‘They said to Moshe the people are bringing too much for the task, as God commanded it.’ Sh’mot/Exodus 36:5
Rav Yaakov Moshe Charlap is troubled by this objection of the sages of that generation. Why would they object to the people bringing too much in the way of materials for the building of the Mishkan/Tabernacle?
Rav Charlap says (in Mei Marom-Nimukei Mikraot) when they saw the raw excitement, the emotion behind the donations, they worried that maybe the increased donations were caused by materialistic and earthy drives, in the manner of ‘a strange flame not commanded by Hashem’. (See forward to Vayikra/Leviticus 10:1)
Here, Rav Charlap says, we learn a lesson in the perfection of the human experience. Every material act has to come about when one’s material being is subject to the demands of the soul. One must sense that all the ‘rule’ over one’s actions belongs to the soul, not the body. If one’s material actions stray from this order, than negative things may result. Here he refers to the verse that God made man forthright, and one shouldn’t seek to complicate things. (See Kohelet/Ecclesiastes 7:29; and Rav Kook’s Orot Hat’shuvah, Chapter 1).
So, too, says Rav Charlap, our very first experience of sin was associated with adding to God’s commandment what, in fact, had not been commanded. Hava added to God’s commandment of her own determination when she said, ‘from the fruit of the tree within the garden God said don’t eat *and don’t touch it*. Even though Eve/Hava was imposing a stricture by way of a safeguard, it was inappropriate since the notion of extra safeguards had not been commanded yet. Therefore, this is considered as a material or earthy motivation, and it ultimately contributed to the circumstances that led to sin. Once the notion of mishmeret/safeguard is commanded in the Torah, it takes on a different meaning and a holy potential. Even so, warns Rav Charlap, the notion of commanded safeguards/mishmeret can be overdone and lead to wrongdoing. Nadav and Avihu also sinned from a personal desire that drove them to add to what was commanded.
The sin of the golden calf came about because some imagined that they could persue Divine worship as defined by their own desires; therefore it was especially important that the ensuing contributions for the Mishkan/Tabernacle be wholly brought about by command. This would ensure that a similar taint of personal desires wouldn’t enter into the initiation of the sublime mitzvah of national worship. And so, the sages of that generation were deeply concerned when they saw the people excited and bringing more that what was commanded. They feared that this came about because of material and earthy drives and motivations.
The distinguishing moment came about, then, when the command was given to stop bringing donations. The Torah reports that immediately ‘the people stopped bringing.’ This was a testimony that they were responding all along only to the desire to carry out the Divine command.
So we see, too, the oft repeated phrase at this point in the Torah, ‘as God commanded.’
This is an important lesson concerning how we approach and carry out worship of God. If we worship Him in accord with the Torah’s commandments, then that is truly worship of Him. If we ignore or evade or ‘improve upon’ the Torah’s direction about worship, it may well be that we are in fact worshipping ourselves. Worse, we are worshipping our own will but imposing that on God by claiming it is in His name. As the examples with Hava, and Nadav and Avihu, the distinctions may be somewhat subtle, but critically important. The motivations may even be sincere, but earthy and misguided nonetheless. Truthful worship of God is rooted in His commandments and withstands the critical test of obedience and motivations. We truly have to pursue the instruction in masechet Avot to ‘make your will as His will.’ A worthy yet daunting challenge, to be sure.