VORTIFY YOURSELF

From
Rabbi Yosil Rosenzweig
e-mail rebiyosil@earthlink.net

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PARSHAT VAYAK’HEL

Shemot 35:1-38:20
SHABBAT SHEKALIM
Shemot 30:11-16
Haftorah - II Kings 12:1-17
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This Shabbat is Shabbat Shekalim and we recall that while the Temple stood, a census was taken of all men 20 years old and over; each man was required to donate half a Shekel of silver (Shemot 30:11-16), and the money collected was used for the upkeep of the Temple and for the various communal offerings. Every year, on the Shabbat before Rosh Chodesh Adar (this year Adar 2) we remind ourselves of our Galut (our exile from our land AND our holy Temple) by taking out a second Torah scroll and reading a special Maftir (the last Aliyah) from it as well as a special Haftorah.

YOU'VE GOT TO HAVE HEART

Central to the Torah's teaching about the building of the Mishkan is the word “Lev - heart”. Those skilled in building and designing are said to be “wise-hearted.” Furthermore, the text continues to note (Exodus 35:21), that “their hearts stir them up” to do the work; literally, their hearts carried them along in these sacred tasks. And finally, there is a third category - those who are referred to as “willinghearted,” who contribute voluntarily of their means for the precious material that was necessary for building G-d's sanctuary.

The Torah distinguishes between the “wisehearted” and the “willinghearted” as follows: Hashem grants wiseheartedness, but willingheartedness is selfmotivated. The wisehearted artisans, both men and women, are said to have their special skill instilled in them by Hashem. But they must motivate themselves to use their skills on behalf of the Hashem. The existence of these two types of people those who are wisehearted and those whose hearts stirred them into action are referred to in the text of next week’s Parsha: “And Moshe called.... every wisehearted person, in whose heart Hashem had put wisdom, even everyone whose heart stirred him or her up to the work to do it” (Exodus 36:2). Without allowing their hearts to stir them up to do the work, the artisans' G-d given skills would be of no avail to the communal purpose.

These skilled persons, who do the building, the weaving, and fashioning, are thus paralleled to the willinghearted, who provide the material for the communal work. They, too, it is said, are carried along by the hearts: “And they came everyone whose heart stirred him or her up, and everyone whose heart made him or her willing, and brought the Lord's offering for the work of the tent of meeting.... nose rings, and earrings, and signet rings, all jewels made of gold” (Exodus 35:21-22). Without their willing hearts, all of their lovely possessions would be of no avail to the community. It was this quality of willingness, of wanting to share with the community from their material wellbeing, that distinguished them from the others.

These descriptions stress, therefore, each individual's heartfelt action as a precondition and prerequisite to this successful construction of the desert sanctuary, in which Hashem's presence could more readily be felt. By contrast, in last week's episode of the defection of the Golden Calf worshipers, when jewelry is also brought to serve as the raw material for the idol, the givers are not depicted as individuals, but rather as a mass of people who approach Aharon and who are told to “break off your gold rings, which are in the ears of your wives, your sons and your daughters” (Exodus 32:2). A mere half sentence is devoted to the people's action. They are told what to do and they do it, they comply with it, not as a freewill offering, but compliantly, prompted by their own mob psychology. In breaking their covenant with Hashem, they also break themselves apart, as individuals, which may be signified by the word Rav - multitude.

In this week's Parsha, the Torah shows the people in a different light and focus, rebuilding their individual and collective identity by focusing on them as individuals who join with a sacred communal effort, freely giving their wisdom and their means to glorify Hashem.

It is hard not to find in this story a lesson of how a Jewish community should really function. There are many among us, those who are “wisehearted” in one way or another, but who see this wisdom as hardearned rather than as being a G-d given endowment. Similarly, there are those among us who have earned the means to give to others, but who see no communal claim on their wealth. They, too, have earned it of their own strength and brilliance, so they think, by the impact of their own hard work, which in their minds is divorced from any Divine factor.

This week's Torah portion comes to teach us the true nature and quality of the heart, dramatizing the donation as a willingness to give of ourselves, of our talents and our means, for purposes beyond ourselves. It is not enough to encourage our children to excel in learning. Our pride in Jewish intellectual and artistic achievements is misplaced and misused if we do not insist that our intellectuals and our artists perform Hashem's work in the community. And our pride in Jewish material wellbeing is likewise misplaced if we do not tax ourselves, so that those with special skills can serve and teach in our communities. What we have, what we've been blessed with in terms of material goods and the matter of the mind, is ours to use not only for individual pursuits, but also for the greater good of society. The heart and the mind are to be guided by a willingness to share our gifts with others, so that society may benefit from our pooled resources and shared efforts.

The portion of Shekalim that is read this Shabbat (Shemot 30:11-16) also deals with a taxation of sorts. The men of Israel over the age of 20 were obligated to donate a ½ Shekel that served a double purpose:

1. It was used as a census to count the men available for army service,
2. The funds derived from this census were used for the communal offerings in the Temple.

Every male regardless of financial standing was to donate exactly a ½ Shekel, not more and not less and if one didn’t have the means to make such a costly donation, the responsibility fell on those who did. This special Mitzvah imbued a sense of communal responsibility on the entire nation.

Many are the ways in which our hearts and our minds can think and exist in tandem for common cause. I read about a student at Yeshiva College of Yeshiva University, who was given an outstanding award by a national organization that recognizes talent on campuses. Among the many activities this young student was involved in are the University blood drive, the Committee for Racial Tolerance on Campus, various intramural sports, captain of various sports teams, former president of the Junior class, and the list goes on. The Dean in the college indicated that never, in his recollection, could he remember a student who had so many talents in so many areas, and gave of his heart and his mind to so many important causes. This young man was not only “wise-hearted” and “his heart stirred him” but also he was “willinghearted.” Generosity needs both components the feelings of the heart as well as the inspiration and the vision of the mind to be realized in its proper form.

Our Parsha teaches us what it is that distinguishes humankind and sets us apart above all other creation, and enables us to be cocreators with Hashem. It's not only about having brains and the brawn to do the hard work that is a prerequisite of success. It is also about the ability to infuse these efforts with heart and feeling, and to lend the human side to one's efforts. More praiseworthy than the autocratic employer who makes millions is the humane, benevolent boss who, while carefully watching the bottom line, has never lost sight of the human side of work and industry.

Shabbat Shalom,

Rabbi Yosil Rosenzweig


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