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Peninim on the Torah

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Rabbi A. Leib Scheinbaum
Hebrew Academy of Cleveland


On six days work may be done, but the seventh day shall be holy for you, a day of complete rest for Hashem. (35:2)

Rashi comments that the Torah presents the admonition concerning Shabbos prior to the command of constructing the Mishkan, in order to teach that the building of the Mishkan does not override the mitzvah of Shabbos. This is enigmatic. If the entire purpose of mentioning Shabbos is to teach that it supersedes even the building of the Mishkan first, then it would have been more appropriate to first mention the mitzvah of building the Mishkan and then write that it does not repeal the laws of Shabbos. After all, the parsha focuses primarily on the Mishkan. It should take precedence.

Horav Dovid Povarsky, zl, derives a powerful lesson regarding shemiras hamitzvos, mitzvah observance, from here. We see from here that had the Torah not decreed specifically that the Mishkan does not take precedence over Shabbos, one might momentarily have thought that he could be meikil, lenient, with regard to the laws of Shabbos. Even though the Torah would later on teach that Shabbos is sacrosanct and the Mishkan does not supersede it, the "damage" would have been done. Someone might think that there is room for kula, leniency, concerning Shabbos. This is why Shabbos is written first. It is the important principle that must be set down from the very beginning: there are no kulas regarding Shabbos. It is the very foundation of our belief.

Noach HaTzadik achieved great spiritual eminence until he permitted himself a kula; he was lenient in planting a vineyard. This catalyzed his spiritual transformation from an ish tzadik, righteous man, to an ish adamah, man of the earth. The Rosh Yeshivah emphasizes that this also occurred concerning the Golden Calf. The people "allowed" themselves to be lenient and build a "replacement" for Moshe Rabbeinu. This led to full- blown idol worship.

Avraham Avinu was called Ivri, derived from the word eivar, side, denoting that the entire world was on one side, while he stood his ground on the other side. Avraham would not budge. He would not compromise his values. When it came to his belief in Hashem, he had no room for negotiation. We are a nation today because Avraham-- and others like him-- refused to be meikil; they would not budge one iota from their Torah convictions.

Count Pototsky, Rav Avrahan ben Avraham, the famous ger tzedek, righteous convert, disciple of the Gaon m'Vilna, would not swerve from his commitment, would not waver from his course of belief in Hashem. His mother attempted to dissuade him, but to no avail. The Gaon was prepared to save him from death, but he refused, because he wanted to die sanctifying Hashem's Name. He was the ger tzedek who followed the other ger tzedek - Avraham Avinu.

This approach distinguished Noach from Avraham. Noach was willing to bend ever so slightly, while Avraham refused to deviate one iota. It all starts with one simple leniency, which leads to full-fledged sin. By establishing from the very onset of the parsha that it is forbidden to desecrate Shabbos, the Torah sets the strict standard for its observance and immediately conveys the message: there is no deviating from this mitzvah, no kulas, no leniencies. This is Hashem's command.

This unswerving devotion to Torah values has exemplified the lives of our gedolei Yisrael, Torah leaders. It has defined their very essences. Horav Shimon Schwab, zl, was Rav of the Washington Heights community of Khal Adas Jeshurun. A man of unimpeachable integrity, the emes of Torah was the beacon that guided every decision he made in life. His unswerving devotion to the truth of Torah would, at a number of junctures in his life, put him at odds with those whose sense of integrity was either flawed or weakened by various external pressures. His first position in America provided an opportunity for him to demonstrate his internal strength, his unstinting commitment to what the Torah deems right.

He became Rav of the German-Jewish Shearith Israel Congregation in Baltimore. Shortly after his arrival, he confronted his first crisis. According to the bylaws of the congregation, voting rights were conferred only on shomrei Shabbos. Rav Schwab insisted on upholding the bylaws. As a result, two hundred members, the majority of the shul, left to start their own synagogue. Shearith Israel was left with barely two dozen members, often without a minyan during the week. The young rav's salary was affected, but he would not compromise on his principles. He had no room for leniency. He was weaned on the tenets of Horav S.R. Hirsch: "Learn how to withstand animosity and to weather unpopularity, carrying on the struggle to uphold Hashem's ideals." Integrity was not just a character trait about which he spoke; it defined his life's calling.

Moshe said to Bnei Yisrael, "See, Hashem has proclaimed by name, Betzalel ben Uri ben Chur, to the tribe of Yehudah. He filled him with G-dly spirit. (35:30,31)

When we read the above pesukim, we recognize that they provide an almost verbatim repetition of similar pesukim in the previous parsha: "See, I have called by the name, Betzalel ben Uri ben Chur, of the tribe of Yehudah. I have filled him with a G-dly spirit." (31:2,3) One difference exists between the two sets of pesukim. In Parashas Ki Sissa, Hashem is speaking to Moshe Rabbeinu, while in our parsha, Moshe is relating what Hashem had told him. Nonetheless, is it that important to be repeated?

Horav Eliyahu Schlessinger, Shlita, suggests that the significance of the repetition is based upon a statement in the Talmud Berachos 55A, in which Chazal state that we do not appoint a parnes, leader, over the community, unless we first consult with the community. They support this with the above pasuk, saying that Hashem first consulted with Moshe, asking him, "Is Betzalel suitable for you?" Moshe replied, "Ribono Shel Olam, if he is suitable to You, is there any question concerning me?" Moshe then went and asked Klal Yisrael, "Is Betzalel suitable for you?" Their response mirrored that of Moshe, "If he is suitable before Hashem, is there any question concerning us?" Chazal imply that only after Hashem had consulted with Moshe, and had received a positive response from him, did Hashem agree, instructing Moshe to consult with Klal Yisrael.

Thus, the two sets of pesukim relate to the two consultations that took place regarding Betzalel's nomination as the Mishkan's architect. First, Hashem spoke it over with Moshe, who, in turn, did the same with Klal Yisrael.

In his commentary to Parashas Ki Sissa, the Chasam Sofer rationalizes why Hashem had instructed Moshe to consult with Klal Yisrael concerning His choice of Betzalel as the Mishkan's architect. He explains that Betzalel was only thirteen years old at the time. It was Hashem who filled Betzalel "with wisdom, understanding and knowledge," granting him the capability to understand the intricate designs and the Divine inspiration with which they were imbued. Why did Hashem do this? Why choose a young lad and infuse him with G-dly spirit? Why not choose someone older, more accomplished, who had earned his position through age, experience and virtue?

Betzalel represented something unique; in fact, he represented the reason for the Mishkan's presence. The Mishkan was all about Betzalel. Hashem instructed Klal Yisrael to erect the Mishkan, which would serve as an atonement for the sin of the Golden Calf. Indeed, Hashem used the Mishkan as a symbol for the world, declaring that Klal Yisrael had been forgiven for their grave sin. This is why it is called Mishkan HaEidus, Tabernacle of Testimony, since it attests to Klal Yisrael's teshuvah, repentance, and Hashem's acceptance. Klal Yisrael had taken their gold and silver and given it for the Golden Calf. They atoned for their rebellion when they gave their gold and silver with heartfelt devotion for the Mishkan.

Betzalel merited his position because he was intricately involved in the Mishkan's mission statement. It was his grandfather, Chur, who had attempted to quell the rebellion by rebuking the sinners. They not only repudiated his advice, but they killed him for it. We now understand why Hashem instructed Moshe to consult with Klal Yisrael regarding His choice of Betzalel. Hashem was concerned that the people might feel ashamed to face Betzalel, given the fact that their sin had created the mood which catalyzed his grandfather's death. This might be a reason to be uncomfortable with Betzalel. Their reply was: on the contrary, we want Betzalel, so that our embarrassment will atone for our sin.

The Meshech Chochmah posits that Betzalel was the logical choice to build the Mishkan for two reasons: He was Chur's grandson, and, thus, the heir to a legacy of mesiras nefesh, self-sacrifice for the honor of Hashem. He was also the great-grandson of Yehudah, whose tribe was the first to enter the Red Sea. Both of these instances manifest extreme devotion to Hashem, a devotion predicated upon the principles and conviction of emunah peshutah, pure, simple faith in the Almighty without embellishment. This is the quality necessary to build the edifice in which Hashem's Presence will repose. It takes commitment, devotion, trust, faith - without question - without seeking glory - just pure belief in the Almighty.

This, explains the Meshech Chochmah, is the reason that, specifically regarding the construction of the Aron HaKadosh, the Torah emphasizes that Betzalel made the Aron. Why does the Aron stand out? Betzalel made all of the vessels of the Bais Hamikdash. The Aron had an added component: the Keruvim which were a form, an image. The Golden Calf was also an image. The difference was that the Keruvim were "ordered" by Hashem, while the Golden Calf was ordered by the people. A nation that had once fallen prey to the sin of making an image might have a problem preparing the Keruvim. They might not prepare with the utmost conviction needed for such a holy endeavor. It was Betzalel who made the Keruvim, because he represented selfless devotion and true conviction. No one questioned his motives.

These are the reckonings of the Mishkan…which were reckoned at Moshe's bidding. (38:21)

The last parshah in Sefer Shemos begins with a detailed accounting of the amounts of gold, silver and copper which were used for the construction of the Mishkan. These metals were deposited with Moshe Rabbeinu and were under the supervision of Betzalel, who was in charge of the Mishkan's construction. Yet, despite all precautions, people like to talk, and talking against gedolei Yisrael, Torah giants, the spiritual leaders of the community, is especially flagrant. Moshe was no different. He was Hashem's choice to be Klal Yisrael's leader, the one through whom Hashem wrought all of the miracles and wonders in Egypt and at the Red Sea, the one who was our first national rebbe, through whom the Torah was given. Nonetheless, the people talked. Moshe was not going to allow the disparaging words of a few low-lifes besmirch his name and the Mishkan's integrity. He ordered an accounting.

What kind of person would have the audacity to open his mouth against Moshe? True, every generation has its demagogues who seek to undermine their leadership, and every community has its malcontents, but this is Moshe we are discussing. Hashem attested to his veracity when He said, "In My entire house he is the trusted one" (Bamidbar 12:7). Who were these people? Chazal refer to them as the litzanei ha'dor, scoffers/jokers of the generation. These were individuals who made it their business to be cynical about everything, to find fault in and impugn the actions of Moshe constantly. They were the generation's spiritual misfits. If so, why did Moshe feel it necessary to respond to their slander?

Horav Reuven Karlinstein, zl, cites Horav Yosef Zundel Salant, zl, in his Be'er Yosef who responds to this question. First, however, the Maggid makes the following introduction: Every lie has a crumb of truth. Where there is smoke, there is usually some fire. In other words, while the statements against Moshe were categorically false, there is a reason why the people might have erred, thinking that something was not totally kosher. This does not excuse their contemptible behavior.

The Jewish People had no shortage of money. Between the money they "borrowed" from the Egyptians before they left Egypt, and the spoils from the Red Sea, the Jews were doing quite well. Moshe, however, was not as fortunate. While the Jews were cleaning out Egypt, he was searching for the coffin of Yosef HaTzadik. While they were filling their coffers with Egyptian gold, he was occupied in a more lofty mitzvah. When all is said and done, Moshe was far from wealthy - before he broke the Luchos. Chazal teach us that after Moshe broke the first Luchos, Hashem instructed him to prepare a second set of Luchos. Also, he was told to keep the shivrei luchos, broken shards, of the original luchos. That is how he became wealthy. The Luchos were made of the finest priceless stones.

Let us look at the dates and develop a better picture of how these leitzanim were able to find fault. Moshe descended Har Sinai on the seventeenth day of Tamuz. When he saw the outrage around the Golden Calf, he immediately proceeded to shatter the Luchos. The next day Hashem instructed him to fashion new Luchos, which Moshe did, and immediately ascended the mountain-- to return forty days later. He returned on Yom Kippur with the wonderful news that Klal Yisrael's actions had been atoned for, and he presented the nation with their new Luchos. The next day - the day after Yom Kippur - Moshe announced that he was collecting donations for the building of the Mishkan. It seems a bit strange. As far as the people were concerned, he had no money when he made the appeal for the Mishkan. Suddenly, Moshe had become wealthy. When did he strike it rich? Is it not "possible" that he had some "leftover" contributions from the Mishkan?

The above explanation gives us something to think about and-- quite frankly-- explains where these cynics found the material for their slander. If so, why blame them? It does appear somewhat suspicious. Why are they referred to as leitzanei ha'dor? They should be called to'ei ha'dor, the mistaken ones, the erroneous ones. It almost seems as if they are viewed as evil, when, in fact, they erred. Rav Reuven makes a striking comment: To speak against a tzadik - regardless of the nature of one's words, just speaking against him-- is evil, earning the individual a place in infamy.

The lesson for us is clear. We might have excuses. We might even find justification for our comments, but if the subject of our remarks is a tzadik, then we are classified as wicked. These leitzanim made an error, a grievous error, but an error nonetheless. Yet, they earned for themselves an ignominious reputation: leitzanei ha'dor. All this is because they spoke against Moshe. In addition, who are we to decide who should bear the mantle of tzadik? Therefore, even when we think that we are justified, it is best just not to talk. By talking against others, we might just be labeling ourselves.

It was in the first month…on the first of the month that the Mishkan was erected. (40:17)

The craftsmen brought the various components of the Mishkan to Moshe. Since Moshe Rabbeinu had not had a share in the actual work, Hashem wanted him to have the honor of erecting the Mishkan. Moshe could not fathom how he could raise it, given that it was so heavy. "How can anyone erect it?" Moshe asked. Hashem told him to make the attempt, and the Mishkan would raise itself and stand on its own. This is the underlying meaning of hukam ha'Mishkan, "the Mishkan was erected," in the passive sense, implying that although Moshe had made the attempt the Mishkan stood up by itself.

There is an important lesson in avodas Hashem, serving the Almighty. Chazal tell us in Pirkei Avos 2:21, "It is not for you to complete the work, but neither are you free to desist from it." The Chafetz Chaim, zl would say, "It is not for you to achieve, but to act. Achievement is the province of the Almighty." Likewise, Moshe was to do, to make the attempt. The rest, the achievement, is Hashem's province.

Horav Elazar M. Shach, zl, related the following story. He was Rosh Yeshivah of the Lomza Yeshivah in Petach Tikvah. There was a man who, for all appearances, looked like a hardworking farmer who would attend the daily Daf Yomi shiur in the bais ha'medrash. Every day he would enter, like clockwork, proceed to the bookcase, remove his Gemora, take a seat- and fall asleep. This was not a one-time incident. It occurred every day!

This is, regrettably, an almost daily occurrence for many people all over. They are totally exhausted after an entire day's work, and a shiur for an hour is just too much. Sleep is very tempting. Let us examine the reaction of the gadol ha'dor, pre-eminent leader of the previous generation; let us contrast how we view the sleeping man with how the great Rosh Yeshivah views him.

Rav Shach related that he was actually envious of the farmer. "Here is a man who puts in a difficult day's toil, and, yet, does everything within his ability to learn Torah! He has just enough strength to come to the shiur, open his Gemora and plop down his head! He has done all that he can do. For that, I am jealous of him! He does all that he can!"

The story is both meaningful and inspirational. It should inspire us to view all Jews in a similarly positive light.

Va'ani Tefillah

Va'anachnu nevarech Kah, me'atah v'ad olam.
And we shall bless Hashem, from now and until forever.

Horav Avigdor Miller, zl, explains this pasuk pragmatically. People speak about what is important to them. For some, it is business; for others, it is politics; and yet, for others, it is sports. For us, Hashem's People, His nation, our primary interest and sole desire are to occupy ourselves all of the days of our lives with paying gratitude and praise to Hashem for His countless gifts. We seek to humble ourselves, to thank Him by bending our knee, a concept derived from the word nevareich, bless, a derivative of berech, knee. We also hope to make this so much a part of our lives that we will be able to transmit this emotion to further generations, "from now and until forever." This is not a one-time experience. Rather, it is a life's vocation. It is not merely a virtuous aspiration, but our sole desire, a desire filled with yearning, so that we may begin this praise immediately, without delay.

The words "until forever" have three connotations: 1. all of the days of our individual lives; 2. all of the days of our eternal nation; 3. all of the years of the Afterlife. This is our primary function: to be excited over Hashem - and only over Him. It is the source of excitement that has eternal meaning.

l'zechar nishmas ha'isha
Yenta bas R' Nachum Tzvi a"h
niftar 8 Adar 5760
By the
Schulhof, Winter & Feigenbaum Families

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