Intent creates the reality
by Rabbi Yishai Rabi
In this week’s parasha the Torah describes in great detail the Mishkan (Tabernacle), a resting place of God’s presence. In truth, with the exception of the tragic incident of the golden calf, the rest of the book of Shemot is devoted to the preparations for the construction of the Mishkan (Even the account of the Egel is very much related to the Mishkan. Follow the Sforno throughout the Parasha). Many of our commentators discuss the symbolism and the various components of the Tabernacle at great length, but I just want to bring out one important lesson.
The Torah starts off with Hashem commanding the Jews to donate Terumah for the building of the Mishkan. The Torah uses the wording “ויקחו לי תרומה”, “let them take for me a portion”. The grammar seems very strange. The Torah could have easily have written “ויתנו, give for me.” Rashi answers this question by commenting that the term “for me” means “for the sake of My name.”
When you come to think about it, what could you give to your Creator? Doesn’t everything belong to Him anyway? How can you possibly give Him anything? The Mishnah in Perkei Avot says: “תן לו משלו שאתה ושלך שלו, give to Him what is his, because you and all that you have is merely His.” So what can we possibly give to Hashem?
What Rashi means to explain to us in two words is that the only thing that you can do for Hashem is to separate your own materials and use them in Hashem’s name. Every act that we do goes after our intent, kavanah. There are so many mitzvot in the Torah that are created just through intent. For example, pigul, kli sharet, tumah, nazir, etc. To a Jew nothing is secular. It goes so far that Rav Ashi even says in Maseceht Brachot (6a), “If anyone has a thought to perform a mitzvah, but extenuating circumstances prevented him from doing so, the Torah considers him as if he completed the Mitzvah.”
The Alter Rebbe of Kelm once told his students, “Do you know who is the biggest Baal Chesed (doer of good deeds) and who is mostly likely to receive the greatest olam habah in our town? The baker! (look at how many people he feeds every day)—but only if he channels his actions to greatness. Every morning when he wakes up at 2:00am and he’s freezing cold, he’s faced with a test: “Should I get up or not?” If he decides to get up because everyone is dependent on him and because he is the sole provider of bread for the entire town, then he will receive great reward. But he can also throw it all away for a few bucks by thinking I am getting up to make a living. It is all determined by one’s intention.
We define symbolism, our intent, as reality. We have countless opportunities each day to take everything and use it for Hashem. That is the lesson of vayiku li terumah: only through our kavanah can we get to the state of ושכנתי בתוכם, that Hashem will rest his shechinah in each and every one of us—and Hashem will be in everything that we do.