In the beginning of this week’s Parsha, the Torah teaches us the Mitzva of Shabbos – “Six days work shall be done and on the seventh day it will be holy for you, a day of complete rest for G-d . . .” Immediately thereafter, the Torah writes Moshe’s command to the people to bring their donations for the Mishkan – Tabernacle. Then, the construction began.
The Talmud asks a famous question. The order of the Torah is not random. G-d arranged it with a purpose. What is the reason for the juxtaposition of the laws of Shabbos and the construction of the Mishkan? The Talmud responds that the Torah is indicating to us that although the construction of the Mishkan was a mitzva from G-d, it does not override the Shabbos. The Shabbos supersedes the construction of the Mishkan.
But, why not? Why can’t I say that I am performing a mitzva from G-d? I am building His house! Shouldn’t that be a top priority?
Perhaps the Torah is teaching us that there are priorities in life but not always according to our line of thinking. As important as it is to build a Mishkan, keeping the Shabbos is more essential to the Jewish people. The Jewish people eventually would have to learn to live without a Mishkan or Bais Hamikdash. However, we cannot live without the Shabbos. Shabbos is the cornerstone and foundation of the Jewish people. A building cannot remain standing without a strong foundation. History has proven that when the observance of Shabbos disappears, the connection to the Jewish people follows shortly thereafter. However, when it is observed, the Shabbos is - as we say in L’cha Dodi on Friday Night - the source of blessing”
Several years ago, to their credit, the Bernard Horwich JCC decided to remain closed over Shabbos and Jewish holidays. About 90% of its membership is Shomer Shabbos, so it certainly was not worth it to remain open. I remember a discussion that took place in the locker room after one of our basketball games. There were a couple of older people present, discussing the JCC’s decision to close on Shabbos. One member was upset. He said that it is not the Jewish way to stop people from swimming and working out. I chimed in that I don’t think G-d is too upset that a Jewish institution would observe the Shabbos. And it has paid dividends. Thank G-d, the programs and children’s programs of the JCC are thriving.
One of the central Zionist literary figures in the late 19th – early 20th centuries, Asher Ginsberg – better known as “Ahad Ha’am” commented, “More than the Jews have kept the Sabbath day, the Sabbath day has kept the Jews.” Mitzvos are our lifeline when done in their proper time. As long as we keep the Shabbos as a top priority, we will continue to thrive - not only our personal Mishkan, but, also, the entire Jewish people.