Parashas Vayakhel-Pekudei

This week’s parashah describes the building and setting up of the Mishkan (Tabernacle). The Midrash in Shemos Rabbah 52:3 relates how some people scoffed at Moshe saying, “Is it possible that the Divine Presence will come to rest upon the work of the son of Amram?” But in the end Moshe had the last laugh, for the Divine Presence indeed came to rest upon the Mishkan. The Midrash draws a link between this event and one of Shlomo HaMelech’s statements about the woman of valor (Mishlei 31:25): “Strength and majesty are her attire, and she will merrily rejoice over the last day.” In the process, the Midrash recounts another event which it links to this statement. The Midrash relates that when R. Abbahu was on his deathbed, he saw a vision of all the good awaiting him in the World to Come. He rejoiced, saying: “All this for Abbahu? ‘But I said, “I have labored in vain, I have spent my strength for naught and vanity. Indeed my right is with Hashem and my recompense with is my God”’” (Yeshayah 49:4). The Maggid remarks that surely R. Abbahu was not being facetious in expressing his happy surprise over the reward awaiting him. Yet his reaction is difficult to understand, for surely he was aware of all the Torah he had learned and all the good deeds he had done, and surely he believed that Hashem faithfully pays compensation. The Maggid sets out to explain R. Abbahu’s thought process.
We know, the Maggid says, that there are two aspects to serving Hashem: turning aside from evil and doing good (cf. Tehillim 34:15). A person spends the great majority of his effort avoiding evil, working to overcome his desires. Doing good is not so much of a struggle, especially since Hashem aids those who set out to do good. Avoiding evil is where the main struggle lies. Yet it is man’s doing that the evil inclination entered his inner being. Initially, Adam HaRishon experienced the evil inclination as an outside inciter; it is only as a result of his sinning by eating the fruit of the tree of knowledge of good and evil that the evil inclination entered his inner being. At the revelation at Mt. Sinai, the powerful display of Hashem’s Presence cleansed the Jewish People and brought them back to the state that Adam was in before his sin; afterward, however, through the sin of the golden calf, the evil inclination re-entered their inner being. R. Abbahu thought that since man was responsible for turning the avoidance of evil into such a great struggle, Hashem probably would not pay much reward for the great effort involved in avoiding evil.
The Maggid brings out the point with a parable. Once a certain man’s house burned down, and he allowed his neighbors to use the site as a garbage dump. After some time, the local baron was struck with pity for him and decided to build him a magnificent new home. In preparation, he told the man to clear away all the garbage to make the site fit for building. The man had the garbage cleared away, in the process spending all the money he had previously amassed after salvaging what he could after the fire. The baron then arranged the construction of the new home. Some time later, the baron heard that the man was boasting to other people that he had built his magnificent home in partnership with the baron. The baron approached the man and said: “Show me, please, what components of the building you contributed and what components I contributed.” The man showed the baron a list of expenses he incurred in hiring wagons to clear away the garbage. The baron replied: “You fool! Who forced you to incur these expenses? The junk you needed to get hauled away is none other than the junk you yourself allowed to be dumped on the site in the first place. You let it in, and then you got it out. But the work in building your home was contributed entirely by me.”
Similarly, the typical person believes he deserves great reward from Hashem for his efforts in overcoming his desires and wiping out his bad character traits. But the lofty R. Abbahu, taking a broader view, was not expecting much reward from Hashem for his efforts in overcoming his evil inclination. He reasoned that Hashem was not obligated to pay reward for these efforts, for for man is the one who let the evil inclination into his inner being in the first place. In quoting the verse in Yeshayah, R. Abbahu was explaining his reasoning. He declared that, in the main, he spent his strength on naught and vanity – that is, on clearing out his heart from the mass of vain desires and reducing the agglomeration of negative tendencies to naught. And for the effort he spent on this process he expected little reward, as we have explained. R. Abbahu then continued: “Indeed my right is with Hashem and my recompense is with my God.” Here, R. Abbahu was saying that the main credit for what he did right is due to Hashem’s aid, and hence he was not expecting much reward for this either. R. Abbahu was therefore happily surprised when he saw the reward awaiting him.
David Zucker, Site Administrator

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