July 23, 2024
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The Greatness of Giving of Oneself for Another Jew

Among the materials that were used for the construction of the Mishkan was the acacia wood. The pasuk in our parsha says that, “All with whom was found acacia wood for any work of the labor brought it.”

The midrash (Bereishit Rabbah 94:4) expresses wonderment regarding this pasuk, and the Etz Yosef quotes the Nezer HaKodesh who explains that he midrash is essentially bothered by the following:: The term “was found” implies that the people who brought forward the acacia wood had it with them from an earlier time, that it was in reserve from before. Now, why would the people have brought acacia wood along with them from Egypt? Granted, the preceding pasuk regarding the donations of wool, linen, etc, also says that these materials were found with them; however, these materials are used for practical purposes and personal needs! But is acacia wood so necessary that they would have transported these huge, thick pieces of wood with them from Egypt?

However, this acacia wood, in fact, has quite a history: Before Yaakov journeyed to reside in Egypt to meet his recently discovered son Yosef, the pasuk makes mention of him first stopping off in Be’er Sheva (see Bereishit 46:1). Why did Yaakov go to Be’er Sheva? As the Maharzu and Etz Yosef note, Be’er Sheva is out of the way—it’s not on the way to Egypt! The midrash explains that Yaakov went to Be’er Sheva in order to cut down the cedar trees that his grandfather Avraham had planted in Be’er Sheva (for future use in the Mishkan), as it is stated in regards to Avraham that, “He planted an ‘eshel’ in Be’er Sheva” (Bereishit 21:33).

Hence, this explains the apparent phenomenon—raised earlier—regarding the acacia wood. Indeed, it “was found” with Bnei Yisrael—Bnei Yisrael had possession of these acacia wood since the days of Yaakov who had foreseen the need for them, and since they were needed for the Mishkan, Bnei Yisrael transported it with them from Egypt despite their vast size and weight.

On the topic of transport, there is an earlier incident in the Torah about Moshe Rabbeinu who transported the bones of Yosef from Egypt. Moshe is seemingly lauded for this, as in reference to Moshe’s deed the Gemara (Sota 13) says, “Come and observe how beloved mitzvot were to Moshe Rabbeinu, for all the Jewish people in their entirety were engaged in [gathering] the booty [of Egypt] (i.e., the silver and gold vessels and garments), while he (Moshe) was involved in mitzvot, as it is stated (in Mishlei) ‘The wise of heart will seize mitzvot.’”

In contrasting these two episodes of transport, R’ Mordechai Druk quotes his son, Rav Moshe, who asked that while we see from this Gemara that Moshe is praised for his act of transporting Yosef’s remains, on the other hand, regarding those who were involved in transporting the acacia wood—which were extremely heavy and involved a tremendous degree of exertion to bring for the Mishkan, we don’t find that they are praised for this act!

Rav Moshe explained that there is a difference between Moshe’s deed and that of Bnei Yisrael’s. The building of the Mishkan was a mitzvah “between man and Hashem.” For Hashem’s sake, many are ready and willing to trouble themselves.. However, when one troubles oneself for the sake of helping another Jew, this is uniquely great and looked upon by Hashem in a special way.

We find a similar idea from the midrash (Eichah Rabbah, Petichta 24) that records that at the time the Beit Hamikdash was destroyed, in an attempt to evoke Hashem’s mercy for the Jewish people, Yitzchak Avinu mentioned to Hashem the incident of the Akeida—where he was willingly ready to give up his life for Hashem. However, Yitzchak’s plea was unsuccessful.

Yet, Hashem ended up being moved by Rachel’s plea instead, where (the basic crux was that) she mentioned the incident of giving over the signs to Leah. Hashem’s mercy was aroused and He said, “For your sake, Rachel, I will return [Bnei] Yisrael to their place” (they will return from the land of their enemies and come home).

The question is, why was Rachel’s merit greater than Yitzchak’s? Granted, Rachel—by giving over the signs to Leah—was thereby willing to forgo her upcoming marriage to Yaakov, however, Yitzchak as well—by willing to be slaughtered—was inherently also forgoing his chance to get married as well! So what was greater about Rachel’s act?

This idea can be explained as we mentioned above: To sacrifice, give in, and give of oneself for the sake of Hashem is something which virtually anyone may be ready to do, whereas to do so for the sake of another Jew involves much more difficulty, and thus, in heaven, it’s considered to be a greater act (Drash Mordechai, Vayakhel).

Perhaps the explanation is that although one might need to exercise and/or overcome certain middot in the area of deeds pertaining to man and Hashem, however, when it comes to the area of deeds pertaining to man and his fellowman, there might be certain other additional middot that may also be necessary and/or challenged and thus require one to exercise and/or overcome in order to carry out the given deed. Hence, in this latter area of deeds one may be gaining a greater amount of mastery over one’s middot in the process, and perhaps it’s for this reason that these acts might be looked upon by Hashem in a greater, more special way.


Binyamin is a graduate of Yeshivas Rabbeinu Yitzchak Elchanan, and of Wurzweiler School of Social Work.

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