And you know, if you just read the recipe, it doesn't ever turn out. But if you kind of heard it from your mom who heard it from her, Aunt... there is something there, it's called tradition. It's called the way things were done. But it is kind of fascinating that it's not written anywhere. And when I said in the introduction, anyone who's ever ridden a bike or asked if they could ride a bike on Shabbat, or take a dip, I mean, you would think the reason why you can't ride a bike is maybe because your movement or because you're traveling. The reason correct me if I'm wrong is the tire might inadvertently make a kind of an impression on the ground, similar to what a farmer would do if they were about to plant seeds.
Adam Mintz 22:39
Right. So that's an oral development. And that means you have 39 categories of work. Because Shabbat is so serious, is so important. So they need fences around the law, a fence around the law means that they prohibit certain things that in and of themselves are not really prohibited. But we don't do it because they're similar to things that are prohibited like riding a bike, like swimming, those kinds of things. It says you're not allowed to ride an animal on Shabbat, because you may come to pull off a branch of a tree to use it as a whip. Now that's ridiculous, because you're allowed to ride an animal on Shabbat, but because Shabbat is so holy, they kind of imagine what things could go wrong. And they prohibit you from riding an animal. You're not allowed to open an umbrella on Shabbat, because you might put it on top of you in a way that it becomes like a tent. And it's like you're building a tent. Now that's in a way they're imagining all the bad things that could happen, which is fascinating.
Geoffrey Stern 23:57
So I think we would be remiss if we didn't talk about the wonderful things that have coming out of this. If it wasn't for these rules, where you're not allowed to separate one thing from another as someone who would be separating the chaff from the grain. We wouldn't have gefilta fish. The Gefilta fish was created, because you couldn't eat a real fish where you had to remove the bones and cholent was created. God bless cholent because you can't cook on Shabbat you have to prepare the meal beforehand.
Adam Mintz 24:31
I'm gonna tell you an amazing thing about Chulent. You know, we live in a world in which everybody has an oven in their house, and we take for granted it must have been like that for the past 1000 years. But the truth of the matter is that our ancestors in Eastern Europe and Poland, they didn't have ovens in their own homes. Most people didn't have ovens. And what they used to do is they used to bring the chulent to the Baker's oven on Friday afternoon, and they used to put it in the Baker's oven. And on Shabbat morning they would send one of the children to take the chulent out of the baker's oven and brin git home fo rhot food. And you can imagine Poland, in January and February how cold it was. That cholent really warmed, as you said "vayinafash" tha tchulent really warmed the soul.
Geoffrey Stern 25:26
It is kind of amazing, but it also wakes you up to how else this could have been interpreted. So we know from Josephus Flavius that the Essenes, they didn't have this tradition of the 39 melachot, they really only had two Melachot that they focused on that were literally because they were literalalists in the text of the Torah, and one was lighting a fire, and they took it to the extreme and said you can't benefit from a fire on Shabbat. So according to Josefus, they sat in the dark all Shabbat, which to us is totally un Shabbosdik, if you will, because we have the Shabbos candles and we have this OR this beauty of light.
Adam Mintz 26:10
isn't that amazing? They rejected the oral tradition, what you just talked about, you know, the recipe that you get from your grandmother, it's so much better when you learn it from your mother, they rejected all of that they accepted only the written Torah. Yeah, unless maybe their moms and grandparents observed it that way. Maybe this was formulated over time. Who knows! What I would love to focus on, though, is the variety of the ways of keeping the Shabbat and looking at what rest is. And what work is. The other thing they wouldn't do is they wouldn't leave their dwelling. So they were stuck in their house on the Shabbat. And you can imagine one of the things that we who follow Rabbinic Judaism believe in hook sink and barrol is Oneg Shabbat, is to enjoy the Shabbat. And the Essenes didn't get that memo. There's a fascinating study that I quote in the notes, and it was done by a scholar called Shai Cohen. And it's the truth is, it comes from Christian sources criticizing how their Sabbath was more spiritual than the Jewish Sabbath. But in it, it talks about we Christians keep it it's all spiritual, where the Jews, they dance, they sing, they go to theater. And, and what's fascinating about that is it does show that there are many varieties, I think that there were many varieties in keeping the Shabbat with a maybe an emphasis on this enjoyment of, of the Shabbat, which is a fascinating subject in and of itself, kind of the diversity of how people can and will keep the Shabbat. Now a big piece in enjoying the Shabbat is the rabbinic idea of an Eruv. Because what an Eruv does is it allows you to carry outdoors on Shabbat that allows you to push a baby carriage that allows you to play ball on Shabbat that allows you to take a book to synagogue to read and actually the Eruv is also a rabbinic innovation. The Torah doesn't talk about an Eruv. But the rabbi's understood that if we didn't allow people to carry on Shabbat, then they wouldn't be able to have Oneg Shabbat. So that's a perfect example with a rabbis themselves went out of their way to guarantee Oneg Shabbat.
Geoffrey Stern 28:57
Absolutely. So we are kind of running out of time. And I called the name of this episode, Architecture in Time. And the reason I did that is Abraham Joshua Heschel wrote an amazing book called The Sabbath. And it is known for one concept, which is that Shabbat is a Cathedral in Time, in fact, when it was translated into French, and my French is not really good, Les Bâttiseurs du Temps which means Architecture in Time, which is where I took my title. And the whole book if there's one thing that you do between now and Shabbat, is download The Sabbath by Abraham Joshua Heschel, because it is a poem, it is a commentary on this exact juxtaposition between sanctifying space which is the Mishkan and sanctifying time and what has Heschel argues beautifully, is that and again, I referenced this earlier, he believes that the temple came after the sin of the golden calf. And that in truth, it was time that has been made holy throughout the Bible starting from the first chapter in Genesis. And today as we read this amazing juxtaposition. And he makes some amazing insights, one of the insights has to do with what is commanded on Shabbat, these 39 laws, Heschel points out are all negative. And he picks up on something amazing that my Maimonides does in terms of how can we describe God, and Maimonides says, We can't describe God in a positive way. We can only describe God in a negative way, he is not physical, he is not finite. And Heschel says the same thing is done with Shabbat. And you may be able to parse what you can do in terms of what this 39 or 38 or 37th rule is. But the point is, that the Shabbat is on that same level of holiness, that it's defined not by what it is, but what it's not because what it is, is infinite. It was almost personified by the Jews, we welcome the Shabbat, every week, as a bride, as a partner. And he talks about it's not a different state of consciousness, but a different climate. He keeps harping on this sense of when you're in this tabernacle, you're surrounded by this environment, and that is what Shabbat is. And he talks about it was only after the people had succumbed to the temptation of worshipping a thing, a golden calf, that the erection of a tabernacle of holiness in space was commanded. But nowhere, according to Heschel, in the Bible itself, is there a reference to a holy mountain, to a holy spot, to a holy place, even the, the tabernacle itself, is a ephemoral. And I'll only finish by saying that he looks at this amazing way that we welcome the Shabbat every week with Lecha dodi. And in it, we talk about shaking off the dust and shaking off the, the downcast and the moan that we have from the destruction of the temple. And the Sabbath, replicates or replaces this Lewis temple. So really, there could be nothing more appropriate to a discussion that we've had for the last two or three weeks about a tabernacle, then understanding Herschel's concept of a tabernacle in time. And that, I believe, is the ultimate message of the juxtaposition of these two seemingly different contexts and subject matters.
Adam Mintz 33:21
I think that's a beautiful way to end and everyone should enjoy the Pasha this week and appreciating both the tabernacle the sacredness of place and Shabbat the sacredness of time. And that was a beautiful way of ending. There's no book like Heschel's, The Sabbath and I know we're all gonna enjoy it over Shabbat. So Shabbat Shalom to everybody. Enjoy.
Geoffrey Stern 33:42
Shabbat shalom. See you all next week. And please go ahead and listen to the podcast like the podcast, join my friends with giving a good review, and we'll see you all next week.
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