Refresh, Reinvigorate, Refine
"And Moshe gathered the entire congregation of Bnei Yisrael, and he said to them, 'These are the things that Hashem has commanded [you] to do them. [For] six days shall melacha [work] be done, and on the seventh day it will be holy for you, a rest of resting for [the honor of] Hashem, anyone who does melacha therein will die.' " (Shmos 35:1-2)
Rashi explains that these verses dealing with the directive of observing Shabbos precede the rest of the parsha that deals with the Mishkan in order to indicate to us that the work of the Mishkan does not supersede the prohibitions of Shabbos.
To try to understand a bit of what this means for us, let's take a look at the following Midrash:
Adam Ha'Rishon met up with Kayin after Hashem had judged Kayin for murdering his brother Hevel. Adam said to Kayin, "What happened with your judgment?" Kayin responded, "I repented and gained a compromise." Adam Ha'Rishon started clapping his hand to his face (in astonishment). He said, "Such is the power of teshuvah and I was unaware!" Immediately, Adam stood up and said, "Mizmor shir l'yom ha'Shabbos... A song to the day of Shabbos...." (Breishis Rabbah 22:13)
Why did Adam's newfound appreciation of the power of teshuvah inspire him to compose a song extolling the praise of Shabbos?
It is a widely known principle that the very first step in the teshuvah process is hakaras ha'cheit, recognizing that a sin was done. If one does not acknowledge that a wrongdoing was committed, there is no possibility whatsoever that one will ever repent that act. The necessary first step, then, is to face that hard truth and admit to ourselves that we did something wrong.
However, if a person is always so busy and preoccupied to the point that he never takes a step back to assess himself, the chance that he will become aware of the wrongdoings that he has done is slim, indeed, if not completely nonexistent.
Shabbos is the day that puts the brakes on the "rat race" of life. The six workdays of the week, by their nature, are prone towards constant doing, accomplishing, and achieving to the point of total preoccupation. Shabbos is the day that says, "Stop! Take a deep breath, step back and refresh your outlook on life, life's work, and life's purpose." It is the day that serves to remind us that life is not just about doing, but it is about being - being meaningful and purposeful beings. It refreshes our deep appreciation for the beauty and kedusha [sanctity] of life. It is the day that tells us to pause and reflect in order to regain and revitalize our sense of kedusha - of purpose and meaning - in everything that we do.
And, of course, the moment a person engages in this reflection and contemplation he will almost automatically shift into introspection, to considering if everything that he is doing in life is truly in harmony with the beauty and kedusha that life is really all about.
And that is the key to teshuvah.
Shabbos, then, is the vehicle through which we acquire the most basic characteristic needed for the teshuvah process - reflection and introspection.
With this understanding of what Shabbos is all about, the point that we began with - that the work of the Mishkan does not supersede Shabbos - becomes quite revealing.
It shows us that we can get carried away even in the good and spiritual deeds that we are doing.
Even when we have set ourselves on the path of Torah and mitzvos, of truth and goodness, nevertheless, we need to take the time to engage in reflection and introspection.
Perhaps the foremost reason that this is so, is to deal with the dangerous issue of rote. Sure, we're doing a mitzvah, but if we don't take the time to refresh our awareness and appreciation of the beautiful depth of kedusha that underlies our actions, we can become robotic and stale in our undertakings. Our mitzvos, which are intended to be a worship of God, can become merely what we happen to be doing to occupy ourselves, to keep ourselves busy and productive. We risk the danger of losing the inner profundity of intent and devotion, of heart. It is Shabbos that helps us to maintain our kedusha, our purpose and meaning; not only in the "mundane", material and physical day-to-day aspects of our lives, but even in the paths of intrinsic good with which we fill our lives.
Another illustration of the necessity for reflecting upon the mitzvos we do is found in this week's parsha.
The Jewish people generously donated toward the construction of the Mishkan. The Nesi'im, as a group, donated the precious stones for the garments of the Kohein Gadol. Curiously, the word for princes, "nisi'im" in this context is written without the two yud's. Rashi explains that this indicates that the Nesi'im were lax in contributing to the Mishkan. They reasoned that they would allow the people to contribute whatever they can, and then they (the Nesi'im) would contribute the rest (Shmos 35:27). In the end, though, the Jewish people contributed so generously that the only things left to contribute were the precious stones.
Seemingly, the Nesi'im had pure intentions; so why are they faulted for what seems to be an innocent error in judgment?
Perhaps it is simply a function of what is expected of great tzadikim. For people of their stature, it is inappropriate to tarry at all when such an important mitzvah project is under way. Therefore, they are held accountable for their poor judgment. Perhaps there was also a tinge of pretentiousness(1) in their having thought that they would so generously donate whatever the people would leave out. Perhaps there was some other reason.
Whatever the particular reason, though, one thing is abundantly clear: even though the Nesi'im were trying to do a mitzvah, there was a flaw in their course of action. Whether it was a flaw in judgment or a slight flaw in intent, or even some other flaw, there was a flaw. We would do well to learn a far-reaching lesson from this account: we cannot assume that just because we are doing a mitzvah it must be that everything will automatically be fine and dandy. As the Ramchal teaches us in Mesilas Yesharim: even our good deeds must be carefully scrutinized. By doing so, we enable ourselves to root out any (possible) negative aspects therein, and constantly refine them in both action and intent.
1. Obviously, in accordance with their lofty level.