#217: Lazy Leaders
Rashi on Parashat Vayakhel-Pekudei, Shemot/Exodus 35:27
Gimme Some Torah #217
וְהַנְּשִׂאִם הֵבִיאוּ אֵת אַבְנֵי הַשֹּׁהַם וְאֵת אַבְנֵי הַמִּלֻּאִים לָאֵפוֹד וְלַחֹשֶׁן׃
And the chieftains brought lapis lazuli and other stones for setting, for the ephod and for the breastpiece;
When the altar in the Mishkan (Tabernacle) was finally dedicated, the נְשִׂיאִים (nesi’im, tribal chieftains) were the first to bring their gifts (see Num. 7:10-89). But Rashi (bio) points out that when the Mishkan was set up in Exodus, the chieftains brought their donations much later in the process:
והנשאם הביאו AND THE PRINCES BROUGHT [ONYX STONES] R. Nathan asked, “What reason had the princes to give their contributions at the dedication of the altar (Numbers 7:12ff.) before everyone else, whereas at the work of the Tabernacle they were not the first, but the last to contribute?” But — replied he — the princes spoke thus: “Let the community in general contribute all they with to give and what will then be lacking we shall supply.”
Rashi goes on to say that the chieftains’ plan to make up whatever the people didn’t give backfired. The people gave more than was necessary, leaving the chieftains with nothing to give:
But when the community gave everything needed in its entirety — as it is said, (Exodus 36:7) “For the stuff they had was enough [for all the work to make it, and some was left]” — the princes asked, “What can we now do?” therefore הביאו את אבני השהם וגו׳ THEY BROUGHT THE ONYX STONES etc. That is why they were the first to contribute at the consecration of the altar.
Finally, Rashi quotes a midrash that says there was a consequence for the chieftain’s lack of initial enthusiasm:
Because, however, they (the chieftains) were lazy (about making donations) at the beginning, a letter is missing here from their title (thus intimating that something, viz., zeal was lacking in them): for it is written וְהַנְּשִׂאִם instead of וְהַנְּשִׂיאִים (Num. Rabbah 12:16).
The chieftains’ punishment for being lazy in Exodus was that the word for “chieftains” was written in a contracted form instead of the full form. Just as “shoulda” or “coulda” are colloquial, incomplete ways of saying “should have” or “could have,” the word נְּשִׂאִם is a contracted, incomplete form of the actual word, נְּשִׂיאִים.
The chieftains in Exodus got the incomplete form of the word because they themselves were incomplete. It’s also worth noticing that the missing letters in נְּשִׂאִם are two yuds (י), a common abbreviation for God’s ineffable name.
As any fundraiser well knows, charity drives require that the rich and influential give first and generously in order to inspire others to donate.
The question of the role of wealth in society is yet another instance where we tend to confuse ends with means. Money is nothing but a tool that we should use to achieve goal of high moral worth. When people get spiritually lazy with their money, they often start to see their wealth as a goal in and of itself, and that is a mistake.
When do you feel lazy? What do you do to shake yourself out of it?
What, if any, special expectations should society have for high wealth individuals? How much money should one have before these special demands take effect?
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Rabbi Eli Garfinkel is the spiritual leader of Temple Beth El in Somerset, New Jersey. He is the author of The JPS Jewish Heritage Torah Commentary.