Devotion and Completion

This week’s alumni Dvar Torah is by Davida Kollmar

In Parashat Vayakhel, we finally hear about the actual building of the Mishkan, which we have been learning about for past few weeks. The people donate the raw materials, wise men and women volunteer as laborers, and Betzalel ben Uri ben Chur and Aholiav ben Achismakh are officially appointed as the head craftsmen. Together, this team creates all of the various structures that they are commanded to.

However, when it comes to giving credit for the work, not all credit is shared equally. Moshe tells the people that all of the wise men will be making each of the different Keilim, and this section of the Parasha is introduced by talking about the work of everyone. However, when it comes to the recounting of each of the vessels individually, rather than saying “ויעשו”, and they made, it just says “ויעש”, and he made. This fact is highlighted in Shemot 37:1, where it says “ויעש בצלאל את הארן”, and Betzalel made the Ark. Presumably, Betzalel is the singular “he” mentioned by all of the previous Keilim.

Why is Betzalel singled out? Midrash Tanchuma 10 gives an answer:

כתיב ויעש בצלאל את הארן עצי שטים. ובצלאל עצמו עשה הכל?! שכל פעם ופעם הוא אומר ויעש בצלאל! אלא על ידי שנתן נפשו הרבה על המשכן, לפיכך לא קפח הקדוש ברוך הוא שכרו והוא מפרסמו בכל פעם ופעם, שנאמר, ויעש בצלאל… ואף בצלאל, כל החכמים עשו עמו. ולפי שנתן נפשו אל המשכן הרבה, לפיכך כתיב, ויעש בצלאל את הארן.

It says “and Betzalal made the Ark out of Shittim wood.” And Betzalel himself made everything?! Every time it says “and Betzalal made”! Rather because he devoted himself a lot the Mishkan, therefore Hashem did not hold back his reward and He publicized him every time, as it says, “And Betzalel made”… And also Betzalel, all of the wise men worked with him, but because he devoted himself a lot into the Mishkan, therefore it says, “and Betzalel made the Ark.”

What the Midrash is saying is that even though both Betzalel and the rest of the workers put in much effort into the building of the Mishkan, Betzalel’s devotion caused the Mishkan to be attributed to him.

It would seem from this that the person who works the hardest on the task is ultimately the one who is credited with getting the task accomplished. However, another Tanchumah, in Eikev 6, at first glance seems to contradict this:

כל המצוה אם התחלת במצוה הוי גומר את כלה למה אמר רבי יוחנן כל מי שמתחיל במצוה ואחרי כן בא אחר וגמרה נקראת על שם גומרה, ממי את למד ממשה כיון שיצאו ישראל ממצרים מה כתיב ויקח משה את עצמות יוסף (שמות יג) כל העם עוסקין בבזה ומשה היה מטפל בעצמות יוסף… נסתלק משה במדבר ולא נכנס לארץ הכניסו ישראל עצמות יוסף וקברו אותן ותלה המצוה בהן שנאמר (יהושע כד) ואת עצמות יוסף אשר העלו בני ישראל ממצרים קברו בשכם, לכך אמר להם כל המצוה,

“All of the Mitzvah” – if you started a Mitzvah, you should finish it completely. Why? Rabbi Yochanan said anyone who starts a Mitzvah and then another person comes and finishes it, it is called by the name of the one who finished it. From whom do you learn this? From Moshe. When the Israelites left Egypt what does it say, “And Moshe took the bones of Yosef”, all of the nation was busy collection spoils and Moshe was taking care of the bones of Yosef… Moshe died in the desert and didn’t enter the land. The Israelites brought in Yosef’s bones and buried them. The Mitzvah was attributed to them as it says “and the bones of Yosef that the Israelites brought from Egypt they buried in Shechem.” Therefore it says “all of the Mitzvah.”

It seems from the Tanchumah that what causes someone to be credited with the action is not the level of devotion to the action – indeed, the Midrash admits that Moshe was the most devoted to the transport of Yosef’s remains, more than the rest of the Jews. Rather, credit for an action is given to the one who causes the action to be completed. Devotion before completion seems to be irrelevant.

If we look more closely at each of the two cases, though, we find that there are other places in Tanach which seem to support the opposite Tanchumah.

In Divrei HaYamim II Chapter 1, it is Moshe who is credited with the building of the Mishkan, while Betzalel is only credited as the creator of an individual component: 

(ג) וַיֵּלְכוּ שְׁלֹמֹה וְכָל הַקָּהָל עִמּוֹ לַבָּמָה אֲשֶׁר בְּגִבְעוֹן כִּי שָׁם הָיָה אֹהֶל מוֹעֵד הָאֱלֹהִים אֲשֶׁר עָשָׂה מֹשֶׁה עֶבֶד יְקֹוָק בַּמִּדְבָּר:  

(ד) אֲבָל אֲרוֹן הָאֱלֹהִים הֶעֱלָה דָוִיד מִקִּרְיַת יְעָרִים בַּהֵכִין לוֹ דָּוִיד כִּי נָטָה לוֹ אֹהֶל בִּירוּשָׁלִָם: 

(ה) וּמִזְבַּח הַנְּחֹשֶׁת אֲשֶׁר עָשָׂה בְּצַלְאֵל בֶּן   אוּרִי  בֶן  חוּר  שָׂם  לִפְנֵי  מִשְׁכַּן יְקֹוָק וַיִּדְרְשֵׁהוּ שְׁלֹמֹה וְהַקָּהָל: 

(3) And Shlomo and all of the congregation with him went to the Bamah in Givon because there was the Ohel Moed of God that Moshe the servant of Hashem had made in the desert.

(4) But the Ark of God David had brought up from Kiryat Yearim when David was prepared for hit because he had pitched a tent for it in Jerusalem.

(5) And the copper alter that Betzaelel ben Uri ben Chur had made was there before the Mishkan of Hashem, and Shlomo and the congregation seeked it out.

Giving credit to Moshe for the Mishkan makes sense when we look at Parashat Pekudei. There, it is Moshe himself who puts together the pieces that Betzalel had made to build the Mishkan. In other words, Moshe is the one who completed the building of the Mishkan, and therefore he is the one who is credited with its creation. Betzalel is only credited with making the individual Keilim-which were things that he oversaw to completion. This Pasuk seems to match the Tanchumah about receiving credit for completing the Mitzvah.

On the other side of the coin, we see that credit given to the Israelites for the carrying of Yosef’s bones may actually be due to devotion to the action. Bamidbar 9:6-14 discuss the laws of Pesach Sheini. These laws are introduced because of some Israelites who were impure at the time of the regular Korban Pesach and were upset that they would miss out on completing the Mitzvah. The Gemara in Sukkah 25 asks why these men were impure, and one of the possibilities given is as follows:

דתניא: ויהי אנשים אשר היו טמאים לנפש אדם וכו’ אותם אנשים מי היו? נושאי ארונו של יוסף היו, דברי רבי יוסי הגלילי,

As it says in a Baraita: “And there were men who were impure due to a corpse, etc.” Who were those men? They were the ones who carried the coffin of Yosef, these are the words of R. Yosei HaGlili.

An implication of this Gemara (and a similar Midrash in Shemot Rabbah 20:19) is that once Moshe took Yosef’s bones out of Egypt, he already stopped his personal involvement, instead leaving the carrying of the bones to other people. Therefore it is possible that he was not as devoted to the completion of the Mitzvah as we previously thought, which is why it is the Israelites, not he, who is given credit. (I don’t think that saying that Moshe is acting in a supervisory role is sufficient to prove his devotion, as the Pesukim seem to say that Betzalel was actually involved in the work itself instead of in just a supervisory role.)

What comes out of these two Midrashim, then, is that just devotion to an action or the completion of an action are not enough; rather, it is important to show devotion to an action all along and to follow through until the end. Sometimes this is beyond our control – Moshe died before he could bring Yosef’s bones into Eretz Yisrael, and even in the desert, it is likely that he could not carry the bones because he needed to be in a state of constant Taharah (see for example the interpretation of Isha Kushit in Bamidbar 12 as meaning that he needed to separate from Tzipporah). For Betzalel, too, it is not his fault that he did not complete the Mishkan either. Hashem commanded Moshe specifically to put up the Mishkan; indeed, the Midrash Tanchumah on Pikudei states that the workmen tried to put up the Mishkan but couldn’t, and it was only Moshe who was able to. Nevertheless, the fact that the Torah neglects to give them credit in this situation anyway can teach about the times in our lives when we do have the ability to devote our efforts to something and to see it through to completion.

Davida Kollmar (SBM 2014) is the Program Administrator for CMTL.

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