June 21, 2024
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June 21, 2024
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Lifted Hearts With Sumac Tea

Last week, we learned about Rav Hirsch’s exhortation about the machatzis hashekel: “Only he who gives and contributes is counted!” That idea is brought to life in the next parsha—Vayakhel.

Moshe Rabbeinu gathers the people together for the first crowdfunding campaign in history, announcing that they’re embarking on a project to build a sanctuary for God. He presents the list of materials they need donated and the keilim they will build. The section ends by recording that the entire assembly left from before Moshe.1

Imagine—Moshe just proposed what must have sounded like the most fanciful, unrealistic project the Jews had ever heard of. A house for a non-corporeal God? What’s the point? I can picture Moshe pacing in front of his tent, nervously waiting to see if anyone would answer Hashem’s call of “Veasu li Mikdash.”

 

Those Whose Hearts Lifted Them Up

Thankfully, Bnei Yisrael rose to the occasion, reaching and surpassing the fundraising goals.2 In addition to this overflowing generosity, the Torah highlights a second group of people, those whose hearts “lifted them up” to come forward and volunteer to join the Mishkan project. Who were these people?

The Ramban writes that these were people whose hearts told them that they had an affinity for the work that needed to be done. Now, remember—we are dealing with a nation of slaves. For the past 200 years, they’ve known only bricks and clay; who among klal Yisrael had been exposed to metalwork or the production of fine fabrics in Egypt? Yet these people felt that they had been given the capacity to learn these skills, and presented themselves to Moshe to volunteer for the work that needed to be done. These volunteers—those of the lifted hearts—are the ones who built the Mishkan. They’re the ones who translated the generosity of Bnei Yisrael into the finished product; they’re the ones who did the melacha that brought down the Shechina.

These are the people that we need to emulate. To actualize the Torah’s ideal of a society built around not taking, but giving, we must remember the lesson of the shekalim and imitate those whose hearts lifted them up. We, too, must step forward to use our unique capabilities in service of Hashem and His Torah, and by extension the klal. Just imagine what a community made up of people who shared this mentality could look like! Imagine what they could accomplish!

 

The Forest Feast

I experienced something like this as a camper in Yagilu. Over the course of the month, we learned a wide array of basic wilderness survival skills: how to use a pocket knife, build and work with fire, cut down trees, create structures with wood and rope, identify edible plants and much more. At the very end of the month, the director announced an all-day activity: we would be planning and hosting a “Forest Feast,”—an entire meal made from start to finish with ingredients foraged from the forest.

We elected one camper as the leader and we quickly drew up a list of the tasks that needed to be done. A table and chair needed to be made, along with a placemat, plate, cup and silverware; acorns needed to be gathered and ground to make flour (admittedly, to be traded in for regular flour from the camp kitchen); fish needed to be caught, berries harvested and sumac picked. An oven needed to be built, a cooking fire set, and heaps of firewood dragged in to feed it. One by one, people stepped forward to volunteer for different jobs, and the work commenced.

I remember the energy of that day so clearly. Everyone threw themselves into their roles; each group—chefs, builders, foragers, etc.—discussed the best way to accomplish their objective using the time they had available, generating notable creativity and ingenuity.

As the day wound down, the excitement in the air kicked up a notch as everyone rushed to finish their respective jobs. Finally, the director arrived; it was showtime! Every camper—without exception—crowded around as the waiter led the director to the table and chair, prompting the builders to step forward and present their work. Their pride and excitement were evident on their faces as they recounted—blow by blow—how they came up with the final design and worked together to actually build it.

The director took his seat and the whittlers stepped forward to deliver their custom-made cutlery, beaming with pride as he tested the sharpness of the points and blade. Every group—from the firewood shleppers to the berry pickers—had their moment in the spotlight to recognize the work they invested to contribute to the final product.

 

I Mattered Today

Each person signed up for something he thought he could do, recognizing that it would take time and energy to accomplish it. By investing that time and energy, he generated an ownership stake in the project—making it an expression of his very self. And with the success of the project, he was able to point to his role with pride and say, “I mattered today. I did something meaningful.” Speaking personally, that day remains a highlight of my camp experience.

This is the mentality the Torah directs us to adopt: to recognize that the Torah wants us to see our role in this world as contributing everything we have—together with everyone else—to support and sustain Hashem’s ultimate plan for this world. Returning again to Rabbi Tarfon’s comment, “Great is melacha (work) for Hashem did not cause His Shechina to rest with the Jewish people until they performed melacha, as it says, ‘Veasu li Mikdash veshachanti besocham.’” As it was with the Mishkan, so too with the world: Every person can be one of those whose hearts lifted them up and motivated them to step forward and say, “This is the contribution that I can make.” Next week, we’ll explore what that means in practice.


Tzvi Goldstein graduated from Yeshiva University with a semicha and a degree in Psychology. After making aliyah, he taught in Yeshivat Hakotel for five years and now edits sefarim for a number of publishers. He recently published a sefer with Mosaica Press called Halachic Worldviews, exploring Rav Soloveitchik’s approach to developing hashkafa from halacha, and writes at tgb613.substack.com. You can reach him at [email protected].

1 Shemos 35:20.

2 35:21.

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