By Rabbi Pinchas Winston
Well, it is a leap year this year, and thus, even though Vayakhel and
Pekudei often are read together on the same Shabbos, this year, they are
read on different Shabboses (Shabbatos). However, it is also Parashas
Shekalim (the first of the four special parshios read at this time of year)
letting us know that Purim-Pesach season is now picking steam. (It's time
to start checking the batteries on your "Chometz-Busters.")
As we learned in last week's parshah, there is a Torah mitzvah for every
Jew -- rich and poor alike -- to contribute one-half shekel yearly for the
purchase of Communal-Offerings during Temple times. The payment was due by
Rosh Chodesh Nissan, and therefore, on the previous Rosh Chodesh Adar,
public announcements were made to remind people about the upcoming
On the fifteenth day of Adar (Shushan Purim), collections were set up in
each city, encouraging the people to give early, because, as of the
twenty-fifth day of Adar, collections took place only in the Temple.
Therefore, as part of the early-warning system, the parshah of the mitzvah
of the half-shekel was read in shul the Shabbos in advance of Rosh Chodesh
Adar, since everyone came to synagogue to hear the Torah.
Since we are a people who love our tradition, we continue on with this
practice even though we don't bring the half-shekel at this time of
history. Furthermore, we also know that, when we can't physically do a
mitzvah for reasons beyond our (immediate) control, reading and speaking
about the mitzvah can count as the actual mitzvah itself to some degree.
And besides, it reminds us about how much we should miss the Temple, and
long for its immediate return.
Of course, as always, there is a more esoteric reason for it as well:
Reish Lakish said, "It was revealed and known before the One whose word
created the world, that Haman would weigh out shekalim in order to attain
the consent of Achashveros to destroy the Jewish people. He [G-d] therefore
preceded their shekalim to his, and for this reason we learn that on the
first of Adar an announcement is to be made concerning the shekalim.
Like the Mishkan itself, it is another classic case of the "medicine before
It gets deeper yet. Tosafos (on the same page of Talmud) points out that
the gematria of the word "hakesef" in the verse from the Megillah in which
Achashveros tells Haman, "The money (hakesef) is yours ... do with the
people as you wish," equals the word "ha'aitz," "the tree," an allusion to
the gallows that were meant for Mordechai but which were used for Haman.
But, of course, as the Pri Tzaddik points out, the "ha'aitz" of Haman is
also an allusion to the "ha'aitz" of the Garden of Eden, as in, "hamin
ha'aitz" -- the Talmud's hint in the Torah to Haman HaRashah (Chullin
139b)! Well, then, if "A equals B" (Haman's money alludes to the gallows he
built) and, "B equals C" (the gallows allude to the Tree of Knowledge of
Good and Evil), then, "A equals C," that is, Haman's money that he gave to
destroy the Jewish people is tied to the Tree of Knowledge of Good and
Furthermore, if the shekalim given in the desert -- and subsequently in
Temple times (and now verbally) -- was to counteract the money Haman
offered Achashveros for the "right" to kill the Jewish people, then, this
means that the same shekalim are also a rectification for the sin of Adam
HaRishon, who ate from the Tree of Knowledge of Good and Evil.
And, it is true! For, the word "shekel" comes from the Hebrew "lishkol,"
which means "to weigh" something, a Kabbalistic process that denotes the
achievement of balance between the two opposing forces in creation, Chesed
(Kindness) and Strength (Gevurah). Chesed, represented by water,
corresponds to the open revelation of G-d's light, and Gevurah, symbolized
by fire, represents the constriction of G-d's light.
Too much of either is counterproductive for creation, and life is a
tightrope walk of balancing out the two. All sins are the result of going
too far in one direction, especially at the wrong historical moment. The
eating of the Tree of Knowledge of Good and Evil was the result of excess
Gevuros on Adam's part and resulted in even more for history -- and the
spiritual vacuum that gives rise to the Hamans of history.
The half-shekel represented the striving for and achieving of that perfect
spiritual balance, and therefore, counteracts the negative forces in
creation from which Haman and the likes draw sustenance. And that is true
in Temple times and non-Temple times; whether we physically give the
half-shekel, or do so spiritually.
The princes brought onyx stones, and stones for setting, for the Ephod, and
for the Choshen. (Shemos 35:27)
The Midrash tells us something that had happened behind the scenes with
respect to the building and outfitting of the Mishkan, based upon the above
verse in this week's parshah. The word for "princes" is written without the
yud -- nun, sin, aleph, (yud), mem -- indicating a lacking in their gift.
Apparently, says the Midrash (Bamidbar Rabbah, 12:19), when Moshe first
received instructions to collect donations from the people for the vesselsto be used in the Mishkan, the princes told Moshe that they would take care
of everything. However, Moshe had been told by G-d to take a contribution
from anyone whose heart motivated him to give, and therefore the princes
suggestion was ignored.
Upon hearing this, continues the Midrash, the princes then chose a
different strategy, waiting until all of the people had given their
donations before making up the shortfall. It was a big miscalculation on
their part, because, as we see from the Torah, the people had been SO
generous that they had to be told to STOP giving after only TWO DAYS! All
of as sudden, the princes found themselves with all kinds of gifts and no
place to give!
This is a classic example of the well-known halachic concept, "Ain
ma'avirin al hamitzvos" ("don't pass over a mitzvah"). In other words, when
a mitzvah comes before you, do it NOW! For, you never know what will happen
in life to take that mitzvah away.
For example, sometimes we forget to do later what we put off now. Some
mitzvos have time limits, and we may remember to do them only after their
time has come and gone. Like saying the Shema, for example, at the
beginning of the evening as opposed to the later part of the evening.
Another example is the halacha of when a man takes his tefillin out of his
tallis bag first, even though normally he puts his tallis on first. In such
a case, he must put his tefillin on first, because that's the mitzvah
before him right now, and put his tallis on after, in reverse order.
Furthermore, there is another concept called "z'rizim makdimin l'mitzvos"
-- "zealots do mitzvos early." As much as our bodies may not be into doing
mitzvos, still, intellectually, we must develop a love for mitzvos as an
extension of our love for G-d, Torah, and world rectification -- and act
accordingly. Until we get to the point where we lovingly run to do mitzvos,
we should run to do them anyhow.
Divine Providence works this way. If we put off doing a mitzvah because of
another, more pressing mitzvah that requires our involvement, G-d will
often work it out that we will still have a chance to do both mitzvos. At
the very least, we will get the reward for doing both mitzvos, because our
heart was in them both.
However, if we put off doing a mitzvah for the wrong reasons -- laziness, a
lack of care, etc. -- then, we will be taught the "hard" way that this is a
faulty attitude, and lose the mitzvah to boot. Just ask the princes who
were left out of the free-will offerings for the Mishkan!
However, as the Talmud tells us (Megillah 6b), there are times when "ain
ma'avirin al hamitzvos" is pushed off for other concepts. For example, in a
leap year, even though the first Adar is a month within which Purim could
occur, still, we push it off to the second month, or, Adar Sheni.
Why? Because, says the Talmud, we want the redemption of Purim to be
celebrated as close as possible to the celebration of the redemption of
Pesach. But why should that be so all-important, so as to push off the
mitzvah of not passing over a mitzvah? THAT is the subject of the book,
"Redemption to Redemption: The Deep & Intricate Connection between the
Holidays of Purim and Pesach." (No, this whole d'var Torah was not just to
build up to that conclusion ...)
... Moshe commanded, and they caused it to be proclaimed throughout the
camp, saying, "Neither man nor woman should provide any more work for the
Elevated-Offering"; and the people stopped bringing. (Shemos 36:6)
This posuk is not as simple as it sounds. Why does it record that Moshe
"commanded" and that "they caused it to be proclaimed," when either one
would have informed us of the decree to stop bringing gifts. This is the
Chasam Sofer's question, and he answers it by first referring to the
following Talmudic passage:
The Talmud asks:
From which posuk do we learn the prohibition of carrying on Shabbos? Rebi
Yochanan said, from the verse, "Moshe commanded, and they caused it to be
proclaimed throughout the camp ..." Where was Moshe [at the time this was
proclaimed]? He was sitting in the camp of Levi'im, and the Levi'im's camp
was a "public domain," and Moshe was telling them not to come from their
"private domains" into the public domain [where he was because it is a
prohibition of Shabbos]. But, who says this was on Shabbos? Maybe this
happened during a weekday, [and the proclamation had nothing to do with
traversing domains on Shabbos, but rather] because the work was completed,
as it says, "the work was enough ..."? Rather, we learn it [from a
connection made between the usage of] "ha'avarah" [used in the above posuk,
and the use of the same word in posuk referring to] Yom Kippur; it is
written [above], "and they caused it to be proclaimed (vaya'avirah), and
with respect to Yom Kippur, "They shall cause the shofar to be blown
(veha'avartah) on the tenth day of the seventh month ..." (Vayikra 25:9) --
just as that day is one of prohibition, so, too, here [with respect to
Shabbos] is it a day of prohibition. (Shabbos 96b)
One could answer that, since, we hold that two people who do a melacha
would only violate a rabbinical prohibition, one could argue that, for the
sake of the Mishkan, it should be permissible -- just like they would
later permit rabbinical prohibitions for the Temple service. However, since
the work was completed, and nothing was necessary anymore for the Mishkan,
the prohibition remained; this is why the verse says, "Neither man nor
woman" together "should provide any more work for the Elevated-Offering"
(Chasam Sofer, Shemos 36:6)
-- as if to say that Moshe was telling the people that, "Even though
bringing the work TOGETHER would only constitute a violation of a
rabbinical prohibition, and therefore, should be permissible as if in
Temple times; still I am decreeing against it, since the Mishkan is already
complete, and violation of Shabbos even on this level is completely
unnecessary." Hence the verse begins, "And Moshe commanded ..." That is, of
his OWN volition, and not because G-d Himself told him to.
In other words, though normally we assume that Moshe's request for the
cessation of gift-bringing was simply because they had enough already,
according to this pshat, bringing extra was no problem, unless the bringing
meant violating Shabbos, even rabbinically. That would certainly solve one
issue: What is wrong with accepting extra gifts, if a person is inspired to
bring them for the right reasons?
Nothing, according to this explanation, for, the central issue has shifted
from too much giving to giving unnecessarily on Shabbos. Maybe on Sunday,
the gifts could flow once again! However, that wouldn't just change the
explanation of Moshe's directive, it would change the whole theme of the
parshah, placing the emphasis on keeping Shabbos rather than on the
building of the Mishkan. Then again, that would explain the apparent and
abrupt shift of focus from the mitzvah of Shabbos to the mitzvah of Mishkan
at the beginning of the parshah!
The only problem is that, the rest of the parshah deals so much with the
many details of the gifts for the Mishkan, that it is difficult to dispense
with the original explanation. Therefore, we are forced to answer, "This
and this are the words of the Living G-d," and to assume that the mitzvah
of Shabbos and the mitzvah of Mishkan are intimately tied together.
To Dovid, a psalm. G-d's is the earth and its fullness, the inhabited land
and those who dwell in it ... (Tehillim 24:1)
With this tehillah, we can explain the same one that appears in two
different places: at the end of dovening in the section of the "Psalm of
the Day," and, (according to Ashkenazim) at the end of the section of the
weekly Torah reading of weekdays and holidays.
That it should be the psalm for Sunday is quite clear. Sunday was the first
day of creation, and this tehillah sets the record straight -- ALL OF IT
belongs to G-d. And, even though He will give it over somewhat to man on
the sixth day of creation (Rosh Hashanah 31a), to act as a stage upon which
to exercise his free-will, it will always belong to HIM!
And, because it always belongs to G-d, the Talmud says (Brochos 35a), one
cannot take pleasure from the world until he has asked permission from G-d
-- each time. To partake of the physical world without making the proper
pleasure, says the Talmud, is like stealing from Heaven, or, perhaps even
worse, profaning holy property.
Who may ascend the mountain of G-d, and who may stand in the place of His
holiness? One with clean hands and a pure heart, who has not sworn in vain
by My soul and has not sworn deceitfully ...
There are many people who would like to talk to G-d and ascend "His
mountain." However, says Dovid HaMelech, it is not so simple. Like-company
can relate to G-d, which means that one has to undergo the proper
preparation to develop a close relationship with the Master of the
The Ba'al HaTurim has another way of saying it:
Torah is not in Heaven, so that you could ask, "Who will ascend for us to
Heaven and get it for us ..." (Devarim 30:12)
The first letters [of the Hebrew words "Who will ascend for us to Heaven"]
spell the word milah ; the last letters [of these words] spell Hashem (the
Tetragrammaton Name), to teach that it is impossible to ascend toward G-d
uncircumcized, as the posuk, which refers to milah, says, "Walk before Me
and be pure" (Bereishis 17:1). (Ba'al HaTurim)
... Raise up your heads, O gates, and raise up, you everlasting entrances,
so that the King of Glory man enter. Who then is the King of Glory? G-d,
Master of Legions -- He is the King of Glory. Selah!
Perhaps, this is an even better reason as to why this tehillah should be
the first of the week, and the one to be said as the Torah is being
returned to the Holy Ark. These possukim emphatically state the whole
purpose of man on the earth: to bring the Malchus Shamayim -- the Kingdom
of Heaven -- down to earth. It is our responsibility to build a kingdom for
G-d down here on earth.
Just as we read, honor, and carry the Sefer Torah, and open the doors of
the Holy Ark to receive and safeguard the Torah, so, too, are we to elevate
and honor G-d's creation, and making it into fitting "gates" through which
the King of Kings is prepared to "walk" through.
It is not a need of heaven, but a merit of man, and it is precisely what
was being accomplished through the building and utilizing of the Mishkan.