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Disrupting Technology: Creating a Local Sanctuary in Place – Parashat Vayekhel-Pekudei

Rabbi Avi Novis-Deutsch argues that we need to disrupt technology on the Sabbath to create a true and local sanctuary in place for ourselves and for our local community.

וַיַּקְהֵ֣ל מֹשֶׁ֗ה אֶֽת־כׇּל־עֲדַ֛ת בְּנֵ֥י יִשְׂרָאֵ֖ל וַיֹּ֣אמֶר אֲלֵהֶ֑ם אֵ֚לֶּה הַדְּבָרִ֔ים אֲשֶׁר־צִוָּ֥ה יְהֹוָ֖ה לַעֲשֹׂ֥ת אֹתָֽם׃

שֵׁ֣שֶׁת יָמִים֮ תֵּעָשֶׂ֣ה מְלָאכָה֒ וּבַיּ֣וֹם הַשְּׁבִיעִ֗י יִהְיֶ֨ה לָכֶ֥ם קֹ֛דֶשׁ שַׁבַּ֥ת שַׁבָּת֖וֹן לַיהֹוָ֑ה כׇּל־הָעֹשֶׂ֥ה ב֛וֹ מְלָאכָ֖ה יוּמָֽת׃

לֹא־תְבַעֲר֣וּ אֵ֔שׁ בְּכֹ֖ל מֹשְׁבֹֽתֵיכֶ֑ם בְּי֖וֹם הַשַּׁבָּֽת׃

Our parasha Vayekhel-Pekudei starts with the commandment about Shabbat.

But most of the parasha, almost all of it, will actually deal with the Mishkan (Tabernacle), how to actually build the Mishkan. What is the connection between the two of them?

Shabbat has to do with holiness and the Mishkan has to do with holiness. That is pretty clear. The rabbis also took advantage of the Mishkan and tried to say that the way we define what labor as it is forbidden on Shabbat has to do with labor that was not allowed to do on the Mishkan on Shabbat.

Illustration of Tabernacle (Mishkan) by Aleksig6

But actually, when we go a few years before the rabbis, to 1st Century Judaism, and definitely Before Common Era (BCE) Judaism, the definition of labor had nothing to do with the Mishkan.

So, we need actually to say, and to emphasize this decision of defining labor according to the Mishkan and to understand that it might have to do with the reality of Judaism without a Temple.

The shift of Judaism without a Temple makes the Shabbat even more important than it was before and in a way it makes the Shabbat a way to have a Temple.

It is common to quote Rabbi Abraham Joshua Heschel saying that Shabbat is a Temple in time, and that is true.

Rabbi Abraham Joshua Heschel

But I want to emphasize a different point.

Shabbat can also serve as a Temple in place.

It actually tells us that on Shabbat you are limited in where you are allowed to walk to and where you are not allowed to walk to. For us people who are so connected to technology, disconnecting from technology actually allows us to be only in one place at one time.

If you look at it very carefully, you’ll remember that every time we carry our phone with us, we are not just in one place, we are all around. We are in the news, we are in the headlines, we are connected to our friends from abroad, and to our friends from another city, or even just a few blocks away.

Shabbat is time to disconnect, is time to be local, is time to celebrate your local community.

It is time to build our Mikdash, our local Mikdash – our holiness within our surroundings, within our community.

וַיַּקְהֵ֣ל מֹשֶׁ֗ה

“Moshe gathered us”

Shabbat is about gathering, about the holiness of gathering, the holiness of the local.


Avi Novis-Deutsch is the former Dean of the Schechter Rabbinical Seminary. Ordained as a Masorti rabbi by the SRS in 2003, Rabbi  Novis-Deutsch also holds an MA in Jewish Studies from JTS. He served for nine years as a pulpit rabbi at two Masorti congregations in Israel, most recently, at Haminyan Hamishpachti Masorti Kfar Veradim. Rabbi Novis-Deutsch also worked for two years as a Jewish educator in Berkeley in the Bay Area, California.  He is married to Dr. Nurit Novis-Deutsch. They and their three children live on Kibbutz Hanaton.

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