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RECIPE FOR SUCCESS

by Ariel Sloan    
Torah from Dixie Staff Writer    

This is the portion that you shall take from them: gold, silver, and copper; exquisite threads of turquoise, purple, and scarlet; linen and goat hair; red-dyed ram skins, tachash skins, acacia wood, oil for illumination, spices for the anointing oil and the aromatic incense; precious stones for the ephod and breastplate" (Exodus 25:3-7).

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This is the portion that you shall take from them: gold, silver, and copper; exquisite threads of turquoise, purple, and scarlet; linen and goat hair; red-dyed ram skins, tachash skins, acacia wood, oil for illumination, spices for the anointing oil and the aromatic incense; precious stones for the ephod and breastplate" (Exodus 25:3-7).

When the Torah instructs the Jewish people on how to make the holy vessels and garments for the mishkan (Tabernacle), it first includes the various materials which are to be used. At first glance, the above list appears very much like the beginning part of a cookbook recipe, where all of the ingredients to be used in the dish are initially enumerated. However, since the Torah does not waste its words, we must understand why this lengthy list is written. The master architects and tailors would have certainly been able to figure out which materials to use, as the Torah later gives specific building instructions which also include the required materials. Why then is this protracted record included in the Torah?

The point of the list is not merely to specify the materials which would be needed for the construction of the mishkan; rather it is to highlight the fact that Hashem gives the Jewish people so many opportunities to do mitzvot, through which we gain reward and our portion in the World to Come. Not only that, but He even makes them easy to do. Hashem included the smallest things - oil, string, and spices - so that it would be easy for everyone to participate in this mitzvah and part with their property.

However, some people even have a hard time giving up the smallest things. Hashem makes it easy for them as well. Upon reading the second verse of this week's Torah portion, one is immediately struck with an apparent contradiction. First Hashem commands that the people should "take for Me a tithe" (Exodus 25:2), implying a degree of obligation and coercion. Strangely the verse concludes, "from every person whose heart motivates him you shall take My portion," which would suggest that the gift is only optional. Is making a contribution to the mishkan building fund obligatory or optional? The Kli Yakar, one of the leading Polish rabbis of the early 17th century, explains that the Torah is addressing two distinct groups of people. Some people believe that the wealth which they have amassed comes solely from their own hard work, and they fail to recognize that it is Hashem who really gives them everything. Only a direct command will motivate them to participate in this mitzvah. Others, however, appreciate the fact that their wealth comes from Hashem. These people will give their money to charity willingly.

There is a middle group of people who recognize that Hashem gave them their wealth yesterday, but are not so sure that He will give them more tomorrow. It is easy for them to make a smaller contribution, giving up oil or spices, but gold is a different story. For them, the Torah later adds a special phrase: "everyone whose heart motivated him brought [gifts to the mishkan]" (ibid. 35:22). The Talmud (Tractate Shavuot 26b) explains this clause to mean that if one conclusively determines in his mind that he wants to make a contribution, he automatically becomes obligated. The obligation becomes the perfect impetus for those people who are not totally confident that Hashem will bless them with more money tomorrow.

Most of us view an obligation as being an annoyance, something which is time consuming and burdensome. This is not the case with the mitzvot which Hashem commands us, for they are designed to help us further our relationship with Him. The material gifts of gold and silver are a small price to pay for the gift of an intimate spiritual connection with the Creator of all.

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Ariel Sloan, a native Atlantan, is a freshman at Yeshiva University in New York.

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