Category Archives: Jewish Law & Life Cycle

Hidden Symbolism of the Mishkan and the 39 Melakhot of Shabbat

A Modern Replica of the Mishkan in Timna, Israel

This week we read a double parasha, Vayak’hel-Pekudei, which focuses on the construction of the Mishkan, the mobile Tabernacle that served as the Israelites’ Temple in the Wilderness (and for centuries afterwards). The parasha begins with the command to observe the Sabbath: “Six days work may be done, but on the seventh day you shall have sanctity, a day of complete rest to God…” (Exodus 35:2) Immediately following this command is the instruction for the Israelites to gather materials for the construction of the Mishkan and its vessels, for “every wise-hearted person among you shall come and make everything that God has commanded.” (Exodus 35:10)

This juxtaposition classically alludes to the fact that the types of actions and works forbidden on Shabbat are those specifically used in constructing and maintaining the Mishkan. The Mishnah (Shabbat 7:2) lists 39 such actions:

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How Long is a Long Life?

This week’s parasha, Mishpatim, presents the first extensive set of Torah laws. The list concludes with a blessing:

And you shall serve Hashem your God, and I will bless your bread and your water; and I will take sickness away from your midst; none shall miscarry or be barren in your land, and the number of your days I will fill. (Exodus 23:24-25)

God promises that He will fill the lifespan of one who observes His laws properly and sincerely. What does this mean? How long is a “full” lifespan? The Ba’al HaTurim (Rabbi Yakov ben Asher, 1269-1343) comments that the gematria of amal’e (אמלא), “I will fill”, is 72, suggesting that a full life span is 72 years. He then quotes Psalms 90:10 as support: “The days of our years are seventy years, or in strength, eighty years…” The Ba’al HaTurim reconciles the figure of 72 years in the parasha with 70 years in Psalms by stating that the year of one’s birth and the year of one’s death don’t count. A newborn is essentially unable to do anything, much like a frail and presumably ill elder in their last year of life. Therefore, one who has reached the age of 72 should be satisfied with having had a “fulfilled” lifespan.

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Should Jews Celebrate Birthdays?

At the end of this week’s parasha, Vayeshev, we read that it was “Pharaoh’s birthday” (Genesis 40:20). This is the only place in the Torah that explicitly mentions a birthday, which leads to the question: are birthday celebrations kosher? Where did birthday parties come from, and what is so special about the day of birth anyway?

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