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Parshat Vayakhel-Pekudei

Chazal teach us “The reason the “Mishkan of Testimony” is so called, is because it testifies to everyone in the world that Am Yisrael has been forgiven for the sin of the calf (Midrash Tanchuma -opening parashat Truma).
Hakadosh Baruch Hu said that the gold in the Mishkan shall be the atonement for the gold with which the calf was made, as is written: “The entire people unburdened themselves of the golden rings that were in their ears …” (Shmot 32:3) to make the calf, and they are atoned by the gold they donated to build the Mishkan “And this is the portion that you shall take from them: gold…” (25:3)
After Hakadosh Baruch Hu tells Moshe “They have strayed from the way I have commanded them; they have made themselves a molten calf…”  (32:8) Moshe descends the mountain and Yehoshua hears “…the sound of the people in its shouting” (32:17).  Rashi explains “for they were raising their voices and rejoicing and laughing.”  Following this “It happened as he drew near the camp and he saw the calf and the dances that Moshe’s anger burned, and he threw down the luchot from his hands and he shattered them at the bottom of the mountain.”  (32:19) When Moshe saw the calf and the dances, i.e., the excitement and ecstasy which Yehoshua had heard, he understood that this was not merely a momentary aberration, but that the people were worshiping the calf with all their hearts.  Therefore, he had no choice but to perform “radical surgery”, as it were, and begin anew the process of giving the luchot by first shattering the original ones.

The Mishkan, which is to be the testimony of Israel’s being pardoned for the sin of the calf, must be built from inner joy and passion that stem from sanctity.  Only this will prove that the people are truly healed from the sin of dancing around the calf.  We see evidence of this in the description of the people’s willingness to donate to the Mishkan.  “They took from before Moshe the entire portion that B’nei Yisrael had brought for the labor of the Sanctuary to do it; but they brought him more gifts of their own free will each morning.”  (36:3) The Ramban explicates this pasuk thus: “In one day they brought all these donations to the Tent of Meeting, which was Moshe’s tent, and the Chachamim took what had been collected the day before, and again on the morrow.  The people brought more [donations] to Moshe’s tent again on the second day, and he commanded that it be taken to the artisans, until they said that too much had been brought.”  In other words, sufficient donations had been given in just two days, so that “Moshe commanded and they proclaimed in the camp saying ‘no man nor woman shall do any more towards the portion of the Sanctuary’, and the people were restrained from bringing” (36:6) This amazing description of the speed with which all the materials required for the Mishkan were donated, stands as proof of the [people’s] commitment and sincerity to worship HASHEM  in the avoda of the Mishkan.

Interestingly, the Nesi’im, who were the leaders of Israel, did not believe that Am Yisrael’s dedication to the Mishkan was sincere.  They could not imagine that everything would be done so quickly and with such zeal.  Midrash Raba (Bamidbar 12:19) says “Why did the Nesi’im rush to bring their gifts first (when dedicating the Mizbeach), while in building the Mishkan they delayed, only bringing gem stones and inlay stones at the end?  When Moshe said “…everyone who is generous of heart shall bring it, as the gift for HASHEM ”, the Nesi’im were displeased that Moshe had not asked them, specifically, to bring donations.  (Since the Nesi’im hadn’t sinned at the calf, they felt Moshe should have commanded them to build the Mishkan, assuming that the Shechina would not dwell in anything made by B’nei Yisrael).  (Etz Yosef)  The Nesi’im said ‘Let the people bring what they may, and we will bring whatever is lacking’.  All of Israel were joyful in building the Mishkan, and brought each donation joyfully and quickly.  It is written “the men came along with the women” (Shmot 35:22), who were laughing.  Both men and women came together, mixing together in a rabble, and brought all the donations in two mornings.  When (two days later) the Nesi’im wanted to bring their donations, they were unable to do so, as Moshe had already ordered that no additional work for the donations was to be done.  Hakadosh Baruch Hu said: ‘Of my children who made haste shall be written they brought and had left over, and of the Nesi’im, who had delayed, their name will be spelled with a missing yod, i.e. it shall be written ‘Nesi’m’ .”

The Midrash tells us that men and women mixed together in a rabble.  This is reminiscent of what Moshe said to the people when he reminded them of the sin of the spies, “You approached me, all of you, and said, ‘Let us send men ahead of us and let them spy out the land…”  (Dvarim 1:22)  Rashi explains: “ ‘all of you’  implies  a rabble.  Later it is written, ‘…you approached me, all the heads of your tribes and your elders.’  (Dvarim 5:20)  That approach was proper.  The young honored the elders and sent them ahead, and the elders honored the heads of the tribes, who went before them.  But here ‘you approached me, all of you’ means in a rabble, children pushing the elders, elders pushing the heads of the tribes.”  It is true that sometimes enthusiasm and zeal can lead to disturbances, but when they derive from a holy energy, then they are an expression of the life forces swept up to transcendence.  On the other hand, if enthusiasm is tainted by yetser hara, this will lead to a descent to the lowest of spiritual levels.

The Nesi’im didn’t believe that the people had the power to build a Mishkan in which the Shechina  would dwell, because the people sinned (by making the calf).  They believed that only the Nesi’im themselves were capable of building the Mishkan.  But Hakadosh Baruch Hu emphasized “my children” in describing those who made haste, meaning that B’nei Yisrael are by their nature connected with Hakadosh Baruch Hu, and therefore they hastened to donate for the building of the Mishkan.  The sin of the calf was superficial and incidental, and was pardoned by the building of the Mishkan.  (Many times in the history of Am Yisrael leaders have failed to believe in the power of the people, but the people have always turned out to be stronger, healthier, and more able to work wonders than their leaders thought.  This is as true today as in previous generations.)

At the end of the account of the donations brought by B’nei Yisrael, the Torah says “Every man and woman whose heart moved them to bring for any of the work that Hashem had commanded to make, through the hand of Moshe –B’nei Yisrael brought a free-willed offering to Hashem” (Shmot 35:29) This pasuk seems to be repeating itself since it starts  with “whose heart moved them to bring”, and ends with “B’nei Yisrael brought”.  The word “them” also seems superfluous.  However, perhaps it can be interpreted to mean , ‘Every man and woman whose heart moved them to bring themselves’ (i.e., the word “them” implies themselves)’.  That is, this was not merely a “technical donation”, motivated by obligation or social pressure.  The donation came from each donor’s deepest, inner desires, and was given with joy.  The Torah continues “that Hashem had commanded to make, through the hand of Moshe”.  Moshe is mentioned here to insure that we do not imagine that the people’s enthusiasm and ecstasy were part of a pagan ritual (as in the sin of the calf), but rather all is in accordance with the divine command, conveyed through Moshe.  If a donation is brought with joy, in accordance with Hashem’s wishes, then this is truly “a gift to HASHEM”, and not to be construed as for any other purpose.  Therefore the Torah concludes that “B’nei Yisrael brought a free-willed offering to Hashem”.  This pure yearning, which derives from careful observation of all the mitzvot of the Torah, is an act of tshuva out of love, one that changes transgressions into merits, which raises us up (meromemet from the same root as truma = donation), from the downfall: “go descend, for your nation has degenerated” (32:7)

Pure, holy passion, springing forth naturally out of the profundity of one’s inner life experience, is a particularly feminine attribute.  When a woman makes the bracha “who has made me according to His will”, it means she is able to marvel at the bountifulness created by HASHEM  because of her natural forthrightness, because women’s will is aligned with the original divine will.  Her bracha “who has made me according to His will” comes directly from the Divine will.  A passion that is an expression of profound will is well suited to a woman’s way, and is to her credit.

In this parasha the role of women in giving donations and building the Mishkan is emphasized.  “The men came along with the women…”  (Shmot 35:22) is explained by Ramban: “Donations of jewelry were more common among the women, as they all had jewels; they immediately removed the rings from their noses and fingers, and came first.  Then men who had jewelry brought it with them.  The meaning of ‘along with the women’ is that the women were there first, and the men hung close to them.”  The Daat Zkenim (Baale Tosafot) adds “The women were joyous and careful in their sacred work as is written ‘All the women whose hearts inspired them with wisdom…’ Women were thus exempted from work on Rosh Hodesh, as a reward for this and also because (in the sin of the calf), their jewelry was taken against their will: this id the meaning of ‘unburdened’, and they rejoiced in donating to the building of the Mishkan.”

Women are again emphasized in pasuk 25: “Every wise-hearted woman spun with her hands” following which in pasuk 26 is written: “All the women whose hearts inspired them with wisdom spun the goats.”  In pasuk 29 it says: “Every man and woman whose heart moved them…”and in 36:6 it is written: “Moshe commanded…man and woman shall not do more work toward the portion of the Sanctuary!”

We conclude with the words of the Sfat Emet (5649) on the pasuk “…everyone who is generous of heart shall bring it, as the gift for Hashem…” (35:5)  “The Midrash expounds: An abundance of water cannot extinguish [the fire of] love; my children have made tent-cloths of goatskins, and I dwell among them.  The love and devotion which B’nei Yisrael received at Sinai lives on eternally, but sin can prevent this love from becoming manifest.  Therefore, after the sin [of the calf], the donations [for the Mishkan] were necessary, and through the generosity, yearning, and devotion of their giving, the people pulled the Shechina down [to the Mishkan].”
In our time we find many people seeking to serve HASHEM with passion, and this is truly worthy, as long as it is done with the intention “that Hashem had commanded to make, through the hand of Moshe.”

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