Parashat VaYakheil details Moshe’s gathering of Am Yisrael to talk about observing Shabbat and the 39 Melachot. Describing the prohibition of work on Shabbat, Moshe states, “Sheishet Yamim Tei’aseh Melachah UVaYom HaShevi’i Yihyeh Lachem Kodesh Shabbat Shabbaton LaShem,” ‘’You shall work during the six weekdays , but the seventh day shall by holy for you, a complete day of rest for God’’(Shemot 35:2). Although this description of Shabbat appears many times throughout the Torah, it is nevertheless interesting to note that this is the only place in Tanach that juxtaposes a Mitzvah with the word “VaYakheil,” meaning gathering. Why must the Torah inform us that Bnei Yisrael are gathered for this? Bnei Yisrarel are gathered many times to learn Mitzvot, but the gathering is not mentioned; why does the Torah state “VaYakheil” specifically in this context?
When a group comes together as one to achieve goals in life, the group becomes more efficient than an individual. Thus, Moshe is stressing that coming together as a group is a main theme of Shabbat. In fact, Moshe further emphasizes that not only should we observe Shabbat as a nation, but rather we must actively gather ourselves together. We eat meals together, Daven together, and create a general group feel on Shabbat. This theme of gathering together is the true essence of Shabbat, which Moshe conveys by gathering Bnei Yisrael to teach them the laws of Shabbat.
Though gathering is important, another major theme in Parashat VaYakheil is the idea of freeing the mind of mundane thought. Many of us may feel dominated by the workweek and find it difficult to step back and experience Shabbat without worry for the Sheishet Yemei Melachah (six days of work). Because of this difficulty, Hashem himself made Shabbat a day for one’s own spirituality and self-introspection, one on which we are forbidden to work. In fact, Shabbat is not only a day of prohibition; it is a day of active rest. We are commanded to rest because without such a commandment, separating ourselves from the workweek would be nearly impossible. Hashem wants us to be happy with ourselves, and the only way to do so is to relax and concentrate on the good things in life, especially on Shabbat, the day of rest, relaxation, comfort, and holiness.
The Gemara (Masechet Shabbat 118b) states that if the entire Jewish population observes two Shabbatot, the Mashiach will come. The easiest way to do this is to reach out to the non-observant population and bring Shabbat to it. However, Shabbat will not affect those who are not open to Shabbat and its theme of relaxation. In order for all Jews to observe Shabbat, we must contribute both individually and as a group; such a balance is the true essence of Shabbat.