“Then all the wise-hearted among those who did the work made the Mishkan…” (Shemos
For three parshas, Hashem has instructed Moshe Rabbeinu regarding the construction of the Mishkan: what materials to use; what furnishings to build; how many walls, pegs, and pillars; what the Kohanim should wear, etc. This week, in our parshah, Moshe finally relays those instructions to Bnei Yisrael, who promptly and faithfully carry them out. Yet the making of the Mishkan didn’t go as smoothly as our pasuk implies.
Putting It All Together
The Midrash (Tanchuma, Pekudei 11) tells us that after everyone had brought all the gold, silver, brass, fabrics, goats’ hair, animal skins, wood, oil, and precious stones; made the tent, clasps, boards, bars, pillars, and sockets; and fashioned the aron, table, menorah, altars, and wash basin – after all the spinning, crafting, carving, cutting, engraving, and embroidering, only one thing was missing: the Shechinah. Now that Bnei Yisrael had built Hashem this magnificent dwelling place, surely He’d immediately rest His presence upon it.
But He didn’t. They waited and waited, but still no Shechinah.
Bitterly disappointed, they appealed to the wise-hearted to erect the Mishkan and draw down the Divine Presence at last. But despite their wisdom, they couldn’t keep the Mishkan standing. Neither could master craftsmen Betzalel and Ohaliav, to whom the people also turned.
“What has Moshe done to us?” the masses began grumbling. “We’ve spent so much time, money, and energy on this project, because he promised that Hashem would descend from on high and dwell among us. So where is He?!”
Why indeed couldn’t they get the Mishkan up and running? Because of Moshe. Bnei Yisrael had contributed all the materials, and Betzalel and Ohaliav had fashioned them, but Moshe had done nothing. Sure, he’d supervised, but he hadn’t actually “gotten his hands dirty” – and he felt terrible about that.
Seeing how upset Moshe was, Hashem withdrew. That’s why all of Bnei Yisrael’s efforts to erect the Mishkan had failed – Hashem wasn’t with them.
But the people didn’t understand that. So they complained to Moshe himself. “We did everything you told us to do!” they cried. “We’ve followed your instructions to the letter. So why do we have nothing to show for it?!”
Now Moshe felt even worse.
Finally, Hashem explained Himself to Moshe: “Because you were so upset about not having worked on the Mishkan, I made sure it couldn’t stand without you. I wanted the entire nation to see that your participation is crucial. Bnei Yisrael has worked very hard, but you’re the only one who can put it all together. That’s why I’m writing in the Torah, ‘Moshe erected the Mishkan’ (Shemos 40:18).”
Why did Moshe dismiss his considerable contribution to the Mishkan? After all, the Midrash (Bamidbar Rabbah 12:9) recounts that he’d watched over all the artisans every minute, making sure they followed the Divine blueprint exactly as Hashem had shown him. That’s why the Torah affirms that every component of the Mishkan was executed precisely “as Hashem had commanded Moshe.”
Similarly, the Torah refers to “the day Moshe finished erecting the Mishkan” (Bamidbar 7:1), and Rashi comments: “Betzalel, Oholiav, and all the wise-hearted assembled the Mishkan, yet the Torah credits Moshe because he utterly devoted himself to […] overseeing them.” So why did he think he’d done nothing?
Here, says the Lekach Tov, we see the greatness of active involvement. Despite all of Moshe’s self-sacrifice for the Mishkan, he felt he’d missed out on the actual physical labor. That’s why Hashem let him erect this structure just so he could have a hand in it.
Why is physical involvement so important? Because it has a powerful impact on us. Most mitzvos are things we do with our bodies. They’re physical acts. That’s how they engrave themselves on our hearts. (Chovos HaLevavos, Cheshbon HaNefesh 21)
Man can’t perfect himself by means of ideas alone. As a physical being, he requires physical acts of refinement. To quote the Sefer HaChinuch (mitzvah 16): “The heart is shaped by actions.” In other words, we are what we do.
When it came to the Mishkan, Moshe wasn’t content to serve as “upper management.” He had to be part of the construction crew. He couldn’t just coach; he had to play. Even Moshe Rabbeinu, who dedicated his life to learning and teaching Torah, craved not just nishma but na’aseh, not just ideas but actions. So should we.
Question for Discussion
When was there a mitzvah or good deed to do, an event to organize, or the like, which you really wanted to participate in? What happened?