Throughout Jewish history there were many leaders who were wealthy. Here are some examples.
Rabbi Yehudah HaNasi, the Talmud (Gittin 59a) says, was “Torah and greatness together,” meaning he was both a Torah luminary as well as a very well-to-do person. He is the one who took on the project of committing the Oral Torah to writing.
Technically, it would not have been permissible to do so, as the interpretations of the Torah were meant to be transmitted orally from parent to child and from master to student. Along came Rabbi Yehudah HaNasi who quoted the verse, “A time to do for the L-rd; they have made void Your Torah,” and explained that since the Jewish nation was dispersed and persecuted, it was absolutely necessary to have a uniform, written version of the Oral Torah.
In addition to the huge scholarly undertaking, it was also a big expense. Rabbi Yehuda, being financially well-off, covered the expenses involved in gathering the sages and scholars and compiling and transcribing the Mishnah.
The Talmud tells us that several hundred years later, Rav Ashi — about whom the Talmud has the same quote: “Torah and greatness together” — established a yeshiva, a school where he and his students compiled the Talmud Bavli, the Babylonian Talmud.
This phenomenon of wealthy leaders started even earlier: There were wealthy prophets. The Talmud (Nedarim 38a) tells us about Jonah the Prophet — yes, Jonah from “Jonah and the Whale.”
The story, familiar from the Haftarah we read on Yom Kippur, recounts how Jonah tried to run away from G-d. He went down to Yafo, a port city on the coast of the Mediterranean from which he caught a ship sailing to a place called Tarshish. Jonah wanted the ship to get underway immediately, so “he paid its fare and got down in it.” But the Talmud tells us that that “he paid the fare for the entire ship,” and that “the fare for the entire ship was 4,000 gold dinars” — a clear indication of Jonah’s wealth.
Then we have Samuel the Prophet. The Tanach recounts a few episodes which describe his wealth. Whenever he would travel, and he was a frequent traveler, he would show up with a full entourage of servants, aides and secretaries. This is a luxury that only someone who is well-to-do can pull off.
Then, of course we have the most famous Jewish leader: Moshe Rabbeinu, Moses.
The Torah tells us about the episode of the golden calf and the breaking of the Luchot, the Two Tablets on which the Ten Commandments were inscribed. After Moses pleads with G-d to forgive the Jewish people, G-d agrees to give Moses new Tablets with the Ten Commandments engraved in them. This time, though, G-d said to him, “p’sal l’cha”—“engrave for yourself.” “G-d showed him a deposit of sapphire within his tent and said to him, the fragments will belong to you, and from there Moses became very rich.” (Shemot 34:1, Rashi)
G-d told Moses that beneath his tent was a deposit of sapphire, and that he should dig it up and hew two tablets on which G-d would again inscribe the Ten Commandments. However, the leftover pieces of sapphire would belong to Moses — which, as you can imagine, made him very wealthy.
And that brings us to this week’s Torah portion, Vayak’hel.
In Vayak’hel, we read about how Moses offered the opportunity to all the Jews to donate to the building of the Mishkan, the tabernacle. Technically speaking, Moses could have funded the entire construction of the Mishkan out of his own pocket. He didn’t need the Jewish nation’s donations. But G-d wanted to divide the merit of constructing the Mishkan among all the Jews, and for every individual to have a part in the Mishkan. In other words, G-d wanted the Mishkan to belong to everyone — for everyone to feel that he or she had ownership of the Mishkan, and that when entering the Mishkan, they were in the home they themselves built.
This is also true of every mitzvah we do. At a brit milah for example, all you really need is the sandek (the person who holds the baby), the mohel, and, of course, the baby. But we look for as many opportunities as possible to share the merit of the mitzvah with others, by honoring as many people as possible. And that’s not just because we have to keep all the cousins and relatives happy, but because there really is a goal here: To get as many Jews as possible participating in every mitzvah. The same is true of the honors at a wedding.
And the same thing applies to our daily lives. When we do a mitzvah, it’s incumbent upon us to include the entire family in the mitzvah. So, if you put up a new mezuzah in one of your rooms, let one of your children hold the hammer, another one hold the nails and so on. When you make Havdalah, have one child hold the candle and another hold the spices.
Because when it comes to Judaism, we must emulate Moses, who shared the privilege of building the Tabernacle with the entire nation. PJC
Rabbi Mendy Schapiro is the director of Chabad of Monroeville. This column is a service of the Vaad Harabanim of Greater Pittsburgh.