Parashat Tetzaveh completes the instructions for constructing and creating the Mishkan (Tabernacle), its utensils and the clothes for the kohanim (priests) serving in the Mishkan. God commands Moses to call upon talented artisans to create this beautiful clothing:
You shall make holy garments for your brother Aaron, for honor and glory. And you shall speak to all the wise hearted, whom I have filled with the spirit of wisdom, and they shall make Aaron’s garments to sanctify him, [so] that he serve Me [as a kohen]… They shall take the gold, the blue, purple, and crimson wool, and the linen…” (Exodus 28: 2-5).
To make the holy garments for the kohanim, Moses is asked to recruit artisans who are wise hearted: People who are wise, talented and creative. These people were among the best of the Jewish nation. As well, these wise hearted people were commanded to collect donations from the public for the holy garments, which included precious materials, such as gold and materials dyed in the precious colors of blue, purple and crimson.
A question arises from these verses: It is clear why smart and talented people were needed to build the Mishkan and create the beautiful clothing, but why were those wise hearted people given the job of gathering donations? This is, after all, a simple job that anyone could do.
It is important to note that this job could not be given to just anyone, since it required a great deal of loyalty to guarantee that the person doing the collecting doesn’t decide to keep any of the gold or precious dyed materials for themselves. But if so, Moses could have appointed people known for their honesty and integrity. Why would he need the greatest of artisans and wise people to collect donations?
TO ANSWER this question, we should look to the sages of the Talmud. “A man commits a transgression only if a spirit of folly [shetut] enters him” (Talmud Sota 3:1).
This statement is based on the assumption that a person is fundamentally good, and that our basic and healthy instincts are to do good. So, why does a person so often transgress? Because of the spirit of folly and stupidity that momentarily takes over. If people would not allow that spirit of stupidity to take control over them, if people were capable of making sure that all their actions were guided by wisdom and a deep understanding that penetrates their hidden feelings and motivations, then they would not transgress.
For this reason, it was not enough to take honest and loyal people for this mission, who would not be suspected of taking something that wasn’t theirs, since even the most honest of people can make mistakes in areas that are not black and white, in a space where there is doubt. That is when people might suddenly find themselves led by their feelings, by an inner voice that might say – I am working so hard collecting these donations, don’t I deserve a little portion of them?
For such a significant job with such great temptation, where the line between integrity and stealing might blur, loyalty is not enough. For this, one needs people with wisdom of the heart, people whose actions are led by their intellect that also examines their deepest motives. When these people reach the point of choosing the right path, they will be aided by their wisdom in making the right decision and will not be swayed by the spirit of folly, those subjective and ephemeral feelings.
This sort of wisdom of the heart, along with the nurturing of the basic traits of integrity and loyalty can protect us from small transgressions and guarantee that we will make the right choices in every situation. ■
The writer is rabbi of the Western Wall and Holy Sites.