The beginning of this week's Torah portion sounds a lot like an inventory at the Sinai Home Depot. A detailed list of the hardware donated to the mishkan (Tabernacle) by the Children of Israel is provided, and not only are the raw materials mentioned, but also the individuals who donated the items are referred to as well.
The beginning of this week's Torah portion sounds a lot like an inventory at the Sinai Home Depot. A detailed list of the hardware donated to the mishkan (Tabernacle) by the Children of Israel is provided, and not only are the raw materials mentioned, but also the individuals who donated the items are referred to as well. One group which is specifically singled out is the twelve princes, each of whom represents one of the twelve tribes of Israel. We are told that "the princes brought the shoham stones and the stones for the ephod and the breastplate" (Exodus 35:27). Rashi, the great medieval commentator, states that the princes declared that they would make their donation to the Tabernacle last in order to supplement any shortage of donated goods from the rest of the Jewish people. Since the nation's contributions were more than enough for the construction, the princes were first in line to present gifts for the mishkan at its dedication.
Avot D'Rebbi Nattan, the Talmudic commentary to Ethics of our Fathers, points out that during the construction of the mishkan, Moses did not want to take any advice from the princes. They therefore sat silently and passively on the sidelines, reckoning that Moses would call upon them if and when he needed their help and advice. However, when they heard the announcement in the camp of Israel that no more donations were needed, the princes became concerned that they had missed out on participating in the building of the mishkan. Therefore, they made a big financial commitment on their own by donating the precious stones for the Kohen Gadol's (High Priest's) breastplate.
This commentary seems problematic. Could it be that Moses, the most humble of all people, insisted that the princes sit idly during the mishkan's construction? Was Moses too arrogant to accept advice from the distinguished representatives of the twelve tribes? Although Moses may have been a great leader, he certainly was not an experienced building contractor. Furthermore, Moses himself later told his own successor, Joshua, that when he takes over the reigns of leadership he should seek the counsel of the nation's elders, following their opinions and suggestions. To that advice, Hashem responded to Joshua that the burden of leadership was on his own shoulders: "There can be but one leader for the generation" (Rashi on Deuteronomy 31:7). Did Moses think that Joshua was not as capable as himself to lead the Jewish people?
According to Rabbi Ben Zion Firer, a contemporary Torah scholar in Israel, Moses and Joshua faced two different types of situations. Moses was occupied with building holy objects. In this endeavor there can be no room for input from man. Everything is built according to the specifications outlined in the Torah by Hashem. Even the plans of Betzalel, the mishkan's architect, were governed by divine stipulations. Moses' participation in the construction of the mishkan was also dictated by Hashem, as Hashem says to Moses, "You should build the mishkan according to the fashion which I showed you on the mountain" (Exodus 26:30).
Moses believed that unlike the building of the mishkan, Joshua's primary mission of settling the Land of Israel was not entirely dictated by the Torah. In fact, Moses himself listened to the demands of the Jewish people in the desert by sending the spies to scout the Land of Israel before they entered it. Therefore, he felt that when conquering Israel, Joshua could accept human input and outside advice by following the guidance of the elders.
However, contrary to Moses, Hashem declared that issues concerning the settlement of Israel are similar in nature to matters regarding the mishkan. Only Hashem can dictate the Holy Land's settlement and there can be no human deliberation in the matter. Thus, when Moses told Joshua to seek the guidance of the elders, Hashem in turn told Joshua the exact opposite by stating that there can be only one leader for the generation - Joshua by himself without the elders.
The mishkan's assembly highlights one aspect of the relationship that the Jewish people have with Hashem. Although there was no human input in the design of the mishkan, it was up to Moses and the Jewish people in the desert to build Hashem's dwelling place. Rather than create the holy vessels Himself, Hashem requires man to exert his own effort in creating and fashioning the mishkan. Similarly, Hashem gave us the Torah so that we can use it as an instruction manual for building our lives. It is up to us to build and develop ourselves so that we can weather opposing forces. Fortunately, just as Moses was successful in building the mishkan by following Hashem's command, we are assured that by following the Torah step by step, we too will be successful in our own personal construction.
Eyal Feiler, an alumnus of Yeshiva Atlanta and a graduate of Yeshiva University, resides in New York.
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