Back to This Week's Parsha

Peninim on the Torah

subscribe.gif (2332 bytes)

Previous issues

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 notes that the word terumah, portion/donation, is mentioned three times. This teaches that there were three terumos: one was the Machatzis HaShekel, half-shekel, which was used for the Adanim, sockets, in which were placed the Kerashim, poles, which acted as the walls of the Mishkan; another half-shekel which was placed in the communal chest and designated for communal offerings; third was for the building of the Mishkan. Here, each person gave according to his heart's content.

The Bostoner Rebbe, zl, expands on these two approaches to communal involvement. The Jewish People form a community, all dedicated toward a common goal. Basically, people contribute in two ways. One way is to contribute as individuals - each person giving in accordance with his personal talents, qualities, attributes. Some offer "gold"; others bring "silver," while others offer blue dyed wool. Although each one brings something disparate - together, they all meld to construct a Mishkan in which the Shechinah, Divine Presence, will dwell.

The second way goes beyond the individual attributes of talent or character traits. On a deeper level, all Jewish souls are equal, emerging from the same spiritual source. This equality is personified by the Machatzis HaShekel offering in which each individual Jew-- all 600,000-plus members of Bnei Yisrael -- contribute an equal amount. In this instance, the Jew is offering himself. When a Jew offers not only the contents of his heart - but the heart itself - all Jews become indistinguishable sparks of the same Divine Flame.

A number of such mitzvos abound which focus on and underscore the significance of each and every Jew - regardless of his personal proclivity, talent, characteristics, nature, position, or demeanor. On Succos we bring together the Arba Minim, Four Species: Lulav, Esrog, Hadassim, Aravos. One contributes fragrance, while one gives taste; another offers nothing, and the last brings both taste and fragrance to the table. Together, they represent four general types of Jews. There are those who are learned, those who focus on carrying out acts of loving kindness; those who do neither - neither learning/nor acting nicely; and there are those who represent perfection: learning and maasim tovim, performing good deeds. Yet, the mitzvah of Arba Minim cannot be performed unless each one of the Four Species, representing all types of Jews, is included. Likewise, the eleven spices which comprised the Ketores: Incense requires the inclusion of the chelbenah, whose fragrance is far from pleasant. It symbolizes the Jew whose deeds do not represent the finest that Klal Yisrael has to offer. The community's incense may not be offered without the inclusion of the chelbenah/Jew, whose activities do not represent the finest moments of Judaism. When all is said and done, however, he is a Jew. He is one of us - and this is what it is all about - one of us.

Thus, we find that ten Yidden- even if some are distant, alienated, turned off, assimilated, self-loathing - form a minyan, which is (ten men) the minimum community required in order to sanctify Hashem's Name through the recitation of Kaddish or Kedushah. This teaches us a powerful lesson: Everyone has his place, his contribution, his role; and the community can form a resting place for the Divine Presence only when all work together as one. The Rebbe notes that this goal is so important that Hashem is willing to facilitate this aggregate of Jews through the vehicle of the Machatzis HaShekel contribution.

The idea of total giving of oneself, self-abnegation-- to the point that whatever I am I relinquish in the service of Hashem -- is perhaps the underlying motif of a story the Bostoner Rebbe was wont to relate. Concerning the pasuk, "From every man whose heart motivates him," we derive that one type of giving is based upon the heart's impulse. Beyond the heart's impulse is indeed a higher, more carefully weighed and considered level of giving - whereby one gives not only what the heart motivates him to give, but he even gives up the heart itself. He throws all of himself into the service of G-d.

The Kotzker Rebbe, zl, was a uniquely holy person. His personality was bound up entirely in Hashem. He was like a burning flame: intense; passionate; sharp; demanding. He had neither patience nor tolerance for the utterly insignificant things people did with their lives. He could not understand how a person could waste a moment of time in which he could be serving Hashem. As a result of his utterly demanding nature, some of his closest disciples left him, feeling that his opposition to the mediocrity of ordinary life was too strong and beyond the point to which an ordinary person would find it possible to relate. Many of them charted their own Chassidus, becoming the progenitors of some of Poland and Galicia's largest and most dynamic chassidic courts. Ultimately, toward the end of his life, the Kotzker lived in solitude, closing himself off almost entirely from the "little men, the flatterers," whom he was unable to tolerate. During his years of seclusion, he would often refer to himself as Der Heilige Tzap, "The Holy Goat."

The Kotzker Rebbe would relate the following parable to explain the meaning of his statement. There was a man who would dole out strong snuff during davening in order to arouse the worshippers. More than one worshipper was indebted to this man for his "service," enhancing his prayer service by playing the vital role of keeping him awake. People in Europe worked long and hard hours, the warm shul often being the one place where they could rest their weary bones. Dozing during davening was for some not uncommon. The man kept his snuff in a beautiful, ornate silver snuff box. One day the box disappeared, leaving the man distraught and broken. True, it was only a snuff box, but, to him, it was his snuff box, with which he provided a meaningful service. As he was walking around grief-stricken, he met the "Holy Goat" outside the shul.

The Holy Goat possessed a great, holy and caring heart. Since he saw a Jew walk around dejected, he was prompted to ask him what was wrong. After hearing the man's tale of woe, the Holy Goat said, "Take out your penknife, slice off a piece from the tip of my long horns, and fashion a new snuffbox for yourself. The man proceeded to do this, and joy returned to his life.

The man's new tabak pushkah, snuffbox, made of the Holy Goat's horn became the talk of the town. Indeed, everyone wanted one for themselves. Whenever someone asked him how and from whom he had obtained such a unique snuffbox, he referred them to the Holy Goat - who obliged and also allowed them to cut off a small piece of horn. The end result was that everyone in town now possessed a snuffbox fashioned from the Holy Goat's horns, so that the Holy Goat soon had no horns left! The Heilige Tzap had given away his horns.

The Kotzker was referring to himself. He had used his powers to mentor and raise group after group of disciples who spiritually matured and went on to become Admorim in their own rights. Now, like the goat, he felt that he had nothing left to give. (Obviously, this is an analogy.) The Kotzker was an individual who was beyond holy. His mentoring abilities and personal sanctity never waned. This was clearly a figure of speech intimating that he was now ready to "retire" and work "on himself."

It was at this point that the Bostoner would conclude with his own brilliant inspirational insight. Sometimes people give everything they have to their children, their friends, their community, to the point that they now feel spent, left out and hurt - very much like the Kotzker's fabled Holy Goat. If they would stop for a moment and reflect, they would realize that perhaps this is specifically what made him Holy.

They shall make an 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 cover it with pure gold, from within and from without shall you cover it. (25:10, 11)

The construction of the Mishkan -- its various components and accompanying vessels -- is replete with symbolism. The materials used for the Mishkan, its very measurements, and the manner of constructing its components are a source for much exposition by the various commentators. While we are not on the level of comprehending the mystical aspects and secrets involved in this holy edifice, there is great practical application to be derived from what we are able to understand.

The Chafetz Chaim explains the half-measurements of the Aron as alluding to the reality that no human being can claim to have achieved sheleimus, perfection, with regard to his knowledge and understanding of Hashem's Divine wisdom. The Aron housed the Torah, thus granting it symbolic status in connection with the Torah. The mere fact that the Aron, because it housed the Torah, was thus considered the central feature of the Mishkan, speaks volumes concerning the significance of the Torah in Jewish life. A Jew must strive to gain deeper, more encompassing knowledge of the Torah; regardless of how many times one has reviewed the same passage in any area of Torah erudition, each time he perceives a new approach, gleaning new insight. We are unable to measure the profundity of the Torah. Indeed, every time we study Torah, we realize how much more there is to know, how distant we are from really understanding the full depth of the Torah.

Horav Avraham Pam, zl, quoted by Rabbi Sholom Smith in "Shabbos with Rav Pam," suggests that this is the reason that each tractate of Talmud Bavli begins on Daf Bais, Page Two, rather than Daf Aleph, page one. This illustrates that there is no beginning to the Torah and certainly no end. We make siyumim, celebrating the completion of a tractate, Seder Mishnayos, parsha of Chumash. While it is certainly an achievement, in the scheme of Torah knowledge it is like a drop of water in a vast ocean. However, Kol prutah u'prutah mitztarefes l'cheshbon gadol, "Every penny combines (with one another) to account for a large total." We continue learning, and, with time, we will achieve an incredible grasp of Torah.

The Aron consisted of three boxes placed one in another, with the middle box being constructed of shittim wood. The outer and inner boxes were made of gold. This teaches that the character of a talmid chacham, Torah scholar, should be tocho k'baro, his external character should coincide with his internal character. In other words, he must be real; what you see is who he is - through and through. Middos, character traits, are the true measure of a man. His essence is his character. One who learns Torah must demonstrate this through his middos tovos, positive character traits. Otherwise, his Torah learning is deficient.

The Alter, zl, m'Kelm, Horav Simchah Zissel Ziv Broide, was one of the primary disciples of Horav Yisrael Salanter, zl, founder of the mussar, ethical character refinement, movement. As such, he devoted his life to training his own students to perfect themselves in the area of middos. Torah erudition without character development was flawed. Many stories abound concerning his personal refinement. The Alter was once traveling to small towns and villages on a fundraising trip on behalf of his yeshivah in Kelm. His travels brought him in contact with an eclectic representation of the Jewish community -- from men of great wealth and education to those who hailed form simple, rural backgrounds, with little or no education. They all had one thing in common: their respect for a Torah luminary. The greatness of the Alter was no secret, and any intelligent person could see on his face and from his demeanor that he was an unusual person. Wherever the Altar went, he was welcomed with great esteem.

During one of his trips, he stopped overnight on a farm. The farmer and his wife had heard of the sage and were eager to provide him with accommodations. Taking money for the provisions and lodging was out of the question. They were honored to host the Rosh Yeshivah. The farmer's wife was excited to be able to prepare a meal for Rav Simchah Zissel.

As she was preparing the meal, Rav Simchah Zissel struck up a conversation. He asked about their cow: does it provide sufficient milk? Do the chickens lay enough eggs? Was the quality of the eggs good? How was their potato crop? The farmer's wife was not bashful, and she gave lengthy answers to each question, going into detail, describing the health of the cow and chickens, and describing the work involved in planting a potato crop. During this whole time, Rav Simchah Zissel carried on a long, healthy, animated conversation with this simple woman.

Rav Simchah Zissel later explained his actions. This couple was very kind to give him a room and meals for a day. The next day, he would be gone and would probably not see these people for at least a year or two. They had refused to take any remuneration for the accommodations which they provided. How could he possibly pay them back? The only other way was to show them that they were relevant, that he cared about their lives. By showing them a friendly countenance, by taking an interest in the simple goals of their lives, by rejoicing over their achievement, and by lauding their accomplishments, he was providing payment for their time and efforts. Rav Simchah Zissel placed great value on his time. Nonetheless, small talk with the farmer's wife was his way of making payment for his accommodations. This is the meaning of refined ethical character traits.

The Keruvim shall be with wings spread upward… with their faces toward one another; toward the Cover shall be the faces of the Keruvim. (25:20)

In his commentary to the Torah, the Abarbanel writes that the phrase, "The Keruvim shall be with wings and spread upward," alludes to the idea that all Jews should be focused on Heaven. A person's mind determines his goals and objectives. His thoughts should be motivated; his values should concentrate on spiritual growth. If one is stimulated towards nurturing his spiritual dimension, he can be certain that everything else in life that matters-- ethics, morals -- will develop on a positive note. When one's values are distorted, the distortion takes its toll on everything else in his life, leaving him dissatisfied, depressed, floundering aimlessly in the wind, with nothing with which to anchor himself.

This is with regard to bein adam la'Makom, his relationship between man and G-d. Concerning his relationship with his fellow man, bein adam l'chaveiro, Abarbanel writes it should be "with their faces toward one another." One's concern should be about his fellow: "How can I help? What can I do? Is something bothering you?" When we gaze into the eyes/face of our friend, we notice a change. We perceive when things are not going as they should, when the smile is not there, indicating a change in his life.

Whether it concerns one's relationship with G-d or his connection with his fellow man, it should always be, "towards the Cover shall be the faces of the Keruvim." His guidance with regard to all aspects of life - both spiritual and physical/mundane - must be derived from the "Cover," which alludes to the Torah kept in the Aron. With the Torah as our guide, we know that we are traveling on the straight and proven course charted for us by the One Who navigates our lives: Hashem.

Greatness is determined by one's sensitivity to, and empathy for, his fellow Jew. One who thinks only of himself and his immediate family is neither great nor deserving of the crown of leadership. The Gerrer Rebbe, the Lev Simchah, related that he was present when the Ostrovtzer Rebbe, zl, met with Horav Chaim Ozer Grodzenski, zl. These were two of Europe's preeminent Torah leaders. The Lev Simchah was himself a brilliant Torah scholar, who in Eretz Yisrael was Rebbe to thousands of Chassidim, as well as one of the Holy Land's primary builders of Torah.

The Ostrovtzer asked Rav Chaim Ozer the following question: The Talmud Makkos 22b laments at the crudeness of people who stand up for a Sefer Torah, while failing to arise for a gavra rabba, great man - meaning a talmid chacham, Torah scholar, who is the living embodiment of a Sefer Torah. Essentially, he is a living Sefer Torah. One should surely pay him the proper respect by standing up when he goes by. The Talmud goes on to explain why a Torah scholar is referred to as a gavra rabba. The Torah writes that the punishment of malkos, lashes, should consist of forty lashes - arbaim yakenu. Yet, our sages have determined that the offender receives only thirty-nine. This is an indication of the power of the sages, who were able to reduce the Torah's original number by one lash.

The Ostrovtzer asked, "Why did the Talmud support its definition of gavra rabba from a pasuk in Sefer Devarim, when, in fact, there is an earlier instance which indicates the power of the sages. The Torah writes (Sefer Vayikra) that Sefiras HaOmer should be counted for fifty days, tisperu chamishim yom. Yet, the sages interpreted that we count only forty-nine days. Why wait for a proof from Sefer Devarim, if there is one readily available in Sefer Vayikra?"

The Ostrovtzer explained that Chazal, our sages, believed that a true gavra rabba is one who can lighten the physical punishment of a Jew by diminishing the lashes by one lash. A gavra rabba is one who eases the load of a fellow Jew.

Rabbi Binyamin Pruzansky ("Stories That Unite Our Hearts") tells the story of a man who was sitting on the floor on Tishah B'Av, reciting Kinnos, Lamentations. He was very moved by the words, and he expressed his emotion with copious tears. Next to him on the floor sat a blind man. The blind man turned to his neighbor and asked, "Could you please walk me home?" The man who was saying kinnos halted his "emotion" and answered with a sharp, "Now? Of course not! Do you not 'see' that I am in the midst of weeping over the destruction of the Bais Hamikdash?"

The Chernobler Rebbe, zl, was sitting on the floor nearby and had witnessed the interchange. He rose up and approached the man who was so wrapped up in himself and his tears, telling him, "You are exempt from crying over the destruction of the Bais Hamikdash!"

"I am?" the man asked, "Why?" "Because it would be better that you cry over your own churban, destruction. I think that your heart is in ruins, and it would be more worthwhile for you to cry over that."

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

The Midrash (Shemos Rabba 35:2) derives an important lesson from the Torah's requirement that wood used for the Mishkan be shittim, acacia wood. The acacia tree is a non-fruit bearing tree. Hashem said, "If a person wants to use wood to build for himself a house, he should take into account that the King of Kings, to whom everything belongs, chose non-fruit bearing trees as a source of wood for the Mishkan; likewise, man should do the same." Just because we want to build a house for ourselves, it does not mean that we have the right to destroy a tree that supplies nourishment.

Hashem is teaching us a way of life. Whatever we do should not impinge on someone else. This applies to everything. The end does not justify the means. Therefore, we should not build a shul, school, mikveh - anything used for a holy endeavor - on the cheshbon, at the expense, of others. Indeed, it is especially at such a juncture, when one embarks on a davar she'b'kedushah, holy endeavor, that he might become swept away with a righteous frenzy which obliterates all sense of right and wrong, all sensitivity towards others, even all parameters of human decency.

Horav Chaim Zaitchik, zl, portrays a frightening analogy which, when we think about it, is quite realistic and, sadly, all too possible. Imagine that our generation has been selected to build the Mishkan/Bais Hamikdash. Can we begin to envision the excitement, the overwhelming frenzy that will grip everyone as each has a part to play, a role in creating this edifice? We will forget about everything else, as nothing will matter, nothing will stand in the way of our participating in this event. Nothing: the sick people whom we are used to visiting; the poor people who rely on our Shabbos packages, or weekly/monthly alms; the senior citizens whom we help on a regular basis. We simply do not have the time, energy, desire, because we are all wrapped up with the latest rage to capture our attention.

The Mashgiach goes one step further. It has just been announced that Moshiach Tzidkeinu has arrived! We begin to run, pushing and shoving anyone whose misfortune it is to be in our way. The very young and old, frail and slow, become statistics as we surge forward to be part of this epic experience. Those who pass out or become injured are quickly moved to the side as each one of the hardy ones vie for their place in history.

We may never forget the "little guy," the one whom we push to the side and ignore because we are into bigger and better things. Great people do not neglect those who at the moment do not play a significant role in the scheme of things. No one and nothing is viewed as insignificant by truly great people. Horav Aharon Kotler, zl, spearheaded Vaad Hatzalah, the Relief and Rescue of Holocaust survivors. He worked with incredible mesiras nefesh, self-sacrifice, to save Jewish lives. Vaad Hatzalah was a priority, because Jewish lives were at stake. One night, in ill health and flushed with fever, the Rosh Yeshivah traveled to Washington, D.C. and walked in rain and snow from government office to government office to plead for Jewish lives. Yet, as busy as Rav Aharon was with building a yeshivah, working day and night for Klal Yisrael, he never forgot about the prat, individual. He would drop everything to help the individual in need - and he would do it with the very same enthusiasm that he manifested when he was working on behalf of the Klal, general community. He was of the opinion that ein b'klal el amah she'b'prat, "The whole only consists of its individual parts." The value of Klal Yisrael as a whole is equivalent to the value of its individual members. He never lost sight of the individual; his sensitivity to each and every individual Jew never diminished as a result of his klal work.

One particular incident that impacted this writer occurred with Horav Shlomo Freifeld, zl. While the actual story may not be earth-shattering, it demonstrates the thinking and sensitivity of a great man to something which most - better yet, probably all - would have ignored. It was at the conclusion of the chupah of a close student; the glass had just been broken. The student turned to his revered Rebbe to give him a kiss. This was the apex of his simchah, moment of joy. It was the moment - and he wanted to share it with the one person most responsible for altering the course of his life. Rav Shlomo smiled broadly and said, "Go kiss your mother first." He was a Rosh Yeshivah who put his student's education first. He was educating his student. A mother comes first.

You shall make the Altar of shittim wood… and three cubits its height. (27:1)

The Baalei Tosfos teach that the three amos/cubits height of the Mizbayach, Altar, coincided with the three redeemers who acted on behalf of Klal Yisrael: Moshe Rabbeinu; Aharon HaKohen; Miriam HaNeviah. We wonder why Miriam is included. There is no mention anywhere of her role as redeemer. Why is she included? What did she do to facilitate the redemption that warrants her inclusion in this triumvirate? Horav Chaim Zaitchik, zl, explains that it was exactly this act of facilitating that grants her mention as one of the three redeemers.

The Talmud Sotah 12a states that Miriam's father, Amram, was one of the leaders of his generation. When he heard Pharaoh's decree to throw all Jewish male children into the Nile River, he decided to divorce his wife, rather than bring more children into a world where they would be drowned. As a result of his eminence among the people, his personal decision had communal ramifications, with the Jewish men following suit and also divorcing their wives.

Enter young Miriam, who asserted that her father's decree was worse than Pharaoh's. The despotic Egyptian leader's evil decree was directed only at Jewish males, while Amram's decree would put a temporary halt to procreation in general. What Miriam said made sense, and Amram remarried Yocheved, and, at the age of one hundred and thirty, she conceived Moshe. Everyone else followed suit, and the Jewish people began to once again multiply. We see here how Miriam was the indirect cause of Moshe's birth, which, of course, led to his becoming the one who led the Jewish People out of Egypt.

Furthermore, when the infant Moshe was placed in a reed basket in the river, it was Miriam who stood watch over him. When Bisyah, daughter of Pharaoh, discovered the infant, conjecturing that it was a Jewish child, she sought a Jewish wet nurse to nourish the child. It was, once again, Miriam who came to the rescue, by suggesting that Yocheved nurse the child.

Miriam's role was behind the scenes. In her covert role as enabler, she played a pivotal role in Klal Yisrael's redemption.

I think we may add to this exegesis. Interestingly, it is the Mizbayach, the Altar, representing sacrifice, whose height corresponds with the number of redeemers/leaders of the Jewish People. Perhaps this alludes to the idea that a leader must be willing to sacrifice for his flock. He must be willing to sacrifice his time, energy, even his spirituality. When Jewish lives are in danger, the leader may not ignore their plight, claiming that he must learn, prepare his shiur, address personal issues. A leader's "personal" issues are his people. They become part of him when he assumes leadership.

Furthermore, we see from here that the individuals who work in the background, behind closed doors, who rarely receive public accolades, and who sacrifice as much as those who do - are just as worthy of the mantle of leadership.

Va'ani Tefillah

Elokeinu - Our G-d. Horav Avigdor Miller, zl, explains that the possessive "our" has two aspects to it: from our perspective; and from Hashem's vantage point. From our side: We are devoted to Him alone. With all our heart we believe that He is the One of the Universe; there is nothing else but Him, and we have no love or desire to know any entity, anything other than Him.

From Hashem's side: He loves us alone, and we alone are His people. We are His purpose in the Creation of the Universe.

These two aspects - us/Him - are symbolized by the Tefillin which we wear and by the figurative Tefillin which Hashem "wears." In our Tefillin is stated: Shema Yisrael Hashem Elokeinu Hashem Echad, "Hear O' Yisrael; Hashem is our G-d; Hashem is One." In Hashem's Tefillin is stated: Mi k'amacha Yisrael goi echad ba'aretz, "Who is like Your People Yisrael, one nation in the world?"

It is important to emphasize the meaning of Elokeinu, since it is a term which is used constantly throughout the day, whenever we recite a brachah, blessing. He is our G-d; we are His People. This dual relationship is what is implied by Elokeinu. Suddenly, our blessings have taken on a new, deeper meaning.

l'zechar nishmas

R' Moshe Yehuda Leib
R' Asher Alter Chaim z"l

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

The Fifteenth volume is available at your local book seller or directly from Rabbi Scheinbaum.

He can be contacted at 216-321-5838 ext. 165 or by fax at 216-321-0588

Discounts are available for bulk orders or Chinuch/Kiruv organizations.


This article is provided as part of Shema Yisrael Torah Network
Permission is granted to redistribute electronically or on paper,
provided that this notice is included intact.
For information on subscriptions, archives, and
other Shema Yisrael Classes,
send mail to
Jerusalem, Israel