Rabbi Eliyahu Hoffmann
Every Last Drop
"It was on the day that Moshe finished erecting
the Mishkan [Tabernacle]... And the leaders of
Israel, heads of their fathers' household, brought
offerings... They brought their offering before
Hashem; Six covered wagons and twelve oxen -
a wagon for each two leaders and an ox for
On the first day of Nisan, the day the Tabernacle was sanctified, the
leaders of the twelve tribes brought their own personal offerings in
celebration of the momentous event. In addition, to help the Levi'im
transport the Mishkan during its journeys in the desert, the tribal
leaders also donated wagons and oxen, which were apportioned to
the Levi'im according to their needs.
Some mefarshim (commentators) are puzzled by their offering. When
the command was given for Bnei Yisrael (the rest of the Jews) to
donate to the building of the Mishkan, their response was
overwhelming. The generosity and magnanimity of the people came
to the point where a public announcement needed to be made: "All
the wise people came... and they said to Moshe as follows, 'The
people are bringing more than enough for the work that Hashem has
commanded to perform.' Moshe commanded that they proclaim
throughout the camp, saying, '[No] man nor woman shall do any
more work toward the gift for the sanctuary!' And the people were
restrained from bringing." (Shemos 36:4-6)
One would imagine that as leaders of such a generous-spirited
nation, the Nesi'im (Tribal leaders) themselves must surely have been
exceptionally generous, giving individuals.
Picture that at your own wedding, your two very-rich uncles went fifty-
fifty on your present. Would you be insulted? Imagine, further, that
with this present - a very well-used Dodge car - was a note: "Dear Chassan
and Kallah, Here's a car so that you can travel worry-free for many
years to come!" How would you feel? Sure, it's fine, your uncles can
give whatever they want - it's up to them. But to split it - Couldn't
they each have afforded their own present? And to make such a bold
claim - "travel worry-free!" - about a beat-up old Dodge? Mightn't you
find their "generous" present a tad miserly?
By the same token, ask the mefarshim: Couldn't each Nasi afford a
wagon of his own? Furthermore, if we look in Masechta Shabbos 98a
it seems that the six wagons, two for the sons of Gershon and four
for the sons of Merari, were highly inadequate for the enormous load
of the numerous beams, crossbeams, and sockets of the Mishkan.
The Gemara there goes into great detail about how the Levi'im had
to balance the materials over the wagons and support them from
falling. For leaders of such a great-spirited nation, one would have
thought that they would have given enough oxen and wagons to
easily carry all the Mishkan's materials, and then some. So why did
they split the wagons between two of them?
We find, explain mefarshim, that with regard to the quality of the
materials used in the building of the Mishkan, no expense was
spared. Gold and other precious metals and jewels adorned
Hashem's holy abode. But with regard to quantity and size,
measurements were very precise. The vessels of the Mishkan, for
instance the cups which held the oil of the Menorah, were made-to-
measure; they held precisely the right amount of oil to burn through
the longest nights of the year, but no more. Great elegance and
grandeur adorned the Mishkan, but no waste. Things were done
magnificently, but not overdone.
Why? To impart to us a crucial message: Everything we possess we
must ultimately find its place in our avodas Hashem (service of
Hashem). "All of creation," exclaims the Talmud (Yoma 38a), "was
created to glorify the name of Hashem." To have extra, to be
excessive, means that there are some items which serve no holy
purpose - they bring no kedushah (sanctity) into the world. It is a
waste. The wagons and oxen were carefully calculated to provide just
the right carrying power for the beams and materials of the Mishkan.
Sure had there been more, things could have been more spread out -
but then we wouldn't have understood the lesson. The Torah wanted
we should understand that the ultimate purpose of all things -
especially our own possessions - is to serve Hashem with all their
In this light we can understand why Yaakov went back across the river
to fetch some small jars. (See Rashi to Bereishis 32:25) "The money
of the righteous," as the Talmud (Chulin 91a) expresses it, "is more
important to them than [even] their bodies." Are the righteous that
greedy? No. But they have strived all their lives that everything they
possess should in some way bring honour to their Creator. So if
something is lost, the righteous do not take it lightly.
If this is so with regard to our material possessions, it certainly applies
to ourselves. We must serve Hashem, write sefarim, with every last
drop of blood we possess. Not even one molecule, should be denied
its chance to serve G-d and give Him glory. Just as the bodybuilder
performs many different exercises in order to tone each of his
muscles, so too we must look for fresh and innovative ways to serve
Hashem with all the different faculties and abilities we have been
Are you sweating when you daven (pray) with all your might? Great!
Do your bones ache when you get home after running around for
hours performing a chessed (good deed) for another Jew? Wonderful!
Do you arrive home from beis ha-midrash (study hall) at night after
studying Torah and almost fall into bed out of exhaustion? Super!
These are not signs of overwork. They are signs that we are
maximizing our capabilities to their highest level, and serving Hashem
with all we have. It is told that when the Chazon Ish was too tired to
learn at his table, he would lie in bed and learn Torah that way, until
his eyes could no longer stay open. R' Meyer of Dzikov, it is said,
once ran to the window of his synagogue to catch a gasp of fresh air
in the middle of davening - even though it was the middle of the
winter and there was no heating and temperatures inside the shul
were sub-zero! That's what it means to serve Hashem with "every last
drop of blood."
Nobody ever said it's easy to be an orthodox Jew while trying to
support a family and live in a secular world. But nobody ever said it
was supposed to be. This world is the Olam Ha-Asiyah, the Realm
of Doing. Rest will come in the next world. For now, we must serve
Hashem will all we have, and with everything we have.
Text Copyright © 1998 Rabbi Eliyahu Hoffmann and Project Genesis, Inc.