Following the instructions in Parshiyot Terumah and Tetzaveh regarding the construction of the Mishkan, the Torah states, “Ach Et Shabtotai Tishmoru,” “But keep My Sabbaths” (31:13). In next week’s Parsha, however, the Mitzvah of Shabbat precedes the description of the building of the Mishkan. Why the change of order?
The Beit HaLevi explains with a parable: A rather wealthy man’s son is about to be married off. Because of the marriage, the father wants to buy his son a whole new wardrobe. He buys his son nice clothing, including weekday clothes and Shabbat clothes. In addition to the clothes, the father buys his son fine jewelry, the kind that only a very rich man would wear. How can we tell whether the father is buying these things for his son out of love or out of responsibility? The Beit HaLevi answers that we can tell based on the order in which the father purchases the items. If he is doing it out of love, he will first buy the luxurious items, the expensive jewelry, for his son in order to see the joy on his son’s face. He will then buy the necessary items afterward. However, if he were to buy the necessary items first, we would see that he is doing it primarily out of responsibility, and not just out of love.
The same holds true for Shabbat and the Mishkan. Without Shabbat, it would be impossible to stay Jewish. However, the Beit Hamikdash and Korbanot are, while extremely important, still not absolute necessities – we have lived without them for the past two thousand years. Hashem therefore chose to put the luxury of the Mishkan before the necessity of Shabbat, showing pure love. However, after we committed the Chet Haegel, Hashem was forced to discuss the necessity before the luxury, because then the more pressing issue was our practical need and responsibility to return to Avodat Hashem.