Rejoice on the Final Day
Vayakhel-Pekudei (Exodus 35-40 )
According to the Midrash, the boards of the Mishkan were so heavy that the people could not hold them up erect next to each other long enough for them to assemble the Mishkan. They kept toppling over. In frustration, the people brought all the boards and poles to Moshe, and he assembled it with miraculous strength that Hashem granted him especially for this purpose.
The Torah, however, states that the Jewish people "brought the Mishkan to Moshe." This would seem to imply that they brought him a completely assembled Mishkan. How can the Midrash be reconciled with these words?
Regarding this same verse, the Midrash quotes from Mishlei (31:25), "Might and splendor are her garments, and she will rejoice on the final day." The Midrash goes on to illustrate this idea with a story concerning Rabbi Abahu's departure from this world. On the threshold, he was shown all the reward that awaited him in the World to Come, and he remarked with astonishment, "All of this is for Abahu? I thought I had been toiling in vain, and now I see I have a great portion in the World to Come!"
What point is the Midrash making by bringing this story in connection to the erection of the Mishkan? And how do we understand Rabbi Abahu's surprise? Did he really expect that having spent his life learning Torah and doing mitzvos he would not be rewarded in the World to Come? Did he really think he was laboring in vain?
Rav Shlomo Breuer explains that Judaism is a deed-oriented religion. It is not enough to say, "I am a Jew at heart." Deeds are what count, learning Torah, performing mitzvos, doing chessed. Being a Jew is about doing, from the moment we arise until the moment we go to bed. Our religion is not one of sentiment, it is one of deed.
At the same time, however, intent also plays a great role in Judaism. If someone is prevented by circumstances beyond his control from doing a mitzvah, the Torah considers it as if he had done the mitzvah (maaleh alav hakasuv k'ilu asahu). Judaism demands deeds but not necessarily results. As long as a Jew puts in the honest and sincere effort, he is rewarded even if he is not successful. Hashem considers his intentions as deeds.
This is what Rabbi Abahu was saying, "There were so many times in my life when I tried, I made the effort, but I was not successful. I had assumed that on these occasions my efforts had been in vain. Now I see that I have been rewarded even for my intentions, for my efforts, even when they were unsuccessful." Therefore, Rabbi Abahu "rejoiced on the final day."
When the time came to assemble the Mishkan, the Jewish people made every effort to do it by themselves. Sweat pouring from their brows, veins bulging on their foreheads, they strained and they pushed those heavy boards with all their might, but they could not erect the Mishkan. It was simply beyond them, and they had no choice but to turn to Moshe for help.
Nonetheless, the Torah reports that they "brought the Mishkan to Moshe," because that is what they intended to do and what they tried to do with all their hearts. Hashem considered it as if they had erected the Mishkan themselves, and He rewarded them. Therefore, they "rejoiced on the final day."