A Sense of Obligation

  • Harav Yehuda Amital

Sicha for Shabbat from the Roshei Yeshiva
Yeshivat Har Etzion



A Sense of Obligation

Summarized by Matan Glidai

Translated by David Silverberg


The Torah tells us at the beginning of Parashat Teruma that the Beit Ha-mikdash is to be built through Benei Yisrael's donations. Later, in Parashat Vayakhel (chapter 36), the Torah describes the outpouring of materials Benei Yisrael contributed towards the construction of the Mishkan and its accessories. One gets the impression that the Torah here encourages good will and voluntarism, that it praises the Jewish people for their unsolicited contributions.

However, Rashi (25:2) writes that the sockets, which supported the beams of the Mishkan, were manufactured not from voluntary donations, but from the mandatory half-shekel tax levied from the people regardless of their generous contributions. Latent in this comment of Rashi is a critical lesson regarding avodat Hashem in general (see Maharal of Prague in "Gur Aryeh"). One's service of the Almighty must be based first and foremost upon an ingrained sense of obligation, duty, commitment - not good will and voluntarism. One must feel obligated to fulfill the mitzvot, and cannot perform them merely because he finds them interesting or appealing.

Some people think that a good Jew in one who fully identifies with everything he does and does not perform religious acts as if they have been forced upon him. Rashi here teaches us that although the Mishkan did require voluntary donations, the sockets - the very basis and foundation of the Mishkan - were built not from voluntary contributions but from mandatory taxation. One must inculcate within himself, before anything else, a profound sense of commitment.

Although Benei Yisrael declared "Na'aseh ve-nishma" - "We will do and we will hear" - before receiving the Torah, God nevertheless found it necessary to suspend the mountain over their heads and threaten them should they not accept the Torah (Shabbat 88b). The foundation of avodat Hashem is that we are obligated to uphold the mitzvot; only on this basis can one build a sense of voluntary service of God. In the Psalms (27:4), King David requests "to live in the House of God all the days of my life, to gaze upon the beauty of God and to frequent His temple." One must first live permanently in the House of God, out of necessity and obligation. Only thereafter comes the "frequenting of the temple," when one occasionally comes to visit out of personal interest and free will.

This message takes on particular significance today, when Western society seeks to avoid any form of burden and obligation, a tendency that has made its way into our community, as well. The prevalent attitude encourages one to do only what his heart desires, and any type of coercion is considered harmful and threatening. People today raise onto a pedestal the ideal of human rights and freedom, and view any form of obligation or commitment as undermining this concept. Many have forgone the institution of marriage, preferring to live together without an official bond that demands loyalty and mutual devotion. Many have lost the motivation to serve in the Israeli Defense Forces, since they feel no commitment to defend the country. Society has divested itself of virtually every form of obligation and commitment.

We must rise above this dangerous attitude. Within the religious community, there are those who promote Torah study only because it is interesting and enjoyable. We must understand that Torah study must be based primarily upon a sense of commitment, and only thereafter can one speak of the enjoyment and interest generated therefrom. As symbolized by the sockets, as well as by the sacrifices (which are the primary purpose of the Mishkan), commitment forms the very basis and foundation of serving God, its bottom line and ultimate purpose.

(Originally delivered on Leil Shabbat Parashat Teruma 5757 [1997]).


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