Thursday, March 7, 2013

Vayakhel - The Merit of the Women

In Parshas Vayakhel we read of the contributions that were brought by the Jewish people for the building of the Mishkan (the Tabernacle). The Torah (Exodus 35:22) writes:
ויבאו האנשים על הנשים כל  נדיב לב הביאו חח ונזם וטבעת וכומז כל כלי זהב וכו'
And the men came with the women, every generous person; they brought bracelets, nose-rings, rings, and and body ornaments, every kind of golden item....
Many commentaries note the phrasing, "על הנשים" - literally, "upon the women" - rather than the more conventional "עם הנשים" - "with the women." Although, from a pshat (basic) perspective, this usage is justifiable (as pointed out by the ibn Ezra), a number of commentaries see deeper meaning in the use of this phrasing. The Ramban and Rabbeinu Bachya see this phrasing as indicating that the women came first with their donations, and the men came later and found the women already there. Rabbeinu Bachya sees in this an indication of the great merit of the Jewish women, who had refused to donate their jewelry for the making of the golden calf, but were eager to donate their jewelry for the mishkan.

Rabbeinu Bachya goes on to say in the name of the Pirkei D'Rebi Eliezer that the women were rewarded with the privilege of celebrating the roshei chadashim (the new months) more than the men, for they donated to the mishkan which was erected on a rosh chodesh. (A number of authorities make the same statement.)

There is a problem, however, in that when the Pirkei D'Rebi Eliezer discusses the reward of the women, it never mentions the fact that they donated to the mishkan. The Pirkei D'Rebi Eliezer says only that they were rewarded for their refusal to donate to the golden calf. So what is Rabbeinu Bachya's justification in connecting the reward of celebrating the roshei chadashim to the women's donations to the mishkan? On the other hand, if we don't accept this connection, the we have no explanation for why the celebration of rosh chodesh would be the appropriate reward for the women refusing to donate to the golden calf.

The answer, it would seem, is that, although the primary reason for the reward for the women was their refusal to donate to the golden calf, this alone was not sufficient. After all, maybe the reason the women refused to donate their jewelry was simply because they didn't want to give up their jewelry! However, the fact that the women gladly donated their jewelry for the construction of the mishkan, so much so that they were there even before the men, clearly demonstrated that they were perfectly willing to give up their jewlery for a higher purpose, and that their refusal to donate to the golden calf was motivated by their recognition that the making of the golden calf was not a meritorious deed.

It was only after they demonstrated their enthusiasm to donate for a good cause that their refusal to donate for a bad cause became truly meritorious. Thus, the final act of donating to the mishkan was what actually brought them the reward of celebration of the rashei chadashim.

This idea can be relevant in many areas. For all of us, certain aspects of religious observance come more easily than others. When we demonstrate our commitment to serving God in those areas that we find less appealing and less comfortable, this gives greater meaning to those aspects of observance that come more easily.
The Chida

An example of this can be found with regard to the requirement to eat three meals every Shabbos. The Chida (R' Chaim Yosef Dovid Azulai, d.1806) writes (מחזיק ברכה או"ח רצ"א ס"א) that it is very important to eat the third meal, for "it is through this meal that the honor of Shabbos is recognized", for people regularly eat one meal at night and one by day, and it is only by eating this third meal that it is clear that the first two meals were also eaten for the honor of Shabbos. (Some argue that this is the reason the third meal is colloquially known as shalosh seudos - literally, "three meals" (rather than the more accurate seudah shlishis - "third meal") for it is by eating the third meal that we give meaning to all three of the Shabbos meals.

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