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"These are the reckonings of the Tabernacle, the Tabernacle of Testimony, which were reckoned at Moshe's bidding" (Shemos 38:21).
The Torah teaches us that a public servant should not be ashamed to give an accounting to the people of how he spent their public funds. For who is greater than Moshe Rabbeinu, and he gave a reckoning of all of the Israelites' contributions and showed them exactly how they had been used for the construction of the Mishkan.
But there is also another, very important, lesson in this week's parashah.
"From the turquoise, purple, and scarlet wool they made knit vestments to serve in the Sanctuary, and they made the holy vestments for Aharon, as Hashem had commanded Moshe" (Shemos 39:1).
Again and again, the Torah repeats that each and every article related to the Tabernacle was made "as Hashem had commanded Moshe." The Torah is always stingy with words, not writing even an extra letter unnecessarily. Wouldn't it have been better to sum it all up in one sentence, at the beginning or at the end, saying, in general terms, that everything was done as Hashem had commanded Moshe? Why the repetition?
In the Beis Halevy, Rabbi Yoshe Ber Soloveichik zt"l, explains a very important foundation in Judaism.
A few parshios ago, in Parashas Ki Sisa, we learned the tragic story of the Calf of Gold which was constructed and worshipped in the Desert. Some, mistakenly, assume that the Calf was an actual idol which the people wanted and made. But this cannot possibly be. First of all, does it make sense that an entire nation who just experienced Hashem's miracles first-hand, in Egypt, at the Sea, and, only forty days ago witnessed the giving of the Torah on Sinai would abandon Hashem so quickly and turn to foreign idols?
But besides that, the reason the people asked Aharon for a calf is expressed clearly in the Torah: "The people saw that Moshe had delayed in descending the mountain, and the people gathered around Aharon and said to him, ‘Rise up, make for us gods that will go before us, for this man Moshe who brought us up from the land of Egypt -- we do not know what became of him!" (Ibid. 32:1). After the audio presentation of The Ten Commandments, Moshe went up on the mountain to receive the entire Torah from Hashem for the Children of Israel. Before leaving, he promised the people that he would be back in forty days. The people mistakenly counted the day he left as the first day, not realizing that he had meant forty complete days, and so, on the thirty ninth day, they expected him to return. Since he did not come then, they feared that he might have died. Therefore they approached Aharon and demanded a replacement for their leader – "for this man Moshe who brought us up from the land of Egypt -- we do not know what became of him!"
But the Israelites did not think that Moshe was a god! – they specifically said, "For this man Moshe." Moreover, they knew that Hashem had taken them out of Egypt, not Moshe. Why, then, would they need a god to replace Moshe? If they thought he was dead, they should have asked Aharon to appoint a new leader for them, a man like Moshe was. Why did they suddenly want gods? Surely they did not believe, nor was there any reason to believe, that G-d was dead chas veshalom.
Furthermore, it is very hard to understand why Aharon did not argue with them but went along with their wishes as if he agreed with them too.
But actually, the truth is that the Children of Israel really had the best of intentions. Of course they knew that Moshe was not a god and it was not he who had taken them out of Egypt, only Hashem. However, as long as Moshe was alive, he was their connection to Hashem. Indeed it is written that the Shechinah (the Divine Spirit) rests on the great Torah scholars of the generation. When they thought that Moshe had died, they felt that they needed another place for the Shechinah to be housed. Perhaps they decided that it would be better if this time it were in a vessel which was not mortal and would not die like Moshe did. That may be the meaning of their words, "for this man Moshe" etc. The people were stressing that they needed a permanent resting place for Hashem, not in the form of a man who is prone to die eventually. Therefore they chose a calf of gold, not to replace Hashem chas veshalom, but to replace Moshe as the place where the Shechinah would rest from now on. Their intention, however, was to continue to serve only Hashem, and that's why Aharon went along with their wishes.
Actually, this very wish of theirs was manifested in the erection of the Tabernacle, and, eventually, in the Holy Temple in Jerusalem. What were those edifices after all? Places for the Shechinah to dwell within, as it says, "They shall make a Sanctuary for Me, so that I may dwell among them" (Ibid. 25:8). These holy houses served as the connection between us and Hashem. What, then, was the difference between the Calf of Gold and the Tabernacle?
The Beis Halevy explains that, indeed, there was only one intrinsic difference between them. The people were commanded to make a Tabernacle, while they were not commanded to make a calf. Although one may know all of the secrets of the Torah and is able to concentrate on the formulas of the Kabala with which he may make major adjustments in all of the worlds; unless he is instructed to do so by Hashem, it is absolutely forbidden. However, once he is directed by Hashem to do so, that very same sin becomes a mitzvah (actually, the word "mitzvah" means "commandment" indicating that only when one is commanded to do so is it virtuous).
Therefore, says the Beis Halevy, the Torah goes to great lengths to stress, again and again, that every single article of the Mishkan and every piece of clothing of the Kohanim was made "as Hashem had commanded Moshe." The Sages teach that the erection of the Tabernacle was atonement for the construction of the Calf. They atoned for doing something on their own, albeit with the best of intentions, by not making a move unless it was specifically commanded by Hashem.
From this we must learn a cardinal rule: Judaism is not a religion in which we can do whatever we decide is virtuous. We are absolutely and totally limited by what Hashem commanded us. Even the realm of the rabbinic authorities is delegated by the Torah and they cannot, as some think, "find a loophole whenever they like." Good intentions, moreover, do not validate our actions. As the saying goes, "The way to Hell is paved with good intentions!"
I remember when I was a youngster on the way to Yeshiva by Subway. An elderly gentleman sat down next to me and, noticing that I was a Yeshiva bachur, he began to espouse his philosophies concerning our religion. He was very positive and almost ecstatic about what a wonderful religion ours is. "Imagine this," he said to me. "This past Shabbos, we had a whole conversation in shul about the Good L-ord's decision not to let Moses enter into the Promised Land. Was it fair or not? And you know what we concluded? The Good L-rd was wrong! Here was this old man, who had served Him faithfully all of his life, and all he wanted was to see the Holy land. Didn't he deserve it? He certainly did.
"But isn't this a marvelous religion?" the man concluded. "Can you think of any other religion where people can judge G-d… and determine that he was wrong?!! Only in Judaism."
I didn't know whether to laugh or cry, and I was too polite to do either. I didn't tell him anything but I was thinking out loud: Who told you that Judaism is any different? Why do you think that we have the right to judge Hashem? The Torah commands us to believe with absolute conviction that "The Rock! -- perfect is His work, for all His paths are justice; a G-d of faith without iniquity, righteous and fair is He" (Devarim 32:4).
There are many times when we, too, decide on our own what a mitzvah is and what is a sin. We have to realize that this is just as silly as what that old man said. We cannot make our own religion, deciding, for ourselves, what's right and what's wrong. We have to learn all of the laws which have been codified, and follow the rules. Then we will be truly happy, in this world and in the World-to-Come.
Chazak, chazak venitchazak.
Shema Yisrael Torah Network