We have learned that the Mishkan parallels a Jew's neshamah, in that it is our task to make a suitable dwelling place for HaShem in our hearts. This is one's own avodah, accomplished by one's service to HaShem. This week's Sedra, Vayakhel relates that Am Yisrael brought two kinds of donations to the Mishkan; firstly half a shekel was brought by all males over the age of 20; secondly a voluntary donation brought by anybody.
The half shekel was a limited offering as opposed to other offerings which were unlimited.
The half shekel was limited in that it was exactly half a shekel, not more not less. Additionally, it was not available to the rich or poor to give less or more. Finally, this offering was limited in that only those who were over the age of 20 and male could bring it.
The half shekel was used to make the foundations of the Mishkan.
The other donations to the Mishkan were quite different, in that they were without limitation. The rich could give more, the poor could give less and, women and children could also give. In fact, these donations were so excessive, that Moshe Rabbeinu had to call a halt to their presentations because people brought them in such abundance.
More deeply, the building of the Mishkan was a kapporah, (an atonement) for the sin of the Golden Calf. This, as we have seen in Week 21, is a difficult sin to understand.
Our people had broken through the boundaries of physical, psychological and spiritual bondage in leaving Mitzrayim. They had experienced a revelation of G-dliness so great, that that which was covered in the world was revealed and exposed to the point that the sea, (the physical symbol of concealment), opened. They had heard HaShem give the Ten Commandments. Yet in one day of Moshe's unexpected absence, they stumbled and fell, making, and then worshipping, a calf made of gold!
When Am Yisrael was forgiven on Yom Kippur eighty days later, the first task for Moshe Rabbeinu was to collect half a shekel from every male above the age of twenty for the Mishkan as an atonement for this sin of the Golden Calf. One of the basic principles in Chassidus is that there is in every yeridah the potential aliyah (ascent). Indeed, the very descent is for the specific purpose of a subsequent ascent. This is true of the Jewish nation, groups of Jews and ultimately, every Jew. One of the great tools in understanding one's purpose, is the recognition of this phenomenon. Nevertheless, the descent can obviously be unpleasant, but, by realizing that it is for the purpose of ultimate ascent, man is liberated to focus on his potential and his goals.
One of the main triggers for descent at a national level (and indeed at a personal level) is lack of unity. Lack of unity with HaShem as a nation, precipitates national descent. Where there is absolute unity there is no descent. Indeed as we will see where there is absolute unity between Jew and G-d the Jew can function outside of nature. This is a very important principle which is at the same time very difficult to absorb as daas. We, whether as a nation or as individuals, are outside of nature when we function at a level of absolute unity with HaShem. Then we are untouched by natural forces.
Tales of tzaddikim are replete with this concept. When a Jew acts merely as a chariot for the will of HaShem, when his own needs are first subservient and ultimately irrelevant, his relationship with HaShem puts him outside of nature. This accounts for the countless stories of tzaddikim untouched by otherwise overwhelming environments. One of the great Rebbe's of Europe, Reb Meir of Premishlan, when asked how he could run up a mountainside covered in ice, without slipping (to his peril), explained simply that the required grip is not upon what is below, but upon what is above. True unity with HaShem's will lifts a man outside nature domination.
The antithesis of unity with HaShem is idol worship. This is a sin which requires punishment even for women and children. Understanding this, it follows logically that the kapporah for idol worship was a system of organized unity. The building of the Mishkan in which men, women and children participated, whether in a limited or unlimited way, achieved this.
Since idol worship is so serious a transgression it is worth understanding. Idol worship does not entail denial of the existence of G-d altogether. As we will learn elsewhere, no Jew can sincerely be a total atheist. There is a level in every Jew which relates personally with G-d, indeed carrying on a personal dialogue with Him. If a Jew denies a belief in G-d, he is either lying for vested intellectual or emotional reasons, or he is not a Jew.
Since as we have seen, there is no Jew without some belief in G-d, the transgression of idol worship does not mean a lack of belief. It is, rather, the belief that there are spiritual forces that exist which have their reality outside of G-d's Will. Idol worship began historically with people noticing that there was a sun, moon and stars which demonstrated certain obvious powers; the sun to engender growth, the moon to move the seas and the planets to exert forces in the Zodiac. The mistake was then made in ascribing an independence to those powers, rather than realizing that they are merely an ax in the hand of a woodchopper. A felled tree cannot be credited to the ax. Clearly, without the woodchopper the ax would be useless.
Jews are prohibited to ascribe independent power to the ax. We must recognize HaShem as the Force and the other powers are merely tools through which He works. (For this reason we are prohibited accessing the Zodiac. Although it is true that the Zodiac has predictive value, Jews do not deal with it recognizing the requirement of dealing with the King and not the ministers.)
Gentiles are not prohibited having an involvement with the Zodiac. We on the other hand are forbidden to admire any delegated power for its own sake whether the planetary system, art, beauty or the voracious power of our generation, money. All are to be admired, but only as instruments of HaShem's will.
The converse of idol worship, is unity with HaShem. It is the understanding that between a Jew and his G-d and between a Jew and his environment, there is absolute unity. With spectacles molded from Chassidus, we witness that when a Jew does something which unifies himself with the will of HaShem, he is lifted up above nature. When he does not, he is dominated by nature. The remainder of the world live as part of nature and are content. A Jew cannot be satisfied there. To be outside nature, a Jew needs to live like a Jew, with his will subservient to that of G-d.
How is this achieved? With the perspective that there is nothing outside of G-dliness. All else is a curtain, the Curtain of nature. It is the task of the nations of this world to study and develop this curtain and history testifies to the breathtaking success of this study and development. Mankind has forged technology and created art. From the car and computer to beautiful music and wonderful opera; from complex building and transport systems to great drama and literature. Since creation, these developments have testified to the nobility of the human race.
It must be understood however, that this whole process, no matter how great, is a process of developing the Curtain and only the Curtain. The task of Am Yisrael is to be connected to That Which is behind the curtain; to infuse physicality with G-dliness. For a Jew, HaShem, His curtain and Am Yisrael are all one.
How does a Jew reach the level where he recognizes this? His perspective needs to be that all his actions are orchestrated solely for the purpose of doing HaShem's will.
There are two states to achieve this level. One begins by improving his agenda so that it is ultimately in common with the will of HaShem. These are a Jew's first steps on the climb of his mountain. He may begin by cutting out pig and prawns, tearfully saying good-bye to treif wine. He will slowly add in tefillin and Shabbos and begin the journey of learning Torah. These are difficult but rewarding expeditions. Life will begin to form up new aspects of satisfaction, balance and harmony. A man will see improvement in his life.
But, this is not a level sufficient to eclipse nature. What is then required, is a change of perspective. With effort and constant striving, this perspective can be taken on momentarily, then for part of the day. Parts of the day can become part of the week, month and year. Ultimately the perspective is that there is no other agenda, a Jew living tuned into the Will of HaShem alone. Clearly, one must make a living, fix his childrens' teeth and deal with the banks. But all is a matter of perspective. If the perspective is disoriented by the patterns on the curtain, a Jew will live a confused life limited by constant inspection of the drapery. There will be beautiful lights and melodies, even nobility there. But for a Jew, his only schedule is serving HaShem. He does this accessing all of the threads of the curtain - making a living and dealing and coping with daily problems. But he remains always connected, absolutely, with That Which is behind it. Everyday, every hour, every minute, every moment. It is then that a Jew is not limited by nature and can achieve anything.
Why then was the sin of the golden calf so terrible? Because this idol worship was the absolute denial of the very root of our existence; our very purpose of being unified with G-d.
The danger continues to beckon. Let us take an example. Do you believe in cash flows? For a gentile belief in cash flows is common sense. For a Jew, cash flows are avodah zorah. A Jew's livelihood is set on Rosh HaShanah not by cash flows. A Jew's livelihood is influenced by factors which do not exist on a computer program. What influences the amount of a Jew's income is the amount of tzedakah (charity) he gives, the amount of Torah he learns, the mitzvos he keeps. Unity with HaShem influences a Jew's livelihood, not cash flows. Serving cash flows is akin to following the Zodiac. The Bank Manager should be asking a Jew not for his cash flows, but for the length of time he learned in the given period. Did he learn more than yesterday? Did he daven with intention? Did he put on tefillin and was he equally scrupulous with all his mitzvos?
At the ultimate level for a Jew, everything is a matter of this concept of unity. Every member of Am Yisrael, man, woman or child is obligated to build a Mishkan, a dwelling place for HaShem, in the heart and soul of very Jew. If the dwelling place achieves unity with HaShem, we are guaranteed a life free from worry, a life endowed with peace of mind and happiness.
In the week of Parshas Vayakhel the light of Unity blazes. Conversely, if a man's life needs improvement, success is available this week by increasing his unity of being with HaShem. There is this week, the special opportunity to focus on the mistake of honoring the tools, rather than the Force behind them; to adjust one's life to be more in line with the only focus with which a Jew can fully fulfill his potential.
- (Back to text) See Sefer HaSichos 5750, Vol. II p. 535, fn. 11, see also p. 595ff.
- (Back to text) Derech Mitzvosecha p. 6a ff.
- (Back to text) See Likkutei Sichos, Vayechi 5751, sec. 5.
- (Back to text) Beitzah 16a; See also Kuntres U'Mayon, Ch. 18ff.
- (Back to text) Rosh HaShanah 16a; Kuntres U'Mayon 25:2ff.