The Parshah this week begins with an immense gathering of the entire Jewish people. The opening words tell us that Moses assembled everyone together. It must have been a remarkable sight: the huge crowd, Moses himself addressing them, and Mount Sinai in the background.

There were several reasons for this gathering. One was because the Jewish people had just lived through very stormy and unsettling events. About three months previously a large proportion of the nation had served the Golden Calf, causing Moses to break the Tablets of the Law. Some people had been executed, and others died when they drank water in which the dust of the ground-up idol had been mixed.

Then followed a long period during which Moses, alone on Mount Sinai, pleaded with G‑d on behalf of the nation. Finally, Moses received the second set of Tablets as a sign that the people had been forgiven by G‑d. On the tenth of the Hebrew month of Tishrei, the day which was later to be Yom Kippur, Moses descended the mountain carrying these second Tablets of the Law. His face shone brightly with a spiritual radiance which was so intense that he had to wear a veil.

On the next day came the vast gathering described in our Torah reading. Moses spoke to the people about building the Sanctuary and also about keeping Shabbat. No doubt this had the effect of reassuring everyone, and of refocusing attention on the Divine task in which they were involved: to build a dwelling for the Divine Presence.

The Sages point out that this gathering in which the people heard about Shabbat hints at the fact that later on in history we would gather together on Shabbat. We gather in the Synagogue or the Study House, hearing teachings from the rabbi. We also gather at the Friday Night table. This family "assembly" has also in some ways the same function as that remarkable gathering of long ago described in the Parshah. After all the ups and downs of the week, we come together to refocus, to remember who we are and where we are going.