By Rabbi Yaakov Menken
"And it was on the day that Moshe completed the construction of the
Tabernacle... that the princes of Israel, the heads of the parental
houses, who were the princes of the tribes... they brought their offering
before G-d, six covered wagons and twelve oxen, each wagon for two princes
and one ox for each, and they brought them before the Tabernacle." [7:1-3]
Rashi quotes the following Medrash: "Rebbe Nosson asked, why did the
princes decide to donate first [before the rest of the nation] at this
point, while in the case of the building of the Tabernacle they did not
The answer is that they donated first this time, because they learned that
what they did the previous time was a mistake. While they appeared to be
very generous, saying that they would fill in all the funding gaps, the
bottom line is that they sat on their hands while everyone else donated --
at which point there was nothing left to do. Rebbe Nosson continues:
"Rather, this is what the princes said: 'Let the congregation
give what they will give, and whatever is missing, we will complete.'
Since they saw that the congregation completed everything, as it says [Ex.
36:7], 'And the labor was sufficient...,' they asked, 'Now what is left
for us to do?' They brought the precious stones for the cape and
breastplate [of the High Priest, because nothing else was left].
Therefore, here they gave first."
Even the best of people, it seems, can fall into a trap of laziness when
described in good terms, such as "caution" or "giving someone else the
first opportunity." According to the Ramchal, zerizus, or zeal, is the
first requirement for positive action on the path towards growth.
In The Path of the Just, the Ramchal follows the path set by Rebbe Pinchas
ben Yair in the Talmud [Avoda Zara 20b]: "Torah brings a person to
caution, caution brings to zeal, zeal brings to [spiritual]
cleanliness..." First we studied caution, which helps us to avoid negative
actions (Aveiros). The next step is zeal, which demands that we
immediately do positive actions (Mitzvos) whenever one comes to our hands.
"Zrizus" is not merely energy, but the desire to act quickly in a very
focused direction. I wonder what it says about our society when there
really is no word for this trait, save one that is most often used to
describe irrational extremists...
In any case, the princes failed to act immediately when the Tabernacle was
constructed. It appears that they were being extremely generous -
"whatever is missing, we will complete" - but there was a bit of laziness,
a failure to act, in their proposal, so they nearly missed the chance to
The second lesson: they learned from their mistake. The princes weren't
perfect, because no one is perfect. But they saw what happened, and
responded to ensure that it wouldn't happen again - so that they would not
lose their opportunity to participate in future Mitzvos. Perhaps their
ability to so quickly correct themselves is one reason why they merited to
be the princes of Israel!
Rabbi Yaakov Menken
Text Copyright © 2004 by Torah.org.
The author is the Director of Project Genesis - Torah.org.