This week, in Parshat Vayahkel, Moses gathers the people to give them instructions from God.
The first instruction is an explanation of the basic rule of Shabbat: “For a period of six days work may be done, but the seventh day shall be holy for you, a day of complete rest for God.”
Then Moses gives the people God’s instructions about building the Mishkan (Tabernacle). God had given these instructions in a similar fashion earlier, but now was the time for the Mishkan to actually be built. The people who desire to make gifts are to give gold, silver, copper, colored wool, goat hair, ram skins, tachash skins, wood, oil for light, spices for the oil to anoint the priests and for the incense, and precious stones for the Ephod (Apron) and Choshen (Breastplate) of the High Priest. Further detailed instructions about the Mishkan followed.
Rabbi Shmuel Goldin (Unlocking the Torah Text: Shmot, pages 303-304) points out that here, God has contrasted two different realms by instructing us about their formation one after the other. We are to make each realm holy.
The first realm is time: We are to do our work in six days, and rest on the seventh. This follows God’s example in creating the Universe.
The second realm is space: The Mishkan (and later, the Temple which takes its place), Israel and Jerusalem are all holy places.
Of these two, the realm of time is more important. The 39 categories of work in building and taking down the Mishkan are the basis of the kinds of work prohibited on Shabbat. So sanctifying Shabbat (time) is more important than sanctifying the Mishkan(space).
Rabbi Goldin explains that humanity’s most precious resource is time. We can acquire more space by buying or renting it or by civilizing a wilderness, or even going to other heavenly bodies, but no one can acquire more time. Therefore, we must sanctify our time by using it wisely.
We all have the ability to use our time as we think best (well, as long as we do our homework). Having leisure and enjoying it is important, because everyone needs to relax and have fun. But Scouting’s founder, Lord Baden-Powell, understood this parasha’s teaching about sanctifying time. He used to say that the best way to be happy was by helping other people get happiness.. By this he meant using your time in a way that made others happy.
If we play a game, we can make other people happy by playing by including everyone and playing by the rules.
People are happy when they are independent and can do things for themselves, so teaching younger Scouts and our siblings how to do things brings them happiness.
When people cannot do things for themselves, we can make them happy by helping them. This does not necessarily mean doing something for them, but perhaps with them. Someone who has trouble getting up the stairs probably does not need you to lift them, but they may need to hold your arm for support. A young child learning to read will not need help with every word, but will like it if you can help them sound out words that are new to them – they feel good because they learned a new word. When you find someone needing help, think of how you can be their partner.
By doing your best “to help other people at all times” you invest your time, and your life, with holiness.