Rav Kook on VaYakhel: We Must Build A Temple Of Generosity And Kindness
וַיֹּ֣אמֶר מֹשֶׁ֔ה אֶל־כׇּל־עֲדַ֥ת בְּנֵֽי־יִשְׂרָאֵ֖ל לֵאמֹ֑ר זֶ֣ה הַדָּבָ֔ר אֲשֶׁר־צִוָּ֥ה יְהֹוָ֖ה לֵאמֹֽר׃”
Moshe said to the whole community of the children of Israel: ‘This is what יהוה has commanded:
קְח֨וּ מֵֽאִתְּכֶ֤ם תְּרוּמָה֙ לַֽיהֹוָ֔ה כֹּ֚ל נְדִ֣יב לִבּ֔וֹ יְבִיאֶ֕הָ אֵ֖ת תְּרוּמַ֣ת יְהֹוָ֑ה –Take from yourselves gifts for יהוה; everyone whose heart motivates them shall bring a gift for יהוה….
ויָּבֹ֕אוּ כׇּל־אִ֖ישׁ אֲשֶׁר־נְשָׂא֣וֹ לִבּ֑וֹ וְכֹ֡ל אֲשֶׁר֩ נָדְבָ֨ה רוּח֜וֹ אֹת֗וֹ הֵ֠בִ֠יאוּ אֶת־תְּרוּמַ֨ת יְהֹוָ֜ה לִמְלֶ֨אכֶת אֹ֤הֶל מוֹעֵד֙ וּלְכׇל־עֲבֹ֣דָת֔וֹ וּלְבִגְדֵ֖י הַקֹּֽדֶשׁ׃ –And each person brought according to the stirring of their heart and everyone whose spirit motivated them brought a portion for יהוה for the work of the Tent of Meeting and for all its necessities and sacred vestments….
כׇּל־אִ֣ישׁ וְאִשָּׁ֗ה אֲשֶׁ֨ר נָדַ֣ב לִבָּם֮ אֹתָם֒ לְהָבִיא֙ לְכׇל־הַמְּלָאכָ֔ה אֲשֶׁ֨ר צִוָּ֧ה יְהֹוָ֛ה לַעֲשׂ֖וֹת בְּיַד־מֹשֶׁ֑ה הֵבִ֧יאוּ בְנֵי־יִשְׂרָאֵ֛ל נְדָבָ֖ה לַיהֹוָֽה׃-Every man and woman among the Israelites, who felt moved to give something for all the work that יהוה had ordered through Moshe, brought a free willed gift to יהוה.” (Shmot 35:5,21,29)
In Parshat Vayakhel each person in Israel is directed to give free willed gifts of the best that they can offer in order to collect all of the materials that are necessary to build the transient holy Mishkan-Sanctuary and later the permanent Beit HaMikdash-Holy Temple in Jerusalem.
Since the destruction of the Temple in 70 CE, these mitzvot have not been applicable. The modern return to and the rebirth of Israel invites us to reconsider how these directives in Parshat Vayakhel can be relevant to us. Rabbi Avraham Yitzchak HaCohen Kook ZT”L (1865-1935) was and through his teachings and students is still the Cohen Gadol-High Priest of our return.
In 1910 while he was the Chief Rabbi of Yaffo, he wrote: “The Holy Temple is the spiritual focus of our nation and the source of the spiritual life of every individual within it. It is a tangible vision that dazzles the eye with its beauty and elevates the consciousness with its powerfully awesome character. The holy temple must be built every day in the inner spirit of every individual of Israel. Thus their spirit will connect the fullness of its life to the core of our nation in her complete state [when the Beit HaMikdash will be rebuilt].” (Notebook 1:144)
We cannot rebuild the physical Beit HaMikdash now. Our current spiritual work is to build the inner beit hamikdash – the ‘holy temple in the spirit of every individual of Israel’.
“When that will truly happen each individual’s personal abilities will be refreshed. An emotionally warm and illuminated life of faith will blossom like exquisite flowers in a panorama of exceedingly lovely colors….
And then ultimately ‘Knesset Yisrael-the Congregation of Israel’ will be built with the spirit of a solid building. She will dedicate her might to Elohim.
This spiritual building will give Israel power that emanates from the eternal splendor that is in the inner core of her desires. It will do so much more than a multitude of secular physical buildings and national institutions ever could. These solely physical creations enhance the external strength of a nation that lives only upon the basis of its flesh and physical might.” (Ibid)
Israel is directed to live upon the basis of its inner spirit. Parshat Vayakhel emphasizes that each person’s תרומה-gift to the holy temple must be given with נדיבות לב ורוח -generosity of heart and spirit. This phrase is repeated 4 times in Chapter 35.
In 1912,Rav Kook wrote that we must become גאוני חסד ונדיבות-geniuses of compassion and generosity. We must cultivate: “the compassionate genius of a great giver-גאונות החסד של נדיב גדול. Acts of kindness and goodness are their soul’s commitment and the crowning ornament of their life . They recognize the tremendous splendor of חסד-kindness in and of itself. This is even more precious and exalted than all the actual deeds of kindness and goodness that are carried out in action.” (Notebook 3:40)
We must come to understand that חסד-kindness and compassion is the fundamental force of holiness: “Fortunate are we all if the light of compassion shines in us. Fortunate is the world; fortunate is humankind and fortunate is the nation when a vision of נדיבות גאונית-philanthropic genius appears in any of its children.
The holy spirit of נדיבות-generous giving is life’s treasure. It treats all with a powerful equality. It breathes life into every individual soul in the nation, and adorns it with abiding beauty forever….
This spirit will of course be even more wonderful when this capacity to be נדיבותי-generous is translated into action.
Those who judge life on the basis of its true meaning, those who meditate on ideas in their purity, will recognize the supreme nobility of חסד-compassion, even when it is covered up with many veils because of an inability to manifest itself.” (Notebook 3:40)
Rav Kook is emphasizing that we must become geniuses of generosity, compassion and kindness. The strong inner desire to be very good will enable us to become very great doers of good.
And thus Rav Kook wrote in London in 1917 in the throes of WW1:“A person needs to know that when the longing to be good to all is intensified in them, an illumination from the higher realm has reached them. They will be praiseworthy if they prepare a proper place in their heart, mind and actions and in all their feelings to receive this noble light, which is the most precious asset on earth.
They must hold on to it and not let it go. They must not allow any impediment, physical or spiritual, to keep them from welcoming this holy thought into their inner being. They must battle against all of them and remain resolute.
They must draw their knowledge from afar, emulating the attribute of the Divine, who is good to all and ‘whose mercies are over all His works’.(Tehillim 145:9)” (Notebook 8:61)
In this very challenging time in human history, Rav Kook is teaching us that ‘our passion to be good to all is our most precious asset’. It will enable us “to build the holy temple in our soul and spirit’. Then we will each freely and fully contribute our best gifts and abilities to the collective repair of our holy world. And thus, we will create the conditions for the re-building of the physical Beit HaMikdash-Holy Temple.
BeMhera BeYamenu-Immediately In Our Days