A friend of mine recently told me about a fellow with whom he regularly studies Torah. This particular gentleman is quite wealthy, and to his credit, generously supports a large number of Jewish institutions. My friend knows him as a kind, caring, and committed man.

Recently, while they were learning over the phone, my friend could sense that his study partner seemed particularly bushed. “Yeah, it’s been a long day,” he agreed when prompted. “I had to really dish it out to quite a few people at the office today.”

This caught my friend off guard.

“You know me as a kind, gentle guy,” he continued. “But at work, I am ruthless. No one gets by me, and if necessary, I will destroy any competition that stands in my way. It’s exhausting.”

I don’t think he’s the only one.

Why Talk About the Workweek?

Vayakhel begins a narrative journey that will continue through two parshiyot in which we review all the details of the desert Tabernacle. But first, we read about Moses gathering the people and reiterating the laws of Shabbat:

Moses called the whole community of the Children of Israel to assemble, and he said to them. . . Six days work may be done, but on the seventh day you shall have sanctity, a day of complete rest to G‑d.”1

Many ask: Why is the first clause, “Six days work may be done,” necessary? The point is to convey the mitzvah of Shabbat, so why bother talking about the six preceding days? Moreover, resting on the seventh day is indeed counterintuitive, but working the other six most definitely is not, so why even mention it? Isn’t it obvious?

The “Shabbat - Six Days” Divide

In actuality, the words about the workweek are not so much an introduction to the following words about Shabbat, but a follow up to the preceding words of “Vayakhel …” .

To explain.

The opening words of the Torah portion tell us how Moses assembled the Jewish people to give them these instructions, lending the parshah its Hebrew name, “Vayakhel—and he gathered.” Now, what is “gathering” all about? That’s simple enough: unity and harmony between people. The unity is pronounced in our case, for if you look closely at the verse, Moses didn’t just gather the heads of household, or a learned few, but “the whole community of Israel.” It was a nationwide gathering, highlighting sharing and equality.

It is in this context that the next words, “six days work may be done,” are particularly relevant. You see, a common mistake people make is to reserve the spirit of “Vayakhel,” of sharing and harmony, for times like Shabbat, when we are more spiritually inclined and there's little competition. In such settings, sure, why not? Let’s be friends!

But when it comes to the rest of the week, when we’re all in our respective workplaces, there's no place for Mr. Nice Guy. A person must be competitive, cutthroat, and ruthless. After all, it’s a dog-eat-dog world, and if you’re not keeping ahead of the pack, you’ll lose. “The workweek is not the time and place for Vayakhel, for unity and equality,” they say.

By inserting the extra words, “Six days work may be done,” right after the description of Moses gathering the people, the Torah is telling us that the spirit of “Vayakhel” carries over not only to Shabbat when we rest, but also to the six days when we work.

Spread the Wealth

This “Shabbat-Six Days” divide is all too common.

Walk into any shul on an average morning, and you’ll see all kinds of people praying, learning, chatting over a cup of coffee, and rubbing shoulders with one another.

But when the prayer books are closed and the suits and ties are on in the office, a different person emerges. All of a sudden, the person you shared that coffee with in the morning is competition, and you’ll cut him down at the first opportunity.

Others feel the need to assume an air of “boss,” and think that they can’t afford to share a kind word or joke in the break room. It’ll chip away at their machismo and hurt their success.

And the Vayakhel divide can creep up in other parts of your life, too.

Think about it: You have no problem being nice to your neighbors, sharing recipes, a spare egg, and inviting them over for a Sunday barbecue every once in a while. Your kids go over to each other’s houses, and you’re more than happy to have a beer or coffee together when things are quiet.

These are non-competitive, “Shabbat-like” settings that don’t really take anything off your back, so you’re happy to share. Vayakhel comes easy.

But when that same neighbor asks you to share a business contact, or the number to your babysitter, or tries to confer with you on a small matter regarding their tax return (you’re an accountant after all), then you’re not so nice anymore.

“I can’t share my contractor’s number with them! What if he gets too much work and isn’t available when I need him?”

“If I share my babysitter, they’ll certainly pay her more, and then I’ll be on the hook for a raise!”

“I can’t answer this accounting question—it’s my business! He should be paying me for such advice.”

Thoughts like these are undeniably common, but that doesn’t make them appropriate. Such thoughts only occur when making the mistake that Vayakhel applies only to Shabbat.

So here’s a handy reminder: Vayakhel applies everywhere—including the “six days work shall be done.”2