Vayakhel 5771

February 20, 2011

6 min read


Vayakhel (Exodus 35:1-38:20 )

GOOD MORNING! Have you ever read about people seeking to have their dog covered under their medical insurance as their partner or significant other? We love our animals, but is there something that makes a human being distinct from an animal?

Science has labeled human beings as "Homo Sapiens" - defined as having a brain capacity averaging 85 cubic inches, dependent on language and creates and utilizes complex tools. "Homo" is a genus which includes monkeys, gorillas, orangutans, chimpanzees and baboons. "Sapiens" refers to intellect.

Rabbi Abraham Twerski wrote in his book Twerski on Spirituality that there are traits in addition to intellect which are unique to human beings and which distinguish us from animals. Some of the traits which comprise the definition of a human being are:

1) The ability to learn from past history. A rat will learn not to press a lever if it gets shocked, but it doesn't have the capacity to learn from his grandfather's experience.

2) The capacity to think about the goal and purpose of one's existence. While some humans may not do so, they have the ability to do so.

3) The capacity to volitionally improve oneself. It is unlikely that a cow will ask itself, "What can I do to become a better cow?" Only human beings can reflect on self-improvement.

4) The capacity to delay gratification. Yes, a dog will wait until given permission to eat the doggie treat, but only a human can push off fulfilling a desire for a higher goal or an appropriate time.

5) The capacity to reflect on the consequence of his actions.

6) The capacity to control anger. If an animal is enraged, it will attack. A human being can assess the provocative act and conclude that there is no reason to get angry. It might have been an unintended or accidental act.

7) The capacity to forgive. Animals may forget, but it is highly doubtful they are capable of forgiving. Humans may forgive and forget (but as one husband told me, "My wife forgives and forgets - but never forgets what she forgave!")

8) Free will. Animals are under the absolute domination of their body and cannot make a free choice. If hungry, it must look for food. It can't decide to fast today. If a jackal sees a tiger eating a carcass, it will refrain for fear of retribution. Only a human being can be in a position with no possibility of detection or retribution and decide not to steal because it is morally and ethically wrong.

Writes Rabbi Twerski: the sum total of all the traits that are unique to human beings comprise the spirit that makes us distinctly human. Whether one believes that the spirit was instilled in man by God or somehow developed in the process of human evolution - the fact that human beings have a spirit is independent of one's belief.

If one is seeking spirituality, then one must exercise his uniquely human capacities. Spirituality is thus nothing more than the implementation of these capacities, hence spirituality can be seen as being synonymous with humanity. To the degree that a person is lacking in spirituality, to that degree he is lacking in humanity.

Without including religion in the definition of spirituality, the above definition is for generic spirituality. However, for Jewish spirituality one needs to look to the Torah for direction on how a Jew should exercise his uniquely human capacities!

(Twerski on Spirituality is available at your local Jewish bookstore,
at or by calling toll-free to 877-758-3242)

For more on "Humanity" go to!


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Torah Portion of the Week

Moshe relays the Almighty's commands to refrain from building the Mishkan (the Tabernacle) on the Shabbat, to contribute items needed to build the Mishkan, to construct the components of the Mishkan and the appurtenances of the Cohanim. The craftsmen are selected, the work begins. The craftsmen report that there are too many donations, and for the first and probably the only time in fundraising history, the Jewish people are told to refrain from bringing additional contributions!

* * *

Dvar Torah
based on Love Your Neighbor by Rabbi Zelig Pliskin

The Torah states:

"Do not kindle a fire on the Sabbath" (Exodus 35:3).

In addition to its literal meaning, what lesson for life can we learn from this verse?

The Sheloh (an acronym for the title of his commentary SHnei Luchos Habris - Two Tables of the Covenant) writes that this verse alludes to the fire of anger and disputes. Rabbi Eliyahu Lopian writes that "ideally a person should never feel angry; someone who nonetheless feels angry, should at least not speak out of anger. On Friday, in the rush to finish the Shabbat preparations on time, a person is apt to become short-tempered. On Shabbat when the entire family sits at the table together, parents might become angry with young children for not behaving properly. Therefore, special care should be taken on the Shabbat to control one's anger."

* * *

Dvar Torah
based on Growth Through Torah by Rabbi Zelig Pliskin

The Torah states:

"And Moshe commanded, and (the wise men in charge of the Sanctuary's construction) caused it to be proclaimed throughout the camp saying: No man or woman shall do any more work for the offering of the sanctuary" (Exodus 36:6).

What can we learn from the wording of the decree that will help us in our relationships with others?

They were asked to contribute the material necessary of the building of the Sanctuary. With great enthusiasm, they responded with the various items that were needed. When the men in charge of the collection reported to Moshe that they were receiving an abundance of material, Moshe commanded the people to suspend further work on their offers. Sforno notes that Moshe did not instruct that the people should not bring any more items, but that they should discontinue doing additional work.

Some of the people had already completed doing work for the Sanctuary and had they been told not to bring what they had already prepared, they would have been most disappointed. Moshe, therefore worded his announcement in a manner that would not cause them anguish.

If someone does something for you which ultimately proves to have been superfluous, be considerate of his feelings. Do not tell him that his efforts were not actually needed, since this will cause him needless disappointment. Likewise, if you have heard a joke before, listen with rapt attention as if it is the first time and laugh heartily. The teller will feel better ... and so will you!


(or go to

Jerusalem 4:58
Guatemala 5:51 - Hong Kong 6:06 - Honolulu 6:15
J'Burg 6:24 - London 5:14 - Los Angeles 5:27
Melbourne 7:49 - Mexico City 6:22 - Miami 6:02
New York 5:24 - Singapore 7:03 - Toronto 5:42


Anger is one letter away from danger...


With Special Thanks to

Mr. Melvin Fastow

New York


With Deep Appreciation to

Jeanne James

Oshkosh, Wisconsin


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