Back to This Week's Parsha

Peninim on the Torah

subscribe.gif (2332 bytes)

Previous issues

Rabbi A. Leib Scheinbaum
Hebrew Academy of Cleveland


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

The Mishkan was filled with numerous vessels, each one exemplifying beauty and magnificence˙ and intimating lofty spiritual ideals and physical blessings. The Menorah, which was made of solid gold, symbolized wisdom. The Shulchan, Table, likewise was magnificent in its gold design. It signified blessing and wealth. The Kohen Gadol radiated glory as he performed the avodah, service, bedecked in his multi colored, gold brocade vestments, topped off with the Breast Plate with its multi colored precious jewels. Indeed, anyone who had the opportunity to see this glorious spectacle was certainly inspired by its rich beauty. Nonetheless, the Torah, in referring to the Mishkan, does not in any way allude to all the pomp and majesty that was manifest in the Mishkan. It refers to the Mishkan as the Mishkan HaEidus, signifying the Testimony, the two Luchos that were contained within its environs. Why is this? Why is the majesty of the Mishkan ignored and the emphasis placed instead on the Luchos, which were not seen anyway?

Horav Moshe Shapiro, Shlita, explains that the focus of the Mishkan, its purpose in Klal Yisrael, determines its name. The tachlis, purpose, is to serve as a place for the Shechinah to repose in Klal Yisrael. To that end, we know that the Shechinah's "place" in the Mishkan, or, the place where the word of Hashem was heard, was from between the two Keruvim which were a part of the Kapores, Cover, of the Aron Hakodesh. The Shechinah rested within the Aron HaEidus, which contained the Luchos and served as testimony to the world that Hashem had reconciled with Klal Yisrael following the sin of the Golden Calf.

Undoubtedly, the majesty that was manifest in the Mishkan was significant, but it was not primary. The Shechinah resides in the place that is modest, in the individual who is devoted to Torah study. Fanfare, pomp and circumstance, are not necessary - Torah study is.

During Horav Chaim Volozhiner's tenure, there lived a man by the name of Reb Moshe Soloveitchik who was very wealthy and was very generous with his money. He contributed to every worthwhile cause and his house was the address for everyone in need. One day he went bankrupt and was left with barely his shirt on his back. Rav Chaim Volozhiner convened a bais din, court of law, to determine what could have caused this dreadful turn of events. The other rabbanim decided that Reb Moshe was punished because he was giving away too much money. According to halachah, one should not donate more than twenty percent of his possessions, a sum which Reb Moshe exceeded many times over. Rav Chaim was not satisfied with this logic.

Nonetheless, Reb Moshe now had the time to throw himself into Torah study. He had no distractions, no business, and no requests for his time or money. He studied diligently and was blessed in developing a vast knowledge of Torah. This knowledge and determination to study was transmitted to his descendants, and the roots of the famous Brisker dynasty began to develop. Rav Chaim Volozhiner commented that this could not have occurred had Reb Moshe retained his enormous wealth. Torah grows in a modest and humble environment. Everything needs its unique climate for growth and development. Luxury and opulence is not necessarily the climate most conducive for Torah advancement.

Rav Moshe Shapiro adds that the Shechinah's voice emanated from between the Keruvim. This teaches us that the Shechinah rests only on the Torah learning of a chavrusashaft, two study partners, who, as the Keruvim, "face each other" and learn together. While one certainly derives schar, reward, for studying Torah by himself, the place of hashraas ha'Shechina's, the Shechinah's resting place, is when Torah emanates from two people who study together.

They brought the Mishkan to Moshe. (39:33)

In this context, the word Mishkan does not mean the completed Mishkan, but rather, the covering of the Mishkan. The workmen could not erect the Mishkan because of its considerable weight. Since Moshe Rabbeinu had until now not had any share in constructing the Mishkan, Hashem wanted him to be the one to erect it. Although the Mishkan's weight was beyond the ability of a human being to raise it, Hashem instructed Moshe to make an attempt and Hashem would raise it. Moshe tried to erect it and the Mishkan stood up by itself. The Midrash cites the pasuk in Mishlei 31:25, "Strength and majesty are her raiment." - this refers to Moshe. "And she joyfully awaits the last day" - this is a reference to the leitzanim, scoffers, who made fun of Moshe, saying, "Is it possible that the Shechinah will rest on the handiwork of the son of Amram?" Moshe did not respond, but on the "last day" when no one could raise the Mishkan, it was precisely Moshe who demonstrated that he has Hashem's support.

This is the way a Torah scholar should perceive matters: the yom acharon, last day. They do not concern themselves with what occurs in the present, nor are they affected by what the skeptics might say. They know and believe that, in the end, Hashem will respond to their needs and they will realize their reward. The Midrash cites two narratives in support of its statement.

In the first one, one of Rabbi Shimon Bar Yochai's students left the yeshivah and traveled out of Eretz Yisrael and returned a very wealthy man. The remaining students were envious of his financial success. Rabbi Shimon took them out to a valley and said, "Valley, valley, fill yourself with gold." The valley immediately overflowed with gold. Rabbi Shimon turned to his students and said, "If it is gold that you seek, here, take it! But, remember, you are taking your portion in the World to Come." This is the meaning of Vatischak l'yom acharon. "And (she) joyfully awaits the last day." This refers to the World to Come when a person collects his due.

This Midrash begs elucidation. First, are we to suspect Rabbi Shimon's students of being envious of the one who "made it" financially? Certainly, they were not shallow. Second, were they prepared to leave their revered rebbe for financial opportunity? Horav Sholom Schwadron, zl, gives an insightful commentary to this Midrash that conveys a practical lesson for us.

He explains that when the student reappeared as a wealthy man, he immediately returned to his original place in the yeshivah and began to study Torah with his old enthusiasm and diligence. Furthermore, he used his newly-acquired funds to support those in need. Now his friends were jealous. To have the learning and the money, to be able to study diligently and also have the wherewithal to help others, this was truly a position to envy. They also wanted to amass great wealth and then return to a life of Torah and gedulah.

Their rebbe, Rabbi Shimon, understood their aspiration and thus, he brought them out to a valley which he miraculously filled with gold. "You want gold so that you can have a greater portion in the World to Come. You seek to learn and to sustain Torah. Let me explain to you that everything one receives is given to him by Hashem. He only receives what Hashem deems him worthy of receiving. This applies to Olam Habah as well as to olam hazeh. One cannot force the issue and expect to appropriate a greater portion than he deserves. If Hashem would have wanted you to have Torah and gedulah, scholarship and wealth, He would have granted it to you. Since He did not, it is an indication that your function is to devote yourself fully to Torah."

The bottom line is that one receives his reward in the World to Come. While there are those whose good fortune it is to eat out of a silver spoon even in this world, as mentioned above, this is Hashem's decision, determined by His expectations of this person. But what about those who do not lead a Torah life, who, at best, live a life of abandon and, at worst, one of iniquity? Many of them seem to be doing quite well in this world. What happened to the concept of reward only in Olam Habah?

The Chafetz Chaim, zl, provides a powerful parable that should serve as a wake-up call for us. One of the king's officers rebelled against his master. It was a act of rebellion that warranted an extreme punishment, one that should impact a message to others. The punishment was decided: the officer would be placed in a cage in the center of town and given no food until he perished from hunger. It seems to be a cruel punishment, but when one sins against the king, there is no room for leniency. During the first few days the punishment was not apparent, since the officer was properly fed prior to his sentence. It was on day four that the hunger pains began to unnerve him, that the pangs began to eat away at him. He was miserable and, what made it worse - there was no hope in sight. He was paying dearly for his miscreant behavior against the king who had originally been so benevolent to him. Finally, giving in to overwhelming hunger pains, he took a bite out of his own skin. It kept him alive, but after the hunger pains temporarily subsided, he was now overwhelmed with the agony of the wound he had made to his own flesh.

On that day, when this spectacle was occurring and the prisoner was eating his own flesh, a visitor chanced upon the town. This man had not been aware of the officer's rebellion, nor of his punishment. He questioned the townspeople concerning the man in the cage in the center of town. "He is being starved to death for rebelling against the king," they replied.

"He does not seem to be starving," the visitor commented. "I see him eating heartily. Some punishment."

The spectators who had been watching the scene unfold responded, "Yes, he is eating - but, he is eating himself!"

What a powerful analogy. We wonder how some people get away with performing every iniquity, yet, continue to enjoy life in a manner certainly inconsistent with the way they act. What they fail to realize is that they are receiving their eternal reward - in this world.

According to all that Hashem commanded Moshe, so Bnei Yisrael did all the work. And Moshe saw all the work and, behold, they had done it as Hashem commanded, even so they had done it. (39:42,43)

Upon reading the text we are confronted with a glaring question: Why does the Torah repeat itself? Twice it mentions that the work performed by Bnei Yisrael conformed with the specifications that Hashem had set for them. Horav Aharon Soloveitchik, zl, addresses this query and draws a distinction between the various terms used to describe "work." In the first pasuk, the word avodah is used to describe work, while in the second pasuk, the word melachah is used. These terms are different in that they refer to two different forms of labor.

Avodah connotes a labor that is extraneous to the individual performing the work, while melachah refers to work which is an art form, embodying the personality of the one who effects it. When an artist creates a work of art, he imbues it with his personality, a part of himself is reflected in his creation. Any project, even one as holy as the Mishkan, can be realized through the spectrum of either mere avodah, or personal melachah.

When the craftsmen created the Mishkan they followed the blueprint revealed to them by Hashem. This was their avodah. Supplementing their work, Betzalel, Ohaliav and their associates instilled their personalities and personal devotion into the construction of the Mishkan and its Keilim, appurtenances. It was only when Moshe Rabbeinu noted that both the avodah aspect and the melachah aspect of the construction of the Mishkan conformed to Hashem's specifications, that he bestowed his blessing on the Mishkan. The Mishkan had to represent and reflect the harmony between these two forms of labor and its conformity to the dvar, word, of Hashem.

Likewise, there are two methods through which talmidei chachamim, Torah scholars, disseminate Torah to their students. There are those who provide efficient training, cultivating their student's intellect and scholarship - yet, these students remain on the periphery with regard to their rebbeim. The relationship that should be so intrinsic between a rebbe and his talmid, student, just does not seem to exist. There are, however, rebbeim who not only teach Torah to their students, but they even infuse them with their own personality. These are the devoted mechanchim, educators, who emphasize the melachah aspect of Torah dissemination.

How does one effect harbotzas Torah on a melachah level? What techniques should he employ to reach his students on a personal level? Rav Soloveitchik cites a dialogue between Rabbi Chiya and Rabbi Chanina in the Talmud Bava Metzia 85b that lends insight towards obtaining the correct approach one should take. In a most inspiring debate between these two Tannaim the question that was addressed was: How would each respective Tanna restore Torah to Klal Yisrael if chas v'shalom, Heaven forbid, it was forgotten?

Rabbi Chanina felt that through his incredible mastery of Torah, he could have single-handedly revived it through his scholarship and erudition. The problem with this approach is that it works so long as the majority of Klal Yisrael remains committed to upholding the Torah. Then, through study and more study, they will master the Torah. This approach prevails only on the avodah level since its focus is primarily on academia and knowledge.

Rabbi Chiya addressed a situation when Klal Yisrael will not only be ignorant of the Torah, they will also be disinterested in seeking its wisdom and guidance. Under such conditions the propagation of Torah via the medium of the avodah approach will be deemed ineffective. Rabbi Chiya then intimated to Rabbi Chanina that his approach might restore knowledge of the Torah, but what was going to guarantee continuity to the next generation when the present generation was hostile to Torah philosophy?

Consequently, Rabbi Chiya introduced the melachah approach to Torah dissemination. He felt that by injecting his personality into the hearts and minds of his students, by involving them in the process of Torah learning from its genesis, from preparing the parchment upon which the Torah was written to intellectual guidance and inspirational stimulation and character growth, he would ultimately accomplish much more. The intellectual dialogue of "giving a shiur" would work only to a crowd attuned and ready to learn. Indeed, Rabbi Chiya's melachah method was, and continues to be, more laborious, but there are times, circumstances and students who will thrive only under such tutelage.

It goes a step further. The rebbe who employs the avodah approach to education can simplify his task by a division of labor. He parcels out the running of the yeshivah, the psychological guidance of his students and various administrative and organizational duties to those who are proficient in these respective fields, while he devotes his time to the intellectual development and guidance of his students.

The rebbe who takes the melachah approach does so either out of need, or educational perspective. To succeed in infusing his personality into his students' psyches, it is essential that he do everything himself. He must find the students, prepare the parchment and instructional materials, at times cook the meals, be father, mother, big brother and psychologist and just about everything else, to succeed in his daunting task. The melachah approach is difficult, but, in the long run, it is guaranteed the most success.

There were many rebbeim and roshei yeshivah who exemplified this approach to teaching Torah. I take the liberty of citing from a biography of Horav Shlomo Freifeld, zl, Rosh Hayeshivah of Shor Yoshuv in Far Rockaway, NY and an undisputed pioneer in the field of kiruv rechokim, Jewish outreach to the unaffiliated. His unusual personal warmth and sensitivity towards Jews from all spectrums of Jewish life earned him their unequivocal love and respect. They became his talmidim in the fullest sense of the word, adapting his philosophy and, to some extent - his essence. A talmid once remarked about his rebbe, "Rav Shlomo did not love people despite their weaknesses, but because of them. He viewed their shortcomings as tools and mediums by which one could climb and develop."

Rav Freifeld did not wait for a student to come to him. He sought them out, picking up potential students in places far off the beaten path. He focused on chizuk, encouragement and raising a student's self-esteem. He recognized that the capacity for spiritual growth was closely tied to self-esteem. When dealing with a broken neshamah, he would encourage the student to focus on his own capacity for growth. He would not say "be strong." Rather, he encouraged him to "be big," recognizing that not everyone had the potential for strength, but everyone had the opportunity for greatness. He believed in his student's ability to soar spiritually, to become great, and he encouraged them. Indeed, he engendered in his students a drive to greatness.

This approach was especially necessary in reaching out to the many baalei teshuvah, returnees to the Torah way of life, who came in contact with him. The insecurity of a would-be-baal teshuvah who realizes that he has missed out on so much of his rightful heritage can be devastating. Rav Freifeld taught them self- respect, because he respected them. He saw their potential, recognized their accomplishments and encouraged further achievements. He exemplified the melachah approach and it shows - in his talmidim.

Va'ani Tefillah

Aval anachnu amcha Bnei Brisecha. But in truth, we are Your Nation, Your covenanted children.

We recognize and concede our failure in successfully completing our mission to improve the world. Yet, we nonetheless also realize that we are different; we are Bnei Brisecha, Your covenantal children, Your nation, the People with whom You made an everlasting covenant. We are also acutely aware that this is not in our merit, but rather, in the zechus avos, merit of our ancestors, the Patriarchs, Avraham, Yitzchak and Yaakov. Avraham distinguished himself in his commitment at the Akeidah, when he was prepared to sacrifice his beloved son, Yitzchak, to fulfill Hashem's command. Yitzchak, the only one of Avraham's children to follow in his path, is the only one who is considered his offspring. He demonstrated his faith atop the Altar as he was prepared to be sacrificed to Hashem. As the prototype of mesiras nefesh, self-sacrifice, he ingrained in the Jewish psyche of all his descendants the ability to elevate themselves to the point of Kiddush Hashem, sanctifying Hashem's Name. Yaakov is referred to as Your Firstborn son, who, despite Eisav's protesting, was elevated to the birthright because he earned it. Fathering twelve tribes he was considered the first eidah, congregation, Adas Yaakov, the congregation of Yaakov. As the bechor, firstborn, he transmitted this distinction to his descendants about which Hashem says, Beni bechori Yisrael, "I consider Bnei Yisrael to be My bechor;" which Horav S.R. Hirsch, zl, interprets that just as the firstborn is to be the role model for the other children who follow him, so, too, should Klal Yisrael be the standard bearer for the rest of the world.

l'sechar nishmas
R' Tzvi Aryeh ben Itamar Ephraim HaLevi z'l
Doniel Kasnett

Peninim on the Torah is in its 14th year of publication. The first nine years have been published in book form.

The Ninth 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