Rabbi Yonah Burr
Yisro: We Want to Serve Hashem
ואם מזבח אבנים תעשה לי לא תבנה אתהן גזית
And if you build for Me an Altar of Stones, do not build them hewn
Rashi points out, that although the possuk states ‘if you build for Me”, this is not something voluntary. There is an actual obligation to build an altar, along with the Mishkan and eventual Bais Hamikdash.
Rashi cites that there are two other places that describe the mitzva with the word “if” implying that it is voluntary, where there actually is an obligation; “if you will lend someone money” in Devarim 22:24, and “if you will bring the first offering” refering to the korban omer, Vayikra 2:14. In all three cases, the word “if” is used, but it is to be understood as “when”, because it is an obligation.
The obvious question is why did the Torah use the unconventional “if” in place of the regular commandment?
Rav Moshe Feinstein z”l explains:
Hashem gave us the Torah, that contains a whole body of Halacha and guidelines. Usually, it is sufficient to simply follow it, and live by the halacha. In fact, Chazal say, one should not say “I would never want to eat non-kosher food”, but rather, “I would love to eat it, but Hashem has prohibited it”. It is not necessary to ‘want’ to do it, it is sufficient to feel obliged to do it.
However, there are some mitzvos that are specifically given to mold our personalities and form our outlook. These three mitzvos are the primary examples of this.
The mitzva of our Parsha, to build the Mizba’ach, is the symbol of our love of Hashem; the avodah of the Beis Hamikdash is our mitzva of ‘hosting Hashem’ in our world, in our everyday lives. Hashem wants us to ‘want’ to do it, besides feeling obligated. “if” you build an altar, as if it is something we initiated, something we want to do.
Bringing the first fruits and offerings is similar as well. Showing gratitude to Hashem is something that should be in our nature, something that we want to do. “if you bring your first fruits”.
Finally, lending money and showing kindness, is something that has potential to change us into more sensitive and refined people. This is something that we need to ‘want’ to do. “if” you will lend.. not out of obligation, but out of a true desire to help.
How fortunate we are that Hashem gave us the Torah! May we merit to allow its ideals and values to transform us and reach our true potential!
Have a wonderful Shabbos!