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Home » Vayakhel

Vayakhel: Imperfect Devotion

Submitted by on March 19, 2006 – 3:36 amNo Comment | 2,183 views

Last in Line

Have you ever attended a Bar Mitzvah where dinner was served buffet style? I really dislike those dinners and here is why. When the buffet is set out I examine the mouth-watering display and a battle rages within me about which treats I can afford to eat. By the time the speeches are over I have silently counted, recounted and finally abandoned all pretense of counting my calorie intake for the evening.
Dinner is finally announced and the model citizens, following proper etiquette, queue up for the buffet. I sit back and murmur, “There is enough food for everyone. Let the crowds thin out and I will go collect my portion.” Watching the model citizens step away from the buffet, plates piled high with mouth-watering delicacies, I repeat the lie to myself, “There will be plenty of food left over by the time I get there.”
Then the moment of truth arrives. The line thins, my like-minded compatriots and I find our plates and approach the buffet, only to find with dismay that the fellow ahead of us has collected the last of the loveliest entree. We waited one moment too long.

The Missing Letter

In our Parsha we read of another group who waited one moment too long. Many contributions were offered towards the building of the tabernacle, but one contribution  highlighted above all are the gems imperfect devotion - innerstreamthat were donated by the tribal princes.
In identifying the contributors of these gems the Torah curiously misspells the word “nesii’m,” Hebrew for princes, by omitting the Hebrew letter Yud. (1)

A Haughty Attitude

Our sages taught that the tribal princes waited until the very last minute to make their contribution. They figured, “Let the masses give what they will and we will make up the shortfall.” They underestimated the zeal of the masses and quickly discovered that their tardiness left them with little to contribute. Everything was already in place except for two gems that the princes hastened to donate. (2)
This haughty attitude is the reason for the omission of letter Yud. The Yud is the smallest letter in the Hebrew alphabet and therefore signifies humility, a quality sorely lacking in the attitude displayed by the tribal princes. (3)
On a deeper level the Yud symbolizes G-d’s name. The Tetragrammaton is comprised of four letters, the first being the Yud. The Talmud teaches that G-d is favorably disposed toward the humble. Furthermore, G-d humbled himself when he descended upon Mount Sinai, the smallest mountain in the dessert. He further humbles himself every day when he provides for the lowly and downtrodden. (4)
When the princes displayed a haughty disposition in their imperfect devotion G-d removed the symbol of his name from theirs.

Clouds

Spelled without the Yud, the Hebrew word for princes, “nessi’im,”can be translated as clouds. At first glance this translation seems ridiculous because it suggests that the gems were donated by clouds! Yet, an astounding Talmudic tale offers legitimacy to this contention.
The Talmud tells us that the clouds that descended over the Jewish camp every morning, carried not only manna, but also gems. If we accept that the clouds miraculously delivered bread every day then it is not a stretch to suppose that the clouds also delivered gems and that these gems were later donated for temple use.
By omitting the letter Yud from the word “nesi’im” the Torah may have combined the two meanings. In other words, the gems donated  by the tribal princes were collected from the manna-bearing clouds. (5)
The irrational notion of gems delivered by clouds can be rationally explained.
The daily fare of manna helped our ancestors save a great deal of money because they didn’t need to purchase food for their families. The tribal princes used these savings to invest in gems, which they later donated to the tabernacle. In this sense, the ‘clouds’ enabled the donation of the gems. (6)

Why Wait?

In defense of the tribal princes it can be suggested that they delayed their contribution until the very end in the hopes of receiving primary attribution for this collective Mitzvah. Our sages taught that when several people join together in the commission of a single Mitzvah the greatest credit goes to the person who performed the final act. (7)
Yet the princes erred because when we are afforded an opportunity to perform a Mitzvah we must immediately accept rather than wait for an occasion when the Mitzvah can be performed in a more auspicious manner. (8)

Freedom to Pray

The following example is offered by way of illustration. A Jewish prisoner, who is offered a one-day freedom pass to pray at a synagogue, must immediately act on this opportunity rather than defer to a more auspicious day such as Yom Kippur.
It is true that waiting until Yom Kippur can be more gratifying because our prayers are greatly enhanced on that day, yet this advantage is outweighed by the immediate imperative to act on every Mitzvah opportunity.(9)

Miscalculation

The tribal princes should have contributed immediately. They miscalculated and, like my experience at the buffet, they found themselves with little to contribute. Furthermore, G-d saw this imperfect devotion as arrogance and removed his letter from their name.
It would seem that their intentions were noble, yet they were punished. Why? Because they were far too sophisticated. In matters of the spirit, wholesomeness is often a better trait than sophistication.

Footnotes

  1. Exodus, 35: 27.
  2. Sifri, Numbers, 7: 3.
  3. See Kli Yakar (R. Ephraim Shlomo of Luntshitz, 1550-1619) on Exodus 35: 27, 25: 1 and Kli Yakar on Genesis 41.1. See also Ksav Sofer (R. Avraham Shmuel Binyamin Sofer, Pressburg, 1815-1879) on Exodus 35: 27.
  4. Kli Yakar ibid. To elaborate further on the letter Yud, it is not only the smallest letter in the alphabet it also comprises one of the lowest numerical values in the Hebrew alphabet when the filler letters are also considered. Every letter has a name. The name Yud is comprised of the three Hebrew letters, Yud, Vav and Daled. The numeric value of the Yud is ten, the numeric value of the Vav is six and the numeric value of the Daled is four. 10 + 6 + 4 equals twenty.When you consider all the letters of the alphabet in this manner you will find that the three letters with the lowest numeric value, after their filler letters are considered, are the Yud, the Hei and the Vav, the very letters that comprise the Tetragrammaton. The Tetragrammaton is therefore an indication of G-d’s humility. That he chose to remove this letter from the princes’ name demonstrates that they were lacking in humility. For more detail see Kli Yakar on Genesis, 41:1.
  5. Bab. Talmud, Yuma, p. 75a.
  6. See Kli Yakar on Exodus 35: 27. Another method by which Kli Yakar explains the contextual mention of clouds in this verse is related to a different Talmudic teaching. The Talmud teaches (Bab. Talmud, Taanit, 8b.) that when we, the Jewish people, don’t honor our pledges to charity, G-d responds in kind. The clouds appear to descend in the promise of rain, but the clouds do not honor this “pledge,” resulting in a drought.From this we surmise that when we do honor our pledges we are blessed with an abundance of rain. The Torah often employs rain as a metaphor for bounty because when the rains fall, the crops grow and the economy thrives.

    In this light Kli Yakar explains the anomalous mention of clouds in the midst of a verse that describes a generous contribution. Because the Jewish people contributed generously, to the point that little was left for the princes to contribute, they found that gems metaphorically rained down upon them from the clouds above. In other words, that they were blessed with an abundance of wealth.

  7. Ksav Sofer on Exodus, 35: 27. See also Bab. Talmud, Sotah, 13b. The Talmud poses a seeming contradiction. One verse states that Moses removed Joseph’s remains from Egypt (Exodus 13: 19) and another verse attributes credit for this transportation to the congregation of Israel (Joshua 24: 32).The Talmud resolves this seeming contradiction by explaining that although Moses initiated the effort, he died before he entered Israel, and the congregation of Israel brought Joseph’s remains into Israel. Though Moses actually removed the remains from Egypt, credit for this is attributed to those who concluded the effort and brought Joseph to rest. From here the Talmud concludes that a mitzvah jointly accomplished by many is attributed to the one who concluded it.

    The princes similarly thought that they would receive attribution for the entire building drive if they brought the final contribution.

  8. See Mechiltah, Exodus, 12: 17 and Mishnah, Avos, 2: 14. Our sages contend that if we wait until we find time, we may never find the time. In the same sense, one who waits for a better opportunity may never live to see that opportunity. It is better to take immediate advantage than to put it off for later.
  9. See Mishne Lemelech, Hilchos Megillah, 1: 11.
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