During the Inquisition, a Marrano succeeded in escaping from Portugal, eventually reached Eretz Yisrael and settled in the city of Tzfas. Though his background precluded any extensive Torah education, he had an enormous amount of emunah. Despite the fact that he often was only able to grasp a small portion of what was said, he faithfully attended every shiur given by the Rav of the shul in which he davened.
One day the Rav was speaking about the lechem hapanim brought each week in the Mishkan and in the Beis Hamikdash. The Rav described the various halachos pertaining to this avodah and the great importance of this mitzvah, and with a deep sigh, expressed his anguish over the fact that we currently do not have the merit to bring lechem hapanim.
The Yid was struck by the Rav’s words. He promptly decided that he too would like to bring lechem hapanim, and asked his wife to bake two challos each week for this purpose.
His wife, herself a pious albeit simple woman, quickly agreed. She dutifully sifted the flour 13 times and, on Friday afternoon, removed the perfectly formed challos from the oven. Her husband then quickly made his way to the shul, which was empty at that time. He opened the doors of the aron kodesh and carefully placed the challos within. With tears in his eyes, he beseeched Hashem to accept his humble gift.
Some time later, the shamash arrived in shul to finish preparing it for Shabbos. He was puzzled by the fresh challos he found, but he decided to take them home and enjoy them on Shabbos.
When the former Marrano returned to shul, he peered into the aron kodesh. To his utter delight, the challos were gone! “They must have been accepted by Hashem,” he joyfully told his wife. The following week, he once again requested his wife to bake challos. Once again he made his way to the shul and placed the challos in the aron kodesh. Once more the shamash found and enjoyed them.
So it went for some time. Each week the Yid would bring challos, convinced that they were accepted by Shamayim.
One Friday the Rav happened to come to shul in the afternoon and discovered the Yid bringing his challos. The Rav was outraged.
“Fool!” he shouted at the Yid. “Do you really think that Hashem — who neither eats nor drinks — accepts your challos? It certainly must be the shamash who takes it home every week!” the Rav said. “It is a terrible sin to attribute to Hashem materialistic needs or wants!”
The Yid was devastated by the Rav’s harsh rebuke. Tears filled his eyes, and he apologized profusely for what obviously was a terrible misunderstanding. “I meant to do a mitzvah,” he wept. “It seems I did an aveirah instead!”
It was shortly thereafter that a messenger arrived for the Rav. He had been sent by the Ari Hakodesh, who lived at the time in Tzfas. The message he bore was a grim one: “Write a will and bid your family farewell!”
The Rav rushed over to the home of the Arizal and asked what he had done to incur this terrible decree.
“Since the destruction of the Beis Hamikdash, Hakadosh Baruch Hu has not had such a nachas ruach as he had from the simple devotion of this Yid,” the Arizal explained.
For Hashem judges the purity of the intentions of a Yid. He may not have known much, but his heart was filled with a high level of emunah and sheer love for Hashem. He acted out of temimus (innocence), and in Shamayim such deeds win the highest level of acclaim.
This moving tale teaches us a most powerful lesson.
Certainly, we should always strive to learn all pertinent halachos and increase our Torah knowledge. But in the process, we must always remember it is the intent in our hearts that makes all the difference.
This week, the Torah (40:18) teaches us that “Moshe erected the Mishkan; he put down the sockets and placed its beams and inserted its bars, and erected the pillars. …”
The Midrash Tanchuma teaches us that Moshe Rabbeinu told the Ribbono shel Olam that he did not know how to erect the Mishkan. Hashem told him that he should do his part, and while it will seem that Moshe erected it — and the Torah will say that he did so — in reality it would miraculously erect itself.
Yet the Midrash also adds that Moshe Rabbeinu was distressed that he did not play any part in preparing the Mishkan, and the Ribbono Shel Olam reassured him by saying that the chachamim of the generation will be unable to erect it, in order that all of Yisrael should know that if Moshe would not have erected it, it would never have stood.
At first glance, these two sayings of Chazal seem to be somewhat contradictory.
If in reality Moshe Rabbeinu didn’t erect it either, what is the consolation in the fact that Torah credits him for it?
The answer is that every single component used in the performance of every mitzvah is actually given to us by Hashem. The physical energy and stamina, the wisdom and knowledge, and financial and material resources are all from Hashem. In reality, we don’t actually do anything except to make the effort to use tools, abilities and kochos given to us for that purpose.
It is the intent of the heart — and the effort that follows is what matters, and therefore Moshe Rabbeinu, who did all he possibly could, was credited with erecting the Mishkan. (Based in part on a teaching by Hagaon Harav Chaim Shmulevitz, zt”l.)