Sefat Emet: Vayakhel
The beginning of this week’s parsha describes the national campaign to gather all the materials needed to build the Mishkan and its accoutrements. In three pesukim the Torah describes
how this campaign ended. The craftsmen came to Moshe and told him, The people are bringing more than enough …” Then the Torah relates that Moshe Rabeinu commanded the nation to stop bringing more materials. The pasuk tells us, “So the nation stopped bringing.” What was the purpose of this lengthy description? Why was it necessary to describe it at all?
These pesukim are teaching us a basic principle in serving God. Many times we will we be inspired to do some worthy activity. Recognizing that the very inspiration did not originate in our own minds but rather is from God, brings us to a higher level of awe of Him. In fact, the Ba’al Shem Tov taught that this is actually the purpose of the inspiration. Thinking that we are the source of the inspiration leads to conceit and self-righteousness.
We find this idea in the service of the angels that prophet Yechezkel describes. Yechezkel tells us, “The living creatures ran forward and returned …” The Sfas Emes, based on the kabbalistic literature understands that this is a metaphor for serving God. We run forward to serve Him but, in order not to be tempted towards arrogance in our service, we need to stop and back off to gain some perspective. We gain perspective by considering the true purpose of our worthwhile activity and that we are standing before God.
This is the reason the elders in the desert told Moshe Rabbeinu that the nation had brought too much. They were not only referring to physical quantities and quotas. They feared that there was too much “forward movement” with no stop to gain perspective in order to thwart the temptation towards self-righteousness. In response to Moshe Rabbeinu’s instructions, we stopped bringing, thus ensuring that our intent for all the materials of the Mishkan was pure.
This concept reappears in the very next pasuk, And the materials were enough to do the work and there was extra.” This pasuk contains an apparent contradiction. The beginning of the pasuk says that the materials were enough to do the work. The end of the pasuk says there was extra. The Or HaChaim explains that the pasuk is teaching us God’s love for the nation. Even though we brought more than was needed, He arranged it so that everything that was brought was used for the Mishkan. According to the Sfas Emes, the meaning is that even though there was too much activity of bringing with no stop for reflection, the fact that we stopped in response to Moshe Rabbeinu’s instruction, saved us and the materials that we brought from the corruption of self aggrandizement.
The Chiddushei HaRim teaches this idea on the pasuk in Shir HaShirim, “How nice are your feet in sandals, O daughter of nobility.” The word for sandals has the same root as the word for lock The word for nobility –‘nediv’ has the same root as the word for charitableness. According to the Chiddushei HaRim, Shlomo HaMelech is teaching us through a metaphor that it is important to temper the will to be generous so that our good intentions to give do not become mixed with self importance.
This concept also explains a pasuk at the beginning of last week’s parsha. God commanded the nation to bring exactly a half shekel each, no more and no less, “The prosperous may not exceed and the poor may not diminish from the half shekel.” While the need for a minimum amount may be clear, why did the Torah limit the wealthy from giving more? The Sfas Emes explains that this admonition against giving more is a hint to our concept. God wanted to protect the wealthy from the temptation towards self importance because of their ability to give more. He therefore equalized the wealthy and the poor. He, in effect, told the rich that even though they were able to give more, serving God in this instance meant limiting themselves to prevent any possibility of lording it over others who had less.
May we merit giving with the purest of intentions, Amen.