Rabbi Yaakov Menken
"Moshe gathered all the congregation of the children of Israel, and he said
to them, 'these are the things which HaShem has commanded [us] to do. For
six days you shall do labor, and the seventh day shall be holy for you...'
And Moshe spoke to the entire congregation of the children of Israel,
saying, 'this is the thing which HaShem has commanded, saying, "take from
yourselves gifts for HaShem; all with a giving heart, let them bring..."'"
As Moshe stands ready to instruct the Nation of Israel concerning the
building of the Mishkan, the Tabernacle, G-d has Moshe take a sudden
detour. He talks about Shabbos instead. It seems both out of its proper
context, and also superfluous -- this Commandment is described in many
other places. Why should it be necessary to repeat the Commandment to
observe the Sabbath, and why must it immediately precede building the Mishkan?
To explain this, the Medrash offers a parable:
The king decided to build himself a new palace. But he wasn't satisfied
leaving the job with others; rather, he called together leading architects
and contractors to discuss how it should be built, and he gave them
instructions about every detail. Every waking moment was spent consulting
with yet another expert, watching the workers lay the foundation, or simply
dreaming about how this marvelous structure was going to look.
The queen noticed. Meaning, the queen noticed that the king no longer
noticed _her_. So she came into the room during yet another discussion with
one more leading architect, and complained to the King that she was being
The king (much to his credit, and the future of his metaphorical marriage)
recognized that she was right. He immediately commanded that a party be
held to honor the queen, the very next day. The queen was more important
than his new building, and from then on forward he kept that in mind.
Similarly, HaShem cautioned the children of Israel not to forget the
Sabbath in their excitement over building the Mishkan. Building the Mishkan
was certainly a great Mitzvah, but nonetheless we could not lose sight of
our basic priorities. Although some might otherwise have "lost themselves"
building the Mishkan, perhaps even arguing that building it was more
"meaningful" in terms of their own contact with G-d, the Torah tells us
what we must do -- and not do -- in the service of G-d.
In Judaism, the Sabbath is a "basic priority." It is a sign of the unique
relationship between Israel and the Creator. Even the building of an
earthly home for the Divine Presence cannot take precedence over the Sabbath.
What is the difference between an idealist and a fanatic? Actually, it's
very simple. An idealist is someone totally dedicated to ideas with which I
agree, while a fanatic is totally dedicated to ideas with which I disagree.
Perhaps you need a few more years of reading these classes to recognize
that I'm merely delivering a humble truth, but you should eventually come
to see it that way.
You don't like that answer? Admittedly, when it comes to Judaism, there is
a better one. An idealist is someone who observes Judaism and Jewish Law as
meticulously and carefully as I do, while a fanatic is someone who observes
Judaism _more_ meticulously and carefully than I do. "Why do I do all of
this? I'm an idealist, I suppose. But Reuven, on the other hand? Why does
he go to all that trouble? He's such a fanatic!"
I think this parsha gives us a better answer. Both types of people are
dedicated to making the world a better place, and both believe that
specific objectives must be achieved to do this. But a fanatic loses sight
of more basic priorities. Without even thinking about it, he concludes that
"the ends justify the means."
The idealist realizes that preserving the forests is a good thing; the
fanatic places metal pegs into trees in order to maim loggers.
The idealist works to reduce the number of abortions for convenience; the
fanatic bombs family planning clinics.
The idealist works to establish peace in Israel; the fanatic replants olive
trees and fills in roadblocks used by Arab terrorists.
Dedication to ideals doesn't make a fanatic -- losing touch with more basic
priorities makes a fanatic. You don't break the Sabbath, even to build a
Rabbi Yaakov Menken
Text Copyright © 2002 Project Genesis, Inc.
The author is the Director of Project Genesis.