…and they continued to bring freewill offerings to him morning after morning…(Shemot 36:3)
Before the nascent shafts of light
striate the sky, before
the slow crescendo of the stirring birds
pervades the silence,
She dons a shawl
against the sunless breeze
as, joyful smile upon her lips,
she gathers deftly folded bolts
of woven cloth and plunges forth
to meet the bracing chill.
Head bent, swift strides
relay her to her destination.
She glances round, and tenderly
she sets the gift upon the pile,
neatly tucks a dangling tassel
into place between the mounded swathes
and turns for home
as birds awaken, echoing
the song resounding in her heart.
In his book Itturei Torah, on the above phrase, Aharon Yaakov Greenberg cites Rabbi D Shoham who teaches that the people contributed their freewill offerings to the Tabernacle, purely for its own sake, for the sake of giving, with no ulterior motive, with no urging or coercion. And he brings a proof from the words “baboker baboker” which is translated “morning after morning” but Rabbi Shoham interprets it as “in the morning of the morning” that is, really early, so that no-one sees and no-one knows, except for the Holy One Blessed be He.
The Mishnah teaches us (Pirkei Avot 1:3) “Antignos of Socho received [the transmission] from Shimon the Righteous. He used to say: Do not be as servants who serve the Master to receive reward. Rather, be as servants who serve the Master not to receive reward. And let the fear of heaven be upon you.”
In an article from 2004, entitled Service without Reward, Service without End, https://ziegler.aju.edu/Default.aspx?id=5704, Rabbi Bradley Shavit Artson addresses the concept of service with no material reward. He talks about everyday life and its overwhelming consumerism.
“In consumerism, every object, relationship, and person is reduced to a product and all is available to be purchased. Life is flattened to the level of a transaction…We reduce every relationship into a mere transaction, as though all that life is about is an exchange.”
Rabbi Shavit Artson continues, “There is only one alternative to being a consumer, and that is to be a servant. Jewish tradition stands and falls on our willingness to be not consumers of services, but servants of the Holy One.” He cites a verse from the Aramaic prayer “Brich Shemay” that is recited before the reading the Torah, when opening the Ark and taking out the Sefer Torah: “Ana avda d’Kudsha Brich Hu – I am a servant of the Holy One Blessed be He.”
Rabbi Shavit Artson brings a story told in the book Tiferet Ha-Yehudi* about Rabbi Chaim Krasner**, a Chasidic leader, who went with his disciples to the town of Krasny to watch the spectacle of an acrobat who was scheduled to cross a very high tightrope over a river. Rabbi Krasner gazed with great concentration as the tightrope walker inched his way across. When he reached the other side safely, the Chasidim asked the Rabbi why he was so fascinated and he replied that the acrobat might have been induced to perform the stunt for great financial reward. However, Rabbi Krasner surmised that once the fellow was up on the rope, if he had let his thoughts wander even for a moment to the money he would earn, he would have tumbled off. Once on the tightrope, he could only concentrate all his thoughts and effort to the next step and then the one following it, in order to maintain his balance on a very narrow perch.
So Rabbi Shavit Artson suggests “We also are crossing over on a very narrow strand. We also need to bring to the task the pure kavanah [intention] of the task itself – to think of the reward at the end of the task risks immediate peril and risks falling to our doom.” He cites Justice Benjamin Cardozo who wrote, “The submergence of self in the pursuit of an ideal, the readiness to spend oneself without measure, prodigally, almost ecstatically, for something intuitively apprehended as great and noble, spend oneself, one knows not why, – some of us like to believe that this is what religion means.”
*Rabbi Yaakov Yitzchak Rabinowicz (1766–1813) (also known as the Yid Hakodosh or HaYehudi HaKadosh – “The Holy Jew”) was the founder of the Peshischa sect of Chasidism in Przysucha, Poland. This was a rationalistic Chasidism founded on Talmudic study and contrasted with the miracle-centered Chasidism of Lublin. He held court in the grand synagogue of Przysucha.
A disciple of the Seer of Lublin, from whom he broke away, he was the teacher of Rabbi Simcha Bunim of Peshischa, to whom was passed the helm of his yeshiva.
Peshischa Chasidism evolved into both Izhbitzer and Gerer Chasidism, the latter being one of the world’s largest contemporary Chasidic sects.
Some of the Przysucha Rebbe’s teachings were collected and published, the earliest almost a hundred years after his death, in Nifla’ot ha-Yehudi (1909), Tiferet ha-Yehudi (1912), Kitvei Kodesh (1906), and Torat ha-Yehudi (1911). His figure stands in the center of Martin Buber’s novel Gog u-Magog (1941) in which his break from The Seer of Lublin is dramatically recounted (published in English as For the Sake of Heaven).
**Rabbi Chaim Krasner was a disciple of the Ba’al Shem Tov, the founder of Chasidism.