. . . and King Solomon and the entire assembly of Israel that had gathered about him were before the ark, sacrificing so many sheep and cattle that they could not be recorded or counted. - 1 Kings 8:5
The Torah portion for this week is a double reading, Vayakhel-Pekudei, from Exodus 35:1-40:38. Vayakhel means "assembled," and Pekudei means "counting." The Haftorah is from 1 Kings 7:51-8:21.
I was recently inspired by the news story of former NFL center Jason Brown. At one point, Brown had been one of the best centers in the NFL and had received a $37 million, five-year contract to play for the St. Louis Rams. However, Brown walked away from it all to become a simple farmer.
Brown recalled that when he made the decision to leave his multimillion-dollar career behind, his agent told him that he was making the biggest mistake of his life. Brown simply replied, "No, I am not." Why? Because Brown realized that there was more to life than making money. He moved to North Carolina, where he works on his five-acre farm, which he calls "First Fruits Farm," and he donates everything from the first batch of his harvest each year to the needy. This year, that translated into 100,000 pounds of sweet potatoes. Brown said that he feels more successful than ever in his life right now, but adds, "Not in man's standards, but in God's eyes." He also said that to him, greatness means service.
So many people go about looking for greatness in all the wrong places. Jason Brown got it right. Life is made meaningful and great through our acts of service, contribution, and sacrifice for God's purposes.
This week's Haftorah reading is an echo of the Torah reading. In the Torah reading, we read about the completion of the Tabernacle, God's temporary dwelling. The Haftorah reading fast-forwards us several hundred years to the completion of the Temple, God's permanent dwelling. In our Torah reading, Moses blessed the new sanctuary. In the Haftorah, Solomon does the same.
In both readings, we also encounter situations where the people were giving and sacrificing to God uninhibitedly. In the Torah reading, Moses actually had to tell the people to stop donating (Exodus 36:5). In the Haftorah we read that "the entire assembly of Israel . . . were before the ark, sacrificing so many sheep and cattle that they could not be recorded or counted."
These are two times in history when the spirit of contribution gripped an entire nation. What a beautiful sight to behold! But I believe that it won't be the last. Jason Brown is on to something that I think more and more people are discovering for themselves - happiness isn't found in receiving, but in giving. As Brown put it, "Greatness is service," and I might add that contentment comes from contribution.
In the spirit of the Israelites who contributed with an overwhelmingly generous heart, may we all find ways to serve and make sacrifices for God's purposes this week. Let us do so with joy, satisfaction, and the feeling of true success.
With prayers for shalom, peace,
Rabbi Yechiel Eckstein
Founder and President