Why Did the Tribal Leaders on One Occasion Donate Last and on the Other Donate First?
Learning to Utilize the Moment and not to get too Carried Away With Dreams
From HaGaon Rav Yaakov Sasson Shlit”a, The Head of Halacha Yomit and translated by Rav Daniel Levy Shlit”a, Leeds UK.
This Shabbat, we shall read about the “Dedication of the Altar”, which is the first time that Am Yisrael offered sacrifices on the altar and because of that they were required to prepare all of the cohanim’s requirements, which included their unique garments.
It states in the Parasha, “The tribal leaders brought the sardonyxes and other precious stones for the ephod and breastplate” (Shemot 35:27). In the beginning when all of Am Yisrael donated to the work of erecting the Mishkan, the tribal leaders didn’t rush to donate together with Am Yisrael. Yet here
when it talks about donating to the dedication of the altar, the tribal leaders rushed to be first, and they donated the sardonyxes and other precious stones. Why is this?
Rashi addresses this in his commentary and he too asks why did the tribal leaders donate first towards the dedication of the altar, whereas in the construction of the Mishkan they weren’t first? This is what the tribal leaders said when the Mishkan was erected, let the congregation first donate everything that they want and then afterwards we shall see what is missing and make up the difference. Meaning, the tribal leaders thought to consider what unique items may be lacking for the erection of the Mishkan and then they will fill the void.
But in the end, when Am Yisrael finished bringing their donations, the tribal leaders saw that nothing was missing and there was nothing left for them to donate. Therefore, afterwards when the altar was dedicated, they hurried to be first to donate the precious stones for the ephod and breastplate.
HaGaon Rav Yaakov Galinski zt”l (1920-2014) explains (see the work V’higadata) in the name of the Chatam Sofer (Rav Moshe Schreiber z”l 1762-1839) that in truth the tribal leaders were tzaddikim and they delayed in donating to the erection of the Mishkan since they knew that there is a spiritual advantage in being the one who finishes and completes, as our chachamim said (Sota 13b), “a mitzvah is called after the person who completes it.”
However, really what they did was wrong based on the response of the Gaon the Chacham Tzvi (Rav Tzvi Hirsch ben Yaakov Ashkenazi z”l 1656-1718) (siman 106) concerning a person who was imprisoned and they gave him permission to be released for just one day. That person asked should he go out
immediately at the first opportunity so that he may fulfil a mitzvah, or is it better to wait and go out only after a certain date arrives such as “Shabbat Zachor”. For then he will be able to hear the reading of Parashat Zachor in the Bet Kenesset, which is a Torah mitzvah?
The Chacham Tzvi answered him that he should go out at the first opportunity to fulfil a mitzvah because “enthusiastic people rush to fulfil mitzvot” (Pesachim 4a), and that the enthusiasm in fulfilling a mitzvah is a greater beauty and a choicer way to act.
Therefore we may deduce that likewise the tribal leaders should have rushed to donate to the construction of the Mishkan as soon as was possible and not to have waited until the donations had been amassed in order to complete what was lacking.
What is the reason that enthusiastic people rush to fulfil mitzvot? Our chachamim said (Avot 2), “Don’t say when I have spare time I will study Torah, for perhaps you won’t ever find the spare time.” Therefore a person should always be enthusiastic! Not to talk too much and to arrange programmes, but rather to enthusiastically grab the chance for mitzvot!
On this point Rav Chaim of Sanz z”l (1793-1876) related a story:
There was a lady from the village who was poor and destitute. She had sons and daughters, pulling at her apron and asking for bread. But this poor lady had nothing to give them. She gazed heavenward and said, “Ribono shel Olam! I beg of you, give me food for my children!” Hashem heard her prayer. He revealed to her a freshly laid egg, warm and fresh, and she found it. The poor woman was so happy! She lifted up the egg and waved it in front of her children. “Listen children! I found an egg!”
The children were so happy! The joy of the poor! How much may they eat of just one egg? But nevertheless they were joyful and they stretched out their hands to the egg. But the mother lifted the egg away and said to her children, “No! We shan’t eat the egg, rather we shall request from our neighbour to place the egg under his hen to incubate it! Afterwards we shall then have a chick!”
The children were happy and shouted, “Hooray! We will have a chicken!” “No children!” Said the mother. “The chick will grow to become a chicken and then she shall lay more eggs.” The children replied and then every day we shall eat an egg! What joy!”
“No” said the mother. “We shan’t eat that egg either! We shall let the hen incubate them and many chicks shall hatch. We shall have a flock of chickens!” “How beautiful!” Called out the children. “We shall eat meat every day!” “You haven’t understood,” said the mother. “The chickens will lay many eggs,
they will rear another generation of chickens, and then we shall sell all the chickens and buy a small calf. We will then rear her until she becomes a cow. She will produce milk and bear more calves until we have an entire herd! Then we shall sell some of them and buy ourselves a home with a plot of land. We
will sow seeds and reap the crops and then we shall want for nothing and we shall have many good things!”
The children’s eyes sparkled, they forgot their hunger and the poor mother played joyfully with the egg. But it fell from her hand and smashed! The whole dream spilt on the ground…
The intention isn’t to discourage incubating the egg and acting in a wise way, rather the intention is not to get overly carried away with dreams, rather one must get up and do something. Either cook the egg or send it for incubation. We must utilise the present opportunities, instead of dreams about the future!