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Weekly Chizuk

Parshas Terumah

Follow Orders

(Adapted from Bircas Mordechai, by Rav Boruch Mordechai Ezrachi, Rosh Yeshivas Ateres Yisrael, Yerushalayim.)

In Parshas Terumah and Tetzaveh the Jews are instructed in all the details of how to build the Mishkan. The actual building is related later in Parshas Pekudei. It is very noteworthy that when the Chumash reports that the Jews built the Mishkan it states that they constructed every article, "just as Hashem had commanded Moshe." This statement must be important because it is repeated no less than 18 times! Why was it so important to make this point so many times? Was it so hard to build the Mishkan exactly as Hashem commanded? Of course they followed instructions to a "T". This was the generation which witnessed the Exodus from Mitzrayim and who had received the Torah. How could they have done anything less?

But think about it. When someone is given a job, he usually performs it "roughly" or "approximately" according to instructions. Perhaps even better than he was told, sometimes not as good. However, whatever he does, he feels satisfied that he has really performed his duties. It was good enough. Who expects more than doing something "pretty good" "almost perfect"?

This attitude is very widespread. Where does it come from? It emanates from a distorted understanding of the plan. The question is, why does it happen?

Hidden within the deep recesses of our subconscious, a person feels a resistance to obedience to another. He feels threatened that he is being made wholly subordinate to whoever is issuing the command. This creates an irresistible need to also be a "partner" in the planning, the blueprint; to also be the one giving the orders.

A person wants to feel "the boss" regarding everything he does. This is engrained so deeply within himself, it forces him "to rationalize," "to explain," "to understand," "to feel" out everything, to express his own opinion, and make his own decisions.

This motivation to do everything "approximately" is really quite precise. It is the force within that directs everything one does and thinks. He rationalizes, "this is the only way to use your head." This force can be quite ingenious in its rationalizations.

Eighteen times. The Torah accents, repeats, and accents again and again that Bnei Yisrael did exactly as Hashem commanded Moshe. Because Bnei Yisrael built the Mishkan out of absolute submission to Hashem's words alone. This is the special quality that only Yisrael has, to be totally subservient to Hashem's commands; with no personal calculations; with no personal collaboration: with no expression of personal possession of the action.

They built the Mishkan with a clear understanding that the highest goals can be reached only with absolutely no interjection of one's self; throwing oneself totally into Hashem's commands.

18 times the Torah made this exalted point. Bnei Yisrael did exactly as commanded. Not "approximately." There was no devious interjection of one's self. There was no coupling whatsoever of any ego. 100% subservience to Hashem's word.

"Just as Hashem commanded Moshe."

* * *

Let's take this one step further. "And so did Aharon," (Bemidbar 8:3). Chazal comment, "this possuk praises Aharon for not changing anything" (Sifrei Beha'aloscha 3).

And what was so special about Aharon that the possuk has to point out to us that he didn't change anything?

We have to realize. When we are discussing Aharon the surprising fact isn't that he didn't change anything to do less than he was told. What is surprising is that he didn't do more! That he didn't try to improve anything.

Imagine. Aharon was a very holy man - holy of holies. He was the only person in Klal Yisrael allowed in the Inner Sanctuary. He came to light the holy Menorah, he stood there with the radiance shining in front of him. He had been chosen to turn on a light for Hakadosh Baruch Hu.

Why didn't he start reciting "Leshem Yichud…?" Wasn't there some deep emotional urge to glorify and beautify the Menorah even more? Maybe add a bit of gold over here? Another cup or ornament?

What is this? Just to go over and light the Menorah? Just like that? Maybe put on another piece of clothing in honor of this great event. Or to add some move, to dance a bit. Make the ceremony a bit more ornate. "All my bones should praise Hashem!" But this doesn't always match the halacha. There is a prescribed manner of serving Hashem. There is a halacha prohibiting extra or fewer garments (Zevachim 17b). There is a halacha regarding the exact shape and form of the Menorah, etc. How can someone so holy and devoted hold himself back? How can one not give in to his holy impulses, emanating from such a pure source?

"This tells us the greatness of Aharon - that he didn't change anything." Aharon controlled his deep desire to do more! Don't think you can do "better" than the Torah. Don't delve "deeper" than the Torah. The most wonderful thing you can do, is to do exactly as the Torah prescribes.

It isn't easy to withstand the artist impulse to "fix it up a bit" "to improve on it" "to make it better." Why not allow some expert hand to make a more glorious and exalted House for the Ribono Shel Olam? Why not make the Mishkan taller and more magnificent. A more beautiful table? Another mizbeach? Or a larger one?

Against all these onslaughts one must show a tremendous inner strength, to understand that obedience is the epitome of service, the epitome of understanding: total subservience to Hashem's word: the epitome of perfection.

Just like Hashem commanded Moshe.

* * *

I came across a very interesting article that opens up new vistas in our understanding how strong Man's inner ego is. "There is a powerful scene in Viktor Frankl's 'Man's Search for Meaning,' where the author describes how the Nazis would line up the Jews to select who would go to the gas chambers and who would go to the work camps. A Nazi commander would stand at the front of the line, holding up his hand by the elbow, and with one finger, he would simply point left, right, left, right. One little finger determined whether a person would live or die.

"Frankl was sent into a room with others, where they were ordered: "Strip, take everything off and throw it into a pile in the center of the room within two minutes!" The Jewish prisoners frantically undressed and threw their clothes in the central pile, fearful of running out of time and being killed. At the end, all they were left with was their naked existence.

"Frankl, however, stood still holding his manuscripts, which contained a lifetime of research. That little cache held everything that he had ever accomplished in his psychological research. Holding his life's work, he approached the German officer and tried to explain that his possession was worth nothing to the Nazis. At first, the officer seemed to listen compassionately, but then yelled, "Throw it into the pile!" Frankl frantically persisted, 'You don't understand. This is my life's work! It's just meaningless paper to you.' But the Nazi just repeated, 'Throw it into the pile!' Frankl obeyed the order. He, too, was left with only his naked existence. All he was is that he was.

"Imagine the tragedy of his loss. But also imagine the potential spiritual growth that was available to those who went through such a challenge. Sometimes, very painful experiences offer us tremendous spiritual elevation. Frankl addresses this concept in his book, relating how many people in the concentration camps became remarkably spiritual. Those who were more religious and spiritually oriented, Frankl explains, lasted longer than those who had big physiques but lacked inner strength.

"Frankl writes that after everyone had stripped, the Nazis gave out concentration camp uniforms, which were previously worn by someone who had just died in a gas chamber. As Frankl put on the torn, dirty prison uniform, he reached into the pocket and found a tiny piece of paper. He took it out and saw that it was the Shema, the Jews' daily declaration that G-d is the absolutely one and only reality. This little piece of a prayer book that another Jew had managed to keep was Frankl's exchange for his collection of manuscripts. Frankl realized that when he gave up his life's work, he got the Shema."

The author of this article concludes, "To me this means that when Frankl was stripped of his persona and left to confront his naked soul, he was empowered to discover his true identity -- identification with the source of all self-worth -- the one and only everlasting G-d. And that connection no one can take away from you. "

P.S. As optimistic as this article is, if you follow Victor Frankl's works after his liberation from the Concentration Camp, we find a very sad ending. Frankl focused on Man's quest for meaning and stopped there. He went on to develop a new school of psychology based on Man's basic drive to find Meaning in life. The tragedy is that he took it no further. He remained a seeker questing for meaning but failed to find the true meaning even after having his Jewish identity thrust right in front of his eyes. It seems that his even more basic ego overpowered his ability to submit himself to the Supreme Source of Meaning in Life.

Wishing everyone a Gut Shabbos!

© Rabbi Eliezer Parkoff
4 Panim Meirot, Jerusalem 94423 Israel
Tel: 732-858-1257
Rabbi Parkoff is author of "Chizuk!" and "Trust Me!" (Feldheim Publishers), and "Mission Possible!" (Israel Book Shop Lakewood).
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