“All the work of the Tabernacle of the Tent of Meeting was completed, and the children of Israel did in accordance with all that the Lord had commanded Moshe; so they did.” (Shmot 39:32)

The Torah appears to be telling us that the Israelites completed the work of constructing the Tabernacle, its vessels, their appurtenances and the priestly garments, as they had been instructed by Moshe. But is this actually true? Did the Children of Israel construct the Tabernacle or was it built by Betzalel, Oholiav and their team of craftsmen and women? It would seem that the latter is correct, as it states in the previous parsha (Shmot 36:1), “Betzalel and Oholiav and every wise-hearted man, in whom, the Lord has put wisdom and understanding to know to perform all the labour of the service of the Sanctuary, shall perform everything that the Lord commanded.” Why then are all the Israelites credited with making the Tabernacle?

This question is raised by the illustrious Ohr HaChaim (Rabbi Chaim ben Atar, Morocco 1696 – Israel 1743) and he provides two answers, one pragmatic and the second, philosophical. His first answer is related to the Talmudic principle of “a person’s agent is considered like the person himself” (see Brachot 34b). Although it was only Betzalel and the craftsmen who actually did the work, the Torah credits all of the Children of Israel because the workmen were acting on their behalf, in their stead. We have seen this principle previously in the book of Shmot (12:6) regarding the Pesach sacrifice: “And it [the lamb] shall be set aside until the fourteenth day of this month and all of the congregation of the assembly of Israel shall slaughter it in the afternoon.” Rashi, citing the Sages (Mechilta and Kiddushin 41b), notes that it was impossible for every Jew to slaughter the Pesach sacrifice. Although there were thousands (and possibly tens of thousands) of lambs, each animal was brought as part of a group and not by individuals. Rather, the verse means that the Israelites appointed people to slaughter the sacrifice on their behalf and with the principle of “a person’s agent is considered like the person himself”, it was as if they slaughtered the animal themselves. The Ohr HaChaim adds, “Although [in this case] Betzalel only did his task in response to the word of Hashem and it was not the Israelites who sent him, nevertheless he is considered to be their agent since they gave consent to his appointment” (see Brachot 55a).

The Ohr HaChaim’s second answer, which is truly magnificent, contains essential concepts for understanding the inter-connectedness of the Jewish people. He writes, “This verse establishes that there is a communal bond between all Jews with regard to fulfilling the Torah. By attributing the actions of Betzalel and the craftsmen to the entire nation, the Torah demonstrates that the Jewish people share the merit of their mitzvoth with one another. This is because the Torah was given to be fulfilled by the entire community as a whole. Each person does according to his capacity and then they share the merit of the mitzvoth with one another.”

Employing this principle, the Ohr HaChaim explains a well-known verse: “Perhaps the Torah alludes to this concept when it commands (Vayikrah 19:18), “You shall love your fellow as yourself”. This means that you should love him because he is as yourself, for through his well-being you too will benefit and through his performing mitzvoth, you achieve your own completion. And, accordingly, your fellow is not someone else, rather, he is a part of you yourself, like one of your limbs.”

The Ohr HaChaim continues by noting that this principle brings us “peace of mind” because, “Hashem has commanded six hundred and thirteen mitzvoth but it is impossible to find any one individual who has fulfilled them all. The evidence of this is the existence of Jews with different obligations, namely Cohanim, Leviim, Yisraelim and women. There are mitzvoth that a Cohen must do that cannot be performed by a Yisrael, and there are mitzvoth that are relevant to Yisraelim that are not for Cohanim. And the same applies regarding Leviim and the same applies regarding women. How then is it possible for any single individual to fulfill all the mitzvoth and thereby rectify all of the 248 limbs and 365 sinews that correspond to the mitzvoth? Rather, it is certain that the Torah can be fulfilled only through the communal bond of the Jewish people, in which they share the merit of the mitzvoth with one another.”  

He now returns to our parsha: “This is what the verse is saying, when it states, “And the Children of Israel did all that Hashem commanded Moshe”. It attributes the individual deeds of each of them to all of them together. Thus, although some of them brought donations and others did the work, the Torah states regarding them all as a whole that they did “all”.

No single Jew has ever or will ever fulfill all of the mitzvoth. It is a physical impossibility. Some mitzvoth are unique to men, others to women, others to Cohanim and others to Leviim. Some mitzvoth only apply in particular circumstances, such as when someone builds a home, or owns animals or is a farmer. And yet, we are duty-bound to fulfill all the mitzvoth. How is this possible? The Ohr HaChaim’s response to this conundrum is that the Jewish people fulfill the mitzvoth as a collective. As a community, we are able to complete the task, but it is much more than that – when an individual performs the mitzvoth that are relevant to him, he thereby assists all other Jews in completing the task and they share in his merit. This, in turn, explains why we are required to love a fellow Jew, for it is through his performance of mitzvoth that we attain perfection.

In this time of national crisis, I take encouragement from the words of the Ohr HaChaim. At times, I feel useless. I am so far from the centre of the conflict. I am not in Israel and cannot offer first-hand support to the soldiers, the families of the hostages or the injured. But I am comforted by the fact that each Jew in the nation has a part to play, whether it is as a soldier, a doctor, a trauma counsellor, a food supplier, a media spokesperson, a fund-raiser or someone reciting Tehillim for the IDF and the hostages. Every person is a vital part of the whole that cannot be complete without him.

Lee, Chani Merryl and Naomi join me in wishing you Shabbat Shalom!   

Rabbi Liebenberg

Link to Rabbi’s YouTube message for the parsha: https://youtu.be/lA01ASlf-RQ?si=HZqIrw3OUQkFhPgD


Share with your community
No Comments

Leave a Comment

Your email address will not be published.