“How is it possible to build a physical house for Hashem?” The פסיקתא דרב כהנא recounts that this was Moshe’s trembling response when told, וְעָשׂוּ לִי מִקְדָּשׁ"—Make for Me a sanctuary.” But Hashem reassured him, ”ועשית יריעות עזים—Make curtains…”
The פסיקתא mentions two other times that Moshe trembled. When the קרבנות were discussed, Moshe said to himself, “Is it possible that all the animals in the world provide even a single appropriate korbon?” Once again, Hashem reassured him, ”את הכבש האחד תעשה בבקר—Bring a lamb in the morning.” And regarding the פדיון נפש, Moshe again thought, “How can a person ever give enough to redeem himself?” Once more, the reply was surprising: “מחצית השקל בשקל הקדש—bring a half shekel.”
The Chofetz Chaim learns a profound yet straightforward lesson from this Medrash: Hashem does not demand the impossible or the unreasonable. We are all obligated to do only what we can. As Shlomo Hamelech said in Koheles: ”כֹּל אֲשֶׁר תִּמְצָא יָדְךָ לַעֲשׂוֹת בְּכחֲךָ עֲשֵׂה—All that you find within your ability to do, act upon it.”
Every person must learn, but according to his abilities. Similarly, he is obligated to give tzedokoh according to his wealth. Just as a wealthy person cannot fulfill his obligation with a small donation, a poor person must not give away everything trying to meet the standards of the rich.
תפסת מרובה לא תפסת teaches us that when we try to grab everything, we come away with nothing. We can become discouraged, worrying that it’s impossible to do everything—and then do nothing at all. The real lesson of the Medrash is that we must do everything within our ability, because that is our obligation. We don’t need to complete all the work to be done; our responsibility is to complete as much as we can.
Rabbi Gidon Goldberg
Head of School