Aspirations, Abilities, And Achievements

Aspirations, Abilities, And Achievements

By R’ David Algaze 

“Every man whose heart inspired him came; and everyone whose spirit urged him brought the portion of G-d for the Tent of Meeting, for all its labor and for the sacred vestments.”

(Shemot 35:22)


After the tragic error of building a Golden Calf, comes the great forgiveness. Through repentance and acknowledgement, the people attained anew the grace of G-d. It is remarkable that this grace and this pardon were obtained merely by the change of heart and the sincere regret, and not through complex rituals or offerings in a specific place. They achieved grace without a Temple and without offerings, which demonstrates the fundamental truth that it is not Temple and offerings which in and of themselves produce the grace of G-d. The Temple serves merely as a symbol and prompter to become closer to G-d, and that is the reason for the commandment to build a Tabernacle and a Temple.

The Temple structure, its furnishings, and its vestments were elaborate and required a high level of artisanship and very specific abilities. As Ramban points out, how could people, whose only experience involved working with bricks and mortar, ever attain the necessary skills to work in architecture, design, weaving, dying, and especially in the fine art of working with precious stones? In Egypt the Israelites knew nothing about working with gold or copper. How is it that they turned out to be such skilled craftsmen and artists?

Ramban writes on this verse, “The uplifting of the spirit refers to the wise men [craftsmen and artisans] who perform the work…referring to how they came to do the work [as artisans]. For there was none who learned these crafts from any instructor or trainer at all; but each one found in his heart [the ability] to do it, and his heart was uplifted in the ways of G-d to come and say to Moshe, “I will do whatever my Lord commands me.” Ramban is puzzled about this phenomenon that whoever wanted to do the work suddenly found himself to be a skilled worker in that area. How could people exposed only to rough work in construction all of a sudden turn out to be fine workers in diamonds and gold that require a high level of training?

The answer lies in the words, “Whose spirit prompted (elevated) him,” meaning that a person can experience an inner urge and aspiration that may push us to do something beyond our regular actions and abilities. There are some activities and enterprises that do not require courses or training but rather aspiration and initiative. At one moment they are construction workers, but the sudden aspiration to contribute to the Temple makes them attain a skill previously unknown to them. The mere desire to give something to the sacred project enables them to discover in themselves a talent they never knew about. Perhaps even more miraculously, the skill develops simultaneously with the desire and the aspiration. This is what is meant by “the elevation of the spirit” – that the person instantaneously rises to another level and is endowed with a skill he had not known before. The Torah describes this process in which the person “whose heart prompts him” is filled with a dexterity and an aptitude through the help of G-d: “He filled them with a wise heart to do every craft of the carver, weaver of designs, and embroiderer, with the turquoise, purple, and scarlet wool…and the artisans of every craft and makers of designs (ibid. 35).”

It is not our abilities that define us or limit us;
it is our aspirations

This is a lesson for us in every aspect of life and especially in the spiritual realm. We are often paralyzed in front of a new task or goal. We fail to make our dreams come true or to achieve something we want because we think it is not achievable or that we lack the power or talent to do it. We hear about spiritual goals, to pray with more concentration (kavanah), to study more Torah, to be kinder to people and to ourselves, and yet we fall short because we think we do not have the strength or ability to achieve them. The Torah is emphasizing that talent and skill or previous experience may not always dictate what we can accomplish or create. If we have an aspiration to do something, the spirit can create a reality beyond our past and above our former self. If we aspire to something high, we should not let our limitations stop us. We should not fall into the trap of thinking of all of the reasons we cannot do it, but rather concentrate on our aspiration and the Divine Help that will flow afterwards.

There is a beautiful story of a great scholar who came to a renowned yeshivah in search for a husband to his daughter. Naturally he sought a talented student, so he posed a difficult question to all the students and expected to choose the one who would answer it correctly. After several hours, when no one came forward, the father was leaving the campus somewhat dejected. As his carriage was departing, a young man came running after the carriage and said, “I do not know the answer and I know I do not qualify, but can you please tell me what the answer was?” The scholar turned to the young man and said, “I’d like you to be my daughter’s husband, for your deep desire to learn shows your character.” The young man may not have known the answer yet, but his ardent desire to learn was surely to be rewarded eventually with the proper proficiency and knowledge. The ability is not a static quality but sprouts from aspiration and will.

When we are ready to say to the Master, “I’m prepared to do whatever my Lord commands,” we will discover resources and strengths we never knew we had or, more precisely, these talents and skills will shoot up and bloom inside of us. It is not our abilities that define us or limit us; it is our aspirations. When we aim low, we accomplish little. Aspirations are flowers of the soul that can lift us far above our present levels and make us soar beyond our former horizons.

Rabbi David Algaze is the founder and Rav of Havurat Yisrael, Forest Hills. He is a noted public speaker and author and is the President of the international Committee for the Land of Israel.