Judaism: An Ongoing Process
Rabbanit Shira SmilesShira Smiles is a sought-after international lecturer, popular seminary teacher and experienced curriculum developer. A well-respected former Los Angeles teacher, she now lives in Israel, where she teaches at Darchei Bina Seminary and leads a number of women's study groups. Shira also trains Torah teachers in special workshops all over the world.
After devoting several weekly Torah readings to instructions for constructing the Tabernacle, the Mishkan, and its vessels and implements, the Torah now concludes the instructions and the work itself begins. Bnei Yisroel (The Childen of Israel) had been instructed to donate all the materials according to the guidance of their hearts, and now there appears to be a surfeit of material, and the artisans tell Moses, “The people are bringing more than enough for the labor and the work that Hashem has commanded to perform.” Moses then commands, “ ‘Man and woman shall not do more work toward the gift for the Sanctuary!’ And the people were restrained from bringing.”
This passage raises three related questions. First, if the people were motivated to bring, why stop them? Couldn’t the remaining materials be used for repairs or enhancement of the Sanctuary? Then, if there was enough material, how could there also be extra, more than enough? Finally, as it appears there indeed was more than enough, what did they do with the extra materials?
Rabbi Weinberger offers an explanation based on an understanding of human psychology. People often have a herd mentality. They will follow the crowd because everyone else is doing it. Perhaps some of Bnei Yisroel were donating materials because everyone else was donating rather than because they had a deep, innate desire to come closer to Hashem by being part of this great project. However, by commanding restraint, one could see their true motivation, for only when one can also restrain himself can one’s gift be seen as fully from the heart. Further, continues Rabbi Weinberger, when one observes such a high level of passion and enthusiasm, it is appropriate to stop and restrain oneself so that the enthusiasm can be retained and harnessed for future use. Here Bnei Yisroel were restrained from further giving, and that passion to give has survived through the generations in donations to worthy institutions.
But Rabbi Menachem Benzion Zaks still asks why stop collecting materials. After all, couldn’t the materials be used to enhance the Mishkan or be saved for the future, as was done with materials later donated for the Beit Hamikdosh, the Holy Temple in Jerusalem? The response Rabbi Zaks offers in Menachem Zion is a very practical one. While the Beit Hamikdosh was stationary once it was built, and materials could ostensibly be stored, the Mishkan was meant to be portable as Bnei Yisroel traveled through the desert. Adding materials would have created an unnecessary burden for the Levites whose job it was to carry the Mishkan wherever Bnei Yisroel traveled. While it was admirable that the people wanted to continue contributing, one should not enhance one’s own religiosity at the expense of another.
Rabbi Dovid Hofstadter brings a completely new dimension to our discussion. He informs us that it is this passage that the Talmud cites as the source for the prohibition of carrying from the private domain into the public domain on Shabbat, as people were doing when they brought their donations from home to the collection site. Nevertheless, although Moses commanded Bnei Yisroel to stop bringing their donations for the Sabbath was approaching, the command extended to the coming week and future time as well, especially since the simple reading of the text says that enough had been collected and more. Why did the donations not resume afterwards?
Rabbi Hofstadter continues by citing the midrashim that recount that the enthusiasm and alacrity with which Bnei Yisroel brought their donations was such that all the materials were collected within two days. The only reason Moses stopped them was because Sabbath was approaching, and transporting the materials would be prohibited.
But, Rabbi Hofstadter identifies the enthusiasm itself as the reason Hashem asked Bnei Yisroel to donate and build the Mishkan. Hashem could certainly have produced the Mishkan Himself in one moment, but instead He wanted Bnei Yisroel to feel the love and the desire to donate. Once that goal was achieved, to donate with alacrity and generosity, it was no longer necessary to resume donations after Shabbat. In this context, one realizes that the end goal is not as important an ingredient as the process, whether it is in building the Holy Tabernacle or the mini tabernacles of our homes.
Jewish parents seem to know this intuitively. As Chinuch Ohel Miriam, based on the lectures of Rabbi Pincus points out, the first things we teach our children to say once they can talk is, “Torah tzivah lonu Moses,” (Moses commanded us to keep the Torah) and the “Shema,” and even before they can speak, we train them to love Hashem and the Torah, to kiss the fallen prayer book, siddur, and the mezuzah on the doorpost.
But we are still left with the question raised by the Torah that it was enough and yet there was extra. The Tov Hapeninim observes that although everyone seems to have donated toward the project, not everyone donated with equal purity of thought and intention. Hashem, however, gave the artisans unique insight, and they understood the emotional and spiritual motivation behind each donation. With this insight, they were able to designate the purest donations to vessels of greater spiritual essence while designating the materials donated with less enthusiasm to secondary vessels, or indeed to be saved for repairs.
Perhaps Rabbi Munk’s observation is most logical, that Hashem was concerned about the character of Bnei Yisroel. Lest someone say, “It was my contribution that completed the total necessary for God’s presence to descend into the Sanctuary,” Hashem allowed extra materials to be donated. That way, no one would know whose contribution was used and whose was left over.
However, The Manchester Rav, Rabbi Yehudah Zev Segal, cites the Ohr Hachaim in claiming a miracle occurred here, that although too much had been donated, everything was in fact used in the construction.
Along these lines, Rabbi Kofman of Gateshead writes in Mishchat Shemen that everything contributed and dedicated to the service of Hashem, no matter how small it appears to be, has immense value. As proof, he cites that the rich man’s ox offering and the poor man’s offering of flour and oil (mincha) are equally accepted and beloved by Hashem. Rabbi Kofman continues by teaching us never to minimize our personal contributions, for it is the spirit with which you contribute of your wealth or of your talent that makes it beloved to Hashem. Further, writes Rabbi Kofman, don’t become discouraged because you feel your contribution is so minimal. Just as every donation, large and small, was important in constructing the Tabernacle, so too every prayer we utter and every action we take can create holiness well beyond our awareness, and Hashem records it forever.
As an example there is a story of a teenager who witnessed a ten year old leaving an exciting baseball game to prepare for afternoon prayers. That something was more important to a ten year old that a game made such an impression on the teenager that he began studying his Jewish religion, started practicing, and eventually became a rabbi influencing many students. As the verse says, one who plants righteousness, grows salvation.
Now if we assume our final possibility, that the donations were in fact beyond what was necessary, what were they used for? Rabbi Schwab, in Maayan Beit Hashoeva cites the Midrash that says the extra materials were used to build a Mishkan Haeidus, a sanctuary for testimony. Since there was no additional structure, how are we to understand this term? Rabbi Schwab posits that this refers to the Tablets of Testimony within the Ark. He explains: While the Sanctuary’s main purpose was as a place of service to God, the Luchot, the Tablets, refer to Torah study. Service and prayer have set times, but Torah study is ongoing, and one can keep adding to it. In fact, the letters for “extra”, hotar, when reconfigured, spell out Torah. This aspect of clinging to God can always be added to.
There is yet another way of interpreting the extra, a way which echoes to the beginning of our discussion. That left over desire to continue to give was a testimony transmitted to future generations. Rabbi Bunim of Pesischa writes in Kol Mevaser that this sanctuary of testimony must be built in our hearts to maintain the passion and love for Hashem even when we no longer have a Sanctuary or a Temple.
Bring that desire into your homes, use it to support Torah institutions, adds the Modzitzer Rebbe in Divrei Yisroel.
There is never anything extra or superfluous in one’s dedication to Hashem and to His Torah. The initial process of giving of ourselves and our possessions for a spiritual cause may have begun with our ancestors, but it continues to this day as we teach our children love for Hashem and for His Torah, and dedicate our lives in a continuing process to live in His service.