by Rabbi Yaakov Menken
"Like all that G-d commanded Moshe, so the Children of Israel did all of
the work. And Moshe saw all the labor, and behold, they had done it, in
accordance with what G-d had commanded, so they did, and Moshe blessed
The verses clearly seem repetitive.
The Chasam Sofer explains: "labor," or melacha in Hebrew, refers to what
they actually did with their hands, while "work," or avoda, refers to the
effort, the motivation in their heart, even without action. Avoda can also
be translated as "service," which makes this dichotomy easier to
understand. In the Shema, we read that we are to "love the L-rd your G-d
and to serve Him with all your heart and with all your soul." [Deut. 11:13]
Our Sages ask [Talmud Ta'anis 2a]: "What is the 'service' that is in the
heart? This refers to prayer."
The verse says, "Like all that G-d commanded Moshe, so the Children of
Israel did all of the work." They did it as HaShem wanted it: they "put
their hearts into it." They did the work with a full heart.
How did Moshe know this? How did he know what was in their hearts? How
could he tell that they gave of themselves with a full heart? The verse
tells us: "And Moshe saw all the labor, and behold, they had done it, in
accordance with what G-d had commanded..." He saw that the work had been
done to perfection, without any omissions or defects. From this, he
recognized that they obviously gave of themselves with a pure heart, with
purest intent, as HaShem desired.
Had they lacked this purity of heart, they would not have merited such
success. They would not have produced such perfection. "In accordance with
all that HaShem commanded, so they did." As our Sages say, if the one who
leads the prayers is able to say them fluently, it is a good sign for the
congregation. It means that they came with good hearts. And for this, Moshe
This message from the Chasam Sofer can be understood on a metaphysical
level -- that since despite all of our efforts, it is HaShem who grants
success, it is perfectly logical that He would give perfection only to
those who came with perfect hearts.
But I think, even so, that we can look upon this as a very pragmatic and
practical lesson. If a person's entire agenda is to produce something
perfect for G-d, then he or she will be concentrating entirely upon the
product. But if, on the other hand, a person also has an individual agenda,
for self-glorification, fame or reward, then this can lead down the path of
destruction. All of a sudden, I'm not looking for perfection -- I'm looking
to be better than everyone else. Perfection is where everything fits
together. But in order to be superior, bigger, greater, then my product
cannot be identical to someone else's, and cannot mesh with his.
The result cannot be perfect. The result will fall apart.
There are tremendous projects to be done, tremendous opportunities to help
others. But if we go about them thinking about our own honor and glory, we
risk seeing our efforts fall apart. If our entire focus, on the other hand,
is to do good -- then, we can even reach perfection!