It was an incredible structure filled with utensils meant to convey meaning and serve as the vehicle for our service of God. The Mishkan and its keylim (utensils) created the meeting place between Heaven and Earth, allowing us to feel the Divine presence within our midst each and every day.
And you shall make a menorah of pure gold. The menorah shall be made (tey’aseh) of hammered work; its base and its stem, its goblets, its knobs, and its flowers shall [all] be [one piece] with it. (Exodus 25:31)
Rashi wonders, why does the Torah say the Menorah “shall be made, tey’aseh” as opposed to “you shall make, ta’aseh”? Rashi explains:
Since Moses found difficulty with it [i.e., figuring out how to form the menorah], the Holy One, blessed is He, said to him, “Cast the talent [equivalent to sixty-four pounds of gold] into the fire, and it will be made by itself.”
Moshe couldn’t figure out how to make the Menorah, so God tells him, “Throw the gold into the fire, and I (God) will create it. It will be made by Me.” But what was so difficult? Moshe was able to figure out everything else in the Mishkan, why did this present a unique difficulty?
The Lubavitcher Rebbe (Rabbi Menachem Mendel Schneerson, 1902-1994) provides a beautiful insight. The Menorah was intended to create light, but not simply utilitarian light for the Mishkan; its light was to be the light of holiness which could illuminate an otherwise dark world. The Menorah symbolized man’s sacred duty to create light through his dynamic spiritual activity. This light, in turn, drives away and dispels the darkness of evil and adversity. Our actions matter. When we do a mitzvah, perform an act of chessed, learn Torah, or daven with kavana (concentration), we create light and drive away the darkness. Moshe couldn’t understand how the actions of an individual could impact the world. He didn’t understand how a simple act could have a global effect. He didn’t understand how the Menorah worked, and he was therefore, unable to construct it. Hashem tells him, just throw the gold into the fire. You do your part, and I will do mine. You do what is within your ability to create goodness and holiness, and I will harness that energy to combat the evil in this world. You gather the gold (spiritual dynamic activity) and give it to me (throw into the fire), and I will create the mechanism through which the darkness is dispelled. There are things in life you don’t have to understand – you just have to believe.
There are many lessons to be gleaned from the Rebbe’s words. We don’t always understand how everything works; we just have to find the courage to believe it works. I don’t know how my actions make a difference in the world, but I believe they do. I don’t know how one isolated act of charity, kindness, or learning dispels the darkness, but it does. And knowing that it does is enough to spur me to action. But we are also taught that we don’t have to go at it alone. Hashem tells us to take the gold of our dynamic spiritual endeavors and cast it into the holy fire of the Divine. God asks us to partner with Him. We put in the effort and deliver that effort into the hands of Hashem. The results will be luminescent.
“The Lord spoke to Moses saying: “Speak to the children of Israel and have them take for Me an offering; from every person whose heart inspires him to generosity, you shall take My offering (Exodus 25:1-2).
The time had come for the Jewish nation to build a “home” for God. The Mishkan (Tabernacle) was to be the spiritual epicenter of the nation’s existence. It was to be the place of centralized service and would serve to unite the tribes in the service of God. But this Mishkan was not only for us. God’s love for his children was so intense that He yearned to dwell within our midst and be an active part of our daily lives. But like most important life endeavors – a dream is not enough – reality requires money. And so, when it came time to make this dream a reality, the call went out to the Jewish people to donate gold, silver, copper, wool, and an assortment of other precious metals and materials. All were to have a portion in the Mishkan; all were to have a place within the Home of Hashem. From the wording of the verse, it would appear that giving to this holy endeavor was at the discretion of the individual. God told Moshe to collect from “every person whose heart inspires him to generosity.” Collect from every person who possesses this “Nidivus Leyv, generosity of spirit.” The inference is that if a person “feels” generous, they give, and if they do not feel generous, they are exempt. This seems to be a strange dynamic given the fact that mitzvos (commandments) are obligatory and are not left to the discretion of the individual. We have 613 commandments which represent a set of Divine mandates to which we must adhere. Why was donating to the Mishkan left to the discretion of the individual?
Rav Chaim Shmulevitz (1902-1979) explains this dynamic with a beautiful insight. The Talmud (Kesubos 103a) quotes an amazing episode:
“Rabbi Chiya said: I will make sure that Torah is never forgotten from the Jewish people. I will sow flax, harvest it, and make it into nets. I will use the nets to capture deer. I will slaughter the deer, feed the meat to orphans, and write the sections of the Torah on the parchment (skins). I will then go to a place where there are no teachers of Torah, and I will assemble a group of children and teach each of them a section of Torah. I will then ask each of them to teach the material to one another.”
Why did Rabbi Chiya have to go through the trouble of making the nets and capturing the deer? Why not just purchase the parchment and write the Torah on it? Or better yet, purchase already written scrolls? Rabbi Chiya understood a very important and fundamental principle. To be successful in any spiritual life endeavor, we must do it “lishmah, with true and worthy purpose and intention.” Rabbi Chiya knew that in order to impart Torah to the next generation, every step of the spiritual, educational process would have to be pure and holy. From beginning to end, it would have to be done for the right reasons. Any ego or self-serving motivations would erode the spiritual foundation. In order to ensure that the transmission of Torah to the next generation would be pristine and pure, Rabbi Chiya made sure that each and every part of the process was infused with holiness and meaning.
Nidivus Leyv does not simply refer to someone who is generous; it refers to someone who does the right thing for the right reasons – someone who lives his life lishmah. Hashem was saying to Moshe, “I want everyone to give, but I want them to understand that the success of this project is rooted in their ability to infuse holiness into every step of this process. To give without soul, to give without feeling does not advance our collective goal. I trust that each and every person will ultimately come around and want to be part of this holy initiative, but don’t force them to give if they are not yet ready.”
God is teaching us a profound life lesson. We often assume the success of any life endeavor is rooted in the performance of a series of mechanistic details. If we execute the details correctly, we will reach our desired result. True success in life requires heart, feeling, and soul. There are times when we do not reach our intended finish line. There are times when we fall short of our goals. At times, this is the result of unexpected circumstances. Yet often this occurs because we were not emotionally and spiritually vested in the undertaking. At times, the body can be engaged, and yet the soul and the mind are elsewhere. To be truly successful in life, a person must commit to the “task” with not only his hands and feet – but with his heart and his soul. Nidivus Leyv, generosity of spirit, is not only a way to give; it is a way to live.
Let us find the strength to give generously of our heart, soul, and mind to all we do, and may Hashem bless our efforts with success.
“And this is the offering that you shall take from them: gold, silver, and copper; blue, purple, and crimson wool; linen and goat hair; ram skins dyed red, tachash skins, and acacia wood.” (Exodus 25:3-5)
Wealth is an incredible blessing from God. But like all blessings, one must know how to use it. What is the proper balance between personal benefit and enjoyment and communal responsibility? It is in this week’s Parsha that God asks the Jewish nation to use their newfound wealth to build a spiritual home and epicenter. The Mishkan would require complete financial participation of the nation. There would be some who would donate precious materials and stones and others who would contribute the necessary fabrics and materials. Rashi raises an interesting question, “from where did they have acacia wood in the desert?” The gold, silver, copper and even fine fabrics were taken from Egypt but where was the wood from? Rashi answers, “Yaakov Avinu prophetically saw that his children would build a mishkan (tabernacle) in the desert. Therefore, when he came down to Egypt, he brought with him acacia trees from the Land of Israel and planted them in Egypt. He commanded his children to take the wood with them when they left Egypt.”
The Lubavitcher Rebbe (Rabbi Menachem Mendel Schneerson, 1902-1994) asks, “Why did Yaakov have to do this? Why all of the effort? The people could have bought wood when they needed it. They could have bartered with neighboring tribes and nations.” The Rebbe advances a beautiful insight. When Yaakov came down to Egypt with his acacia saplings and planted them, people asked, “Why are you doing this?” To which Yaakov responded, “One day God will lead us out of this land, and we will travel to our home and destiny, but along that journey God will reside in our midst, in the home we will build for Him.” As Egyptian persecution intensified the Jews were able to look to the acacia trees and be reminded that one day this servitude would come to an end. And as they felt the sharp whips on their backs, the loads weighing down on their shoulders, their sons being thrown into the Nile, they looked at the acacia trees and reminded themselves, we will get out of this, we will overcome, we will be free. Our ancestors knew of the promise of slavery and redemption but having a physical reminder of salvation is what kept them from drowning in the abyss of darkness. The trees of Yaakov Avinu were the beacon of promised freedom and salvation. They were the physical “light at the end of the tunnel.”
We all experience difficult times; this is part of the human condition. The only variable is the intensity of adversity. In those times of hardship, it is easy to lose hope, optimism and positive disposition. We must find our acacia tree, the thing we can focus on to remind us that everything will be alright. For some it may be the presence of a loving spouse, for others it may be children, and yet, for many it may simply be the belief that God is my rock and He will never leave my side. We made it through 210 years of spirit-breaking servitude because when things looked dark and hope was almost lost, we looked up at the trees of Yaakov Avinu and were reminded, we will emerge from this, there will be light and happiness. The trees we saw every day of our enslavement became the walls of the home of God which inspired us throughout our days of freedom and destiny. May we each merit to plant our acacia trees and may they inspire us with the necessary hope, strength and resolve to make it through even the darkest of days.
Ranchleigh Women’s Chaburah
And they shall make Me a sanctuary and I will dwell in their midst (Exodus 25:8)
The Mishkan (Tabernacle) was a national endeavor. It was not a project undertaken and underwritten solely by the wealthy, it was a result of the collective effort and generosity of the entire Jewish people. It was this inclusivity that allowed this structure to become the House of God. It was not the precious gold and silver, nor was it the incredible workmanship that made this Mishkan into the domicile of the Divine; it was the collective energy, it was the national cohesion created by undertaking this sacred task as one people with one heart which allowed the Divine to rest in this special place. The strength of our people is found in our unity. The strength of Am Yisroel is most present and pronounced when we look out for one another and find ways to build bonds and bridges of understanding and empathy.
This month of February is North American Inclusion Month (NAIM), a month where must take a step back and make sure that our communities are inclusive and embracing of all people with all types of challenges and differences. This month offers us the opportunity to create a Mishkan of inclusion and acceptance within our midst.
I would like to share with you a powerful experience I had just a few months ago. I was invited by Menucha (an incredible organization in Baltimore which is dedicated to helping children with special needs and their families) to be a scholar in residence for their annual Shabbaton. This Shabbos was for the parents and their special needs child. I was tasked with providing some Torah and inspiration for the Shabbaton attendees. There are some experiences which forever change your life and the way you see the world; this was one of them. I had the opportunity to meet these special children. And when I use the world “special” I am not using it as a euphemism for “challenged,” I mean truly special. I saw children who exuded the purest and holiest of love. I saw children who looked at the world and other people though a lens of unadulterated goodness and simcha. I met children who were limited physically and cognitively but possessed an unlimited capacity for warmth, care, empathy and the truest happiness I have ever seen. And I met their parents. These parents are a special breed. I saw for just a couple of hours the care, attention and love these parents provide. I saw a brand of fierce parental commitment that I have never witnessed beforehand. I love my own children very much, but there was something different here. There was a bond that I cannot explain, there was a connection that I cannot put into words. To the onlooker it may have looked as if it was a one-sided relationship: the parent giving and the child receiving. But it was clear that these parents felt the love emoted by their children and the unique and synergistic bond between parent and child grew stronger every moment. I felt that I was at a convention of the righteous. I met the volunteers, a group of young women and men from our community who display patience, compassion and empathy beyond their years. In a time when we struggle to keep our children engaged, I realized that we must push our youth to get more involved in chessed and helping others to cement their bond to our people and Torah. I have never witnessed love, commitment and acceptance as I felt over that Shabbos. I thank Rabbi Aryeh Richter, Executive Director of Menucha for all his incredible work and for inviting me for Shabbos. I want to thank the children and parents of Menucha. I want to thank the parents for teaching me what it truly means to be a parent. Thank you for showing me what is truly means to love a child, not because of what you think they can or will accomplish but because of who they are. I want to thank the children of Menucha. Thank you for allowing me into your world of purity and holiness. Thank you for allowing me to bask in your simple and pure goodness. Thank you for wishing me “ah gut Shabbos” with such meaning and for your beautiful smiles that could light up the darkest of places. Thank you for making me part of your extended family for that one, magnificent Shabbos. Thank you for allowing me to reside in your Mishkan. I came to inspire and had the privilege to leave truly inspired.