Parashat Vayakhel begins with the account of Moshe assembling Benei Yisrael to convey to them the commands regarding the construction of the Mishkan (which he introduced by relaying the command to observe Shabbat). Rashi comments that this assembly took place the day after Yom Kippur, when God announced His forgiveness for the sin of the golden calf. The incident of the golden calf had occurred some three months earlier, on the 17th of Tammuz, and it was only on Yom Kippur that God assured Moshe that the sin was forgiven. The next day, Moshe assembled the people and presented to them God’s instructions concerning the Mishkan.
Rav Shlomo Efrayim Luntshitz, in his Keli Yakar, insightfully notes that this is not the only event which Rashi tells of having occurred on the day after Yom Kippur that year. Earlier, in Parashat Yitro (18:13), Rashi writes that it was on this day that Yitro observed Moshe judging the people, and suggested that he appoint other judges so he would not have to shoulder this responsibility alone. It turns out, then, that according to Rashi, two events transpired on this day: Moshe judged the people to settle their disputes, and he assembled the nation to relay God’s commands regarding the Mishkan.
Keli Yakar explains that settling financial disputes was a necessary prerequisite for the construction of the Mishkan. Firstly, the people would be called upon to donate large sums of materials with which to build the Mishkan, and it was therefore vitally important to ensure that all the riches in each person’s possession were truly his legally-owned property. The Mishkan could not possibly be built with stolen or improperly-obtained goods, and thus Moshe needed to first settle all legal disputes before the people could begin bringing materials for the Mishkan. Additionally, Keli Yakar adds, the Mishkan was to serve as a place where the entire nation would assemble in peaceful, harmonious devotion to God, a goal which could not be achieved as long as there were lingering feelings of friction and resentment. Moshe judged the people in order to create an aura of peace and harmony, untainted by ill-will and bitterness, so that Benei Yisrael would be worthy of God’s presence.
Keli Yakar’s insight reminds us of the vital need to maintain priorities in religious life, and to address the more basic problems in our communities before striving for loftier spiritual goals. Before Benei Yisrael could begin undertaking the exalted task of constructing a Mishkan where the divine presence would reside, they needed to first eliminate, to whatever extent possible, friction and animosity among themselves. They could not proceed to involve themselves in the construction of a Sanctuary before ridding themselves of petty disputes and conflicts. In our religious lives, too, we must give priority to our basic moral obligations, to overcoming pettiness and selfishness, and to living in peace with, and with sensitivity to, our fellowman. Only once an aura of peace and goodwill prevails can we then lift ourselves to the next level of working to bring the Shekhina into our midst.