This parsha begins the day after Yom Kippur, which was the day Moshe Rabeinu came down from mount Sinai with the second set of luchos, as recorded at the end of Parshat Ki Sisa, (last week's parsha).
Note: This week is a double parsha, made up of two consecutive parshiyot:
Vayakhel and Pekudai. The aliyot of the double parsha are divided to encompass the two parshas. This is marked in the Chumash by special aliyah markings for the double parsha.
In the first aliyah, Moshe gathers (the word "Vayakhel") the Jewish people and starts telling them G-d's commandments. He begins with the commandment of rest on Shabbos and of not lighting a fire on it, followed by the commandment to donate toward the building of, and to the actual building, of the Mishkan (sanctuary), its vessels, and the holy garments of the Kohanim. (We learned about the requirements of the building of the Mishkan, and of the garments of the Kohanim, in the recent parshiyot.)
Rashi says that the commandment of Shabbos precedes the one about the Mishkan to show that resting on Shabbos supersedes the building of the Mishkan. The men and women come forward and donated to the building, generously of their free will.
In the second aliyah, Moshe gives over G-d's choice of the skilled craftsmen to do the actual work, as we learned in last week's parsha. They are Betzalel and Oholiav as his assistant. They start construction, and the people continued donating generously, until the craftsmen report to Moshe that they had more than enough material for the building.
Moshe then proclaims throughout the camp for people to cease giving for this purpose, as there is enough material. The craftsmen continue building the Mishkan with the material previously donated, and build the Mishkan according to the instruction Moshe heard on Mt. Sinai.
In the third aliyah, Betzalel makes the six-branched menorah (candelabra) and its vessels. Betzalel also makes the "mizbeach - haketores" (the special altar for burning incense), and the holy anointing oil and the incense.
In the fourth aliyah Betzalel makes the altar of the burnt offerings. He makes the wash basin out of copper, from the mirrors of the women. At first, Moshe didn't want to use these mirrors because they represented the womens' vanity in adorning themselves, but G-d treasured them more than anything else because the women used these mirrors to attract their husbands when they were fatigued in their slavery in Egypt. These lavers were to be used in the Sotah ceremony to make peace between a husband and wife. The Alter Rebbe - Rabbi Schneur Zalman of Liadi - explains that the offerings for the Mishkan included gold, silver, and copper, but nothing sparkled except for the mirrors presented by the women.
Although, these lavers were the last articles of the Mishkan to be made, they were nonetheless the first articles to be used at the starting of every sanctuary service for the washing of the Kohanim.
The fourth aliyah continues into Parshat Pekudai, and gives an accounting of all the precious material used in the construction of the Mishkan, its vessels, and the clothes of the Kohanim.
The count of men over twenty years old is also given and is 603,550.
In the fifth aliyah Betzalel makes the ephod (an apron for the Kohain) out of gold, blue, purple, and scarlet yarn, and fine linen. He also makes the breastplate of judgment (choshen mishpat) of the same materials and twelve precious stones set in gold. Each stone corresponds to one of the twelve tribes. Betzalel binds the breastplate to the ephod.
In the sixth aliyah Betzalel makes the robe for the ephod with pomegranate shapes and bells on its skirt as G-d commanded Moshe, as well as other garments for Aharon and his sons to minister in the Mishkan.The Mishkan is completed, according to the Midrash, on the 25th of Kislev (later to become the first day of the holiday of Chanukah).
The workmen brought all the pieces of the Mishkan to Moshe, and when Moshe saw that all the work had been done exactly as G-d had commanded, he blessed the workers.
In the seventh aliyah G-d instructs Moshe to set up the Mishkan. In addition, Moshe is commanded to place all the equipment for the Mishkan in their proper places, and to anoint all of the items, as well as to anoint Aharon and his sons, with the anointing oil, to make them holy. (This latter anointing of Aharon's sons made the Kohanim the priests for all generations.)
Moshe sets up the Mishkan on the first of Nissan -- almost a year after they left Egypt. According to Rashi in the previous aliyah, no one else had the strength to erect the Mishkan because of the heaviness of the boards. Since Moshe hadn't participated in the building of the Mishkan, he was given the opportunity to set it up. Moshe asked G-d how it was humanly possible to set it up. G-d tells Moshe to just touch it, and G-d caused the Mishkan to set itself up.
Finally, the cloud of G-d's glory fills the Mishkan. It remained there every day, and became fire every night. Whenever the cloud lifted up, the people would travel, and whenever the cloud rested, they would camp. Everyone would see this in all their travels.
This is the end of the book of Shmos. After the last words of the Torah are read for this Chumash we say: "Chazak Chazak V'Nitchazaik".