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The Torah's Weekly Portions
Exodus/Shmot - Vayakhel
Contributed 2008 by Asher ben Shimon
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Sefer (Book)

Shmot (Exodus)

Beginning Perek (Chapter):

Lamed Hay (35)

Beginning Pasuk (Verse):

Alef (1)

Concluding Perek:

Lamed Chet(38)

Concluding Pasuk:

Kaf (20)

R' Nathan's Law

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This week's Torah portions Vayak'hel records the actual implementation of G-d's instructions on how to build the Mishkan (Tabernacle), recounted earlier in the Parshah of Terumah

After it tells us how the men gave their wood, animal hides and other materials, and the women spun the wool, linen and goat hair, it tells us that the tribal heads brought the precious stones for the High Priest's apron and breastplate and the herbs for the Anointing Oil and the Incense.

Rashi realized that it was interesting that the account of the leaders' donations comes after everyone else'. He quotes the following Midrash to explain:

"Rabbi Nathan said: What prompted the princes to donate for the dedication of the altar first before the rest of the Jews while in contrast they did not donate first for the work of the Mishkan? This is what the princes said, "Let the community donate what they will donate, and whatever they are missing [i.e., whatever is left to be donated] we will complete."

Since the community completed everything, as it is said: "And the work was sufficient", the princes said, "What are we to do?" So they brought the shoham stones, etc. Therefore, they brought donations first for the dedication of the altar.

Since at first they were lazy, a letter is missing from their name. (the words princes in Hebrew is Nesi'im which is usually spelled with two 'yud's. Here it is spelled with only one 'yud'.)"

There are several questions that come to mind when reading this Rashi.

First of all the way Rashi poses the question has to be understood. He asks why by the ALTAR the princes donated first. Since we are not reading about the altar here, the question should have been formulated differently. It should have said "Why did they donate last by the mishkan?"

The answer also needs clarification. Why does Rashi elaborate so much when it comes to the princes' reasoning? He should have just said: "Since they were lazy etc." Why is it important for us to know that they originally intended to give whatever would be missing?

Rashi seems to contradict his own words. First he says that the community completed EVERYTHING, but then the princes still found what to give.

That in itself needs to be understood. Why didn't the other people donate those gems and oil?

On the other hand we also have to understand why the princes felt a need to donate first by the altar as a result of not having donated anything by the mishkan. Ultimately they DID donate essential items to the Mishkan.

"Let the community donate what they will donate, and whatever they are missing we will complete."

What does "whatever they are missing" mean? It should have said "whatever they don't bring".

When they saw there was nothing left to bring they said: "What are we to do?" Why didn't they say "what should we BRING?"

In general we have to understand why the Torah is telling us all this. Isn't this slander? Why is it important for us to know that the tribal leaders were lazy people? And if they were really so much lazier than all the other people, why had they been selected to become the leaders?

R' Nathan's question was why the princes donated FIRST by the altar. It never bothered him that they donated last by the Mishkan. Obviously, according to his understanding, the right thing to do for a leader is to donate LAST. Therefore Rashi brings R' Nathan's question here, by the Mishkan, to EXPLAIN why here they were last. In other words, since there it is a question why they weren't last by the altar, it is understood why they were last here by the Mishkan.

This level of complete dedication of a leader to the people Rashi discussed earlier in connection with Moshe. Before the Torah was given, Moshe ascended the mountain and was told by Hashem to instruct the Jewish people to prepare themselves for the giving of the Torah.

"Moshe descended from the mountain to the people, and he prepared the people."

Rashi comments: "This teaches us that Moshe did not turn to his own affairs, but went directly from the mountain to the people. "

To think Moshe would take care of his private business instead of following Hashem's instructions is absurd. That is not what Rashi is telling us. Rashi is saying that Moshe did not take care of his own spiritual preparations before helping the people he was the leader of. If the giving of the torah was such important an event that everyone was instructed to be prepared, Moshe, who would be the one to bring it down from heaven, certainly needed preparation. Nevertheless he went to the people first before he took care of his own spiritual affairs.

Similarly the princes took care of the people's needs before their own. They said :
"Let the community donate what they will donate" - Let them fulfill their potential - "and whatever they are missing we will complete." It doesn't say "what they wont bring". As leaders they would make sure everyone brought whatever was expected from him. Only if they would be missing something, i.e. they would not have the particular items needed, the princes would help out.

That explains why after they realized that everything had been donated they said : "What are we to do?" instead of "What should we bring?". They were wondering if there was still anything left for them to do in their role as leader. It was then, after they came to the conclusion that they had helped all their tribe members reach their fullest potential, that they started thinking about how to fulfill their own obligation to donate to the Mishkan.

The Torah says that the community completed everything yet there was still left what to give.

Although this seems to be a contradiction it can be very easily explained. The community donated all the necessary materials which they found among their possessions. However, there were a few items which they did not have such as the shoham stones. Knowing that they would have to be purchased, they donated plenty of money to buy the lacking materials. The princes somehow did have access to the precious stones and herbs that were still missing. By donating them however, they did not really fill a need in the Mishkan since the money to buy them was already there. Therefore they felt as if they did not really take part in the contribution, which is what prompted them to be the first on line when it came to the altar.

Based on this explanation that the task of a prince is to first deal with his following before taking care of his own needs, we have to understand why by the altar they came first.

Although their waiting too long by the Mishkan is considered 'laziness', it is hard to say that atonement for that comes by acting in a way contrary to that of a leader by donating BEFORE everyone else.

The Mishkan was built after the sin of the golden calf. Hashem said he would rest His presence in the physical structure of the tabernacle. Returning G-d's presence to the Jewish people was therefore dependent on the completion of the Mishkan. As leaders of the Jewish nation, the princes had to see to it that this essential need was fulfilled as soon as possible. Therefore, although in general a leader has to wait till his congregation has done their best, in this case they had to act different for the benefit of the people. Since atonement for the sin of the golden calf was depending on the completion of the Mishkan, the leaders were meant to give their own donation together with the rest of the people. At the same time they were of course also meant to urge all their followers to their part.

Since the inauguration of the altar was also for the benefit of the entire Jewish people, they made up for their original mistake by donating first, thereby hastening the return of Hashem's presence to the Jewish people.

What was it that caused the princes not to act in a way they were supposed to in this specific situation?

They did not take the law of R' Nathan (the one who discusses this issue) into consideration.

The Talmudic sage R' Nathan is mostly known for a law he instituted. The law is as follows. When A owes money to B, and B owes money to C, then C can go directly to A to get the money he owes to B (if it is the same amount). Although A's connection to C is only through B; when it comes to paying the debt B is no longer in the picture. The princes knew they had two obligations. On one hand they had to take care of their communities, and on the other hand they had to donate to the Mishkan. They figured that urging their people to give would be enough to be considered building the Mishkan. After all, without their involvement the people would possibly give much less.

This is what they said: "Let the community donate what they will donate, and whatever they are missing we will complete." In their minds there was no need for them to give at all unless there would be something lacking.

According to the law of R' Nathan they were wrong though. Although the connection of A (the people donating) to C (the mishkan -Hashem) went through B (the princes urging them to give), the law is that B is no longer part of the picture.

Only when -beyond their wildest expectations- everything had been donated, the princes started to feel left out.

Since they had been 'lazy' the Torah took away the letter 'yud' from their name.

The letter 'yud' is a small dot. It shows on self-nullification. This was something the tribe leaders were missing (in a very subtle manner). Although they put away their personal interest and totally dedicated their time and effort to help other people, they still wanted to receive credit for their actions as leaders. They felt as if it had been their personal achievement that the people had donated so much to the Mishkan.

To teach them a lesson, Hashem made sure that EVERYTHING was given so that the princes would feel left out. Like everything else in the Torah there is a lesson every individual can take from this.

Every Jew is meant to be a leader. In general one must always try to be a role model to his surroundings and be a good influence on his neighbors. More in particular everyone has to rule his own body to make it do what it has to and not do what it isn't allowed to. In order to do this properly, we have to always remember that the success we have with it is not our own achievement, but as a result of the help we get from above.

Then we won't make the mistake the princes made then, and suffice ourselves with making others do good, but we will add in our own service of G-d till we bring about the coming of Moshiach NOW!


Translations in Torah Portions of the week are partially taken from the ArtScroll Stone Edition Chumash and from Rav Samson Raphael Hirsch Chumash

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