"He is a self-made man who worships his creator." Who said it? About whom? It doesn't really matter as long as we make sure the description doesn't fit us.
This week's parshah details the offerings of the princes (nessi'im) of the twelve tribes at the time the Mishkan, the portable Sanctuary in the wilderness, was completed. Previously, towards the end of the Book of Exodus, we had read that Moses blessed the people when they finished their work. What blessing did he give them? Our sages relate that he blessed them: May it be G‑d's will that the Shechinah, the Divine Presence, should come to rest upon the work of your hands. He also blessed them with the phrase that would become part of Psalm 90, May the pleasantness of my L-rd, our G‑d, be upon us…May He establish for us the work of our hands.
Why pray now? Surely the time for prayer was before the sanctuary was built. Then it might have been needed to inspire the people to bring in their offerings and contributions, to execute the huge amount of work that was required to create this new sacred structure. But now the work is done, everything is in place. Why pray now?
The answer is that Moses understood that building G‑d's sanctuary is not in our hands alone. Sure, we can erect a structure. That's the easy part. The question is: will G‑d see fit to live there, to make it His home? For this, a special prayer was called for. We needed a blessing upon the work our hands.
How often people imagine that they do it themselves — all by themselves? How many boast that they are "self-made men"? So anyone who didn't have a rich father before him is a self-made man? Do you really believe that your success is all your own doing? Your hard work, your business acumen, your clever trading technique—these are the secrets of your success?
And where did all that wisdom and ability come from? The skills and talents we possess are G‑d-given gifts we should acknowledge and be grateful for. And that's not humility. It's reality. You were born with that natural talent and flair. Give credit to your Creator.
A friend was once laid up with a bad back. What happened? He picked up a little bicycle for his 5-year old. A tiny nonsense but it left him flat on his back for weeks.
I remember some years ago catching some kind of "bug" and losing my voice for quite a while. There I was, the rabbi, the preacher, the speaker and the radio personality — the man of words whose entire profession is built around his ability to say the right thing for every occasion — and suddenly I'm rendered absolutely speechless. Overnight, I was made useless and unproductive — all by a tiny germ.
To get sick takes a minute, to get well can take weeks and months. We all need to remember our frailties and limitations. No matter how strong, clever or talented we may be, we are all subject to higher forces. Nobody can do it alone. There is no such thing as a self-made man.
And so Moses reminds us all that even when our work is done, we still need that blessing from Above. Even when we work hard, concoct the most intricate business schemes, or present the most wonderful proposals, ultimately our success needs a prayer. We need to recognize the hand of G‑d in our lives and, hopefully, in our success. Let us do our work as best as we can and then let us not forget to ask Him to bless the work of our hands.