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Torah Attitude: Parashas Vayakhel: Beware of calculated love


The Torah is the instruction manual for living. In this week's Torah portion, we learn that making calculations is a sign that love is not being expressed to its fullest extent. The faster we run to express our love, the purer is our love.

Precious items to build the Tabernacle

The Tabernacle was the temporary Temple that G'd commanded the Jewish people to erect wherever they camped during the forty years sojourn in the desert. In the beginning of this week's Torah portion, the Torah presents a list of contributions to build the Tabernacle: "Gold, silver, copper, turquoise, purple, and scarlet wool; linen, goat hair; red-dyed ram skins, tachash skins, acadia wood; oil for illumination, spices for the anointment oil and the aromatic incense; shoham stones and stones for the settings, for the Ephod and the Breastplate" (Shemos 35:5-7).

The order of words

The Torah was dictated by G'd and written by Moses. It is the greatest prophetic work of all time. Each word and each letter have profound meanings on many different levels of understanding. We can even learn from the order in which the words are presented.

Illuminated messages from G'd

The order of the materials mentioned seems to be starting from the most expensive gradually declining in value. Gold is the first in the list of the contributions. We all recognize that gold is a valuable commodity. After gold, silver is mentioned, then copper, etc., and each item is less expensive than the one before. However, the precious stones for the Ephod and the Breastplate were the most valuable of all the contributions, so it seems strange that they are only mentioned last. The Ephod and the Breastplate were instruments used to receive illuminated messages directly from G'd. The Torah describes how Aaron, and later High Priests, wore these instruments on their hearts (Shemos 28:28-30). The names and letters of the twelve tribes of Israel were engraved in the stones on the Breastplate. The High Priest would ask questions of national importance to G'd, and the response would be presented when the individual stones for the letters would light in sequence (Rashi from Yoma 73b).

Precious stones mentioned last

This direct communication with G'd was greater in value than all of the gold used to construct the Tabernacle. Further, the Talmud indicates that some of the stones were worth 600,000 to 800,000 golden coins (Kedushin 31a). So why are the stones, asks the Or Hachaim (Shemos 25:7), mentioned last? If they were more valuable than the gold and all of the other contributions to the Tabernacle, should not they have been mentioned at the beginning of the list?

The leaders' contribution

The Torah tells us that the precious stones were donated by the leaders of the Jewish people (Shemos 35:17). Rashi explains that the leaders waited until the end of the building of the Tabernacle before bringing their contributions. They figured that they would not upstage the Jewish people in helping to build the Tabernacle if they were the last ones to contribute. They reasoned that it would be proper for them to hold back until the rest of the Jewish people had an opportunity to contribute, and then they would donate whatever was missing. Although the stones they donated were the most expensive items, since the leaders waited until the end, G'd was angry and their contributions lost their special value. This is why the Torah placed what they gave at the end of the list.

Excess contributions

The leaders had miscalculated with their plans. They should have run to make their contributions to the Tabernacle, instead of waiting till the end. On the other hand, the Jewish people were so enthusiastic about giving towards the building of the Tabernacle, that there was an excess of contributions (Shemos 36:7).

The Shema

We may ask, what was wrong with the reasoning of the leaders? Any worthy charitable organization would be more than happy to get such a pledge, that someone would donate whatever is missing at the end of a charity campaign! So why were the contributions of the leaders not appreciated to their full value? The first paragraph of the Shema helps us to understand this. The Shema obligates every Jew to serve G'd out of love. Love means serving with all your heart whenever an opportunity presents itself. Love is expressed by giving without any calculations and questions.


Calculations and questions reveal a flaw in the love. Love is simple and pure; whereas, calculations are rationalizations motivated, albeit sometimes unconsciously, by other concerns. King Solomon taught us that "G'd made man simple, but they sought to make many calculations" (Koheles 7:29).


Rav Dessler relates that the sophisticated, intelligent, upper class of Jews during the Spanish Inquisition made many calculations. They figured that it was proper to save themselves and their possessions by becoming "maranos". They pretended to be converted to Christianity on the outside, while trying to maintain some connection to Judaism on the inside. Their calculations came in the form of excuses, rationalizations and cover-ups. The simple, unsophisticated Jews made no calculations and served G'd out of love, even if it cost them their lives.

Leaders were left behind

Rav Chaim Shmulevitz teaches that by making calculations instead of rushing to serve G'd immediately, the Jewish leaders missed an opportunity to demonstrate their pure love for G'd. All of the other Jewish people ran to contribute in excess. The Torah tells us that "the entire assembly of Israel left Moses' presence" (Shemos 35:20). The Ohr Hachaim explains that this means that the Jewish people left immediately to give whatever they could. The leaders were left behind to make their calculations.

Subjective reasoning flawed

The problem with making calculations when expressing our love for G'd, or anyone else, is that our subjective reasoning may be flawed. Rashi explains that there was an aspect of laziness in the calculations of the leaders. When we serve G'd without making any calculations, we can be sure that our love is pure, and not tainted with other motives or concerns.

These words were based on a talk given by Rabbi Avraham Kahn, the Rosh Yeshiva and Founder of Yeshivas Keser Torah in Toronto.

Shema Yisrael Torah Network
Jerusalem, Israel