The Torah in Parashat Bamidbar describes the arrangement of Benei Yisrael’s camp in the desert, stating that they encamped around the Mishkan, which stood in the center, and they were situated “mi-neged” (2:2). The Rashbam and Ibn Ezra interpret this term to mean “at a distance,” and Rashi, citing the Midrash Tanchuma, specifies that the people’s tents were pitched 2,000 amot away from the Mishkan. They did not encamp any further from the Mishkan, Rashi writes, “so they could come on Shabbat.” This comment refers to the prohibition of techum Shabbat, which forbids walking beyond a distance of 2,000 amot outside one’s city – or, in this case, the Israelite camp – on Shabbat.
On one level, Rashi speaks here of the purely practical concern to ensure the people’s ability to visit the sacred site of the Mishkan even on Shabbat. During the week, it did not matter whether the people’s tents were 2,000 amot away from the Mishkan or more than 2,000 amot away, but in order to allow for visits to the Mishkan on Shabbat, the tents could not be situated beyond this distance.
The Lubavitcher Rebbe (Likutei Sichot, Bamidbar, 5730), however, suggested that there is also deeper significance to Rashi’s comment. Symbolically, it teaches that the spiritual focus experienced Shabbat affects us even during the workweek. Just as the people were situated close to the Mishkan all week long because of Shabbat, similarly, the Shabbat experience helps ensure our close connection to the “Mishkan” – to sanctity – even throughout the week. Shabbat is the day when we are free from our material pursuits, when are told to put our professional and financial aspirations on hold so we can direct our attention towards the “Mishkan,” towards Torah and our relationship with God. On Shabbat, we are kept close to the “Mishkan” by the absence of the pressures and distractions of the workweek. Rashi alludes to us that the proximity to the “Mishkan” which we maintain on Shabbat has the effect of keeping us close to the “Mishkan” throughout the rest of the week, as well. The weekly experience of spiritual focus is to impact the totality of our lives, and infuse everything we do, all week long, with holiness and spiritual meaning. Although we spend most of our time during the week involved in worldly endeavors, working to earn a livelihood and tending to our basic needs, we are to maintain a connection to the “Mishkan” each and every day, and this is accomplished, in part, by utilizing Shabbat as a time for special spiritual focus that has an impact upon us all week long.