The most precious possession of the Jewish people is the sacred Torah, expressed as the Torah Scroll in the Synagogue, the essence of the Written Torah, and the many volumes of printed books of the Oral Torah. On a more basic level, the Torah was embodied as the two Tablets of Stone, actually sapphire, which Moses brought down from Mount Sinai and which were kept in a Golden Ark in the Temple.

The drama of the way the first set of these Tablets was smashed by Moses when he saw the orgy around the Golden Calf was described in last week's Torah reading Ki Tisa. It continued with the lengthy process of Moses pleading with G‑d on behalf of the Jewish people and, at last, the moment of forgiveness. On that day Moses came down the mountain carrying the second set of Tablets which were to be housed in the Golden Ark.

It must have been an absolutely wonderful moment. The Sages tell us that the date in the Jewish calendar was 10 Tishrei, the date of Yom Kippur, the holiest and most sublime day of the year. One imagines the Jewish people gathered at the foot of Sinai on that very first Yom Kippur as Moses descended bearing the second set of Tablets, the sign of G‑d's forgiveness and love. They knew they were at last being given the true essence of the Torah, the Tablets from Mount Sinai.

It must have been an intensely absorbing and awe-inspiring occasion, especially heightened by the fact that the face of Moses shone. At first the people were frightened by this and retreated; but then Moses called them back to him and he spoke to them, telling them Divine teachings of Torah. When he had finished teaching them, he put a veil over his face, to hide the radiance. This gathering was described in the last week's Parshah,1 and is the absolute paradigm of immersion in the luminous delight of Torah study and closeness to G‑d.

Then comes our Torah reading. It begins (Exodus 35:1) with Moses gathering together the Jewish people in order to give them very detailed instructions about building the Sanctuary, including the idea that for six days in each week they should work on building it, but on the Sabbath they should rest. When did this gathering take place? The famed commenter, Rashi tells us it was the day after the first Yom Kippur when Moses had descended from the Mountain.

The Rebbe discusses this point. Why did Moses wait till the next day in order to instruct the people about the Sanctuary? Everyone was together with him on Yom Kippur, as described above. Why not use that occasion to tell them about the Sanctuary? Why should this take place in a separate gathering the next day?

The Rebbe suggests this is because that first Yom Kippur, a day of immersion in the essence of the Torah, was so sublime and so totally absorbing, that it was not the moment for the highly practical instructions concerning the building of the Sanctuary. On that day the focus was the holiness of the Torah itself.

However, the Jewish people could not remain forever immersed in that sublime mood. The next day they had to gather again in a very purposeful way, to learn how to build the Sanctuary, an activity which would take them several months of dedicated work.

Here, says the Rebbe, we learn an important instruction for our own lives. Indeed there are times when we must be totally immersed in Torah study. This is sublime and all absorbing. Yet it is also important that we should be able to move to the next stage: to work at building a better world, the Sanctuary of daily life. Torah study is sublime, and it has to be part of our daily life, but we also have to know that there is a time to emerge from the Torah.2