A miscalculation made by the Nesi’im, or tribal leaders, during the collections made in the desert for the building of the Mishkan resulted in the word “Nesi’im” being written in a diminished form – lacking the two “yud”s that belong in the word (Shemos, 35:27).
Rashi notes that fact – explaining that those leaders decided to wait until the common folk finished bringing their donations for the Mishkan, so that they, the Nesi’im, could then make up the shortfall. He cites Bamidbar Rabbah (12:16) that the truncated spelling reflects the Nesi’im’s lethargy, their declining to make their donations immediately, along with all the other Jews.
But wasn’t their intention, to make up the shortfall, a laudable one?
Apparently, even with that good intent, their lack of initiative remained inexcusable.
Rav E. E. Dessler explains that our actions are often, almost always, born of a jumble of intentions. A man putting on tefillin aims to fulfill a Divine commandment. He wishes to please Hashem. But also to not incur punishment for shunning a mitzvah. He also is aware of how he would look to his fellow shul-goers were he to not don tefillin; so there is an element of peer pressure involved. Then there is force of habit, which, while not technically an intent, nevertheless is a factor in what he is doing.
And “lethargy,” apparently, also played a role in in the Nesi’im’s decision.
Rav Dessler has a unique understanding of the famous Gemara “A person should always involve himself with Torah and mitzvos even with imperfect sincerity (lo lishmah), since from [literally, “from the midst of”] the imperfect intent, [one] comes to lishmah, perfect intent” (Sotah 47a).
He reads the statement to mean: from the midst of the multiple intentions that we have when we do something good, we should endeavor to bring out the singularly valuable lishmah. In other words, we should aim at focusing on the perfect intent, to raise it from amid the jumble and make serving Hashem the only intent.
Successfully doing so, the Rambam (Pirush HaMishnayos, Makkos 3:16) famously writes, fulfilling one mitzvah entirely lishmah provides entrée to chayei olam haba.
© 2022 Rabbi Avi Shafran