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Vayakhel-Pekudei | You Shall Worship Him with All Your Heart

Harav Aharon Lichtenstein
Dedicated Le-Zekher Nishmot Morris Ray and Amelia Ray on the Occasion of their 16th Yahrtzeits by their Children Patti and Allen Ray


          In the account of the donations given to the mishkan at the beginning of this week's parasha, the Torah describes two different types of donors.  In 35:21 (similar to the description in 25:2), gifts are brought by "kol ish asher nesa'o libo, ve-khol asher nadeva rucho oto" - "every person whose heart inspired and whose spirit caused him to give."  In the following verse (35:22, similar to 35:5), however, the donations are brought by "kol nediv lev," those people who are generous and giving.

          The people described in the first verse achieve generosity from an inner calling - their heart pushes, and almost forces them, to do it.  They are guided and directed by their emotions to give part of what they own to the mishkan.  The heart is the primary motivating factor, and the person's actions and thoughts follow the heart's initiative.

          The second type of donor has a different nature.  For this person, the heart works as part of the complete personality and outlook.  The person is developed both intellectually and in his actions; as part of that, he undergoes the emotional uplifting to give to the mishkan.  The person's whole personality reaches a high level, and as a result he acts appropriately.

          This donation resulting from a complete personality is especially important in the realm of mishkan.  The gemara (Shevuot 26b) details the following distinction between dedication to the mishkan and other forms of vows.  While regarding regular vows, a person must explicitly express his intent, and mere thoughts are insignificant, in the area of kodashim - donations to the mikdash - even one's thoughts are significant and must be fulfilled.  The gemara proves this from the verse cited above, "kol nediv lev."  This may appear to be a leniency: even if one does not express himself explicitly, he still should give.  However, it can be understood also as a higher level of responsibility in this sector.  While in other areas one is not bound by the inner thoughts of his heart, in the area of mikdash and mishkan, even one's thoughts are binding.  Every aspect of one's character must be reflected in one's donations to the mikdash.

          This idea also relates to another element which is highlighted in the mikdash.  While all mitzvot need some level of kavana (intent), in most areas it is sufficient to be aware of what one is doing.  For example, one who eats matza on the first night of Pesach because of the command to do so ("On that evening you shall eat matza," Shemot 12:18; see Pesachim 28b), and not merely out of hunger, has fulfilled his obligation.  However, when it comes to the area of the mikdash, there is a requirement of total kavana.  The Sifri (Ekev piska 5), commenting on the words "to worship Him with all your heart," quotes Rabbi Eliezer ben Yaakov as saying that this is a warning to kohanim that they should not be thinking about anything else at the time that they are performing the avoda, the divine ritual, in the mikdash.  While in other areas of mitzvot a person can suffice with some level of awareness, the service in the mikdash must be all-encompassing and performed with full intent.

          However, this attention to detail and full concentration on proper action also carries with it a certain danger.  The prophets (e.g. Yirmiyahu ch. 7:8-9) strongly rebuke those who bring korbanot (sacrifices) to the Temple while they themselves are still corrupt, assuming that the korbanot purchase them favor in the eyes of God.  Yeshayahu (1:11-14) proclaims that God does not desire the people's korbanot, and despises the holidays when they bring so many sacrifices, because they bring the countless offerings despite their wickedness.  The principle, "Zevach resha'im to'eva" - "The sacrifice of the wicked is an abomination" (Mishlei 21:27), is a normative halakhic principle.  The gemara (Zevachim 7b, Shevuot 12b) rules that the korban of a wicked person who has not repented for his evil deeds is not accepted.  Even though everyone is encouraged to participate in other areas of worship, one must exercise extra caution regarding korbanot.  Due to the ritualistic nature of the korbanot, a person might tend to think that the action alone is sufficient.  Therefore, it is significant to emphasize that the Temple service must stem from an integrated, Torah-true personality.

          This problem has ramifications even outside the Temple, regarding our own individual service to God.  The aforementioned problem of empty ritualism was protested by the prophets, and le-havdil (not to group the two together), has been a staple criticism of normative Judaism from the time of early Christianity to Buber.  The critics of Halakha thought that Judaism focuses exclusively on the fulfillment of ritual, external activities and lacks a deeper, internal, spiritual plane.  As believing Jews, not only do we believe that the fulfillment of mitzvot has significance in and of itself, but also we believe that those actions should have deeper meaning. 

When following every last detail of the Halakha, oftentimes one can get caught up in the technical details and lose track of what lies behind them.  While it is of central significance to fulfill all of the minute details, it is crucial also to appreciate the deeper meaning, and spiritual aspects, of our actions.  It is possible for one to fulfill the mitzvot without appreciating the relationship to God they foster, which is not true avodat Hashem.  Rather, one must fulfill all of the mitzvot, and appreciate through that the connection to God.  One must maintain the element of "nediv lev," of being one who gives and contributes of his own will, as a reflection of his complete Torah observance.

(Originally delivered at seuda shelishit, Shabbat Parashat Vayakhel 5757 [1997].)

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