When Moshe asked the holy Nesi’im, leaders of the tribes, to donate to the Mishkan, they told Moshe that he should first collect from the rest of the Jewish nation and that they would provide all of the additional necessary funds. In the end, however, the rest of the Jewish nation was so eager to donate to such a special cause that there was nothing left for the Nesi’im to donate. They had lost out on their opportunity. As a result, in our parshah, the word “Nesi’im” is missing a letter. Rashi explains that this was their punishment for procrastinating (35:27).
R’ Simcha Zissel Brody, a former Rosh Yeshiva of Chevron, asks the following: The Nesi'im seem to have had a noble reason to delay their donations. Think about it - any fundraiser’s dream would be to receive such a generous offer. Is it their fault that there was nothing left to donate? Did they really do anything wrong?
The following story will illustrate the profound explanation that R’ Simcha Zissel offers:
A woman once approached Rabbi Dovid Orlofsky after he delivered an inspiring lecture and said “Rabbi Orlofsky, I agree with what you said and I want to change the world!”. She repeatedly insisted that she wanted to make a difference. “Okay”, he replied. “Do you have any special talents or abilities?”. “I have no special talents or abilities that I can think of”. “Do you have any advanced education that might be helpful?”. “I don’t have any advanced education”. Finally, he asked “well, is there at least anything that you particularly enjoy doing?”. “I like to bake” she said simply. “Fine. Let’s talk tomorrow about how you will ‘bake’ the world into a better place”.
The next day she called him and said “I figured it out. There is a school for children with special needs in my neighborhood and I am going to bake them cupcakes for Rosh Chodesh. There are 50 kids and I can handle making 50 cupcakes with delicious filling and frosting. They will absolutely love it!”. It sounded like a good idea. The day after Rosh Chodesh he got a call. It was her and she was flying. She told him “the principal of the school called me and said ‘you don’t know what a special thing you did for these children. These kids don’t see very well, hear very well or move very well. The one thing that works well for everyone, though, is their sense of taste. I have never seen them so happy’”.
A few months later R’ Orlofsky was talking with the same woman and asked her how everything was going. “Well”, she said. “after a couple of months baking for this school, I started getting calls from special needs schools all over Yerushalayim. They told me that they heard about what I did and asked if I could make special treats for their children too, and how much their children would appreciate it. Being that I couldn’t bake enough for everyone, I enlisted the help of some friends. One of them volunteered to help twice a year, another volunteered to help every other month, while a third offered to help monthly. In fact, this has become so popular that I started an organization that pairs schools with volunteers. Now disabled children all over Yerushalayim will receive a cupcake each month and feel so special”.
R’ Simcha Zissel explains that Rashi is teaching us a crucial life lesson: If you are excited and motivated enough to do something exceptional, nothing can possibly get in your way. Nothing. Here was a lady who arguably didn’t have much to contribute to the world. She easily could have convinced herself that doing something exceptional was simply out of her reach. Instead, she resolved to make a difference, invested effort, and look what happened - she made a difference in the lives of hundreds or even thousands of disabled children. Rashi understood that if the Nesi’im failed to contribute to the building of the Mishkan, no matter how noble their excuse may have been, it could only be due to the fact that it wasn’t important enough to them.
The Artisans Of The Mishkan
The fact that you can accomplish anything that is truly important to you is a central theme of the many parshiyos discussing the building of the Mishkan. For how else could the Jewish nation, a nation who had been slaves in Egypt for 210 years, know how to perform the sophisticated and intricate work necessary to build the Mishkan? Rabbi Shmuel Silber paraphrases the Ramban so eloquently, who states that, indeed, our ancestors did NOT possess the requisite skills to build the Mishkan. For 210 years they were slave laborers and beasts of burden. They never apprenticed or trained to perform these specialized tasks. However, despite this, when Moshe said he needed people to build the Mishkan, these “artisans” eagerly stepped forward to perform Hashem’s Will. What training did they have? None. What skills did they bring to the table? None. But, like the woman in the story, they found the enthusiasm and ability to accomplish what was important to them (Ramban 35:21). Unlike the Nesi’im who initially procrastinated and didn’t show proper enthusiasm in contributing to the Mishkan, the rest of the Jewish nation eagerly jumped to do Hashem’s Will and succeeded monumentally.
Every so often we hear stories of people who started organizations or accomplished great feats. We often tell ourselves “I would also love to do something great and contribute to the world, but what can I do? I don’t have their wealth, vision or strengths”. This is the voice of the force that tries to stymie our growth and keep us from achieving. Even if we possess no “exceptional” skills, we should learn from our ancestors who built the Mishkan and the woman in the above-mentioned story that you don’t need any incredible skills or training to make a difference. All that is necessary is the inspiration, enthusiasm and resolve to do so.
We all have something that we can contribute to making a difference in the lives of others. It doesn't have to be “big”. Even making an effort to greet each person you meet with a warm smile, deciding to always do a certain chore in your home, or simply making some cupcakes for another in need, will make the world a better place.