Parashat Vayak’hel opens with Moshe instructing the people on the Shabbat saying the following, Shemot / Exodus 35:1-3, א וַיַּקְהֵל מֹשֶׁה אֶת-כָּל-עֲדַת בְּנֵי יִשְֹרָאֵל וַיֹּאמֶר אֲלֵהֶם אֵלֶּה הַדְּבָרִים אֲשֶׁר-צִוָּה יְהוָֹה לַעֲשֹת אֹתָם: ב שֵׁשֶׁת יָמִים תֵּעָשֶֹה מְלָאכָה וּבַיּוֹם הַשְּׁבִיעִי יִהְיֶה לָכֶם קֹדֶשׁ שַׁבַּת שַׁבָּתוֹן לַיהוָֹה כָּל-הָעֹשֶֹה בוֹ מְלָאכָה יוּמָת: ג לֹא-תְבַעֲרוּ אֵשׁ בְּכֹל משְׁבֹתֵיכֶם בְּיוֹם הַשַּׁבָּת: 35:1 Then Moses assembled all the congregation of the sons of Israel, and said to them, ‘These are the things that the Lord has commanded you to do: 35:2 ‘For six days work may be done, but on the seventh day you shall have a holy day, a sabbath of complete rest to the Lord; whoever does any work on it shall be put to death. 35:3 ‘You shall not kindle a fire in any of your dwellings on the sabbath day.’(NASB) The concept of not working on the Sabbath day is related to our remembering the Lord God Almighty and what He has done on our behalf. Moshe begins by instructing the people that they are to obey all the things the Lord has commanded them, and then leads into the command on the Shabbat. The way Moshe writes about performing work on the Shabbat according to the Hebrew text is interesting. Shemot / Exodus 35:2, ב שֵׁשֶׁת יָמִים תֵּעָשֶֹה מְלָאכָה וּבַיּוֹם הַשְּׁבִיעִי יִהְיֶה לָכֶם קֹדֶשׁ שַׁבַּת שַׁבָּתוֹן לַיהוָֹה כָּל-הָעֹשֶֹה בוֹ מְלָאכָה יוּמָת: 35:2 ‘For six days work may be done, but on the seventh day you shall have a holy day, a sabbath of complete rest to the Lord; whoever does any work on it shall be put to death. (NASB) Note how the Hebrew text is written, instead of Moshe using the word עֲבוֹדָה (work) the Torah uses the word מְלָאכָה. The root word for מְלָאכָה is related to the word מַלְאָךְ (Angel/Messenger). A little later on in the Torah, we read Moshe describing the people bringing gifts (contributions) for the construction of the Tabernacle, the Masoretic Text writes this in the following way. (Shemot / Exodus 35:21) כא וַיָּבֹאוּ כָּל-אִישׁ אֲשֶׁר-נְשָֹאוֹ לִבּוֹ וְכֹל אֲשֶׁר נָדְבָה רוּחוֹ אֹתוֹ הֵבִיאוּ אֶת-תְּרוּמַת יְהֹוָה לִמְלֶאכֶת אֹהֶל מוֹעֵד וּלְכָל-עֲבֹדָתוֹ וּלְבִגְדֵי הַקֹּדֶשׁ: Here in Shemot / Exodus 35:21 Moshe chose to use both of these words (לִמְלֶאכֶת/ עֲבֹדָתוֹ) for the construction of the things in use of the tabernacle. Based upon the way these words are used, the word מְלָאכָה leans towards a spiritual (heavenly) aspect of work (because of the connection to its root word), and the word עֲבוֹדָה tends to have a physical (earthly) aspect of work. The Rabbis describe these things as the Torah prohibiting the performance of certain categories of activities indicated by the word מְלָאכָה. The Torah describes the lighting of fire as an example of such a forbidden category of activity being related to a spiritual / heavenly connection.
The way the words עֲבוֹדָה/ מְלָאכָה are used in the Masoretic Text coupled to the rabbinic interpretation on the use of these words, we learn עֲבוֹדָה is physical work (worldly) and מְלָאכָה is spiritual work (having deeper spiritual meaning in connection to the service of God in the Tabernacle). The Sabbath rest has both of these connotations (spiritual and physical rest). This concept is drawn out in the commentary Or HaChaim on shemot Exodus 35:2 speaking of the completion of creation being connected to an entire week including the Sabbath rest. The Shabbat was the reason why the eighth day is chosen for circumcision of a new born male and why a new born calf was not qualified for sacrifice until following eight days which included a sabbath day of rest.
Or HaChaim on Shemot / Exodus 35:2 Part 3
There is also a lesson here that the success of the work performed during the six days of the week depends on the observance of the seventh day as a holy day. The reason is that the Sabbath is the soul of the world as we explained in our introduction to Genesis on Genesis 2,2.
Or HaChaim on Bereshit / Genesis 2:2
We find a similar idea in the Zohar-Tazria (page 13 Sullam edition) as to why the rite of circumcision cannot be performed before the eighth day, and why an animal is not fit to serve as a sacrifice until the eighth day of its life. In either case one has to wait until at least one Sabbath has passed so that each has attained a נפש, a soul full of vitality. Our verse then describes G’d as putting the finishing touch to His creation by bringing on the Sabbath, not by creating on the Sabbath. The reason the Torah repeats once more מכל מלאכתו אשר עשה, from all His work which He had done, is to emphasize that this work had been done previously, i.e. before the onset of the Sabbath. The word ויכל therefore refers to activity carried out previously. All that had been lacking was something that would give permanence to this universe of ours. The seventh day, i.e. the Sabbath, completed the cycle that provides this permanence. We are therefore entitled to view the Sabbath as one of the seven days of creation. The proof that we are correct may be the very fact that we do not find the usual: “it was evening it was morning the seventh day,” meaning there was no בריאה on that day.
Or HaChaim interprets that the Sabbath day is the soul of the world. This is connected to circumcision on the 8th day, one receives a nephesh (נפש) after having lived through one Shabbat. The permanency of God’s creation is solidified in the completion of the cycle of one week which culminates on the Sabbath day. The idea is the Lord God puts His finishing touch upon a life, for both man and beast, by living one full week. Notice how the rabbis are continuing to take a Kabbalistic approach to the interpretation of the shabbat with its connection to the brit mila (circumcision) and the sacrifice referencing Vayikra / Leviticus 22:26 Then the Lord spoke to Moses, saying, 22:27 ‘When an ox or a sheep or a goat is born, it shall remain seven days with its mother, and from the eighth day on it shall be accepted as a sacrifice of an offering by fire to the Lord. 22:28 ‘But, whether it is an ox or a sheep, you shall not kill both it and its young in one day. (NASB) Again these concepts are drawn out in Vayikra / Leviticus 22 as the Lord states explicitly that a sacrifice is not acceptable until having gone through and entire week including the Shabbat.
Rashi on Shemot / Exodus 35:2 Part 1 claims the Lord intentionally mentioned the prohibition of working just before the commands about the building of the Tabernacle, because the work on the Tabernacle (spiritual and physical work) does not set aside or supersede the Shabbat. Here Rashi is speaking of not violating the Sabbath rest even for the Tabernacle, and he points out how it is interesting this is written just prior to the construction of the Tabernacle. This is a very important point because most Christian commentators claim that under the Law of Moshe man merited or earned his salvation before God. The Torah actually teaches us something different here about one’s merits in relation to the Sabbath rest! We do not set our hand to a salvific work!
Salvation is a work of God and this is illustrated in the command on the Sabbath rest superseding both the physical and the spiritual construction.
This also teaches us the commandments were not a means for salvation, they were a means for living our lives following having attained salvation by faith in the God of Israel and in His Messiah Yeshua! Again, note how this runs contrary to classical Christian theology. Note also how properly understanding the Torah tears down the idea of legalism and the Law! (Note legalism is stressing obedience apart from faith. The Scriptures speak however of God working in our lives to produce both faith and faithfulness that leads to a desire to obey God’s Word, in this way it is the Lord God Almighty and His Messiah Yeshua who are the author and finisher of our faith! Hebrews 12:2) When we properly understand the Torah, the centuries of poor exegesis of the Torah believing man earned his salvation disappears! If we interpret these things from a mystical approach, the type-and-shadow of the Lord dwelling in our midst by His Spirit, in the Tabernacle of our bodies being connected to His dwelling place, and the significance of dying to self and seeing God, there is a very significant aspect here to the command on the Sabbath rest! Rashi speaks of not violating the Sabbath rest even for the Tabernacle, and he points out how this was written just prior to the construction of the Tabernacle. These things teach us that we do not set our hand to a salvific work since salvation is a work of God! The rest the Lord God Almighty provides for us consists of both physical and spiritual rest. This is how the Messiah Yeshua used the meaning of the Shabbat in the application of resting in Him, and in the concept of taking hold of His Torah. The salvation that God provides is by the means of the Lord God living in our midst (Torah centric principle), working in our lives, and by His Spirit empowering us to walk in His commands. This is the fruit of the Spirit Paul spoke of concerning God who is at work within us! (Philippians 2:12-14)