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Peninim on the Torah

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Rabbi A. Leib Scheinbaum
Hebrew Academy of Cleveland


All the wise-hearted among you shall come and do all that Hashem commanded. (35:10)

The foundation-stone upon which Judaism rests is obedience. It is the principle which defines the individual's true commitment to Torah and mitzvos. This does not preclude the importance of using one's intelligence to understand the profundities of the Torah. In the final analysis, however, the Jew should be committed as a consequence of a sense of obedience and faith, not rationalization and scrutiny. "All the wise-hearted among you": How does one identify the truly "wise- hearted"? [those who] "do all that Hashem commanded." Hashem gave us mitzvos for our own benefit. We do not necessarily understand the inherent good in everything that He has told us to do. Nonetheless, we accept and do, executing Hashem's command obediently and without question. That is the definition of an observant Jew.

The first Jew to respond to Hashem with obedience was our Patriarch Avraham Avinu. Hashem called to him, and Avraham replied: Hineni, "Here I am, ready and prepared to do whatever You ask of me." This was the highest expression of obedience, of commitment and dedication to the Almighty. Yet, some individuals have had the audacity to refer to the method of observance displayed by the observant as nothing more than "doglike obedience." They have taken this greatest example of obedience, love and faith and transformed it into a mindless act. In the end Avraham was "supposedly" rejected, happy and finally at peace when the angel instructed him to halt the proceedings. These people grab at the opportunity to paint Avraham as the first reformer, rejecting human sacrifice, when Hashem asked him to sacrifice Yitzchok.

In his commentary to Bereishis 22:11, Horav S.R. Hirsch, zl, takes the individual who was one of the founders of secular Judaism to task for his mindless and blasphemous exegesis of the Akeidas Yitzchak. Clearly, one who studies our Chazal has a broader picture of the dialogue between Hashem and Avraham. Our Patriarch was acutely aware of what he was doing. Hashem commanded, and Avraham listened, responding immediately.

In a lecture to parents, Rav Hirsch searches for the primary reason why, at times, children sway to the left of their parents' teachings. He hypothesizes that children, who are very perceptive, can tell when their parents' own commitment is, at best, complacent. When these parents instruct their children to serve Hashem, they act only as compliant messengers, speaking in His Name, but not actually conveying the echo of the pulse of their own hearts. Children perceive when their parents do not consider the fulfillment of Hashem's will as the very foundation of their own happiness. Regrettably, parents often feel that it is enough to just ask that their children observe, demanding nothing else of them. They are wrong. Children who gravitate away sense a distinction between the manner in which their parents ask them to do their personal bidding and the manner in which that they ask them to obey Hashem.

Chazal teach us, Asei retzono k'retzonecha, "Make His will your own." In other words, do His will as you would your own. Indeed, your will should be His will. Your hopes and wishes should coincide with those of Hashem.

When we stood at Har Sinai and proclaimed, Naase v'Nishma, "We will do and we will listen," we were elevated to become Hashem's nation. It was precisely this obedience that has established our position as the eternal nation. It raises us to the level of the ministering angels who do Hashem's bidding without question and without seeking reason. Through these words we became servants of the Supreme Master. Is that so bad? True human dignity is reflected in the ability to obey unconditionally and to maintain a sense of duty to a Higher Authority. Those who view Orthodoxy as a form of self-degradation rob themselves and others of the greatest moral freedom: the ability to serve the Almighty unequivocally and without question.

He (Hashem) filled him with G-dly spirit… To weave designs… (35:31,21)

V'lachashov machashavos is interpreted as the ability to weave designs. Machashavah is the ability to think, to contemplate, to deliberate. It is the process through which the mind grasps information and processes it in the many ways that the brain is capable of converting knowledge into concept. To use the idea of machashavah in connection with the construction of the Mishkan seems inaccurate, especially in the context of "weaving designs," as it is used here. It does not seem to "belong" in the description of the various work and craftsmanship involved in constructing the Mishkan.

The Koheles Yitzchak cites the famous exegesis of Horav Chaim Volizhiner, zl, regarding this question. The story is well-known, but certainly worth repeating. Yeshivas Volozhin would annually dispatch a meshulach, fund-raiser/collector to go from town to village to farm, to any place that was home to a Jew, in order to raise badly-needed funds for the yeshivah. In one city lived a fairly well-to-do Jew, who was himself erudite and respectful of those who studied Torah. Every year he would contribute a handsome sum to the yeshivah. The meshulach noted that he had not given a donation the previous year. What was there about the previous year that might have generated a distaste for the yeshivah? Rav Chaim then remembered that it was in the previous year that the meshulach had requested a horse and wagon, so that it would be easier for him to get around. Also, he felt he needed a new suit of clothes and shoes, so that he would appear more presentable. Why would these necessities affect the man's charitable attitude towards the yeshivah?

Rav Chaim decided that, at his earliest convenience, he would personally visit the donor to clarify the situation. The opportunity arose, and Rav Chaim visited the man. Understandably, it was a tremendous honor that the celebrated Rosh Yeshivah visited him in his home. During the conversation, Rav Chaim asked the man why he had stopped supporting the yeshivah. The man replied, "I am prepared to sustain the yeshivah. I am not interested, however, in supporting the meshulach's horse, or buying him a new wagon and a set of clothes."

Rav Chaim explained to the man that "Betzalel, the master architect of the Mishkan, was an individual who, besides being a righteous Torah scholar, was also Divinely imbued with an uncanny ability to oversee each and every one of the craftsmen who were involved in constructing the Mishkan. When the Torah presents Betzalel's curricula vitae, it only states that Hashem filled him with a G-dly spirit, with wisdom, insight and knowledge. Chazal tell us that Betzalel's wisdom was of an esoteric nature. He even knew how to combine the letters that Hashem used to create the world. The Torah, however, does not relate that Betzalel was a master craftsman who was proficient in every craft and handiwork. In which area did Betzalel manifest his great depth of knowledge?

The answer is that the Mishkan was comprised of many different levels of kedushah, holiness. Every area had its own unique level of kedushah, which was superseded by an inner sanctum until one arrived at the Kodesh HaKodoshim, Holy of Holies, which manifested the greatest level of sanctity. When Klal Yisrael was asked to contribute towards the Mishkan, not all of the Jews had the same attitude concerning their contributions. Certainly, some Jews had a greater sense of "free-will" than others. Betzalel's Heavenly-inspired brilliance illuminated these contributions to the point that he was able to discern each one and attribute to it the appropriate degree of holiness it deserved. Therefore, the resources of the people who were totally devoted were used to maintain the Holy of Holies, while the contribution of the others were used for a mission with a lower degree of holiness. Betzalel's ability to lachashov machashavos, was that he was able to perceive the source of and intention behind every donation in order to place it in its correct corresponding place.

"My friend," Rav Chaim concluded, "people contribute to the yeshivah for various reasons. Some seek acclaim, while others sincerely want to assist the dissemination of Torah study. Hashem sees to it that every individual's money is directed to its proper place. The funds of those who are sincere will support Torah study. The contributions of others will support the horse who pulls the meshulach. Every dollar finds its corresponding place."

Horav Eliyahu Schlesinger, Shlita, applies a similar idea to Shabbos. Rashi explains that the prohibition of certain work on Shabbos precedes the detailing of the construction of the Mishkan to teach us that the construction of the Mishkan does not supersede Shabbos. One may not build the Mishkan on Shabbos. Perhaps there is another reason for this juxtaposition. Rather than add prohibition to Shabbos, the relationship between Shabbos and Mishkan teaches us a positive concept concerning Shabbos. We sing in the Friday night Zemiros, Kol mekadesh shevii karaiu lo, kol shomer Shabbos kadas meichallelo, secharo harbei me'od al pi paolo ish al mechaneihu v'ish al diglo, "Whoever sanctifies Shabbos as it is fitting for it; whoever observes Shabbos according to the law, being careful not to desecrate it, his reward is great in accordance with his endeavor, each man on his camp, each man on his banner."

Shemiras Shabbos is also dependent upon the person's machashavos, intentions and inner thoughts. His total demeanor on this holy day indicates his relationship to Shabbos and his appreciation of the sanctity of this day. One type of Jew "rests" on Shabbos, wasting away the entire day in sleep and reading secular material. To another, rest and rejuvenation are important, but with a limit. The primary focus of the day should be directed towards Torah study, Tefillah - serving Hashem amidst a sense of calm and joy - and singing festive Zemiros Shabbos. Through both approaches, the individual observes Shabbos, each one al pi paolo, according to his understanding and endeavor. The s'char, reward, for his observance will reflect his commitment and attitude. The Mishkan was comprised of ascending levels of sanctity, and each person's contribution "found" its place, coinciding with the attitude that catalyzed the contribution. Similarly, Shabbos will be a source of holy sustenance, and the reward for observing it coincides with the individual's level of observance.

We all want to add spirituality to our Shabbos. Many of us do so when our children surround us at the Shabbos table. The singing and the recitation of Torah thoughts, compliments of their school or their own novella, catalyzed by the father's ability to involve them in the thought process; all of these certainly add to the spiritual flavor of Shabbos. What about those who have gone through the "cycle," raised their children, and are experiencing the empty nest syndrome? What do they do to catalyze greater spirituality in their Shabbos observance, especially during the meal, which, for many, is a primary focus of the day? Perhaps one can invite a not-yet observant Jew to his Shabbos meal. While this might prove to be a challenge for some, it is certainly one worth undertaking. Everybody knows someone who is less observant than he is. Why not invite him for Shabbos and expose him to kedushas Shabbos? It would not only help him, it would simultaneously elevate our appreciation of Shabbos as we reach out to others. We might even save two spiritual lives with one meal - his and ours. Parashas Pikudei


Betzalel… Made all that Hashem commanded Moshe. (38:22)

Apparently, a discussion ensued between Betzalel and Moshe Rabbeinu concerning the construction of the Mishkan. Moshe instructed Betzalel to construct the Aron HaKodesh prior to constructing the actual Mishkan. Betzalel questioned the practicality of this sequence. "Should not the edifice be standing prior to fashioning its furnishings?" he asked. Moshe replied, "Your name Betzalel means b'tzel Keil, 'in the shadow of G-d' Surely, you must have been standing in the shadow of G-d when He related the command." Understood simply, this reply indicates a concession on Moshe's part. It is difficult to accept that Moshe did not correctly grasp Hashem's command. What is the meaning of their dialogue?

The Sokolover Rebbe, zl, suggests an interesting approach towards understanding this conversation. Certainly, the Aron did not need protection from the elements. It was free-standing and immune to any physical harm. In fact, it "carried its carriers." The question about which a difference of opinion developed was: How would the Jewish People conduct themselves in the presence of an exposed Aron? Would they demonstrate the proper reverence, or would they forget its significance and not display the proper decorum? In fact, do we always recognize the presence of the Aron HaKodesh in our shuls?

In order to understand their divergent opinions, we must take into consideration the individual vantage points from which they perceived their fellow Jews. Moshe stood in the shining brilliance of the Shechinah. From his position, he could not conceive that any Jew would behave inappropriately in the presence of the Aron. Thus, he had no qualms about constructing the Aron prior to the edifice that would house it. Betzalel, on the other hand, functioned as a member of the greater community of Jews. He viewed his brethren from a different perspective. He saw them for what they were - not what they should be, and, therefore, he felt that the Aron must be protected. The people could conceivably forget themselves and err, even in its presence.

Moshe agreed with Betzalel and replied, "You stood in the shadow of G-d. Had you stood where I was standing, directly in the presence of His Divine Light, you could never have conceived of the people acting inappropriately. The more one is in the shadow of the Divine, the greater protection he needs to prevent a spiritual mishap from occurring. The protective force of the Divine Light is not as noticeably profound when one stands in its shadow.

It was in the first month of the second year on the first of the month that the Mishkan was erected. Moshe erected the Mishkan. (40:17,18)

How did Moshe Rabbeinu become involved in the final stages of the Mishkan's construction? It seems that, throughout the entire progress, the people were charged with its construction. Here we see that it was actually Moshe who erected the Mishkan. What happened? The Midrash Tanchuma tells us that when the Mishkan was completed, the people prepared to erect it. They tried a number of times, to no avail. Whenever they stood it up, it just fell down. They came to Moshe and said, "We did everything that you instructed us to do. All of our handiwork is before you. Perhaps we erred and missed something." Moshe had been troubled the entire time that they had been preparing the Mishkan. After all, he had not been included in the planning or construction of the Mishkan. Veritably, this was the reason that the people were unable to erect the Mishkan. They now realized that without Moshe's participation, the Mishkan would not ever stand. Hashem told this to Moshe. "Do not worry, Moshe," Hashem said. "The Torah will record that you erected the Mishkan." "But," Moshe interjected, "I have no idea how to erect the Mishkan." Hashem replied, "Asok b'yadcha, involve yourself in it, make it appear like you are erecting it, and, in the end, it will rise of its own accord." This is why the Torah records that it was Moshe who erected the Mishkan. A powerful Midrash, but, in summary, did Moshe erect the Mishkan? No! All he did was asok b'yodcha, involve himself, and make it appear as if he were erecting it. In reality, he did not. It was Hashem Who erected the Mishkan.

Horav Baruch Mordechai Ezrachi, Shlita, derives an important principle in life from here. This entire world, which is referred to as the olam ha'assiah, world of action, is based upon two principles. First, we must do; we must act. Through our actions, Hashem sends His blessings. If we do not act, if we are not asok b'yadecha, then there is no blessing. Second, the achievement, the final product, the accomplishment is all Hashem's blessing. We only "appear" to be making it. It is really Hashem who erects the Mishkan and everything else that we do. We do - Hashem achieves. We act - He makes it happen. That is it!

Hashem erected the Mishkan, but first there had to be action on the part of Moshe. Man is osek, appears to be making it, but, actually, it is Hashem Who is constructing it. Regrettably, many of us do not see this. We get carried away with the asok b'yadecha and begin to believe that the ultimate hatzlachah, success, is our doing. Furthermore, while it is understandable that one have a source of livelihood, his goal should be that he works to live - not the inverse. We live in a time in which people have a life's goal that transcends work. One should work as much as necessary to achieve his livelihood, with his ultimate goal being the opportunity to spend his free time in the pursuit of matters of the spirit - either his or that of his children. Regrettably, when we look around at contemporary lifestyles, we note that it is money, work, or fame that has become an end in itself. Priorities in life have changed, so that acquiring essentials is not enough, or the definition of what are essentials has radically changed.

David Hamelech praises one who partakes of the work of his hands. "When you eat the labor of your hands, you are praiseworthy" (Tehillim 128:2). "This means," says the Kotzker Rebbe, zl, "that the 'work' should be that of his hands and not the total preoccupation of his mind." As my rebbe, Horav Baruch Sorotzkin, zl, always emphasized, Hashem's admonishment to Adam HaRishon of, B'zeiyas apecha tochal lechem, "By the sweat of your brow shall you eat bread" (Bereishis 3:19), was a curse - not a necessary way of life. Why should an individual choose to assume more punishment than is absolutely necessary?

Once, a chasid, who was a manufacturer of shoes, visited the Kotzker Rebbe and asked for a blessing in his venture. Noting that the individual was directing all his time, thought and energy to his business, the rebbe remarked, "You are truly an unusual person. Most people put their feet into shoes, whereas you have put your head into shoes."

We must ask ourselves: How many of us put our lives and, by extension, the lives of those closest to us, into shoes?

Va'ani Tefillah

Hod v'hadar lefanav, oz v'chedvah bimekomo. Glory and majesty are before Him, might and delight are in His place.

Citizens of modern society feel that glory and majesty, dignity and beauty, are attributes that can be found in the halls of intellectualism, in the denizens of artistic ability. People have been drawn to various religious experiences in search of beauty and majesty. This prayer, as explained by Horav Shimon Schwab, zl, dispels this notion. We are being told not to look elsewhere for these attributes, for true glory and majesty can be found only before Him. Do not look to satisfy your intellectual religious yearnings and desires by chasing the beliefs of other religions. You will find the answer to all of your yearning in only one place: lefanav, before Him.

Likewise, the honor and power which are demonstrated in the arena of world affairs, which the world nations, the so-called superpowers, think is theirs, actually belongs to Hashem. True might and honor are His. It is the arrogance of the nations that leads them to think that they shape their own destiny and, thus, honor and power is theirs. They are wrong, and the sooner that they realize the true source of honor and power, the quicker they will establish themselves as a true nation.

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