Devotion Leads to the Revelation of the Shechinah
Parsha Vayakhel deals with the construction of the Sanctuary and the offerings, as it is written: “Take from yourselves a portion of the L-RD. Everyone…shall bring it as the gift for the L-RD: Gold, silver, copper” (Exodus 35:5). Parsha Pekudei speaks of the gold, silver, and copper that were used to make the Sanctuary and its vessels (ibid. 38:24-29). It also mentions Moses’ sanctification of the Sanctuary and its vessels (Exodus 40), and finally of the cloud that covered the Tent of Meeting and the revelation of the Shechinah (ibid. 40:34).
These two parshiot teach us what is of primary importance, namely the revelation of the Shechinah. A man must infuse himself with it fervently, not simply by rote. Parsha Vayikra deals specifically with korbanot (sacrifices), of hakravah, of the Children of Israel’s devotion, thanks to which the Glory of G-d covered the Sanctuary. As an example, let us examine some reasons for why Jews purchase Tefillin. One Jew might do so simply because he gives in to peer pressure, whereas another Jew might do so because of his devotion to the mitzvah, even going in search of Tefillin if at first he cannot find them. They both accomplish the same mitzvah, yet the second Jew demonstrates exceptional devotion, acting for the sake of Heaven and conforming to G-d’s will (see Torat Kohanim 1:58).
As we have seen, it was due to the devotion and integrity of the Jewish women that the Children of Israel were liberated from Egypt (Sotah 11b). Even in our days, during Torah lectures or at the tombs of Tzaddikim, for example, we see more women than men. Women oversee the education of their children and enable their husbands to study Torah (Berachot 17a). This is why they are exempt from mitzvot that are time-dependent (Berachot 20b; Kiddushin 29a). Finally, let us recall that it was only by force that their gold rings were taken from them to make the golden calf (Tanhuma, Ki Tisa 19; Exodus 32:2). To summarize, we may say that it was because of the women that the Glory of G-d covered the Sanctuary.
(On a personal note, I was once visited by a woman who refused to go to the hospital after suffering a heart attack, since she did not want to forego the mitzvah of searching for chametz on the eve of Passover).
When Moses assembled the Children of Israel, he gave them the mitzvot regarding Shabbat observance and the construction of the Sanctuary directly (see Yalkut Shimoni, Vayakhel 408). Normally, Moses first taught the mitzvot to his brother Aaron and the elders (Eruvin 54b), and only afterwards did he give them to the Children of Israel. Why did Moses teach these mitzvot to them directly? It was because through Shabbat, he wanted to give them a foretaste of the World to Come and infuse them with the Shechinah. As we have seen, man embodies the concept of the Sanctuary and its utensils, and only Moses – who was a “walking sanctuary,” a man to whom G-d spoke “mouth to mouth…in a clear vision and not in riddles; at the image of the L-RD does he gaze” (Numbers 12:8) – was able to speak to them of the Sanctuary and Shabbat.
Moses also wanted to make the Children of Israel realize that if they wanted to make an offering to G-d and receive His reward, they had to, above all, strictly observe Shabbat, which is equal to all the mitzvot of the Torah. [They were not to act like a person who once promised to donate a tenth of all his business revenues to charity – a business that he left open on Shabbat – and asked me for a blessing that it should be successful]. Thus Moses first spoke to them of Shabbat, then of the offerings destined for the construction of the Sanctuary, and finally of their sacrifices and devotion, thanks to which we can infuse ourselves with the Shechinah. As we have seen, it is only through the study of Torah that we can infuse ourselves with it and accomplish all the mitzvot of the Torah. It is written, “And these are the ordinances that tasim [you shall place] before them” (Exodus 21:1), meaning that it is through the mitzvot of Tefillin, Shabbat, and Milah (whose initials form the word tasim) that a person can infuse himself with the Shechinah.