Halacha for Friday 28 Adar 5784 March 8 2024

Parashat Vayakhel, Parashat Shekalim

From HaGaon Rav Zevadia HaCohen Shlit”a, The Head of the Batei Din in Tel Aviv
(translated by our dear friend Rav Daniel Levy Shlit”a, Leeds UK)

[The Power of] Initiative & Ambition

This Shabbat we shall read about the construction of the Mishkan, as described in the Torah, “Each person who was ready to volunteer (lit. his heart lifted him up) then came forward. [Also] each one who wanted to give, brought a donation to Hashem for making the Communion Tent, all its necessities, and the holy garments” (Shemot 35:21).

Ramban z”l (1194-1270) writes, “This refers to the artisans that fashioned the items. For we do not find “his heart lifted him up” with the donors, rather with them it states, “donations of the heart”. Since none of the artisans were trained by anyone else or had their hands steadied in anyway by anyone else, rather they knew instinctively how to do it. His heart was elevated in Hashem’s mission, to say I will do everything that my master orders.”

Ramban was troubled how could just anyone who felt inspired and wanted to engage in the work be able to undertake this holy work? It was delicate craftsmanship with gold, silver and copper. Working with the gems of the breastplate, which included carbuncle, sapphire and beryl. Even experienced artisans who engage in this activity fulltime would require individual support for building the Mishkan. There was patterned brocade and embroidery. So how could it be that people that were engaged their whole lives in heavy arduous work in construction of bricks and mortar in Egypt, would suddenly transform to experts in delicate work of forging and crafting gold, silver and gems, without any prior experience and with no specific training. To the extent that the Torah states that anyone who was inspired to this work was allocated this holy endeavour?

Ramban answers this as follows. With spiritual matters, success is not dependent on experience or attending courses but rather on initiative and ambition. Those members of the Bnei Yisrael who until most recently were manual labourers working in the tough construction of bricks and mortar, now engage in the construction of the Mishkan, they were inspired and came to Moshe and said, “We also want to work in the holy work, and we will undertake whatever our master requests.” Referring to these people the Torah states “his heart lifted him up”, this means initiative and ambition to engage in holy work.

Immediately they merited to Divine assistance to succeed also in this delicate work of forging and fashioning gold, silver and copper, sardonyxes and other precious stones, as the Torah testifies, “He has granted them a natural talent for all craftmanship, to form materials, to brocade or embroider patterns with sky-blue, dark red and crimson wool and fine linen, and to weave” (Shemot 35:35). And likewise with the passuk, “And so shall Betzalel do all that Hashem commanded, along with Oholiav and every other skilled individual, to whom Hashem has granted the wisdom and understanding to know how to do all the work necessary for the sacred task” (ibid. 36:1).

Many times we think, who am I? What is my ability? Can I even once reach high spiritual levels? To reach high peaks in serving Hashem? Doubting ourselves saying, I don’t have enough knowledge, I don’t have enough experience.

Therefore the Parashah teaches us that if we want to create initiative and be ambitious and say to Hashem “we will do everything our master requests”, we will immediately receive huge ability from above. Assistance and help, wisdom, understanding and further knowledge, Divine inspiration to progress higher and higher from a lower level of bricks and motor to a level of holy work.

Rabbenu Yerucham of Mir z”l (1873-1936, in his work Da’at Torah) deduced from here the power of initiative and ambition when serving Hashem. Ordinarily when a person lacks ambition they will not be successful, but when they are ambitious one can say about them that they are of the people who harbour in themselves storehouses of greatness.

 We also see the power of ambition in the book of Mishlei that King Shlomoh said, “Go to the lazy ant and see it’s ways and become wise” (6:6). The Midrash Rabba (Devarim 5:2) explains, What did King Shlomoh see that could be learnt from the ant? The ant has three levels in its home. It doesn’t store in the top floor due to concerns of water and moisture and it doesn’t store it on the ground floor because of the damp. Rather it stores in the middle floor. It only lives for six months and its food for its entire life is only one and a half grains of wheat. Yet, during the Summer it goes out and gathers wheat, barley and lentils and whatever else it can find. Why does it do this? Since only one and a half grains of wheat is all it requires for its whole life. Because the ant says, maybe Hashem will add to my life and then I will have food ready to eat!

In truth the ant only lives for six months and it eats one and a half grains of wheat. Yet, despite this, its ambition propels it ten-fold beyond its true current consumption. This is because it has an ambition that Hashem will lengthen its days and years. Its ambition gives it the initiative to be enthusiastic and to store branches of huge amounts of food beyond any true need. And so it becomes a living example to the “lazy man”.

May we all make the effort to be inspired in our hearts to have initiative and ambition and to be partners in the holy work.

Shabbat Shalom and Chodesh Tov!

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