The Community Of Hashem and Bnei Yisrael
by Ms. Rochi Lerner
Parshat Vayakhel begins with Moshe assembling the children of Israel and commanding them regarding the Shabbat, following which he instructs them in the work of the Mishkan. The juxtaposition of these two commandments, the Shabbat and the construction of the Mishkan, seems somewhat odd. Furthermore, the use of the wording “Vayakhel,” translated as “he assembled,” is also striking. There is a difference between the words “Vaye’esof,” he gathered, and the word “Vayekhel,” he assembled. In the former, people are gathering together without forming a central entity. In the latter, a “Kehillah” is being formed, a community that speaks as one and acts as an assembly. Why these choices of wording and arrangement?
Rav Zalman Sorotzkin zt”l explains in his Oznayim LaTorah that the Shabbat was not given to the individual Jew only, but to the Kehillah, the entire Jewish people. Each individual Jew’s observance of Shabbat has a profound effect on the Jewish people, for we are all partners in this Mitzvah.
A similar theme applies to the Mishkan – the Jews as a collective were commanded to build it. All of Bnei Yisrael contributed equally for the silver Adanim, the sockets of the Mishkan’s foundation, as we read in Parshat Ki Tisa. Above and beyond this contribution, each individual was free to give according to his means and desire to the Mishkan itself and to its vessels.
It is significant that each member of the Kehillah contributed equally to the Adanim. These Adanim were forged from the half-Shekel pieces that Bnei Yisrael had given Moshe as part of the census that Hashem had commanded him to take. It is clearly prohibited to count Jews in the usual way, as we see from the story of David’s counting the people against the advice of Yoav, his chief of staff (Shmuel II 24). After completing the census, David realizes he has sinned and repents. The prophet Gad is sent to tell him that he must be penalized for this sin, and to offer him a choice of punishments. David opts for three days of pestilence in the land, during which 77,000 people die. This story makes it painfully clear that counting Bnei Yisrael directly brings horrific results. Why is this the case?
Rav Avraham Yitzchak HaKohen Kook zt”l explains that the primary reason that a leader would want to count his people is to gauge how much military force he controls. Battles are waged on the basis of numbers; the larger the army, the more powerful it is, and the greater the likelihood of wining. Jews, however, are markedly different. Our strength does not reside in numbers. In fact, we are expressly told in Devarim 7:7 that Hashem “did not choose [us] because of our large numbers, for [we] are the smallest of nations. [Hashem chose us] rather because of His love for [us], and because…of the covenant He made with [our] forefathers,” Avraham, Yitzchak, and Yaakov. While we are insignificant from a quantitative point of view, our qualitative worth is inestimable.
As such, we cannot count Bnei Yisrael. The concept of a Kehillah Kedoshah, a holy assembly, cannot be assigned a numerical value. The only way to determine our nation’s number is to collect the half-shekel coins and count them. These coins formed the foundation of the Mishkan, the Adanim – the very supports of the structure. As Rav Kook points out, this is the true strength of the Jewish people: “We are the foundation of the House of God in this world.” Our commitment to a Torah-true life, and particularly to the Mitzvah of Shabbat, affords Hashem a place in the physical world. Hashem lives within Am Yisrael, and we give Him shelter by setting aside the physical world, literally and figuratively, through the observance of Shabbat and the other Mitzvot.
Returning to our original question concerning the juxtaposition of the Mitzvot of Mishkan and Shabbat, the Abarbanel comments that since the Mishkan symbolizes our communion with Hashem, we might believe that this commandment outweighs the day of Shabbat rest. Humans need to believe in action and the perfection attainable through performance, both of which the Mishkan epitomizes. To counteract Bnei Yisrael’s potential belief that the work of the Mishkan should override the Shabbat, Moshe informs them that it is Shabbat that is truly paramount. When we consider Rav Kook’s insight that we become Hashem’s home on earth, we can readily understand that the home we construct for Him is secondary to the place and space, the Shabbat, which He has designed for us.
Give From the Heart
by Jesse Dunietz
The story of the Mishkan's construction in Parshat Vayakhel parallels Parshat Ki Tisa’s Eigel story in many ways. Reminiscent of the nation’s collective enthusiasm in joining together create the Eigel, the Pesukim describe at length in our Parsha how the entire nation joined in the Mishkan effort. Their eager donation of their golden earrings for the Eigel (“Vayitpareku Kol Haam Et Nizmei Hazahav Asher Be’ozneihem…” [32:3]) parallels their similarly eager donations of gold for the construction of the Mishkan. Indeed, the Torah devotes an entire Pasuk exclusively to the various items of gold that they contributed (35:22), including many body ornaments. This level of detail, not given for most of the other materials, emphasizes this parallel even further. The language of the Pesukim describing the two events is also similar: “Vayikahel Haam” (32:1), the nation’s gathering around Aharon to request a replacement for Moshe, matches “Vayakhel Moshe” (35:1), Moshe’s gathering the people to command them regarding the Mishkan. These parallels and others, highlighting the main theme of the rest of Sefer Shemot, demonstrate the Mishkan’s capacity to repair the ruptured post-Eigel relationship between Hashem and His nation.
Yet one subtle aspect of the Mishkan account is disturbingly different from the Eigel story’s equivalent. The Pesukim specifically state that “the entire nation removed the gold rings that were in their ears” (32:3) for the Eigel, while only “Kol Nediv Lev,” “everyone who was motivated of heart” (35:1), brought gold for the building of the Mishkan. In fact, the Pesukim are particular to specify time after time that it was the “motivated of heart” who brought the supplies for the Mishkan. It would therefore seem that our Parsha refers to a smaller subset of the people donating than the Pasuk from Ki Tisa. Obviously, this inference is quite troubling. How can it be that more of the nation contributed towards the Eigel than towards the Mishkan?
Rav Meir Shapiro of Lublin, founder of the Daf Yomi movement, quotes a Yerushalmi (Shekalim 1:1) that deals with this issue. The Yerushalmi first exclaims how fearsome these Pesukim that describe the two sets of donations are. It then appears to bring some sort of explanation from Rav Abba bar Acha, saying that it is impossible to determine the true nature of the nation – when asked to give for the Eigel, they give, and when asked to give for the Mishkan they also give. But how, asks Rav Shapiro, does this solve anything about the issue? If anything, it just compounds the problem!
Rav Shapiro explains that the real issue was one of disillusionment. Earlier, he claims, the people had actually been asked to donate for the Eigel. The people were led to believe that the purposes of the collection were actually righteous, and they were therefore quite willing to offer their property for the cause. (This is especially plausible in light of the efforts of many commentators, such as Rabi Yehuda HaLevi in his Sefer HaKuzari, to explain how the sin of the Eigel started with the noble intent of connecting more closely with God. If this is the case, the people not directly involved with the sin, who seem to have constituted the majority of the nation, could easily have been misled into donating their resources to what they believed to be a holy cause.) Hence, “when asked to give for the Eigel, they give.” The outcome of this attempt was obviously disastrous. Now, when they were once again being asked to contribute to a cause that would glorify God and bring everyone closer to Him, some of the people understandably felt quite cynical. They had just had that trick played on them recently, so despite the national spirit of enthusiasm permeating the Mishkan donations, only those who were “motivated of heart” were able to overcome their reservations and fully trust the Mishkan collection.
Rav Shapiro’s insight makes an important statement about skepticism. On the one hand, it is of course imperative to learn from past experiences, and sometimes this includes a healthy dose of reluctance to repeat an activity that has a history of detrimental effects. But it is equally important to let go of biases against perfectly reasonable activities that have merely been associated with past problems. One who is able to balance healthy skepticism with overcoming unreasonable negative associations will know when he is truly “motivated of heart” and be able to learn only positive lessons from the past.
Push Off Procrastination
by Avi Wollman
This week’s Parsha contains a seemingly quite contradictory statement. “And the materials they had were sufficient for all the work to make it, with some left over” (36:7). Why does the Pasuk first start out saying that there was a “sufficient” amount of materials, apparently indicating that they had just enough, but conclude by saying that there was a surplus of materials that was “left over?” Why the contradiction in the Pasuk?
Rav Meir Shapiro provides an ingenious solution to this contradiction. Rav Shapiro states that when Bnei Yisrael contributed to the building of the Mishkan, although everyone tried to give as much as they could, some waited until too late to give what they intended to donate. By the time they were ready, the collectors had already gathered enough for the Mishkan and had announced to stop bringing materials. One can imagine the extreme disappointment that these Jews must have been felt upon not being able to carry through their intentions and actually donate to the Mishkan. This, says Rav Shapiro, is what the Pasuk means when it says “sufficient” – they physically had enough materials for the building of the Mishkan. By “left over,” the Torah refers to all the potential donors’ intentions, which they were unfortunately unable to carry out into action.
Many times throughout our lives we commit ourselves to accomplishing something, but due to procrastination our intentions are never carried out. While it is very easy for one to make the common exclamation, “I’ll do it tomorrow,” we must overcome this tempting attitude and realize that the time is now, and that while it is very noble to intend to do great things, it is even more important to actually go through with them. Let us learn from the mistakes of our ancestors and advance towards our goals today.
Halacha of the Week Rav Yonah Reiss (the director of the Beth Din of America), in a speech delivered in Teaneck at Congregation Rinat Yisrael on Shabbat Parshat Yitro 5764, urged those professionals who could help enhance the functioning of the Beth Din of America to come forth and volunteer their time and expertise to the Beth Din. Indeed, Rav Reiss left his career as an attorney to direct and improve the Beth Din. Rabbinical-lay synergy is becoming ever more essential as the world becomes even more complicated and specialized.
The annual NORPAC lobbying mission to Washington
will take place this year on Wednesday June 22. Lobbying Congress on behalf of
Medinat Yisrael is one of the most effective means for American Jews to support
their brethren who reside in Eretz Yisrael. For more information please visit
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