We complete the book of Exodus this week. Although the mitzvah of building the Mishkan (portable sanctuary) was already given in a previous Parsha, this week’s Torah reading concerns itself with the carrying out of the instructions. Various types of metals, fabrics and other raw materials were generously donated; contributions were encouraged but not mandatory. The response was overwhelming; after just two days of donations, there was a surplus and Moses told everyone to stop giving.
And the people were restrained from bringing, But the work had been enough for all the work, to do it-and there was extra. (Exodus 36:6-7)
Have you ever heard of a shul building campaign in which the organizers told the people, “we have enough, don’t give more?” If more contributions than anticipated come in, they might be used to install nicer fixtures, extend the building, pay off debts or some other legitimate purpose. Having too much money is the dream any man or woman spearheading a building campaign. Why did Moses tell the people to stop contributing?
[One of the great Chasidic Rabbis of the 19th century was called the Sfas Emes. He was orphaned at a young age and raised by his grandfather, who founded the Ger Chassidic dynasty. Sfas Emes frequently quotes many of the discussions and lessons he heard from his illustrious grandfather; the following comments are based on one of those conversations.]
When originating or taking part in a project, many of us have an internal voice (yetzer hara) that wants to take credit for doing it. After all, we had the idea and implemented it; there is no room for humility because it went exactly according to plan. In the words of Frank Sinatra,
To think I did all that
And may I say – not in a shy way
Oh no, oh no, not me
I did it my way
There is no place for humility because I can rightfully take the credit for all my accomplishments. I don’t need anyone else and that feeling of the power that comes with independence might be the reason so many people relate to “My Way,” which is the 4th most requested karaoke song of all time. Judaism places great importance on personal independence and taking responsibility for one’s life but even independence has its limits. How many people went to a prestigious college, networked with great people, found a great job and planned on a great future but then due to personal reasons or industry changes finds him/herself out of a job? The plan changed; things did not turn out his/her way. How many people get married, have a plan for a wonderful future but due to an unfaithful or emotionally unstable spouse or illness, the plan fails. Although we are obligated to be responsible and have a strategic plan in life, there are so many factors needed for every aspect of life that it is impossible to take credit even when things do work out the way we had anticipated.
When a person makes an effort to accomplish a project, toward the end of the process (s)he should withdraw and pause to realize that (s)he cannot do it without G-d’s help. How many dreams were crushed due to sickness? How many dreams were crushed due to someone cheating a business partner or besmirching them on social media?
Being a Jew, a member of the nation that gave the world the gift of monotheism, means that after you plan and try your hardest, you stop for a moment and ask for G-d’s help. When a friend or relative is ill, you have an obligation to find the best specialist but don’t forget to pray that the doctor should be on his or her game in diagnosis and implementation of treatment. If you show humility by bringing G-d into your life, then you stand a better chance of being helped in whatever endeavor you find yourself.
Somewhere along the line when doing a project, you have to have a reality check and say, “I’m just a human being, finite and limited; I have to pull back and say, G-d, You do the rest. I will not be passive but I do need Your help.
Why did Moses tell the people to stop bringing gifts for the building of the Mishkan? The people were trying to finish but Moses said stop. As much as you think you will finish the Mishkan, pull back a bit. This was to train them, and all subsequent generations, when you are at the end of a project and feel smug and egotistical about it, you need to pull back and realize that you are only finishing it because the Almighty has allowed you to do so.
It is significant that this lesson is being taught here, when the Torah discusses the building of the Mishkan. There could be no more noble undertaking than building a house for G-d (Mishkan) yet at this iconic moment when we are being taught the fundamentals of religious identity, the Jews of that era needed to know that they were being given the opportunity to pause and reflect on the monumental opportunity G-d had afforded them and that although their participation was focused and praiseworthy, it was ultimately G-d who allowed it to happen.
May we all learn from their example.