Asking the Impossible
What is the point of asking someone to do the impossible? What is
to be gained by having a person make the attempt and fail? In bringing
up our children, we are always careful to demand of them only what
they can realistically accomplish. Otherwise, we would be setting them
up for failure. Yet in this week’s parashah, we find that Hashem does
exactly the opposite.
“And you shall make a menorah of pure gold, hammered,” Hashem
told Moses, “the menorah will be made.” The Midrash observes that at
first Moses was commanded “to make a menorah,” but much as he
tried, he was unable to produce it according to the Torah’s
specifications. Finally, Hashem told him to throw the gold into the fire
and “the menorah will be made” by itself - miraculously.
We can safely assume that Moses, the greatest man who ever
lived, made the most valiant attempt to fulfill the commandment of
making a menorah, that he exerted himself to the full extent of his
considerable talents and abilities. And yet he failed. Surely, then, it was
not humanly possible to create such a menorah by any means short of
a miracle. If so, why did Hashem command Moses to produce a
menorah when He knew failure was guaranteed? Why didn’t Hashem
produce the menorah miraculously right from the beginning?
A similar question arises earlier in the parashah, where we find an
interesting paradox. The Torah commands that the Holy Ark be carried
by long wooden rods inserted through golden rings in its sides, and that
these rods never be removed; other Tabernacle furnishings were also
carried by similar means, but there is no prohibition against removing
the rods. Why was it so important that the rods of the Holy Ark never be
removed? After all, our Sages tell us that the Holy Ark traveled under its
own power and actually carried its bearers with it. The act of carrying
was only an illusion. In real terms, however, the bearers of the Holy Ark
contributed nothing to its transportation, and yet, here in particular,
special emphasis is placed on keeping the rods of the bearers in place.
Why is this so?
The commentators explain that a profound lesson is being taught
here. Every person in the world is obligated to accomplish as much
good as he possibly can. He is obligated to provide for his family, help
those less fortunate than himself, support institutions of Torah and
charity. This is called hishtadlus. Although a person knows that in the
final analysis Hashem controls the world and everything that happens in
it, he should not say, “Why should I bother when it is all up to Hashem
anyway?” Hashem wants all people to exert themselves to the full
extent of their abilities, as if it were all up to them. Then - and only
then - does Hashem reward their efforts.
True, the Holy Ark carried itself, and it is for this very reason that
the rods must never be removed. Don’t delude yourself, says the Torah,
into thinking you don’t need to lift up the rods because it won’t make a
difference anyway. The omnipresent rods are there to remind you that
you are always obligated to do your utmost - no matter what.
For this same reason, Hashem commanded Moses to make the
menorah, even though He knew it was impossible. Again we are being
taught the same lesson. A person is required to try to the best of his
ability, regardless of whether he can assume that his efforts will be
crowned with success. Moses was rewarded for all his exertions in the
attempt to make the menorah, even though in the end it took a miracle
to produce it.
In our own lives, we too are sometimes overwhelmed by the
daunting tasks that face us, whether in our private lives, the workplace
or our obligations to the community. We sometimes cannot see how we
will ever achieve success, and therefore, we become discouraged and
lose heart. Let us draw on the lessons of the golden menorah and the
Holy Ark. Let us reflect on the deeper truths of existence, that success
and failure are never in our own power, that all we can do is try. And let
us pray to Hashem that He look kindly upon our sincere efforts and
bless them with success - even if it takes a miracle.
Text Copyright © 2007 by Rabbi Naftali Reich and Torah.org.
Rabbi Reich is on the faculty of the Ohr Somayach Tanebaum Education Center.