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Peninim on the Torah

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Rabbi A. Leib Scheinbaum
Hebrew Academy of Cleveland


Like everything that I show you…and so shall you do. (25:9)

The vov, and, of v'chein taasu, "And so shall you do," seems superfluous. It is not as if there is anything else mentioned here other than the building of the Mishkan. Therefore, it should have said, kein taasu, "so you should do." In the Talmud Sanhedrin 16B, Chazal teach us that this refers to the future. In the event any of the vessels or any aspect of the Mishkan needs to be replaced, their form and pattern should parallel the original design as stated here in the Torah.

Horav Aizik Ausband, Shlita, explains this idea homiletically. The pasuk alludes to the Mishkan which we all build: our Jewish home, which serves as our Mishkan me'at, mini Mishkan, our Sanctuary. When we build our home, it should be built along the same lines as the Mishkan in the wilderness. Its values, concepts, and leit motif should concur with those of the Mishkan.

Let us see how this plays out in our lives. In the average American home, the primary room is the living room. Others might consider the kitchen to be the preeminent room in their house. It all depends on where one spends the most time and to what one attaches greatest significance. We should be different from the denizens of contemporary society because, hopefully, our goals, objectives and values are different from theirs. The Mishkan was to be the symbol of holiness and the standard for the Jewish home. The room in the Mishkan which was considered the most holy was the Kodoshei Kodoshim, Holy of Holies, which housed the Aron HaKodesh which had the Keruvim on top. These Keruvim resembled the faces of little children. This teaches us that the focus in a home should be on the Torah, the seforim. The study-- or wherever the location of the bookcases that contain Torah literature--should be a child's primary room: it should be where he sees his father; it should be where he finds his reading material; it should be the focal point of the home.

If we want our homes to be a veritable sanctuary, where children grow up focused on the important things in Jewish life, then we have to set the standard. We have to set the example. We must change our priorities from plasma to Torah and from living room to study. Our children will learn to appreciate and value what we value.

In his book, "Touched by a Seder," Rabbi Yechiel Spero relates an inspiring story which I feel encapsulates the above idea. In the early part of the twentieth century, money was a scarce commodity, especially for Jews. Materialism was not the primary focus in life, and the little things that might not matter as much today, had much greater value at that time. Clothes were a luxury. One did not simply walk into a store - sale or no sale - and take a couple of suits or dresses off the rack, charge them to the credit card and wear it once or twice before the desire for a new fancy began to fester. Hard-earned money was spent only for something important. A dress for the mother was important, but it was a process that took time. It entailed deciding on the fabric, design, and color. Then there were the measurements that were taken at different intervals of the garment's creation. In other words, purchasing a dress was an "event."

The story takes place in the early 1900's, as the family of Yitzchak, an outstanding young boy of eleven, waited in anticipation for the new dress the father had ordered for the mother. It would be the first new dress she would have in years. Pesach was coming soon, and what better time than Yom Tov to banei, put on the new dress for the first time. The entire family waited eagerly in anticipation of the arrival of the new dress. Finally, news came that it was ready, but the mother was not going to put it on until Yom Tov. It was just not right.

Yitzchak was an exceptional student who was very adept at his Torah studies. Although young in age, he had skipped a few classes and was already studying with boys much older than himself. He came home a few days before Pesach and matter-of-factly told his mother that he had just completed Meseches Bava Kamma. His mother kvelled, beamed, with pride. Yitzchak made nothing of the accomplishment, but his mother was thrilled.

The next evening, Yitzchak came home from the yeshivah to be greeted by an astonishing sight. The table, covered with Shabbos linen, was set with their finest china; the candles were lit; and - his mother was wearing her brand new dress that she had been saving for Yom Tov!

Understandably, Yitzchak was shocked. After taking a few moments to compose himself, he blurted out, "What is all of this? It is not Shabbos! It is not Yom Tov! Yet, you are wearing the dress that you were saving for Pesach. What is the happy occasion?"

His mother looked glowingly at Yitzchak, smiled and said, "You are correct. I was saving the dress for Yom Tov. What greater Yom Tov is there, however, than when my son completes a Mesechta, tractate in the Talmud? There is nothing more special to me than my son's Torah learning. If you are making a siyum, completing a Mesechta, then I want to celebrate with you."

Yitzchak never forgot this incident. He knew how proud his mother was of his achievements, and he was now acutely aware of the value she placed upon them. As he continued to complete one Mesechta after another, his mother's message reverberated within him. As Yitzchak grew into the venerable Horav Yitzchak Hutner, zl, Rosh Yeshivah of Mesivta Rabbeinu Chaim Berlin, he imparted this lesson to his thousands of students.

Having said that, let us ask ourselves: Do we demonstrate to our children the proper esteem in which we hold their Torah studies? What message do we send them? Do we attend their siyumim? Do we encourage their learning? Do we appreciate their rebbeim? Are we setting the proper example?

They shall make an Aron/Ark of shittim wood, two and a half cubits its length, a cubit and a half its width, and a cubit and a half its height… You shall make a Table of shittim wood, two cubits its length, a cubit its width, and a cubit and a half its height. (25:10, 23)

The Torah devotes an entire parshah to the construction of the Mishkan and its utensils. As the repository for the Shechinah, every aspect of the Mishkan contains profound esoteric meaning, much of which is beyond the limitations of our human comprehension. Nonetheless, the commentators derive important lessons from various aspects of the design, measurements and materials used for the Mishkan. In Rabbi Sholom Smith's latest anthology of Horav Avraham Pam's ethical discourses, he cites a powerful thought that the Rosh Yeshivah heard from his father, Rav Meir Pam, who quoted from the Chafetz Chaim. It is a lesson that whoever studies Torah should acknowledge and constantly reiterate.

The measurements of the Aron which contained the Luchos were all presented in half-cubits. This contrasts the Shulchan which contained the twelve Lechem HaPanim, Shewbread, whose dimensions were not presented in fractions. The Aron symbolized Torah study, while the Shulchan was more representative of the physical dimension, serving as the source through which financial prosperity flowed to Klal Yisrael.

The Chafetz Chaim, zl, explained that the Aron represents Torah, and, as such, teaches us that regardless of an individual's diligence or acumen, no human being can claim that he has achieved sheleimus, perfection, in his knowledge and understanding of the Divine Torah. The Torah is Hashem's wisdom - a wisdom that is infinitely greater than anything man can conjure. We can attain more and delve deeper and understand better, but we will never attain perfection. We are human, and the material we are studying is Divinely inspired. Regardless of how often we study the same passage of Talmud, we will always derive new and deeper insights into the topic. One studies the same parshah numerous times in his life and never fails to discover new ideas and messages. Indeed, the more one learns the greater is his perception of how little he really knows, because now he has an inkling of the vastness of Torah.

Rav Pam suggests that this might be the reason that each tractate of Talmud begins on daf beis, page two, rather than on page one. This tells us that no matter how much we have learned, we have not yet begun. There is no beginning to Torah and certainly no end.

The opposite perspective applies with regard to our financial and material requirements. The Shulchan's measurements were presented in full amos, except for its height which was presented in fractions. Rav Pam explains that the length and width of the Shulchan were presented in full amos because in matters of parnassah, livelihood, a Jew should believe that whatever he has is exactly what he needs. Hashem has determined that his present financial state satisfies what he needs. This is why we bless Hashem every day, She'asah li kol tzarki, "Who has provided me with all my needs." While we all recite this blessing every day, how many of us stop to consider its meaning?

It is related that a man once noticed an indigent Jew reciting this blessing with unusual fervor and joy. The spectator was stunned. What about this person's life could have motivated him to recite the blessing with such intensity? Seeing the onlooker's questing glance, the poor man turned to him and said, "Apparently, Hashem has decided that my need in life is to be poor. Clearly, Hashem has given me a full measure of my needs. Therefore, I bless Him."

The Chafetz Chaim once walked by two people who were discussing their financial situations. "How is parnassah going for you?" one of them asked. The other man gave a sigh and said, "It would not hurt if parnassah would be a little better." The Chafetz Chaim turned to the man and asked, "How do you know that it would not hurt?"

Hashem Yisborach is tov u'meitiv, good and benevolent. He wants to do good and, thus, all of His actions are inherently good. Regrettably, we do not always understand this, because we do not see it. Nonetheless, our myopic vision does not change the fact that whatever Hashem does is good. Therefore, at times, when what we want does not coincide with what Hashem knows is good for us, we will not receive what we want and this will often provoke us to complain or feel bitter. The next step is a laxity in mitzvah observance, coupled with a negative attitude against anything related to religious observance.

We must realize that the degree of wealth that we enjoy - regardless of its size - is custom-tailored for us, in accordance with our total needs. This is symbolized by the presentation of the Shulchan's measurements in complete amos. Whatever we have is complete.

The Shulchan's height is stated in half amos - one and a half amah. Rav Pam derives from here that one's table has potential for elevation. Two people can eat the same meal, but one of them has a "higher" table, because his meal has been sanctified, thus elevating his table. One person eats to fulfill his physical desires. The other eats in order to have the strength to serve Hashem properly. One eats to live; the other lives to eat. One has elevated his table to the status of a mizbayach, altar; the other has designated his to become like a trough. One has transformed the food he eats into a korban, sacrifice; the other has destroyed its potential and left it as nothing more than feed. One performs a Divine service when he eats, the other performs a self-service.

The Table's fractioned height teaches us that one can always elevate his materialistic needs into a venue for spiritual growth. Thus, one should never consider himself complete. He always has room for growth.

And they shall make an Ark of shittim wood. (25:10)

The Midrash questions the change in form from the singular to the plural concerning the making of the Aron. Regarding all other vessels, the command is expressed in the singular: "And you shall make," while concerning the Aron, the Torah writes, "And they shall make." They explain that when it involves the Aron, the symbol of Torah learning, it is important that all Jews have a part in its construction, so that they will all have a share in the Torah. The Ramban expounds on the Midrash saying that quite possibly the Torah is alluding to us that all of Klal Yisrael should in some way take part in making the Aron, so that they will all merit a share in the Torah. He concludes by stating three ways that the people could involve themselves in the Aron: by contributing gold towards the Aron; by assisting Betzalel in making the Aron; or by having kavanah, intention, for the construction of the Aron.

Horav Henoch Leibowitz, Shlita, derives an important lesson in avodas Hashem, serving Hashem, from the third form of endeavor. Apparently, having intention to participate in an endeavor means something. After all, the individual who is only "intending" is one who has no money and is unable to help. He cannot physically carry out his wishes, but he "wishes" nonetheless. He wants to help, although he does not intend to actually help because he is unable, either due to of a lack of resources or a lack of talent. Nonetheless, he considers how much he would want to help, were he able to do so. The Rosh Yeshivah cites the Talmud Kiddushin 40A that teaches us that Hashem in His Infinite kindness values our positive intentions as actual deeds. This means that if one intends to perform a mitzvah, but has been prevented from seeing his intention achieve fruition due to an accident, Hashem credits him to some degree as if he actually did the mitzvah. Chazal are addressing one who has been prevented from carrying out his intention due to matters beyond his control. This implies that he was originally prepared, able and willing to do the mitzvah. In such a situation he receives credit for his intention. The Ramban seems to go beyond this stipulation. According to his commentary, one can even have a share in mitzvos that are beyond his grasp, in circumstances in which there is no real possibility of performing them. Simply by sincerely wishing to do the mitzvah, one earns credit.

We learn a powerful lesson from the Ramban. How often do we throw up our hands in despair, giving up before we even begin, simply because we do not have the wherewithal, the talents, the capabilities to succeed? After all, it is not for me, why bother to get involved? We see from here, that even if we do not have the money, the aptitude, the ability, we can and should feel an overwhelming desire to do so. Just simply to wish, to express and feel an eagerness to do, to share in this mitzvah if Hashem would permit me to do so. We see from here that having positive thoughts, maintaining our yearning, indicates our love and demonstrates our sincerity and care. Hashem gives us credit for wanting to do - even if we do not carry out our wish.

It is all in the attitude. Hashem wants us to manifest an eagerness, an unquenchable thirst, an insatiable desire for Torah and mitzvos. We should not disassociate ourselves from a mitzvah just because we feel that we are not in the "parsha." It does not apply to us, either because we lack the funds or the ability. If we have a burning desire to perform a mitzvah, we will ultimately find some way to "grab" hold of it. Even if we do not actually carry out the mitzvah, our sincere yearning for it will guarantee that we earn a portion in the World to Come - just for trying.

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

Rashi notes the prefix hay preceding the word Kerashim (ha'kerashim), which causes the word to standout: the Kerashim, as if there were unique significance to these beams. Rashi explains that the Torah is addressing Kerashim which are to be made from specific trees. Yaakov Avinu saw through Divine Inspiration that his descendants would erect a Mishkan in the wilderness. They would need shittim wood for this purpose. He planted the trees as he was leaving for Egypt, and he commanded his sons to see to it that one day when they would leave Egypt, they would take the trees with them: "This way when Hashem commands you to 'make for Me a Sanctuary;' you will have the wood prepared." This statement begs elucidation. Were the beams the only component of the Mishkan that would be lacking in the wilderness? What about the Shoham stones? They certainly were not available in the wilderness. Why was Yaakov not concerned about them?

Apparently, in his Heavenly vision, Hashem only showed him the shittim wood. Nothing was mentioned about the precious stones. The reason for this is that Hashem miraculously provided them with the stones through the medium of the clouds. The question still remains: Why was it necessary to notify Yaakov concerning the wood and not concerning the stones? The same miracle that brought the stones could have also delivered the shittim wood.

Horav Sholom Schwadron, zl, explains that the shittim wood which was used to create the beams/walls of the Mishkan served a unique purpose, unlike that of the stones. When we define a house, we refer to its walls, which are the primary agent for separating the interior and its contents from the external elements. Likewise, the Mishkan as a holy edifice is a reference to the walls or Kerashim. They set the parameters of sanctity, dichotomizing the holy from the unsacred, the consecrated from the profane. Encapsulated within these walls are the Mishkan's holy vessels: the Aron, Ark; Shulchan. Table; Menorah, Candelabra; Mizbayach, Altar, etc. They are all part of the Mishkan which is separated from the outside world by the Krashim.

The purpose of the Mishkan is to infuse Klal Yisrael with kedushah, holiness. It is the power source from which the energy that illuminates the hearts and minds of all Jews emanates. In order for this source to inspire the people it must have an intrinsic bond with the people. This bond is created through the people's involvement in its creation. In other words, for the Mishkan to have a long-term effect on the Jewish People, it is necessary that the people play a primary role in its inception and formulation. A Mishkan that comes to us via miraculous intervention will not have an enduring influence. It will not be able to implant within us the kedushah necessary to withstand the test of time and the vicissitudes of life. When it is the product of man's blood, sweat and tears of bitter sacrifice, it is able to imbue holiness into the hearts of the people for generations to come.

Va'ani Tefillah

Bo'u she'arav b'Todah, chatzeirosav b'Tehillah.
Enter His gates with Thanksgiving, His courtyards with praise.

The Chayei Adam explains todah, thanksgiving, as referring to the korban one offers in gratitude for Hashem's favor. Tehillah, praise, refers to prayer. One enters the "gates" to bring his sacrifice and comes to the "courtyards," the shuls, where he recites the Birkas HaGomeil, Blessing of Thanksgiving.

Horav S.R. Hirsch, zl, comments concerning the redundancy of she'arav, gates, and chatzeirosav, courtyards. He explains that the gates allow one to enter into the azarah, Sanctuary, while the chatzeiros refer to the actual Sanctuary. Todah, thanksgiving, gratitude, is an expression of one's appreciation. One acknowledges and affirms the awareness of our debt of gratitude to the Almighty for His personal care and benevolence to us. Tehillah, praise, is a contemplation of G-d in general terms and of His significance as such. A person is awe-inspired by Hashem's greatness. Todah is personal; tehillah is general. David HaMelech is teaching us that prior to lauding Hashem for His distinction as G-d of the world, we must first assimilate our personal gratitude to Hashem for everything that He does for us - individually. Before we can express ourselves as members of the world community, we must first get our own house in order.

L'zechar nishmas ha'isha ha'chasuva
Glicka bas R' Avraham Alter a"h
niftara b'shem tov 8 Adar II 5760

In loving memory of
by her family

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