Rashi relates us something surprising; that the people sinned with the Golden Calf, only to instruct future generations about the power of teshuva, repentance. To demonstrate for eternity, that even after a heinous sin like idol worship, you can still return to Hashem.
This week’s Parsha, beginning with repeating the commandment of keeping Shabbat shows us that Shabbat observance is a powerful part of returning to G-d. The Talmud tells us that anyone who keeps the Sabbath according to its laws, even if he did idol worship like the generation of the Flood (which is even worse than the sin of the Golden Calf), his sins are forgiven. Observing Shabbat has the power to purify a Jew of his or her sins, regardless of how low he or she might have fallen.
The Slonimer Rebbe points out that this is actually very surprising advice. After all, Shabbat is the high point of the week, the time to connect to the Source, when one can come closest to Hashem. This is the polar opposite of idol worship, where one is so far from G-d that he worships something that is an anathema to G-d. Wouldn’t logic suggest that if one finds himself far from G-d, he needs to work slowly and methodically to come closer to G-d over a period of time? Isn’t this an awful lot of ground covered in haste – almost like going from a totally dark room immediately into bright sunlight?
What gives the Shabbat this remarkable power to bring the greatest sinner back to Hashem? The Torah is tells us in the very first verse of our parsha, that it’s the power of “community”, and not just any “community”. In last week’s parsha in 32:1 we find the people in disarray. “And the nation gathered unto Aharon”. They demanded Aharon give them a replacement for Moshe. We know that after that demand, a tremendous “Chillul Hashem” – desecration of G-d’s name transpired. This was a community in chaos.
This is why in this week’s Parsha Moshe begins by gathering the people together for a Holy cause – as a tikkun (repair) for the aforementioned profane cause. That tikkun is to build the Mishkan which can only be accomplished through an organized functioning community. And how do we become a “functioning community”? These are “the things that G-d commanded us to do.” G-d commanded us to “Vayakhel,” to gather together on Shabbat, to unite on Shabbat. The Slonimer Rebbe says that when we come together as one on Shabbat, with one heart – as one person, it spiritually elevates every Jew in any situation, no matter how distanced from G-d he or she might be.