It had been a long time since he had spoken with his father. Too long. A few months back, they had gotten into a heated disagreement, and things hadn’t been the same since. It wasn’t always like this, of course. His father was his role model, his hero growing up. He was an only child, and his father had been his teacher, his mentor, and in many ways, his best friend. Many of his greatest memories featured time spent bonding with his father. And now, he couldn’t help but wonder how they had gotten to this point. They never fought, ever. That’s it, he thought, I’m going to call him, I’m going to set things straight and schedule a special breakfast for next week. He was about to pick up the phone, when he looked at his schedule. He was pretty booked for the next few days, so it made more sense to call to schedule for next week. He also had a meeting in 15 minutes, so their conversation would be curtailed if he called now. He phoned his secretary:
“Hi, Sharon. Can please remind me to call my father next Monday morning?”
“Sure thing,” she said.
He smiled to himself, proud that he was being the bigger person, and went back to preparing for his meeting.
That Sunday he got the call. He almost dropped the phone. His father had been in an accident and had passed away on the spot. He couldn’t control himself; he burst out in tears. Not only because he had lost his father, but because he never had the chance to tell him how much he loved him, how important he was to him, how much he treasured their relationship. If only he had made that call, if only he had been more spontaneous. Now, it was too late. The opportunity was lost forever.
How Do You Start Your Day?
When you wake up in the morning, how do you start your day? Many people immediately take out their phones, look at their messages, and are bombarded by a rush of incoming data. But in doing so, we begin our day in a reactive state, allowing external stimuli to become the foundation of our day. With that starting point, it is all too easy for the entire day to become one long, reactive experience.
Highly successful people do not immediately look at their phones upon waking. Rather, they engage in mindful, productive tasks upon waking, generating proactive momentum to their morning. This allows them to choose what to think about and what to focus on, enabling them to accomplish their goals throughout the day. Instead of allowing external stimuli to guide their waking thoughts, they replace it with mindful, guided, and goal-oriented thinking. Davening in the morning accomplishes this exact objective, providing us with a structured way to begin our day with mindfulness and directed thought.
Parshas Naso features the Chanukas HaMishkan, the inauguration of the Tabernacle. At this ceremony, the N’si’im (princes) of each sheivet (tribe) contributed spectacular gifts towards the Mishkan (BaMidbar – perek 7). Chazal explain that these donations were intended to be a tikun (rectification) for their previous sin (Rashi – BaMidbar 7:3). Earlier, in Parshas VaYakhel, the N’si’im are criticized for their inappropriate approach regarding their donations towards the building of the Mishkan (Rashi – Sh’mos 35:27). They delayed in donating gifts for the Mishkan; and in the interim the Jewish People donated everything needed for the Mishkan, leaving the N’si’im with nothing to give.
However, it is important to note that their intentions were pure. They intended to wait and see what was still needed in the Mishkan after the rest of klal Yisrael had finished donating, and they would then donate whatever was still needed, filling in the rest. The N’si’im assumed that if everybody donated simultaneously, there would be many overlapping gifts, while other essential things might be left out completely. The N’si’im wanted to fill in the gaps, ensuring that the donation process was completed properly.
However, when the giving stopped and the dust settled, there was nothing left to give. Klal Yisrael had surpassed all expectations, donating every single required item and even exceeding the required quotas (Sh’mos 36:5). The N’si’im, due to their delay, lost out on their chance to contribute towards the Mishkan.
The N’si’im are criticized for their lack of alacrity in donating to the Mishkan, and it is apparent that they realized their mistake, as they tried to rectify it by contributing elaborate gifts during the Chanukas HaMishkan. However, we must ask what the N’si’im did that was so improper. After all, their calculation seems sound, if not ideal. Why donate something that has already been given? Isn’t it worthwhile to ensure that your gift will be useful? Why then do we view their actions, or lack thereof, in such a negative light? Furthermore, how do the N’si’im’s gifts in Parshas Naso rectify their mistake? In order to understand this episode, we must first understand the nature and meaning of chesed, loosely translated as kindness and giving.
The spiritual concept of chesed is the ability to expand beyond one’s limited self and contribute towards others. As the pasuk in T’hilim says, “Olam chesed yibaneh” – the world was built through chesed (T’hilim 89:3). Hashem created this world as an act of expansion and pure kindness, with the goal of giving to each and every one of us. Thus, when we give to others, we emulate Hashem.
Two Forms of Chesed
The Maharal explains that there are two distinct forms of giving. The first is responsive, when a person gives only that which is needed. This means giving only when a person sees a need, or when someone asks for help. The drawback of this form of giving is that it is only done because it is compelled; it is caused by an external need. If this individual had not seen another in need, he would not have helped. While giving in this situation can still be done with pure intentions, there is a possibility that the giving is motivated by guilt, or to avoid feeling the emotional pain of another person’s lack. If you see people in dire need of help, looking much less fortunate than you are, you tend to feel bad for them. You want to help them, but you also want to make yourself feel better, to assuage your own feelings of guilt.
The second form of chesed is proactive, when you give purely for the sake of giving. This reflects a compelling desire to give and help others. In this case, there is no external cause for giving; rather, it stems from a deep internal desire to expand outwards and help others. Instead of waiting reactively for people to come to you, you proactively seek out opportunities to help. In a deep sense, this form of chesed does not stem from someone else’s need to receive, but from your internal desire to give. You will therefore happily give to people, even if they aren’t in need, even if they already have what you wish to give them.
Understanding the N’si’im
We can now understand the mistake, and the subsequent rectification, of the N’si’im. When it came to the building of the Mishkan, the N’si’im were reactive. Their calculation may have been rational and sound, but that itself was the problem. When you truly love someone, you give for the sake of giving, spontaneously, as an expression of overwhelming love. If you love Hashem, you eagerly give to the Mishkan – for the sake of giving – even if there may be overlap between the gifts. The practical concern of specific inventory can be dealt with at a later stage. By waiting until the end to give their gifts, the N’si’im displayed a slight lack in their love for Hashem.
The N’si’im’s Tikun
The N’si’im rectified their mistake at the Chanukas HaMishkan when they gave their gifts spontaneously and proactively. Whereas they gave last when it came to the building of the Mishkan, they gave first at its inauguration.
But there is another unique feature of these gifts. The commentators note that all 12 of the N’si’im gave identical gifts at the Chanukas HaMishkan. Yet, the Torah enumerates each gift individually, repeating the same exact description over and over again. This seems redundant and unnecessary; why did each Nasi give the same exact gift as his fellow 11 N’si’im, and why does the Torah detail all 12 of them? But this, in fact, was their ultimate rectification. Their sin lay in being reactive; their tikun came through proactivity. Their sin lay in over-calculating and worrying about overlapping their gifts; their tikun came specifically through giving the same exact gift, an explicit expression of repetition, and a true expression of giving for the sake of giving.
There is an additional layer to this, as well. While it appears that each of the N’si’im gave the same gift, that is true only on the surface level. The Midrash explains that while each Nasi gave an identical gift, each gift reflected the unique spiritual essence of the Nasi’s sheivet. The external packaging may have been the same, but the internal meaning was fundamentally different. This idea is essential to our own lives, as well. We say the same words of Sh’moneh Esrei three times a day, but each and every tefilah should be unique. We say the same physical words, but each time, we have the opportunity for a new and elevated internal experience of connection and meaning. The thoughts and feelings that infuse the words of this prayer will never be the same as those that shape another prayer.
This brings us full circle. When you wake up in the morning, how do you start your day? Are you reactive to that which comes your way, or do you proactively pave your path? Success does not come by accident; it comes from mindful planning, intense commitment, and consistent execution. If we live a reactive life, we will wake up one day and wonder why we are so far from our desired destination. True success requires proactivity. And the virtue of proactivity stems from the midah of chesed, proactively seeking ways to do good, to help others, to improve the world around us. May we be inspired to become so full of love that we proactively seek out ways to contribute to those around us.
Shmuel Reichman is an inspirational speaker, writer, and coach who has lectured internationally at shuls, conferences, and Jewish communities on topics of Jewish Thought and Jewish Medical Ethics. He is the founder and CEO of Self-Mastery Academy (ShmuelReichman.com), the transformative online course that is revolutionizing how we engage in self-development. You can find more inspirational lectures, videos, and articles from Shmuel on his website: www.ShmuelReichman.com.