SALT - Motzaei Shabbat - March 2, 2019

  • Rav David Silverberg
            The Torah in Parashat Pekudei tells that after the artisans assigned to construct the Mishkan and its various furnishings completed their work, they brought all the finished products to Moshe (39:33).  Rashi, based on the Midrash Tanchuma explains:
They were unable to erect it.  Since Moshe had performed no work for the Mishkan, the Almighty left it to him to erect it, as no person could erect it due to the weight of the planks, which a person does not have the strength to lift upright, but Moshe had them stand.  Moshe said to the Almighty, “How is it possible for a human being to erect it?”  He said to him, “You work with your hands.”  He appeared as though he erected it, but it actually was lifted upright and stood on its own.
According to the Midrash, the artisans who prepared the Mishkan were unable to assemble it, due to the weight of the planks which needed to stand upright, and so they brought everything to Moshe, without erecting the structure.  Moshe then turned to the Almighty and asked how it would be humanly possible to have the Mishkan stand, and God instructed him to try – whereupon the Mishkan stood up miraculously.
            The obvious question arises as to why specifically Moshe was chosen for his task, if even he required God’s miraculous assistance.  Once a miracle was needed to erect the Mishkan, why was it Moshe who was commanded, “You work with your hands” and give the impression of erecting the Mishkan?  Why could this not be done by the artisans, who built all the various components of the Mishkan?
            Rav Aharon Lichtenstein zt”l explained that Moshe was chosen, quite simply, because he was the only one who truly invested the effort to become worthy of God’s miraculous assistance.  Symbolically, Rav Lichtenstein noted, the assembly of the Mishkan represented the mastery of the full range of religious qualities that the Torah demands.  The artisans all excelled in their respective fields, but nobody was capable of putting together the entire structure of the Mishkan – representing the all-too-common phenomenon of people mastering particular areas of Torah life, but who fail to erect the “Mishkan” in its totality, to cover the entire spectrum of ideals and responsibilities incorporated within the Torah.  And, in truth, this seems all but impossible.  The “Mishkan” of Torah life includes vast amounts of material to study, as well as strict compliance with halakhic minutiae, and responsibilities to one’s family, community and nation as a whole.  Which human being, Moshe wondered, could possibly “erect” the Mishkan, given the overbearing weight of its numerous obligations?  God responded, “Asok ata be-yadekha” – “You work with your hands.”  Meaning, this seemingly impossible task is fulfilled by the one who truly wants to fulfill it and who invests maximum effort toward this goal.  God emphasized that the Mishkan would be erected by “you” – Moshe Rabbeinu, the individual who, more than anybody else, genuinely strove for perfection, for excellence in all areas of religious life.  Only when we put in maximum effort are we then worthy of being assisted in our lifelong quest to erect the complete “Mishkan.”