Asher Shafrir
Former Shaliach in Melbourne


After last week’s parsha- containing the rather depressing episode of the egel (golden calf) – there is something quite exciting about the events of this parsha. Am Yisraelis requested to donate to the Mishkan. The Torah describes the rapid national effort to collect all the supplies which are needed. In fact, the gold, silver, clothes and gemstones arrive so quickly, that Betzalel, who is in charge of building the Mishkan,asks Moshe to instruct the people to cease their contributions. As the Torah states:

“And the nation was held back (vayikaley) from bringing.” (Shmot 36:6)

The word vayikaley- related to kelah(jail) – suggests that it is necessary to literally restrain the nation from further donations.

Moreover, when the potential contributors are told that their donations are superfluous, they are distressed and try to convince Betzalel to accept their offerings nevertheless. The large number of rejected donors leads to an uproar, and the distraught people are forced out of the Mishkan.

Yet, we must ask why these donations are rejected? Even if the additional gifts were strictly unnecessary, why could these contributions have not been accepted regardless?

Several Chassidic commentators address this issue on a spiritual plane. They wonder how a Jew can be denied an opportunity – such as donating to Hashem’s House – to get closer to Hashem. Also, does this idea apply to our own time as well?

According to the S’fat Emet, by bringing an unnecessary gift, one may be, in effect, fulfilling one’s own desires – rather than heeding Hashem’s will. Sometimes, the S’fat Emet observes, ostensible service of Hashem is, in actuality, self-worship. (For example, one might be gratifying one’s wish to come across as a righteous person.) Yet by limiting one’s desire to approach Hashem, a person can ensure that he is truly serving Hashem – and not his own self.

Similarly, R’ Nachman of Breslav (Likutei Moharan 72) cites the fact that at Har Sinai, Bnei Yisraelare not permitted to ascend the mountain. Here, too, we see that Am Yisrael is denied an opportunity to approach Hashem. R’ Nachman explains that the yetzer hara(the evil inclination) wants a person to try to get too close to Hashem. Thus, Moshe warns Bnei Yisraelto avoid yielding to that temptation and, therefore, commands them not to climb the mountain.

One should spend one’s entire life drawing closer to Hashem. However, a momentarily elevating or inspiring experience does not achieve this goal. Therefore, both the S’fat Emet and R’ Nachman advise against these types of transient or ephemeral experiences, which are motivated by the yetzer hara.

With gratitude to Arielle Perlow for her linguistic help.