by Rabbi Yisrael Kaniel – March 13, 2015
We read in the beginning of the Torah section of VaYakhel (Sh’mot 35:1-2): “And Moses gathered the entire assembly of the Children of Israel and said to them, ‘These are the things that G-d commanded to do them. On six days, work may be done, but the seventh day shall be holy for you, a day of complete rest for G-d, whoever does work on it shall be put to death.’”
This is the only Torah section that begins with a preface describing Moses’ gathering the entire nation before teaching a new law. Our Sages explain (Yalkut Shimoni 408) that G-d told Moses, “Gather the people in a large assembly to teach them the laws of the Sabbath. Future generations will learn from your example to gather the congregation in synagogues and yeshivot every Sabbath, in order to study Torah together.”
Our Sages teach us that the Sabbath, while being a day of rest, is only meant for rest from material pursuits and the like. On the other hand, we are to take advantage of the time on the Sabbath away from work, paying bills, shopping and other such endeavors to concentrate on building and enhancing our knowledge and understanding of G-d’s precepts and principles in general and the intricate laws of Sabbath in particular.
We must take advantage of whatever time that we have free of material pursuits to build our knowledge of G-d’s Word, as set forth in the Torah and related sources, along with sharpening our intellect to properly understand what we know. And one may not despair! As our Sages tell us (Babylonian Talmud, Megillah 6b), “If a person will tell you, ‘I have toiled and I have not succeeded,’ do not believe it, ‘I have not toiled and I have succeeded,’ do not believe it.” One must toil and work at what is important and eventually one will succeed! One must invest the time and energy when one has it to gain the pleasures of G-d’s Torah – even if it is difficult. Our Sages tell us (Babylonian Talmud, Berakhot 63b), “The words of the Torah remain only with one who kills himself [denies himself material joys] for its sake.” And, as our Sages tell us (Mishna Avot 2:5), one with insufficient knowledge cannot be truly pious or truly venerate G-d.
With insufficient knowledge of G-d’s instructions to us, it is obviously impossible to properly heed G-d’s wishes. Of course, without knowledge of His Word as put forth in the Torah, we do not even have the most basic knowledge of His Word. Moreover, as expressed in Rashi’s commentary (Sh’mot 31:18), citing Tanchuma 16, one cannot be considered truly knowledgeable in the Torah without proficiency in all the Holy Scriptures, consisting of the entire Torah and all the books of Prophets and Writings. And without the explanation of the Torah and Holy Scriptures amplified upon in the Babylonian Talmud and Jerusalem Talmud, the Code of Jewish Law known as Shulchan Arukh and other classic commentaries, it is impossible to properly heed His Word, as described in the well known work on Jewish law known as Mishna Brura (chap. 156), written by the eminent Torah giant R. Yisrael Meir Kagan (1838 – 1933), known as the Chafetz Chaim. In fact, this Torah luminary expended enormous energies and efforts to utilize his own tremendous wealth of knowledge and understanding and organize it to help ease the acquisition of knowledge and understanding of G-d’s laws and guidance by as many of his fellow Jews as possible.
Let us gather around the study table whenever we can find the time, especially on Sabbath, to delve into G-d’s Word and learn and understand His laws and principles, for our own sakes, for our betterment and our growth.