Parshat Ki Tisa
At the conclusion of the direction of the Mishkan to Moshe, Hashem puts forth the commandment to observe the Shabbat: In Perek 31, Pasuk 13, Hashem tells Moshe:
וְאַתָּה דַּבֵּר אֶל-בְּנֵי יִשְׂרָאֵל, לֵאמֹר, אַךְ אֶת-שַׁבְּתֹתַי, תִּשְׁמֹרוּ: כִּי אוֹת הִוא בֵּינִי וּבֵינֵיכֶם, לְדֹרֹתֵיכֶם--לָדַעַת, כִּי אֲנִי ה' מְקַדִּשְׁכֶם.
And you should speak to bnei Yisrael and say: 'But you should observe My Shabbatot: for it is a sign between Me and you throughout your generations that you may know that I am Hashem you sanctifies you.
That “akh” – “but” interests many commentators. Many understand this “but” as serving as a connection between this pasuk and the one which came before it. That the Shabbat must be observed even though there is a directive to build the Mishkan. The project is a critical one, but, like Hashem rested on the Shabbat, so too, Bnei Yisrael must rest. This project does not take precedence over the Shabbat and the prohibitions of Shabbat must stand. Professor Nechama Leibowitz appreciates this tension between the Mishkan project and the observance of Shabbat. She says: When this pasuk begins with וְאַתָּה דַּבֵּר אֶל-בְּנֵי יִשְׂרָאֵל, - And you shall speak to the Bnei Yisrael, Hashem is telling Moshe: You, Moshe, the same person who is instructing Bnei Yisrael and teaching them how to build this mishkan, You, the same Moshe must teach and explain to the people about keeping the Shabbat. Prof. Leibowitz is explaining that these two mitzvot may appear as the antithesis to the other: The leader who tells the people to build the Mishkan, must tell the people to stop this activity every week on Shabbos. But, are they really the opposite?
The Gemara in Masekhet Brakhot, 55a teaches that Betzalel, the architect of the miskan who Hashem endowed withchachma, bina and da’at (wisdom, understanding and knowledge), knew how to combine the letters with which heaven and earth were created. Where Hashem created heaven and earth for People to live in, Bnei Yisrael constructs a dwelling for God. The construction of the Mishkan is a prime example of Imetateo Dei – imitating God. Here, Hashem instructs the people to create. This demonstrates the value of human productivity. The building of the Mishkan, taking the raw materials of the world and utilizing them to construct and innovate to advance the world in a meaningful way, mimicked Hashem’s creation of the world. Just as Hashem takes the 7th day as a sanctified day to not be active in creation to withdraw and reflect, so too, with the construction of the Mishkan, Bnei Yisrael are told to imitate Hashem. When involved in creating and developing our world, Shabbat is critical. We cease from normal activity. As much as the Torah values work and productivity – “tov”, meaning for constructive purpose (we do not see the word tov with regard to Shabbat in briyat haOlam), we have a responsibility as a people to observe Shabbat. Shabbat is not intuitive. It appears as the opposite of the constructive purpose. It imposes restrictions on the person and denies him or her the opportunity to continue to earn income one day each week. What Shabbat provides for us is not always clear. But, perhaps, Hashem needs to remind us that Shabbat is a part of and critical to the creative process. Like the time of Shemitta when we let the land lie fallow (also referred to as a Shabbat), each week we are instructed to pause. This enables us to appreciate the week’s labor and the fruits of our efforts. There needs to be a proper balance between productive activity and withdrawing and considering Hashem’s mastery over the world. This enables us to have the constant reminder that we are partnering with Hashem in developing our world. But, with the appreciation what is at the end of Pasuk 13 – what we say in Kiddush on Shabbat day: That Shabbat will be a sign of the Brit – the covenant – between Bnei Yisrael and Hashem:
"ביני ובין בני ישראל אות היא לעולם"
-This is a sign between Me and you, forever.