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No Pain No Gain and the Destructive Nature of Laziness

By: Rav Yonny Sack

This week’s parasha, Terumah, contains the detailed instruction for the building of the Mishkan (the portable Dwelling place for Hashem) and its vessels. As we have mentioned in the past, in commanding the building of the Mishkan, Hashem says “VeAsu Li Mikdash, Veshachanti Betochum” - “they should make for me a sanctuary (Mikdash) and I will dwell within them”.  The choice of words is instructive. You would expect Hashem to say “dwell within it” but instead He says “dwell within them”. As such, the Torah is revealing to us that we not only are to make a physical structure of a Mishkan, but we are to make ourselves into a dwelling place for Hashem. Understanding what was needed to build the Mishkan is thus a window into understanding what we must do to make ourselves into a dwelling place for G-dliness.

Let us focus on one overarching pre-requisite that underlays the construction of the worldly Mishkan, and learn out for ourselves a powerful, illuminating and perhaps confronting message to guide us on the path to becoming a walking Mishkan in this world.

The parasha begins with a listing of the various items needed for the Mishkan’s vessels and construction. The last items listed in the donations are expensive precious stones called the Avnei Shoham and Miluim, needed for the Cohen Gadol, which in the end were donated by none other than the Princes of each tribe. Why are they mentioned last? The Ohr HaChayim HaKadosh in his commentary on the Torah notes that the prince's donation was lacking in numerous ways and was thus mentioned last.

How was this donation lacking? Firstly, the princes actually got hold of these precious stones in a miraculous manner. The Gemara in Yoma teaches that when the Mann descended on the Jewish People’s camp, the princes found these precious stones deposited along with the Mann in close proximity to their tent.  As such, they never really put in any effort into attaining these stones and thus their giving of the stones was in no way “from the heart” and was considered on a lower level than the gifts of the rest of the nation, all of whom gave that which they had worked hard to earn (Sichot Mussar, Rav Chaim Shmuelevitz). Think of a billionaire who donates a million dollars to a cause. At the same time a simple man donates a portion of his hard earned money to the same cause. Whose donation is more valuable? From the standpoint of the giver, the value of the donation is determined not by the amount given but rather by the extent to which the giver has invested of himself in the gift; the more effort and sacrifice, the more valuable. This is a general principle in Torah and growth in life as the Mishnah at the end of Avot teaches “Lefum Tzaarah Agra”  - “according to the strain is the reward” or the modern equivalent ‘no pain, no gain’.  Only with strain can one build muscle. Only with the tension of being stretched can the guitar string produce beautiful music. Only with real effort can any growth take place. That is the first aspect the Ohr Hachaim haKadosh relates to in describing the Prince’s donation. But there is more.

The Ohr Hachayim explains from the Midrash - the princes thought to themselves “let’s wait and let all the other people give first and then we will make up the remainder”.  As such, they waited to give until everyone else had given and there was nothing left to give but these stones. They gave last, and therefore they are recorded last in the list of the gifts. What is so bad about waiting? Surely they had a good reason to give last? Rashi in parashat Veyakhel explains that the problem was they were lazy in giving. They had a good reason, but don’t we always have ‘good’ justifications as to why we will wait to do good things? “I will go and throw the trash out in a sec, I just first need to . . .” or “I will do that thing you asked Mom, I just need to check this email” or “I will go and visit my elderly relative when my busy life gets a little calmer” or "I will learn more about what it means to be Jewish, when life is not so hectic". The laziness Yetzer Hara is full of clever reasons to justify inaction. The Mesilat Yesharim, Path of the Just, teaches us that it is so often the voice of laziness (Atzlut in Hebrew) that is behind our failures to grow in life and actualize our potential. We can learn from the concept of Gravity what makes Atzlut so influential. Our physical nature is heavy. We are pulled down by our physical drives to a point of being immobile. The most basic physical drive we have is simply for comfort and therefore any exertion of effort is seen as unwelcome. We just want to 'chill'. When we overcome our desire for comfort and actually get moving doing something, we are going against our basic material nature of stagnancy – and that is hard. If you don’t put in the required effort then you are left in the default position – glued to the comfy chair - which while being comfy, is no place for growth, and in truth, is the source of much inner emptiness in our day and age.

Both the Ohr Hachayim’s answers thus combine under the single message of:  growth requires effort.

Laziness goes much deeper though. It is the source of spiritual decay. Just like a lazy garden owner will not only have no flowers or pretty grass to enjoy, he will soon have a garden full of thorns, weeds, and mess. So too, a lazy person will not only not grow into the amazing person he was put into this world to be, but he will start to have all sorts of ugly things attaching themselves to him – ugly actions, habits, speech and all sorts of spiritual gunk.

This spiritual gunk is some of what needs to be removed in order for us to make ourselves into a dwelling place for Hashem, a mishkan, allowing the G-dly light of our souls to shine in, filling ourselves, our relationships, friendships, and life in general with glowing goodness.

May we learn the lesson from the lack of alacrity shown by the princes and actively break beyond the shackles of laziness to shine greatness on all that we do.

Shabbat shalom


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