THE EASY WAY OUT
In the beginning of this week's Torah portion, the Torah delineates the different materials to be collected from the Children of Israel for use in the construction of the Tabernacle, or Mishkan, in the desert. It would seem logical to assume that the Torah would list these materials in order of their value importance.
In the beginning of this week's Torah portion, the Torah delineates the different materials to be collected from the Children of Israel for use in the construction of the Tabernacle, or Mishkan, in the desert. It would seem logical to assume that the Torah would list these materials in order of their value importance. However, there appears to be a discrepancy with regard to the ordering of these materials. If we quickly scan the verses, we find that the very last material mentioned by the Torah are the precious stones to be used for the Choshen (breastplate) and the Ephod (apron) worn by the Kohen. Presumably, one would expect these jewels to be catalogued at the beginning, even before the gold and silver which must be polished and refined to perfection before it can be used. Why then are the precious jewels listed all the way at the end?
The Or Hachaim, an 18th century commentary by the Italian Kabbalist and Talmudic scholar Reb Chaim ben Attar, offers an intriguing answer to this difficulty. His solution is based on a section in the Talmud (Tractate Yoma) that states that these precious gems fell from the clouds ready-made. Therefore, the Or Hachaim continues, since these stones were attained through no exertion at all, they were listed following all the other materials that came from the Jews' own pockets and self-sacrifice.
The message here is quite clear. When we invest time and energy into some activity it becomes meaningful and worthwhile to us, while something achieved easily and effortlessly makes no impact on our lives. The distinction can be easily discerned by contrasting two students, both of whom score a 95 on an exam. One student, gifted with a brilliant mind, scores a 95 with no trouble at all. For him, the test means nothing -- another day another `A'. The next day, the test is already forgotten as simply as another meaningless activity in his life experience. The other student however, not as bright as the first, must spend night after night, week's prior to the exam, studying in order to score the same 95. For this student, this test means much more. This remarkable accomplishment will stick in his head for months to come and will serve as an inspiration for future struggles he may have. Clearly, the importance and significance of an achievement attained through hard work and effort cannot compare to one realized through no struggle whatsoever.
For us today, living in a "couch potato" society, this message is especially important to keep in mind. Many times, we look for the easy way out. A loophole, a shortcut -- we search for anything that will make our lives easier. While, in general, there may be nothing wrong with this approach, we must realize that this is not the correct strategy when it comes to performing Hashem's mitzvot. By choosing the "easy way out" in mitzvah observance, we are, in effect, cheapening and depreciating the mitzvah's value. The less effort invested in performing the mitzvah, the less importance we attach to that mitzvah. Soon, the mitzvot fall to the bottom of our priority list as they have become meaningless and unnecessary activities.
Instead, we must pull ourselves out of that comatose state and learn to labor and toil when it comes to mitzvah observance. Instead of searching for every shortcut and loophole in the book, we must strive to work and sweat to perform the mitzvot. Only when we invest the proper time and effort in the mitzvot can we truly appreciate the beauty and greatness of the Torah and its laws.
Yoel Spotts, a native Atlantan, is currently enrolled in a joint program with Ner Israel Rabbinical College and the University of Maryland, both in Baltimore.
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