Vayakhel — Just Do It

It might be because last Shabbos was the yahrtzeit of my mother, Puah bas Rav Noach HaCohein, a”h. But, whatever the reason, she came to the fore of my mind when reviewing parshas Vayakhel, in particular the missing yud in the word nesi’im.

The word for those tribal leaders of Klal Yisrael is spelled without a letter yud where there should be one (Shemos, 35:27).

Rashi, channeling Bamidbar Rabbah (12:16), notes that the truncated spelling reflects the Nesi’im’s declining to make their donations immediately, along with all the other Jews. Although their intention was to make up any shortfall, an undeniably laudable goal, their lack of alacrity is still held against them.

Two years ago, I offered one approach, based on Rav Dessler’s writing, to why that might be so. But this year, the memory of my mother suggested another possible explanation for why the Nesi’im are held accountable despite their good intention.

My mother was well known in Baltimore for warmly engaging everyone she met – and that was many people, since she was a shul rebbetzin. And she made constant efforts to find matches for unmarrieds. Try, though as she did, no marriages resulted from her efforts.

At least not directly. Because when one makes an effort to do something meritorious, it advances the goal, contributes to the realm of good. No hishtadlus is without worth.

What occurs is that the Nesi’im’s lapse may have been the lack of effort. Instead of acting, even though they left open the door to future action should it be needed, they held back. That missing yud may thus signal the fact that effort is inherently meaningful, no matter the odds of success or the calculus for inaction. The effort itself is a success.

In the end, Hashem’s will will be done. As Mordechai told Esther when he chastised her for hesitating to engage the king on behalf of her fellow Jews, “For if you remain silent at this time, relief and rescue will arise for the Jews from elsewhere.”

What he was saying was: Hashem has His plan and it will persevere, with or without your effort. But your effort will be meaningful, will advance the goal, and accrue to your everlasting credit.

© 2024 Rabbi Avi Shafran

My most recent Ami Magazine column, “For Whom Mr. Bell Tolls,” can be read here.

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