In this week’s parshah the Torah concludes its discussion of the longest subject in the Torah: the Mishkan. The Torah states: “hukam haMishkan – the Mishkan was erected” (Shemos 40:17), which implies that the Mishkan was erected by itself. Rashi (39:33) explains that the Mishkan was too difficult for any human being to erect; therefore, Hashem told Moshe to simply try to erect it, and it would erect itself. That is why the Torah writes: “hukam haMishkan.”
Interestingly, the very next pasuk says, “Vayakem Moshe es haMishkan – And Moshe erected the Mishkan,” implying that Moshe actually did erect the Mishkan. In order to reconcile these two pesukim, perhaps we can suggest that the second pasuk, which implies that Moshe actually erected the Mishkan, does so because of the following: The Gemara (Kiddushin 40a and Berachos 6a) states that if someone tries to perform a mitzvah but can’t because of an oneis (unavoidable situation), the Torah credits him with doing it. Therefore, the Torah attributes the erection of the Mishkan to Moshe – even though he was unable to actually do the mitzvah –because he tried to erect it.
There is an interesting machlokes regarding the above-mentioned principle. The Gemara (Bava Kama 16b) expounds on a pasuk in Yirmiyahu concerning the inhabitants of the priestly city of Anasos who were seeking to kill Yirmiyahu. In order to diminish any merit they may have had in Hashem’s eyes, Yirmiyahu beseeched Hashem that when these inhabitants give tzedakah, they should give the money to people who are not worthy of receiving tzedakah.
Rav Elchanan Wasserman, zt”l, Hy”d (Dugmaos Libiurai Agados 3:5), asks: What did Yirmiyahu accomplish with his request? Even if Hashem granted Yirmiyahu his request, the people giving the tzedakah would nonetheless be trying to do a mitzvah. And since we have a rule that someone receives credit for a deed which he was unavoidably prevented from doing, the inhabitants of Anasos would receive credit for the mitzvah of tzedakah regardless.
Rav Elchanan answers that the Misilas Yisharim, in his sefer Derech Hashem, writes that when a person performs any of the mitzvos, besides fulfilling the commandment and listening to Hashem, he also accomplishes a tikkun and sheleimus. When a person tries to perform a mitzvah and is unavoidably prevented from doing so, he can only receive a reward for the first aspect of the mitzvah, namely fulfilling what was commanded of him. However, he does not accomplish a tikkun and sheleimus since the mitzvah was not actually performed.
Yirmiyahu knew that the people of Anasos were resha’im and would certainly not have kavanah to do the mitzvah for the sake of the mitzvah. And a person is only rewarded for listening to Hashem’s command if he does so with the intention to do so. If a person does a mitzvah without kavanah he is not rewarded for listening to Hashem since he was not trying to listen. Therefore, the inhabitants of Anasos would only be rewarded for the tikkun and sheleimus that they accomplished with their actions. Yirmiyahu asked that the money not end up in the hands of poor people, thereby ensuring that the inhabitants would not even have the merit of the tikkun and sheleimus.
My rebbe, Rav Shmuel Berenbaum, zt”l, had a different answer. Rav Shmuel disagreed with his rebbe, Rav Elchonon, and said that the rule of “One who tries to perform a mitzvah and is unavoidably prevented from doing so is given credit for performing it” could not have been applied to the people of Anasos. The reason is because the simple understanding of the rule is that we give credit to the person for the action he attempted to complete. If the attempted action would have been a mitzvah, the person gets credit for it. But if he is prevented from completing an action that is not actually a mitzvah, he gets no credit for it (aside from credit for his kavanah), even if the person thought he was doing a mitzvah.