26.7. The Sabbath and the Building of the Tabernacle (31:12-17)

 (12) And the Lord said to Moses:

(13) Speak to the Israelite people and say: Nevertheless, you must keep My Sabbaths, for this is a sign between Me and you throughout the ages, that you may know that I the Lord have consecrated you.

(14) You shall keep the Sabbath, for it is holy for you. He who profanes it shall be put to death: whoever does work on it, that person shall be cut off from among his kin.

(15) Six days may work be done, but on the seventh day there shall be a Sabbath of complete rest, holy to the Lord; whoever does work on the Sabbath day shall be put to death.

(16) The Israelite people shall keep the Sabbath, observing the Sabbath throughout the ages as a covenant for all time:

(17) it shall be a sign for all time between Me and the people of Israel. For in six days the Lord made heaven and earth, and on the seventh day He ceased from work and was refreshed.

(13) Nevertheless, you must keep My Sabbaths: God’s directions to Moses for the construction of the Tabernacle are now complete, and this commandment concerning the observance of the Sabbath is the very last instruction Moses will receive before descending from the mountain.

The importance of the Shabbat has already been very prominently stressed previously, in the story of the manna, and as the fourth of the Ten Commandments. But the emphasis here is on “Nevertheless”: Even when you are occupied with the building of the Tabernacle, a commandment of genuinely great consequence, you must nevertheless observe my Sabbaths, for they take precedence even over the building of the Temple.

For this is a sign between Me and you throughout the ages, that you may know that I the Lord have consecrated you: Shabbat is a “Temple in time,” and is thus no less important than the physical “Temple in space.”

(14) You shall keep the Sabbath, for it is holy for you. He who profanes it shall be put to death: whoever does work on it, that person shall be cut off from among his kin: Two parallel punishments are prescribed by the Torah for violating the Sabbath: punishment at the hands of the human court, death – and the punishment at the hands of Heaven, karet, “excision of the soul by the Almighty”.

(15) Six days may work be done, but on the seventh day there shall be a Sabbath of complete rest, holy to the Lord: Prima facie, there is no need for the Torah to tell us that work may be done on the weekdays. But in fact, the Hebrew text is even more emphatic than the English here. Literally translated, it says: “Six days shall work be done.” Shall, not may. The contrast between the six weekdays and the Shabbat is emphasized, thus giving considerably more force to the importance of observing the Shabbat. From the Torah’s point of view, performing constructive work on the weekdays is in fact quite important, but observing the Sabbath is at least as important, if not more so.

(16) The Israelite people shall keep the Sabbath, observing the Sabbath throughout the ages as a covenant for all time: This verse highlights the Sabbath not only as just one of the Torah’s many commandments, but also as a direct sign of God’s covenant.

(17) It shall be a sign for all time between Me and the people of Israel. For in six days the Lord made heaven and earth, and on the seventh day He ceased from work and was refreshed: The Temple is a microcosm, and the creation of the Temple is like the creation of the world. Thus, just as the original Creation found its completion in the Shabbat, so must the creation of the Temple cease for the observance of the Shabbat.

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Bible Dynamics, VOL. 2. EXODUS Copyright © by Orot Yerushalaim / P. Polonsky / English translation of the Torah by the Jewish Publication Society, New JPS Translation, 1985. With sincere gratitude for the permission to use. All Rights Reserved.

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