God told Moshe, “Tell the Children of Israel that anyone who desires to bring to Me an elevated-offering should do so.” (Shemos 25:1-2)
Perhaps one of the greatest expressions of a golus-mentality is the way we keep two jobs, working both for God and ourselves. Thousands of years into this fourth and final exile, we have neatly divided our religious world into two parts, one part God, one part us. And, having done so, we have made it difficult, once again, to recognize how the latter world is endangering the former one, and us too for that matter.
This week’s parshah is not just a review of how the Mishkan came to be built. Rather, it is an important lesson for every Jew—at all times— especially when you consider that each Jew is supposed to be a Mishkan for the Presence of God.
And I will dwell among the Children of Israel, and will be their God. (Shemos 29:45)
Had it not been for the golden calf, which revealed a weakness for something physical to help us serve God, our own hearts would have been the altars upon which we would have sacrificed to God:
The sacrifices of God are a broken spirit: A broken and contrite heart, O God, You will not despise. (Tehillim 51:17)
Therefore, this week’s parshah, and the other three times the building of the Mishkan is reviewed, is really a lesson in how to build ourselves. This is why God asked only for nedavos-haleiv—offerings of the heart— because if our hearts aren’t into the giving, then it means that we don’t understand the purpose of the giving itself.
The fact that the Jewish people of that time gave so generously, more than was actually needed for the construction of the Mishkan, meant that they had understood. And, not just of what they contributed to the Mishkan at that time, but they came to understand the purpose of all giving, and for all that matter, of all receiving, when it comes to the life of a Jew.
For, of the many lessons learned from the construction of the Mishkan, one of the most important was, is: All success that we enjoy in exile is only for the sake of building the redemption. Exile, be it personal or national, is the technical term for any period in life of avodas Hashem—service of God—that is lacking, and which can be remedied. Redemption, likewise, be it personal or national, means that the situation has been rectified, and historically, it has either been exile or redemption, with nothing in-between.
Think about it: from where did all the materials come to build the Mishkan? After all, the Jewish people had lost all of their previous possessions at the onslaught of the slavery, after the Egyptian government had nationalized all Jewish property. By the time they had been ready to leave Egypt, 116 years later, they had nothing left.
Thus, the Talmud explains:
God made the people favored by the Egyptians, so that they would comply with their requests. They emptied out Egypt. (Shemos 12:36)
Rav Ammi says: “This teaches that they made it like a snare without corn.” Raish Lakish says: “They made it like a pond without fish.” (Brochos 9b)
When the Jewish people left Egypt, there wasn’t a single Jew who didn’t have ninety donkeys laden with silver and gold from Egypt. (Bechoros 5b)
Hence, though the Jewish people had worked for “free” all those years of servitude, nevertheless, God had arranged for them to pick up all their backpay on the way out the door, fulfilling the prophecy made to Avraham hundreds of years earlier:
He said to Avram, “Know that your descendants will be strangers in a land that is not theirs, which will enslave them, and afflict them for 400 years. However, the nation they will serve I will judge, and afterwards they will leave with great possessions. (Bereishis 15:13-14)
And, whatever the Jewish people didn’t take with them on their way out of Egypt, God handed to them after the sea drowned the pursuing Egyptian army:
He made them travel against their will. For the Egyptians adorned their horses with gold and silver ornaments and precious stones and the Jewish people kept finding them in the sea [to the point that] the booty of the sea was greater than the booty [taken out] of Egypt, as it is said, “We will make gold bracelets for you (from the booty of the sea) together with silver studs (from the booty of Egypt)” (Shir HaShirim 3:11). Therefore he had to make them travel against their will (Rashi, Shemos 15:22)
Why all the loot? Was God just being nice? Did He simply feel bad, in the end, about all that slavery, and was making amends?
Hardly. Certainly He did not like the fact that we had to suffer, but had it been wrong to, He could have, and would have, ended the exile earlier. Understand it or not, Egyptian slavery become an inevitable part of our becoming a nation, of becoming God’s treasured nation. Like a hot furnace helps to mold iron ore into useful materials, Egyptian slavery formed us into the people we had to become to receive Torah.
No, the great wealth with which we left Egypt was to teach us two important points, and had we learned them properly the first time, we would probably not have had to learn them the second time, or the third time, or the fourth, etc.—and all the times that we have been forced to learn them until this very day! When was the first time? Here:
The king of Sdom said to Avram, “Give me the people, and the possessions take for yourself.”
Avram said to the king of Sdom, “I have vowed to God, the Most High, the Owner of Heaven and earth! I will not take even a thread to a shoelace from anything of yours. You will not say, ‘I made Avram rich.’ ” (Bereishis 14:22-23)
And yet, when Pharaoh sent Avraham and Sarah off with great riches, neither offered even the slightest protest! Couldn’t Pharaoh have also bragged about making Avraham rich, if he had wanted to? What was different regarding the first situation that made the money kosher, while in the second situation, the money was treif?
The difference was that in the episode with Pharaoh, Avraham didn’t do anything to warrant receiving any of the booty. Rather, Pharaoh did it all to himself, by taking Sarah captive and bringing upon himself Divine wrath. Shaken upon by what could have been a terrible catastrophe, Pharaoh tried to make amends, perhaps to God Himself, by enriching Avraham and sending him on his way with his wife.
Given what had occurred and why, would Pharaoh have dared to make such a boisterous claim as having made Avraham rich? Indeed, it was clear to everyone that the entire situation had been set up by God to create the means to fulfill the promise He had made to Avraham, when he first left Charan, to make him wealthy. As Avraham and his entourage headed north, no one could have doubted the miracle that had just happened.
However, with respect to the King of Sdom, it had been a different story. Unlike Pharaoh, his offering of wealth to Avraham Avinu had been part of a business deal, to whom he had felt a debt. The money was a gift, a way of saying thank you for a job well done and a war well won, and, even though Avraham had fought that war against great odds, still, the miracle had come through his involvement.
And, that is what had concerned Avraham Avinu, because the point of getting rich was, is, to reveal the hand of God in the world, to bring the Shechinah closer to earth. Is there any other purpose for the physical world, as far as a descendant of Avraham, Yitzchak, or Ya’akov in concerned?
For Eisav, who does not go to the World-to-Come, it’s about getting it all in this world. For now, it’s his party. And, since he gets it all on this world, God, basically, turns a blind eye to his use, and often his abuse, of the material world. This is what Yitzchak alluded to when, blessing Eisav, he did not mention God, signifying that Eisav’s connection to the physical world was destined to be a Godless one.
Ya’akov, on the other hand, is only passing through. He has known this from the beginning. He sees everything in this world only in terms of how it can help him better serve God, and at the same, increase his portion in the World-to-Come. And this, not because he is selfish, but because a larger portion in the World-to-Come means a larger portion of God, so-to-speak, to which to connect, forever.
There are many advantages to such a point of view, aside from the one just mentioned. The other is that, since all success earned in exile is for the sake of the redemption, meaning that the redemption is the main focus, the moment a person thinks that he has enough to bring it about, he leaves exile.
Immediately. Unlike Lot. Unlike the Jews of Spain. Unlike …
Well, our story is not ever yet, is it? So far, we’re still writing the final lines of the final chapter, the ending of which can vary from person to person.
How will yours end? It all depends upon whether or not you a golusperson, that is, someone who rarely looks at his success in terms of achieving redemption, or a redemption-person, someone who sees his successes only in terms of how it facilitates the redemption.
It is like the difference between someone who saves money for the sake of saving it, and another person who saves his money in order to buy something he wants. In the case of the former, how much is enough? For how long must other priorities be sacrificed, as money is channeled away from them into a savings account instead? It’s hard to know, since the goal is just the saving itself.
However, when someone saves money for something specific, he always knows where he stands, how much to spend, and how much to save. And, the moment he has saved sufficient money to acquire it, he does, allowing himself to enjoy the fruits of his labor, and to move on to the next important goal in life.
Now, as history winds down, which means that the exile is winding down, it is going to become increasingly clear who is of a golus-mentality, saving life in exile just for the sake of saving it, and who is of a geulahmentality, ready to board the good ship redemption as it makes historical port. Judging by the direction of history, and the speed at which it is presently moving, it is not a boat that will stay in dock too much longer.
Copyright © by Rabbi Pinchas Winston and Project Genesis, Inc.
Rabbi Winston has authored many books on Jewish philosophy (Hashkofa). If you enjoy Rabbi Winston’s Perceptions on the Parsha, you may enjoy his books. Visit Rabbi Winston’s online book store for more details! www.thirtysix.org