This week marks our 22nd Torah portion in the annual reading cycle. The text covers Exodus 35:1 to the end of the book. The portion is almost a copy of what we already read back in Exodus 25. Both sections expound on the minutia of the Tabernacle structure and its furnishings. The main difference is that in Exodus 25, God gives the blueprint, the instructions for building the Tabernacle. And in Exodus 35, the people begin to execute the construction of the Tabernacle.
However, before the people pull together and hold a collection for precious materials and commission able artisans, Moses reminds them of the commandment to observe a Sabbath rest. The chapter begins, “Moses assembled the whole Israelite community and said to them, ‘These are the things the Lord has commanded you to do: For six days, work is to be done, but the seventh day shall be your holy day, a day of sabbath rest to the Lord. Whoever does any work on it is to be put to death.’”
It may strike the reader as a bit odd that Moses expounds on Shabbat right before he launches into a litany of work orders for the whole community. But knowing what Shabbat means to observant Jews today and throughout history, Moses’ prelude is fitting. As they build their house of worship, he is establishing the moral code and divine calendar that will guide the upstart nation for the rest of history. In practical terms, the institution of Shabbat will far outlast the Tent of Meeting or the coming Temples.