Parshas Terumah: Giving It Our All

ועשו לי מקדש ושכנתי בתוכם

They shall make a sanctuary for Me-so that I may dwell among them (25:8)


With the exception of the incident of the eigel hazahav (golden calf), the rest of Chumash Shemos is devoted to the preparation for and construction of the mishkan (tabernacle). On the simplest level, its purpose was to be a resting place for the Shechina, HaShem’s divine presence.

The Chafetz Chaim (Zechor L’Miriam perek 18) quotes the midrash (Bamidbar Rabba 12:3) that Moshe Rabbeinu was terrified and shaken up by a tremendous fear gripping him when he heard this mitzvah. How does one go about building a home for HaShem? Can a human being, comprised of flesh and blood even attempt such a feat? Not only did Moshe not feel capable of such a task, he also felt that it would be arrogant for any person to believe that he would be able to do it. Even the greatest artisan would not be able to complete the task because in the end, our actions are physical and the House of HaShem would only be physical in symbolic nature.

To this HaShem responded: אמר הקב"ה איני מבקש לפי כחי אלא לפי כחם- I am not asking you to build it using My strength; I am asking you to build it with YOURS and Klal Yisroel’s strength.

The obvious question of course is how this would allay any of Moshe’s fears? If anything, one would think that the opposite was true: “If I am using HaShem’s powers, than I can now accomplish that which is above me. However, when using my own powers, I am extremely limited in my capabilities.”

The Chafetz Chaim explains that the rule is that one must exert himself as much as he is able to from within his own strength. The possuk in Koheles says (9:10) כל אשר תמצא ידך לעשות בכחך עשה- whatever your hand finds to do, do with your strength. בכחך עשה- “Do with your strength” teaches us that the expectation is never more than we are capable of.

In the Nishmas tefillah that we recite each Shabbos, a similar question arises. The discussion there is the obligation of each living being to praise and sing the glory of HaShem. אִלּוּ פִינוּ מָלֵא שִׁירָה כַּיָּם. וּלְשׁונֵנוּ רִנָּה כַּהֲמון גַּלָּיו. וְשפְתותֵינוּ שֶׁבַח כְּמֶרְחֲבֵי רָקִיעַ. וְעֵינֵינוּ מְאִירות כַּשֶּׁמֶשׁ וְכַיָּרֵחַ. וְיָדֵינוּ פְרוּשות כְּנִשְׁרֵי שָׁמָיִם. וְרַגְלֵינוּ קַלּות כָּאַיָּלות. אֵין אֲנַחְנוּ מַסְפִּיקִים לְהודות לְךָ ה'- Were our mouths as full of song as the sea, and our tongue as full of joy as its myriad waves, if our lips were full of praise like the spacious heavens, and our eyes shone like the sun and moon, and our hands as outstretched as eagles of the sky, and our feet as swift as the gazelle – we still could not thank You sufficiently, HaShem. So even if were a bionic supernatural person, we would not have what it takes to properly praise HaShem.

A few lines later, the tefillah continues, עַל כֵּן אֵבָרִים שֶׁפִּלַּגְתָּ בָּנוּ. וְרוּחַ וּנְשָׁמָה שֶׁנָּפַחְתָּ בְּאַפֵּינוּ. וְלָשׁון אֲשֶׁר שמְתָּ בְּפִינוּ. הֵן הֵם. יודוּ וִיבָרְכוּ וִישַׁבְּחוּ וִיפָאֲרוּ וִירומְמוּ וְיַעֲרִיצוּ וְיַקְדִּישׁוּ וְיַמְלִיכוּ אֶת שִׁמְךָ מַלְכֵּנוּ: Therefore the organs which You formed within us, the spirit and soul which You breathed into our nostrils and the tongue that You placed in our mouth – they will thank and bless, praise and glorify, exalt and esteem, sanctify and do homage to Your name, our King.

We just finished saying that we cannot properly praise HaShem, and now we seem to be saying that as a regular human being, we will praise Him.

This can be explained based on the following parable: The king had one advisor that was more dedicated to him than anyone else. The king recognized this and always reciprocated in kind. Of course, this aroused the jealousy of the other advisors. To change the king’s opinion, they told him that this advisor does not truly honour the king, and that they can easily prove it. They advised that the king request of him to host a party in the king’s honour, paid by the advisor himself. On the morning after the party, the king should then request a second party and at the same time state that it would be all expenses paid for by the king. They explained that the ”litmus test” will be, how nervous he is when spending his own money, whereas on the kings dime, he won’t be nervous at all because it’s always easier to spend other people’s money. The king did this and was shocked to see how right they were. Halfway through the second party, the king came running over to his trusted advisor and began yelling at him that he better have an explanation. The advisor responded that at the first party he was nervous because he just knew that whatever he spends can never really be enough to truly honour the king. However, at the second party, because the king himself had set the budget, he could now enjoy knowing that he did all that he was able to within the budget.

It is the same with Nishmas. We mention that with every supernatural power in the world, we cannot possibly praise HaShem properly. However, with the body and limbs that we have been granted, and the limitations that we have been given, we now know what is expected of us.

After hearing that HaShem was only asking of him to use the abilities that were granted, איני מבקש לפי כחי אלא לפי כחם - I am not asking you to build it using My strength; I am asking you to build it with YOURS and Klal Yisroel’s strength, Moshe Rabbeinu was now willing to undertake the task.

Good Shabbos,       מרדכי אפפעל

לע"נ ר'שמואל בן ר' יצחק מנחם