Parshas Pekudei concludes the description of the building of the Mishkan (Tabernacle) and gives a summary of all the materials used in the project. The Seforno notes that the verse makes a point to specifically give an exact weight for the amounts of gold, silver and copper donated, unlike the other materials used. The Seforno says that the Torah is deliberately demonstrating that the precious metals used in constructing the Mishkan were quite small in comparison to the amounts used in constructing the Bais Hamikdash (Holy Temple), as described in the Book of Kings I (chapter 6). By contrast, the intensity of the presence of God in the Mishkan was of a much higher level than it was in the Bais Hamikdash. Similarly, the second Bais Hamikdash was even fancier and boasted even more riches (see Tractate Sukkah 51b), yet it had less presence of God.
The message the verse is telling us here is that God is not attracted to riches and glorious buildings. The good deeds and proper attitudes are what truly attracted God to dwell amongst them. Hence the higher level of character observed by the earlier generations attracted the presence of God more so than the increase of physical glory displayed in the succeeding houses of worship.
This is an attitude we ought to put more focus on. While beautifying Mitzvos is important and something we must strive to do, one can easily get caught up in the details of the physical presentation and forget about what really attracts God. No matter how much physical beauty we invest in a Mitzvah, ultimately, it is our conduct and attitude with which we perform the Mitzvah that will attract God’s presence upon us more than all.
A young girl once walked into a jewelry shop and was browsing at the showcase. The owner of the store asked if he could help her, and she replied excitedly that she came to buy a bracelet for her older sister. She and her siblings were orphaned from both parents, and their oldest sister took care of them as a parent. The children were indebted to their older sister and wanted to show their appreciation. The girl told him how she and her siblings saved up money for a long time until they finally had enough.
“Wow,” said the jeweler, “that’s very special. Is there a piece of jewelry that you see you would like to buy?” The girl gleefully pointed to an expensive bracelet and asked how much it cost. “How much money do you have?” asked the man. The girl dumped on the counter the change she brought along which amounted to a sum worth a few dollars.
“That’s exactly the price!” announced the jeweler, as he proceeded to take the money and wrap up the bracelet, and he handed it to the girl. A short while later a young lady walked into the jewelry shop and began to apologize and said that her sister must have taken an expensive bracelet from the store by mistake without paying. The man behind the counter smiled and said, “No. She paid full price.”
He explained that he is a widower and it has been a long time since he experienced the kind of love the little girl expressed when she came into the store. Witnessing this special emotion was priceless and that was his payment. Similarly, when it comes to a Mitzvah, it is the devotion and emotion we put into it that is most precious to God.
Human nature is to be impressed with physical beauty. A large and glamorous silver menorah is sure to attract our attention and add excitement to the Mitzvah (of lighting it on Chanukah). A gorgeous esrog box makes an impression upon us when approaching the Mitzvah (of shaking Lulav along with the other three species, on Sukkos). A large, fancy synagogue catches our eye and makes it feel more significant to us than simpler places of worship.
We must remember that God works differently. God is not impressed with beauty and riches. What truly interests God is what is in our hearts. Instead of getting overly invested in the physical presentation, we should shift our focus to concentrate more on the attitudes and character traits involved in doing the Mitzvah.
After all, who is it that we truly want to impress with our Mitzvos? As important as it is to perform Mitzvos in a beautiful manner, what really attracts God is our character – not gold or silver.
Parshas Pekudei by Rabbi Yitzchok Aryeh Strimber (email@example.com)