Vayakhel - One Deed Reflects On Another
A person's actions in one area can reveal something about his actions in another area - the women’s willingness to part with their jewelry for the Mishkan, revealed their pure intentions when refusing to do so for the Golden Calf
The Torah describes how the people eagerly came to donate their prized possessions towards the building of the Mishkan (Tabernacle). “The men came with the women; everyone whose heart motivated him brought bracelets, nose-rings, body ornaments – all sorts of gold ornaments – every man who raised up an offering of gold to HaShem.”
The commentaries discuss the meaning of the phrase, “the men came with the women”. Rabbeinu Bechaye explains that the women in fact came first to donate their jewelry, and the men only came after them. This, he explains, demonstrates their righteousness in and of itself but it also reflects positively on an earlier incident involving jewelry – that of the Golden Calf. When the men demanded that Aaron make for them a statue, he told them to remove the women’s jewelry. However, the women refused to give over their jewelry so the men took their own gold and gave that towards the building of the Calf. From the incident of the Golden Calf alone, it is unclear why the women refused to give their jewelry. It was possible that their main motivation was their natural attachment to their jewelry, as opposed to the pure motivation of refusal to be involved with the sin of the Golden Calf.
However, in Parshas Vayakhel we see that the women were very willing to donate their jewelry towards the elevated purpose of the building of the Mishkan. This retroactively teaches us about the reason that they did not give their jewelry at the Golden Calf. It was not because of their attachment to gold and silver, because that did not prevent the women from parting with them for the sake of the Mishkan. Rather, their refusal to give towards the Golden Calf emanated from leshem Shamayim (pure) motives - they wanted no part in that terrible sin.
Rav Avraham Pam zt”l derives a very important concept from this explanation. It is known in Hebrew as ‘Maasim shel adam mochichim zeh es zeh’. This means that the actions of a person in one area can reveal something about his actions in another area. In this case, the women’s willingness to part with their jewelry for the Mishkan, revealed their pure intentions when refusing to do so for the Golden Calf.
We see another example of this concept with regards to one of the names given to the Third meal that is eaten on Shabbos: Shalosh Seudas – this literally means, ‘three meals’. This is a very strange name to give the third meal, it would be more appropriate to only use its other name – seudah shelishis. Why is this meal also known as ‘three meals’?
The answer is that the way a person conducts himself at the third meal reflects retroactively on his intentions during the first two Shabbos meals. There are two possible reasons as to why a person would eat well at the first two Shabbos meals: It could be because of his pure desire to honor the Shabbos by eating delicious food, or it could emanate from his hunger and desire to eat well, because both those meals come at a time when a person is normally hungry and ready to eat well. However, the third meal comes quite soon after Shabbos lunch, therefore a person’s natural hunger will not be high. If he refrains from eating at the third meal despite the fact that it is a Mitzvo to eat then, he retroactively shows that his main kavannah for the first two meals was to fill his stomach more than honor the Shabbos! If, however, he does partake in a delicious meal he demonstrates that his intentions are for the honor of Shabbos, for if it were not Shabbos he would otherwise eat far less or nothing at all. Accordingly, by eating the third meal he retroactively demonstrates his intent for the first two, and at this point it is clear that he ate ALL THREE MEALS with pure intentions. Therefore, the third meal merits the name, ‘three meals’ because, for one who eats the third meal, it is considered as if he ate all three meals with pure intent.
This concept of ‘Maasim shel adam mochichim zeh es zeh’ is of great importance because it is a very effective mechanism in judging the consistency of people’s actions. This idea is brought out by the Beis HaLevi on Parshas Vayigash. When Yosef revealed himself to his brothers he asked them the question; “is my father still alive?” When the brothers heard this, they were completely speechless and disconcerted. The Medrash compares Yosef’s revelation to his brothers to that of the Day of Judgment. It says that if the brothers could not answer Yosef who was younger than them, then all the more so when HaShem (so to speak) comes and rebukes us, we will be left speechless. The commentaries ask; what exactly is the comparison between Yosef’s revelation to the brothers and the Day of Judgment.
The Beis HaLevi answers by first explaining Yosef’s question about whether his father was alive – it was very clear from the events up to this time that Yaakov Avinu was still alive! He answers that Yosef was in truth giving them a veiled rebuke. Yehuda had just spent a great deal of time arguing that Yosef should not take Binyomin as a slave because it would destroy Yaakov. By bringing up the well-being of Yaakov, Yosef was alluding to them that their purported concern for their father did not seem to be consistent with their actions in selling Yosef so many years earlier. At that time, they had shown no concern for the pain that their father would feel at the loss of his beloved son. In this way, the brothers had contradicted their own arguments through their very actions! The Beis HaLevi then explains the similarity of Yosef’s ‘rebuke’ to that of the Day of Judgment. On that awesome day each person will be asked about his various actions, including his sins and failure to keep Mitzvos properly. He may have excuses, however, these excuses will then be scrutinized by his other actions in that same area.
For example, a person might justify his failure to give sufficient money to charity on the basis that he was lacking in his own livelihood. However, his spending in other areas will then be examined – if it becomes clear that in other areas he was all too willing and able to spend large amounts of money, then he himself has ruined his own justification for failing to give charity! In this vein, his actions in spending money for his own enjoyment reflects badly on his spending of money for the Mitzvo of giving charity.
In this vein, the Choftez Chaim once berated a wealthy man for giving insufficient funds to charity. The man answered that he did indeed give away a significant amount. The Chofetz Chaim then worked out the amount of money he gave to charity and compared it to his expenses on his own luxuries. It came out that the man spent more money on his drapery alone than on all the charity that he gave!
We have discussed the concept of ‘Maasim shel adam mochichim zeh es zeh’ and seen its great significance in the process of judgment. The obvious lesson to be derived from this concept, is that it is essential that a person analyze the consistency of his actions.
For example, a person who claims that he does not have enough time to learn will have to justify his failure to learn on the Day of Judgment. If it becomes clear that he did have enough time for many other types of activities then his claim that he did not have enough time to learn will be put in serious jeopardy. His actions in other areas show that in truth it wasn’t because he did not have enough time to learn, rather that it was a very low priority in his list of importance. It would be much less disconcerting if we can make our own self-analysis of such inconsistencies and fix them before the Day of Judgment.
May we all merit to achieve consistency in all our actions.
From The Book "The Guiding Light 2"