Vayak’hel: Generous Givers


The first thing that Moses did at the beginning of this Portion after he had assembled all the congregation of the Israelites, was to remind the people to keep Sabbath. “Moses assembled all the congregation of the Israelites and said to them: These are the things that the Lord has commanded you to do: Six days shall work be done, but on the seventh day you shall have a holy Sabbath of solemn rest to the Lord; whoever does any work on it shall be put to death.”[1] This is neither the first nor the last time the people of Israel hear about Shabbat from their leader: The importance of Sabbath in the Hebrew Scriptures cannot be overemphasized. What about the New Testament? Does it still regard Sabbath as “a holy day to the Lord”?

There is a well-known dispute regarding Jesus keeping – or breaking – Shabbat, and much has been said and written on this subject. However, even today, as you read about Jesus healing on Shabbat and feeling this almost palpable tension between Him and those who “were watching Him to see if He would heal him on the Sabbath, so that they might accuse Him,[2] do you still wonder whether indeed, Jesus did break Shabbat?

First, we have to make it clear whose definition of breaking Shabbat we have in mind. In today’s Jewish halakhah, treating minor, non-life-threatening medical issues on Shabbat is prohibited, but saving lives on Shabbat is not only permitted but is also a duty. However, while violation of Shabbat for life-saving healing is an accepted practice today, in the first century this principle had probably not yet been clearly defined. That’s why the synagogue official was indignant because Jesus healed on the Sabbath.[3]  In this sense, the testimony of the gospels is extremely significant: for the first time, we see here Jewish Rabbi Yeshua allowing and performing healing on Shabbat.

Of course, Jesus did not break a God-given commandment. However, He did break a contemporary tradition of keeping Shabbat at any cost. Remarkably, the gospels are the only first-century source we have where healing is permitted and performed on Shabbat. In fact, Jesus advocates – perhaps even establishes – the same approach that later, though slightly modified, will become normative in Rabbinic Judaism. The more we know about Judaism, the more interesting this dynamic between the teaching of Jesus and first-century Judaism becomes!

Cheerful Givers

The idea of willing and joyful giving (including almsgiving) is widespread in Judaism, and we can find its expression in different Jewish texts. However, the very first time in the Torah when we see people giving willingly and joyfully for the Lord and His cause, is the building of the Tabernacle. We read that the Israelites in the desert were prompted by God and they brought their offerings joyfully: “everyone whose heart was stirred, and everyone whose spirit was willing, brought the Lord’s offering.”[4] The New Testament continues to see this giving to the Lord as a joyous privilege and even an act of worship. Paul exhorts the New Covenant community of the Corinthians to be “cheerful givers” – just as God exhorted the Israelites to be willing and generous givers.

Filled With Spirit

In the previous portions, we saw “that the Lord has called by name Bezalel son of Uri son of Hur, of the tribe of Judah” and “he has filled him with divine spirit,[5] giving him wisdom, understanding, and knowledge. We know also that the idea of being “filled with the Spirit of God” is developed in the New Testament by Paul; according to Paul, the Spirit could be, and should be, manifested in each person.[6] However, what about Paul himself? Was he called by God and filled with the spirit? Here, we really see the continuity between the New Testament and the Torah. According to the New Testament, before Paul became Jesus’ servant – and in order for him to become His servant – first Jesus had to single out Paul himself and fill him with the spirit, thus equipping him spiritually – exactly as God singled out Bezalel, filling him with the spirit and enabling him for special service to God. So Ananias went and entered the house. He laid his hands on Saul and said, “Brother Saul, the Lord Jesus, who appeared to you on your way here, has sent me so that you may regain your sight and be filled with the Holy Spirit.”[7]  Thus, the NT continues with the same pattern that is apparent in the Torah: in order to serve God, one has to be filled with the Spirit of God first!

The Altar of Incense in Jesus’ Story 

Remarkably, there is another detail of this portion that made its way into the New Testament; it has to do with the Jewish worship. We read the description of the altar of incense: He made the altar of incense of acacia wood, one cubit long, and one cubit wide; it was square, and was two cubits high; its horns were of one piece with it.[8]  Do we find this altar in the New Testament? Most Christians probably would answer in the negative to this question – and yet, the attentive reader won’t miss the different details of Jewish worship mentioned by the New Testament. Thus, in the first chapter of Luke’s Gospel we read about Zachariah:

“Once when he was serving as priest before God and his section was on duty, he was chosen by lot, according to the custom of the priesthood, to enter the sanctuary of the Lord and offer incense. 10 Now at the time of the incense offering, the whole assembly of the people was praying outside. 11 Then there appeared to him an angel of the Lord, standing at the right side of the altar of incense[9]   

There is no doubt that these details in the New Testament narrative serve the purpose of emphasizing the continuity between the Hebrew Scriptures and the New Testament. By opening his Gospel with a scene in the Jerusalem temple, Luke is undoubtedly “anchoring Jesus in Jewish tradition”[10].  According to Luke, an angel of the Lord announces, not just the miraculous birth of a son to the elderly couple, but he announces the birth of the forerunner of the Messiah. The fact that this angel appears to Zachariah during the evening incense sacrifice, at the right side of the altar of incense, means that the story of Jesus begins in the thoroughly Jewish setting – in the Jewish Temple.

[1] Ex.35:1-2

[2] Mark 3:1-6

[3] Lk. 13:14

[4] Ex.35:21

[5] Ex.35:30-31

[6] 1 Cor. 12:7-11

[7] Acts 9:17

[8] Ex.37:25

[9]  Lk.1:8-11

[10] The Jewish Annotated New Testament (p. 2). Oxford University Press. Kindle Edition

I  would like to remind you, dear friends that eTeacher offers a wonderful course, where you can learn from Parashot Shavua commentaries along with their New Testament interpretation. As always, you are welcome to contact me for more information!  Also, if you like the articles on this blog, you might enjoy also my books,  you can get them here

About the author

Julia BlumJulia is a teacher and an author of several books on biblical topics. She teaches two biblical courses at the Israel Institute of Biblical Studies, “Discovering the Hebrew Bible” and “Jewish Background of the New Testament”, and writes Hebrew insights for these courses.

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  1. Yuliya Nalarinke

    Mark 2
    24and the Pharisees said to Him, “Look, why do they do what is not right on the Sabbath?”( not only healing on sabbath , other things too were charged to Yeshua as breaking sabbath)

    25And He said to them, “Have you never read what Dawiḏ did when he had need and was hungry, he and those with him?

    26“How he went into the House of Elohim, while Eḇyathar was high priest, and ate the showbread, which is not right to eat, except for the priests, and he gave it also to those who were with him?”

    27And He said to them, “The Sabbath was made for man, and not man for the Sabbath.

    28“So the Son of Aḏam is also Master of the Sabbath.”

    Matthew 12
    At that time יהושע went through the grain fields on the Sabbath. And His taught ones were hungry, and began to pluck heads of grain, to eat.

    2And when the Pharisees saw it, they said to Him, “Look, Your taught ones are doing what is not right to do on the Sabbath!”

    3But He said to them, “Have you not read what Dawiḏ did when he was hungry, he and those who were with him:

    4how he went into the House of Elohim and ate the showbread which was not right for him to eat, nor for those who were with him, but only for the priests?

    5“Or did you not read in the Torah that on the Sabbath the priests in the Set-apart Place profane the Sabbath, and are blameless?

    6“But I say to you that in this place there is One greater than the Set-apart Place.

    7“And if you had known what this means, ‘I desire compassion and not offering,’ you would not have condemned the blameless.

    8“For the Son of Aḏam is Master of the Sabbath.”

    Hebrews 4:3
    3For we who have believed do enter into that rest (we, who believed have entered that rest. Entered. )

    Mark 2:14-28
    Matthew 12:1-8
    Hebrews 4:3
    Colossians 2:11-17
    Hebrews 9:7-17
    Hebrews 10:1-10
    1Timothy 1:13
    1Timothy 1:15
    Ephesians 2:8-9
    James 1:26-27
    Galatians 4:4-6

    Colossians 2
    11In Him you were also circumcised with a circumcision not made with hands, in the putting off of the body of the sins of the flesh, by the circumcision of Messiah,(death on the cross)

    12having been buried with Him in immersion, in which you also were raised with Him through the belief in the working of Elohim, who raised Him from the dead.

    13And you, being dead in your trespasses and the uncircumcision of your flesh, He has made alive together with Him, having forgiven you all trespasses,

    14having blotted out the certificate of debt against us – by the dogmas – which stood against us. And He has taken it out of the way, having nailed it to the cross

    16Let no one therefore judge you in eating or in drinking, or in respect of a festival or a new moon or Sabbaths

    17which are a shadow of what is to come – but the Body of the Messiah.
    (The body that cast that shadow is Messiah)

    Hebrews 9:7

    8the Set-apart Spirit signifying this, that the way into the Most Set-apart Place was not yet made manifest while the first Tent has a standing,(highlight those verses)

    9which was a parable for the present time in which both gifts and slaughters are offered which are unable to perfect the one serving, as to his conscience,

    10only as to foods and drinks, and different washings, and fleshly regulations imposed until a time of setting matters straight.

    11But Messiah, having become a High Priest of the coming good matters, through the greater and more perfect Tent not made with hands, that is, not of this creation,

    12entered into the Most Set-apart Place once for all, not with the blood of goats and calves, but with His own blood, having obtained everlasting redemption.

    14how much more shall the blood of the Messiah, who through the everlasting Spirit offered Himself unblemished to Elohim, cleanse your conscience from dead works (dead works) to serve the living Elohim

    Hebrews 10
    1For the Torah, having a shadow of the good matters to come, and not the image itself of the matters, was never able to make perfect those who draw near with the same slaughter offerings which they offer continually year by year.

    2Otherwise, would they not have ceased to be offered? Because those who served, once cleansed, would have had no more consciousness of sins.

    3But in those offerings is a reminder of sins year by year.(reminder of guilt each year)

    4For it is impossible for blood of bulls and goats to take away sins.

    5Therefore, coming into the world, He says, “Slaughtering and meal offering You did not desire, but a body You have prepared for Me.

    6“In burnt offerings and offerings for sin You did not delight.

    7“Then I said, ‘See, I come – in the roll of the book it has been written concerning Me – to do Your desire, O Elohim.’ ”

    8Saying above, “Slaughter and meal offering, and burnt offerings, and offerings for sin You did not desire, nor delighted in,” which are offered according to the Torah,

    9then He said, “See, I come to do Your desire, O Elohim.” He takes away the first to establish the second.(takes away the first to establish the second)

    Ephesians 2:9
    8For it is by grace you have been saved through faith, and this not from yourselves; it is the gift of God, 9not by works,(ceremonies) so that no one can boast. 10For we are God’s workmanship, created in Christ Jesus to do good works,(feed the hungry etc, actions not ceremonies) which God prepared in advance as our way of life.

    James 1:26
    27Pure and undefiled religion before our God and Father is this: to care for orphans and widows in their distress, and to keep oneself from being polluted by the world.(ceremonies are not mentioned)

    Galatians 4:4-6
    Yeshua born under the law to redeem those under the law in order to receive the promise by faith.

  2. Nick

    The Jewish perspective of a text and the Christian perspective of the same text. The issue is not the text. Surely our perspective IS our reality. Thanks to you Julia for your candid and generous contribution to “repair of the world”.
    Sincerely, Nick

    1. Julia Blum

      You are right, Nick, the issue is not the text, – the issue is what we READ INTO this text. As you wrote, our perspective IS our reality. Undoubtedly, this is one of the main missions of this blog: to let our Christian readers see and grasp some glimpses of the Jewish perspective!

      1. Luis

        And this is the reason why this Christian reads your blog.

        1. Julia Blum

          Wonderful! Thank you, Luis, I wish more Christians would recognize their Jewish roots and read this blog! Happy Passover!