Elevating the Physical
The main moral thrust of this week's parsha is the challenge to take the
mundane and ordinary and make of it something spiritual, holy and eternal.
To our sorrow, we are well aware of how the supposedly holy can be made
tawdry, cheap and negative. Thus the challenge of the opposite is truly a
Dealing with money, gold and silver, workers, artisans and the like usually
inhibits any sense of holiness and eternity. The material always seems to
corrupt the spiritual. It is not for naught that there is strong rabbinic
opinion that the Third Temple will not be man-made but rather will descend
from Heaven completely formed. It is destined to be eternal while the
Tabernacle/Mishkan in the desert and both the First and Second Temples were
the products of human endeavor and earthly building materials.
All three of these great projects and physical institutions were destroyed
and taken from us. Apparently we had failed in the goal of converting the
earthly and temporary into the heavenly and eternal. So, if in fact this is
the case then why does the Torah spend so much space and employ so many
words to describe the physical construction of what, after all, remained
only a temporary structure subject to conquest and destruction?
This is a question, which has nagged the brains of all biblical commentators
for many centuries. It also poses the problem of this enormous challenge of
the spiritual having to deal with the physical and in fact being dependent
upon the physical in order to achieve its stated spiritual goal.
Part of the answer to this ongoing problem lies in the attitude of human
beings towards the physical wealth that all of us pursue during our
lifetime. The Torah wished to teach us that wealth, material goods, human
talents and artistic abilities are all only means to an end and not the end
itself. One of the great pitfalls of life is elevating the means to be the end.
Thus wealth for the sake of wealth, money for the sake of money, power and
influence for the sake of power and influence becomes the norm in much of
human society. This by its very nature prevents the transformation of the
physical into the holy, the fleeting temporary into the unending eternal.
The true purpose of gold and silver, architectural talent and building skill
is to create a place of holiness and a constant reminder of the relationship
between the Creator and the created. Therefore this week's parsha emphasizes
the importance of donative intent. The Tabernacle/Mishkan was not to be
built from funds gathered by taxation and coercion. Without proper donative
intent there is no hope to convert the physical into the spiritual.
Halacha raises the question why we do not recite a blessing before giving
one’s donation to charity or the support of Torah. Many answers, almost all
of them technical, are advanced to solve this question. I am struck by the
question itself. For the basis of its being asked is that somehow one must
inject holiness into an otherwise ordinary act of money being transferred.
How difficult this is if it is not preceded by the recitation of a blessing.
Holy intent creates holiness and can transform the material into the spiritual.
Rabbi Berel Wein