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Vayakhel-Pekudei 5769-2009

“All For The Sake of Heaven”

by Rabbi Ephraim Z. Buchwald

Parashiot Vayakhel-Pekudei are, for the most part, repetitions of the instructions that are found in parashiot Terumah and Tetzaveh that focused on building the sanctuary and designing the priestly vestments. Also recorded in these parashiot is an account of the actual building of the Tabernacle and the manufacture of the priestly garments.

All told, there are five recapitulations that the Ramban, in his commentary on Exodus 36:8, identifies in these Torah portions. The Ramban suggests that the reason for these numerous recapitulations was to increase the reward for those engaged in the labor, since the details reflect the love and esteem with which the Tabernacle is regarded by the Al-Mighty.

It has been suggested by Nehama Leibowitz that the mitzvot to bring the first fruits and to deliver the first born animals to G-d show that Jews dedicate their goods and belongings to the Al-Mighty. So too, through the efforts invested in the Tabernacle, Jews show the preciousness of the skills and mental prowess with which they are endowed, and that are employed in their devotion to G-d. Particularly now, before the people enter the Promised Land, settle in their own homes and plant their vineyards, it is appropriate for them to be called upon to dedicate their skills and abilities to G-d, so that the work of their hands shall truly be for the sake of Heaven.

In light of the emphasis on dedicating one’s property and skills to G-d, an additional reason for the recapitulation may be that there is always a lurking danger of overemphasizing extravagance that may result from the misuse of one’s powers and endowments.

Although G-d gave the people of Israel explicit instructions how to build the Tabernacle, He never gave them specific guidelines how to “build” their lives. He never told them how much emphasis to place on the spiritual as opposed to the material. Now that the children of Israel are on their way to the land of Israel where they will finally be at rest from their enemies, they will hopefully prosper and have the opportunity to engage in various labors. There they will employ the very same artistic and ornamental skills that were used when building the Tabernacle. No longer will they need a Tabernacle, because King Solomon will build an extraordinary home for the Holy Ark–the Temple–one of the most magnificent edifices of ancient times.

But how are the people to make certain that their love for pleasure and luxury does not exceed all bounds, and mislead them? How are they to make sure that they are not seduced by the extraordinary beauty and luxury? The answer, perhaps, lies in the reiterations and repetitions found in the texts of the Tabernacle instructions.

By providing an exceedingly detailed description of the Tabernacle, the Torah teaches the people what the bottom line of all their efforts must be. It is precisely what Rabbi Yose teaches in Ethics of the Fathers 2:19, that all one’s deeds must be “for the sake of heaven.” It doesn’t really matter how little or how much the effort or expense, as long as it is done with the proper intent, not for personal glory or exaltation, but for G-d’s glory.

Rabbi Berel Wein, in his commentary to Pirkei Avos, notes that there are many things that people do to convince themselves that what they are doing is for “the sake of Heaven.” He cites the ironic comments of Rabbi Yisroel Lipkin of Salant and Rabbi Bunim of P’shis’cha that people must make certain that their “sake of Heaven” is truly for the sake of Heaven!

Even routine, daily actions may be done for the sake of Heaven. For example, the great sage Hillel taught his students that cleansing one’s body is a mitzvah. The Midrash Rabbah in Leviticus 34, recounts that Hillel’s students once inquired of him, “Where are you going?” He responded, “To do a mitzvah.” They asked him, “What mitzvah?” He said, “To bathe in the bathhouse.” They then asked, “Is that truly a mitzvah?” “Of course,” He answered, “After all, are not monuments of the king placed in theaters and in public plazas? The king’s workers, who are charged with cleaning and polishing these sculptures, are paid handsomely by the king to properly maintain these statues. How much more so must I, who have been created in the image of G-d, take care of my physical being.”

Rabbi Samson Raphael Hirsch points out that even the good deeds that one does may lose much of their value if they are motivated by expectations of personal gain and honor, instead of being done for the sake of Heaven. So, for instance, taking care of one’s physical body for the sake of Heaven lifts the concern for personal care beyond the realm of the mere physical, and transforms it into a duty, performed in the service of G-d.

Avraham Shtahl, in his commentary to Pirkei Avot, cites the opinion of the Or HaChaim emphasizing that even negative actions, like scolding a student or punishing someone who has broken a law, may be done “L’shaym Shamayim,” for the sake of Heaven, in order to prevent further evil and to admonish others not to follow in evil paths.

That is why the value of the actions of the people of Israel who constructed the Tabernacle cannot be overstated. It is a profound lesson that the Torah is teaching, that all one’s actions, even what seems to be mundane and insignificant, must be done with a fullness of heart and sincerity, in order to achieve its maximum impact and benefit.

May you be blessed.

This Shabbat, also known as Shabbat HaChodesh, is the last of the four special Shabbatot that surround the holiday of Purim. On this Shabbat a thematic Torah portion concerning the new month of Nissan is read from Exodus 12:1-20.