As we continue to plow through the Mishkan-intensive latter half of Sefer Shemot, we cannot escape mention of the prohibition of Melacha on Shabbat, the clarification of which is directly tied to the building of the Mishkan. Both this week in Parshat Vayakhel as well as last week in Parshat Ki Tisa, we see Shabbat juxtaposed to the building of the Mishkan. The Torah thereby indicates that any action done to build the Mishkan is prohibited on Shabbat.
It is odd, however, that in Parshat Terumah, the first time that the Torah deals with the Mishkan, no mention of Shabbat is made. Why the glaring omission?
When further examining these sources, it becomes clear that there is an additional similarity shared by Vayakhel and Ki Tisa, which is the exact opposite of what is seen in Terumah. When listing the various parts of the Mishkan that need to be constructed, Parshat Terumah writes about the Aron, then the Shulchan, then the Menorah, and finally the various components of the Mishkan's structure. Ki Tisa (31:7) and Vayakhel, by contrast, deal with the structure of the Mishkan before listing its contents. Perhaps this is connected to the fact that Parshat Terumah also makes no mention of the Divinely appointed chief artisan of the Mishkan, Betzalel. We are first introduced to Betzalel in Parshat Ki Tisa, and he is mentioned again in Vayakhel. The Gemara in Berachot 55a explains that his name Betzalel (meaning in the shadow of God) was a sign of Divine wisdom, since he knew the appropriate order of construction. The Gemara relates that Moshe told Betzalel to first construct the Aron and Kelim and then to build the walls. Betzalel responds that it would be more appropriate to build the "house" before producing the "furniture," to which Moshe then agrees. It now fits that when Betzalel is mentioned in the Torah, the order of construction suggested by him should be used, whereas Parshat Terumah features the order suggested by Moshe.
But how does all of this connect to Shabbat? An answer to this question requires further analysis of the Gemara in Berachot. Regarding the discussion between Moshe and Betzalel, what really was the central issue? Perhaps Moshe wanted the Aron and Kelim built first as a sign of what was truly important about the Mishkan, which of course was the Avoda. The structure itself was of secondary importance. While no one would question this, perhaps Betzalel was concerned about exposing the people directly to the Mishkan's essence. After all, if Hashem commanded that walls should be built around the Aron and Kelim, then it is because Hashem felt that it was necessary to have a partition around them. If so, then shouldn't this partition be available as soon as the Aron and Kelim come into existence?
While Moshe agreed to Betzalel's plan, it was destined to create larger problems. If the people would, on a regular basis, see the outer walls of the Mishkan rather than its inner workings, they might ultimately come to view sanctity within Judaism as a structure based idea. They would come to think that the holiest thing in Judaism is the "building" at the center of the camp known as the Mishkan. Enter Shabbat. Shabbat teaches that the holiest thing in Judaism is time. The very first time that the Torah refers to sanctity is with respect to Shabbat (Bereishit 2:3). Kedushat Z'man supersedes Kedushat Makom. What we do with our time is much more important to Hashem than any one building or place.
In Parshat Terumah, therefore, at which point the Aron and Kelim are listed first, this error is less likely to occur. Shabbat, therefore, is not yet mentioned. When the reality regarding the Mishkan becomes clearer, however, along with the aforementioned challenge, Shabbat must feature prominently, and give us the proper perspective on Kedusha.