The Gemara in Masekhet Megilla (10b) tells that according tradition, the aron (ark) in the Beit Ha-mikdash had a miraculous quality, in that it occupied no space in the kodesh ha-kodashim (the inner chamber of the Beit Ha-mikdash). If one would measure from either side of the ark to the nearest wall, he would find that the distance was precisely half the distance from one wall to the next. Somehow, the ark did not take up any of the space.
A classic Chassidic insight into this miracle is cited in the name of the Sefat Emet. Everything in the Mishkan, as we read in Parashat Vayakhel, was contributed by generous donors. Moshe conveyed to the people God’s command that materials be collected for the Mishkan’s construction, and the people responded with such generosity and enthusiasm that Moshe was forced to command the people to stop bringing donations (36:4-7). The Sefat Emet noted that the miraculous quality of the aron – its standing in the Mishkan without occupying space – also needed to be “donated.” This aspect of the Mishkan, like all the others, originated from the people’s donations. The Sefat Emet explained that this miracle was “donated” through the sincere desire of those who were unable to contribute materials. There were, presumably, less privileged members of Benei Yisrael who lacked the wherewithal to make donations to the Mishkan, and there were also those who were blocked from donating once Moshe announced that no more materials be brought. These people genuinely wished to participate in the effort, but were barred from doing so due to circumstances. The Sefat Emet posited that in truth, they did participate – their sincerity, their feelings and emotions, their heartfelt desire to give and contribute, lent the Mishkan its miraculous quality, enabling it to stand without occupying any space.
The message conveyed by this insight is that our contributions and achievements cannot always be measured in tangible, quantitative terms. All of us, in one way or another, resemble those members of Benei Yisrael who were unable to donate materials to the Mishkan. We all wish we could do more, could accomplish more, could contribute more, could have a greater impact, and could reach greater heights. The Sefat Emet here teaches us that as long as our desire is sincere, our frustrated ambitions are precious and make a meaningful contribution. The “Mishkan” – the spiritual fabric of Am Yisrael – is comprised of not only tangible elements, but also an abstract quality, a certain aura and feeling of holiness. And this aura is enhanced by our sincere desire to grow, improve and achieve. Even though we so often fall short of our expectations of ourselves, the expectations themselves have great value, profoundly impacting upon the overall feel and atmosphere of the “Mishkan” that our nation is expected to build. Rather than feel distraught and discouraged by our limitations and failures, we should instead recognize that every bit of effort we invest and sincere desire we feel has a significant impact and constitutes a vitally important contribution to Am Yisrael.