The Torah portion includes: instructions for taking a census (by each person donating a half shekel); instructions to make the Washstand, Anointing Oil, and The Incense for the Mishkan, the Portable Sanctuary; appointing Betzalel and Oholiab to head up the architects and craftsmen for the Mishkan; a special commandment forbidding the building of the Mishkan on Shabbat (people might have thought that they would be allowed to violate the Shabbat to do a mitzvah …). “The Children of Israel shall observe the Sabbath, to make the Sabbath an eternal covenant for their generations.”
The Torah portion continues with the infamous story of the Golden Calf. The people wrongly calculated that Moses was late in coming down from Mt. Sinai and the people were already seeking a replacement for him by making the Golden Calf (there is a big lesson in patience for us here). Moses sees them dancing around the calf and expressing anger he breaks the Two Tablets; he then punishes the 3,000 wrongdoers (less than .1% of the 3 million people), pleads to God not to wipe out the people, requests to see the Divine Glory, and receives the second set of Tablets of the Ten Commandments.
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from Twerski on Chumash by Rabbi Abraham J. Twerski, M.D.
The Torah states, “Between Me and the Children of Israel it (Shabbos) is a sign forever: (Ex. 31:17).
The unparalleled importance of Shabbos is evident from the Talmudic statement that if one observes Shabbos properly, it is equivalent to observing the entire Torah … (Jerusalem Talmud, Nedarim 3). What is it that gives Shabbos this unique status?
The Chafetz Chaim, Rabbi Yisroel Meir Kagan, explained with a parable. A proprietor of a store had to close down because business was poor. However, because his name was displayed on the storefront, people assumed that he would reopen one day. Indeed, when economic conditions improved, the store was reopened. When the economy deteriorated again, the store was again closed. This cycle was repeated several times.
One time when he closed his store, the proprietor removed the sign bearing his name. People then knew that this time the store was closed for good. Had there been any hope that he would again reopen, he would not have removed the sign.
This, the Chafetz Chaim said, is the reason for the exclusive importance of Shabbos. By observing Shabbos, one asserts his belief that God created the world in six days and rested on the seventh day. A created world has a purpose. Even if one might deviate from observance of the Torah, the knowledge that there is a Creator leads one to reflect that there is a purpose to existence and that the Creator revealed that purpose. This belief enables one to return to live according to the will and commandments of the Creator.
Shabbos is a sign. It is equivalent to the sign on the store. As long as the sign is intact there is hope that one will observe the rest of the Torah.