“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 give first?”
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 participate.
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.