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Motivating the People to Build the Tabernacle

Neat Building but not the Tabernacle

Neat Building but not the Tabernacle

Parashat VaYakhel – Pekudei 5772

Our tradition tells us that God forgave the Jewish people for the sin of the Golden Calf on Yom Kippur.

The next day Moshe gathered the people and told them about the Divine command to build the Tabernacle (Mishkan).

Some Answers to My Questions

Look at the post earlier this week if you want to see all the details of my questions. Here I’ll just present the essence of the questions that I try to answer.

Shemot 35:24

24 Everyone who set aside an offering of silver or copper brought the offering for the Lord, and everyone with whom acacia wood was found for any work of the service, brought it.

Acacia wood was used for the boards of the Mishkan. The boards were ten cubits tall and one and a half cubits wide. If a cubit is 20 inches, then these boards were almost 17 feet long.

Who in their right mind was carrying a bunch of 17-foot long boards through the desert?

I’ve wondered about this question for years, but I’ve never looked into it before.

Most of the commentators that I looked at don’t mention this issue at all. Ramban mentions that very few people had the acacia wood, but he does not go into more detail.

Rabbi Sorotzkin mentions a midrash that Yaakov took trees with him to Egypt that would eventually be used for the building of the tabernacle. When the Jewish people left Egypt just a few “unique individuals” brought those boards with them.

He mentions that some commentators suggest that the Jewish people found acacia trees growing on Har Sinai. He rejects this approach because the wording of the verse (“with whom acacia wood was found”) implies that certain people already had the wood in their possession.

Shemot 36:3-5

3 So they took from before Moses all the offering[s] that the children of Israel had brought for the work of the service of the Holy, and they brought him more gifts every morning.

4 Then all the wise men who were doing the work of the Holy came, each one from his work, which they had been doing.

5 And they spoke to Moses, saying: “The people are bringing very much, more than is enough for the labor of the articles which the Lord had commanded to do.”

What did Moshe say or do that so energized the people to give even more than what was needed?

Many people point to this verse and proclaim that this was the most successful fund raising campaign ever and will never be duplicated.

Maybe we can’t duplicate it, but I still think we can learn lessons learn from it.

Switch

I’m going to do something very dangerous. I’m going to suggest an answer based on a secular book that I recently read. I hope you’ll bear with me. :-)

The book is Switch by Chip and Dan Heath. The subtitle is a good summary of the book: How to change things when change is hard.

They use a metaphor throughout the book to describe every person (that’s right, you and me are included here) who is trying to change anything.

Picture a Rider (the person’s rational side) on top of an Elephant (the person’s emotional side) moving along a Path (all the elements of the external environment).

Probably most of my readers will make the same mistake I did. Clearly, you’ll think, the Rider is the Yetzer HaTov and the Elephant is the Yetzer HaRa.

That’s what I first thought, but it’s not so simple. The Rider (as they explain it) has characteristics of both the Yetzer HaTov and the Yetzer HaRa. So does the Elephant.

The Rational Yetzer Hara

How can being cool, calm, and rational be part of the Yetzer Hara?

The rational side of the Rider can cause a person to over analyze a situation and be completely overwhelmed by all the different factors they are considering. This can lead to inaction.

Certainly, sometimes not acting is the proper choice. A person could be faced with an opportunity to perform one of their favorite sins. One strategy to avoid sinning is to tell yourself that you don’t have permission to perform that act right now. Tell the sin to come back the next day when you might have permission.

Does that sound weird? Yeah. But I’ve used it successfully more than once over the past year.

But there are instances when not acting plays into the hands of the Yetzer Hara. For example, people who don’t intervene even though they know abuse is occurring.

This frequently happens in cases of wife abuse and child abuse. Neighbors may be aware of the situation, but start rationalizing: I’m not sure … Maybe I’m overreacting … Maybe there is a perfectly logical explanation … If I say something maybe it will be lashon hara … What will happen if the police get involved? When the word spreads it will be a chillul Hashem …

We’ve all heard of such cases, some rather recently.

Applying the Framework

I want to use the framework of the Rider, the Elephant, and the Path to explain how Moshe got the people to donate generously to building the Tabernacle.

One aspect of the Rider is the tendency to over analyze. This can lead to analysis paralysis. An important tool to get the Rider to stop analyzing and start moving is to point to a clear destination. When the destination is clear, then there is no need to continue with the analysis and the Rider can move.

Moshe had such a destination. Build the Tabernacle. Here’s how to do it: gather these materials, construct these articles, follow these plans. Betzalel will be in charge of all the craftsmen.

The Elephant isn’t motivated by knowledge, but rather by feeling. Moshe was able to harness the people’s emotional side for this project.

The people knew that they had sinned with the Golden Calf. Before the sin they had been clearly aware of God’s presence. For example, at the crossing of the Sea they proclaimed (Shemot 15:2), “This is my God.” Our Sages say that God’s presence was so real at that moment that each person could (as it were) point at God as they sang “This is my God.”

Moshe’s now telling them that building the Tabernacle in the right way guarantees that God’s presence will once more be felt amongst them. That’s a motivating feeling.

The Path needs to be shaped in the way that makes the right action easy.

One way to shape the Path is to get lots of people to buy into a project. It can be easier to act when you are part of a crowd.

As this parasha begins (Shemot 35:1), “And Moshe assembled the entire congregation of the Children of Israel.”

Everyone was there. Everyone heard Moshe’s announcement.

I think another aspect of shaping the Path would have been the fact that people could bring their contributions each day. As the end of Shemot 36:3 says, “and they brought him more gifts every morning.”

As each person felt the motivation to contribute, the collection center was open and ready to receive their donation.

Summary

Like I wrote above, maybe we can’t duplicate the events in the Wilderness, but we can learn from them.

I think there is a lot of truth to the framework of the Rider, the Elephant, and the Path. Fund raisers and other communal leaders can apply it to their projects to make them more successful.

Your Turn

Please share your suggested answers in the comments.

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Picture credit Flickr.

Building the Tabernacle

Not the Building of the Tabernacle

Building the Tabernacle did not require so much extra support

Parashat VaYakhel – Pekudei 5772

Our tradition tells us that God forgave the Jewish people for the sin of the Golden Calf on Yom Kippur.

Moshe gathered the people and told them about the Divine command to build the Tabernacle (Mishkan).

In this parasha the Torah lists the parts of the Mishkan when:

  • Moshe tells the people what to build
  • The people build each portion of the Mishkan
  • Moshe provides an accounting of how the precious metals were used
  • God tells Moshe where to place each piece
  • Moshe erects the Mishkan for the first time.

My Questions

This week the verses that I’ve chosen are spread throughout the parasha. As is usual, the translation is from Judaica Press.

Shemot 35:24

24 Everyone who set aside an offering of silver or copper brought the offering for the Lord, and everyone with whom acacia wood was found for any work of the service, brought it.

I understand that the people had gold, silver, and copper to donate to the building of the Mishkan. Back in Shemot 11:2, the people were told to “borrow” gold and silver vessels from the Egyptians. I discussed this in Parashat Bo.

What I don’t understand is who brought with them acacia wood?!

Acacia wood was used for the boards of the Mishkan. The boards were ten cubits tall and one and a half cubits wide. If a cubit is 20 inches, then these boards were almost 17 feet long.

Who in their right mind was carrying a bunch of 17-foot long boards through the desert?

Shemot 36:3-5

3 So they took from before Moses all the offering[s] that the children of Israel had brought for the work of the service of the Holy, and they brought him more gifts every morning.

4 Then all the wise men who were doing the work of the Holy came, each one from his work, which they had been doing.

5 And they spoke to Moses, saying: “The people are bringing very much, more than is enough for the labor of the articles which the Lord had commanded to do.”

What did Moshe say or do that so energized the people to give even more than what was needed?

Shemot 38:21

21 These are the numbers of the Mishkan, the Mishkan of the Testimony, which were counted at Moses’ command; [this was] the work of the Levites under the direction of Ithamar, the son of Aaron the Kohen.

Verses 38:21-31 recount how the gold, silver, and copper were used in building the Mishkan. We don’t see that Moshe was commanded to give such an accounting.

What motivated him to provide this accounting?

Shemot 39:43

43 Moses saw the entire work, and lo! they had done it, as the Lord had commanded, so had they done. So Moses blessed them.

What is the nature of the blessing that Moshe gave to the builders of the Tabernacle?

Shemot 40:36-38

36 When the cloud rose up from over the Mishkan, the children of Israel set out in all their journeys.

37 But if the cloud did not rise up, they did not set out until the day that it rose.

38 For the cloud of the Lord was upon the Mishkan by day, and there was fire within it at night, before the eyes of the entire house of Israel in all their journeys.

We know that the Mishkan was built to be portable. But the first journey is not recorded until Sefer Bamidbar 10:11.

Why does the Torah talk about their journeying here? Also, similar verses are recorded in Bamidbar 9:15-23. The whole discussion seems to make more sense in Sefer Bamidbar just before the first journey.

Your Turn

Please share your questions and suggested answers in the comments.

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Picture credit Flickr.

 

3 Lessons After the Golden Calf

Mitzpe Ramon - A Rock to Stand On

Not Har Sinai - but how I imagine it

Parashat Ki Tisa 5772

After the sin of the Golden Calf, God told Moshe that he was going to destroy the Jewish people.

After Moshe destroyed the Golden Calf he then went back up to Har Sinai to plead for the people (Shemot 32:30-32).

Moshe pleaded with HaShem that the Divine Presence would remain with them. Here is part of that exchange (translation from Judaica Press):

Shemot Chapter 33

17 And the Lord said to Moses: “Even this thing that you have spoken, I will do, for you have found favor in My eyes, and I have known you by name.”

18 And he said: “Show me, now, Your glory!”

19 He said: “I will let all My goodness pass before you; I will proclaim the name of the Lord before you, and I will favor when I wish to favor, and I will have compassion when I wish to have compassion.”

20 And He said, “You will not be able to see My face, for man shall not see Me and live.”

21 And the Lord said: “Behold, there is a place with Me, and you shall stand on the rock.

22 And it shall be that when My glory passes by, I will place you into the cleft of the rock, and I will cover you with My hand until I have passed by.

23 Then I will remove My hand, and you will see My back but My face shall not be seen.”

Later God commanded Moshe to prepare two new tablets. God told him that He would write the commandments on these new tables. Here is what happened next:

Shemot Chapter 34

4 So he [Moses] hewed two stone tablets like the first ones, and Moses arose early in the morning and ascended Mount Sinai as the Lord had commanded him, and he took two stone tablets in his hand.

5 And the Lord descended in the cloud and stood with him there, and He called out in the name of the Lord.

6 And the Lord passed before him and proclaimed: Hashem, Hashem, God, Who is compassionate and gracious, slow to anger and abundant in loving kindness and truth,

7 preserving loving kindness for thousands, forgiving iniquity and rebellion and sin; yet He does not completely clear [of sin] He visits the iniquity of parents on children and children’s children, to the third and fourth generations.”

Three Lessons

God told Moshe (Shemot 33:17) that his prayer was accepted. Moshe realized that this was an opportunity that he should grasp. Moshe wanted a deeper understanding of God and of His ways so he asked to see God’s glory.

God answers Moshe’s request in verses 33:19-23. What is his answer?

I understand, based on Rashi, that God tells Moshe three things.

1. You can’t see My glory. That is too much for any man to comprehend.

2. It is time to teach you and the Jewish people how to pray whenever they sin.

3. You can only understand events after some time has elapsed.

Comprehension

Moshe wanted to see God’s glory. God told Moshe that no man could survive such an experience. As verse 33:20 says, “for man shall not see Me and live.”

God tells him that (verse 33:19), “I will let all My goodness pass before you.”

Moshe asked for “glory” and he is being offered “goodness.”

Rashi interprets this as meaning God will show Moshe some of His glory. In other words, when God shows Moshe all His goodness, He is revealing to him as much of His glory as Moshe is capable of comprehending.

Prayer

As a result of the sin of the Golden Calf, Moshe prayed for the people and his prayer was accepted.

God now tells Moshe that there was an even better way to pray.

A main component of Moshe’s prayer was Shemot 32:13:

Remember Abraham, Isaac, and Israel, Your servants, to whom You swore by Your very Self, and to whom You said: “I will multiply your seed like the stars of the heavens, and all this land which I said that I would give to your seed, they shall keep it as their possession forever.”

God tells Moshe, your prayer was based on the merits of the forefathers (zechut avot).

Such a prayer is fine when there is still a reservoir of merit. What about after that merit is exhausted? You might despair of being able to pray and think that all hope is lost.

That is not true. You can always invoke the 13 Divine Attributes (middot).

That is what God showed Moshe in chapter 34:6-7.

God promised Moshe that any prayer based on the 13 Divine Attributes would always be answered favorably.

Understanding Events

God told Moshe that he could not see His face, but he could see His back.

God has no physical form. Whenever the Torah attributes physical features to God we must understand the message the verse is teaching.

The Gemara in Tractate Berachot (6a) says that God wear tefillin. Just as Jewish men wear tefillin, so does God.

The tefillin are small boxes made out of leather that contain verses from the Torah. The verses praise God for taking the Jewish people out of Egypt.

The Gemara asks what verses are in God’s tefillin? The Gemara lists the verses and we see that all of the verses are praises of the Jewish people.

I think we can (partially) understand it this way. Saying that God wears tefillin just as people do is a demonstration of the mutual relationship between God and the Jewish people.

Rashi explains, based on the Gemara, that when God shows Moshe his back, what Moshe saw was the knot of God’s tefillin.

The tefillin that is worn on the head has a knot in the back and two straps hanging down. What would this mean in relation to God’s tefillin? I think it symbolizes the Divine force or influence that extends from God into this world.

Moshe could not see God’s face, but he saw His back. Seeing the back means he saw the knot of God’s tefillin and the straps (the Divine influence) coming into this world.

We cannot understand events as they are happening. Everything seems random and without any order.

It is only after some time has elapsed that we have any hope of understanding the Divine hand that guided events and brought them to a proper conclusion.

After God had passed by Moshe, He removed the hand that was covering Moshe and Moshe saw the tefillin knot. Only with hindsight could he understand the events that he lived through.

The Lesson from Purim

The events that are described in Megilat Esther illustrate this point.

Here are some of them:

  • King Achashveros hosts a banquet.
  • He commands Queen Vashti to appear before him. She refuses.
  • Queen Vashti is executed for her rebellion.
  • A nationwide beauty contest is help to select a new queen.
  • Many women are eager to participate.
  • Esther does not want to participate, but she is forced to.
  • Esther is chosen to be queen.
  • Two men plot to kill King Achashveros.
  • Mordechai hears their plot and reports it.
  • Mordechai saved the King’s life, but he is not rewarded.
  • Haman is appointed second in command of the kingdom.
  • Mordechai does not bow before Haman.
  • Because Mordechai does not bow Haman plots to kill all the Jews.
  • The King (without knowing all the details) grants Haman’s request to eliminate a “problem” in the kingdom.
  • Haman decides that he wants to kill Mordechai.
  • One night the King can’t sleep.
  • That night he reads about Mordechai saving his life and that he was not rewarded.
  • Just then Haman appears before the King.
  • The King orders Haman to reward Mordechai.
  • Esther reveals to the King that she is Jewish and that Haman is trying to kill her and all her people.
  • Haman is hanged.

Remember all of these events happened over a period of about nine years.

Imagine how they would have looked to the people alive at that time. Imagine how each event could have been reported by the local newspapers.

The events don’t appear to be related at all. It is only after the fact that we can see the threads that bring them all together.

That’s the lesson of the knot of God’s tefillin.

Your Turn

Please share your ideas and suggested answers in the comments.

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Picture of Mitzpe Ramon, Israel by Shlomo Skinner.

After the Golden Calf

Mitzpe Ramon - A Rock

Mitzpe Ramon - Not Har Sinai, but how I imagine it.

Parashat Ki Tisa 5772

If it’s possible for a whole nation to have a bad hair day, then the Jewish people had one.

The people were confused about when Moshe would return from Har Sinai. They got anxious and urged Aharon to make a visual representation of God (Shemot 32: 1-6).

This is the event that is called Cheit HaEigal or the Golden Calf.

After Moshe returned to the camp, he destroyed the Golden Calf. He then went back up to Har Sinai to plead for the people (Shemot 32:30-32).

Moshe pleaded with HaShem that the Divine Presence would remain with the people. Here is part of that exchange (translation from Judaica Press):

Shemot Chapter 33

17 And the Lord said to Moses: “Even this thing that you have spoken, I will do, for you have found favor in My eyes, and I have known you by name.”

18 And he said: “Show me, now, Your glory!”

19 He said: “I will let all My goodness pass before you; I will proclaim the name of the Lord before you, and I will favor when I wish to favor, and I will have compassion when I wish to have compassion.”

20 And He said, “You will not be able to see My face, for man shall not see Me and live.”

21 And the Lord said: “Behold, there is a place with Me, and you shall stand on the rock.

22 And it shall be that when My glory passes by, I will place you into the cleft of the rock, and I will cover you with My hand until I have passed by.

23 Then I will remove My hand, and you will see My back but My face shall not be seen.”

My Questions

Shemot 33:17

What does it mean that Moshe found favor in God’s eyes and that God knows him by name? Doesn’t God know everyone?

Shemot 33:18

What does Moshe want to see? In this context, what is God’s glory?

Shemot 33:19

Why does God say He will show Moshe all of His goodness? Is this the same as His glory?

How can God show Moshe “all My goodness”? The word “all” implies that it is finite!

How does the rest of the verse answer Moshe’s question?

Shemot 33:20

Since we are taught that God does not have a physical form, how are we to understand God’s face?

Shemot 33:21

What is this place that is “with” God?

Shemot 33:22

This verse again uses the word glory instead of goodness. Why?

In the previous verse Moshe was standing on the rock, now he is placed in the cleft of the rock. Why the difference?

What does God’s hand symbolize in this verse?

Shemot 33:23

What does it mean that Moshe can see God’s back?

Why repeat that Moshe cannot see God’s face?

Purim Bonus Question

We celebrate Purim this week. Can you relate the Golden Calf and these verses to Megilat Esther?

Your Turn

Please share your questions and suggested answers in the comments.

Like what your read here? Please sign up for email updates to Thinking Torah.

I finished writing my free ebook How to Learn Chumash with Rashi. You can get your copy by subscribing to Thinking Torah.

Picture of Mitzpe Ramon, Israel by Shlomo Skinner.
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