A House of Hearts
If we were to count up all the verses in the Torah that describe the
construction of the Mishkan in minute detail, beginning with Parashas
Terumah and culminating with this week’s Torah portion, the number
would reach into the hundreds. Why does the Torah pay such
extraordinary attention to the construction of a building that existed only
in Biblical times and was eventually replaced by the Temple, which was
of totally different dimensions? What message does this painstaking
description convey to us today?
In order to find the answers we must go back to last week’s
parashah. As their contribution to the construction of the Mishkan, the
Nesiim, the tribal princes, offered to wait until the end and provide
everything that still remained to be done, a most magnanimous gesture.
But was this indeed a good offer?
Let us try to find a parallel in a contemporary setting. A
philanthropist comes to a major charitable organization or institute of
Torah study and offers to cover the annual deficit for the next ten years.
No matter what the shortfall, he will foot the bill. What would the
reaction be? Wild celebration! Ecstasy! The philanthropist would be
hoisted onto the shoulders of the administrators and fund-raisers, and
they would dance through the streets. A grand dinner would be
arranged in his honor, and he would be presented with a beautiful
This was also the offer of the Nesiim, and it would seem that it, too,
should have been greeted with appreciation and gratitude. But it was
not. The Torah castigates them subtly by omitting a letter from their
name (35:27). Our Sages point out that, although their intentions were
noble, they should not have postponed their contribution until the very
end. But the question remains: Where exactly did they err? What was
wrong with offering to guarantee that there would be no deficit?
The commentators explain that the Nesiim’s error was in bringing a
businesslike attitude to the construction of the Mishkan. From a very
practical point of view, their offer was excellent. But Hashem did not ask
for contributions to the Mishkan because he needed help making ends
meet on the construction project. He wanted the people to contribute
their love, their passionate devotion, their enthusiasm, their excitement.
He wanted the Mishkan to be constructed of the outpourings of Jewish
hearts. The gold and silver of the donations were simply the conduits by
which these sentiments were infused into the structure of the Mishkan.
The Nesiim, however, took a cool, pragmatic attitude, and for this lack
of passion and irrepressible fervor, the Torah takes them to task.
In this light, we can understand why the Torah meticulously
enumerates each minute detail of the construction. Each little nugget of
gold, each little piece of embroidery represented another piece of a
Jewish heart aflame with devotion to our Creator, and as such, it is
infinitely and eternally precious.
A very wealthy man once came to the director of a large charitable
institution. “Rabbi,” he said, “my father just passed away, and in his
memory, I would like to cover your entire budget for the coming year.”
The rabbi looked at him for a moment, then shook his head. “I will
accept a nice donation from you, but I cannot accept this offer.”
“But how can you refuse?” asked the wealthy man, completely
taken aback. “Don’t you have a responsibility to the poor families who
depend on you?”
“Let me explain. Every year, our fund-raisers travel to distant towns
and villages, collecting small contributions from hundreds, even
thousands of Jewish people. Hashem could undoubtedly provide for our
needs more easily, but He surely wants all these good people to share
in the mitzvah of giving charity. So you see, I have a responsibility to
these people, and I cannot deprive them of this mitzvah.”
In our own lives, we are often inspired to get involved with
important causes, but we might sometimes feel that what we can
contribute, either in time, talent or resources, is simply inadequate. How
will the big picture be affected, we ask ourselves, by the few dollars or
hours we can contribute? It seems to us like a drop in the ocean.
Unfortunately, such feelings may prevent us from participating to the full
extent of our capabilities. Let us remember the lesson of the Mishkan -
that Hashem does not seek our help, only our hearts. It is not how much
we do that is important, but how we do it. If we contribute with love,
caring and compassion, then even the smallest contribution assumes
Text Copyright © 2011 by Rabbi Naftali Reich and Torah.org.
Rabbi Reich is on the faculty of the Ohr Somayach Tanenbaum Education Center.