Ari Sacher

“Effort’ Parashat Vayakhel – Pekudei – HaChodesh 5783

It is always nice when a crowd-funded program achieves its goal. The people behind “Sufficiently Advanced Magic – Deluxe Edition Hardcover” know exactly what I’m talking about. With thirteen days to go in its Kickstarter campaign, $89,080 of its $10,000 goal has already been pledged, almost 800% of what was required. Perhaps the additional funding will be used to cover an additional volume, better quality paper and binding, or maybe it will be left in reserve to cover unforeseen risk.

The Mishkan (Tabernacle) had an equally successful crowdfunding campaign. G-d commands the Jewish People to donate [Shemot 35:5] “gold, silver, and copper” and other raw materials. As soon as the directive is issued, they spring into action [Shemot 35:32]: “Everyone who excelled in ability and everyone whose spirit was moved came, bringing to G-d an offering for the work of the Mishkan and for all its service and for the sacral vestments”. Very soon[1], all of the required material had been donated. Concerned that they would be inundated with precious metals, the artisans tasked with the building of the Mishkan reach out to Moshe, telling him [Shemot 36:5] “The people are bringing more than is needed for the tasks entailed in the work that G-d has commanded to be done.” Moshe, seeing that the crowdfunding goal has been reached, abruptly ends the campaign [Shemot 36:6]: “Moshe thereupon had this proclamation made throughout the camp: ‘Let no man or woman make further effort toward gifts for the sanctuary!’ So the people stopped bringing”. The Torah succinctly summarises the campaign [Shemot 36:7]: “The effort was sufficient for them for all the effort, to do it and to leave over”. Why is the Torah referring to sufficient “effort” and not sufficient “gold and silver”? The Ramban[2] suggests that “effort” is another way of saying “money” or that Torah could be referring to the women who [Shemot 35:26] “spun goats hair” before bringing it to the Mishkan.

If we zoom out, another question arises: Why was it so terrible that the people donated more gold, silver and copper than was required? Why couldn’t the extra donations be held in reserve or perhaps be used to make the Mishkan even more opulent? The Seforno[3] puts a fine point on it: The first Holy Temple (Beit HaMikdash), built by King Solomon, and second one, built by King Herod, were nothing less than extravagant. There was no limit to the amount of gold and silver used in their construction. It would be fair to say that Solomon and Herod went completely overboard. Regarding the First Temple, scripture testifies [Kings I 6:22] “The entire House was overlaid with gold; [Solomon] even overlaid with gold the entire altar of the Shrine.[4]” Regarding the Second Temple, the Talmud in Tractate Bava Batra [4a] asserts that a person who has not seen Herod’s Temple has never truly seen a beautiful building. The Roman historian, Josephus, describes how its cedar doors were nearly twenty metres high and ten metres wide. To Solomon and Herod, the phrase “too much gold” was sacrilege. And yet, as far as the Mishkan was concerned, the donations were limited to precisely the amount that was originally specified, just so much, and no more. While commentators over the ages have addressed both of these questions in some way or another, I would like to propose a more holistic solution.

Our answer begins with an insight offered by my son, Elyasaf: The Mishkan and the Beit HaMikdash had very different objectives. At the opening ceremony of the first Beit HaMikdash, King Solomon offers a prayer that encapsulates its objective [Kings I 8:30]: “You shall listen to the supplication of Your servant and of Your people Israel that they will pray toward this place; and You shall hear in heaven, Your abode.” The Beit HaMikdash was the first synagogue. People would come there to pray for a multitude of reasons: repentance, success in battle, rain, and rescue from famine, just to name a few. The Beit HaMikdash was a bottom-up portal between man and G-d. In order to connect with G-d, a person must be in the proper mood. The opulence of a synagogue is conducive to a mood of solemnity and of worship. The more opulent the synagogue is, the better it serves its purpose.

The Mishkan was not, as some mistakenly believe, a mobile predecessor to the Beit HaMikdash. Most Jews never entered the Mishkan – entry was limited to Priests (Kohanim). The Mishkan had one purpose and the Torah states this clearly [Shemot 25:8]: “You shall make me a sanctuary so that I shall reside in your midst”. G-d tells Moshe [Shemot 25:22] “There I will meet with you, and I will impart to you from above the cover (kaporet), from between the two cherubim that are on top of the Ark of the Covenant all that I will command you concerning the Israelite people.” The Mishkan was designed to serve as a top-down portal between G-d and man. The Mishkan was not meant to impress or to evoke emotion. For reasons unknown to us, gold and silver were required to open that Divine portal. But make no mistake: G-d could have just as easily demanded donations of cobalt and plutonium. Building the Mishkan required strict adherence to the Divine plan. Anything more or less could render it useless.

Understanding the purpose of the Mishkan can explain the extensive use of the word “effort” (melacha) in the building of the Mishkan. In the seven verses describing the people’s donations to the Mishkan, the word “melacha” is used seven times. What does “melacha” mean? Those with keen eyesight have noted that immediately before Moshe instructs the Jewish People to donate towards the building of the Mishkan, he instructs them not to work on the Shabbat [Shemot 35:2]: “On six days, work (melacha) shall be done, but on the seventh day you shall have a Shabbat of complete rest.” Shabbat as a day of rest was already commanded at Sinai. Why is the commandment repeated here and now? Contrary to popular belief, the word melacha is not synonymous with physical labour. There is no prohibition to toil on Shabbat. If a person wants to move his six-seater barcalounger around the living room all Shabbat afternoon to make room for guests, he is more than welcome. But if that same person flicks on the light switch, he has committed a sin. Some have suggested that melacha represents constructive, creative effort, demonstrating man’s mastery over nature. This definition is a good start but there is more. To get a deeper sense of the meaning of melacha, we must look back to the creation of the world. After the six days of creation, G-d takes a step back to reflect upon His work [Bereishit 2:2]: “G-d completed on the seventh day His effort (melachto) that He did, and He abstained on the seventh day from all His effort (melachto) that He did.” Rabbi Samson Rafael Hirsch[5] explains that when it comes to melacha, what is important is not the amount of effort that is expended but, rather, the result of that effort. He suggests that the word “melacha” is the feminine form of the word “mal’ach” – angel. Just like an angel is a Divine emissary, created for a well-defined purpose, a melacha is performed to accomplish a well-defined goal. For this reason, on Shabbat we are forbidden from performing “melechet machashevet” – “goal-driven actions”. Actions that have no goal or that occur as a by-product (davar sh’eino mitkaven) are, as a rule, permitted.

Different people have different ways of connecting with G-d. Some connect with their intellect while others connect with their emotions. But if we want to introduce G-d into our lives, we must make the effort to live by His rules.

Ari Sacher, Moreshet, 5783

Please daven for a Refu’a Shelema for Yechiel ben Shprintza, Geisha bat Sara, Hila bat Miriam, Avraham Menashe ben Chana Bracha, and Rina bat Hassida.

[1] According to some commentators, the funding goal was reached within one day.

[2] Rabbi Moshe ben Nachman, known by his acronym “Ramban”, lived in Spain and in Israel in the twelfth century.

[3] Rabbi Ovadiah Seforno lived in Italy at the turn of the sixteenth century in Italy

[4] This reminds me of an anecdote. Before we moved into our home in Moreshet, we lived with another thirty or so families in trailers. We were all building our homes and were progressing at about the same rate. When we were all choosing our floors, I told one of our friends that another one of our friends had chosen expensive granite porcelain flooring. In fact, I continued, they were so enamored with granite porcelain that they had decided to cover the entire house with it, including windows. My friend nodded and replied, “Well, you only build a house once”. King Solomon took this statement to an entirely new level.

[5] Rabbi Hirsch lived in Frankfurt am Main in the nineteenth century.

About the Author
Ari Sacher is a Rocket Scientist, and has worked in the design and development of missiles for over thirty years. He has briefed hundreds of US Congressmen on Israeli Missile Defense, including three briefings on Capitol Hill at the invitation of House Majority Leader. Ari is a highly requested speaker, enabling even the layman to understand the "rocket science". Ari has also been a scholar in residence in numerous synagogues in the USA, Canada, UK, South Africa, and Australia. He is a riveting speaker, using his experience in the defense industry to explain the Torah in a way that is simultaneously enlightening and entertaining. Ari came on aliya from the USA in 1982. He studied at Yeshivat Kerem B’Yavneh, and then spent seven years studying at the Technion. Since 2000 he has published a weekly parasha shiur that is read around the world. Ari lives in Moreshet in the Western Galil along with his wife and eight children.
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