Weekly Torah Commentary — Vayakhel February 21, 2014

Exodus/Shemot 35:1 – 38:20

Moses said to all the congregation of the people of Israel, “This is the thing that the LORD has commanded. Take from among you a contribution to the LORD. Whoever is of a generous heart, let him bring the LORD’S contribution: gold, silver, and bronze; blue and purple and scarlet yarns and fine twined linen; goats’ hair, tanned rams’ skins, and goatskins; acacia wood, oil for the light, spices for the anointing oil and for the fragrant incense, and onyx stones and stones for setting, for the ephod and for the breastpiece.” (Shemot / Exodus 35:4-9; ESV)

The children of Israel’s long journey through the wilderness prior to their conquest of the Promised Land was an amazing saga during which so much happened. No nation has ever encountered God as they did: they experienced his power, received his protection, were led his guidance, we taught his ways. Yet, though God made himself so dramatically real to them, they often complained and rebelled against him. But we sometimes forget that actually they did many things right and this week’s Parsha shows us that. We are privileged to learn from them so many centuries later.

Unusually, in this case, God does not speak in the words of ‘command’ but offers a voluntary mitzvah to whomever will respond from their heart. Through Moses, God invited the people to give of their possessions that which would be used for the various parts of the Mishkan. Not only did the people adequately respond, they gave so much that they were eventually told to stop (see Shemot / Exodus 36:6).

When the request for contributions was made it was directed to those “of a generous heart”. The Hebrew phrase translated as “generous heart,” is also rendered as “willing heart.” It could be that this has an implied meaning of “generous heart,” since that is what is normally understood when we speak of willingness when it comes to the giving of things.

But there is something more than generosity here. The wording also implied the ability to give. God wasn’t asking for general contributions of an unspecified nature. He lists exactly what was required and for what purpose. There were no doubt some people who did not own such items. It didn’t matter if they were generous or not. God was looking for people who were both willing and able to give these items.

This reminds us that we can only give of what we have. Knowing that God is first the provider of all we possess, it is from His very blessings that He asks a contribution from the people. This very principle is the basis for the Shema. We are told to “love the LORD your God with all your heart and with all your soul and with all your might” (Devarim / Deuteronomy 6:5; ESV). This great commandment directs me to love God with my heart, my soul, and my might. I cannot do so with anyone else’s. We cannot give to God what we do not have, nor does He expect us to do so.

BUT… We can give what we do have, whatever that might be. It’s your heart and your soul that God is calling for you to give with all your might, willingly.

In Tune with Torah this week = let us not compare ourselves with others or our possessions with theirs – ever! God blesses your life with everything you need to grow in godliness. Don’t make the mistake of looking at what others are doing or not doing, giving or not giving. This is between you and your Creator. Give – all that you give – to Him with ALL your heart, with ALL your soul and with ALL your might because you love Him.

Shabbat Shalom

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