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Vayak'hel - Enough Already

When Is Enough Enough?

by: Cheryl Pedersen

What is enough? When we say we don’t have enough, we signal that more of whatever it is we expected is needed. We don’t have enough flour to bake bread. We don’t have enough energy to finish a project. We don’t have enough money to cover the month. We don’t have enough love to spread around to all those demanding our care. “Enough” means you are depleted and can’t give another ounce.

Similarly, we are fairly quick to identify when we’ve had enough. I’ve had enough of his guff. I’ve had enough dessert. I’ve had enough of this difficult situation. It means you are fed up and finished with whatever it is that plagues or annoys you.

What does “enough” really mean? There is a verse in this week’s portion that seems to bear a bit of inconsistency as it relates to “enough.” Even the commentators can’t agree on what it means.

Moses had entrusted the work of building the tabernacle to Bezalel and Oholiab. Additionally, all those who were skilled at the craftsmanship required—weaving, sewing, carpentry, metalwork, etc.—assisted in taking on the tasks associated with building the Mishkan. The Israelites had been enjoined to bring gifts, as their heart so moved them. Moses brought the gifts to Bezalel and Oholiab, but even after they had plenty to complete the task, the people continued to bring their offerings. Finally, the artisans engaged in the work told Moses:

“The people are bringing more than is needed for the tasks entailed in the work that the LORD has commanded to be done.’ Moses thereupon had this proclamation made throughout the camp: ‘Let no man or woman make further effort toward gifts for the sanctuary!’ So the people stopping bringing: their efforts had been more than enough for all the tasks to be done.”

Exodus 36:5-7

The question that the commentators and sages grapple with was what does “enough” really mean? Did “enough” mean there was sufficient donations to have items left over? Or did it mean the people brought more than what was needed and it was all miraculously used?

One commentator, Sichos Tzaddikim, claimed that if the donations were exactly what was needed for the Mishkan, every contributor would claim they were personally responsibly for the completion of the project. Without their contribution, they might say, it would have failed. The conceit that this might engender could possibly prevent the Divine Presence (God’s Shechinah) from inhabiting the Mishkan. Since the purpose of the Mishkan was to create a place for God’s Presence to rest, having more than enough was required in order to be sufficient. Someone’s donation would be the “extra” that didn’t need to be used and no one could claim that the success of the project hinged on their contribution.

The eighteenth century Rabbi Chaim ben Attar, also known as the Ohr HaChaim HaKadosh, had a different perspective. He said that the total contributions were more than what was necessary. However, God was concerned that if there were leftovers, the people would be sad to think that what they gave was not used. Therefore, God created a miracle in which every single item donated was put to use. He made the excess donations appear to be just enough.

You might be shaking your head right now and look at these arguments as being akin to determining the number of angels that can dance on the head of a pin. This was an actual 17th century question that was introduced to Thomas Aquinas as part of Protestant apologetics. In reality, who cares about such debates? They resolve nothing important.

The sages were a pretty savvy bunch and their discussion is really about how much is enough. Certainly, there are those in the world to whom enough is considerably more or possibly far less than you or I might consider enough. When it comes to living space, a 200 square foot tiny house is enough for some. To a family with a couple of kids, enough might be a 1000 square foot home. To a celebrity, 10,000 square feet might not be sufficient. So which is enough?

How about finances? How much is enough? Certainly we need to cover rent or our mortgage, pay the utility bills and eat. But if you look at your budget, is what you make enough or is it more than enough? If it is more, on what do you spend the extra?

And what about relationships? Is one friend enough? Are ten friends too many? And what about children? Does the parent with one child have love left over and the mother of eight run out? Do we ever feel like those who love us are loving us “enough”? To one person too much love means too much closeness and they want space. To another there is never enough reassurance and they cling to the one they love searching for “enough.”

Perhaps this question about when is enough enough applies as well to our spiritual lives. We do all that we believe God requires of us, but sometimes our efforts yield no visible results. Did I change or help anything? There are still homeless people on the streets. Our church or synagogue is still asking for money for this project or that building. We are all besieged by mail and email from people around the world asking for us to give. Local organizations beg for volunteers and ask for donations of food and toiletries, furniture and kitchen utensils. When is enough enough?

The fact is that anything you do or anything you give with pure motives and a desire to help never goes to waste. We cannot look at what is left to do and assume we are solely responsible for repairing the entire world. Rabbi Tarfon in Ethics of the Fathers (Pirkei Avot) said, “It is not incumbent upon you to finish the task, but neither are you free to desist from it.” In other words, don’t be discouraged by what is left to do and don’t make that your excuse to stop giving.

We live in a society that tries to convince us that there is never enough. What you give is never enough. You are never enough. Torah, in telling the story of the donations to the temple, tells us that God cares about our sincere intentions and our efforts to make a difference. We may not see the results immediately. The true impact of what we do and give may not be apparent until long after we are gone. However, we can be sure that nothing will go to waste. God sees to it that it is enough.

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