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Peninim on the Torah

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Rabbi A. Leib Scheinbaum
Hebrew Academy of Cleveland


And let them take for Me a portion. (25:2)

Tanna Dvei Eliyahu says that when Klal Yisrael declared "Naaseh v'Nishma," "We will do and we will listen," in regard to their commitment to accept the Torah, Hashem responded, "Veyikchu Li terumah," "Let them take for Me a portion." This statement has been a rich source for homiletic exposition. The Bobover Rebbe, Horav Shlomo Halberstam, z.l., takes a novel approach towards explaining this Chazal. He cites the Talmud Megillah, 29a, where Abaya explains "At first, I would study at home and pray at shul. When I heard David HaMelech's statement, 'Hashem, I love the shelter of Your House' (Tehilim 26:8), I began to study in the shul." He also cites a famous anecdotal exposition of the venerable Ropshitzer Rebbe, z.l., regarding the pasuk in Tehillim 95:10, "V'heim lo yadu drachai" "And they did not know My ways." The Rebbe read the first word, "v'heim," as the Yiddish word "heim," home, as a reference to those who study at home as opposed to studying in the bais hamedrash. This is not the derech, way, that Hashem wants us to choose. We are to study Torah in the place designated for Torah and tefillah, prayer - the bais hamedrash.

This is also the underlying meaning of Chazal's statement in the Talmud Kiddushim 30b, "If this menuval (despicable wretch, a reference to the yetzer hora, evil inclination) meets you (and seeks to lead you astray), pull him into the bais hamedrash." The only place where you will have the power to overcome the overriding influence of the yetzer hora is in the bais hamedrash. We return now to the words of the Tanna Dvei Eliyahu. When Klal Yisrael responded with a resounding, "Naaseh v'Nishma," indicating that they were willing and prepared to accept the Torah, Hashem immediately instructed them to contribute for the construction of the Mishkan. The Mishkan and the latter day beis medrash, which is called a mikdash me'at, miniature Sanctuary, are the places where Hashem reposes His Shechinah. Thus, the yetzer hora has no control in such a place, if one connects solidly with it.

In an alternative exegesis, when the Pupa Rebbe, z.l., spoke on behalf of his yeshivah on Parashah Terumah, he would focus on the above Chazal. He explained that Hashem was teaching Klal Yisrael an important lesson when He asked them to open their wallets right after they declared their unequivocal acceptance of the Torah. Some individuals, although they are committed, observant Jews, often hesitate when it comes to mitzvos that demand a financial commitment. He was wont to use the word "b'tzedek" - bais, tzaddik, daled, kuf (referring to the pasuk, "b'tzedek echezah panecha," "with righteousness I will gaze upon Your Countenance") as an acronym for the Yiddish words "biz tzu di kesheneh", "until it comes to the wallet." In other words, people talk much about their commitment and dedication - until they are asked to share some of their material assets. Thus, Hashem tells Klal Yisrael that saying "Naaseh v'Nishmah" is not a sufficient commitment. One must also be willing to give a Terumah, to part with his money, for the purpose of mitzvah observance.

They shall make an ark of acacia wood. (25:10)

The Aron Ha'kodesh, holy Ark, the repository of the Torah, has long been viewed as a symbol of Torah learning and the talmid chacham, Torah scholar. Indeed, upon perusing the Midrashim and ensuing halachic requirements for building the Aron, one develops a sense of the character traits that should comprise the talmid chacham's personality.

Of all of the vessels that were constructed for use in the Mishkan, only the Aron was made of specifications and measurements that were not whole. The Aron measured two and a half amos, cubits, long, one and a half cubits wide, and one and a half cubits high. A number of lessons may be derived from this criteria. First, we infer that the scholar's goal is never complete. Torah knowledge is vast; it is endless. The only goal is to learn - and to continue learning. Of course, one should have definite goals. After these goals have been realized, however, one should know that he is only beginning to understand Torah.

A talmid chacham should be humble, of a lowly spirit, always acutely aware of the uncompleted, never-ending task before him. He should derive the importance of humility - not only in knowledge - but also in character. Torah does not coincide well with one who has a haughty character. Our greatest gedolim, Torah giants, who have illuminated our minds with their brilliant expositions of Torah, never perceived themselves to be any better than the students that they taught. They were a vehicle for imparting Hashem's Torah to the next generation. They were soldiers in Hashem's army, serving a mission.

One wonders why the measurements were "broken." If the purpose was to impress the need for humility, why could the measurements not simply have been small? The Aron should have been the smallest vessel, with small measurements, rather than a large vessel with broken measurements. I think the reason is as follows. I once knew an interesting individual who was very wealthy. He was also very short. He often remarked, " I may be short, but when I stand on top of my money, I am taller than anyone." What a remarkable lesson there is to be derived form this arrogant statement. There is a distinction between one who thinks "low" of himself and one who views himself as incomplete. The Aron's measurements were fragmented to teach us the paradigm for anivus, humility. There is nothing as whole and as complete before Hashem as a "broken" person, one who considers himself incomplete.

We may go a bit further in developing an understanding of the Torah's idea of humility. Moshe Rabbeinu is known as the "anav mikol adam," the most humble of all men, the paragon of humility and modesty. How does one achieve such distinction? We suggest that the answer lies in the words, "mikol adam," of all men. The true anav, humble person, sees virtue in everyone and places each individual on a pedestal above him. In other words, an anav is not necessarily a person who puts himself down, but rather elevates everybody else. Thus, if everyone is greater than he, how could he even conceive of himself as better than anyone else?

While it is absolutely essential that the Torah scholar be of a humble spirit, this sense of humility should be contained within an aura of self-respect and dignity. Indeed, the Aron's foundation was made of wood and covered with a layer of gold on the inside and outside. Why was it not made of all gold? This teaches us that the Torah should not be equated with gold. It must be ensconced in beauty. Hence, the gold layers reflect its value and glory.

In the Talmud Yoma 21a, Chazal tell us about a remarkable aspect of the Aron's measurements. Rabbi Levi says that it is a tradition transmitted through the generations that the Aron is not "min ha'middah," "part of the measurement". In other words, miraculously, the Aron did not take up any space. Whatever area the Aron covered was still available as if the Aron were not there at all. The Sefas Emes queries this statement. We know that every aspect of the Mishkan and its Keilim, appurtenances, was a contribution from Klal Yisrael. Every ethical character trait that the people possessed was imbued into the Mishkan. From the Aron's broken measurements to the gold crowns around the various vessels, each reflected a quality and virtue inherent in the people which was essential for spiritual/moral development. Where in their contributions do we find a quality that is expressed in the Aron's apparent vacuum, the fact that they do not take up any place in the Kodshei Kodoshim.

The Sefas Emes explains that it was an expression of Klal Yisrael's good will. The Torah teaches us that the people contributed much more than was necessary for the construction of the Mishkan. In fact, some individuals wanted to donate above their means. It was not, however, needed. Klal Yisrael contributed admirably, so that there was more than enough material available for the Mishkan. These retzonos, well-meaning and pure intentions, could not be realized because there was enough material. This created the concept that, despite its corporeality, the Aron did not take up any space. When an individual's intentions are so well-meaning and filled with extreme devotion, they create an edifice that reflects their conviction.

There are countless stories told about the humility of our gedolei Yisrael, Torah giants. The ones who are the greatest and most erudite are generally the most humble. The following two narratives demonstrate for us that the humility evinced by these gedolim was much more than an exhibition of their unpretentiousness; it was actually inherent in their personality. They truly believed that they were not worthy of any special accolades.

The first episode concerns the relationship between the revered Chasam Sofer, z.l., rav and posek, halachic arbiter, of Hungarian Jewry and an undisputed gadol hador, and his father-in-law, the venerable Horav Akiva Eiger, z.l., whose erudition in Talmudic jurisprudence and in all areas of halachic literature was unparalleled. The Chasam Sofer's first wife, a woman who was well-known for her exemplary character traits, righteousness and piety, was suddenly taken from this world at a young age, leaving her saintly husband bereft of his life's partner. She was eulogized by the greatest Torah luminaries for her unique qualities, especially her devotion to her husband, allowing him to spend his time in Torah study and devotion to the Almighty.

As soon as the shivah, seven-day mourning period, ended, he was besieged with offers of shidduchim, suitable matches. At the same time, Rav Akiva Eiger's son-in-law died, leaving his daughter -- who was a well-known baalas chesed, involved in numerous activities to help others, and a pious, virtuous woman -- alone. Unaware of the Chasam Sofer's personal tragedy, Rav Akiva Eiger wrote to him, asking if he knew of anyone who would be suitable for his daughter.

The Chasam Sofer immediately gave the letter to a close colleague and asked him to "follow up" on the letter. The colleague understood that the Chasam Sofer had a personal interest in this matter and followed up accordingly. It did not take long before the shidduch of Rav Akiva Eiger's daughter was officially proposed to the Chasam Sofer, who immediately wrote a letter to her father asking him for "information" about his daughter. After all, who would know more about the young lady than her father?

Rav Akiva Eiger sent back a glowing description of his daughter's character traits, as well as the wonderful acts of loving kindness in which she excelled. He lauded her piety and virtue. He ended his letter stating that the Chasam Sofer, as a Torah scholar, would certainly follow Chazal's criteria for a shidduch: to seek a bas talmud chacham, daughter of a Torah scholar. "Regrettably," wrote the Rav Akiva Eiger, "I am sorely deficient in this area. I will, therefore, understand if you will not accept my daughter."

The Chasam Sofer responded in kind, appreciative of the wonderful qualities of Rav Akiva Eiger's daughter. He, of course, was not in agreement with Rav Akiva Eiger concerning his level of erudition. He did add that there was one problem that might hinder the shidduch - his own lack of Torah knowledge!

Incredible! We all know that the match reached fruition, and the Chasam Sofer became Rav Akiva Eiger's illustrious son-in-law. What should impress and inspire us is the humility of these two outstanding Torah giants. It was not a show - they truly believed that they were not talmidei chachamim. What should we say?

Our second episode is about the Chozeh m'Lublin, the famous "Seer," elder statesman, one of the founders of the Chassidus movement. He was undisputed as a talmid chacham and tzaddik, a person who reflected Ruach HaKodesh, Divine Inspiration, in his every movement. While he was the spiritual leader of the chassidic community of Lublin, the rav of the city was a strong misnagid, standing firmly in opposition of Chassidus. One day, the rav asked the Chozeh, "Why is it that everyone flocks to you, and I am unsuccessful in attracting a following?" "I have no idea why they come," said the Chozeh. The rav said, "My suggestion to you is that on Yom Tov, when a substantial number of people are in the shul, that you ascend the bimah, lectern, and declare to the chassidim that you are not worthy of their following. You are not a scholar, nor do you possess any wisdom. Perhaps they will stop coming to you."

The Chozeh took the rav's advice and made the announcement in shul. To the rav's chagrin, the Chozeh's self-effacing declaration impressed the assembly and raised the Chozeh's esteem in their eyes even more. When the rav saw what had happened, he told the Chozeh, "I have another idea. At the next opportunity, announce to the chassidim that you are a brilliant scholar and a great man. The Chozeh listened to the rav's suggestion and responded, "I may not be a talmid chacham, nor am I brilliant. One thing is certain, however, I am not a liar!" This sincere statement was made by an individual whose brilliance and piety has radiated on for generations. It illustrates the idea that only a great man can be truly humble.

Speak to Bnei Yisrael and let them take for Me Terumah. (25:2)

Chazal translate the word li, (for) Me, as, "You are taking Me," suggesting that by constructing the Mishkan, we are taking Hashem to us. The Midrash explains this with a parable. There once was a king whose only daughter became engaged to a king from a distant country. While the father was overjoyed with his future son-in-law, he was chagrined at the thought of his daughter's leaving. He told his prospective son-in-law, "I have given you my only child. It is very difficult for me to part with her. I ask that you do one thing for me: Wherever you live, please build a small room for me, so that I may dwell in it. This way I will not be separated from my dear child." Likewise, Hashem says to Klal Yisrael, "I have given you My most precious Torah. I cannot part from it. Thus, I ask you to build for Me a house wherein I may reside among you." This is consistent with the pasuk, "They shall make for Me a Mikdash, Sanctuary, so that I may dwell among them."

How are we to understand this Midrash? Does Hashem have feelings? Does He have emotions that respond to given situations as ours do? How can one say that Hashem could not bring Himself to be separated from the Torah? Hashem created the Torah. He made it. Apparently, before He created it, He existed in a satisfactory manner. What is the meaning of Chazal's ambiguous statement?

Horav Mordechai Gifter, z.l., explains this Midrash and simultaneously teaches us a fundamental lesson about the meaning of Torah and its relationship to us. When Chazal imply that Hashem could not bear to be separated from the Torah, they mean that the Torah and Hashem are intrinsically one unit. Hashem is an indivisible part of the Torah. The goal of the Torah is to infuse this world with kedushah, holiness, rendering it a receptacle in which Hashem could repose His shechinah. In essence, Hashem did not need the Torah. Rather, He gave it to us so that we would use it to provide a "home" for Him in this world. What relevance is there to Torah without its ultimate goal: Hashem?

Rav Gifter uses this thesis to explain why the Torah first instructs us to give the money - then tells us its purpose. The correct sequence should have been first to notify us of the mitzvah, building the Mishkan, and then to instruct us how to finance its construction. We now understand that the purpose of the Mishkan is to provide a place for Hashem. Taking Terumah, collecting money for its construction, is not merely a preliminary stage; it is actually the first step in the process of constructing this edifice. Giving one's material possessions for the purpose of building the Mishkan means elevating the mundane, sanctifying the material, raising it to a level of kedushah heretofore not realized. Hence, the Torah instructs us to take the Terumah prior to the command to build the Mishkan, because to do so exemplifies the essence of the Mishkan.

Questions and Answers

1) What was placed inside the Aron HaKodesh?

2) How many branches, ornamental cups, knobs and flowers did the Menorah have altogether?

3) Were the vessels of the Mishkan always to be made in exact accordance with the specifications given for the Mishkan in the desert?

4) A) How high was the Mizbayach ha'Nechoshes, copper Altar?

B) Is there a special significance to this number?


1) The two Luchos were placed in the Aron together with the Shivrei Luchos, broken shards of the first Luchos. There is a dispute among Chazal regarding whether the Sefer Torah, was placed inside the Aron or on a ledge which protruded from its side (Bava Basra 14a).

2) The Menorah was comprised of seven branches, eleven knobs, nine flowers, and twenty cups, which together add up to forty-nine. The Menorah is the symbol of the Torah's light, and the number forty-nine alludes to the coinciding number of gates of understanding achievable in this world. When we add the actual body of the Menorah, we have a grand total of fifty, representing the ultimate and final gate (Malbim, Gra).

3) Rashi says that every future vessel must be made exactly in accordance with the specifications used in the Mishkan. Alternatively, while the future vessels had to have similar features and structure, they did not have to be made according to the exact dimensions as the vessels of the Mishkan (Ramban according to the Brisker Rav).

4) A) There is a dispute among Chazal whether the Mizbayach haNechoshes was three amos, cubits, or ten amos high. While the Torah does give a three cubit measurement, this applies to the portion above the ornamental platform which surrounds the Altar.

B) The number "three" symbolizes Klal Yisrael's leadership: Moshe, Aharon, and Miriam.

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