This Shabbos we read Parshas Terumah. The Parsha talks about the collection of materials that the Jews did in the desert when they wanted to build the Tabernacle. There were many different materials needed for the Tabernacle. The last of the materials listed is the precious stones that were used on the breastplate and the apron of the High Priest. The commentaries ask, why are these materials listed last, when in fact they were worth much more than the other materials?
The classic commentater Ohr Hachaim offers two explanations for this, each which provides an important lesson in our approach to mitzvohs. The first approach he suggests is based on a famous Medrash that takes about the source of these priceless gems. Where did the princes get these stones from in the first place? The Medrash tells us that in fact, they did not get them through any toil of their own,. They were brought to them miraculously by the clouds of glory that surrounded the Jewish people. Being so, donating them did not involve any sort of donation of time and effort on the part of the princes. Such a donation was not worth as much as the other donations in the eyes of Hashem. Indeed, we are taught that when we do a mitzvah we should not look for a bargain, or to get a way out of it.The Zohar tells us that a mitzvah is complete when we pay for it. The lesson that is so important here, is that we should not resent it when it costs money to do a mitzvah. The fact that it costs money to buy matzah, to keep kosher, or to keep Shabbos are part and parcel of the gift we are given to be able to do a mitzvah. When a mitzvah does not cost us, the Zohar teaches, its greatness is diminished.
The second idea offered by the Ohr Hachaim, is that the princes brought their present after everyone else did. In fact, the Sages tell us that they did so with a plan – “Let everyone else bring whatever they want, and we will give whatever is missing.” Although this sounds like a great offer, they were faulted for not jumping in with an offer to give right away. For waiting, the importance of their gift was downgraded to last in the scale of importance of all the items listed. Although in our eyes if we measure with money their donation was worth more, in the eyes of Hashem their donation was of a lower value. Here too a lesson is taught. We must never procrastinate when we have the chance to do a mitzvah. We must grab the opportunity to do it right away!!