Most years, the Torah portions of Vayakhel and Pekudei are combined and read in the same week. In a Jewish leap year like the current one, however, they are read separately, each assigned its own week.

The Rebbe often expounded upon the significance of the title of a Torah portion. While at first glance the title may seem to simply be the first word or perhaps the first unique word in the portion, there is a deeper meaning. Not only is every Torah portion replete with practical lessons, taught the Rebbe, but the particular title is in and of itself a lesson.

The Big Picture

In the parshah of Vayakhel we read that Moses gathered the Jewish people and informed them, “We’re building a Tabernacle; here’s a list of items I need you all to contribute.” Remarkably, the people contributed so generously that Moses had to instruct them to stop giving—the only time in recorded history where a rabbi had to stop an appeal because too much was contributed!

What does the name Vayakhel signify? Vayakhel means to assemble, to gather—it embodies the concept of summarizing, tallying up a total, and seeing the big picture.

The opening verse of Pekudei reads, “These are the numbers of the Tabernacle … which were counted at Moses’ command …,”1 and there follows an exact accounting of the component parts that were used in the construction of the Tabernacle.

What does Pekudei represent? Pekudei means numbers—it emphasizes counting each part, enumerating each item, and focusing on the details.

Life is made up of two parts: The individual parts, and the total, or sum of the parts. The big picture and the little picture. Vayakhel imparts the crucial lesson that we must consider the big picture; we must look at the entire project; we must look at the Jewish People as a whole. Pekudei, on the other hand, underscores the value of the individual part—every item is important; every Jew is important.2

I am reminded of an adorable story about a mechanic that was called in to try to fix a gigantic cruise ship that suddenly stopped working. Surveying the situation, and after making an elaborate show of taking out all his tools, he proceeded to tighten one single screw, and then announced that the ship was repaired. The mechanic’s bill arrived a few days later, for $10,000! Unwilling to pay such a hefty sum for seemingly minimal work, the cruise operator requested an itemized invoice. The revised invoice arrived: $1.00 for turning the screw; $9,999 for knowing which screw to turn.

There is a big picture and a little picture.

That’s the essence of Vayakhel—the big-picture approach, knowing which screw to turn.

Taking the First Step

On a personal level, I underwent my own “Vayakhel” experience when I decided to embark on the enormous undertaking of teaching the entire Mishneh Torah (Maimonides’ halachic teachings), making these classes available online on Maimonides’ work comprises 1,017 chapters, and I committed to tackling one chapter daily.

At the outset, it was overwhelming, even mind-boggling—1,017 chapters at a pace of one chapter per day would take the better part of three years! But then I remembered that as a young man, I once entered the office of a dear friend of mine, Rabbi Yaakov Noach “Yankel” Krantz, of blessed memory. At the time, his office was in Oak Park, Michigan, and there was a large poster on the wall. The poster depicted an overgrown field with very tall weeds—probably 12 to 15 feet tall—and in the corner was a fellow with a lawn mower, the weeds towering over him. The caption on the poster read: “The best way to finish a large project is to begin.”

How do you complete a massive project? By taking the first step. And then by taking it one step at a time after that. With this approach, thank G‑d, we successfully completed this amazing project!

And that is Vayakhel: Focus on the big picture and move forward one day at a time, one act at a time, one step at a time.

Tabernacle Within

The portions of Vayakhel and Pekudei, which detail the construction of the Tabernacle, its vessels, and the specifics of the priestly garb, are a veritable repeat of the portions of Terumah and Tetzaveh. The Torah is well known for its brevity; so much so, that some laws are derived from what seems to be an extra word or even an extra letter. And so, the question arises: why repeat two entire portions?

Rashi addressed a similar question in the portion of Chayei Sarah, where Abraham sends his servant Eliezer to find a wife for Isaac. The story is initially told as it unfolds and it is then repeated. Rashi, citing the Midrash, comments, “The ordinary conversation of the servants of the Patriarchs is more beloved before the Omnipresent than the Torah of their sons, for the section dealing with Eliezer is repeated in the Torah, whereas many fundamentals of the Torah were given only through allusions.”3 Clearly, when something is repeated in the Torah it’s because it’s very precious to G‑d.

In a similar vein, the Tabernacle—and later, the Holy Temple—signifies the manifestation of G‑d’s presence in this world and within each of us. The primary purpose of a Jew is to create a dwelling place for G‑d in our hearts and in our lives. The Torah conveys the significance of this theme by telling us about the Tabernacle in detail and at length, and then repeating it again for emphasis.

Divine Work-Life Balance

Our parshah begins with Moses gathering the Jewish people and stating, “These are the things that the L‑rd commanded to make …”4 Then, just as he starts speaking about the Tabernacle, Moses unexpectedly transitions to the laws of Shabbat: “Six days work shall be done, but on the seventh day you shall have sanctity, a day of complete rest to the L‑rd; whoever performs work thereon [on this day] shall be put to death.”5 Why is Shabbat inserted here?

Rashi explains that Shabbat is mentioned in order to convey to the Jews that, despite the immense importance of constructing the Tabernacle, this activity must not be pursued on Shabbat. Shabbat is considered holier even than the crucial task of building the Holy Temple.6

However, in a sense, Shabbat is mentioned here precisely because it is very much a part of building the Tabernacle—of creating a dwelling place for G‑d in this world with all our actions and in everything we do.

One might argue: “You want me to create a dwelling place for G‑d? I can do that by resting on Shabbat. But the other six days? I’ve got to stay focused on my work; I’ve got to make a living. You know what it takes to be a successful businessman? You’ve got to work. It’s not easy. You’ve got to pound the pavement, day and night!”

In truth, however, there are two ways to approach work:

One way is to believe that your success is commensurate with your effort. To believe that if you don’t throw yourself—body and soul—into the rat race, you cannot make a living.

The other way is the Torah’s approach: “Six days work shall be done.” The work will “be done”—by itself. Yes, He expects us to work and create a channel for His blessing, but it is ultimately G‑d who provides us with a living.. We should invest just enough effort that we don’t feel like we’re getting it for nothing.

That is why the laws of Shabbat are an integral part of building the Tabernacle: not just that the “Seventh day shall be … complete rest,” but also the “Six days work shall be done.”7

The Day After

After the Jewish people sinned with the Golden Calf, Moses spent 40 days on Mount Sinai praying to G‑d to forgive them, and on the 40th day—the 10th of Tishrei, Yom Kippur—G‑d forgave them. Moses’ address to the people at the beginning of Vayakhel took place the following day.8

Most of us take Yom Kippur very seriously. Even many Jews who do not regularly go to synagogue make it a point to show up. It’s amazing. Nobody will miss Kol Nidrei. When the services are over at the close of Yom Kippur, some people approach me and say, “Rabbi, it was great to see you. See you next year!”

There’s a cute story about a little girl whose parents moved away from their Jewish observance. Her grandparents, however, remained observant. One summer, the little girl was sent to stay with her grandparents. Bubby and Zaidy utilized every moment to instill Jewish teachings and practice into this little girl. She began to recite blessings, observe the Shabbat; she was taught to read Hebrew, keep kosher, and so on. When her parents came to pick her up, the girl thanked her grandparents and headed out to the car. “One minute,” the little girl said to her parents, as she ran back up to the house, extended her little hand to the mezuzah on the doorpost, and said, “Goodbye G‑d! See you next year.”

Coming to synagogue on Yom Kippur is great, and we certainly are not critical of those who come only on that day. In fact, Yom Kippur is called “achat bashanah” – “the one day of the year.”9 The “one day” that the spark of oneness is awakened within each and every Jew to recognize the One G‑d. But what happens the day after?

Moses gathered the people the day after and told them. “If you want to create a dwelling place for G‑d, it has to be not just on Yom Kippur, but the day after. And the day after that. And every day of the year.”

My father, Rabbi Sholom B. Gordon, of blessed memory, used to share a wonderful teaching with me based on a verse in Psalms: “My tears were my bread day and night when they say to me all day long, ‘Where is your G‑d?’ ”10 The simple meaning of the verse is that the Jew cries day and night because the nations of the world taunt him, saying, “Why are you suffering? Where is your G‑d? Why is He not saving you?”

But there’s a deeper meaning. “I know you’re a Jew in the synagogue. I know you’re a Jew when you pray, when you’re swaying back and forth with a tallit over your head. But ‘where is your G‑d all day long’ Where is your G‑d the rest of the day?” G‑d must be present in our business lives, our personal lives, our everyday lives.

This is the profound life lesson that we learn from Vayakhel taking place the day after Yom Kippur. When do we begin construction of the Holy Temple? When do we make sure our hearts are a Tabernacle and a home for G‑d? The day after Yom Kippur.

One year, at the conclusion of Yom Kippur, the Sixth Rebbe, Rabbi Yosef Yitzchak Schneersohn, of righteous memory. turned to his father, the Fifth Rebbe, Rabbi Sholom DovBer, who was known as the Rebbe Rashab, and asked, “What is the Divine service that is required of us now?

The Rebbe Rashab replied, “Now we begin to do teshuvah (repenting and coming close to G‑d).”11 Having just concluded Yom Kippur—the day that is entirely dedicated to the spiritual work of repentance, atonement, and coming closer to G‑d—now, taught the Fifth Rebbe, is when we must repent. Now is when we have to come closer to G‑d. Now, when Yom Kippur is behind us and everyday life resumes, that is when we have to create a dwelling place for G‑d.

As we navigate our daily lives, the holiest days and the most mundane moments, let us take to heart the timeless lessons of Vayakhel, of the day after. Every day holds the potential for Divine connection, and our mission is to build a sanctuary for the Divine both in this world and in our hearts. May each step, each act, and every day of our lives contribute to creating a dwelling place for G‑d. May we merit to usher in the Ultimate Redemption and along with it the Third Temple, with the coming of our righteous Moshiach, speedily in our days. Amen.