Rabbi O’s Weekly Parsha: Vayakel (Exodus 35:1-38:20)

Choosing a Day of Freedom
There is an interesting idea discussed in the laws of how to write a Torah scroll. The one who writes it must have in mind specifically that he is writing it for the purpose of a Torah scroll. If he was just practicing his script writing or felt like writing biblical verses for a letter or some other reason, that writing is invalid for a Torah scroll. Some objects are so precious that we insist that they are done with purity from the get-go.
There weren’t any synagogues when the Jews prayed in the desert, there was just one portable structure taken down and reassembled every place they went. When it was originally made, what were the requirements?
And every wise-hearted man among them that wrought the work made the Tabernacle with ten curtains of fine twined linen, and blue, and purple, and scarlet, with cherubim the work of the skillful workman made them. (Exodus 36:8)
After all the materials were collected and the work began, the verse informs us that all craftsmen who had a “wise heart” made the Mishkan (portable sanctuary) out of ten drapes. The implication is that the best workers, the “wise-hearted,” made the curtains. How does one become wise-hearted? Wise-hearted refers to one who recognizes G-d, as the verse states awe (recognition) of G-d is the basis for true wisdom.” (Proverbs 9:10) But why were these exceptionally wise people so interested in the curtains? Why didn’t they let simpler people make them, so that they, the exceptional ones, would make the intricate priestly garments which were more precious and holy than the curtains?
The answer yields light on how to prioritize tasks. It’s obvious when we have a number of tasks to tackle, we do the most timely and important first. But what do you do when there’s a conflict? For example, one is timely but of lesser importance and the other is less important but timely? The answer is found in the example of the wise-hearted builders. The priestly garments might have held a higher status than the curtains but since the curtainswere the first item on the agenda, there was a big debate among the craftsmen if they should take the first job or wait for the more prestigious work. Those who felt a true spiritual connection to their Jewish mission—those with wisdom in their hearts—decided that grabbing a mitzvah opportunity, even for a lesser mitzvah, was more important than waiting for a more prestigious and greater opportunity (the priestly garments). Therefore, they volunteered to make the curtains first. Whenever one has a chance to do a mitzvah, grab it; don’t wait for a bigger opportunity.
An incident involving this principle was presented to one of the great Rabbis of the 16th century, the Radbaz. Reuven was imprisoned; he was not able to leave to pray with a minyan or to fulfill other mitzvot. He asked the minister and was granted permission to be allowed to pray with a minyan one day a year– a day of Reuven’s choice. Which day should Reuven choose? Should he take the first available opportunity—right now—or should he wait for Yom Kippur or some other holiday in which the prayers are more ‘weighty?’ The ruling is based on the principle that we don’t pass up a mitzvah opportunity (Ein ma’avirin al hamitzvot). All agree with this idea and therefore, the first mitzvah he encounters that can’t be fulfilled while imprisoned takes precedence. We do not pay attention to whether the first mitzvah he encounters is a “light” or a “weighty” one, for one cannot know the reward of mitzvot. This is very obvious to me. (Radbaz Responsa 4:13) The principle on which Radbaz bases his ruling is that it is wrong to pass up one mitzvah for the sake of fulfilling a different mitzvah. One should perform the first mitzvah he encounters, even if this means that he will not be able to fulfill a different (“better”) mitzvah. Thus, somebody offered a day out of prison should arrange his release for the very first opportunity to do a mitzvah that he is unable to perform in prison. Many people pass up mitzvah opportunities for a variety of reasons. Next time one comes our way, grab it. It might be helping to make a minyan. It might be a tzedakah (charity) opportunity. It might be a phone call from someone who needs a kind, non-judgmental person to listen to a challenge he or she is encountering. Whatever the case may be, address it as a Jew should and grab the opportunity. You won’t regret it. Good Shabbos     
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