Parashat Vaya’khel:  Exodus 35:1 to 38:20

For Week of Friday, March 8, 2024

Our Torah portion begins with the verb va’yakhel,” which means “assembled, or brought together,” which Moses does as he repeats the mitzvah of Shabbat observance.  Next Moses instructs the congregation to bring “offerings of the heart,” all manner of precious materials, stone, and building supplies that will be used to construct the portable sanctuary in the wilderness (the mishkan). This portable “temple” will house the ark of the covenant and become the cultic center of worship for the Israelites.

In the early Rabbinic period of 100 to 300 C.E. the Mishnah interpreted the law of kindling fire to include the idea that a fire kindled before Shabbat could burn or smolder in one’s home throughout the day of Shabbat. But in the eighth century, a fundamentalist Jewish group, called the Kara’ites, (from the verb “to read”) taught that the only readable words of the Torah derived from the written text, namely the “five books of Moses.” Thus they rejected all the teachings and commandments explained in the Mishnah. In so doing, they took literally the idea that there would be no fire (at all) in one’s home during the Shabbat period. So observing in this absolutist manner, meant that winters in Persia and Mesopotamia were rather cold. In fact, they were freezing to death, becauseof their fundamentalist piety!

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