In this week’s parasha, Veyakhel, Moshe gathers the people and instructs them regarding the donating to and building of the Mishkan and all its vessels. The Mishkan was primarily built with voluntary donations from the people. In fact the people were so keen in offering their gold, copper, wool etc. that Moshe had to tell them to stop bringing their donations. There was one exception to the voluntary offerings. The Torah tells us that the silver that was used was sourced from the collections of the half shekel which was in fact an obligatory ‘offering’. What was this silver used for? Rashi tells us that is was used for the Adanim, the sockets that were used as the foundation of the beams of the Mishkan (Shmot 38:27 and Rashi 30:16).
Rav Yehudah Amital zt”l, the founding Rosh Yeshiva of the famous Yeshivat Har Etzion in Israel, taught a profound insight from this seemingly insignificant detail. While the Mishkan was predominantly built off voluntary offerings, gifts of the heart, the foundations had to be built from something that was obligatory, compulsory. Inasmuch as the Mishkan was a portable ‘house’ for the Divine Presence, its building and details teach us how to build ourselves into a ‘vessel’ for Hashem to dwell within. Therefore, the basis and foundations of the Mishkan represent the basis and foundation of one’s connection to G-d and Torah. While it is essential that one find their own personal connection and pathway within the rubric of Torah, the basis on which all rests must be a sense of commitment and obligation that transcends and trumps one’s own yearnings and desires. At Har Sinai the entire nation taught us this message when they first said “Naaseh” – we will do – and then said “Nishma” – we will seek to understand . The “Nishma”, the personal understanding and connection, is critically important and it is where a thirst for continued growth is fostered, but it must be predicated on an immovable foundation of commitment, the “Naaseh”, even when things don’t fit with my personal tastes and comfort.
Similarly, the Gemara in Kiddushin has a fascinating discussion as to what deserves more reward – someone who does a mitzvah that they are obligated in or someone who, despite his or her exemption from obligation, nonetheless does the mitzvah voluntarily. One would surely think that the voluntary act is more worthy – after all, it was not expected nor obliged yet the person still decided of his own volition to do the good. This is however not what the Gemara teaches. The Gemara says that the act of one who is obliged is of greater value – “Gadol HaMetzuveh Ve Oseh” – why? One explanation is because when the act is only done voluntarily, it shows the person is really doing their own will more than G-d’s per se. Today they might ‘feel like’ doing the mitzvah, but who is to know whether tomorrow they will have the same inspiration? The obliged person, on the other hand, is acting in accordance with G-d’s will first before their own.
In our post modern, self focused “I” generation, one’s connection to religion is often based on personal preference above all else. People do what they feel is within their comfort zone, and they rationalize that which they do not do with “that is not for me”. While every step towards a more meaningful spiritual life is incredible, counts and is to be commended, we all still need to ask ourselves what is serving as the basis – is it my personal tastes or a transcendent sense of obligation to something far greater than the self?
Have a great shabbos!!