After having read for the—who knows how many times—the details of the construction of the Mishkan, the portable Sanctuary in the desert, we finally reach its completion. And here, once more, the Torah , seems to have made an exception to its general pattern of conciseness, bordering on the cryptic.
In the very end of this week’s double parsha (Vaykhel and Pikudei) the Torah states: “And the Israelites did in accordance with all of that which
G-d commanded Moses, so did they do.”
One immediately notices the repetition here. If the Torah made it clear that they did “all of that which G-d commanded Moses, why does the Torah then add, in the very same verse, “so did they do?”
Furthermore, the Torah is quite clear that they did “all,” leaving no room for any interpretation that might have entertained the notion that perhaps they missed some part of the work. Why then does the Torah have to add that “they did so?”
To be sure, the entire story of the construction of the Mishkan has been repeated several times. However, that repetition has been explained as a sign of how precious the Mishkan was; it symbolized that G-d was once more willing to dwell in their midst, even after they had rebelled against him by building the golden calf.
However, what lesson can there be in reiterating how the Jewish people completed their task?
One might suggest that there are two levels of dedication: The first is the actual labor, the second is the thought and intent. In some areas, what counts is the thought, while in others what is most important is the action, the deed. Here, the Torah informs us that both components were equally significant; that the Jews not only completed all that they were commanded to do, in terms of the contributions and the construction of the Mishkan, but moreover, they also fully invested their thoughts, feelings and intent.
However, the language of the text does not support this interpretation. For the text employs the word “doing” in boi\th places, which implies action not thought. When the Torah wishes to convey the idea that they put their heart into the project it uses a term “nidvas lev,” which means, the intent or generosity of the heart.
So we are back to square one: Why does the Torah repeat the fact that the Jews did precisely as they were commanded?
However, if one examines the precise wording of the text, the answer to the question is easily resolved: The text reads that they did as G-d commanded Moses. This means simply that they acceded to the commandment. It does not necessarily convey that they would have done it had they not been commanded to do it. Hence the Torah continues: “So did they do it.” Here the emphasis is on the word “they.” They did it voluntarily.
The Talmud raises the question as to which is superior? One who does what is right because he/she was commanded to do it, or one who does something good because one wants to do it, even though they were not commanded to do it.
In truth, one can find advantages to both approaches. On the one hand, what one does voluntarily demonstrates their love and passion for the cause. On the other hand one who does what they are obligated to do demonstrates their ability to accept the authority of G-d even when it goes against one’s own grain. Moreover, when there are obligations there are also greater obstacles imposed by one’s own “evil impulse,” that deters one from fulfilling their duty.
In the building of the Mishkan, the Torah informs us, they had the benefit and virtue of both approaches.
On the one hand, they were prepared to do anything for G-d, even if they did not particularly enjoy doing it. And on the other hand, they did it because they truly wanted to do it. And even if they had not been commanded they still would have built the Sanctuary for G-d.
There are certain aspects of Judaism where that combination is most desirable. On of those areas is the effort to transform the world into a macro-Sanctuary for G-d (based on the model of the micro-Sanctuary, the Jews built in the desert), which is the ultimate purpose for the creation of the world in the first place. When we will finally succeed in this endeavor that has been in the making for two thousand years, we will see the fulfillment of all the Biblical prophecies concerning the Messianic Age.
One could approach this endeavor with either one of the two attitudes: One could do it because we were commanded to do it and one could do it because we want to do it.
From this week’s parsha, the message we got was that when it comes to building a home for G-d, both approaches are necessary. If one only builds the Sanctuary because he/she was commanded to do so, that would mean that their heart and soul was not a Sanctuary for G-d. Conversely, if we only do it because we enjoy doing it, then we would, in actuality, only be building a Sanctuary for our own desires and passions, as good as they are, but not for G-d. The ideal situation is where we build it for G-d because He told us to do it, and then open our hearts and entire beings to the point where all of us becomes receptive to the Divine presence.