The first Aliyah of Ki Tisa ends with a commandment which is seemingly out of place: “Ach Et Shabbetotai Tishmoru Ki Ot Hi Beini UVeineichem LeDoroteichem LaDa’at Ki Ani Hashem Mekadishchem”, “Nevertheless, you must keep My Sabbaths, for it is a sign between Me and you throughout the ages, that you may know that I the Lord have consecrated you” (Shemot 31:13). Rashi (s.v Ve’Atah Dabeir El Bnei Yisrael) explains that this Mitzvah is connected to the Parasha’s previous discussion of the Mishkan: even though Hashem has commanded us to build the Mishkan, we cannot leave aside the Shabbat because of its work. What elevates Shabbat over the Mishkan to the extent that it halts the building of God’s sanctuary every week?
Shabbat and the Mishkan, of course, share an intimate Halachic connection; the thirty nine Melachot are derived from the many different processes utilized in the construction of the Mishkan. In order to understand the relationship between these two ideas, we must delve into their respective purposes to discern the reason why Shabbat takes precedence over constructing the Mishkan.
The Ramban (Devarim 5:15 s.v. Al Kein Tzivecha Hashem Elokecha La’asot Et Yom HaShabbat) provides a reason for observing Shabbat; he explains that there is one unified theme of Shabbat, namely, God’s mastery over the universe. Shabbat is a testament to God’s creation of the world and His subsequent resting. However, the Ramban also incorporates the idea that Shabbat is “Zeicher LiYetzi’at Mitzrayim”, “In commemoration of the Exodus from Egypt” (ibid.)--the Exodus from Egypt proved that God, who preceded the universe, can use His supernatural power at will and create anew. God created the world out of nothing and retains absolute control over it. As such, according to the Ramban, “HaShabbat Zeicher LiYeizti’at Mitzrayim, ViYetzi’at Mitzrayim Zeicher LeShabbat”, “The Sabbath is a remembrance for the Exodus, and the Exodus is a remembrance for the Sabbath” (ibid). Thus, the purpose of Shabbat is to appreciate, through resting, God’s original and ongoing creativity which manifests daily through his dealings with the world.
If Shabbat represents Hashem’s creativity, then the Mishkan represents Man’s. When the Torah first introduces the concept of a Mishkan, it declares, “VeYikchu Li Terumah Mei’Eit Kol Ish Asher Yidevenu Libo Tikchu Et Terumati”, “Take for Me a raised portion; you shall take a raised portion for Me from every person whose heart moves him” (Shemot 25:2). Construction of the Mishkan is far from God’s original creation; it not only involves countless raw materials (as opposed to God’s creation of the world ex nihilo), but the participation of an entire community in its creation (as opposed to God’s creation of the world entirely on His own).
This leads to an important distinction between Shabbat and Binyan HaMishkan. Shabbat is a recognition of Beri’at HaOlam, God’s creation of the world from nothing. In contrast, the Mishkan is built through Yetzirat Ha’Adam, Man forming and crafting, using the materials given to him by God. Man’s creation is thus contingent on God’s creation. This sentiment is clearly expressed in Parashat Ki Tisa when Hashem appoints Betzaleil: “Va’Amalei Oto Ru’ach Elokim BeChochma UVitvuna UVeDa’at UVeChol Melachah”, “I have endowed him with a divine spirit of skill, ability, and knowledge in every kind of craft” (Shemot 31:3). The prime craftsman of the Mishkan, Betzaleil, could create only because God had endowed him with that ability. In addition, human creativity is not the purpose of the Mishkan. Instead, the Torah tells us, “Ve’Asu Li Mikdash VeShachanti BeTocham,” “Let them make Me a sanctuary that I may dwell among them” (25:8). Man is called upon to make a sanctuary, in order for Hashem to rest His presence among the Jewish people. In order to build the Mishkan, Man and God work in tandem; God giving man what to work with, Man utilizing his God-given gifts to build, and, ultimately, God then dwelling in the sanctuary Man has created.
Thus, it is clear why Melachot are derived from the Mishkan. Building a dwelling-place for God is the greatest example of human creativity, and as such, the thirty-nine categories of creative labor prohibited on Shabbat are derived from it. It is important to internalize that these creative gifts stem directly from Hashem, and cannot be employed on Shabbat, when God’s complete, overarching mastery is recognized. The same is true for the building of the Mishkan itself. Its goal is to bring God’s Shechinah to the entire nation; this necessitates an understanding that every step of the way, and every piece of labor, is made possible by, and performed for, Hashem.