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Peninim on the Torah

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Rabbi A. Leib Scheinbaum
Hebrew Academy of Cleveland


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

From a spiritual standpoint, the Mishkan was an architectural marvel. It was an edifice that endured, in the sense that it was never captured or destroyed. This is unlike the two Batei Mikdash which, due to our sins, were destroyed. Sforno addresses this phenomenon, positing that the uniqueness of the Mishkan may be attributed to its perfect sanctity. Individuals who were paragons of rectitude and piety - consummately righteous and totally committed to carrying out the will of Hashem - constructed it. These men and women, whose actions were untarnished by sin, built an edifice that was holy in every aspect, from its very inception. Thus, it was impossible for the enemy to harm it.

Sanctity, by its very definition, is intrinsically immortal. When something becomes holy, it is elevated above the mundane, so that it is not subject to the limitations that plague a physical entity. The creation and construction of the Mishkan were imbued with the loftiest elements of holiness, which rendered it eternal. Its source was the Source of all holiness, Hashem, Who is eternal.

The Batei Mikdash were certainly constructed with sacred intentions, by men of great virtue and piety; otherwise, the Shechinah would not have reposed there. Fire descended from Heaven to the Mizbayach, Altar, and miracles occurred there on a regular basis. Nonetheless, it did not achieve eternal status, despite its high level of sanctity, since, as Sforno notes, non-Jews were included in the building crew. As decent as the people were, they remained a foreign influence, thereby blemishing this near-perfect edifice, and, ultimately, leading to its destruction.

Horav A. Henach Leibowitz, zl, comments that the Torah details the names of the individuals involved in building the Mishkan, in order to teach us that, when building our Torah institutions, it is essential to maintain the highest level of purity and holiness - every step of the way. This applies equally to the maintenance of our shuls, yeshivos, schools - any Torah establishment. We may not permit anyone whose character traits leave much to be desired - whose integrity is questionable, whose money dealings are not above scrutiny - to be involved in building a Torah establishment. Any deficiency in this area can have severe ramifications on the sanctity of the establishment.

The Talmud Bava Metzia 85b illustrates to the lengths to which Rav Chiya went to maintain the purity of the Torah he was teaching children. He planted flax from which he later made nets. These nets were used to trap deer, whose skins provided the parchment on which he wrote the Torah that he taught to the children. It seems that he really went out of his way to provide these children with the ultimate in pristine, unembellished teaching materials. The question that troubles the commentators is: Why did Rav Chiya insist on doing it himself? True, he wanted pure Torah, holy Torah, from the very beginning, but why could he not simply have instructed someone to do it for him? Why did he plant, he make the nets, he trap the deer, he prepare the parchment, he write the Torah? He could have had it prepared for him to teach - just like the master surgeon who performs the intricate surgery, after everything has already been prepared for him.

The Alter, zl, m'Novaradok, explains that R' Chiya did it himself precisely because he wanted to avoid any suspicion of theft or impropriety, which would interfere with the Divine assistance in learning. The fewer people involved, the less would be the risk that anything would go wrong. This is how important it was for him to provide pure Torah. The Alter quotes the famous words of the Gaon, zl, m'Vilna: "If a Jew learns Torah in a building whose roof has one stolen nail, that Torah study will be lacking in success."

The Rosh Yeshivah posits that this idea extends to our own mikdash me'at, miniature Bais HaMikdash, our miniature sanctuaries that must be established and maintained upon the same spiritual principles of purity and holiness which are requisites for any spiritual endeavor. The standards of morality and ethicality demanded by the Torah imbue our homes with a level of sanctity that precludes any of the ills that plague the secular household. These hallmarks of the Jewish family have enabled us to endure with resolution and fortitude throughout the millennia.

It does not come easily. The yetzer hora is no fool, and it is specifically in this area that it mounts its greatest challenge. We see it all of the time. Our goals are lofty; our aspirations for success are heartfelt. What could go wrong? We are building Torah! It is in this area, however, when people think, "I am building Torah," that the yetzer hora "convinces" them that everything is mutar, permissible - regardless of the project's questionable integrity or the possibility that it might infringe upon someone, emotionally or financially. Who has not heard, "We can bend the rules! We are building Torah!" We see from Sforno that it is especially in these areas that one must be extremely vigilant to preclude the yetzer hora from having the last laugh.

Questionable integrity plays a negative role in another area: maachalos asuros, forbidden foods. You may ask: Who would dare eat forbidden foods, and who would intentionally feed them to their children? Horav Mendel, zl, m'Rimonov tells us how this tragedy may occur unexpectedly. He says that we find Jewish children who, although endowed with charm and graciousness in their early lives, suddenly lose their charm as they mature in age. While this may be attributed to a number of factors, the Rebbe maintained that these children quite possibly had been fed maachalos asuros. This occurs when food is purchased with funds that have been obtained through dishonest measures. The individual did not outright steal; rather, he acted less than ethically in his financial dealings. Over the years, such a diet of forbidden foods has a dulling effect on a child's personality until it erases his charm completely. Scruples must be maintained upon dealing with Jews and non-Jews alike. If scruples are lacking, one's most lofty endeavor will be tainted and his food will become tainted, leaving his children as innocent victims of a father's selfishness.

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

The metals were deposited with Moshe Rabbeinu and were consequently under the supervision of Betzalel. These were individuals whose integrity was unquestionable and whose greatness was indisputable. Yet, as Chazal tell us, there were scoffers among the Jews who complained that Moshe became wealthy as a result of the Mishkan. Indeed, when Moshe gave the accounting, he came up short one thousand, seven hundred and seventy-five shekalim. Hashem "reminded" him that he had used this amount of silver for the hooks for the pillars. Despite the fact that every ounce of precious metal was accounted for, people still spread rumors. True, they were sick people, but they continued to speak. In contrast, when Aharon collected the gold for what became the Golden Calf, which was actually not a large amount, we do not find anyone demanding an accounting. It seems that it was only for the Mishkan that people were concerned about the integrity of the "management." When it involved the Golden Calf, they had no questions. People were prepared to divest themselves of their jewelry, precious metals, everything; after all, it was for an idol. When it came to building an edifice for Hashem's repose, the people suddenly became money conscious; they now needed a receipt for every penny. How are we to understand this?

Horav Meir Shapiro, zl, attempts to rationalize the Jewish People's actions, thereby removing some of the onus of guilt. He quotes the Yerushalmi that says: "The People are holy. They are asked to donate towards the building of the Mishkan, and they give freely of themselves. They are asked to contribute towards the Golden Calf, and "they give freely." What are Chazal teaching us? Horav Shapiro interprets Chazal to be asking a rhetorical question, rather than giving a narrative. "Does it make sense that the Jews gave towards the Golden Calf?" Actually, comments Rav Shapiro, they heard the statement, Eileh elohecha Yisrael, "These are your gods, Yisrael!" The Jew heard only that Aharon was collecting for some kind of godhead, a replacement for Moshe, whatever. It must be something sacred if Aharon was involved, and he was referring to it as elohecha, your gods. If it had Aharon's hechsher, seal of approval, for what more could they ask? The Jews would never have contributed towards an idol. They were not thinking. Aharon stood at the lectern with his hand out, making an appeal. It must be kosher.

Jews are generous. Regrettably, they do not always scrutinize to whom they give or what they are supporting. If they would spend a few moments discerning the subject of their beneficence, they might think twice before they write the check. We are a compassionate people. We open our hearts and wallets to everyone with a story. If we would check the story once in a while, we might find that we have more funds left to support those who act with spiritual integrity and are thus really deserving of our contributions.

These are the accounts of the Mishkan, the Mishkan of the Testimony, which were reckoned at Moshe's bidding. (38:21)

Chazal teach that Moshe Rabbeinu's accounting was prompted by our quintessential leader's response to the rumblings of some scoffers who claimed that Moshe was becoming wealthy through the financial activity of the Mishkan. Before we address Moshe's incredible rectitude in seeing to it that everything he did was perceived by even the most obtuse, myopic individual as reflecting the height of integrity, it is appropriate that we note that this attitude is not unusual for some people. Talk is cheap, and people like to talk against anyone who is "employed" by them. A certain perverted perception prevails in the minds of some that the spiritual leader belongs to them. Therefore, they feel that they have license to scrutinize everything he does, especially when it involves the material dimension. His home, his car, his clothes and his trips are all open to scrutiny. This applies equally to his spouse and children. Moshe taught that one must always be above scrutiny, despite the fact that the individuals who are talking are contemptuous and thrive on spreading such filth. If they did it to Moshe, they would do it to anyone who has the misfortune of crossing their path.

Having said this, we address Moshe's response. The Torah writes, Va'yakam Moshe es ha'Mishkan, "Moshe erected the Mishkan," (Shemos 40:18). The Ohr HaChaim HaKadosh writes that no Jew was able to erect the Mishkan. The greatest scholars and wise men, the Torah leaders of the Jewish people, the individuals who were involved in its construction: none of them had the ability to raise up the Mishkan. They tried, but it did not remain in position. Moshe was the only one upon whom the Shechinah rested. It was only for him that Hashem performed a miracle, such that the Mishkan remained standing.

The Malbim adds that the Mishkan was called Mishkan Ha'Eidus, of Testimony, since it attested to the fact that each and every activity involved in its construction was performed with spiritual integrity. Every person involved was a paragon of spiritual and moral rectitude. Otherwise, the Shechinah would not have rested on it.

All of the above notwithstanding, Moshe still found it necessary to give an accounting of every drop of metal. This was not the result of his outstanding sense of humility; rather, it was because he felt that one's reputation must be the capstone of trustworthiness. One should never rely on his personal feelings of integrity: "I know that I am acting aboveboard. I would never do anything that was not right." This may be true, but it is not enough. One must be prepared to qualify his rectitude to others, so that even the most adversarial individual will not be able to claim that something inappropriate is occurring.

Horav Eliyahu Chaim Meisel, zl, Rav of Lodz, Poland, was a distinguished talmid chacham, Torah scholar, who was well-known for his personal devotion to the support of the various charitable institutions in his community. He would not permit others to do the fundraising. He personally visited the various philanthropists of the community and solicited funds for a host of institutions and community endeavors. When it came to the disbursement of the funds, however, he relied on the judgment of the community heads. He refused to involve himself in this aspect of the philanthropic process.

When he was questioned concerning his self-exclusion from this process, he replied with the following Torah thought: "You are aware that Parashas Tetzaveh is the only parsha in the Torah from Moshe's birth until his death, excluding parts of Sefer Devarim, from which Moshe's name is excluded. This especially contrasts Parashas Terumah in which Moshe's name is mentioned numerous times. Why is this? Parashas Terumah records the many donations of precious metals for the Mishkan and for the establishment of the spiritual center of Klal Yisrael. In these cases, Moshe was involved. His name would engender positive reaction from the people. When, in Parashas Tetzaveh, the Torah addresses the disbursements of these metals for various purposes, Moshe was scarce. He wanted no part of this, so that people would not talk.

The Torah in Bamidbar 32:22, writes, V'heyisem nekiim mei Hashem u'mi'Yisrael, "You shall be vindicated from Hashem and from Yisrael." The Chafetz Chaim, zl, notes that the Torah enjoins us to first be naki, vindicated, from Hashem, and then in the eyes of the people. Regrettably, there are those public figures who reverse their priorities, first attempting to find favor in the eyes of the populace and, only later, seeking Hashem's approval. Such practice will ultimately satisfy neither Hashem nor the people he is trying to impress.

The Torah is teaching us the importance of remaining above-board, of total accountability and of full disclosure. Regardless of how far-fetched the fear might be, one should never allow people to be suspicious of him. In his Gilyon HaShas, Meseches Shabbos, Horav Akiva Eiger, zl, writes that if one has two entrances to his home facing the street, he should light the Chanukah menorah at both doors. Yes, the two require two menoras, one lit at each door, because the people walking by the other door might wrongly suspect you of not lighting Chanukah candles. Regrettably, some people look for such opportunities and thrive on the way they can raise suspicion, thus impugning someone's reputation.

The following episode demonstrates to what extent people have gone to assure they remain above suspicion. Horav Shlomo Zalman Porush, zl, was an individual of exemplary character. His moral and ethical rectitude complemented his scholarship and fear of Heaven. He was in charge of disbursing the monies sent from Kollel Minsk in Russia to the poor of Eretz Yisrael. The "check" usually arrived before Pesach, so that the poor could purchase their necessities for the festival. One year, the check was late. As a result, Rav Shlomo Zalman borrowed 200 Napoleon gold coins from a distinguished layman, R' Feivel Stoller, with the promise that he would repay the entire loan after Yom Tov.

Immediately following Yom Tov, R' Shlomo Zalman delivered 110 Napoleons to R' Feivel with the promise that the remainder of the loan would follow soon. Two months later, R' Shlomo Zalman brought the 90 Napoleons in full repayment of the loan. Unfortunately, R' Feivel's memory failed him, and he did not remember receiving the first installment of 110 Napoleons.

The question was brought before the Bais Din, court, of Horav Shmuel Salant, zl. The judges decided that R' Shlomo Zalman was to take a shevuah d'oraisa, Biblically mandated oath, in order to clear his good name. R' Shlomo Zalman refused, claiming that he had never sworn in Hashem's Name and was not going to do so now. He would rather pay the 110 Napoleons. Rav Shmuel Salant would not hear of it. He felt that people might talk and claim that R' Shlomo Zalman had originally attempted to cheat R' Feivel, but when he saw it was not going his way, he relented and paid. No, he would have to support his veracity by swearing by Hashem's Name.

R' Shlomo Zalman accepted upon himself the judgment, but asked for three days to prepare for this awesome undertaking. It was no small endeavor to swear using Hashem's Name. That day he came to Bais Din accompanied by his family. Everyone was lamenting, weeping profusely at what their father was about to do. R' Shlomo Zalman came dressed in his white kittel.

After the oath was administered, R' Shlomo Zalman still refused to use the 110 Napoleons that he had "saved." He sold his home for 50 Napoleons and he borrowed another 60 Napoleons. The money was used to establish the Bais HaKenneses "Bais Yaakov" in the Bais Yisrael neighborhood of Yerushalayim. That year, as R' Feivel was cleaning his house before Pesach, he discovered the "missing" 110 Napoleons. He immediately begged R' Shlomo Zalman's forgiveness for all of the trouble he had caused him.

When we consider the ethical qualities of R' Shlomo Zalman Porush, we no longer wonder why he merited to have a grandson, who was his namesake, of the calibre of Horav Shlomo Zalman Auerbach, zl.

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

In describing the word used for the pillars of the Mishkan, in Shemos 26:15 the Torah refers to them as atzei shittim omdim, "standing acacia trees." The word "standing" seems superfluous. Would it not have been sufficient to say that the Mishkan was constructed of acacia wood? Furthermore, once these trees are cut down, they are no longer standing. In the Talmud Yoma 72a, Chazal answer that the Torah was anticipating the question that would be posed by future generations: "Lest one should say, 'The hope (of regaining them) is lost and gone.' (The Torah teaches) that the (walls) Mishkan will stand forever and ever."

Veritably, in the end, the Mishkan did go out of use and was eventually replaced by the Batei Mikdash. This would provoke the question concerning the meaning of "standing forever and ever." Yet, there is a powerful distinction between the endurance factor of the Mishkan and that of the two Batei Mikdash. The Mishkan was not discontinued as a punishment resulting from people's sins. It simply was put aside to make room for "spiritual progress" with the advent of Shlomo HaMelech's Bais HaMikdash. It never fell into enemy hands; it was never burnt. All of Klal Yisrael's sins did not have a deleterious effect on the Mishkan. It is almost as if it was indestructible. Why?

Sforno offers four reasons for the endurance of the Mishkan. First, it contained within its confines the Luchos. Second, it was reckoned at the behest of Moshe Rabbeinu. Third, it was the work of the Leviim, under the direction of Isamar ben Aharon. Fourth, it was made by Betzalel together with a "crew" comprised of righteous people of noble lineage. Therefore, the Shechinah rested there, and it never fell into the enemy's grasp.

This was, lamentably, not the case with the Batei Mikdash. Shlomo HaMelech used gentile artisans from Tyre. Although the Shechinah did repose in his Bais HaMikdash, in time its various parts wore out, necessitating repairs. Eventually, it fell into enemy hands. The Second Bais HaMikdash did not have the Luchos; it was commissioned by King Cyrus, the Persian monarch, and there were no Leviim involved in it. As a result, the Shechinah did not rest there and it, too, was eventually destroyed.

In order for any Torah-oriented endeavor to endure, it is critical that it is established with whole-hearted devotion, with the pure intent and action of individuals who are ethically, morally and spiritually correct. These criteria will guarantee that the endeavor will be blessed with eternal success.

Horav Meir Bergman, Shlita, applies this idea to explain what appears to be a cryptic pasuk in Shmuel, 15:10, 11, in which Shmuel HaNavi reacts to Hashem's decision to put an end to Shaul HaMelech and his reign, as a result of his refusal to destroying the nation of Amalek completely. While the sin was bad enough, Shaul compounded it by refusing to repent and admit his error. "I regret having made Shaul king, for he has turned away from following Me, nor has he upheld My word. But Shmuel was greatly agitated (at this), and he cried out to Hashem all that night." In the Talmud Taanis 5b, Chazal relate Shmuel's declaration to Hashem, "Ribbono shel olam! You have declared my merit equal to that of Moshe and Aharonů Just as the work of their hand (the Mishkan) did not pass away during their time, so let not the work of my hands (Shaul's monarchy) pass away during my lifetime."

The Talmud maintains that Hashem was about to end Shaul's life, and this is what stirred Shmuel's passionate entreaty. It is not that Shmuel did not accept the fact that, as a result of Adam HaRishon's sin, every human being must eventually die. It is just that if Shaul were to die now, during Shmuel's lifetime, with him would perish Shmuel's great achievement, even before Shmuel himself took leave of his mortal position in this world.

Rav Bergman explains that a deed executed with perfect devotion, faith and purity of intent cannot possibly pass away in its doer's lifetime. If Shmuel's lifetime achievement ended during his lifetime, it would be a very sad commentary on his motivation and intention preceding the event. Shmuel used Moshe's Mishkan as a standard to emulate. The righteous persons involved in its construction guaranteed its endurance. If his monarchy ended, it would indicate that he - not Shaul - was at fault. He had not been totally dedicated. Shmuel knew this not to be true. His intentions were pure, his motivation absolute, his devotion genuine. This is why he was "greatly agitated" with Hashem's decision. His crying out to Hashem was his own expression of repentance. Perhaps he was at fault, and this was why the monarchy was being brought to an end. Veritably, Shmuel was the paragon of absolute devotion to Hashem. Every detail of his service to the Divine was meticulous and perfect in every way. Thus, his fervent prayer was immediately accepted by Hashem, and Shaul continued to reign until after Shmuel's death. Furthermore, before he took leave of this world, Shmuel anointed Dovid HaMelech, who was the father of the eternal Davidic dynasty. What is done right at the very onset will last - forever.

You shall anoint them as you anointed their father and they shall minister to me. (40:15)

Was it really necessary to add, "as you anointed their father"? Would it not have sufficed to simply say, "and you shall anoint them"? What is gained by the added words, "as you anointed their father"? The Meshech Chochmah, zl, suggests a powerful insight into these words. When Aharon HaKohen was anointed it was an act of pure love. There did not exist the slightest vestige of envy concerning Aharon receiving this exalted position. Likewise, when Moshe Rabbeinu anointed Aharon's sons, there should be no envy - just love. Let us face it, it is possible to find a situation where brothers truly love each other, where there is no envy one to another, just respect, admiration, filial responsibility. That considers brother to brother. What about brother to nephew? Does this same rule apply? This question is magnified when one's nephews are an incredible source of nachas to their father, when they achieve the exalted position that one would have wanted to see his own sons attain - but, regrettably, did not.

We now understand why Hashem added these words. Perhaps they were not directed toward Moshe exclusively, but, paradigmatically, as an analogy for others to learn from. How often do we find fault in the children of a friend, but are essentially expressing our subconscious feelings concerning our own children? To judge another person's children by a criterion to which it is almost impossible to measure up, simply because our children have not achieved that same distinction, is not fair; it is petty and immature. Many factors contribute to success, and we may view success through various prisms. Woe is to the parent whose opinion is based upon his personal, one-dimensional, myopic definition of success - and even greater woe to his child.

Va'ani Tefillah

Yemincha Hashem, ne'edari ba'koach, yemincha, Hashem, tiratz oyaiv.
Your right hand, Hashem, is adorned with strength; Your right hand, Hashem, smashed the enemy.

The Melo Ha'Omer cites Chazal, who explain that when Hashem acts with Rachamim, Attribute of Mercy and kindness, it is called yemin, acting with His right hand. It is this attribute that performs miracles for Klal Yisrael, as it did at the Red Sea. When the Torah adds, "Your right hand, Hashem, smashed the enemy," it means that while the right hand normally symbolizes mercy, Hashem, nonetheless repays Klal Yisrael's enemies with a "justice" "cloaked in mercy." In other words, the enemies receive their due through the Middas Ha'Din, Attribute of Strict Justice, but it is camouflaged in mercy. The enemies see that the same attribute that destroys them spares the Jews.

Why is this? What is adverse about our enemies receiving their punishment through Middas Ha'Din? The Melo Ha'Omer explains that when the enemies receive straight punishment as a result of Justice, they do not realize that it is a punishment. For all they know, a natural disaster struck them. If this "natural disaster" strikes only them, however, while simultaneously sparing the Jews - even providing them with redemption - they become acutely aware that this disaster is their punishment. Hashem is behind this disaster, as He is behind every occurrence.

This idea is expressed by the pasuk: "Your right hand, Hashem, is adorned with strength." When Your right hand - which is usually reserved for mercy - acts with koach, fury and strength, it creates a sense of ne'edari; Hashem's Name becomes adorned as it is elevated and exalted, because now everyone sees that it is Hashem Who is behind the "disaster" that has stricken His enemies.

In honor of my dear parents,

Martin A. & Nancy B. Kosmin

Murray Kosmin

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