With this double Torah portion, we conclude the book of Exodus. Vayakhel, which means “he assembled,” describes in detail the building of the movable desert sanctuary, that would house the holy Ark and serve as the center of religious worship for Israel. The Torah sedrah begins with another reminder of the sanctity of Shabbat, this time warning explicitly against “kindling fire in all your habitations.” The rabbinic reading of this stringent text interpreted that phrase to allow a fire already kindled on Friday before the onset of Shabbat to continue burning in one’s house during the Sabbath day.
In this week’s double portion, some thirty verses are devoted to the making of the priestly garments, which were carefully described back in parashah Tetzaveh, with more than forty verses. Granted that priests should look different than the rest of the citizens, why wasn’t a simple white garment sufficient for the priests? One could even argue that priests should not wear anything different or unique because of the declaration made in chapter 19: “you shall be unto me a kingdom of priests and a holy nation.” What is clear is that the priestly garments were unusual, awesome to behold. Nachmanides, writing in the thirteenth century, sees these garments as garbs of kingship and royalty, each one of the garments regal in its own right. So the priestly garb is intended to exalt the priests. But there must be more to the meaning of this clothing. How would you interpret the spiritual significance of these special garments?