All From Above
Vayakhel-Pekudei (Exodus 35-40 )
There is an interesting shift of expression in two pesukim that follow one another. The first pasuk says, "And it was in the first month of the second year on the first of the month, the Mishkan was erected (Shmos 40:17)." The second verse, though, says, "And Moshe erected the Mishkan and he placed its footings and he erected its pillars (Shmos 40:18)." The first verse uses a passive expression that refers only to the fact that the Mishkan was erected. Only when we get to the second verse do we find explicit mention that the one who erected the Mishkan was Moshe.
Rashi provides us with the explanation: The artisans who constructed all of the different parts of the Mishkan brought everything to Moshe because they were unable to carry out the actual assembly of all the parts into one cohesive unit. Since Moshe hadn't partaken of any of the construction so far, Hashem set aside the actual erecting of the Mishkan for Moshe. There was one problem, though; this was an impossible task because the beams were simply too heavy. Moshe said to Hashem, "How is it possible for a human being to do this?", to which Hashem answered, "Involve yourself with your hands to make it appear that you are doing it and it will become erect and stand on its own." This is what is meant when it says, "the Mishkan was erected" - that it became such on its own.
But, if that is the case, shouldn't the order of the pesukim have been reversed? Shouldn't it have been written, "And Moshe erected the Mishkan, and the Mishkan was erected." From Rashi's explanation, it is clear that first Moshe had to try/pretend to do it himself, and only then would the miracle of the beams standing up on their own occur. If so, why do the verses seemingly reverse the order?
Another question we could ask is, doesn't this seem kind of like a game? Moshe did not get to do any of the other work, so Hashem leaves over one job - the job that is impossible and which he is only 'pretending' to do!
There is a saying that God helps those who help themselves. In other words, one cannot simply sit back and expect Hashem to take care of everything. Rather, one must put forth whatever effort one is capable of, and only then can one hope for Divine assistance.
It would seem that this is the meaning of Moshe trying to lift the beams. He had to do whatever he could, and only then would Hashem help him and make the beams stand up on their own.
There is a statement of the Chafetz Chaim(1) that expresses a deeper understanding of the above adage: We carry out actions and God brings about the accomplishment. The implication of this statement is that it is not only that we must do our part in order to merit Heavenly assistance, but that the effort that we put forth is not what brings about the accomplishment, rather, it is the help of Heaven that is the prime factor in seeing fruition.
This could be the key to understanding the sequence of the verses. First, the verse indicates that the beams stood up on their own, and only then does it mention Moshe's involvement. The implication is that the principal component was the Divine assistance that caused the beams to become erect, and the component of human effort was simply to create a situation in which that Heavenly assistance would be deserved.
Interestingly enough, we find that this is not the first time that Moshe experienced this type of situation.
In parshas Ki Sisah(2) it says, "And he gave to Moshe "when he finished" to speak with him on Har Sinai the two tablets of testimony..." The Hebrew word for "finished" employed in this context is k'chalosho. From the fact that this word is written in a way that is very similar to the word kallah [bride], Chazal infer that the Torah was given to Moshe as a gift like a kallah to a chasan [groom], "for Moshe was unable to learn all of it in such a short time."
Again, we find Moshe doing whatever he can to achieve an impossible goal and then receiving the Heavenly assistance that made it happen. And, again, the emphasis is that the primary cause for the attainment of the goal is the Siyata d'Shmaya therein.
There is another interesting point, though, that needs clarification. Obviously, we are meant to learn from the above examples how to do what we can and rely on Hashem to make everything work out. Generally, though, the rule of thumb is that it is forbidden to rely on miracles. A person could put forth as much effort, for example, as he possibly can to fly by flapping his arms, but if he proceeds to jump off the building, he is going to encounter sore disappointment. Relying on Hashem is not an excuse to act foolishly. Rather, bitachon, trust is the main ingredient to see positive success in accordance with the specific order by which Hashem runs and maintains the world.
Bearing this in mind, we need to understand why Moshe was granted accomplishments that are effectively miracles (in as much as they are impossible according to the normal rules of nature). So, what are we meant to learn from this?
Perhaps the lesson to learn is that there is a fundamental difference between material matters and spiritual matters. When it comes to things or situations that pertain strictly to the mundane, material realm, then one must follow the strict order of nature by which Hashem runs the world and not rely on miracles at all. When it comes to matters of ruchniyus, though, we have to be prepared to extend ourselves more and leap into the unknown, just like the Jews followed Hashem into the barren desert and Nachshon jumped into the raging waters of Yam Suf. When it comes to matters of ruchniyus, we have to be prepared to be a bit more gutsy and take chances that reasonability and prudence may otherwise negate.
Of course, this does not mean that one should take chances akin to flapping one's arms and jumping off the roof; but it does mean that one can and should sometimes take certain risks that do not follow the practicality approach of every check and balance being accounted for.
There is another very important condition to this risk-taking for spiritual growth as Rabbi Yaakov Weinberg once explained. He said that it was Moshe's trait of being the most humble of all men(3) that made him the one who was uniquely suited to receive and serve as the conduit to transmit the Torah. In order to learn from another, even if the teacher is none other than the Almighty Himself, one must be truly humble and submit to the supremacy of the teacher. Otherwise, one will not be fully able to properly absorb the teachings, because there will always exist in him some point of "I know better".
It seems reasonable to posit that this is also the rationale for the miraculous, Divine assistance that Moshe received in absorbing the Torah and being able to erect the Mishkan. Because Moshe elevated himself to an almost super-human level of humility and submission to Hashem, it is to that extent that he succeeded in making himself a worthy vessel to receive a kind of super-natural Divine assistance even in endeavors which are essentially meant to be human undertakings in their nature.
This, then, indicates that only someone who is acting truly for the sake of carrying out the will of Hashem, and does so with the humble awareness that he is but a mere messenger of Hashem in this world, can expect that Hashem will provide him with the extra dose of Siyata d'Shmaya needed in those ruchniyus endeavors that require a certain amount of risk-taking.
And, in general, this matter of taking gutsy chances for spiritual growth endeavors is something that needs the input and direction of rabbinic guidance. We need to be prepared, though, both on the collective and individual level, to exit the comfortable zone of pragmatism when necessary, and show Hashem that we are prepared to follow Him into the barren desert or walk into the raging waters of the sea when the situation calls for it.
1. Attributed to numerous other Gedolim as well.
2. Shmos 31:18.
3. Bamidbar 12:3.