I was looking at the beginning of this week's parsha, and saw something interesting regarding the laws of Shabbos.
The parsha begins with the statement (Shemot 35:1):
וַיַּקְהֵל מֹשֶׁה, אֶת-כָּל-עֲדַת בְּנֵי יִשְׂרָאֵל--וַיֹּאמֶר אֲלֵהֶם: אֵלֶּה הַדְּבָרִים, אֲשֶׁר-צִוָּה ה, לַעֲשֹׂת אֹתָם.
"And Moses assembled all the congregation of the children of Israel, and said unto them: 'These are the words which the LORD hath commanded, that ye should do them."
What things were they to do? Moshe commands them in the next few psukim about the laws of Shabbos, specifically what they are *not* to do. This seems more like a command *to do* something. (Although probably we should do a search to see how often this phrase occurs before a prohibition.)
Further, to nitpick some more, why the plural אֵלֶּה הַדְּבָרִים? Work during the week but not on Shabbos, and specifically don't light fires on Shabbos? What justifies the plural?
The parsha continues:
שֵׁשֶׁת יָמִים, תֵּעָשֶׂה מְלָאכָה, וּבַיּוֹם הַשְּׁבִיעִי יִהְיֶה לָכֶם קֹדֶשׁ שַׁבַּת שַׁבָּתוֹן, לַה; כָּל-הָעֹשֶׂה בוֹ מְלָאכָה, יוּמָת.
"Six days shall work be done, but on the seventh day there shall be to you a holy day, a sabbath of solemn rest to the LORD; whosoever doeth any work therein shall be put to death."
Is this a commandment to do work during the 6 days? It is interesting that the pasuk does not say "you shall do work," taaseh, but rather "work shall be done," teaseh. Is there a concern here that specific work shall be done.
Moshe then tells them to collect the materials for building the Mishkan: (35:4-5 etc.)
וַיֹּאמֶר מֹשֶׁה, אֶל-כָּל-עֲדַת בְּנֵי-יִשְׂרָאֵל לֵאמֹר: זֶה הַדָּבָר, אֲשֶׁר-צִוָּה ה לֵאמֹר.
קְחוּ מֵאִתְּכֶם תְּרוּמָה, לַיהוָה, כֹּל נְדִיב לִבּוֹ, יְבִיאֶהָ אֵת תְּרוּמַת ה: זָהָב וָכֶסֶף, וּנְחֹשֶׁת.
"And Moses spoke unto all the congregation of the children of Israel, saying: 'This is the thing which the LORD commanded, saying
Take ye from among you an offering unto the LORD, whosoever is of a willing heart, let him bring it, the LORD'S offering: gold, and silver, and brass;"
And finally, after this instruction, (pasuk 20)
וַיֵּצְאוּ כָּל-עֲדַת בְּנֵי-יִשְׂרָאֵל, מִלִּפְנֵי מֹשֶׁה.
"And all the congregation of the children of Israel departed from the presence of Moses."
So these two sets of instructions, that of Shabbos and that of building the Mishkan, were both told by Moshe when the people were gathered in front of him. It is a bit strange to lump these two commandments together.
After the people bring the materials, specifically, the materials for all the work (לְכָל-הַמְּלָאכָה - pasuk 29) Hashem tells Moshe that he has called by name Betzalel (pasuk 30), and they take the material and start doing the work. Consistently, this work is referred to as melacha, which is the same word used above for acts of work on Shabbos: תֵּעָשֶׂה מְלָאכָה.
My suggestion is that the reason the two statements are linked, and not just linked in terms of regular juxtaposition of parshiyot (smuchim) but actually were the two things Moshe said together, is that the item is really one.
Moshe is outlining to them the materials and work necessary for the construction of the Mishkan, and prefaces this with a statement that this assemboing of the Mishkan does not push off Shabbos. Thus, the use of the passive. Six days the work of the construction of the Mishkan shall be done - not necessarily by any individual, but the contruction is something that should be ongoing. Except, during Shabbos, construction should stop, with capital punishment for any who continue working.
Chazal (or some of Chazal at least) say something almost the same - that from the juxtaposition of the two parshiyot, we learn that the prohibited acts on Shabbos are those used in the construction of the Mishkan.
I can see this as pashut pshat. On Shabbos, there is a general prohibition of work, as we see elsewhere. Here, we learn that this prohibition encompasses the work required to construct the Mishkan. So those are acts which are prohibited. And if these acts are forbidden even in order to create the Mishkan, they will certainly be forbidden if one does them for his own purposes.