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Peninim on the Torah

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Rabbi A. Leib Scheinbaum
Hebrew Academy of Cleveland


These are the reckonings of the Mishkan. (38:21)

The parsha begins with a detailed listing of the amounts of the various metals used for the Mishkan. Even though Moshe Rabbeinu himself deposited the metals under the supervision of Betzalel, both individuals whose integrity was beyond dispute, Moshe, nonetheless, made a public reckoning of all of the proceeds and donations. Leaders must be above reproach, and Moshe refused to take a chance by relying on assumptions. The people must be absolutely certain. Only a great man cares about every little detail in regard to other people's money. Leaders, as well as each individual, must keep an accounting of the funds that pass through their hands. Indeed, the Kav Hayashar writes that this is a sign of true yiraas Shomayim, fear of Heaven.

A man once informed the Chazan Ish that his daughter became engaged to a person who was an outstanding Torah scholar and yarei Shomayim. The Chazon Ish replied, "You are probably correct in stating that he is an outstanding scholar. This is something that you can either inquire about from people or you can speak with him yourself in learning. How do you know, however, that he is G-d-fearing? Have you had financial dealings with him?"

Horav Moshe Aharon Stern, zl, was known for taking meticulous care of other people's money. He was especially careful not to benefit himself from his yeshivah. When one of his sons became engaged, one of the yeshivah's supporters offered him a substantial loan. He politely refused, explaining that if he accepted it, the potential lender might think, "Rav Moshe Aharon represents the yeshivah. I have already given him a loan, so why should I extend myself further and give the yeshivah money?" He refused to be party to any situation in which the yeshivah might sustain a financial loss because of him.

Horav Yosef Yoizel Horowitz, zl, the Alter m'Novardok once stayed at an inn during one of his many travels on behalf of the yeshivah. One of his fellow lodgers was a distinguished Jew from Moscow. It was Erev Shabbos, and the Alter was preparing for Shabbos. He asked the other gentleman if he could borrow a clothes brush to clean his suit for Shabbos. When the Alter went to return the brush, the man had already left for shul. After Shabbos was over and the Alter had returned from shul, he immediately sought out the man, only to be told that he had already left.

The Alter was disconcerted. What should he do? He was in possession of an article that belonged to someone else. How could he return it? There were millions of people living in Moscow. To find one would be like searching for a needle in the proverbial haystack. In hopes of finding someone who might know the elusive owner of the brush, the Alter carried the brush with him wherever he went. Maybe he would become lucky and meet someone who knew someone who knew the owner of the brush. Regrettably, his efforts proved to be in vain.

It was seven years later, and the Alter was riding on a train - the brush still with him. During the course of the trip, he and his seatmate engaged in conversation. The Alter asked the man from where he hailed. When the man replied that he lived in Moscow, the Alter excitedly asked him whether he knew the owner of the brush. To the Alter's great joy and relief, the person not only knew the individual, but he was even his close neighbor. The Alter immediately explained his predicament regarding the brush and asked him to return it.

Horav Eliyahu Lopian, zl, once went to someone's house for a bar-mitzvah Kiddush after Shabbos morning davening. He arrived shortly after the celebration had commenced, so that he had to make his own Kiddush. It was not Rav Elya's nature to tarry long at these affairs. It was, therefore, inexplicable that he remained until the end of the Kiddush, which had lasted some time. After all of the guests had departed, Rav Elya asked to speak to the mother of the bar-mitzvah boy. "I would like to beg your forgiveness," he began. "My hands trembled as I made Kiddush, causing some wine to spill onto the tablecloth." He then added that in situations such as this, he would ask forgiveness not only for himself, but for all of the guests. "When we first arrived at your home, the tablecloth was sparkling clean and laid out so beautifully. Now it is covered with crumbs and spills. This did not have to occur, since it is quite possible to take food without causing a mess. Please forgive me, along with everyone else, for the trouble we have caused you."

One might think that the above narratives are unique episodes in the lives of people who were above and beyond our perception. While this might be true, we must understand that they were only acting in accordance with halachah. Their sensitivity towards other human beings, as well as their sense of responsibility to carry out the ethical dictates that are part and parcel of halachah, was exemplary. That is why they were acclaimed as Torah giants.

These are the reckonings of the Mishkan, the Tabernacle of Testimony. (38:21)

The word Mishkan is mentioned twice. Why? Rashi explains that the word Mishkan - which is spelled mem, shin, kof, nun - can also be read as mashkon, which means collateral. This alludes to the Bais Hamikdash which was twice taken from us as collateral. The sins of Klal Yisrael should have brought about their destruction. Instead, Hashem took out His wrath on the wood and stones of the Bais Hamikdash. They were Klal Yisrael's collateral. A young student once asked HoRav Yosef Chaim Sonnenfeld, zl, the following question, "If the destruction of the Bais Hamikdash parallels the taking of collateral for Klal Yisrael's sins, why does Hashem not return the pledge to us, especially since we yearn and long for it so much?" Rav Yosef Chaim gave a penetrating response: "Halachah teaches us that the lender must return the security if the borrower is poor and in need of said object. For instance, if the collateral is a pillow or blanket, which the borrower needs in order to sleep, the lender must return it every night. If, however, the poor man has another pillow or blanket, it is not incumbent upon the lender to return the security.

"Do you want to know why Hashem has not returned the collateral? Why, after all these years of suffering and exile, do we still wait for that security? It is because most Jews are perfectly content with the lifestyle they have adopted in exile. They are wealthy, dignified, and comfortable. They seem to lack nothing. They seem quite content with their "exile"; they do not manifest a sense of urgency, a feeling that something is missing from their lives. Thus, Hashem is not obligated to return the Bais Hamikdash. We are not poor. We do not seem to be lacking anything."

A similar sentiment is expressed by the Sh'lah Hakadosh when he writes, "My heart aches within me, when I see that Jews build beautiful homes for themselves, like palaces of princes, making permanent, long-lasting dwellings for themselves. This gives the impression that they have a lack of appreciation and expectation for our Messianic redemption."

One can imagine what the Sh'lah would say if he were alive today. If he wrote then that there was a "lack of appreciation and expectation," today he might write, "They do not want Moshiach to come, because it would hamper their lifestyle."

These are the reckonings of the Mishkan, the Tabernacle of Testimony. (38:21)

Lecha Hashem ha'gedulah, "Yours, Hashem, is the greatness, the strength, the splendor, the triumph, and the glory, even everything in Heaven and earth." (Divrei HaYamim I, 29:3). In Midrash Tanchuma, Chazal suggest that this pasuk - which we recite daily in the Vayivarech David prayer - alludes to the fact that the building of the Mishkan had a profound relationship with the creation of Heaven and earth. Horav Nissan Alpert, zl, renders a penetrating interpretation of this Midrash, which we take the liberty of citing.

On the First Day of Creation, Hashem created Shomayim va'aretz, "Heaven and earth." This creation corresponds with the Yerios haMishkan, "Curtains of the Mishkan", as it is written, Noteh Shomayim kayeriah, "stretching out the Heavens like a curtain." (Tehillim 104:2) The Mishkan per se was comprised of ten Yerios, Curtains. Interestingly, the term Mishkan is given specifically to the Curtains. Rav Alpert explains that the ten Curtains which served as a roof for the Mishkan symbolize the creation of Heaven. This teaches us that the purpose and function of the Mishkan is to bring heaven down to earth. By gazing up at the Yerios, we reflect upon our obligation to look Heavenward for Divine assistance.

The Keruvim, facing each other with their wings spread upward, were an integral part of the Kapores, Cover of the Aron HaKodesh, Holy Ark. This also demonstrated the intrinsic relationship between Heaven and earth. Moreover, Hashem's unity encompasses everything that exists, and every creation that exists on earth has its corresponding entity in Heaven. In truth, every physical entity has a spiritual aspect within it. There are spiritual powers and forces that exist within the physical realm. It is up to man to seek to uncover these entities.

On the Second Day, Hashem created the rokiah, sky, to serve as a partition between the Heavenly waters and the earthly waters. Likewise, the Paroches, Curtain, divided the area that was Kadosh, Holy, and that which was Kodshei Kodoshim, the Holy of Holies. Hashem created His world with boundaries and parameters. He separated between places, nations, people, men and women, Jew and gentile. The earth belongs to Hashem, and He elevated Eretz Yisrael, distinguishing it from the world. There is Holy and there is the "Holy of Holies", the Paroches, which serves as the partition between the two. One is not to trespass beyond the line of demarcation that has been delineated by Hashem.

On the Third Day of Creation, Hashem said, "Let the waters beneath the Heaven be gathered into one area, and let dry land appear." The oceans, lakes and rivers came into being. The creation of "water" coincided with the construction of the Kiyor, Laver, from which the Kohanim would be metaher, cleanse/purify themselves. Water has the power to purify because it is a part of the Heavens which was untouched by man. The rivers and lakes constrain man's ability to vanquish. It prevents him from passing further. Water indicates to man that he is only human. He has his limitations which encumber him from going wherever he pleases. Water represents man's weakness. It is for this reason that the Kohanim would wash their hands and feet from the Kiyor prior to entering the Sanctuary to perform their service. Hands and feet are the active organs of the body which represent movement. Water connotes the limitations of that movement. Hence, the Kohanim washed their hands and feet in water from the Kiyor, symbolizing the restraint that is imposed upon man.

Hashem placed the great luminaries in the sky on the Fourth Day. The golden Menorah, which illuminates the Mishkan, whose light drives away the darkness, refers to the Torah,which lights up a path for the Jew with its chochmas haTorah, wisdom derived from the Torah.

Hashem created fowl on the Fifth Day. Coinciding with this are the Keruvim, whose wings spread upward. There is a spiritual aspect to fowl, represented by their ability to soar upward. Perhaps this is why a fowl does not become tamei, spiritually contaminated, except from contact with the neveilah, carcass of a dead fowl, which is metamei only in the bais habeliyah, place where one swallows. It is only through human consumption, when the fowl becomes a part of man - who is an artzi, earth-bound and cannot ascend on his own from his stationery perch on earth - that the fowl becomes tamei.

On Yom ha'Shishi, the Sixth Day, Hashem created man. In the Mishkan, the Kohen Gadol, the man at his spiritual zenith, was designated to serve Hashem.

On the Seventh Day, the Torah writes, Vayechulu, "and Hashem completed His Creation". Regarding the Mishkan, the Torah says, Vatechal kol avodas haMishkan, "All the work was completed." (Shemos 39:32) The Seventh Day introduced a new form of Creation: rest and kedushah, holiness. The koach ha'perishah, ability to desist, to say "enough", is in itself a powerful force. To complete a project in accordance with the exact instructions, no more and no less than the given word, in exact accordance with Hashem's command - all this is reflected in the completion of the Mishkan. There is sanctity in doing something the right way, exactly according to instructions. Moshe Rabbeinu followed Hashem's command to the letter; Betzalel constructed the Mishkan "as Hashem commanded Moshe" - exactly - according to the guidelines given to him by his rebbe, who heard it from Hashem. This is kedushah. It was all according to what Hashem wanted. To listen - to halt one's work when he is told to do so is to sanctify his endeavor, because he does not act on his own - he listens to Hashem.


These are the reckonings of the Mishkan, the Tabernacle of Testimony, which were reckoned. (38:21) The word pukad, "which were reckoned", has another meaning. In Bamidbar (31:49), "V'lo nifkad mimenu ish, "And not a man of us is missing," it is defined as missing or deficient. Horav Avrohom, zl, m'Slonim interprets this pasuk homiletically. The word Mishkan denotes a Jew who possesses the Shechinah within himself. He serves Hashem b'sheleimus, wholeheartedly, perfectly. A Jew who is on the level of Mishkan, who serves Hashem correctly, is pukad, always feels he is missing something; he is deficient in his character traits. This type of feeling is a Mishkan ho'eidus, "attests" to his being on the level of Mishkan.


The cloud covered the Ohel Moed, and the glory of Hashem filled the Mishkan. (40:34)

A chassid once said to Horav Naftali zl, m'Ropshitz, when he was yet a young boy, "Naftali! I will give you a gold coin if you can tell where Hashem dwells in the world." The young Ropshitzer countered, "I will give you two gold coins if you can tell me where He does not dwell."

A similar question was asked of Horav Menachem Mendel, zl, m'Kotzk, and he responded, "Hashem dwells wherever He is allowed in."


For the cloud of Hashem would be on the Mishkan by day…throughout their journeys. (40:38)

Rashi explains that maaseihem, "their journeys", applies equally to the places where they encamped. Yalkut Yehudah explains that even the places where they rested are an integral part of their journeys, because every encampment was only temporary. Even when one rests, he should be prepared to move on at any time. We never stay still, always prepared for the "call" that heralds our next journey.


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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