“Lip Service is Hardly Enough”

by Rabbi Ephraim Z. Buchwald

In this week’s parasha, parashat Vayakhel, the people of Israel deliver their abundant contributions to be used in constructing the Tabernacle. The chief architects and the craftsmen are selected, and work on erecting the Tabernacle commences.

The people’s donations were so generous and so forthcoming that Moses was eventually required to proclaim, Exodus 36:6:  אִישׁ וְאִשָּׁה אַל-יַעֲשׂוּ-עוֹד מְלָאכָה לִתְרוּמַת הַקֹּדֶשׁ,  No man and woman shall do more work toward the gift of the Sanctuary! This, of course, was probably the first and last time that donations to a united Jewish appeal had to be discouraged due to over-subscription!

The Torah, in Exodus 35:21, underscores the people’s unprecedented generosity of spirit:  וַיָּבֹאוּ, כָּל-אִישׁ אֲשֶׁר-נְשָׂאוֹ לִבּוֹ; וְכֹל אֲשֶׁר נָדְבָה רוּחוֹ אֹתוֹ, הֵבִיאוּ אֶת-תְּרוּמַת השם לִמְלֶאכֶת אֹהֶל מוֹעֵד וּלְכָל-עֲבֹדָתוֹ, וּלְבִגְדֵי הַקֹּדֶשׁ, and every man, whose heart inspired him, came, and everyone whose spirit motivated him, brought the portion of the L-rd, for the work of the Tent of Meeting, for all its labor and for the sacred vestments.

In the following eight verses, Exodus 35:22-29, the Torah describes the extreme generosity of the varied segments of the people and the types of gifts they brought. Apparently, some donations came from both men and women, others, only men, others, only women. Even the presidents of the twelve tribes of Israel brought their own special gifts.

The great Nehama Leibowitz, in her work Studies in Shemot on the book of Exodus, points out that different forms of the verb, לְהָבִיא, to bring, appear nine times in the nine verses describing the contributions.

Citing the Ramban, Nehama Leibowitz notes that the Torah emphasizes the people’s gifts in order to praise the people, to highlight the people’s special devotion, and to underscore that they were prepared to give up a good part of their material wealth for the service of G-d.

But not everyone agrees that the generosity of the people toward the construction of the Tabernacle was so overwhelming. Professor Leibowitz, notes the statement of Rabbi Yehuda ben Pazi, cited in the Jerusalem Talmud, Shekalim 1:1. Rabbi Yehuda points out that, in comparison to the people’s generous contributions to create the Golden Calf, the contributions to the construction of the Tabernacle truly pale.

Rabbi Yehuda, the son of Pazi, cried out: “How can we read these texts, and not recoil [in dismay]?” What is the reason for Rabbi Yehuda’s dismay? When reporting the people’s generosity to the Golden Calf, Rabbi Yehuda cites a verse in Exodus 32:3: וַיִּתְפָּרְקוּ וַיָּבִיאוּ אֶל-אַהֲרֹן… כָּל-הָעָם אֶת-נִזְמֵי הַזָּהָב, all the people ripped off their golden ornaments…and brought them to Aaron. However, with regard to donations brought for the Tabernacle, it describes those who brought as those whose hearts were lifted, whose spirits were moved, who had a generous heart, a woman who was wise-hearted, and men and women whose hearts decided to donate.

Apparently, only a limited number of the people of Israel were “inspired” to donate for the Tabernacle, whereas for the Golden Calf all the people donated.

The commentators, of course, rush to the defense of the People of Israel, noting that donations to the Golden Calf, consisted only of gold earrings, whereas donations to the Tabernacle consisted not only of gold earrings, but also included donations of all vessels of gold, as well as all sorts of precious metals, silver, brass, and precious stones and threads.

The Abarbanel underscores that the contributions for the Tabernacle were given, נְדָבָה לַהשם , with special devotion, as pure–hearted donations specifically for G-d, and with no ulterior motives.

The Malbim also notes how often the word “heart” is mentioned with regard to the contributions, underscoring that the people gave with a full heart to the Tabernacle.

Thus, the status of the gifts of the People of Israel for the Tabernacle was most elevated. These contributions were made without any hesitation, with full hearts and with total generosity.

Despite the great sincerity of the donors, the Torah makes a point of emphasizing the fact that the contributions were not only “pledged,” but were actually delivered. This is the reason for the multiple repetitions of the verb “to bring.” After all, one can have the best of intentions when donating, but never get around to writing the check or putting the donation in the mail, assuring that it reaches its appropriate destination.

My father, Moshe Aaron Buchwald, of blessed memory, would jokingly point to the differences between the charitable giving practices in the United States and those in his European Shtetl in Poland. He noted that when the Torah was carried around the synagogue in Europe, the people would kiss the mantle of the Torah with their lips. When an appeal was made for charity, the people would be forthcoming and deliver the money with their hands. In America, the customs are reversed–the congregants kiss the Torah with their hand, touching their hand to the mantle and then kissing their fingers, and give with their mouths. They make pledges, but they do not always pay!

Thus, we see the laudable devotion of the people’s heart, but lip service was hardly enough. Action was required. That is why the Torah repeatedly records the actions of the people, over and over again.

May you be blessed.