A few weeks ago, in our shiur for Parashat Teruma 5775, we discussed the commandment that the menorah in the Mishkan be fashioned out of one piece of gold. We showed that this was more than “just another requirement”. It was a “basic necessity”, without which the Mishkan would be lacking. This week we’ll try to understand the reason for this.

In Parashat Teruma Hashem describes to Moshe in minute detail the structure of the Mishkan and its vessels. Moshe relays these instructions to Am Yisrael in Parashat Vayakhel. But before he tells them about the Mishkan, he tells them that they are going to have to open their wallets [Shemot 35:5-9]: “Take from yourselves an offering for Hashem; every generous-hearted person shall bring Hashem’s offering: gold, silver, and copper… onyx stones and filling stones for the ephod and for the breast-plate”. Then he tells them what they are going to be making with these materials: the Mishkan, its vessels, and the priestly garments. In an earlier shiur[1] we noted that at the time that Moshe requests the donations he does not specify what the donations are for. Only afterwards does he tell Am Yisrael [Shemot 35:10-19] “[Oh, by the way], every wise-hearted person among you shall come and make everything that Hashem has commanded: the Mishkan, its tent and its cover… ” Am Yisrael probably had no idea that their dollars would be used to build a Mishkan. All they had ever been told about a future House of Worship was [Shemot 20:20-21] “You shall not make gods of silver or gold. You shall make Me an altar of earth”. No gold, no silver. Just plain earth. So when Moshe starts talking about donations, Am Yisrael really don’t know what their money will be used for. Why doesn’t Moshe tell them right away that they’ll be building a Mishkan?

We answered that from the moment Hashem began inflicting plagues on the Egyptians, Am Yisrael had become spectators. Nothing was required of them other than slaughtering a lamb and smearing its blood on the doorpost. They watched as Hashem smashed the mighty Egyptian Empire, took them out of Egypt, split the Red Sea, gave them water from a rock, gave them quail, brought them manna to eat each morning, defeated Amalek, and gave them the Torah. They took and they took and then they took some more, to the point that they had forgotten how to give. When they didn’t get what they wanted when they wanted it they would complain and then they would threaten to go back to Egypt. They had become egocentric, and a nation with an overblown ego cannot build a Mishkan. The Midrash teaches that “an arrogant person and Hashem cannot occupy the same space”. Building the Mishkan required a change in attitude. To counter their propensity to take, Am Yisrael had to be taught the merit of giving simply for the sake of giving.

One more thing needed clarification before the Mishkan could be built. Before Moshe commands Am Yisrael to give for the sake of giving, he commands them to keep the Shabbat. This is not surprising, as Hashem had commanded Moshe to keep the Shabbat as part of His instructions for the construction of the Mishkan. Yet for some reason, Moshe only commands Am Yisrael only a small fraction of what he was commanded. Hashem told Moshe [Shemot 31:13-17] “Only keep My Shabbat! For it is a sign between Me and you for your generations, to know that I, Hashem, make you holy. Therefore, keep the Shabbat, for it is holiness to you. He who desecrates it shall be put to death, for whoever performs work on it will be cut off from the midst of his people. Six days work may be done, but on the seventh day is a Shabbat of complete rest, holy to Hashem; whoever performs work on the Shabbat day shall be put to death. Thus shall the children of Israel observe the Shabbat, to make the Shabbat throughout their generations as an everlasting covenant between Me and the children of Israel, it is forever a sign that [in] six days Hashem created the heaven and the earth, and on the seventh day He ceased and rested”. Compare this with what Moshe tells Am Yisrael [Shemot 34:2-3]: “Six days work may be done, but on the seventh day you shall have holiness, a day of complete rest to Hashem; whoever performs work [on this day] shall be put to death. You shall not kindle fire in any of your dwelling places on the Shabbat”. It all seems so legal, bereft of all the spiritual concepts that Hashem told Moshe about. No “everlasting covenant”, no “sign for the generations”, and no “creating the world in six days”. Why?

The first occasion that Am Yisrael was commanded about Shabbat was when they received the manna[2]. On Friday Am Yisrael were told to gather a double-portion of manna because it would not fall on Shabbat. When they go out on Shabbat to search for manna Hashem is angered [Shemot 16:29]: “See that Hashem has given you Shabbat. Therefore, on the sixth day He gives you bread for two days… let no man leave his place on the seventh day”. Shabbat is presented as a purely Halachic concept: on Shabbat the manna does not fall so don’t bother looking for it. At Mount Sinai, a different side of Shabbat is shown [Shemot 19:9-11] “For [in] six days Hashem made the heaven and the earth, the sea and all that is in them, and He rested on the seventh day. Therefore, the Hashem blessed the Sabbath day and sanctified it. Shabbat is a day that is permeated with holiness. What additional information, if any, was conveyed in the Shabbat commanded to Am Yisrael prior to the Mishkan being built? Rashi suggests that there was no new data per se. What was important was the timing: The laws of Shabbat were reiterated immediately before the building of the Mishkan lest one mistakenly think that Shabbat could be desecrated in order to build the Mishkan. This explanation is problematic, as Moshe’s orders to keep the Shabbat is given before his orders to build the Mishkan. I’d like to take a different direction. Rav J.B. Soloveichik, writing in Shiurim Lezecher Abba Mori, explains that “There is an equation between the Shabbat and sanctity – the Shabbat is a source of holiness. There is therefore a commonality between the Shabbat and the Mikdash. There exists both a sanctuary in space and a sanctuary in time.” While both Hashem and Moshe stressed this point, their emphasis differed. Hashem says “it is holiness to you”, emphasizing the inherent holiness of Shabbat, while Moshe says “you shall have holiness”, emphasizing to Am Yisrael their own capability to bring holiness into our corporeal world. How do we do this? Moshe answers “You shall not kindle fire in any of your dwelling places on the Shabbat” We bring holiness into our world simply by keeping Shabbat precisely as it is commanded. If we do the little things, the bigger things will come.

To summarize: before Am Yisrael can be commanded to build a Mishkan they must be taught two things: [1] They have the capability to imbue both time and space with holiness. [2] In order to experience this holiness, they must give of themselves and they must follow all of the rules, even – especially – the minutiae. It is critical that the giving be done willingly. By following Hashem’s laws we surrender to Him our wills and our selves. And by doing this, from many we become one. E pluribus unum. Rav Soloveichik adds, “Fealty to Jewish law is unenforceable: there is no police, no executive branch of government, no jails, no punishment for violators.” We give ourselves not for personal gain or to avoid punishment, but, rather, merely for the purpose of giving.

The menorah was the most complex and intricate vessel in the Mishkan. According to the Rambam it had 65 separate pieces, and yet all of them had to be banged out of one piece of gold. While it might have been easier to build the pieces individually and then to fuse them together, it would have missed the point entirely. The menorah is not a critical component in the daily ritual in the Mishkan. It does nothing but give off light. We know that giving for the purpose of giving fuses many small objects into one great entity. The menorah had to be made of one piece of gold. Am Yisrael must be that menorah.

Shabbat Shalom,

Ari Sacher, Moreshet, 5775

Please daven for a Refu’a Shelema for Nechemiah Uriel ben Tzippora Hadara and Moshe Dov ben Malka

[1] Teruma 5768

[2] Am Yisrael learning about Shabbat at Marah is Midrashic, and is not written in the Torah.