Ups and Downs

“Every man whose heart [nesa’o] inspired him came; and everyone whose spirit [nadvah rucho] motivated him brought the portion of Hashem” (Shemot 35:21)

Parashat Vayakhel tells of the actual construction of the Mishkan (Tabernacle) in the desert. The first step in the process was the collection of the materials needed for the structure and its utensils. Moshe Rabbeinu requested precious metals and jewels, special hides and wools and all the other raw materials needed to complete the task.

The verse cited above describes the enthusiastic generosity with which the people came forward. The Ben Ish Chai, zt”l, points out that the word “nesa’o” is translated as enthusiasm and that is the same meaning as the words “nadvah rucho.” This makes the verse unnecessarily redundant, atypical of the Torah’s language that is always terse and economical. What should we learn from this?

The verse is brought to give valuable advice to everyone, in order that one may overcome the wiles of the yetzer hara (evil inclination). When one is approached to perform a mitzvah [commandment] that involves cost, such as charity — if one has $100,000 dollars one should imagine that he has $100,000,000. This little fabrication will enable the person to look at his donation as a small sum of little value to one as rich as he and he will thereby overcome his adversary, the yetzer hara, who constantly tries to prevent the performance of good deeds. Even if the evil inclination is somewhat successful in arousing selfishness, in the end the amount given will still be substantial when compared to the giver’s actual net worth. The second benefit of this “white lie” is that the donor will not become haughty as he would if he considered his contribution a hefty sum.

However, continues the Ben Ish Chai, when one is considering a purchase of one of his worldly desires, he should reverse the process. If he has $100,000 he should feel as if he has only $10,000 and that should make him hold back and limit his purchase. In this way he will not succumb to material temptations. In Devarim 4:8, Moshe says: “In the Heavens above and on the Earth below.” This is a hint to the fact that one should increase one’s view of one’s wealth when considering an expenditure for Heaven, i.e., go “above”; and when dealing with the temporal, one should decrease one’s estimate of one’s net worth on the Earth — below!

There was once a financial crisis at the Yeshivah in Volozhin. The Rosh Yeshivah, Harav Chaim Soloveitchik, zt”l, traveled to the city of Minsk where there were two men who regularly raised funds for the institution. He approached one and told him of the large amount of money needed. The man told the rabbi that he would begin to work on it immediately. Over the next two weeks the Rabbi spent his time learning in the beit midrash. He then approached his host and asked how the fundraising was progressing.

“Not bad,” said the man. “I have actually raised half the amount needed.” Rav Chaim continued his study schedule for another few weeks and then asked about the progress again.

“We have reached our goal,” smiled the fund-raiser, as he handed the check to the scholar. The Rav happily returned to Volozhin and cleared up all accounts with the creditors.

It was long after that the two fund-raisers from Minsk came to Volozhin to adjudicate a case between them. The one who was not involved with the successful drive claimed that he was always partners with the other in all charitable efforts and that it was not fair that when an opportunity as great as helping sustain the greatest yeshivah in the world came along, his adversary had grabbed the mitzvah for himself by giving all of the money from his own personal funds. He wanted to pay half the sum in order to get credit for half the mitzvah. The outcome of the trial is not important, but what happened when Rav Chaim became aware of the dispute is.

The Rav called his benefactor to see him. Then he asked the obvious question.

“If you gave all the money yourself, why did you make me spend almost five weeks away from the yeshivah?”

The man’s answer is a lesson for all of us.

“Does the Rosh Yeshivah think it is so easy to overcome one’s innate selfishness and give such a large amount of money to charity? It took me two weeks to win the battle and give half the amount needed. It then took about three more weeks to build up the strength to donate the balance.”

Everyone is created with a sense of selfishness and the trait of greed. For some it is very strong and for others not so much so, but it exists in everyone and it is not a simple matter to give generously. One should keep in mind the lesson of the Ben Ish Chai: for Heaven — ABOVE — build up what you have, so that when you give it seems small.

Shabbat Shalom


Rabbi Raymond Beyda serves in the Sephardic Community in Brooklyn, N.Y. He lectures to audiences all over the world. He has distributed over 500,000 recorded lessons free of charge. He is author of the book 1 Minute with Yourself: A Minute a Day to Self-Improvement, Sephardic Press, 2008.