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Peninim on the Torah

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Rabbi A. Leib Scheinbaum
Hebrew Academy of Cleveland


They shall make a Sanctuary for Me - so that I may dwell among them. (25:8)

The kedushah, sanctity, of the Mikdash, Sanctuary, is commensurate with the amount of "li," for Me, that one puts into it. When we refer to kedushah, invariably we tend to think of something spiritual, surreal, with no tangibility. Consequently, it cannot have any effect on us. This is where we are wrong. That something is intangible does not preclude its ability to suffuse us with its properties and values. Let me take the liberty to illustrate this idea.

The Midrash in Parashas Toldos relates an incident that took place during the Roman destruction of the Bais Hamikdash. The Romans knew that destroying the Jewish Temple was a prerequisite to their success in destroying the Jewish State. They, however, needed a guide, since they did not know their way around. They had a Jew by the name of Yosef Meshisa, a traitor to his G-d and to his People, show them around the Bais Hamikdash. This is a sad commentary on our history, in which often it has been the assimilated secular Jew, who - due to his insecurity concerning his own disavowal of Judaism -- is provoked to act in such a traitorous manner. The Romans told him that as payment for his "noble" work, he could take for himself anything that he wanted from the spoils of the Bais Hamikdash.

Yosef Meshisa did something indescribable: he took the golden Menorah for himself. This demonstrates the nadir of depravity to which this Jew had sunk. The Romans, however, had more decency than he did. They refused to give it to him, claiming that it was inappropriate for a commoner to have such a holy object in his house. "Go back and take something else - anything - just not the Menorah," they said.

One would think that he would have run right back and grabbed something else. He did not. He replied, "I cannot return; I cannot go back in." They became upset. All of a sudden, he was becoming frum, observant. After all, let us be realistic: this was the epitome of evil. They promised him that the income from the next three years' tax collection would be his, as long as he went back in. He persisted. "I cannot go back in. Is it not enough that I angered my G-d 'once' and defiled His Temple; I should have to do it once again? No! I will not return."

The Romans became quite incensed. He had no right to become frum. He was an apostate. They tortured him, and he continued to refuse to go back. Finally, his heart gave out, and he died. During the entire time that he was being tortured, he kept on crying out, "Woe unto me, for I have angered my Creator!"

"What happened here?" asks the Ponevezher Rav, zl. What made Yosef Meshisa do teshuvah? Why did he suddenly make an about-face and repent? He was clearly a scoundrel, who manifest no sensitivity towards Jewish values. Suddenly, he repented and died a martyr's death. What transpired that would create such a metamorphosis from a rasha merusha, evil incarnate, to a tzaddik, righteous person?

The Ponevezher Rav answered that the mere fact that Yosef Meshisa entered the Holy Sanctuary, his exposure to kedushas Bais Hamikdash transformed him. He confronted holiness. He entered the Bais Hamikdash for the worst of reasons and with the worst of intentions; yet, he exited a changed person. The rasha that entered did not exit -- someone else did. One cannot be in the Bais Hamikdash without becoming inspired. There is something real about kedushah u'taharah, holiness and purity. Exposure to the Shechinah can and does change a person's life.

Yes, kedushah is real - its power is dependent on how much of Hashem we allow in, how much "li" there is. Horav Yissachar Frand, Shlita, adds that this power is not restricted to the Bais Hamikdash. Even today, something comparable exists, perhaps on a smaller scale, which can instantaneously affect one's spirituality. He cites the following true story: Franz Rosenzweig, who died in 1929, records this story about himself in his book, The Star of Redemption. He was a totally secular German Jew, a prolific author, thinker, a great philosopher. He was so far-removed from his People that he was preparing to convert to Christianity as part of his engagement to a non-Jewish woman. As a captain in the German Cavalry during World War I, he was stationed in a Polish town on what happened to be Yom Kippur night. He figured since he was Jewish and it was Yom Kippur, he might as well enter the Polish shtiebel, small synagogue, as an observer, to see what it was like.

He entered the shul out of curiosity; he walked out of that shul as a baal teshuvah, a repentant returnee, to Judaism. Consequently, he broke his engagement and became an observant Jew, committed to the religion of his ancestors, the religion that he had totally rejected until that fateful Yom Kippur night. Rav Frand points out that this was not America in 1990, where it was a common phenomenon for acculturated and assimilated Jews to return to their faith. This was Germany in 1915, where it was almost unheard of for a secular Jew to embrace the faith that he had heretofore shunned.

What occurred in that shtiebel? Was it the davening, fervent prayer, the outpouring of Jewish emotion, the tears streaming down the faces of pure Jews on the holiest day of the year? No. That was not necessarily the factor that transformed Franz Rosenzweig. It was the same as the situation involving Yosef Meshisa. He was exposed to kedushah, introduced first-hand to taharah. A person who was totally secular, who was about to marry out of the faith and accept another religion, went into a shul for one purpose - to observe - not to pray, not to participate in any way - merely to be a casual observer. Yet, this exposure changed him. It must be because kedushah is real, taharah is real.

Kedushah is not only found in the Bais Hamikdash. A minyan of genuine Jews, praying with sincerity and heartfelt emotion to Hashem Yisborach imbues the walls of a building with kedushah. Kedushah is manifest in spiritual integrity. It takes "li," lishmi - for My Name - Hashem's Name.

They shall make an Ark of Shittim wood. (25:10)

The commentators note the Torah's emphasis on the "they," plural use of "v'asu" - "They shall make." This implies that the building of the Aron HaKodesh, the symbol of Torah among the Jewish People, is a collective, general command. Everybody is to be included. Horav Tzvi Hirsh Ferber, zl, explains this idea further. We find paradoxical statements made by Chazal in regard to the relationship of full time Torah study vis-?-vis earning a livelihood. On the one hand, we are instructed to study Torah "always": V'higisa bo yomam va'layla, "Rather you should contemplate in it day and night" (Yehoshua 1:8) is the standard by which Torah study is measured. Furthermore, Chazal in Pirkei Avos (2:6) state, Lo kol hamarbeh bisechorah machkim, "Anyone excessively occupied in business cannot become a scholar." Yet, elsewhere (3:21) they teach, Im ein kemach ein Torah, "If there is no flour (sustenance) there is no Torah." Apparently, the relationship between Torah and parnassah is understood. How is this apparent contradiction resolved?

Rav Ferber feels the latter is alluding to the Yissachar-Zevulun relationship whereby one studies full-time, while his partner -- who is earning a livelihood -- supports and sustains him. The merit of Torah study applies to both. This is the meaning of the brachah, blessing, Borei nefashos rabbos v'chesronan…l'ha'chayos bahem nefesh kol chai, "Who creates numerous living things with their deficiencies…with which to maintain the life of every being." Hashem created the various "groups" with their individual deficiencies: the lomdei Torah are in need of sustenance; and those who toil in the field of commerce, etc. need to avail themselves of the opportunity for Torah study. Why did Hashem do this? L'ha'chayos bahem nefesh kol chai, so that all life will be maintained. He who studies Torah relies on the baal parnassah to help him continue his studies. Similarly, he who is out there living by the "sweat of his brow" needs the support of the lomeid Torah.

Chazal teach us that when a person leaves his earthly abode, he is not accompanied with gold and silver, only his Torah study and good deeds. Why would anybody think that his money and silver accompany him to the Olam haEmes, World of Truth? Rav Ferber explains that Chazal are teaching us that the only gold and silver coins that one takes with him are that which were spent for the support and maintenance of Torah and mitzvos.

Thus, the Torah says 'v'asu' - "They shall make an Ark." "They" is a reference to the Torah which was ensconced in the Aron. It takes a partnership to acquire it. We may add that while Yissachar may need the support of Zevulun, Zevulun has a greater need for Yissachar's support.

The Torah instructs us to see to it that the Aron is covered "with pure gold, from within and from without, shall you cover it." This, says Rav Ferber, hints that the Torah scholar must be supported in an appropriate manner - within and without. There has to be sufficient funds for him and his bayis, house/family, to live as human beings. What greater degradation is there than a talmid chacham who is relegated to beg for his upkeep?

They shall make an Ark. (25:10)

The use of the plural "they" implies that Hashem's command to make an Aron is directed towards the entire nation. Notably, this is the only instance where we find the command given in the plural; the rest of the chapter is in the singular. Chazal derive from here that everyone should be involved and, therefore, deserves a share in the Aron HaKodesh, Holy Ark, they symbol of Torah. The other vessels can be made by individuals. In order to bequeath Torah to the entire nation, it is incumbent that everybody be involved in the making of the Aron.

What about the Menorah - the vessel that symbolizes the light of Torah and its ability to illuminate the minds and hearts of the nation? Horav Nissan Alpert, zl, distinguishes between the Aron, which denotes the concept of Kabolas HaTorah, receiving the Torah, and the Menorah, which alludes to nesinas HaTorah, giving of the Torah. Each member of Klal Yisrael is commanded to become a vessel for receiving the Torah. Every Jew should prepare himself so that he can receive the Torah. Not everyone, however, is fit to be a tzinor, pipeline/vehicle for transmitting Torah to others. The ability to reach out and inspire others, to study Torah, to teach and disseminate Torah to the masses, is not something that anybody or everybody can successfully achieve. Therefore, in regard to the Menorah, the Torah writes v'asisa, and you shall do, denoting the exclusiveness of he who disseminates and inspires Torah to others. Furthermore, we derive from here the importance of first preparing the vessel for receiving the Torah. In other words, we must first prepare the student by imbuing him with a desire for Torah - then we will be able to light the Menorah and illuminate his life with the Torah.

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

Rashi tells us that the shittim wood was set aside for quite awhile for this unique purpose. Yaakov Avinu planted these cedar trees in Egypt. Prior to his death, he instructed his children to take them along with them when they left the Egyptian exile. Hashem would one day command Klal Yisrael to erect a Mishkan, Tabernacle, in the desert -- specifically from shittim wood, and these would serve that purpose. These shittim trees had a history. They were originally planted by Avraham Avinu in Be'er Sheva. When Yaakov left to Egypt, he first went to Be'er Sheva to cut them down, and then took them with him to Egypt.

We wonder why Yaakov had to make such elaborate arrangements. He could simply have planted trees in Egypt upon arriving there. Why did he take Avraham's trees, cut them down, and transport them to Egypt? Horav Yaakov Kamenetsky, zl, explains that Yaakov understood that unless his descendants would have something tangible in which to believe, they would give up hope of ever leaving Egypt. All they had were promises. They needed some type of proof, something that served as a constant reminder that they would one day be able to leave this bitter exile. Yaakov brought Avraham's shittim trees in order to emphasize that they were not going down to Egypt forever. They would one day leave. The shittim trees would serve as their reminder. They were a sign that they would be redeemed.

We know now why Yaakov brought the shittim trees with him. He needed to allay his fears as he was leaving for Egypt. Why did he have to take Avraham's trees? Why could he not settle for taking his own trees? Was there something special about Avraham's trees? Rav Yaakov explains that the Mishkan was to be built from "scratch" with kedushah, holiness and taharah, purity, untainted and unblemished. Yaakov Avinu was acutely aware that Be'er Sheva was the place where Avraham Avinu called out b'shem Hashem, in the name of Hashem. It was the place which was considered by the avos, Patriarchs, as the center of kedushah. The Mishkan was to be built from one hundred percent purity. This could be found only in Be'er Sheva.

Alternatively, we suggest a profound lesson is being conveyed. If one seeks to imbue his children with the significance of remembering the past by taking the wood bequeathed them by their grandfather, Yaakov, then Yaakov has to set the standard by himself taking from his grandfather. I take my grandfather's trees, because I want you to do the same. If parents forget about their parents, how do they expect their children to remember them?

It is there that I will set My meetings with you, and I will speak with you from atop the kapores, from between the two keruvim. (25:22)

The pipeline/medium through which Hashem's words passed to Moshe Rabbeinu and through which Hashem's influence went forth to Klal Yisrael was mi'bein shnei ha'Keruvim, from between the two Keruvim. Horav Shmuel Rozovksy, zl, derives a profound lesson from this phenomenon. In the Talmud Sukkah 5b, Chazal teach us that the faces of the Keruvim were similar to the face of a child. Why is this? Because the ideal bais kibul, receptacle, for receiving Hashem's word -- the perfect place for it to be cherished and saved and to exert the greatest influence -- is a child. A child is a mekabel, accepts/receives. He is willing to listen. He does not have preconceived notions.

It is this type of attitude, childlike, open and ready to listen and accept, that should prevail in every individual who wants to hear and be inspired by the dvar Hashem, word of Hashem. Hashem's voice is certainly powerful. It is without question the most awesome and compelling sound one can hear. One must be willing to listen, however. Otherwise, the sound falls on deaf ears.


(And) Let them take for Me a portion. (25:11)

Parashas Terumah follows immediately after Parashas Mishpatim, the parsha that addresses man's moral and ethical obligations vis-?-vis his fellowman. Mekor Baruch says that this juxtaposition is by design. Only when one has seen to it that his possessions are "justly" his, may he give tzedakah. One may give away only what is halachically, legally, his.

The Chida notes the letters of the word terumah, taf, reish, vav, hay, are the same as the word hamutar, which means that which is permissible. One may give charity only from that which is permissible.


They shall make an Ark…two and a half cubits its length. (25:10)

Pardes Yosef derives from the fractioned measurements of the Aron that one can never complete learning the entire Torah, for its vastness is immeasurable. Regardless of how much one has studied, he has learned only a small portion of the Torah.


You shall make two Keruvim of gold hammered out you shall make them. (25:18)

The Keruvim, whose faces were similar to the faces of little children, were to be made from the same ingot as the kapores. They could not be made separately and later attached. Meir Enei Yesarim derives from this halachah a compelling lesson regarding the manner in which we educate our children. They should neither be schooled in an environment antithetical to Torah, nor taught material that is incompatible with Torah -- and then brought to study Torah. Both the location and content must reflect the sanctity and purity of the Torah.

By the Schulhof & Winter Families


Peninim on the Torah is in its 11th year of publication. The first seven years have been published in book form.

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