ספר שמות פרק כה
(א) וַיְדַבֵּר יְדֹוָד אֶל משֶׁה לֵּאמֹר:
(ב) דַּבֵּר אֶל בְּנֵי יִשְׂרָאֵל וְיִקְחוּ לִי תְּרוּמָה מֵאֵת כָּל אִישׁ אֲשֶׁר יִדְּבֶנּוּ לִבּוֹ תִּקְחוּ אֶת תְּרוּמָתִי:
1) Hashem spoke to Moshe saying. 2) Speak to the children of Israel let them take for me a portion; from every man whose heart motivates him take my portion.
So begins the process of building the Tabernacle, the modular, portable sanctuary, that accompanied the Jewish people throughout their wilderness sojourn. For the next 440 years, until King Solomon built the permanent Holy Temple in Jerusalem in the year 832 BCE, the Tabernacle received, and was maintained by, the Jewish people’s deeply heartfelt voluntary donations. The materials that would go into the Tabernacle were not to be given out of obligation; they had to come from deep within one’s heart. The heart represents the repository for one’s deepest desires and aspirations and had to be the motivating source for the peoples’ generous and holy contributions.
The Talmud records the dispute between Rabbi Yehudah and the majority of Rabbis whether a blind man must perform the commandments. The majority ruled yes, he is; whereas Rabbi Yehudah derived from a verse that he exempt. Rabbi Yossi was blind and yet was a very righteous person who performed all the mitzvot meticulously. Thinking that doing them voluntarily is better than doing them under obligation, he said, “If someone would inform me that the decision in this argument goes in favor of Rabbi Yehudah, I will throw a party for the Scholars.” This makes common sense: When I voluntarily do something out of the goodness of my heart, with no requirement to do so, it is completely altruistic and pure. If, however, I do it out of obligation, I am doing it because I have to, a seemingly much lower spiritual level. But Rabbi Yossi later heard a statement from Rabbi Chanina who taught:
תלמוד בבלי מסכת קידושין דף לא/א
א”ר חנינא גדול מצווה ועושה יותר ממי שאינו מצווה ועושה
Greater is the one who performs a mitzvah when obligated to do so, than the one who does so voluntarily.
Rabbi Yossi then responded, “If someone would tell me that the decision goes in favor of the Rabbis who argue with Rabbi Yehudah, I will throw a party for the Scholars.”
How do we understand this seemingly illogical statement? Why wouldn’t doing it voluntarily be better?
The Tosafot commentary on the Talmud explains as follows. We assess who is greater by how much the person doing the act has inconvenienced himself to do it. A person obligated to do a mitzvah carries with him the burden and worry of how and when he will get it done. This preoccupation with, and concern for, the fulfillment of the mitzvah bring him great reward because he is exerting all this effort just to fulfill Hashem’s will. Hashem appreciates that we put ourselves out for Him.
Another factor adds to this reward. When a person has an obligation to do a mitzvah, a counterforce immediately attempts to prevent him from doing so. Without a challenge to the force of good in the world we would be unworthy of reward for doing the right thing. If the mitzvah carries no imposing obligation, the evil force leaves him alone because there is nothing wrong with not doing that deed. It is thus, much more difficult to execute an obligatory mitzvah than one that carries no obligation. Hence, one who actually follows through and fulfills the mitzvah because he has to, achieves more, and is greater than the one who does it voluntarily.
This raises an immediate question. Why did Hashem request only voluntary donations to build the Tabernacle rather making it obligatory, especially since the Jewish people had oodles of money. They took out much money from Egypt and received even more at the Reed Sea from the drowned Egyptian army.
To answer to this, we must first understand the Tabernacle’s purpose. The verse says: (Exodus 25)
ספר שמות פרק כה
(ח) וְעָשׂוּ לִי מִקְדָּשׁ וְשָׁכַנְתִּי בְּתוֹכָם:
8) They should make a sanctuary for me and I will dwell within them.
Shouldn’t it have said, “and I will dwell in it?” The verse clearly implies that the Sanctuary’s purpose is not just to be a place for Hashem’s presence to dwell. That is just a means to an end. The goal is that through the Tabernacle we bring Hashem’s holiness into ourselves so that Hashem will dwell in each of our hearts.
But we must first make room for Him there. If we close our hearts to Him, He cannot enter to dwell within us. This is why the Tabernacle had to be built from donations that came from the heart. If one’s heart was not open to the idea and had no deep desire to give to the Tabernacle where Hashem would dwell, it would mean nothing to him anyway. Such a person would not have been open to the holiness that emanated from there, and none of it would have entered his heart. The degree that we open our hearts to Hashem is how much of Him can enter our hearts.
Harav Simcha Zisel Ziv from Kelm explains how this concept works. Specifically the act of giving is what best prepares our heart to welcome Hashem into it. Hashem can only give, and He does so continually to every creature in the world, even though He can receive nothing in return. He created this world so that He could give, as the verse says (Psalms 89:3), עולם חסד יבנה – the world is built on kindness. When we open our hearts to the needs of others, we are mirroring Hashem’s quality of giving and acting like Him. Thus, the act of kindness, a godly act, creates a connection from us to Hashem, the essence of kindness, and allows His holiness to enter our hearts through that connection. Materials donated with these pure and altruistic motives would be the perfect substrate for a holy Tabernacle, one which would house Hashem’s presence.
This is why, only donations that came from deep in one’s heart were accepted for the Tabernacle.
It is noteworthy, that לב – the heart, is also mentioned in reference to the craftsmen who were to take those materials and fashion them into the Tabernacle’s various vessels and tapestries, though it is mentioned in a peculiar way. (Exodus 28:3):
ספר שמות פרק כח
(ג) וְאַתָּה תְּדַבֵּר אֶל כָּל חַכְמֵי לֵב אֲשֶׁר מִלֵּאתִיו רוּחַ חָכְמָה וְעָשׂוּ אֶת בִּגְדֵי אַהֲרֹן לְקַדְּשׁוֹ לְכַהֲנוֹ לִי:
You shall speak to all the wise hearted people whom I have invested with a spirit of wisdom and they will make Aharon’s vestments to sanctify him to minister to Me.
Every time the Torah refers to the craftsmen, it calls them wise hearted. What is the meaning of a wise heart? Isn’t wisdom in the mind?
There is an even more perplexing verse later on ( Exodus 31:6):
ספר שמות פרק לא
וּבְלֵב כָּל חֲכַם לֵב נָתַתִּי חָכְמָה וְעָשׂוּ אֵת כָּל אֲשֶׁר צִוִּיתִךָ:
And I have endowed the heart of every wise hearted person with wisdom, and they will make all that I have commanded you.
How did they become wise before the wisdom was endowed to them?
The לב – heart, is the source of our deepest and inner most desires. It represents our true רצון – inner will. The word רצון , comes from the Hebrew word רץ which means to run. The רצון is what causes us to chase after the things we run after. Whether conscious or subconscious, it is what motivates our every decision, for we are always trying to achieve our רצון . A wise heart means that his רצונות , his inner most aspirations, are wise and on target.
When Moshe announced to the people that he needed volunteers to help with the Tabernacle’s construction and told them, “We need weavers, we need fine goldsmiths, and silversmiths. We need carpenters, and diamond cutters,” most people thought to themselves, “I can’t do that! I have no training or experience in those areas. I have been working with bricks and mortar for my whole life, how could I possibly do fine craftsmanship?” They did not offer to help.
But there were a fewחכמי לב – people whose hearts were in the right place and who wanted desperately to be part of the construction, who said, “I volunteer! I will do it! How will I do it you ask? I have no training? I don’t know! I’ll figure it out. All I know is that I want to be a part of this holy work.” Hashem said to these wise hearted people, “You want to be part of this? No problem! I will endow you with the skill and know-how you need so you can fulfill your wish.”
This is the meaning of the verse (Exodus 35:21):
ספר שמות פרק לה
(כא) וַיָּבֹאוּ כָּל אִישׁ אֲשֶׁר נְשָׂאוֹ לִבּוֹ
And every man whose heart lifted him came …
רמב”ן על שמות פרק לה פסוק כא
ויגבה לבו בדרכי ה’ לבא לפני משה לאמר לו אני אעשה כל אשר אדני דובר
And he lifted his heart in the ways of Hashem to come before Moshe and say to him, “I will do whatever my master requests!”
There is a great lesson here. Very often we are inspired to do something holy only to be deterred by doubts of our ability to execute properly. What training do I have in this matter? If we are sincere, we can count on Hashem to provide us with the know-how to fulfill our heartfelt wishes. There are many stories of people who succeeded famously in areas foreign to them by the dint of their pure and holy will alone.
The Tabernacle’s workmanship was also performed by people with the purest of motivations, with a desire to play a part in this holy work. Their hearts carried them to go beyond their comfort zone to do the holy work of the Tabernacle.
Because the Tabernacle’s purpose was to bring Hashem’s presence into our hearts, it had to be built by people who had “lifted their hearts in the ways of Hashem” with materials donated by people who had opened their hearts and gave it. The combination was unbeatable.
Now that the Tabernacle’s foundations had been laid by these pure hearts, the rest of the Jewish nation could benefit from Hashem’s holy presence that dwelled there.
In our personal service to Hashem, our hearts are also our most important instrument. The feelings of love and commitment that emanate from us when doing a mitzvah are the yardstick by which Hashem measures a mitzvah. The Talmud (Sanhedrin 106b) says: רחמנא ליבא בעי – Hashem wants our hearts.
When counting the Jewish people in Parshat Ki Tisa, Hashem commanded that instead of counting heads, each man from age 20-60 should give a half a shekel coin. By counting the half shekels, they would know the exact number of men. No one, whether rich or poor, was allowed to give more, or less, than a half a shekel. Through this method of counting, Hashem would protect the Jewish people from any harm.
The Midrash informs us that Moshe expressed difficulty understanding this mitzvah. In response, Hashem showed him a coin of fire that He brought out from under His Throne of Glory. What was Moshe’s question, and how did the coin of fire answer it?
The Chassam Sofer explains that everything we have is a gift from Hashem. Moshe wondered: how are we worthy of reward for giving charity when Hashem gave all that we have? If I gave you a box of chocolates and then asked you for a piece, would you refuse? After all, I gave you the whole box! So, too, Hashem bestowed the Jewish people with great wealth and then asked them to “give back” a mere half a shekel; for that Hashem was going to reward them greatly? Hashem answered this question with a coin of fire. ”It is for the fire generated by the love burning within their hearts when they give the donation that I am giving them reward, not the coin itself! I am looking for the amount of heart they put into it, the spiritual fire they attach to it. That’s what is precious to me!”
So, too, in the performance of any mitzvah, Hashem is interested in how much heart we put into it.
What was done with the half shekels that Moshe used to count the Jewish people? This one time they were used to make the אדנים – the sockets for the beams that made up the Tabernacle’s sanctuary. The vertical wood beams rested on them, thus serving as the sanctuary’s foundation.
The half a shekel was an obligatory donation, for the purpose of counting the men. But weren’t all the donations to the Tabernacle supposed to be voluntary?
From this our Sages teach us an important lesson. Although the essence of the Tabernacle was based on the love in the hearts of the donors and craftsmen, the true foundation of our service to Hashem must be out of obligation. Bottom line: the reason that we serve Hashem is because we are commanded to do so. We are Hashem’s servants, and must follow His instructions. This is what the sockets, made from the half shekels, a fixed donation, come to teach us.
There is one more question.
Why in the opening verse (page 1) does it say “2) Speak to the children of Israel let them take for me a portion.” Shouldn’t it have said, “and let them give me a portion?” Aren’t these donations for the Tabernacle?
Harav Eliezer Man Schach, explains. We tend to think that any time we wish to do the mitzvah of charity we will be able to. What’s the big deal? Reach into your pocket and give some money. The Talmud (Sukkah 49b) teaches us that it isn’t so simple.
תלמוד בבלי מסכת סוכה דף מט/ב
שמא תאמר כל הבא לקפוץ קופץ: תלמוד לומר, “מה יקר חסדך אלקים.”
You might think anyone who wishes to give charity will be able to do so. The following verse, “How precious (rare) is your kindness (the ability to do real kindness) Hashem,” teaches us that it isn’t so.
One must be worthy and meritorious for Hashem to give him the opportunity to give proper charity. Rashi explains that if he doesn’t take the matter of charity seriously and investigate carefully to what he is giving his money, he will end up giving it to unworthy causes that are not really charity. He is wasting his money and will receive no reward for it. Only a person who is careful and concerned about matters of charity will Hashem give the merit to support truly worthy causes. Thus, when we give charity carefully, we are taking for ourselves the merit necessary to give real charity.
What is the secret to putting heart into our mitzvot? Rabbi Moshe Chaim Lozzato in his work Path of the Just, chapter 8, reveals it to us.
ספר מסילת ישרים – פרק ח
וְאָמְנָם מַה שֶּׁיּוּכַל לְהַגְבִּיר הַהִתְעוֹרְרוּת הַזֶּה הוּא, הַהִסְתַּכְּלוּת בְּרֹב הַטּוֹבוֹת שֶׁהַקָּדוֹשׁ בָּרוּךְ הוּא עוֹשֶֹה עִם הָאָדָם בְּכָל עֵת וּבְכָל שָׁעָה, וְהַנִּפְלָאוֹת הַגְּדוֹלוֹת שֶׁעוֹשֶֹה עִמּוֹ מֵעֵת הַלֵּידָה עַד הַיּוֹם הָאַחֲרוֹן, כִּי כָל מַה שֶּׁיַּרְבֶּה לְהִסְתַּכֵּל וּלְהִתְבּוֹנֵן בִּדְבָרִים אֵלֶּה, הִנֵּה יַרְבֶּה לְהַכִּיר לְעַצְמוֹ חוֹבָה רַבָּה אֶל הָאֵל הַמֵּיטִיב לוֹ, וְיִהְיוּ אֵלֶּה אֶמְצָעִים לְשֶׁלֹּא יִתְעַצֵּל וְיִתְרַפֶּה מֵעֲבוֹדָתוֹ, כִּי הֲרֵי הוֹאִיל וְאֵינוֹ יָכוֹל וַדַּאי לִגְמֹל לוֹ טוֹבָתוֹ יִתְבָּרֵךְ, לְפָחוֹת יוֹדֶה לִשְׁמוֹ וִיקַיֵּם מִצְווֹתָיו.
What can motivate us to serve Hashem with alacrity and enthusiasm is to ponder all the good that Hashem does for a us every second of every day, and the amazing kindness that Hashem has done for us from the moment we were born until our last day on this earth. The more we contemplate these matters, the greater the feeling of indebtedness that we will feel to Hashem our benefactor. We can then harness those feelings to motivate us to do Hashem’s will with a full heart; because since there is no way to do anything for Hashem in return, the least we can do is to thank Him and perform His commandments.
Let us pray that in the merit of our charity and good deeds, we will merit seeing the third Holy Temple rebuilt speedily in our days.