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by Rabbi Yisrael Pesach Feinhandler
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And you shall command the children of Israel, that they shall bring pure beaten olive oil for the lighting, to cause a light to burn always.
Rabbi Chaim Berlin, the av beis din of Moscow, lived in Yerushalayim in his old age. He would read the Torah in his beis midrash every Shabbos very beautifully and very carefully. Many people in Yerushalayim came to daven in his beis midrash just to hear him.
On Shabbos Chol Hamoed Pesach, many people streamed into his beis midrash to hear him read Shir Hashirim, which he did with fervor and an outpouring of love. In particular when he reached the pasuk, "Behold you are beautiful my beloved, behold you are beautiful, your eyes are those of doves,"(1) he would read with great excitement and with tears.
Rabbi Chaim had a close talmid, Rabbi Aryeh Levine, who himself testified in his memoirs: "And the kind deeds of Hashem haven't stopped, for they appeared in the Gaon, beloved by all of Yisrael, Rabbi Chaim Berlin zatzal, the son of the Gaon, the rav of Yisrael, the Netziv zatzal. Hashem gave me favor in his eyes to bring me near, just like a father to his only son, and my hand did not budge from his. He drew me very close to him and in his great humbleness set a shiur to learn with me at a late hour in the night, and sometimes in the morning. He loved my family very much, like a precious father, and took an interest in our welfare."
Rabbi Aryeh Levine, as a close talmid, decided one year to ask his rebbi why, when he reached this pasuk every year, he would break down in tears. Doesn't this pasuk describe so beautifully the love that exists between Hashem and Yisrael?
"Let me tell you the reason," answered Rabbi Chaim. "Once when I was a rav in Moscow, a Jew came to me and asked to speak with me privately. I thought, who knows what kind of trouble this Jew is in, to the point that he is embarrassed to speak in front of strangers. We went into a side room, and I was surprised to hear that his "secret" was the announcement that mazel tov his wife had just given birth to a baby boy. He had come to invite me to perform the bris. (Rabbi Chaim Berlin was known as an expert mohel, and while he was the av beis din in Moscow, he gave many Jewish children a bris.)
I asked my guest what was the reason for secrecy in the matter; after all, every Jewish boy has a bris, for it is the law of Moshe and Yisrael. What then is there to hide?"
"'Your honor should know,' he replied, 'that I live in an entirely goyish area, and none of my neighbors or acquaintances know that I am a Jew. I own a large warehouse of Christian religious articles, and of course if it were to become known that I am a Jew, I would lose my comfortable income, and who knows that there would be no danger to my life; therefore, while I'm inviting the Rav to give my son a bris, I ask for advice as to how to arrange the bris so that no one will be aware of what is happening.'
Of course, in such a situation there was no room to think of fulfilling the mitzvah in a mehudar way, with a minyan and a seudas mitzvah, as is the custom in Yisrael, and therefore I told him that he should be prepared to be the sandek, to hold the boy on his knees, and then we would be able to carry out the bris by ourselves."
"'No, I won't be able to do that, Rabbi,' replied this Jew in fright. 'I have a soft heart and I can't bear to look at anyone being hurt. How then will I be able to watch my young son having a bris? Perhaps my hands will shake and I will, G-d forbid, drop the baby from my lap.'
"I asked him for a few more details about his situation, where he lived and the like, and then I made the following suggestion: 'Firstly, on the day of the bris, send away all the non-Jewish servants that are in your house, so they won't see what you are doing there. Secondly, since there is in the city a Jewish doctor, a famous surgeon, whose services are requested by many non-Jews as well, you should ask him to come on the eighth day to be present at the time of the bris, and you should tell your neighbors that a physical blemish was found in the baby and he needs a minor operation. And I will come with the doctor at the appointed time. The doctor will be the sandek, and I the mohel. And the doctor will be able to come afterwards a few times to your house to oversee the healing of the bris, and everything will go peacefully.'
"On the appointed day, the Jew came to lead me to his house, together with the famous surgeon. We passed through streets and areas that in all the years I had lived in Moscow, I had never had the opportunity to pass through, because never did a Jewish foot tread there. We reached his house, which was like a nobleman's, and there was not a single sign that this was a Jewish home. On the contrary, it had many types of idols and many Christian religious objects. We arranged the bris according to halachah, with the doctor serving as the sandek, and I the mohel. When we parted I asked him to come to me on the third day after the bris in order to tell me how the baby was doing.
"On the third day this Jew came to my house, and since he suspected that I had invited him so that he would pay me for my services, he offered me a bill of twenty rubles. Of course I refused to accept it. He thought that I was not satisfied with the sum he was offering, and therefore he added to it until I was able to convince him that I simply refused to accept reward for my efforts on behalf of such a great mitzvah. However I did disclose to him my real intention in inviting him to come to me, which was that I had a great desire to know what had brought him to fulfill the mitzvah of bris milah with such mesirus nefesh, despite the fact that after speaking with him and visiting his home I saw that he had no connection whatsoever with Yiddishkeit.
"Upon hearing these words, his eyes filled with tears. With a bowed head he said: 'I know, Rabbi, that I have distanced myself from the Source. Sometimes my heart is broken, but with my situation I do not know whether I will be able to do a full teshuvah. . .' And here he started weeping uncontrollably. After he calmed down somewhat, he continued. 'I think that my tender son, who has been given the bris, will be even more distant than I am from Yiddishkeit, for at least in my childhood I lived like a Jew. But my son won't grow up with any sign of Jewish life. Even so, it is possible that this son, when he grows up, will become acquainted with Jewish life and Yiddishkeit, and perhaps the spark will ignite and he'll want to be a Jew. It is for this reason that I don't want to block the way for him to return to our source. That is why I made such a great effort to give him a bris, so that the road will be open to him and he'll be able to return easily to his source.'"
When Rabbi Chaim Berlin reached the end of the story, he was moved to tears once again and added: "This incident made clear to me the saying of Chazal on the pasuk above: 'Behold, you are beautiful my beloved, behold you are beautiful, your eyes are those of doves,'(2) which I had difficulty understanding throughout my life.
"Our Sages explain the repetition of words, 'Behold, you are beautiful'(3) in the following way: 'Behold you are beautiful before the sin, and behold you are beautiful after the sin.'(4) And the matter is not clear at all; what is the beauty after the sin? But this incident elucidated their intention to me. The answer lies in the final words, 'your eyes are those of doves.'(5)
"One of the unique tendencies of a dove is that she doesn't distance herself so far from her nest that she will not know her way back.(6)
"This is what our Sages mean by: 'Behold, you are beautiful after the sin,'"(7) concluded Rabbi Chaim Berlin. "A son of Yisrael, despite the fact that he sinned and distanced himself from his source, still turns his head backwards and tries with mesirus nefesh not to lose his way entirely back to his nest. And if not he, then at least his offspring will be able to return to Yiddishkeit. And this is the praise of 'your eyes are those of doves.'"(8)
Even this man who was so far from Judaism realized that he must give his child the opportunity to keep mitzvos. We must do the same for our own children, in order to ensure their loyalty to Torah.
"Pure olive oil"(9) for light. Usually when a person has inferior oil he uses it to light his lantern, and he uses superior quality oil in his cooking. But in the Beis Hamikdash the pure oil was used for light, and the inferior oil for the flour offerings. This is what David Hamelech said, "For You shall light my candle, G-d [meaning, since G-d does the opposite of man, demanding superior oil for light, this shows that He requires neither food nor light]."(10)
Why does the midrash tell us that a person would generally use better oil for cooking than for light, when both have great importance? What proof did our Sages bring from the verse in Tehillim, which does not seem to relate to the subject at all? Why should it be more logical for a person to be able to see through the white part of his eye rather than through the black part? What is the connection between the light of the eyes and the light of the Beis Hamikdash? How can our Sages say that most windows were made wide towards the inside and narrow towards the outside, when most windows are in fact made of equal width in both directions? Why was the Beis Hamikdash made different from other structures in the world? What does the midrash mean when it states that the light of the Beis Hamikdash gives light to the world, when it seems that this is the task of the sun? Why do we need both of them? Why is the menorah placed outside the curtain, when it should be needed by the kohen gadol when he enters inside the curtain, in the Holy of Holies, on Yom Kippur? Why do we need the merit of making light?
Usually when a person has inferior oil he uses it to light his lantern, and he uses superior quality oil in his cooking. But in the Beis Hamikdash the pure oil was used for light, and the inferior oil for the flour offerings.
A person is usually more particular about preparing his food than he is about his light. The reason for this is that the sense of taste is very acute, and one quickly recognizes any imperfection in one's food. But the purpose of light is to take away darkness, and almost any light will do for that purpose. Therefore people use better oil for their food, and are satisfied with a lower quality oil for light. In the Beis Hamikdash, however, it was the opposite, since the purpose of the oil used for sacrifices was not to feed G-d, since He does not need our food.
On the other hand, the purity of the light in the Beis Hamikdash was most important, since it was symbolic of the spiritual aspect of the Beis Hamikdash, which represented the holiness of the Jewish people, whose task it was to be the chosen nation and spread the word of G-d throughout the world. This task is represented by light, since the Torah enlightens people, as the verse says, "For a mitzvah is a candle and Torah is light."(14) It is also written, "A man's wisdom enlightens his face."(15)From these verses we can derive the close connection between Torah and light.
...David Hamelech said, "For You shall light my candle, G-d."
Our Sages also say that one who wishes to become wise should turn to the south, since the menorah was in the southern part of the Beis Hamikdash.(16) We see from this that even today, when the Beis Hamikdash is not standing, the influence of the menorah continues to prevail, and even turning in the direction in which it was originally placed can influence the level of a person's wisdom.
What proof did our Sages bring from the verse, "For You shall light my candle, G-d,"(17)which does not seem to relate to the subject itself? The candle, as mentioned above, symbolizes the spirituality of the Torah. The verse says that G-d gives light to the candle, which means that all of our wisdom comes from G-d. He puts the light into the candle, since He is the source of all wisdom. The verse teaches us that G-d does not need light, since He is the source of all light, as expressed in the verse. Therefore, it is clear that the purity of the menorah has nothing to do with G-d's need for light. It would seem that a person should be able to see through the white part of his eye rather than the black, for white tends to be more transparent. The fact that light comes from the dark part of our eye shows that for G-d, there is no difference between darkness and light, for He created both.
We learn from the light of the eyes about the source of darkness. Darkness is not, as we might think, an absence of light, but rather it is a creation, just as light is. This is articulated in our morning prayers, in the first berachah of yozter or, where we say, "...He formed light and created darkness..." From this we see that darkness required a separate act of creation in order for it to come into being.
...The windows of the Beis Hamikdash were wide towards the outside and narrow towards the inside.
Our Sages say that windows were made wide towards the inside and narrow towards the outside, although we know that windows are usually made of equal width in both directions. In the days of our Sages there was no electricity, and therefore outside light was tremendously important. Buildings were constructed so as to utilize outside light, and they made wider openings towards the inside so that the light would spread out once it reached inside.
But the Beis Hamikdash was different from the other structures in the world. It is not a house made to live in like other houses. Rather it is a source of inspiration to the Jewish people, a place in which we can be close to G-d, and it was designed to fulfill that purpose, to give us as much inspiration as possible.
The light of the Beis Hamikdash lights up the world, even though it seems that this should be the task of the sun. But the sun provides us only with physical light, whereas the Beis Hamikdash gives us spiritual light. We can exist only when we have physical light, but the wisdom of the Torah gives meaning to our lives through its spiritual light.
The effect of the Beis Hamikdash is similar to that of a lighthouse, which shines far and wide and lights the way for ships, so that they will not collide. Without the light of the Beis Hamikdash and all that it represents, we would live empty lives and struggle in darkness to find meaning to our existence. With the light and wisdom we receive from the Torah, our lives are enlightened and the path we must follow is illuminated.
The menorah was placed outside the curtain, even though it was needed for the kohen gadol when he entered that area on Yom Kippur. The menorah was intentionally placed where there was no need for light, to emphasize the fact that it had no connection with physical light, but rather was entirely symbolic of spiritual light. Had it been situated in a place where it was actually needed, its meaning might have been lost. Therefore, although it could have been needed behind the curtain, it was placed before the curtain to teach us this important lesson. G-d himself provided light behind the curtain, in the Holy of Holies.
Why do we need the merit of making light? By doing G-d's will and lighting the menorah, we gain the merit of performing a mitzvah. Lighting the menorah is similar to the other mitzvos which do not really benefit G-d at all, but which rather benefit those who do them. This is what our Sages mean when they say, "G-d wanted to give Israel merits, therefore He gave them an abundant amount of mitzvos."(18) All the mitzvos are for our benefit. Lighting the menorah is not for G-d, but rather gives us the merit of doing His will.
We need the merit of lighting the menorah in the Beis Hamikdash. This lesson is of great importance to us when we are educating children. Children must be taught that when they are told to do something, it is really for their own benefit. They are not doing their teachers or parents a favor when they listen to them, for they are really doing only themselves a favor.
Of course your children will challenge that concept, claiming that if it were only for their own benefit, they would not work so hard, and they will ask how we can possibly claim that they are gaining.
The truth is that when they listen to us, they gain in many ways. First, they are obeying the Torah and will gain the reward that the Torah promises, "Honor thy father and mother, in order that you shall have a long life."(19) When parents give their children a command, the children have the chance to reap that great reward of being granted a long life.
But besides the reward that is explicitly promised in the Torah, another reward awaits them. They are learning to obey commands and become disciplined, which is a most precious characteristic. Those who succeed in Torah and mitzvos, or in any undertaking, know how to listen to the voice of authority and to comply. Without that trait it is very difficult to achieve success in any facet of life.
This is a general concept that every child must come to understand. He is not doing mitzvos for G-d's sake, but rather for his own, since he is the one who will benefit most from his actions.
A good example of a related misconception which many people have is the law that if there is a chasan or a bris in the synagogue, there is no need to say Tachanun. This often makes people very happy, especially if it is a Monday or a Thursday, when the Tachanun is longer. What are they happy about? That they do not have to say the longer prayers.
Such an attitude is entirely incorrect, since Tachanun does not benefit G-d, but only benefits us. When there is a chasan or a bris, the benefit that is normally received from Tachanun is now received from the joyous events themselves. But when one is happy because he does not have to say Tachanun, he is showing his ignorance and his lack of respect for mitzvos.
We must try to instill in our children at an early age the idea that we do mitzvos because we enjoy doing G-d's will, and because of the benefit that we eventually receive from them. This lesson can be taught by performing the mitzvos together with our children, with an attitude of joy and willingness. We should never say to them, "What can we do? We have to go to daven." Instead, say to them, "Now it is the time that we may daven." In this way we are expressing to our children how privileged we feel to have the opportunity to daven, and we are not doing it grudgingly, but gladly.
One father used to wake his children to go to daven with a little song: "Israel, holy nation, get up, get up, for the service of the Creator." The father would always sing to his children when getting them to go to a minyan. In this way he was showing them what a wonderful thing it was to be able to daven with a minyan. He was teaching them to be grateful that they had this opportunity. The words he sang gave them this message. He was telling them that they are part of a holy nation which is privileged to have this beautiful mitzvah.
Those who choose to spend Pesach or Sukkos in a hotel are at a great disadvantage in educating their children. The efforts involved in preparing for these holidays add so much to their spirit and to the educational benefits for their children, that it is a pity to lose this by having everything served on a silver platter at a hotel. It is the effort and the toil that attaches a person to the mitzvos and creates within him love for them. We are robbing our children of these opportunities when we spend Yom Tov in a hotel.
Make the mitzvos a family project. When Sukkos comes, get everyone involved in preparing the sukkah. Have the boys buy building materials and help construct the sukkah. The girls can be in charge of decorating and preparing the interior of the sukkah. Everyone working together should also receive praise and encouragement for doing a good job.
Once a father told his children that, since he heard that there were insects on strawberries and he could not find them, he would give five dollars to any child who would find an insect on his strawberries. The children began scrutinizing their strawberries, and indeed several of them found insects.
The father gained a great deal by involving his children in this project. He trained them to be careful about insects in food, and he got them excited about doing a mitzvah. It was a family project that was educational for his children. He did not serve them the mitzvah on a silver platter, but instead taught them to toil and strive for it.
Our attitude towards and love for mitzvos has a great influence on our children and determines how they will react to mitzvos when they are older. It is important that we give them a feeling of love and the will to toil for mitzvos which will last for the rest of their lives.
1. Shir Hashirim 1:15
This article is provided as part of Shema Yisrael Torah Network
Shema Yisrael Torah Network