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Peninim on the Torah

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Rabbi A. Leib Scheinbaum
Hebrew Academy of Cleveland


Moshe saw the entire work, and behold! They had accomplished it; as G-d had commanded, so they had done. (39:43)

The term eved Hashem, servant of Hashem, is one which is not to be taken lightly. Indeed, this is the appellation by which our quintessential leader and Rebbe of all Klal Yisrael is identified: Moshe, eved Hashem. What is the meaning of this unique term? In his commentary to the above pasuk, Horav S. R. Hirsch, zl, writes, "Moshe inspected all of the work that had been completed, and he observed that the work bore two distinct characteristics, two hallmarks which stood out above the various other attributes. First, Asu osah, "It was they who had done it." Every aspect of the Mishkan's construction, from the most minute to the most preeminent, bespoke the whole personality, the extreme devotion, the spontaneous enthusiasm, and the strength and energies of the entire nation. They did it - all of them, qualitatively as well as quantitatively. Every part of every available Jew was involved in the construction of the Mishkan.

Second, Kaasher tzivah Hashem, kein asu, "As G-d had commanded, so they had done." They subordinated all of their zeal and enthusiasm in its sum total, as well as in every detail, completely to the commands of Hashem. They made no attempt to introduce their own ideals, their own chiddushim, original, innovative additions or omissions;. [The craftsmen followed Hashem's guidelines to the letter of the law.] Rather, each and every one of the craftsmen considered it his supreme accomplishment to follow instructions, to execute with obedience, to act with scrupulous care and precision - not his own ideas - but the ideas and commandments of Hashem. This free-willed, joyous sense of obedience - reflected in both freedom in obedience and obedience in freedom, meshed together - renders one joyously aware of his own strength and ability, precisely by subordinating his personality completely to the will of Hashem. Bateil retzoncha mipnei retzono, "Nullify your will before His will": This is what constitutes the most significant and critical characteristic of sublime moral perfection in the deeds of a Jewish person. These two attributes characterize a human being as unique and morally sublime. Indeed, this person having achieved the pinnacle of service to the Almighty may now be called an eved Hashem.

A servant of Hashem is one who lives a life of spiritual integrity in which every aspect of his life's endeavor is for the purpose of - and guided by - his spiritual dimension. An individual who exemplified this persona was Horav Yechezkel Levenstein, zl, Mashgiach of pre-World War II Mir and later Ponevez. A student of Kelm, he personified integrity and calm, and, at the same time, intense service to Hashem. He possessed a spiritual refinement which reflected his complete control over every action in his daily endeavor.

In his eulogy for Rav Chatzkel, as he was lovingly and reverently called, Horav Elazar M. Shach, zl, Rosh Yeshivas Ponevez, said, "I have never known, as far as I could tell, a single person more honest than he was. Even if he had lived five hundred years ago, during the era of the Rishonim, he would have been considered pious. Throughout the years that I knew him, there was never an instant that he searched for some leniency. He always strove to do as much as possible and deal stringently with himself - this is the meaning of the term chasid, pious."

In describing him, Horav Shlomo Lorincz, zl, writes that his entire bearing and every aspect of his conduct bespoke his servitude to his Creator. He invested superhuman energies into this service.

When the yeshivah students filed past him on Friday night to wish him Gutt Shabbos, the Mashgiach accepted upon himself to respond to each one of them with a sincere and heartfelt blessing that they truly enjoy a Gutt Shabbos. One might ask: "So what?" Almost five hundred people walked past him each Shabbos - Friday night and Shabbos day - and none of them had any inkling that while they did so, he was channeling all of his energy into fulfilling this undertaking. He took everything seriously.

If he managed to elevate the casual Gutt Shabbos that we all toss off without a second thought into a Divine Service, it stands to reason that his daily regimen must have been replete with hundreds, perhaps even thousands, such undertakings. These spiritual efforts were not discernible to the observer and no one knew about them, but they rendered every movement he made a further link in his chain of service to Hashem. This went on daily, from early morning (he rose at five o'clock) until midnight, when he finally went to bed. He never slept during the day. This went on throughout every day of his life.

Horav Zelik Epstein, zl, once remarked that to observe the Mashgiach was to see a soldier standing at attention, ready to serve his commanding officer. Rav Chatzkel was the consummate servant.

Moshe saw the entire work, and behold! They had done it as Hashem had commanded, so had they done, and Moshe blessed them. (39:43)

The construction of the Mishkan was concluded: its various vessels and utensils were completed; the Bigdei Kodesh, Holy (Priestly) Vestments, were finished. They now brought it all before Moshe Rabbeinu to seek his blessing. Everything had been executed according to the precise instruction that he had given them. Moshe was impressed, and he gave them his blessing. He said, "Yehi ratzon, May it be the will of Hashem, that the Shechinah rest upon the work of your hands." One might think that he has achieved success, but, without the blessing, Shechinah b'maasei yedeichem, "The Divine Presence resting on the work of your hands," success is short-lived. Moshe then added another brachah, blessing, which David Hamelech later incorporated in Sefer Tehillim (90:17), Vihi noam Hashem Elokeinu aleinu, u'maasei yadeinu konena aleinu u'maasei yadeinu coneneihu, "May the pleasantness of Hashem, our G-d, be upon us; our handiwork, establish for us; our handiwork, establish it." What is the meaning of having Hashem's Presence rest upon something which man has constructed? We all want Hashem's blessing. What changes when Hashem rests His Divine Presence upon something which we have created?

In his commentary to Sefer Tehillim, the Malbim offers a powerful insight. One who constructs a magnificent edifice has obviously transformed the physical surroundings, adding beauty and creating pleasing scenery where, quite possibly, the neighboring area had once been bleak and unappealing to the eye. Regardless of the change he engendered in the physical surroundings, he himself has not been changed one iota. Whatever he had been prior to the construction of the edifice, he continues to be afterwards. On the contrary, his ego may have expanded as a result of the acclaim that he received. When a person achieves a milestone in Torah erudition-- he has completed a tractate of Talmud, an order of Mishnayos, or simply completed an area of learning upon which he had set his sights-- he has thereby transformed himself. He is no longer the same individual that he had been prior to the achievement. He is now a new person, having added breadth and depth to his neshamah - something which he will carry with him for the rest of his mortal life. This is what the pasuk underscores when it uses the word aleinu, upon us: we ask that our handiwork not only be pleasing to Hashem, but that it transform us into better, more spiritually-correct Torah Jews.

I must add that in order for this spiritual transformation to occur, one must act l'shem Shomayim, purely for the sake of Heaven. If, however, his handiwork is part of a personal agenda, to promote either himself or his cause, it is self-defeating. He is not acting for the mitzvah; rather, he is manipulating the mitzvah for his own vested interests. As a result, he not only does not elevate himself spiritually, but rather, he defers to his yetzer hora, evil-inclination, by making use of a mitzvah for personal use.

In his A Vort from Rav Pam, Rabbi Sholom Smith quotes the Rosh Yeshivah's insight into Moshe's first brachah. "May the Shechinah rest upon the work of your hands." The "work of your hands" refers to the Mishkan and its appurtenances. Is there any question that the Shechinah will rest on such holy handiwork? These were two receptacles, replete with kedushah, holiness. Moshe's brachah was superfluous concerning them. The Rosh Yeshivah explains that Moshe was alluding to a far more difficult task - one that regrettably eludes some of us. "One's hands" is a reference to the mundane work of the individual's hands: his farm, his field, his business, his individual area of professional endeavor. This is where one spends the bulk of his waking hours, where he spends a good part of his life. This is where the concern regarding spirituality becomes a greater reality. Usually there is no problem, providing, of course, that one earns his livelihood in accordance with Torah dictate, following all of the halachic/ethical rules prescribed for the Torah Jew. In such an instance, the Shechinah is "comfortable" resting in such a place, thereby bestowing Divine blessing upon this individual's worldly endeavors. It is when one skirts the law, when his dealings with his fellowman leave much to be desired from an ethical and moral perspective, that Hashem's blessings are not present.

Every person should aspire to be a klei kibul, receptacle worthy of retaining Hashem's blessing. Torah ethics must be our guide in everything that we do. Our moral compass must be determined by the values imparted to us from the Torah. Anything short of Torah perspective leaves us open to the challenges created by misguided embellishment.

Moshe did according to everything that Hashem commanded him, so he did. (40:16)

The construction of the Mishkan was meticulously executed with perfect order as instructed by Hashem. There was no concept of approximate size. Everything was clearly delineated to Moshe Rabbeinu, and everything was followed precisely as ordered. The Alter, zl, m'Kelm, Horav Simchah Zissel Broide, quotes the Talmud Chullin 18a in which Chazal state, "If there would be a blemish/imperfection in the Mizbayach (even) like (that of) a hair breadth, it would abrogate the kedushah, sanctity, of the Mikdash." As a result, none of the wondrous miracles that were manifest on a regular basis in the Bais Hamikdash would have occurred. Were one hairbreadth to be off -the entire Bais Hamikdash would no longer have been worthy of being the receptacle of kedushah. Moshe Rabbeinu was instructed to speak to the rock. Instead, he made a slight change: he struck the rock. The consequences that resulted from that alteration meant that the man who led us out of Egypt, who gave his life for the Jewish People, could not enter Eretz Yisrael. This meant that we would be eventually exiled from the Land, following the destruction of the Bais Hamikdash. We have been dispersed throughout the world and slaughtered like cattle, persecuted mercilessly and hounded wherever we were - all because of that "slight change."

The Alter adds that one who lives with order in his life understands how to act in his home, with his community, and with the world at large. The individual has no room for error when it comes to seder, order. The Malbim explains that the knowledge of order, knowing the reasons for connections and divisions, the relationship and interaction of each part of a whole to its neighbor, to the preceding and succeeding, is the essential element of all knowledge and the root of all wisdom. In the realm of educational studies, order is the key to unlocking many sealed passageways. It permits the individual: to grasp and comprehend the various issues in a debate; to understand the qualities, benefits and demerits of an issue; and to have access to making a proper decision. In a successful thought process, one first searches for the order, delineating how everything is connected and what its relationship is to the next object in position. This awareness gives the individual insight into what is the true meaning of a subject and what motivates it; and also allows one to see the matter both in its entirety and in its parts. Without order, we are unable to really find a lasting solution for difficult problems. Order gives us the ability to see, to think, to analyze, to solve. A mind in disarray is unable to think through a subject successfully, because it does not really understand it.

Seder, orderliness, was one of the watchwords of Kelm. It was another aspect of the Alter's philosophy of education, which was based upon the complex interplay of thought and action. Improper actions indicated faulty thought. One's external and internal expressions are inextricably linked to one another. By underscoring the need for external order, the Alter believed one could, over time, give structure and order to the internal thought process as well. A lack of external order reveals a cog in one's internal thought process, indicating a lack of structure and methodology in his thoughts. When the Alter visited his son in yeshivah, he first inspected his son's room to ascertain that it was neat and tidy. Then he would greet his son.

Each student in Kelm was assigned a specific place for his possessions, and anyone whose possessions were not neatly arranged or were in the wrong place would incur the aversion of the Alter. Originally, I thought this was taking it too far, but when one analyzes it further, it is apparent that in order to have a precise mind for Torah study, one's external actions must be meticulously structured. This was the type of student the Alter m'Kelm cultivated and developed.

A visitor once entered the Kelm bais hamedrash during one of the Alter's shmuessen, ethical discourses. From the somber tone of the lecture, it appeared that he was delivering a hesped, eulogy. Only midway through the shmuess did the visitor realize that the Alter was not talking about any deceased person. He was, in fact, addressing the fact that a student had placed his galoshes upside down in its assigned compartment. To the Alter, this was an infraction in seder and needed to be seriously addressed. The visitor later reported that the Alter had delivered a hesped over an incorrectly placed pair of galoshes.

The Alter writes: "We have spoken concerning the overriding significance of adhering to seder. It goes so far that a person cannot live one moment without shemiras ha'sedarim, meticulously adhering to order and structure. One who does not do this misses out on everything."

The above gives us insight into the definition of a non-functioning person and why so many distinguished people demand seder in every aspect of their lives. Rav Moshe Pardo, zl, was such a person. First, a little background on Rav Moshe Pardo. Moshe Pardo was a wealthy Jewish businessman in Turkey. He also had a number of orchards near Bnei Brak. This was before Bnei Brak became the bustling city that it is today. He had one daughter, who was engaged to be married. A few weeks before her wedding, she contracted meningitis, which caused her untimely demise. Her father was heartbroken and inconsolable.

He was advised to speak with the Chazon Ish, who was the gadol hador, preeminent Torah leader of the generation. The Chazon Ish and his Rebbetzin had not been blessed with biological children. Rav Moshe told the Chazon Ish that, with the passing of his only child, he had lost his desire to live. "She died. I also want to die," he said.

With his piercing eyes, the Chazon Ish looked at him and said, "It is prohibited for a believing Jew to think like that." He paused a moment and then said, "I will tell you what. You give up your business, Pardo, and you make a school for Sephardic girls. You will see what is taking place here in Bnei Brak. The Sephardic girls are being destroyed. You make a school here; sell some of your orchards and start; I promise you hundreds of children and thousands of grandchildren!"

Rav Pardo accepted the Chazon Ish's advice, and, in 1952, he established Or HaChaim Seminary for girls from kindergarten through high school. The school addresses the needs of girls from disadvantaged homes, who would otherwise probably find themselves on the street. Thus, they are accorded a Jewish education and taught the skills required to earn a livelihood. The school exists today with an enrollment of fifteen hundred students. On the day that Rav Moshe related this story to Rabbi Berel Wein, he pulled out a notebook from his pocket. In it, he had recorded the name of every girl who had attended his school, what had happened with her, and how many children she had. On that day, he told Rabbi Wein, his 4,000th grandchild had been born.

Now that we have his history, let me share one of his primary educational maxims: "A rebbe/morah must be on time." Often when the bell rang, he was found standing in the hall, indicating to his teachers that they were late, that this had better not happen again. Many times, he would emphasize that even a slight tardiness, a few moments, throws off the balance of the class. When the teacher demonstrates a lack of organization, the students immediately sense it. This creates an air of general instability and deficiency within the entire school - all because one teacher has arrived late.

The Torah is firmly entrenched in the concept of punctuality, meticulousness and order. One who performs a prohibited labor on Shabbos, one minute prior to sunset, is liable for the death penalty. If he does so one minute later, he is, of course, exempt, since it has already become a weekday. One minute spells the difference between life and death. A hairbreadth determines whether an animal has been slaughtered properly. One must slaughter rov, the majority. One hair breadth beyond the halfway mark renders all the difference in the world. One drop of water spells the difference between a mikveh which is kosher and one which has less than forty saah of water, and thus, is not a mikveh. The Machaneh Leviah, camp reserved for Shevet Levi, was separated from Machaneh Shechinah, the holy camp, by one step. The list goes on.

One year, prior to the Yamim Tovim, High Holy Days, the school sent out Shanah Tovah, Happy New Year, cards to its supporters. This mailing was in gratitude of the past support, and a subtle reminder that the school was still in need of funds. The school had a beautiful card printed, and the girls were charged with folding the card, wrapping it in a gold ribbon, and placing it in an envelope. As is usually the case, there was a group of girls who took their work seriously and responded responsibly, folding the card perfectly on the prepared crease and tying the ribbon exactly in the right place. Another group of girls just folded the card and put on a ribbon in a manner that showed they could care less. Rav Moshe praised the former group of girls who had meticulously carried out his request. He relieved the other group of girls of their cards and threw them away: "I cannot send such a card to a supporter of the school. It conveys a bad message!"

When the girls complained and demanded a reason for his "putting down" their work, he patiently explained the following: "I knew a man who, for the most part, was in perfect health. He had one slight problem concerning a facial nerve that every once in a while would twitch. As a result, he made an involuntary response with his face every time the nerve twitched. Is this so bad? After all, among tens of thousands of nerves in his face, one nerve was 'loose.' Does this mean that something is wrong?"

When he saw the girls looking at him sympathetically, as if they did not understand the point that he was trying to make, he stopped momentarily, allowing his message to sink in, and continued. The heart is a pump which pumps constantly from the moment a person is born until he takes his last breath. Seventy, eighty, ninety years, without rest, it never stops pumping. What tragedy would there be if it "took it easy" once in a while and stopped a beat here and there? The person would go into cardiac arrest. He might even die! Do you now understand that when perfection is required, there can be no "second best" or "almost" or "not quite" or "most of the time"? Everything in this world is placed by the Almighty in its perfect place. It must function at an optimum level exactly as G-d wanted it to - or else. If this is what is expected from inanimate objects, how much more so from man?"

And it was, in the first month of the second year, on the first of the month, the Mishkan was erected. (40:17)

Sefer Shemos is described by the Ramban as Sefer HaGeulah, the Book of Redemption. All that is contained therein is geulah-related. From the very beginning, when the Jews were enslaved by the Egyptians; to their liberation; followed by the splitting of the Red Sea; and the receiving of the Torah: all led up to the construction of the Mishkan for the purpose of Hashroas HaShechinah, establishing a resting place for the Divine Presence. Sefer Vayikra is where the avodah, ritual service, performed in the Mishkan is mentioned. Therein the various Korbanos, sacrificial offerings, are detailed. It is, therefore, surprising that Parashas Pikudei concludes with the avodah that Moshe Rabbeinu executed in inaugurating the Mishkan. Moshe had been the Kohen Gadol for a week as Aharon was being invested with and prepared for the position. Should Moshe's avodah not have been included in Sefer Vayikra - like all of the other ritual services? Apparently, Moshe's use of the vessels is in some way connected to the Geulah. How?

Horav Yisrael Belsky, Shlita, explains this based upon the Ramban's comments in his introduction to Sefer Shemos. He writes: "The exile cannot be considered to have ended until Klal Yisrael arrived at their place and returned to the prominence of the Avos, Patriarchs. Once they received the Torah, built the Mishkan, and Hashem's Presence dwelled amongst them, they had been restored to the prominence achieved by the Patriarchs. At this point, they had reached the spiritual plateau of - Elokai alai ahaleihem, 'G-d was upon their tents' (Iyov 29:4), similar to the Avos that are themselves the Merkavah, chariot, of Hashem; Klal Yisrael had achieved full redemption. Thus, Sefer Shemos concludes with the completion of the Mishkan, in which the Glory of Hashem was manifest."

Rav Belsky derives a fundamental principle of Yiddishkeit from the Ramban's words. Hashroas HaShechinah was accomplished only through the actual avodah. The power invested in the edifice and the holy utensils was awe-inspiring, but sanctifying the utensils and erecting the Mishkan only created the capacity for kedushah and a restoration of the Divine Presence among Klal Yisrael. Without the avodah in full force - everything else remains simply potential. Unless the kedushah is actualized, the Divine Presence will not appear and there is no Geulah. This is why it was necessary for Moshe to actualize the plausible kedushah in the vessels of the Mishkan. In this manner, he created the spiritual climate intrinsic to allowing Hashem's Glory to descend upon the Mishkan.

Every Jew has the potential to engender incredible kedushah. Aptitude is a wonderful asset, but if it does not translate into achievement, it becomes the symbol of a wasted life spent wallowing in "what could have been." A Jew must garner all of his strength to maximize his potential - especially in the area of bringing his inherent kedushah to fruition. I say "especially," because if one truly focuses on his kedushah, everything else will follow. It will all fit in. The converse does not always work. By drawing out our potential, we are able to transform ourselves into a veritable Mishkan, regarding which it says, V'Shochanti b'socham, "I will reside within them."

Va'ani Tefillah

Chazal teach that avodah b'lev, service of the heart, is a reference to prayer. When a person vocalizes his prayers, he is putting words to the emotions emanating from his heart. B'chol levavchem, "with all your heart," implies that one is passionate in his prayer, applying profound physical expression to the passion which he feels from within. Chazal teach that when Rabbi Akiva prayed, he lost all sense of his surroundings; his passionate prayer catalyzed such powerful movement that, if he was placed in one end of the bais hamedrash, he would end up on the other side. Apparently, the many involuntary body movements he made, such as kneeling and bowing down, caused him to move about aimlessly.

The story is told that Horav Meshullam Igra, zl, would also daven with such incredible intensity. As a result of his incredible devotion, he would kneel, bow, run and jump all over the bais hamedrash. While his behavior appeared somewhat erratic, it was not. This is the way he davened. Rav Meshullam once visited a shul and observed a young man davening with such intensity. Clearly, the man was acting out as "monkey see - monkey do," copying Rav Meshullum's style of davening, thus making a fool of himself. The gaon approached him and said, "I daven with great kavanah, devotion, but, out of nowhere, I simply lose control of myself. The reason for this is that my mind is filled with so much Torah that I receive subtle questions concerning Tosfos, the Rishonim and Acharonim, all attempting to engage me in Talmudic discourse. Thus, I move around erratically. This is the only way that I can concentrate on my davening.

Are you so involved in Torah study that it becomes increasingly difficult to break away?"

l'zechus ul'refuah sheleima
Chaya Yaffe bas Rochel shetichye

Peninim on the Torah is in its 20th year of publication. The first fifteen years have been published in book form.

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