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by Rabbi Yaakov Menken

"Moshe gathered all the congregation of the children of Israel, and he said to them, 'these are the things which HaShem has commanded [us] to do: for six days you shall do labor, and the seventh day shall be holy for you...' And Moshe spoke to the entire congregation of the children of Israel, saying, 'this is the thing which HaShem has commanded, saying, "take from yourselves gifts for HaShem; all with a giving heart, let them bring..."'" [35:1-2, 4-5]

Thus HaShem instructed the children of Israel to bring gifts of materials, and to construct the Mishkan, the holy tabernacle. But note that the Torah almost repeats itself: "this is what HaShem has commanded you: observe the Sabbath; this is what HaShem has commanded you: build the Mishkan." Furthermore, the entire paragraph about Sabbath observance seems superfluous, because this commandment is described in many other places. Why should it be necessary to repeat this commandment, and why must it immediately precede building the Mishkan?

To explain this, the Medrash offers a parable:

The king decided to build himself a new palace. But he wasn't satisfied leaving the job with others; rather, he called together leading architects and contractors to discuss how it should be built, and he gave them instructions about every detail. Every waking moment was spent consulting with yet another expert, watching the workers lay the foundation, or simply dreaming about how this marvelous structure was going to look.

The queen noticed. Meaning, the queen noticed that the king didn't notice her. So she came into the room one day, while he was discussing the matter with one more leading architect, and complained that he was so caught up in building this palace that he was ignoring her!

The king (much to his credit, and the future of his metaphorical marriage) recognized that she was right. He immediately commanded that a party be held to honor the queen, the very next day.

HaShem cautioned the children of Israel not to forget the Sabbath in their excitement over building the Mishkan. Building the Mishkan was certainly a great Mitzvah, but nonetheless we could not lose sight of our basic priorities. Although some might have "lost themselves" building the Mishkan, perhaps even explaining that building it meant more to their own contact with G-d, the Torah tells us G-d's own priorities, and He, after all, knows better how we should approach Him.

What is the difference between an idealist and a fanatic? For some people, the answer seems to be that an idealist is someone totally dedicated to an idea with which he agrees or sympathizes, whereas a fanatic is someone totally dedicated to something with which he disagrees. [Humor intended, and no offense to anyone.]

I think this parsha gives us a better answer. Both types of people are dedicated to making the world a better place, and both believe that specific objectives must be achieved to do this. But a fanatic loses sight of more basic priorities. Without even thinking about it, she concludes that "the ends justify the means." The idealist realizes that preserving the forests is a good thing; the fanatic places metal pegs into trees in order to break chainsaws and maim the loggers using them. The idealist works to reduce the number of abortions for convenience; the fanatic bombs family planning clinics. The idealist works to preserve Jewish life; the fanatic shoots the Prime Minister of Israel.

We obviously don't need such extreme examples in order to find extremism. Dedication to ideals doesn't make a fanatic - but losing touch with more basic priorities. You don't break the Sabbath, even to build a Mishkan!

Text Copyright © 1997 Rabbi Yaakov Menken and Project Genesis, Inc.
The author is the Director of Project Genesis.



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