What date was it when this assembly took place? Rashi tells us that according to the sages, it was 11 Tishri, the day after Moshe came down from the mountain.
11 Tishri has an additional significance in the Jewish calendar, of course: it is the day after Yom Kippur.
We learn from this fact that any great day matters in two ways: it is important in itself, and it is important because of what follows it.
Yom Kippur is the best example. It is a day of sanctity, a day of emotion, a day with a message. Statistically it gathers huge congregations, but the next day the numbers in shule are sparse again. Spiritually it envelops us in an exceptional mood, but then our commonplace weekday activities resume as normal.
Ethically it softens our feelings towards each other, but the next day we argue, we criticise, we attack each other’s opinions and are disputatious as before.
What a joy it would be if the morrow of the great day began a new, nicer era.
NO FIRE ON SHABBAT
Exodus 35:3, prohibits lighting fire on Shabbat.
There are many explanations of this law. One is that fire in all its various forms makes weekday activities possible, and by not kindling fire we separate Shabbat from the rest of the week.
It is interesting how easy it is these days to produce a spark, which shows that the criterion of Shabbat “work” is not a matter of how physically hard the work is but what it signifies.
Turning on an electric switch is easy, but its effect and symbolism have a mighty message.
What happens if the weather is extreme – excruciatingly hot or freezing cold? We can organise ourselves before Shabbat to provide for the weather. This is the thinking behind the use of Shabbat clocks. The clock does not have to rest on Shabbat: we do, but the clock helps us.
This is also where the notion of the “Shabbos goy” comes in (and Jewish literature has a number of stories of what happened at different times if the Shabbos goy turned out to be Jewish).
ME AND MY GRANDFATHER
Building the tabernacle required an architect. His name was Betzalel, a name with a special interest for me because a later descendant was my grandfather Betzalel, after whom I am named Betzalel in Hebrew.
Not that my grandfather or I were architects, but we both tried to live up to the standards of the original Betzalel, whose name means “in the shadow of God”, knowing that people would judge us against the piety and creativity of our distinguished ancestor.