Vayakhel-Pekudei: Between Right and Right


This week’s lesson is dedicated in loving memory of Mrs. Rivkie Barber, Shlucha of the Rebbe in Melbourne, Australia. Yartzeit 19 Adar.


By her children, Rabbi Yechiel & Chanie Biston and Rabbi Efraim & Shaina Duchman

It is easy to choose between right and wrong. Choosing between right and right proves more difficult. How are we to ascertain the correct course of action?

They waited until last, and were left behind

Regarding the donations of the leaders, Rashi comments: “Rabbi Natan said: Why were the leaders first to donate for the dedication of the altar but not first to donate for the work of the Tabernacle? They made the following rationale: ‘Let the community donate what they can, and we will furnish the rest.’ Since the community furnished everything, as it says, ‘Their efforts brought more than enough,’ the leaders said, ‘What can we contribute?’ So they brought the precious stones. Later, they made sure to be first to donate for the dedication of the altar. Since they were lazy at first, a letter is missing from their name; the verse states וְהַנְשִׂיאִם [instead of וְהַנְשִׂיאִים, with an additional yud].”

Their first responsibility as leaders was to encourage and inspire the community to contribute (just as Moses ignored his own personal material and spiritual pursuits to tend immediately to his nation).

Only after the community had contributed fully (including sufficient funds to purchase the precious stones for the breastplate) did the leaders say, “What can we personally contribute?” Only after they had fulfilled their roles as leaders, did they begin to contemplate their personal contribution to the Tabernacle and bring the precious stones. 

However, at that point, their donation was no longer essential. The stones could have been purchased with funds provided by the community, so the leaders’ contribution wasn’t equivalent to the donation of the people.

 I.e. there are two levels in donations: a) crucial donations which are essential for the construction of the Tabernacle. b) non-essential donations which nonetheless give the donor the privilege to participate in the construction.

(My father-in-law, the [previous] Rebbe, repeated a saying from the Rebbe Maharash regarding communal activism: “The goal will be reached regardless of your participation, but you will lose the privilege of carrying it out.” As Mordechai told Esther in the Megillah, “Salvation will come to the Jews from elsewhere, but you and your father’s house will be forgotten”—i.e. you will lose the privilege.)

In our case: the leaders lost the opportunity to make an essential donation to the Tabernacle’s construction (as the precious stones could have been purchased with community funds) and they merely had the merit of ‘participation.’

Where Does the Urge Come From?

But they realized that there was a flaw in their behavior: the fact that they weren’t first to donate included an element of laziness. That is something that a person must know to evaluate—whether the delay on your part comes from a place of holiness (to give the community a chance to donate) or from a place of laziness.

This idea is expressed in the story related by the [previous] Rebbe on Passover 1943: The righteous Rabbi Menachem Nochum of Chernobyl* was destitute; his financial situation was always precarious, and he had accumulated large debts. One day, as he was receiving visitors, one individual brought him a gift of three hundred rubles. Rabbi Menachem Nochum thought to himself, “Why did G-d choose to give me such a large sum in one installment?” The sum-total of the donations from the rest of visitors (including the wealthy ones—the [previous] Rebbe noted that he had even received three gold coins, which were only owned by the wealthy), reached only one hundred rubles, and here he had suddenly received three hundred rubles! He paused the private audiences to contemplate the matter.

He recalled that a short time earlier, a poor visitor had complained that he had no money to feed his family, pay for his children’s tuition and provide a dowry for his daughters. The sum of money this fellow needed was identical to the sum he had just received: three hundred rubles. The rabbi decided to give the entire sum to him. 

But then another thought came to mind. Perhaps it wouldn’t be worthwhile to give one individual a sum of money that could easily feed six families—including his own family; after all, why were they less deserving?

A person needs to have the ability to make this evaluation: the [previous] Rebbe pointed out that this question is equally relevant to all people; we must each be able to discern which urge stems from our good inclination and which from our evil one.

Rabbi Menachem Nochum came to the conclusion that if the second thought (to split the money) would have come from his good inclination, it would have occurred to him immediately. The fact that it came to him as a second thought indicated that it was from the evil inclination: at the outset, the evil inclination did not want to suggest splitting the money, in the hope that he would choose to keep the entire sum for himself. But when he saw that the rabbi entertained the idea of giving the entire sum to one individual, he came forth with the suggestion to split it to six—at least salvaging one portion for himself.

The leaders made this mistake because they lacked the ultimate level of humility—as evident from the fact that they lost a yud from their name. As leaders, they were content with inspiring the community to donate, and were lazy about their personal contributions, resulting in donations which were less valuable than the community’s contributions—for, although they had orchestrated the contributions of the entire community, they should have also hastened to give their own contributions.

This is a lesson in leadership for every person: with a proper sense of humility, you won’t make the mistake of believing that you fulfill your personal obligations by working with others; you need to make your own efforts as well.

Shabbat Parshat Vayakhel-Pekudei 1966
(Toras Menachem 5766 vol. 2 pg. 232)

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