Vayak'hel - Pekudei 5777 - 2017 The Beauty of the Mitzvah is in Desiring to Perform it

Post date: Mar 24, 2017 2:33:20 AM

Parashat Vayak’hel-Pekudei, Exodus 35:1-40:38

“After a time, you may find that having is not so pleasing a thing after all as wanting." - Mr. Spock, from the Star Trek episode Amok Time

This week we read the two passages, Vayak’hel and Pekuday, which close the Book of Exodus. These parshiot are filled with the construction and decoration of the mishkan, laid out in exquisite detail. Chapter 37 names Betzalel and Oholiav as the designers and builders of the intricate designs and lavish tapestries. From this parsha, we see the source text for the Jewish tradition of hiddur mitzvah – beautifying the commandment.

As observant Jews, it is not simply that we perform mitzvot (commandments). Rather, we create beauty around these mitzvot – we light Shabbat candles, but how much more meaningful this is when the candlesticks are crafted from a beautiful wood or made by someone precious in our lives. When our Channukiot are artfully designed, how much more do we look forward to kindling these lights? When we have a new Torah, it is a deep honor to participate in creating a cover for this sacred scroll.

Why does this matter? Why is it a mitzvah to make other mitzvot more beautiful? Certainly in part, it is that we have natural attraction to beautiful objects, and it would be fitting that observance of mitzvot allowed us to incorporate that to which we are naturally drawn – gold and silver, deep rich colors, intricate patterns and detailed images.

Perhaps, though, there is a different reason. Shemot chapter 35 (the beginning of this week’s parshiot) notes, “And they came, every one whose heart stirred him up, and every one whom his spirit made willing, and brought God’s offering, for the work of the tent of meeting, and for all the service thereof, and for the holy garments … The children of Israel brought a freewill-offering unto God; every man and woman, whose heart made them willing to bring for all the work, which God had commanded by the hand of Moses to be made.”

The emphasis here is on will – on desire – to help the community and participate in the creation of the mishkan. The Torah states four separate times in just two p’sukim that the mishkan was created willingly by the Israelites – that the offerings of goods to construct this tabernacle were choices consciously made by the people, not mandates by God or community leaders.

I believe it is this willingness to participate in the creation of the mishkan that is the true hiddur mitzvah. The physical beauty that we create around mitzvot is a manifestation of our willingness to perform the mitzvot. We make beautiful sacred objects to show publicly that we are proud to do the mitzvot for which this object was designed – we are willing and proud to light candles, read from the Torah, make Kiddush, and celebrate a Pesach seder. By creating physical beauty, we remind ourselves and show to others that it is not a chore or rote behavior to engage in a mitzvah. Rather, it is an occasion of joy and, as such, we take the time, effort, and care to make the mitzvah as beautiful as we are able.

Yvonne Asher