Va’yakhel is a unique grouping of chapters in that it describes two classic conflicts concerning man’s relationship to God: How does man reconcile his duel need for spirituality and the mundane. In other words, how does man seamlessly move from the holy into the secular and then back into the sacred spaces where life is most precious, and how does man express his creative powers within, while recognizing his dilemma.
This first conflict can be viewed if we take notice of the juxtaposition of the mitzvah of Shabbat to the building of the Mishkan (Tabernacle). “Ein melachet hamishkan docheh et hashabat”, that is to say that the building of the Mishkan doesn’t trump the Shabbat. Whereas the Shabbat is our non-temporal sacred space, given to us by God as the cap to His creation; the Mishkan is man’s delineation of temporal, sacred/mundane space as a cap to his creation of culture, be it spiritual or mundane. I assume this to be the case because of the very unusual language in our text beginning in chapter 35 verse 30-35 where language such as “chochmat lev” and “tevunah v’daat” are used, to the beginning of verses of chapter 36 where this same type of language is applied again. It is the language of a society in formation; a society that it is at the cusp of developing it’s cultural norms and values.
The creation of the world is God’s creation and His gift of Shabbat provided us with spirituality. The building of the Mishkan was man’s creation of culture and society. God created the world out of tohu vavohu, out of the void, without borders other than those he super imposed upon the universe; man’s creation was made within given borders and confined to those proscribed by God and the natural order.
In a sense design and placement of the Menorah symbolizes this conflict between man and his frenetic attempt at finding a comfort level between the holy and the mundane. Of all the holy vessels enumerated in the text for use in the Mishkan, the Menorah is the only one without a specific purpose stated within the text. In Va’yakhel, verse 3, the command of not kindling fire on the Shabbat precedes the command to build and design the temple. The fire calls to mind the Greek myth of Prometheus, when fire is stolen from Zeus and given to man. For man, fire is the essential for not only existence and independence, but the expression of his creative ability. In our text man is being proscribed the use of this creative power in building the Mishkan on Shabbat. Man’s recognition of this is symbolized by his design and placement of the Menorah in the Temple.
The building of the Mishkan is God’s compromise with man in assisting him in navigating between the sacred space of the non-temporal and the mundane while at the same time granting man his desire for expessing his creative abilities. V’asu lee mishkan vshacanti betocham (build me a Mishkan in order that I may dwell amongst you) is God’s solution to man’s dilemma. Shabbat trumps the Mishkan, but it and the Menorah allows for the beginning of a new order, within man’s domain. God created man and his physical world, establishing the borders between the sacred and the mundane; man created the culture in which to live and develop, understanding and appreciating the borders between the sacred and the mundane.