Sunday, March 24, 2013

The Message of the Ten Plagues

The Sefas Emes, R' Yehuda Aryeh Leib of Gur, d.1905, taught in the name of his grandfather, the Chiddushei HaRim:
כי עשר מכות נגד עשרה מאמרות ועל ידי זה באו אחר כך לעשרת הדברות
“The Ten Plagues parallel the Ten Utterances [with which the world was created] and through this they came afterwards to the Ten Commandments.”
The Ten Plagues enabled the Jewish people to make the transition from the Ten Utterances of Creation to the Ten Commandments at Mt. Sinai. What was this transition and how did the Plagues make it possible?

Rav Yosef Albo (d.1444), in his Sefer HaIkkarim, writes (1:4):
העקרים הכוללים והכרחיים לדת האלקית הם שלשה, והם: מציאות השם, וההשגחה לשכר ולענש, ותורה מן השמים.
“The basic and essential principles for a Divine religion are three, (1) the existence of God, (2) supervision for reward and punishment, and (3) Torah from Heaven.”
The concept of the עשרה מאמרות  - Ten Utterances of Creation - refers to the basic principle that God is the Creator of the Universe. However, in order to accept the Torah and its commandments we need to recognize that not only did God create the universe, but that He watches over the behavior of every individual human beings and that He cares about what we do. This is the concept of “השגחה לשכר ולענש” – “supervision for reward and punishment” – and it is an essential prerequisite for accepting the Torah. This principle was taught to the Jewish people by the precise מדה כנגד נדה (“measure for measure”) punishments with which God struck the Egyptians in the Ten Plagues.

Thus, the עשרה מאמרות (Ten Utterances of Creation) teach us מציאות השם (the existence of God) and the עשר מכות (Ten Plagues) teach us the principle of השגחה לשכר ולענש (supervision for reward and punishment) bringing us to the עשרת הדברות (Ten Commandments) which are the essence of תורה מן השמים (Torah from Heaven).

“Anyone that speaks abundantly about the Exodus from Egypt is praiseworthy.”

The Hagada tells us, “Anyone that speaks abundantly about Yetzias Mitzraim (the Exodus from Egypt) is praiseworthy.” Rav Shlomo Kluger (d.1869) is quoted to have said that this means, if one speaks a great deal about Yetzias Mitzraim, this is a sign that he is a praiseworthy person.

Rav Yosef Shaul Nathanson (d.1875) is quoted to explain this idea with a story:
Once, a very poor man suddenly became very rich. Over the years, he hired personal tutors and he became a learned and wise man. Every year, on the anniversary of his sudden success, he would celebrate with a party.
Suddenly, it happened that he lost all of his wealth. Yet, every year he continued to celebrate the anniversary of his earlier success. His friends asked him, “Why do you continue to celebrate when you have lost all of your wealth?”
The man replied, “I lost the money that I gained on that day, but the main benefit I received from that money was the wisdom that I learned from my teachers, and that is still with me!”
Similarly, when we went free from Egypt, we gained our material freedom and we also gained the Torah and the close relationship with God that comes with it. Even though, today, we are once again in exile, and do not have the same material freedom that we gained when we left Egypt, we still have the Torah and our relationship with God.

A person who joyously recounts the Exodus from Egypt while we remain in exile, demonstrates that, for him, the main benefit of the Exodus was not mere material freedom, but the spiritual benefits of the Exodus.
 (הגדת יינה של תורה)

"This is the Bread of Poverty"

In the introductory paragraph of the maggid section of the Hagada, “הא לחמא עניא”, we find an apparently unconnected sequence of statements.

First we declare that this bread that we have before is “the bread of poverty eaten by our ancestors.” Then we invite anyone who needs to join our seder. And then we declare, “This year we are here, next year may be in Eretz Yisrael. This year we are slaves, next year may we be free men.” What is the idea that connects these declarations?

The Bina L’Itim explains that one of the critical requirements of the mitzvah of tzedaka (charity) is to reassure and comfort the impoverished person so he should not feel shame for having fallen to the state that he needs to accept charity. Thus, in this declaration in which we invite those in need to join our seder, we surround our declaration with two statements intended to comfort the impoverished person.

First we say, “This is the bread of poverty which our ancestors ate in Egypt.” We are all descended from those impoverished Egyptian slaves; we all understand and share in your current difficulty.

Secondly, we declare, “This year we are here, next year may be in Eretz Yisrael.” Just as our ancestors were redeemed, so too, next year may we all be redeemed from poverty and suffering.

(ספר בינה לעתים - סוף דרוש שני לשבת הגדול)

Why Four Cups of Wine?

What is the unique significance of wine that we use it for the arba kosos - the four cups of wine? Indeed, why do we use wine for kiddush every Shabbos and Yom Tov?

Rav Yakov of Izbitz (ספר הזמנים על הגש"פ) explains that wine is the epitome of physicality – הטובה המובחרת בעוה"ז. This is why wine causes drunkenness, for the nature of the physical world is to confuse the mind and reduce our spiritual sensitivity. Therefore, on the Shabbos we specifically make kiddush – “sanctification” – on wine to indicate that all our physical activities and pleasures throughout the week were done for the ultimate goal of serving God.

This concept has extra significance on Pesach. God freed us from Egypt so that we should serve Him. (ראה בספר חרדים ט:כד באריכות) As long as we were slaves in Egypt, we were unable to be fully devoted to God's service, both physically and spiritually, for their physical actions remained under the control of their human masters. Only בני חורין – free men – can fully devote themselves to the service of God. This is the symbolism of the four cups of wine, to express our commitment to channel, not only our hearts and minds, but every aspect of our freedom, even the most physical, to the service of God.

The Redemption from Egypt and the Future Redemption

The Talmud (שבת ל"א) tells us that when a person passes away and comes before the Heavenly Court, one of the first questions he is asked is, “צפית לישועה” – “Did you await with anticipation the [final] redemption?” This would seem to indicate that there is an actual obligation to do so. The ספר מצות קטן (מצוה א') (R' Yitzchak of Corbeil, 13th century) asks where can such an obligation be found in the Torah?

He answers that anticipating the final redemption is part of the basic mitzvah of אמונה – belief in God – as expressed in the עשרת הדברות (Ten Commandments):
"I am Hashem your God Who took you out from the land of Egypt, from the house of slavery." (Exodus 20:2)

The סמ"ק explains that God is telling us:
כשם שאני רוצה שתאמינו בי שאני הוצאתי אתכם [מארץ מצרים], כך אני רוצה שתאמינו בי שאני ה' אלקיכם ואני עתיד לקבץ אתכם ולהושיעכם.
Just as I want you to believe in Me that I took you out [from the land of Egypt], so I want you to believe in Me that I am Hashem your God and, in the future, I will gather you and save you.
The סמ"ק teaches us that our belief in the coming of the final גאולה is built upon our belief in our first גאולה from Egypt. We find this theme expressed the Hagada many times in statements such as:

השתא הכא, לשנה הבאה בארעה דישראל. השתא עבדי, לשנה הבאה בני חורין.
“This year here, next year in the land of Israel! This year slaves, next year free men!”

לשנה הבאה בירושלים!
“Next year in Jerusalem!”

Thursday, March 21, 2013

Tzav - The Torah and Derech Eretz

Parshas Tzav begins with a discussion of the laws involving the removal of the ash from the altar. There were two aspects to this service (as understood by Rashi). The Torah (Leviticus 6:3) first describes the daily terumas hadeshen, in which a portion of the ashes was removed and deposited near the altar (specifically, on the east side of the ramp leading to the altar).

The next verse describes the intermittent removal of all the accumulated ash from the altar. Unlike the terumas hadeshen, which only involved the removal of a small amount of ash, this was a rather messy job. The verse (6:4) states:
He (the kohein) shall remove his garments, and he shall don other garments, and he shall remove the ashes to outside the camp, to a pure place.
Rashi (based on the Talmud) comments on the opening of this verse:
ופשט את בגדיו: אין זו חובה אלא דרך ארץ, שלא ילכלך בהוצאת הדשן בגדים שהוא משמש בהן תמיד, בגדים שבשל בהן קדרה לרבו אל ימזוג בהן כוס לרבו, לכך ולבש בגדים אחרים, פחותין מהן:
He shall remove his garments: This is not an obligation but derech eretz (literally "the way of the land", i.e. proper behavior), so that he should not make the garments that he regularly uses for the [Temple] service dirty during the removal of the ashes. The garments in which one cooks a pot for his master are not [proper] for serving him a cup [of wine]. Therefore, "he shall don other garments" inferior to [his regular priestly garments].
While there is a great deal of discussion as to exactly what Rashi means when he says that this is not an "obligation" (עיין ברמב"ן ובגור אריה), it is clear that Rashi is basically saying that even though, from the technical perspective of the laws of the Temple service, there is no need to change garments for this service, the Torah instructs us to do so anyways because of derech eretz.

Derech eretz, in its simplest sense, is simply civilized behavior – politeness, cleanliness, responsibility, trustworthiness, and all of the other essential modes of behavior that enable us to interact with our fellow human beings in an effective and pleasant manner. In a broader sense, derech eretz is a general term for all of the middos tovos – positive character traits – that are expected from a Jew. Middos such as humility and modesty, respect and gratitude, kindness and compassion, patience and tolerance, love for one’s fellow and love for God. The ספר מעלות המדות (Rabbeinu Yechiel, 13th century) summarizes this idea:
דרך ארץ הוא שיהא האדם מחשב בלבו הדרכים שיש לו לנהוג ולילך בהן כדי שיתרצה בהן בפני המקום ובפני הבריות.
Derech eretz consists of a person considering the ways he acts and behaves in order that he should find favor before Hashem and his fellow men.
R' Moshe Feinstein
R' Moshe Feinstein (d.1986) writes that we see from this teaching of Rashi that the rules of derech eretz are not simply recommended ways of behavior, but are fully binding laws which we are obligated to obey like all Torah laws. One who fails to properly follow the requirements of derech eretz in his service of God, such as the requirement to be dressed respectfully during prayer, demonstrates a basic spiritual failing.

The Talmudic tractate Avos, which deals with the principles of derech eretz, opens with the declaration, "Moses received the Torah at Sinai." The Bartenura commentary (R' Ovadia m'Bartenura, late 15th century) writes that this is done to tell us that the lessons of proper character and middos that are taught in Avos also originated with Moses at Sinai.

Indeed, one can argue that, at the most basic level, everything in the Torah is based upon the foundation of derech eretz. This is the underlying message in the famous story of Hillel who, when asked to provide an extremely short summation of the entire Torah, replied, "What is hateful to you, do not do to others. This is the entire Torah, everything else is commentary. Go and learn." (Talmud, Shabbos 31a) Properly understood, everything in the Torah, including the commandments between God and man, is based on derech eretz.

One of the most basic aspects of derech eretz is hakaras hatov (gratitude), i.e. the ability to acknowledge the good that another has done for you and the moral obligation that this creates. The Sefer HaChinuch (Mitzva 33) writes that it is this concept that underlies the mitzva to honor and obey one's parents, and from this we learn how great is our obligation to honor and obey our Creator.

As we have written previously, gratitude is the most basic theme of the festival of Pesach. As we say at the conclusion of the Magid section of the haggada, "לפיכך אנחנו חיבים להודות וכו" - "Therefore, we are obligated to give thanks....” In the final analysis, the entire seder night is an exercise in hakaras hatov. Of the four sons of the hagada, the wicked son is the one who excludes himself from the community, as if the activities of the seder night have nothing to do with him. The hagada states that this attitude is kefira b'ikar - basic heresy - for he denies his moral obligation to his Benefactor. The evil of the wicked son is rooted in a failure in derech eretz.

This helps us understand the the famous saying of Chazal, דרך ארץ קדמה לתורה – “Derech Eretz must precede Torah.” Derech eretz is integral not only to our relationships with our fellow men, but also, and perhaps even more so, to our relationship with God.

Friday, March 15, 2013

Vayikra - A Pleasing Aroma Before God

In Parshas Vayikra we begin to read of the korbanos (sacrificial service). As we have discussed previously, the korbanos are an expression of one of the most basic concepts of Judaism, that there is no activity, no matter how mundane or physical, that cannot be lifted up to the service of God. Even as mundane an activity as slaughtering, butchering, cooking, and eating an animal can truly bring us closer to God, as implied by the term korban, if done with the proper intention, in compliance with God's commands.

Indeed, the spiritual power of the korbanos is not, ultimately, rooted in the actions themselves, but in the fact that they are done in obedience to God's will. As the prophet Samuel said to King Saul (I Samuel 15:22), "Does God want burnt-offerings and sacrifices as much as obeying the voice of God? Behold, to obey is better than sacrifice, and to hearken than the fat of rams."

This is actually true for all the mitzvos. While there is no question that the mitzvos serve a variety of functions, including teaching us important spiritual lessons, the basic function of the mitzvos is to bring us closer to God, and this can only be achieved through fulfilling God's commands. 

One of the classic difficulties in religious philosophy is understanding how it is possible for a human being - a finite, limited, physical being - to achieve a true connection and unity with a God Who is infinite and incomprehensible. Judaism teaches that it is the mitzvos - the commandments - that enable us to achieve this otherwise impossible union. When God commands us to perform a given act, no matter how physical that act may superficially appear, He has invested that act with His Will. Thus, when we perform that physical act, we achieve a connection with the Will of God.

We say in the Shema, “Hashem Echad”—“God is one.” This basic principle of Judaism, the absolute unity of God, tells us that God is absolutely indivisible; He and His Will are one. When, through the performance of a mitzva, we achieve a connection with the Will of God, we are connecting to God Himself. This is only possible because God has connected the given act with His Will. This is the essence of the mitzva concept. An act that is not commanded by God, as positive as it may be, is ultimately a finite act that cannot, in of itself, achieve devekus—true union with God. Thus, many commentaries connect the word mitzvah with the Aramaic term “tzavsa” – “binding” – because the mitzvah binds us to God, precisely by virtue of the fact that it is a mitzva.

When one brings a korban in accordance with Torah law, one is implicitly declaring his acceptance of the authority of the Torah and his commitment to obey all of God's commandments, even those which, like the korbanos, are essentially non-rational. It is this commitment which gives the korbanos their power to atone for sin and to bring us closer to God. Indeed, the commentaries tell us that the reason the Torah calls a korban a “satisfying aroma to Hashem” (Leviticus 1:9) is that just as our sense of smell can detect a scent from a distance, similarly when a person brings a korban, it hints to the good deeds and the spiritual improvements that the person will do in the future. It gives a “pleasing aroma” of his future mitzvos. This is the "satisfying aroma" that God “smells” when a person brings a korban. (Rav Eliezer Ashkenazi, cited by Rav Elie Munk in The Call of the Torah and חדושי הרי"ם, cited in מעינה של תורה)

Sunday, March 10, 2013

Cleaning for Pesach by Rabbi Gissinger

How to clean properly for Pesach without making yourself insane.

(Thanks to Tuvia Poe for typing up the document!)

Cleaning for Pesach
        Pesach – Z'man Cherusainu – is quickly approaching. We are all anxiously and impatiently awaiting its arrival. After all – the Seder nights in all their glory. The entire family – father, mother and children – sitting around the lavishly laden table – discussing in depth the very foundation of our emunah  יציאת מצרים. Our anticipation grows stronger with every passing day. Its unbearable – we can no longer wait!!! Or can we?? I must sadly admit that I've heard people say, “Pesach is unbearable”, “It's too hard”, “Not worth the work”. If my previous description of the Seder doesn't seem to match yours – perhaps you're doing something wrong. I must elaborate a bit and I will occasionally quote and draw from the writings of HaRav HaGaon Rav Chaim Pinchaos Scheinberg שליט''א. Obviously, the primary problem is the pre-Pesach cleaning, cleaning and more cleaning. Unfortunately, the average housewife does 75% more cleaning than is required according to the halacha. Spring cleaning should be done after Pesach.
        The following items need not be washed for Pesach; Windows, walls, carpets,ceilings, doors and doorknobs. Linens, bedspreads, curtain, towels, fresh dish towels. For those who sell their chometz – all pots, pans, dishes, flatware, appliances (e.g. mixer, grinder, toaster, microwave etc.) and toys which are being stored away for Pesach.
        The closet / room where chometz and or chometz utensils are being locked up does not need to be cleaned for Pesach. Rather, merely take a quick assessment of the approximate amount of chometz present there so that is may be properly listed among items being sold as chometz.
        Before beginning specific halachos regarding the preparation of the home and kitchen for Pesach, I wish to make it clear that I have no intention of abolishing Minhagim which have been passed down be Klal Yisroel from generation to generation. After all, the Shulchan Aruch and later poskim       (שער הציון סי' תמב ס''ק נב) commend Chumros (stringencies) for Pesach because, ישראל קדושים הם. Nevertheless, some practices adopted by women today are not an actual continuation of those minhagim. Furthermore, one is not permitted to perform stringencies when they infringe upon and undermine basic Torah obligations. For example, as stated above, women are obligated in all the mitzvos of the Seder as men are. They also have the mitzvah of Simchas Yom Tov –enjoying the Chag. How can these be accomplished when they are totally washed out, exhausted and too tense to even maintain a conversation!! We must maintain our priorities!
        Note: The rationale for some of the halachos stated below is based on the following premise. The obligation to search for and destroy Chometz applies to Chometz which is the size of one complete k'zayis (i.e. approximately the volume of one ounce. A standard whiskey cup holds one ounce) or more. According o some opinions even less than a k'zayis is problematic unless it is rendered unfit for human consumption. In consideration of that opinion, I have recommended, not required, (where applicable) to apply an ammonia/water solution to the chometz thus rendering it inedible. Do not confuse this halacha with the more stringent issur of consuming chometz.
Clothing: Pockets of adult clothing (i.e. specifically those which during the year mat have occasionally  contained chometz) and all children's clothing which will be worn on Pesach should be emptied of food and crumbs. Alternatively, if one resolves not to put any food in pockets during Pesach – follow the rules in the following sentence regarding other clothing. Pockets of other clothing (not to be worn on Pesach) need only be frisked for either edible crumbs of chometz (not little crumbs mixed with lint and dust) or a “considerable amount” of chometz.Note: a “considerable amount” equals a k'ziyas. Should one decide on Pesach to wear clothing whose pockets were not thoroughly cleaned – food may not be put into those pockets.Note: Clothing which will not be worn on Pesach and will be in a sealed closet and sold with the chometz – need not be checked at all.
Toys: a) Only those toys which may contain a ”considerable amount” of chometz must be cleaned of same. b) Toys which don't usually contain a ”considerable amount” of chometz but rather have small particles of slightly dirty chometz stuck to them, may be used as is on Pesach. c) in the rare case that small particles of chometz appear to be in edible condition – although according to the view of most Poskim, the toys may be used as is – care must be taken not to place those toys on areas where food is placed (e.g. tables, countertops, etc). Furthermore, as stated above, some poskim rule that in this case the chometz adhering to the toys should be rendered inedible. This may be accomplished in the following manner; 1)waterproof toys may be soaked (in a tub) in ammonia solution for a short time and then rinsed. By doing so, any chometz which may have been stuck to the toys becomes inedible and is no longer considered chometz. The toys may be dried and used as is. 2) Toys which can not be immersed in water can either be wiped with a sponge moistened with the ammonia solutuion as above or the chometz must be removed. Note: Any toys not being used on Pesach need not be checked but rather they may be sold with the chometz.
Seforim/Books: Since the only crumbs that might be present in seforim or books are less than a k'zayis, these items do not have to be cleaned for Pesach. However, care must be taken not to place them on areas where food is placed (e.g. tables, countertops, etc). Nevertheless, to avoid any problems, seforim/books which commonly have crumbs in them (e.g. Bentchers, etc.) should be cleaned or sealed away with the Chometz.
Preparing the Kitchen
Refrigerator/Freezer: should be washed with ammonia / water solution and may then be used without lining the shelves with paper etc.
Range Top: Clean thoroughly then light flames for ten minutes. Cover the area between the burners with aluminum foil. Note: the drip rings/pans need only be cleaned, not kashered.
Oven – self-cleaning: set the self clean at the highest setting for one hour.
Oven – non self-cleaning: apply acid solution (e.g. EasyOff), rinse and then light for one hours at the highest seting.
Microwave: Clean thoroughly (especially around fan area) then don't use for twenty four hours. Boil water in the microwave for several minutes so that it will fill with vapor. Since the validity ofkashering plastic for Pesach is questionable, use only when Pesach food is covered e.g in a plastic bag.
Sink: Clean thoroughly then don't use with very hot water (i.e. too hot to touch with one's bare hand) for twenty four hours and then perform Iruy (i.e. pour boiling water) on entire surface including the spout.
Counter tops: Clean thoroughly with ammonia solution then either cover with aluminum foil etc. or perform Iruy and use as is. Hot Pesach food should not be placed directly (i.e. without a dish or container) on counter.
Pantry and cabinets: Clean thoroughly with ammonia solution and then use as is (i.e. without lining with paper etc).
Food and Non food Products
        In order to understand the following halachos, a brief introduction is necessary: Torah – prohibited foods (e.g. non-slaughtered meat/fowl, pork etc.) which have become unfit for human consumption, are no longer prohibited Min HaTorah. Nevertheless, Mi'dRabbonon, one is forbidden to intentionally ingest these unfit foods. The reason for this issur is termed אחשבי. By ingesting the unfit food one has made a statement that for him that food is indeed edible. Therefore, even if the food is unfit for animal (canine) consumption it is Rabbinically prohibited.
        Chometz, however, is somewhat unique in that it is prohibited to be eaten even if unfit for human consumption providing that is is at least fit for animal (canine) consumption. Being that the Torah prohibited leaven even though it is technically inedible, so too, moldy bread can also be used to ferment dough and is thus also prohibited. However, mixtures containing chometz which can no longer be used as a leavening agent fall back into the category of all Issuurim and thus when unfit for human consumption they are no longer prohibited. Nevertheless, consuming them is Rabbinically prohibited because of ‘אחשבי. 
There are three prohibitions relating to chometz; 1) Consumption, 2) Deriving benefit (e.g. feeding pets Chometz), 3) Ownership. Chometz which is inedible and unable to be used to sour dough may be owned and even used for any use providing that it is not ingested. Thus, the following products may be used on Pesach without any Kosher for Pesach label;
All cosmetics (e.g creams, ointments, powders, nail polish, lipstick, blush, eyeshadow, deodorants, hair spray, shampoos, perfumes, etc) Note: When not using a new lipstick, check the old one for crumbs.
All cleaning agents (e.g. soaps – solid /liquid, dish washing and laundry detergent, waxes and polishes, etc.)
All paper goods, plastic ware, aluminum foil, etc.
Once again I wish to reiterate that my intention is not to dissuade those wishing to follow more stringent opinions form doing so. Rather, I have presented the halachos according to the opinions of those Poskim whom I feel one may follow להלכה ולמעשה.

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.