Our sedra kicks-off with a call for donations to build the Mishkan, and proceeds to lay down the dimensions and instructions of assembly for the contents of the Mishkan (the aron, kapores, shulchan, and menorah) before moving on to the structure of the Mishkan building itself, the outer mizbeyach, and the courtyard. The general order is that the list begins with those vessels which were to be placed at the inner most point of the Mishkan, and then makes its way to the outer vessels and structure. [Note that the kiyor (wash-basin) and the inner mizbeyach are not in our sedra; the inner mizbeyach does not appear until the end of parshas Tetzaveh, and the kiyor features at the start of Ki Sisa. See footnote for one explanation as to why they are not mentioned together with the other Mishkan vessels.[1]]

When one looks through the various descriptions of the vessels of the Mishkan and the Mishkan building itself, one word strikes you: glamour. No expense was spared. The aron was plated with pure gold, as well as having gold rings on it. The kapores was pure gold, the shulchan was gold-plated, as were its baddim. Moreover, the menorah was made out of one solid lump of gold, and the rest of the Mishkan had other expensive and valuable materials used too. The gemarra[2] sums up the attitude very nicely via the phrase ‘there is no poverty in a place of wealth’ - there is no skimping when it comes to the Mishkan. The same attitude is ascribed to building synagogues, which are incidentally referred to by Yechezkal as ‘mini-Batei Mikdash.’[3] The gemarra[4] tells us that a synagogue should be the tallest and highest building in the city - again, something which would require significant expense. We shall angle our main question this week around the pasuk’s (28:40) description of the general objective of the clothes of the Kohannim . These clothes, again with no expense spared, are described as being ‘for honour and glory.’ All this glory and expense seems to throw forward an important question. As the Ramban[5] points out, the central positive character trait is modesty/humility (anavah). Therefore, we can ask regarding the Mishkan and the clothes of the Kohannim - what happened to anavah? What happened to the Jewish trait of humility; the Mishkan is full of all this glamorous gold and fancy materials, and it seems that humility has gone out of the window! Indeed, when the Torah does describe the point of the Kohannim’s clothes, it says that they are to be ‘for honour and glory’ - is this not the antithesis of anavah? The answer requires a closer look at what humility is…

The idea is that humility does not mean hiding one’s talents and pretending that they do not exist; as we shall soon see, that is the opposite of humility. HaShem does not want you to hide your talents; on the contrary, He created you with certain talents and expects you to utilise them. What anavah means is admitting that one has certain talents, and using them in the right ways. Rabbi Twerski[6] cites several authorities who emphasise this point in explaining what anavah is. For example, Rav Eliyahu Lopian remarked “the essence of the concept of humility is not that one should be unaware of one’s capacities. To the contrary, a person should recognise his strengths. However, he should know that his skills and talents are a gift from G-D and that they are not his doing.” The Chazon Ish added that these talents should not make one feel superior to others; for after all, they are a gift from HaShem - and someone else could equally have achieved the same as you had HaShem given them these talents. Similarly, Rabbi Leib Chasman commented that “it is obvious that a humble person is not one who is unaware of his capacities and strengths. This person is a fool and not humble.” The idea is that true anavah is realising that your talents are from HaShem. Rav Elchonon Wasserman commented that the accolade ‘servant of HaShem’ attributed to Moshe Rabeinu at the end of the Torah meant that Moshe put every talent he had into the service of HaShem. And it is no coincidence that Moshe is described in the Torah as the most humble man that ever lived (Bamidbar 12:3) - it was this trait of anavah which meant that Moshe used his talents to serve HaShem. If one denies their talents, they are assuming that these talents are theirs to deny - this is not so; HaShem gave you your talents with a responsibility to put them to good use - and this is anything but anavah, for you have assumed that your talents are yours and not from HaShem.[7]

This is all illustrated rather well with a story. Dayan Abramski was once called into court as a witness in a certain case. When he stepped up onto the stand, he was asked by the lawyer ‘is it true that you, Mr. Abramski, are the leading Jewish authority in the country and indeed on the continent?’ Dayan Abramski responded ‘yes, it is true, I am the leading authority.’ The lawyer quipped back ‘what happened to humility?’ to which Dayan Abramski responded ‘I’m under oath.’ Again, we see that humility does not mean the denial of one’s talents or achievements; it means the recognition that they came from Above and putting them to positive use.

By now, you’d have realised that the biggest show of anavah is the using of all of one’s talents and resources to serve HaShem. This is precisely what the Mishkan was. Everyone donated the funds; no expense was spared. The women weaved certain materials and embroidery, and everyone gave of themselves and their resources to help the Mishkan effort. This was anavah in its purest form. This is also why the aims of the clothing of the Kohannim being ‘for honour and glory’ do not contradict anavah. For the honour and glory here are not for themselves and their own self-aggrandisement, but are really HaShem’s honour and glory; these precious articles of clothing are that which enables the special serving of HaShem in the Mishkan and the sanctification of His Name. And if we are talking about HaShem’s honour, there can be no holding back; no skimping - ‘there is no poverty in a place of wealth.’ The same thing goes for a shul and any other mitzvah; why not make it as nice as possible - it is the honour of HaShem we are dealing with.

Therefore, when it comes to serving HaShem, forget about humility and ‘keeping it quiet’ - for the service itself and the fact that you have used your talents constructively is a show of anavah. This comes into the halachic fray in the context of making a siyum upon the completion of a section of Torah. The Rema in Shulchan Aruch Yoreh De’ah reveals that ‘back in the day’ (his times) during yeshiva holidays, the yeshiva boys would spend their time reviewing the tractates that they had learnt during the yeshiva term. Then, on the first day back at yeshiva, the entire town would be invited to attend the various siyums (and the refreshments of course), and the yeshiva would be packed to the brim for such occasions. We see from here that the correct attitude is not to hide the fact that one has finished a tractate, but on the contrary, to make a fuss about it and show others how great an achievement this is (they could be spurred on too, and their coming to your siyum shows an importance of Torah anyway); this is giving honour to HaShem in front of many people (be’rov am hadras melech; with the presence of a great crowd is the glory of the king).

To conclude, we have learnt and repeated (and repeated) that anavah means using one’s talents positively, and not covering them up.[8]

Have a great Shabbos!

[1] One explanation is that these vessels did not form part of a service (avodah) in and of itself that took place in the Mishkan. The kiyor was a sink for the Kohannim to wash their hands to allow them to perform other services; the washing itself was not a service. And the main use of the inner mizbeyach was for the ketores spice ‘offering,’ whose main job was to be a smokescreen to shield the Kohannim from the over-awing exposure to HaShem’s Presence to allow them to perform the other services. Thus, they are mentioned together with the clothes of the Kohannim, which, again, were not services in and of themselves, but just allowed the Kohen to perform his service (without the proper garments, the service could be rendered void and the Kohen could get the death penalty). In contrast, the other vessels of the Mishkan were used for an avodah in and of themselves, and so are mentioned first. [2] Gemarra Menachos 89a amongst other places [3] Yechezkal perek 11; as explained by gemarra Megillah 29a [4] Gemarra Shabbos 11a [5] Iggeres HaRamban, towards the beginning [6] Rabbi Twerski’s ‘Angels Don’t Leave Footprints’ p46-47 [7] Rabbi Raf [8] I heard the bulk of this dvar Torah from Netanel Dadoun shlita

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