Judaism: Vayakhel: Love
Rabbi Lazer GurkowRabbi Eliezer (Lazer) Gurkow, currently serving as rabbi of congregation Beth Tefilah in London, Ontario, is a well-known speaker and writer on Torah issues and current affairs.
Shabbat on Saturday
Several weeks ago I was asked why it is necessary to observe Shabbat on Saturday. Suppose I was feeling particularly restful and holy on Tuesday, is there anything wrong with observing Shabbat on Tuesday? Can’t a vast and loving G-d tolerate a Jew that prefers to rest on Tuesday?
I posted this question on Facebook and received a number of interesting comments. Some said Shabbat is a communal, not individual celebration. Some said I should rest both days. Others compared it to coming late to a wedding or forgetting an anniversary. Fascinating comments and here are my thoughts.
An infinitely vast and loving G-d doesn’t need to care about whether I observe Shabbat on Saturday or Tuesday, but He chose to care. We all want a relationship with G-d. The problem is that He is infinite heavenly, ethereal and perfect and we are not. How can we relate to Him? We can’t understand Him and you can’t love what you don’t understand.
Yet, G-d is also omnipotent and capable of bridging the unbridgeable. He chose to make Himself available to us, to be found in our small, petty, confined and meticulous world. He lowered Himself to us and made Himself available on our level. “And G-d descended unto Mount Sinai.”
G-d chose a number of meeting places and said, come to the following spot on the following day and perform the following task and when you do, you will find me there. Of course we can go to a different spot on a different day and perform a different task, but we won’t find G-d there.
This is because G-d chose to descend to us and operate by our rules. Our world is structured and orderly, it operates by a set of rules. Despite G-d’s transcendence, He chose to operate by the rules. He doesn’t need to. He is larger than them. But in our world, He functions as we do. By the rules.
When we meet Him on His terms, He comes to the meeting and embraces us. Indeed, we cannot feel His embrace because He didn’t raise us to His level, but He is with us, on our level, where we don’t see or understand Him. He eases His infinite expanse into a finite action performed in a finite space in a finite timeframe because He loves us. The Talmud says that love contracts the flesh. When there is room in the heart, there is room on the hearth. When we love, we find space even where there is none to find.
Let’s explore the love angle a little further. We are accustomed to thinking that G-d commands us at will. He orders us around and demands our obedience. Such thinking is entirely alien to Judaism. G-d speaks to us with love and offers us His commandments out of love.
Suppose a husband said to his wife, “Honey, I love you, is there anything I can for you?” Suppose she replies, “I would very much like a toasted bagel please go to the store and buy one for me.”
What just happened? He said I love you and want to express my love by doing something for you. I want it to be something that you care for and I want you to know that I did it only because you wanted it. She agreed to the offer of intimacy and provided a framework for his expression of love. Go around the corner and get me a bagel and with that you will express your love for me.
G-d did the same for us. We wanted a relationship with G-d and He wanted one with us. He descended on Mount Sinai and said, “I am G-d your lord,” I want to be yours. I want to belong to you. We accepted with enthusiasm and replied, “Whatever you ask, we will do.” You want to be ours, we want to be yours. Give us an opportunity to demonstrate our love. Show us what you want and we will do it.
G-d gave us Ten Commandments, among them the commandment to keep Shabbat on Saturday. It would thrill me to see you observing Shabbat on the day that I rested because that would show you really love me. It would concretize our intimate bond. We will rest on the same day because we are bound to each other. I am yours and you are mine. We belong together.
Let’s return to the husband. Suppose He told his wife, that he can’t go to the bagel shop because He prefers to remain with her. The implication would be clear to her even if the boorish husband doesn’t understand. For him, the relationship is much more about his happiness, than hers. She would know in an instant that he doesn’t love her. He loves being in love. It’s about him, not about her.
What would it be like if we were to tell G-d that we are willing to do His bidding, but only on our terms? We will rest, but only on Tuesday because frankly we don’t feel like resting on Saturday. The message would be clear. I’m not so much interested in what you want, dear G-d. I am much more invested in what feels restful to me. This isn’t a relationship. It isn’t love. It’s self-absorption.
The husband will have his way and his wife’s company, but he will have lost her. She will now be physically close, but emotionally distant. The same with G-d. We might rest on Tuesday and feel relaxed or even spiritual, but G-d won’t rest alongside us on Tuesday.
Many will wonder whether G-d cares for what we want as much as He wants us to care for what He wants. The answer is that G-d gives us everything that we want. We are breathing, living, thinking, acting, producing, earning and enjoying family; everything we want, He provides. In return, we show Him love by doing what He asks without changing His terms.
How does all this connect to our Parshah? G-d instructed that the Holy Ark be built to very specific dimensions. The Talmud demonstrates at length that the ark’s dimensions were perfectly suited to house the two tablets with not a millimeter of wasted space. But, the Talmud tells us that the Holy Ark didn’t take up space. The Holy of Holies was ten cubits long with the ark at the center, yet the distance from either side ark to the wall, measured five cubits. Additionally, the rods extended to the front wall of the room, yet when the High Priest entered there was enough space for him to slip around the rods.
If the Ark transcended the parameters of space, why was it necessary to build it to the precise measurements that fit the Tablets? Let the one who fit the Holy Ark into the Holy of Holies, fit the tablets into the Holy Ark!
The answer is that though G-d doesn’t fit into our spatial dimensions and must make space for Himself supernaturally, He still wants us to behave according to the strictures of His will as laid out in the Tablets and the Torah. We must fit the Torah into the precise measurements that accord with the Divine specifications. We must align our will with the Torah rather than the Torah to our will. Our efforts must be made on G-d’s terms without falling back on the argument that G-d could make space for us even on Tuesday.
When we conform to G-d and do things His way, G-d conforms to us and makes space for Himself in the confines of our space. When we show our love for G-d and do what He wants, He shows His love for us and fits into our space.
 Torah Ohr Vayishlach: 25b.
 Exodus 19: 20.
 Babylonian Talmud, Baba Metziah: 84a.
 Exodus 20: 2.
 Exodus 19: 8.
 Exodus 25: 10 and 37: 1.
 Babylonian Talmud, Baba Batra: 14a.
 Babylonian Talmud, Yuma: 21a.
 This essay is based on Drash Moshe’s commentary to Exodus 25: 16 and Torah Ohr