Back to This Week's Parsha

Peninim on the Torah

subscribe.gif (2332 bytes)

Previous issues

Rabbi A. Leib Scheinbaum
Hebrew Academy of Cleveland


Moshe assembled the entire assembly of Bnei Yisrael… This is the word that Hashem has commanded. (35:1,4)

Our parsha receives its name from the Hakhel, assembly of the people, so that they could receive their instructions concerning the building of the Mishkan. This gathering together of all the people was an essential prerequisite for the construction of the Mishkan. Why is this? To understand the significance of this gathering, it is important that we understand the power of "one." In order to do so, we should examine how breaking a large singular item into many parts reduces its potency.

Horav Mordechai Miller, zl, cites a powerful analogy from the Yalkut Shimoni on Sefer Tehillim. A king was angered by his son. In a moment of rage, the king declared that he would throw a large boulder which was in front of him - at his son. A few moments later, the king realized what he had said. What could he do? If he were to throw the boulder at his son, it would kill him. If he did not keep his word, his inaction would impugn the integrity of his word. The king was literally between a "boulder" and a hard place.

Then an idea dawned on him. He smashed the boulder into little pebbles and pelted his son with them - one by one. Thus, the king kept his word, but his son was not harmed. Likewise, Hashem does not inflict us with the full force of the punishment and strict justice which we deserve. He waits, meting out retribution in small doses, so that He does not destroy us. Perhaps the next time we feel that we are getting it from "all sides" or "one after another," we should realize that we are being struck by the "pebbles." The alternative would be devastating.

From the above analogy, we may derive a general principle: Breaking a large item into many parts has the effect of reducing its potency. Splintering a huge boulder into thousands of pebbles dramatically compromises its potential power. Likewise, the impact of Hashem's justice is minimized when it is fractured into many pieces.

The flipside is the power of a united entity whose degree of strength is incomparable with the sum of its many parts. They may both contain the same weight, but only the one which is cohesive, united, not fractured, is truly strong.

To become close to Hashem; to establish an attachment to Him, one must develop a similarity to Him. Otherwise, it is impossible for a human being to cleave to Him. Ma Hu af atah, "What He does, so should you." The obligation to emulate Him is incumbent upon us. As G-d is One - so, too, must we be one.

With this principle in mind, Rav Miller explains why an assembly of people was a vital prerequisite for constructing the Mishkan. The Mishkan was a place where the Shechinah, Divine Presence, could repose. The word, Shechinah, is related to the word, shachen, neighbor, which clearly indicates the nature of the Mishkan. It was a place where the immediacy of Hashem was readily apparent. It was the venue in which the intimacy between Hashem and Klal Yisrael was achieved. Closeness with Hashem, however, can only mean being similar to Him. This can only be effected by total solidarity within the Jewish People. As He is one, so, too, is the demand for unity among Jews - without compromise. It is a demand for the ultimate harmony which once existed, as every Jew was connected to one another as part of the conglomerate of all men within the body of Adam HaRishon, Primordial Man. Whereas we are physically separated, our souls are inextricably bound together.

In his Michtav Mei'Eliyahu, Horav Eliyahu Eliezer Dessler, zl, writes that, prior to Adam's sin, all souls were centralized within him. The entire mankind was concentrated in one man. Had Adam and Chavah not sinned, they alone would have achieved the purpose of Creation. Everything could have been accomplished by Adam and Chavah in only one day, through one act of free choice. Sadly, after the sin, the world was shattered into multiple shards. Instead of six days, it would now take six millennia and millions of people to fulfill the mission that could have been completed in one day. When all is concentrated together in one concerted effort, the power is awesome.

Rav Dessler takes this idea further, citing Horav Moshe Cordovero, zl, who explains why Yom Kippur is not mechaper, does not atone, for sins committed between man and his fellowman. On Yom Kippur we penetrate to the pure origins of each person's soul. If antagonism exists between two people, these people are separate, creating a rift with the Source. In order to facilitate the reception of the Divinely bestowed Heavenly Light, it is crucial that complete unity between people be established.

We see from the above that the unanimity connected with the Mishkan must be manifest in the manner of its construction. If there were to be a lack of harmony associated with the construction of the Mishkan, it would be considered a work of diversity and difference. Therefore, the Shechinah could not repose in this edifice, because it would lack the necessary closeness with One G-d. Unity in all areas was the prerequisite needed to achieve closeness with One G-d. The Hakhel experience was needed to catalyze strengths that otherwise would have been impossible to achieve. Everyone's work melded closely together, as if only one person had built the Mishkan.

In closing, Rav Miller observes that an application of this idea is particularly relevant to those who are members of Torah institutions and organizations. If a multitude of people coalesce, all sharing similar goals and objectives, this group will be able to attain overwhelming results. By soldering diverse wills and strengths into a commonly accepted identity, all devoted to Hashem, the united entity can have an awesome affect. K'ish echad b'lev echad, "As one man, with one heart." Each individual discovers hidden strengths and abilities, which he would never otherwise have deemed possible.

On six days, work may be done, but the seventh day shall be holy for you… whoever does work on it shall be put to death. (35:2)

In the previous parshah (Ki Sisa), the Torah addressed the mitzvah of Shabbos observance, detailing the punishment for its desecration. Why does the Torah reiterate it yet again in this parshah (Vayakhel)? Furthermore, if the primary point is to prevent us from working on the seventh day, why does the Torah preface it by saying, "Six days you shall work"? Why not get to the point? Horav Tzvi Pesach Frank, zl, quotes his brother-in-law, Horav Aryeh Levine, zl, who heard the following explanation from a well-known gaon, Torah scholar.

At the beginning of Meseches Pesachim, Tosfos explains why the Torah is more stringent with regard to the prohibition of chametz on Pesach than with other prohibitions which are assur b'hanaah, forbidden to have pleasure from them. Chametz must be destroyed prior to Pesach. One may not keep chametz in his possession. This is unlike other issurim, prohibitions, in which the object of the issur does not have to be destroyed. Tosfos explains that other prohibitions are perpetually forbidden. Chametz, however, is permitted throughout the rest of the year. Its prohibition is in effect for only the eight/seven days of Pesach. Man is used to refraining from other prohibitions. Thus, the Torah prefaces the prohibition of Shabbos with the fact that we are accustomed to working six days a week. This might cause us to forget that Shabbos is different. The Torah adds the reasons for this stringency. In order to keep us aware of the prohibitions of Shabbos; and explain why the Torah repeats the prohibition.

The commentators wonder why the Torah precedes the commandment concerning the Mishkan's construction with the mitzvah of Shabbos. Indeed, in Parashios Terumah, Tetzaveh and Ki Sisa, the instructions regarding the Mishkan precede that of Shabbos. Veritably, why does the Torah repeat the prohibition against work on Shabbos? In his Devash L'Fi, the Chida offers an insightful explanation which goes to the very core of sinful behavior and grants us a perspective for understanding the mindset of the sinner. The Talmud Shabbos 118b states, "One who observes Shabbos according to halachah (properly) - even if he had worshipped idols as was done during the generation of Enosh - Hashem will forgive his past sins." This is the power associated with shemiras Shabbos.

The Bais Yosef explains why Shabbos has such an immense power to catalyze atonement for the sin of idol worship, which is ostensibly an unpardonable infraction. Shabbos is equal to all of the mitzvos in that its observance demonstrates one's belief in Hashem as the Creator of the world and its Supreme Guide. A Shabbos-observant Jew demonstrates that he believes Hashem to be the G-d of Creation, as well as the G-d of History. He believes that Hashem is the Divine Author of the Torah. If so, how could he worship an idol, which is inconsistent with his belief? Obviously, he does not really believe in the idol or in what he is doing. It might be peer pressure, acting under the influence of a depraved environment, but he is not acting with malice or with a rejection of the Divine. Therefore, there is room for forgiveness. He has not completely severed his ties to Hashem.

The Chida suggests that this is why Parashas Ki Sisa precedes the sin of the Golden Calf. We are being taught that, even if one were to sin with the eigel ha'zahav, Golden Calf, through the medium of Shabbos he may seek atonement for his sin. Indeed, this was the sin of the generation of Enosh. They thought that, since G-d created the constellations that were so powerful, they, too, should be revered and accorded a certain degree of divinity. They did not mean to deny Hashem as G-d, but only to add honor to His close adjutants. This was the error of their misguided belief. Such erroneous belief can achieve atonement through shemiras Shabbos. K'motzei Shalal Rav cites the Tzitz Eliezer, where its author, Horav Eliezer Yehudah Valdenberg, zl, employs this logic to explain a question raised by the Mechilta in Parashas Ki Sisa, and also discussed in the Talmud Yoma 85a. The Taanaim ask: From where do we derive the halachah that pikuach nefesh, saving a life, is docheh, supersedes, the prohibition of Shabbos. Various responses are given. Ostensibly, this is not a question that is applicable specifically to Shabbos. Indeed, every mitzvah in the Torah - barring the three capitol sins of idol worship, murder and adultery - is vitiated by pikuach nefesh. Why would we require a specific pasuk for Shabbos, more so than any other mitzvah in the Torah?

Rav Valdenberg explains that one who desecrates Shabbos is tantamount to one who worships an idol. Therefore, had we not had a special medium for deriving that pikuach nefesh is docheh Shabbos, we might conjecture that, indeed, it does not. Shabbos is like idol worship, which is not overridden by the requirement to save a life. Just like one must give up his life rather than worship an idol, so, too, should he die rather than desecrate Shabbos. This is why we need a special proof to circumvent this notion.

Incidentally, we derive two important lessons herein. First, the value of Jewish life takes precedence over all the mitzvos. Shabbos is equal to all the mitzvos, and we move it aside when human life is in danger. There is nothing as important as the life of a Jew. Second, we see that sin has its degrees. There are sinners who sin because they are influenced by others - not because they believe in what they are doing. They do not choose maliciously to rebel against Hashem. They are weak! Sadly, there are those who have strayed far beyond this degree and those who maliciously or foolishly believe that what they are doing is correct and proper. We can only pray that one day they will realize the error of their false beliefs and acknowledge the truth.

As noted, the power of Shabbos is incredible. It is unlike any other mitzvah. Shabbos is much more than the negation from work, it is a holy experience. It is an opportunity to spend a day immersed in the Divine. Horav Matisyahu Solomon, Shlita, posits that the observance of Shabbos has a special healing power, through which one cleanses his psyche from any impious, revisionist thoughts. Questions which often undermine one's conviction and ultimate commitment are ameliorated through sincere Shabbos observance. People often err in defining Judaism as the religion of "no," thus engendering a sense of negativity regarding Jewish belief and observance. It cannot be further from the truth. One only has to experience the beauty of a Shabbos, sense the calm and feel the spiritual emotion generated by the day of rest. Regrettably, when Shabbos is painted as a day of negativity, when one may not do "this and that," the beauty is somehow lost.

The Brisker Rav, zl, took every mitzvah very seriously. Torah was his life. Shabbos, however, generated within him a sense of fear like no other. The mere thought that he might in some way skirt the transgression of Shabbos terrified him more than anything else. At the beginning of World War II, the Brisker Rav had to travel from Moscow to Odessa, the departing point for ships traveling to Eretz Yisrael. It was a two- day trip, with the next train scheduled to depart on Wednesday. This would hopefully allow him to arrive in enough time before Shabbos. The Russian train system was not known for its punctuality, and this terrified the Rav. What if the train was late and arrived on Shabbos? They would be compelled to disembark on Shabbos, thereby desecrating the holy day.

The Rav deliberated about what he should do. It was a matter of life and death if he were to remain in war-torn Europe. On the other hand, Shabbos was something he could not ignore. In the end, with much trepidation, the Brisker Rav together with the Mirrer Rosh Yeshivah, Horav Eliezer Yehudah Finkel, zl, set out together on the train.

The train had traveled only a few hours, when the Rav looked at his watch and noted that they were already quite behind schedule. If the train continued at this pace, they would arrive on Shabbos. The mere thought of such a possibility caused the Rav great anxiety. He tensed up and could think about nothing else. Those who had traveled with him on that train remarked later on that mere words could not describe the dread that enveloped him concerning the possibility of chillul Shabbos.

The train continued to fall farther and farther behind schedule. It soon became apparent that there was no way it would reach Odessa before Shabbos. Suddenly, the train began to pick up steam and gained momentum, roaring down the tracks at a speed unheard of in Russia. The train pulled into the station a full half-hour before Shabbos. The Mirrer Rosh Yeshivah commented that the Brisker Rav had catalyzed a miracle of kefitzas ha'derech, shortening the road. His unabiding love for Shabbos, his overwhelming fear and anguish concerning the possibility of being mechallel, desecrating, Shabbos, interceded with Heaven to cause this miracle to occur.

As they disembarked the train, those accompanying him suggested they take a taxi to the village of their destination. The Brisker Rav demurred, saying, "One miracle is enough." They had no choice but walk forty-five minutes in the accompaniment of a gentile who carried their luggage. That Motzoei Shabbos they boarded the ship which took them to Eretz Yisrael.

And the ability to instruct he installed in his heart, he and Ahaliav ben Achisamach, of the tribe of Dan. (35:34)

Rashi notes that Ahaliav ben Achisamach was min ha'yerudin she'b'shevatim, one of the lowliest of the tribes, "Yet Hashem equates him to Betzalel regarding the works of the Mishkan, and Betzalel was from Shevet Yehudah, which was from the greatest of tribes." The lesson to be derived is quite simple: when it comes to building the Bais Hamikdash, all Jews are equal. Yichus, lineage, regardless of its illustrious origins, does not play a role in granting a person a position of distinction.

Horav Gamliel Rabinowitz, Shlita, explains that all of the various masks that exist in the world, masks that often conceal one's true essence, even the mask associated with yichus d'kedushah, holy and illustrious linage, only reach up to the actual point of kedushah. The source of holiness, the point from which holiness emanates, nullifies and reveals that which is under the masks. There only one entity exists: Hashem; and, before Hashem, we are all equal. Thus, when one came close to the makom haMikdash, the place of kedushah, the Bais Hamikdash, the individual must achieve total self-abnegation, as if he is absolutely nothing. In the presence of the Almighty, masks have no place. The masks are for us - simple people who often act clueless with regard to the emes, truth, of our existence. In other words, when we confront the reality of Hashem, we must "get real" and put an end to the sham that often, by our choice, controls our lives.

Rav Rabinowitz cites from the Siddur Rav Yaakov Emdin, in the Seder Erev Pesach, who quotes from the Sefer Shevet Yehudah, testimony from a Roman officer who witnessed Yerushalayim in its beauty, when the Bais Hamikdash stood and the avodah, service, was an ongoing reality. In describing the service of the slaughter of the Korban Pesach, he says, "By decree of the Jewish people, when they would go out to prepare this service, no man would come close, or push forward (each person in his place), regardless of the individual's stature, even if (it meant that) Shlomo Hamelech or David Hamelech was relegated to stand in the back of the line. I asked the Kohanim, Priests, "Is this appropriate? (That those who descended from distinguished lineage or who were prominent personages should have to wait behind those whose pedigree was not of their exalted caliber?)." They replied, "There is no grandeur before Hashem. At this point of the service, when we all stand before the Almighty, all Jews are equal."

Rav Gamliel underscores this thought. While it is true that distinction is made in deference to a person's age and scholarship, this is only for the purpose of external kavod, honor. After all is said and done, however, we must realize that when it comes to Hashem we are all equal - regardless of the individual's pedigree and self-generated honorariums.

Jewish literature is replete with the notion that all Jews-- regardless of pedigree, financial status, scholarship and acumen-- are equal before Hashem. Regrettably, this idea has a tendency to slip our mind. While it is, of course, understandable, it does not have to be so glaringly obvious. Adults are used to it; children, however, have greater difficulty in processing the irreverence.

Many of us have paid our dues and raised children of whom we are very proud. This does not, however, grant us license to blast in in everyone's face - especially those who have recently become Torah-observant, and whose children have not bought into the package. They, too, would like to brag about something, but, sadly, it is too late for their children. I recently was reviewing Gemorah with my grandson over the phone. I was sitting in the corner of the shul prior to a shiur. A young man who is a wonderful ben Torah, having studied for years after becoming frum, said to me, "I guess my children will never know what it means to learn with their zayde." I replied, "Neither did I, nor did most of my generation. Hitler, yemach shemo, saw to that." I am not sure if this ameliorated his problem, but it was a rejoinder that conveyed a simple message: we are all equal; we all have our issues with which to contend.

In relating to the child who was less fortunate than his peers, Horav Aryeh Levine, zl, made his special mark. The Tzaddik of Yerushalayim was known for his empathy to all Jews, of all backgrounds and religious beliefs. It was in his role as Menahel of Yeshivas Eitz Chaim that his care for the young child who was less fortunate was manifest. There was an old established custom at the school that whenever a student reached bar-mitzvah age, his classmates would all share in purchasing a sefer for him. Each boy gave his portion, after which the sefer was given to Rav Aryeh for his personal words of inscription in it, and then given to the bar-mitzvah boy. Without Rav Aryeh's good wishes, the gift was hollow and empty.

One boy was poorer than the others. His parents lived in abject poverty. As such, there was no way that they could contribute to the gifts that the students gave one another. Sadly, children do not understand what parents go through - especially when it is someone else's parents. Therefore, when this boy's bar-mitzvah approached, no one in the class wanted to contribute for his bar-mitzvah sefer. They felt that he deserved to receive exactly what he had given: nothing.

Rav Aryeh asked the rebbe of the class why no one had brought him a sefer to inscribe for this boy. The rebbe had no alternative but to tell him the truth: no one wanted to give him anything.

Rav Aryeh asked the rebbe, "Please go to my house and ask my wife to give you the Chumashim that are on top of the bookcase." The rebbe quickly went to Rav Aryeh's house and brought the sefarim. Rav Aryeh took one look and emitted a small groan, "I did not mean these Chumashim. I meant the new ones which were given to my son as a present. He never used them, and now that he is grown up and out of the house, he will never really need them. Please bring those. I do not want to give this child a used set of Chumashim."

The rebbe returned, and Rav Aryeh wrote a beautiful inscription. "Who knows," he said, "what kind of anguish the boy would have experienced if he saw his classmates coming empty handed to his bar-mitzvah. He would have been devastated! This is murder. Is it his fault that his parents are poor and, as a result, he cannot share in buying presents for the other boys? If there is any way to save a child from disaster, we must do everything that we can!" He concluded his dedication in the name of all of the students in the class.

Va'ani Tefillah

l'ahavah es Hashem Elokeichem u'lavdo b'chol levavchem u'b'chol nafshichem.
To love Hashem, your G-d, and to serve Him with all your heart and all your soul.

Horav Isser Zalmen Meltzer, zl, published his fourth volume of Even HaEzel during World War II. He lived in Eretz Yisrael, but, nonetheless, he acutely felt the pain and anguish suffered by his European brothers and sisters. In his preface, he attempts to offer divrei tanchumin, words of consolation, concerning the sea of Jewish blood that was spilled in Europe. Among the many observations, he writes: "The chevlei Moshiach, birth pangs of Moshiach, are incredibly painful. (This is a reference to the Holocaust, which is viewed as one of the strong pains that accompany the advent of Moshiach tzidkeinu.) Our sages foreshadowed these terrible pains as we near the End of Days. It reached the point where they exclaimed, Yeisi v'lo achminei, "May he (Moshiach) come, may I not see him" (Sanhedrin 98b). (He would rather witness this than endure the suffering that will accompany it.) However, if we accept these periods of extreme adversity with love (understanding that it is our Heavenly Father Who is meting out this judgment for a purpose), then they are much more endurable. Indeed, this is what is meant by the words, "to love Hashem with all your heart and all your soul." Regarding the command of b'chol nafshecha (written in the singular, since it is addressing the individual), our sages teach, "Even if He takes your soul/life," one must continue his love for Hashem - surely this applies when it is b'chol nafshechem (written in the plural, addressing the collective community). We must accept His decree with love. Those who feel this sense of love are among the holiest of souls, who have great pleasure in having had the merit to give up their moral lives to sanctify Hashem's Name. To encapsulate what Rav Isser Zalmen writes: The Jew who has unabiding love for Hashem understands that, at times, this love means giving up his life for the Almighty. This does not cause him distress; rather, it is a source of great pleasure to merit the worthiness of performing such a service for Hashem.

l'zechar nishmas
R' Moshe Yehuda Leib ben 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