The Winning Vote
Vayakhel-Pekudei (Exodus 35-40 )
There seems to be an internal inconsistency in Exodus 36:7 with which a number of commentators grapple. The Torah says simultaneously that the communal work for the Mishkan (Tabernacle) was both sufficient, which would seem to imply that it was exactly enough, and that there remained leftovers. How can these two apparently contradictory statements be resolved?
Rabbi Mordechai Kamenetzky relates that a small town once held a tightly-contested election for mayor. After all of the ballots were counted, a victor emerged by a narrow margin of one vote. His initial joy over winning the election quickly dissipated when every person he encountered claimed that the vote which represented the winning margin was his, and demanded that the new mayor remain indebted to him throughout his term in office.
Similarly, the commentator Sichos Tzaddikim suggests that if the donations for the Mishkan had been precisely sufficient, every contributor would claim that the success of the Mishkan was dependent upon his personal contribution, without which the entire project would have failed. This would result in tremendous communal conceit, and the Talmud (Sotah 5a) teaches that arrogant people prevent the presence of the Divine Presence (Shechinah). As the entire purpose of the Mishkan was to create a place for God's Presence to rest, it was necessary that the donations be slightly more than required in order to be considered sufficient.
Alternatively, the Ohr HaChaim HaKadosh answers that in reality, the Jews enthusiastically donated so much that the total contributions were actually more than was necessary for the building of the Mishkan. God was afraid that if there were leftovers after the Mishkan was complete, some Jews may be saddened at the thought that their donations hadn't been used. He therefore made a miracle and arranged that everything should be put to use, causing the excessive donations to appear to be just right.
The Manchester Rosh Yeshiva suggests that this lesson applies to all matters of spirituality. Even if a project appears to have yielded no practical results, no pure action performed for God's sake ever goes to waste. For example, at the time of the Golden Calf, Chur attempted to protest the actions of the people and was killed for his zealotry (Rashi - Exodus 32:5). The Daas Z'keinim writes (Exodus 35:30) that Betzalel was chosen as the primary builder of the Mishkan specifically in the merit of the actions of his grandfather Chur, as one of the purposes of the Mishkan was to atone for the Golden Calf.
Although the society in which we live attempts to convince us that nothing matters but the bottom line, the Torah teaches that God cares about our sincere intentions and efforts to increase His glory, and they will never go to waste.
OUR GOLDEN CHILDREN
Although the Torah (Exodus 37:7) specifies that the utensils used in the Mishkan are to be made from gold, the Mechilta rules that this isn't an absolute requirement. Although this is the preferable way for them to be made, they may still be used if they are made from a different metal, with one exception. With respect to the Cherubim which rest on top of the Holy Ark, the obligation to make them from gold is absolute. Should they be formed from any other material for any reason, they are invalid for use in the Mishkan. Why is the law regarding the Cherubim different than that regarding all of the other vessels?
Rabbi Meir Shapiro explains that the Cherubim symbolize Jewish children, as Rashi writes that they had the faces of young children. Their placement on top of the Ark represents their Torah education and upbringing. Should there be a time in the future when money is scarce and gold cannot be obtained due to financial constraints, God is willing to overlook His honor with respect to the construction of the utensils used to serve Him. However, when it comes to teaching our children, who represent the future of the Jewish people, there can be no possible excuse for sacrificing the quality of their education and second-best is completely unacceptable.
WOMEN'S NEW MOON
The Daas Z'keinim writes that in the merit of the women's joyful and generous contribution of their jewelry to the Mishkan (Exodus 35:22), which stood in sharp contrast to their refusal to donate their jewelry for the building of the golden calf (Exodus 32:2-3), they merited a personal holiday on Rosh Chodesh, the new month. Why is Rosh Chodesh uniquely suited as a reward for their pious actions?
The Shemen HaTov explains that the women in that generation repeatedly excelled in their solid trust in God and failure to give up hope even in the darkest moments. In Egypt, the men succumbed to the back-breaking labor and diabolical decrees of Pharaoh to kill their sons and despaired of the future. Nevertheless, the women continued to hope, skillfully enticing their husbands to help them bring more children into a world of pain and uncertainty. They invoked this merit when they joyfully contributed the mirrors which they had used for this purpose to the construction of the Mishkan (Rashi - Exodus 38:8).
Similarly, when the men miscalculated Moshe's return from Mount Sinai and fell prey to the argument that Moshe had died, the women held out hope and refused to take part in the Golden Calf. After this tremendous national sin, it would have been easy and natural to give up hope. Yet the Mishkan offered a new prospect for Divine closeness even in this era, and it also represented God's forgiveness of the Golden Calf (Rashi 38:21). Recognizing this tremendous and unique opportunity to inject new life into the crestfallen and forlorn nation, the women leaped into action to donate to the cause with great joy and enthusiasm.
Rosh Chodesh symbolizes the concept that when all appears bleak, one must hang on and trust in a brighter future. Just when the moon disappears and the night sky seems totally dark, the process of rebirth and renewal continues as the moon returns and grows ever larger, reminding us of the lesson that the women always knew.