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Peninim on the Torah

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Rabbi A. Leib Scheinbaum
Hebrew Academy of Cleveland


And let them take for Me a portion, from every man whose heart motivates him. (25:2)

Rashi explains that the term, "for Me," tells us that the people should give for the Mishkan purely for Hashem's Name, not in response to outside pressure or as an opportunity to seek glory. What does it mean to give for the sake of Hashem's Name? Perhaps the following incident will shed light on this. The Torah in Sefer Devarim 15:10 states: "You shall surely give him (to the poor), and let your heart not feel bad when you give him." When one interprets this pasuk in its simple sense, he can understand it to mean that he should not resent the obligation to part with some of his hard-earned money when a poor man asks for charity. Horav Bunim, zl, m'Peshicha gives this pasuk an additional interpretation.

The Rebbe once visited a home which was characterized by extreme poverty. He immediately gave the family money for their needs. He later returned with an additional sum of money. His chassidim saw this and asked, "Rebbe, why did you return with more money?"

Rav Bunim's reply should catalyze our introspection concerning our attitude towards giving charity. He said, "When I saw the hungry look on the children's faces, their drawn skin and sunken eyes, my heart ached for them. I immediately gave them money, but this money only served to relieve my personal distress. I gave to them because they were in need, not because Hashem tells us in the Torah to give tzedakah."

"In that case, however, I was simply acting to quell my own feelings of inadequacy. I was doing something for my own comfort. I returned, therefore, to give them additional money, as it is a mitzvah to give tzedakah. Because my personal anguish over their plight had been assuaged, I was now able to give for the sake of the mitzvah."

When one gives charity, it should not be only because he feels sympathy for the poor. Even after the pain has been relieved, there is another reason to give: it is a mitzvah. This is especially noteworthy when we are asked to contribute to a cause that does not evoke great feelings of compassion within us. As long as the recipient is deserving, we must give because it is a mitzvah. Neither positive nor negative emotion should dictate how and to whom we give. Our primary motivation should be Hashem's command.

This is implied by the pasuk. At the first juncture in their nationhood, when Hashem requests of Klal Yisrael that they contribute, He instructed them to give Li, "for Me," for Hashem's sake. They were to give because of the mitzvah, not because of the emotion or the attention they would receive as a result. Give because it is Li, "for Me."

This is the portion that you shall take from them. (25:3)

One who peruses the text will notice an ambiguity in the choice of words used to describe "them," the people who were to contribute towards the Mishkan. The Torah uses the word itam, which usually is translated as "with them," rather than the word meihem, which literally means, "from them." The commentators address this question. Horav Aizik Ausband, Shlita, offers a noteworthy explanation for this change in wording. Itam is a reference to the funds and possessions that are with them, those items with which they pride themselves and which are integral to their daily lives.

He explains this concept by citing an incident that occurred with the Maggid, zl, of Biyalistock, who once came to a city to deliver one of his fiery drashos, inspirational lectures. Prior to speaking, he queried the community's leadership as to what they felt needed to be rectified. He desired to focus his address on those issues that were most vexing to the community's spiritual development. They responded that their greatest issue was in the area of malbish arumim, providing clothing for the needy. As in all communities in Europe, earning a livelihood was difficult, and for this reason, many Jewish families barely had enough food for their own subsistence.

Decent clothing was a rarity. People walked around in out-dated, worn-out clothes. The community's leadership, try as hard as they could, had a difficult time in providing them with proper attire. This was not due to a lack of clothing. The same well-to-do people, who shared their wealth with the poor, would also give their used clothing, but here was where the problem was prevalent. Often, when the tzedakah collectors came to ask for clothes, the contributors would look through their closets and select the most threadbare, used garments they could find. In most cases, the items were torn and dirty. When the collector would patiently ask, "Is it possible that you might have something else, perhaps a bit more presentable?" the usual response was, "What is wrong with these garments? True, the poor man would feel awkward walking down to the chupah in these clothes, but there is really nothing wrong with them. They are wearable."

Upon hearing this, the Maggid proceeded to castigate the members of the community concerning their deplorable attitude towards the poor. At the time, it happened to be Parashas Netzavim. The Maggid cited the words of Yeshayah Ha'Navi in 61:10, as he speaks to the people, "I will rejoice intensely with Hashem, my soul shall exalt with my G-d, for He has dressed me in the raiment of salvation, in a robe of righteousness has He cloaked me, like a bridegroom who dons priestly glory." When one gives clothing as tzedakah, it should be such that the poor man can wear it as a bridegroom to his wedding.

This is the concept to which the pasuk is alluding. When one contributes, it should be mei'itam, from (with) them, something that he himself would wear, when he goes out to his own simchah, joyous occasion.

How true are these words. It has become a common ailment that many who possess sufficient means are complacent regarding the needs of those who do not possess such means. For instance, have you ever entered a shul or bais ha'medrash and noticed that the furniture is mismatched, or that the cloth items are threadbare, or clearly obsolete? Are mechanchim and kolleleit supposed to dress like immigrants? Must they drive old taxi cabs, or is there dispensation for them to own a car that is not in vintage condition? Regrettably, we want to come home to a comfortable nicely-furnished home, but do not feel the same need when it comes to Hashem's home. We dress, and expect our families to dress, as in an ad for a popular clothing manufacturer, but have no problem when those less fortunate wear clothes that we would not wear on Tisha B'Av. The list goes on. There is something, however, that is even more repugnant. I refer to those who cannot tolerate - or to use the popular Yiddish vernacular, fargin - an individual who devotes himself to meleches Hakodesh, holy endeavor, dressing and driving and living on an acceptable middle-class level. It is one thing not to give, but it is completely another not to tolerate. Let us take the lesson of itam to our hearts and wallets.

The poles shall remain in the rings of the Ark; they may not be removed from it. (25:15)

While a number of Klei ha'Mishkan, holy vessels that were used in the Mishkan, were to have rings affixed so that they could be transported, it was only the Aron that was to have the carrying poles that fit into these rings actually in the rings at all times. While this is understandable at a time when the Aron is being transported, why should the poles always remain in the rings? The Sefer HaChinuch states that the simple reason is to allow for the contingency in which Klal Yisrael would have to move on quickly. In that scenario, the poles could be put hurriedly into the rings, to prevent the situation that, in all of the rush, they would not be firmly placed in the rings, causing the Aron to fall. To avoid such a mishap, the poles were never removed. There are commentators who supplement this idea with the concept that the Aron symbolizes the makom hashroas haShechinah, place where the Shechinah reposes. The mere fact that the poles remain in the rings in case of any sudden movement suggests that the Shechinah is not a stationary presence, which is relegated to one specific place. The Shechinah is everywhere.

Horav Eliyahu Schlesinger, Shlita, comments that the poles remain in the rings, not as a means for carrying the Aron, but rather as an indication of the means by which one holds onto the Aron. The message is: hold on always; never let go. Therefore, the poles are always connected to the Aron, delivering a message that must impact us at all times.

He also cites an inspirational analogy from the Baal Shem Tov HaKadosh. A leaf on a tree bemoaned the fact that it was "stuck" to the tree and was not free to fly like a bird, so that it could explore the world around it. Finally, summer was over, and the wind and cold air of autumn emerged. The winds became stronger, and the temperature began to drop. Suddenly, a blast from a strong wind freed the leaf. Oh, how excited the leaf was to fly from its place. It went high and low and far and wide. It had freedom. The wind does not last forever, however, and when the wind stopped, the leaf fell to the ground, only to be trampled by pedestrians. The leaf began to weep. If only it could still be clinging to the tree, it would still be whole and undamaged.

A parallel applies to the Jew. As long as he clings to the tree of life, symbolized by the Torah, then the winds of the world, the free thinking winds, the winds of change, the winds of an immoral hedonistic society, cannot sway and destroy him. He is firmly anchored to the Torah, which is the only stable thing in life.

Eitz chaim hi la'machazikim bah, v'somche'ah me'ushar. "It is a tree of life to those who hold on to it, and its supporters are fortunate" (Mishlei 3:18). As long as one holds on to the Torah, he is fortunate. When he lets go, he will end up like the unfortunate leaf, spiritually broken, disheveled and tread upon by the passerby.

You shall make the planks of the Mishkan of atzei shittim, acacia wood, standing erect. (26:15)

Acacia wood is a form of cedar wood that does not grow in the wilderness. Obviously, the Jewish People must have had access to this remarkably lightweight - but strong - wood prior to their coming to the wilderness. Rashi explains that Yaakov Avinu, perceiving that Klal Yisrael would one day be commanded to erect a Mishkan, provided for its construction. When he came to Egypt, he brought with him cedar trees that he had originally planted in Eretz Yisrael for this purpose. These unique trees had a long odyssey, from Eretz Yisrael to Egypt to the wilderness; they traveled with Klal Yisrael until they assumed their designated place in the Mishkan.

Another version found in the Midrash offers an earlier source for the atzei shittim. According to this version, Avraham Avinu had an eishal, a sort of rest area, where people could stop to rest, grab a bite to eat, and even spend the night. In order to provide a full-service eishal for the wayfarers, Avraham went so far as to plant an orchard of trees in which his guests could rest in the cool shade from their difficult trip. It was this orchard that provided the cedar trees for the Mishkan.

We have two sources for the wood that comprised the Mishkan - Avraham and Yaakov. Can we derive a lesson from the Mishkan's origins? My good friend, Reb Mordechai Krieger, presents an interesting perspective on this in his latest volume of commentary on the Torah. Avraham personified the middah of chesed, and this was his primary focus in his service to the Almighty. The cedars were a component of his chesed which he performed with wayfarers. Thus, there was a valid reason that Chazal included Avraham's atzei shittim in the Mishkan. They were planted for the purpose of chesed. What more appropriate use than to apply the middah of chesed to the Mishkan? After all, it was a place of chesed where people from all over came to receive spiritual sustenance.

Yaakov exemplified the attribute of emes, truth. Indeed, Yaakov's virtue was imbued in the trees. It was a period when paganism was rampant. Virtually every tree was transformed into an asheirah, idolatrous tree, as it became the focus of the people's worship. Yaakov guaranteed that the wood used for the Mishkan was kosher, b'tachlis ha'kashrus, absolute, without any embellishments. The middos of chesed and emes were integrated into the building of the Mishkan.

We may interpret this idea into the pasuk in Mishlei 16:6, "With truth and kindness, sin is forgiven." In the merit of kindness and truth, both working together, defining each other, sin can be erased.

We might, perhaps, take this a bit further to the point that in order to build an enduring Mishkan for Hashem, we need the middah that Yaakov represents. It is not emes upon which we should focus, but rather on Torah. Let me explain. We find in our parsha an incident that occurred during the darkness of night, when our Patriarch Yaakov was alone. The angel of Eisav, representing Eisav and everything for which he stood, attacked Yaakov. Why? Why did the Satan wait for Yaakov before he attacked? Why did he ignore Avraham and Yitzchak? His goal was to uproot and destroy Jewry. He could have fought with Avraham or Yitzchak, and he would have accomplished the same goal. Why did he wait?

Horav Elchanan Wasserman, zl, gives an intriguing answer, which not only defines our mission in the world, but also emphasizes our strength inherent in the only institution by which we as Jews will survive. Avraham sat at his tent, waiting to reach out to others in need. Surely, this was a noble and charitable character trait. Is it, however, the heart and soul of the Jewish People? As Hashem's chosen People, we have a role to fulfill in this world. While chesed is undoubtedly a magnificent middah, will it guarantee Jewish survival? Let us peruse history. The Jewish record concerning philanthropy is incredible: hospitals, shelters, homes for the aged, education. Jews are at the forefront of every philanthropic endeavor, both Jewish and secular, but has that ensured our future? Have the children of those who have initiated all of the wonderful and meaningful Jewish institutions remained true to their heritage? No, chesed does not scare Satan, because it is not a threat to him. He is opposed to Jewish continuity, and chesed does not necessarily promote this ideal.

Yitzchak personified avodah, service to Hashem, through prayer and worship. This was his primary approach to serving the Almighty. Prayer is a wonderful and necessary endeavor. Since time immemorial, devout Jews have attended the synagogue, prayed three times a day and recited Tehillim in between. All this was personified by Yitzchak and transmitted to us. It is his legacy. There have been those, however, who have repeated the age-old words by rote, out of habit, not bothering to explore the meaning of these words. They did not discover the comfort and strength in these words that their parents found and to which they clung. How often have we witnessed an aged father wrapped in his Tallis, tears falling from his eyes as he prays in rapt devotion, while his son has not even bothered to attend the service? The son was neither tied to his father's Tallis nor to his way of life. The father prayed, while the son strayed. The Satan does not see a threat coming at him from Yitzchak. Avodah will not sustain the Jewish people throughout the generations. They need more.

The Satan observed Avraham and Yitzchak, and, while he was not overjoyed with their work on behalf of the Jewish people, their ways of life did not guarantee an eternal people, a Jewry that could withstand the vicissitudes that would challenge the future generations. Along came Yaakov Avinu with his devotion to Torah study. The Torah describes him as, "A simple, wholehearted man, dwelling in tents." Wherever he was, he found a tent of study, or he made one. Torah study was his life; Torah coursed through his veins like blood. He lived in the bais ha'medrash. Yaakov served Hashem through Torah - the concrete teaching of specific belief and defined laws. He studied what we must do, what we may do and what we may not do. Avraham's chesed was great, but one can either accept kindness and respond to it - or not. Yitzchak accepted his father's belief; Yishmael eschewed it. Yaakov, on the other hand, incorporated chesed into Torah. The Torah teaches kindness, but it also goes further. Besides teaching us how and when to perform kindness, it addresses every aspect of our internal and external lives.

Yitzchak focused on prayer. One is either moved by prayer, or he is not. Yaakov accepted it, and he integrated it into his Torah way of life. Eisav had no time for prayer. He did not relate to it. Yaakov knew that prayer alone is not sufficient. The channel of communication between man and Hashem cannot be a one way street, where we ask and ask and hear only what we want to hear. We must also do and obey. This approach comes through Torah. Prayer is man's word to Hashem. Torah is Hashem's word to man.

Yaakov raised twelve sons, all of whom followed in his footsteps. Not one left the faith, because each had the Torah to which he adhered. It guided them and gave them the strength to continue their commitment, regardless of life's challenges. The Satan feared Yaakov, because Torah represented continuity. He attacked him when he was alone in the middle of the night. He felt that this was when he was most vulnerable. He inflicted his wound, but he did not succeed in besting the Patriarch. Throughout the dark exile, Eisav's descendants have attempted to destroy us. Our devotion to the Torah has always given us the ability to prevail. He might wound us, but he will not win - ever.

Let us return to the Mishkan, the focal point for our avodah to Hashem. It is not enough to have Kerashim, wooden planks, from the chesed of Avraham, because they do not ensure our future. It is only when they are integrated with the Torah of Yaakov that the avodah in the Mishkan will endure.

Va'ani Tefillah

Lo hiniach ish l'ashkam. He did not permit any man to oppress them.

This is a reference to Lavan and Eisav who sought to harm Yaakov, but were unsuccessful. Going back in time, Hashem did not permit Nimrod, Pharaoh and Avimelech to harm Avraham and Yitzchak. What about Dinah, Yaakov's daughter? She was violated by Shechem. Why was she not protected? Horav Avigdor Miller, zl, explains that actually she was protected by the same security blanket as the Avos had been. She erred by "going out" to the girls of the land, to see who they were. Hence, Shechem saw her and desired to be with her. I think this is a powerful lesson for us. We supplicate Hashem for His protection, but what do we do about it? Do we stay "inside"; or do we take our chances and expect His protection to be effective, even though we decide to place our heads in the lion's mouth? It goes hand in hand: Hashem's protection must be coupled with our keeping ourselves away from situations which might instigate difficulties for us.

l'zechar nishmas
Yenta bas R' Nachum Tzvi a"h

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