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Peninim on the Torah

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Rabbi A. Leib Scheinbaum
Hebrew Academy of Cleveland


You shall not kindle fire in any of your dwellings on the Shabbos day. (35:3)

The Shalah Hakadosh writes that the eish, fire, alludes to the fire of machlokes, dispute, and ka'as, anger. Controversy sparked by anger consumes as much as fire does. One must be cautious never to allow these flames of indignation and contention to kindle and surely not to fan them. As bad as it is during the weekday, the evil increases many-fold if the sanctity of Shabbos is disturbed by these flames. The Zohar Hakadosh says: "Meritorious is he who guards his house, the heart, on Shabbos, seeing to it that no depression or bitterness enters into this domain." It is about this fire that the Torah writes: "You shall not kindle fire in any of your dwellings on the Shabbos day." Clearly, one who becomes infuriated is considered as if he kindled the fires of Gehinnom, Purgatory.

Veritably, writes the Maaneh Rach, the fire of ka'as is more serious than physical fire. While physical flames destroy physical matter, the flames spurred by anger destroy the neshamah, soul. The Torah, Bamidbar 31:23, writes: "Everything that comes into the fire - you shall pass through the fire." This means that heat causes the pores of a metal vessel to expand, so that it absorbs the taste of foods that come into contact with it. In order to remove what has been absorbed by heat/fire, one must apply heat to the affected utensil to purge it of the absorbed taste. Horav Zalman Sorotzkin, zl, interprets this pasuk homiletically. Anything that has come in contact with fire - the fire of anger - must have that fire/anger purged only one way: the fire of Purgatory.

The sin is much worse if it occurs on Shabbos Kodesh. Horav Chaim Plagi, zl, writes in his Kaf HaChaim, "I saw with my own eyes that in any household which was plagued by controversy either prior to Shabbos or on Friday night, something bad would occur during the coming week to a member of that household."

Shabbos is yom menuchah u'kedushah, a day of rest and holiness. "Rest" applies to physical labor; one does not perform labor on Shabbos, because it detracts from the character of the day. Rest means that one does not exert his emotions, using Shabbos as a time for dispute. It is a time of peace and solitude. It is a time, as we say in Bentching, shelo tehei tzarah v'yagon v'anachah b'yom menuchoseinu, "that there be no distress, grief, or lament on this day of our contentment." This is a prayer in which we ask the Almighty not to permit our day of rest to be "disturbed." The Ponevezer Rav, zl, explained this phrase with the following twist.

The Rav was once describing with great enthusiasm how the serenity of Shabbos permeated the psyche of Lithuanian Jews. He focused specifically on the town of Vidz, relating the following incident. One Shabbos morning, a fire broke out in the town. The house of one of the finest, G-d-fearing Jews in the community was completely destroyed. Wooden homes do not stand up well against fire. The Rav of the city went that afternoon to seek out the hapless congregant in order to offer his sympathy and encouragement. He found him sitting atop one of the cinder blocks, finishing Seudah Shlishis and singing zemiros l'kavod Shabbos! It was as if nothing had happened; as if his house was not gone; as if everything that he possessed had not been destroyed. It was Shabbos Kodesh. Concerning this incident, the Ponevezer Rav said, "The concept of she'lo tehei tzarah v'yagon b'yom menuchoseinu, was so much a part of this Jew's psyche, that the she'lo tehei - 'that there not be' - was not an aspiration, or even a halachah - it was a metzius, an entity! On Shabbos Kodesh no distress, grief or lament can exist. It is Shabbos and, therefore, it cannot be!" That was the Jew of old.

As I concluded this Torah thought, I chanced upon one of Rabbi Jonathan Rosenblum's recent blogs. He tells a fascinating story which carries with it a compelling lesson. Rabbi Berel Wein was once invited to a meeting with the editor of the Detroit Free Press. This is the primary newspaper in Detroit, Michigan. The editor took the liberty of sharing a story with Rabbi Wein. His mother had come to America when she was eighteen years old. Uneducated and na?ve to the American way of life, this peasant girl was hired as a domestic maid by an observant Jewish family. In fact, the head of the household was the president of the local Orthodox shul.

The young girl, whose name was Mary, knew nothing about Jews or Judaism. I guess they were not part of Ireland's peasant culture. The family was well-to-do and left for their winter vacation in mid-December, with plans to return on the night of December 24th. Mary realized that there would be no Xmas tree there to greet them. So she took the money that the family had left her for expenses and went out to purchase a beautiful tree; she decked it out with all of the trimmings. The lights shone bright and colorful. To add to the festive surprise, she decorated the front of the house with all kinds of Xmas regalia.

The family returned on December 24th. When they saw their house, they thought that perhaps they had made the wrong turn. They pulled back out of the driveway and drove around the block - only to discover again that their house was decorated to the hilt with everything Xmas. I forgot to mention that they lived only a few doors from the shul where the man was president. What a "wonderful" surprise.

Mary was so excited to greet her employers. After all, she had really gone out of her way to make them happy. During this time, the head of the family was contemplating exactly what he was going to tell the members of his shul about his new ecumenism. The man entered the house, greeted Mary and asked her to step into his study. "Mary," he began, "no one has ever made such a beautiful gesture to us. You have really gone out of your way to make us feel welcome. Let me give you something for all of your trouble." He proceeded to take out a one-hundred dollar bill from his pocket. This was not pocket change during the depression years. He gave it to her and said, "Mary, this is a sign of our appreciation." He then explained to her that Jews do not have Xmas trees.

When the editor concluded his story, he told Rabbi Wein, "And this is why there has never been an editorial critical of Israel in the Detroit Free Press since I have become editor, and I promise you that there never will be as long as I serve as editor."

The shul president's reaction to Mary's misplaced welcome was probably not the same one many of us would manifest. He showed sympathy instead of anger; compassion instead of fury; seichal, common sense, instead of impetuous outrage. This was the right thing to do. His Kiddush Hashem was rewarded over time. The difference was in curtailing his anger, not losing it over something meaningless. The angry person shoots first and then thinks. The baal seichal who is in control of his emotions knows when to "load his gun" and - on the rare occasion - when to "use it."

The Nesiim / Princes brought the Shoham stones and the stones for the settings for the Ephod and the Choshen. (35:27)

The observer will note that the word nesiim is spelled defectively - without the two yudin which would normally follow the sin and the aleph. Rashi teaches that the defective spelling implies a rebuke leveled at the Nesiim for being late in contributing towards the construction of the Mishkan. Out of a desire to allow all the people to contribute to their heart's content, the Nesiim announced that they would cover any shortfall. How surprised they were when the people gave overwhelmingly, leaving nothing for the Nesiim to contribute except for the precious stones that completed the Ephod and Choshen. When it came time for the chanukas ha'Mizbayach, inauguration of the Altar, the Nesiim wasted no time in bringing their sacrifices. They were taking no chances. Chazal say that they were rebuked for being indolent in bringing their contributions. While the casual observer may not view their actions to be lacking of alacrity, Chazal's perceptive glance is much more penetrating.

Why does Rashi relate the fact that the Nesiim were the first to give to the Altar? He is addressing the deficient spelling of the Nesiim and the rebuke they received. What role do their later make-up actions play in this rebuke? Horav Zev Weinberg, Shlita, suggests that Rashi is alluding to a simple question that might be gnawing at the reader: Once the Nesiim corrected their earlier indolence by being the first to contribute to the Altar, the subnormal spelling of their title should be corrected. Why does the Torah continue with this incomplete spelling? The Torah is teaching us that alacrity for the Altar does not atone for indolence concerning the contributions for the Mishkan. One will receive merit for the former and rebuke for the latter. Furthermore, once certain situations in life have passed-- and we missed out on according them the proper commitment and respect-we can no longer do so. They are gone. We can no longer rectify the situation.

Reuven lost the bechorah, first-born birthright, as a result of his moving Yaakov's bed into the tent of his mother, Leah, following the passing of Rachel Imeinu. His repentance was accepted, he was forgiven, but the bechorah was gone forever. The Bechorim, Jewish firstborn, had always performed the service. They were Klal Yisrael's first Priests. When they sinned with the Golden Calf, they lost their privilege to serve. Repentance helps for the future, but sometimes, what is lost in the past remains forever lost.

Time is Hashem's greatest gift to us. How we wish we would not have wasted time in the past. Regrettably, every minute that passes which is not accounted for is a minute lost for posterity. How we wish, later in life, that we could retrieve all those wasted minutes, all of the wasted opportunities to spend with our elders - parents, grandparents - learning from their life's experience, hearing the stories of previous generations, how they lived and the lessons we might derive from their lives. Some of us wait until it is too late. Once it is over - it is over.

See, Hashem has proclaimed by Name, Betzalel ben Uri ben Chur, of the tribe of Yehudah. (35:30)

Rashi teaches us that Chur was the son of Miriam HaNeviah. It is strange that Rashi would mention Chur's relationship with Miriam once again. He had mentioned Chur's lineage previously in Parashas Beshalach when the Torah writes that Chur and Aharon HaKohen supported the hands of Moshe Rabbeinu during the battle with Amalek. Perhaps Rashi is addressing why the Torah emphasizes that Betzalel's selection came directly from Hashem. People might talk; after all, he was Moshe's nephew.

The Midrash teaches us that Chur's name is mentioned here-- in contrast to other places in which an individual's lineage is not traced back to his grandfather-- because Chur is the reason that Betzalel was selected to be the Mishkan's architect. Hashem said to Chur, "By your life, since you gave up your life in My service during the sin of the Golden Calf, when you stood up to the worshippers and subsequently lost your life, I reward you by assuring you that all of your sons who descend from you will elevate to spiritual nobility."

Horav Zev Weinberger, Shlita, notes that, at times, for reasons not explicable to us, Hashem stores rewards away for a number of generations, for just the right time when he offers reparations as He sees fit. Thus, one may be blessed due to the merit of an ancestor. This is not an uncommon phenomenon in our day and age, when we see many great Torah scholars who hail from "simple" family backgrounds. We fail to recognize that these families are far from simple. They are the beneficiaries of great merit, provided to them compliments of an earlier generation.

We have established why Chur merited a grandson of Betzalel's status. This does not explain, however, why Chur is distinguished as Miriam's son. Rav Weinberger quotes Rashi at the beginning of Sefer Shemos, when the Torah relates the story of the heroines of the Jewish People: Shifrah and Puah, a.k.a. Yocheved and her daughter, Miriam, noting how Hashem rewarded their efforts on behalf of the Jewish infants. Vayaas lahem batim, "He made for them houses" (Shemos 1:2): Rashi comments that these houses were not physical edifices, but rather dynasties. Yocheved became the ancestress of Kehunah and Leviah, and Miriam became the ancestress of David HaMelech. Others say that Yocheved received Kehunah and malchus, monarchy, while Miriam received chochmah, wisdom, which is a reference to Torah. What did they do that highlights them so? They were only acting as a human being should act.

This is where we err. The Midrash is teaching us that it is a grave error to think that, because one is supposedly a decent human being, he will not descend to the nadir of murder. The only reason the meyaldos ha'Ivriyos, Jewish midwives, did not listen to Pharaoh and kill the Jewish infants is that they feared the Almighty. Only yiraas Shomayim protects a person from the most base of sins - not mentchlechkeit! Miriam feared Hashem; thus, she refused to hurt the Jewish infants. As a result of her dedication, she was rewarded with a grandson of Chur's status, one who was prepared and willing to relinquish his life for Hashem's Name. He stood up to the Golden Calf revelers, and they killed him for it. He stood up to them because he feared G-d. He was carrying on a family trait - yiraas Shomayim.

We may add that this might be why the Torah gives no significance to Chur's act of devotion and self-sacrifice. The Torah does not mention that he was killed by the worshippers. Why not? Is it not important? It is significant for us, but, for Chur, it was his heritage. It was his way of life. His grandmother acted similarly when she risked her life by defying Pharaoh's evil decree. Yet, her name is not mentioned in the Torah. We know her as Puah. It is Chazal who identify the elusive Puah as Miriam. Why is there a cloak of secrecy? This was her way of life; nothing was out of the ordinary. She feared Hashem and this was one of the many ways it was manifest. One does not need accolades for living as a Jew should live. It is a way of life.

After I shared the above dvar Torah with one of the groups that I teach, a participant whose gravitational pull to Orthodoxy is at best tenuous, asked: "What kind of reward did Miriam receive for all of the good that she did? Is her son being tragically killed a reward?" Good question, but obviously from a distorted perception. Indeed, we see from here how a limited view of history can pervert our perspective. We view history myopically, through the lens of the present, failing to take in the whole picture: past, present and future. We are not ones to question Hashem's decision but, rather, to believe with full conviction that whatever He does it is with a purpose and meaning. Additionally, since we only witness the "here and now," we fail to see an occurrence as fitting into a span of time which continues far beyond our limited vision. What seems tragic today is quite possibly the component necessary to transform an entire future. The end does not justify the means; it, in fact, gives meaning to the means.

Miriam risked her life for Klal Yisrael due to her absolute fear of Hashem. Her son gave up his life as a result of his allegiance to the Almighty. Did their individual sacrifices go to naught? Hardly, when we consider that their grandson, Betzalel, was the one selected by Hashem to be the architect of the Mishkan. He was to represent the finest qualities of the Jewish faith and imbue them into the edifice that would become the place where Hashem's Shechinah would repose. He was the scion of two sacrifices: Miriam's readiness and Chur's ultimate sacrifice. What was their reward? Betzalel: Can a parent ask for more?

But the work had been enough for all the work, to do it - and there was extra. (36:7)

The commentators focus on the seeming contradiction in this pasuk. If there was enough, how was there extra? By their very nature, the words "enough" and "extra" are not consistent with one another. "Enough" implies constriction in amount, while "extra" denotes that there is more than the required amount. Furthermore, what was done with the "extra"? The various commentators offer interpretations for the "extra" and how it was used. Horav Meir Shapiro, zl, suggests a novel approach. Without question, each and every Jew contributed towards the construction of the Mishkan and its vessels. Every Jew gave in accordance with the manner that he was blessed by Hashem - some more, some less - but everyone gave. Furthermore, there is no question that some Jews would have loved to give greater donations than they did, but they simply had to live within a budget. They gave what they had. On the other hand, some of them possessed wealth in much greater proportion than what they actually gave, but, by the time they brought their contributions, it was too late. Halachically, we consider a person's thoughts to be consecrated. Thus, for the individual who wanted to give a thousand dollars, but ended up giving only one hundred, the other nine hundred is considered hekdesh, consecrated.

The Lubliner Rosh Yeshivah continues: Is it fair to think that all of those holy machashavos, intentions, the desires to contribute to the House of G-d, are to go to waste? Certainly not! In the Talmud Shabbos 33A, Chazal say, "One who intended to perform a mitzvah and, by accident, he was unable to complete his intentions, it is considered as if he carried out the mitzvah. Therefore, we must say that somewhere, somehow, their intentions for holiness achieved fruition. But where?

This is what is alluded to by the pasuk, "The work had been enough." The donations that were collected from the people covered exactly what was needed for the Mishkan, but there was extra. This refers to the money that people wanted to give, but could not. Those "extra" funds are hovering throughout the airspace of the Mishkan. It is from these funds that the avir azarah k'azarah, the airspace of the azarah, is holy. How did it become holy? It was neither sanctified, nor was it anointed with the shemen ha'mishchah, oil of anointing. It was the holy intentions of particular Jewish people-- their boundless love for the Almighty-who sought to give more, but could not. These intentions filled the airspace with holiness.

A Jew's strivings, his yearnings, his aspirations are not ignored. Hashem stores them. Every noble intention that a Jew has does not go to waste, even if it does not immediately see fruition. It might even take generations, but for the Jew that contributes in his "mind," whose intentions are noble and holy, those intentions are counted. In the Yerushalmi Yuma 15, Chazal make a compelling statement: "Any generation in which the Bais Hamikdash was not rebuilt is considered as if it was destroyed during that generation." How does one build the Bais Hamikdash? Is it realistic that we could have built it in our generation? Moreover, can we be held accountable for it not being rebuilt?

Rav Meir Shapiro explains that the yearnings of the Jews in each generation construct the airspace of the Bais Hamikdash. We did our part. The holy space is there. Now, it is up to Hashem to establish the physical edifice around it.

Their pillars twenty and their sockets twenty, of copper, the hooks of the pillars and their bands of silver. (38:10)

The term vavei ha'amudim, which is translated here as "the hooks of the pillars," is used by the early commentators to describe the phenomenon that almost every column in the Sefer Torah begins with a vav, which is the prefix "and." Thus, vavei ha'amudim refers to the vav that begins every amud, column, in the Torah. Indeed, the vav is the most commonly used letter in the Torah. This is in contrast to other languages in which a sentence beginning with the prefix, "and," is considered grammatically deficient. Our Torah does not see it this way. Horav Shimshon Pincus, zl, explains that the Torah is one long hemshech, continuance. It begins with Bereishis, "In the beginning," and it continues on like a chain, with each link connecting to the next in succession until the very end, which-- if placed in a circle-- connects to the very beginning. Every incident begets the next incident; every occurrence gives rise to the next occurrence; every endeavor engenders the successive response.

This is the meaning of the concept, "The end is to be found within the beginning." Let us take the development of a child as an example. We observe a child that is eight years old. On the one hand, he is intelligent, able to recite Chumash and Mishnayos with great proficiency. On the other hand, he plays like a child. What is he? The explanation is that with each ensuing step forward, the child takes along with him a little from before. He builds upon his earlier life. He takes hold of the next rung on the ladder as he stands on the present rung. It is only later, when he has acclimated himself to-- and is completely integrated into-- the new environment, that he stands firmly and exclusively on the next step of his stage of development.

Another example may be gleaned from Shabbos Kodesh. While Shabbos itself is the holy day, it nonetheless sanctifies Erev Shabbos and Motzei Shabbos into one entity, so that the before, during and after are all dedicated to Hashem.

Rav Pincus suggests that this concept applies equally to the chain of the End of Days, the Days of Moshiach. The light of the coming of Moshiach illuminates the darkness of the present galus, exile, connecting the end with the beginning as one leads up to the others. This is the idea behind the incredible baal teshuvah movement, which has reached thousands of souls. Until recently, these individuals would have sunk in the spiritual filth of secular society, but they are now digging themselves out and returning to a life of commitment to Torah. The fellow who, until a few years ago, could not read Hebrew, has become a talmid chocham, Torah scholar of note. It is the days of Moshiach, with new beginning, "touching" the end. Everything is connected; nothing stands alone; one thing leads up to the next. This is, perhaps, a new outlook on Jewish "continuity."

Va'ani Tefillah

Hashem Ish milchamah
Hashem is Master of war.

Chazal teach that when the angels wanted to say Shirah, Praises, to Hashem upon the miracles of the Yam Suf, the Almighty quieted them, saying; "My creations are drowning, and you wish to say Praises?" The question is evident: If the angels were precluded from saying Shirah, how could Moshe Rabbeinu and Klal Yisrael go on and do so? Horav Shimon Schwab, zl, cites what he heard from a gadol, distinguishing between an angel and a human being, in the sense that a malach can do only one thing at a time. He cannot experience two things together. It is either up or down - sad or happy - never both. A human being, however, has the ability to feel two contrasting emotions at once. He can feel sorry for the drowning Egyptians, while simultaneously feeling a sense of joy over his own personal redemption. A malach has a singular purpose - almost, a one-track mind. The ability to feel pain and joy simultaneously does not exist. Thus, the angels could not rejoice and say Shirah over Klal Yisrael's redemption, while their current mission was the destruction of the Egyptians. The two just do not go together.

In memory of our Dean
Rabbi Nochum Zev Dessler ZT"L
an educator's educator whose example profoundly inspired three generations of families
and thousands of students

Hebrew Academy of Cleveland

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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