Parshat Vayakhel

Jewish Remedy to Relaxation

 “Six days your work shall be done and on the seventh day…rest” (Exodus 35:2).


In this pasuk, there seem to be two commandments: to rest on the seventh day, and to work the other six days.  But is there really a mitzvah to work six days a week?

Also, the words “your work shall be done,” are surprisingly passive.  It would seem the Torah should have commanded to “do your work” instead.

G-d, Me and Gefilte-fish: The Fish Chase

On Shabbat many have the custom to eat fish (in fact, the Mishna Berura says it is a mitzvah to eat fish on Shabbat!).

There is an interesting phenomenon about fish. If one were to open the belly of a large fish shortly after it has consumed a smaller fish, he would find the small fish facing the tail of its predator. Judging from its position, one can deduce that the big fish’s “fish-food” was not the one he had chased to near death but rather another fish that swam straight into its mouth.

We Must Make the Effort

Rabbeinu Bachye states in Chovot Halevavot (Bitachon Chap. 4) that a person must realize that the effort he puts into something is not the cause of his success. Success is delivered by G-d in His infinite ways.

This concept is a fundamental of Jewish belief. It is incumbent upon each man to do his utmost to make a living; G-d does not want us to rely upon miracles. It is for this reason that the pasuk specifically commands each person “six days your work shall be done”. We are commanded to put in the efforts and work on the other six days of the week.

However, we are also expected to realize that essentially we are just going through the motions. Ultimately, success rests in the hands of Hashem alone.  This is why our pasuk says “your work shall be done” as opposed to “do your work”.

Rav Wolbe explains (Alei Shor 2; Bitachon  VeHishtadlut), that this can be a very difficult concept. For example, a farmer is commanded to do all his field requirements yet he must still believe that his toil was not needed by G-d to provide his sustenance. He only toils because that is the manner in which G-d created the world.

Relax… We’re in G-d’s Hands 

The Torah gives us one day a week to change perspectives and internalize this belief. The world on Shabbat is a time when money has no bearings.  Chazal explain that each person is allotted a certain amount of money for the year on Rosh Hashana, and any money spent for Shabbat expenses does not take away from that allotment.

Although the fact that our livelihood comes from G-d is clearer to us on Shabbat, this is true all week, even though we are required to make the efforts. We demonstrate this belief by eating fish on Shabbat because just as the large fish had to toil for its meal by chasing a smaller fish, its actual sustenance came from a totally different fish. This is the way that the world runs throughout the week as well although we are commanded to take responsibility for our efforts.

One can only truly rest on Shabbat if one feels that ‘his efforts are his responsibility- but his successes are not’. By internalizing this, one can experience true relaxation on Shabbat. It is for this reason that working an abnormal amount is not commendable. A workaholic, by default, thinks his level of success is in his own hands as opposed to G-d’s. Tension and stress come when one feels a loss of control that he thought he once had. But when we can internalize that G-d was really in control then we can experience a truly restful state.

“I know I can” – Asher Nasa Libo

Upon being commanded to build the Mishkan (tabernacle), the Jewish people, who just a short while before were mere slaves in Egypt used to laborious work, somehow did all the skilled work that would normally have required the most experienced artisans.  Where did this miraculous ability come from?

We also find that the Torah uses the words “Chacham lev” –  “wise heart” to describe those who built the Mishkan.  Isn’t intellect in the brain not in the heart?

Which Part of You is in Control?

The word Melech (king) stands for mo’ach (brain), lev (heart) and kaved (liver). These specific bodily locations are also referred to in Judaism as the dwelling place for the neshama, ru’ach and nefesh. Kaved is the place for one’s nefesh. The nefesh is the bodily and materialistic desires. The desire to “feel good” is nefesh. The lev is ru’ach, which is one’s ego. This is the desire to “look good” in the eyes of others. Lastly, the mo’ach is the place of one’s neshama, it’s a person’s innate desire to “do good”. The neshama is supposed to rule over the ru’ach and the nefesh. It is for this reason that the brain, containing the neshama , is in the skull – similar to the fortress of a king. By controlling one’s lev and kaved a person will become worthy of the title Melech  (Orchot Tzadikkim- last chapter). Thus, it is possible for three people to do the same act but each has different intentions. One’s intention is to feel good, another is preoccupied with looking good and the third is simply trying to do good.

Believe in Yourself!

Interestingly, when you ask a person to point to himself, he points to his heart, the place of ruach – ego. He doesn’t point to his head or stomach. “Ego” comes from the German word “eich” which means “me”. The place of one’s esteem is by his heart where one feels himself. The Masters of Mussar (self introspection) write that if you take away all of one’s honor, he will want to commit suicide. On the same note, positive self esteem is when one trusts in himself as capable.

Thomas Edison explained that he discovered the light bulb only after trying everything else besides for the light bulb. To keep persisting he must have needed a lot of initiative and ambition. But more than that, he needed to believe in himself.

The chachmei lev believed that if G-d asked to build the intricate Mishkan then someone must be capable. They might have to persist and keep trying time and time again but they had the self-esteem and believed in themselves. That’s smart at heart!

Self Esteem – Crucial for Self Improvement

 Self-esteem is very important. A wise rabbi once pointed out that the first step of tikun hamidot –fixing bad habits, is to first recognize your good ones. Otherwise, looking solely at one’s faults will only rob him of his self-esteem. A healthy self esteem is needed to fuel oneself for the long path to perfection.

Be Brazen for G-d

While I was studying as a bachur in Jerusalem, I remember hearing that one of my colleagues who was then 25, had not spoken lashon hora – gossip – since the age of 19. At the age of 19 he simply told his yetzer hara (evil inclination) that he will not speak gossip for the rest of his life! That takes a lot of positive chutzpah (i.e. high self-esteem). His old friends were shocked, “how could the same boy who in elementary school was the biggest trouble maker of the class suddenly became so religious on them!” I hope he keeps it up!

Detecting Bad Habits 

“Ve’hanesi’im hevee’ooh et avnei hashoham” And the princes brought the stones of shoham (Exodus 35:27)

Rashi asks the question, why is the letter yud missing from the word ve’hanesi’im? He explains that at the time when the Jewish nation was donating to the Mishkan (tabernacle), instead of giving along with everyone else, the Nesi’im offered to compensate for whatever would be missing at the end of the collection. To their shock, Bnei Yisrael quickly donated the entire quota, leaving the Nesi’im with nothing to donate. Disturbed at their plight they asked how they could still partake in the building of the Mishkan. Hashem responded that they could donate the avnei shoham. However, since they were idle, the letter yud was taken away from them.

Rav Chaim Leib Schmulevitz (1902-1979) in his famous Sefer Sichot Mussar points out that removing the letter yud from their name in the Torah was no simple matter. In fact, Yehoshua was later given this letter by Moshe as a shemira (protection) from the plot of the spies.

Negative Traits Within

The question here is obvious – why were they penalized with the loss of a yud, if their intentions were good? Weren’t they ready to donate however much would be missing?  Rav Chaim points out that it was the trait of laziness that drove the Nesi’im to wait until the end.  The element of laziness here was minute and the Nesi’im themselves were oblivious to this trait within them!  On a similar note, Rav Yisrael Salanter (1810-1883), while expressing the importance of mussar, points out that negative traits hide in the darkest places of the heart. Mussar is like a flashlight that helps one discover and reveal his true self.

Still, how could the Nesi’im be guilty of laziness if they offered to make sure all the costs were covered?

Zeal Displayed at Its Fullest

At the sin of the Golden Calf, those involved worked with zeal and alacrity. They told Aaron that they couldn’t wait for tomorrow. They killed Hur who opposed them. They quickly took off their gold rings to ensure that it happened quickly. Those involved in this sin displayed motivation and ambition in carrying it out. 

It is understood that when one truly desires to do something they put in much more effort and apply more determination. The Nesi’im’s failure  to donate immediately reflected a slight level of indifference stemming from laziness. The Nesi’im should have learned from the behavior displayed at the Golden Calf and translate it to worshipping Hashem and the zeal necessary when fulfilling His will.

Alarm Clocks, Horses and the Telephone

 In applying this to ourselves, many times we can take note of other people’s actions and understand the innate strength we have within us that can be utilized. For example, one who has trouble getting up in the morning to go pray, only needs to look at the millionaire who jumps out of bed early each morning to earn more money. By seeing his ability to get up regardless of his exhaustion one understands that it is possible, when there is true will, to motivate oneself to accomplish the same.

The former  Mashgiach of Yeshivas Ponivitch, Rav Yechezkel Levenstien, would act with tremendous strength even though his physical makeup was frail and weak. When asked about this, he commented how he had learned from the Chinese while staying in Shanghai during WWII how it is possible to use extreme physical strength. The frail old Chinese men would harness themselves and pull heavy wagons, the way horses would, using unusual amounts of strengths. Rav Levenstien learnt from their ways and applied this to himself.

I myself once used this method to improve myself. I would always have tremendous difficulty staying up learning on the night of Shavuot until once I stayed up the entire night on the phone having a delightful conversation. After hanging up, I made note of my inner strength to carry on with lack of sleep when properly motivated.

Shabbat Shalom,

About the author, Yosef

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