Back to This Week's Parsha

Peninim on the Torah

subscribe.gif (2332 bytes)

Previous issues

Rabbi A. Leib Scheinbaum
Hebrew Academy of Cleveland


Speak to Bnei Yisrael and let them take for me a portion. (25:2)

The Baal Haturim makes an interesting play on the word terumah. He says terumah consists of the same letters as Torah/ mem, which is a reference to the Torah that was given to us after Moshe Rabbeinu's spending forty days and forty nights on Har Sinai. What does the Baal Haturim mean, and what relationship exists between terumah and the forty days and nights that preceded the giving of the Torah?

The Bais Yisrael explains that when one contributes terumah, a donation, to a worthy cause, not only does he give, he also takes. Commensurate with how much he has given, he develops a partnership in the endeavor to which he has contributed. Clearly, he who gives a larger sum will assume a greater share in the partnership. This is alluded to with the words, "And let them take for Me a portion." By giving to the Mishkan, one actually takes for himself a portion in its construction.

This may be the case in regard to charity. When it comes to Torah study, however, the effort, diligence and dedication one applies to studying Torah seems secondary and extrinsic to the actual study. If anything, the effort expended supplements the actual Torah study. The Baal Haturim addresses this misconception by comparing terumah to Torah. When one studies Torah, the effort and diligence is an intrinsic component of the learning, and thus, his portion in Torah is dependent upon the effort and dedication which he expends in this study. He earns his share in Torah in the manner that he studies it.

This idea is underscored by the comparison to Torah, which was given in forty days and forty nights. This refers to those forty days about which Moshe Rabbeinu said, "I ate no bread, nor did I drink water." Moshe demonstrated how one develops a share in Torah - with extreme dedication and self-sacrifice.

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

Horav Chaim Plagi, zl, cited by Horav Yitzchak Zilberstein, Shlita, notes that the word terumah, which is interpreted here as a contribution, has the same letters - taf, raish, vav, mem, hay - as the word hamosar, that which is a luxury. He derives a noteworthy lesson from the similarity between these two words. When Hashem sees that a Jewish home is replete with luxuries, He "tells" its owner, "I see that you do not worry about how you spend your money. You are prepared to open up your wallet for all kinds of luxuries, items that are not essential, objects that reflect unnecessary indulgence on your part. Do you do the same for the poor man that comes to your door begging for alms? Do you manifest the same 'open door' policy for your terumah as you do for mosar?"

We do not realize that when we spend on ourselves, when we indulge ourselves in opulence, we open ourselves to criticism. Do we do the same for the poor, or do we assure them that suddenly we have no liquid assets available? If there is money for extravaganzas, we are obligated to have funds available to assist those who are in need.

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

The Midrash expounds on the uniqueness of the Mishkan and Klal Yisrael's relationship to it, via their contribution towards its creation. The Midrash expresses a beautiful and noteworthy analogy. "Hashem says to Klal Yisrael, 'I sold you My Torah. I sold Myself with it, as it says: Take for Me a portion. This may be compared to a king who had an only daughter. A prince from a distant land came and asked for her hand in marriage. The king responded, "I have one daughter. I will gladly give her to you in matrimony. It is difficult, however, for me to let her out of my sight. Yet, I know that she must leave with you when you return to your home. I ask only that you provide for me a room in your palace, so that I can be near to my daughter." Likewise, Hashem has given us His Torah. He cannot separate Himself from it. While He certainly wants us to have and use it, He seeks an opportunity whereby He can also be part of the equation. Consequently, He has asked us to make for Him a Mishkan, which will be 'His' room so that He can be near His Torah.

This Midrash conveys to us Hashem's unique relationship with the Torah and the character of His Presence in the Mishkan. There is a deeper message, however, that we are to derive from Chazal. Horav Sholom Schwadron, zl, gleans from Chazal the significance of a makom Torah, place where Torah is studied. Hashem says that He cannot separate Himself from His only child, the Torah. He, therefore, asks that we provide for Him a place where He can be close to His Torah. In other words, in a place where there is no Torah - there is also no place for Hashem! For the Shechinah to repose among us, we have to have the Torah close by. It must be an integral part of our daily lives if we want Hashem included. Incredible!

And you shall make on it a gold crown all around. (25:11)

In the Talmud Yoma 76b, Chazal say that the attachment of a golden rim/crown projecting upward and encircling the top of the Aron symbolized the crown of Torah which is available to whomever "wants it." What is the meaning of "wanting" the crown of Torah, and how does one demonstrate his desire to achieve this status? Horav Elazar M. Shach, zl, explains this concept with the following story, related to him by an elderly Jew, concerning one of the distinguished rabbanim of their generation. When this Jew was a young man, he studied in a small yeshivah in the city of Krason, which was situated on the outskirts of Kiev. Among the student population there was a young boy who strived very hard to achieve knowledge in Torah. His diligence was incredible. He had one problem, however - his mind was far from astute. His ability to grasp even the most simple Talmudic logic was extremely weak. He would go from student to student asking them, begging them, to assist him in understanding the Talmud. It was to no avail. As soon as he understood one halachah and he continued to the next, he forgot the first halachah. This went on and on until the students in the bais hamedrash lost their patience with him.

The elderly Jew who was relating the story said that he continued to take pity on this boy and told him that he would always be available to him to answer questions and explain the Talmud's passages. This continued on a regular basis until he could no longer study for himself. He was always being pestered by the boy who, regrettably, did not retain what he was being taught. Finally, he lost it and said, "I also have to learn something!"

Hearing this, the boy walked away, dejected. After a short while, the young man wanted to see what had happened to the boy. Did he approach someone else, or did he just go study by himself? He looked around and there in the corner of the bais hamedrash sat the boy, his head bent over a small sefer. Creeping up behind the boy, the young man saw it was a Siddur, and the young boy was reading from the Tefillah of Ahavah Rabbah, which precedes Shma Yisrael. He was praying to Hashem, V'sein b'lebeinu l'havin, "and instill in our hearts to understand." "Hashem, please help me that I should no longer have to beg others to teach me the Torah lessons. Open my eyes to the light of Torah. Help me to understand. Please, Hashem!"

When the young man heard this broken-hearted entreaty, he sat down next to the boy and said, "Do not worry. I will study with you. I will always be there for you." The elderly gentleman concluded, "Look what became of that young boy. He is today one of the gedolei hador, preeminent Torah scholars of the generation, and I am just an old man."

Rav Shach concluded, "That young boy demonstrated what it means to want the crown of Torah."

You shall make the planks of the Mishkan of Acacia wood, standing erect. (26:15)

Chazal in the Talmud Yoma 72a, interpret the term "standing erect" homiletically, as a guarantee that the Jewish nation will survive in the worst times. "Perhaps you will say that their hope of return is gone and their expectation is frustrated? But it is written, 'acacia wood, standing erect' - they will stand forever!" What is unique about acacia wood that Chazal saw in the term "standing erect" a portent for Klal Yisrael's endurance and steadfastness? Is it the nature of the wood, or is it the manner in which it was placed in the Mishkan that conveys the message?

This wood was special, and its uniqueness is what catalyzes the message and concomitantly the reason that Klal Yisrael has survived. According to the Midrash Tanchuma, there is a very special history to these planks. Yaakov Avinu anticipated the need for such lumber. Knowing that acacia trees do not grow in the wilderness, he planted these trees in Egypt and instructed his children that when they left their exile, to take the trees with them. It was Yaakov Avinu's foresight that enabled his descendants to have the materials needed to erect the Mishkan. Throughout Jewish history, it has been the foresight and planning of the previous generation that gave the next generation the opportunity and the foundation to persevere and triumph over the vicissitudes that have challenged us. Whether they were of a spiritual or a physical nature, be it internal conflict or external persecution, it was the lessons taught to us by our forbearers, directly or by example, that have made the difference in our lives. We truly stand upon the shoulders of those who preceded us.

The ability to stand up erect, resolute and with fortitude against the prevalent obstacles and forces that undermine and degrade the Torah way of life, is part of our national character. We have been fighting against the incursion of alien thought into our way of life throughout the millennia. The challenges brought on by the exile are not only spiritual, moral and philosophical. The component of suffering, persecution and anguish has had a detrimental effect on the Jewish psyche. Yet, in every generation, we have been blessed with giants of Torah, men of the spirit, whose piety, virtue, and faith comprise a spiritual force that has the compelling power to uplift, embolden and transform his followers into believing, committed, stalwartly observant Jews. One of the lowest periods for our People was only sixty odd years ago during the terrible years of the European Holocaust. Six million perished, while many who survived succumbed spiritually. Those who were saved were fortified by towering individuals whose mind and spirit triumphed over pain and torture and rallied others with their indomitable conviction. The Klausenberger Rebbe, Horav Yekusiel Yehudah Halberstam, zl, was such a giant. Clearly, he saved thousands from spiritual extinction by virtue of his love for all Jews that was manifest throughout his every endeavor.

Wherever the Rebbe went, he felt Hashem's Presence with him. When he arrived in Auschwitz, confronted by the heinous Nazi soldiers with their disparaging comments and brutal beatings, he would encourage his fellow Jews, "Do not fear them. Hashem Yisborach is with us. He preceded us here, and He is waiting to receive us. There is no place in the world that is devoid of His Presence."

This was the Rebbe's message to everyone. "Hashem is here with us." The pasuk in Sefer Tehillim 23:4, immortalized by so many of our People, was the Rebbe's catchphrase that he would recite constantly: "Though I shall walk in the valley of death I shall not fear, for You are with me." No matter what happened to the Rebbe, he firmly believed in the Almighty's salvation.

Even during those terrible times, the Rebbe maintained his focus on avodas Hashem, serving the Almighty. Right beneath the searching eyes of the Nazis, he studied Torah, davened and observed mitzvos. Without regard to his personal safety, he would avoid even the most minor transgression. He refused to eat non-kosher food. He even managed to smuggle his Tefillin into camp, and he donned them every day. He avoided desecrating Shabbos and made sure that no one else did the work imposed on him.

The kapos could not tolerate the Rebbe's observance and would beat him viciously. He accepted these beatings as Hashem's judgment. He would often murmur, "This is because I did not serve You with joy." Slowly the kapos changed their attitude, as they began to recognize the Rebbe's unique character, principles and total devotion to Hashem. Looking at him with renewed respect, they began to treat him favorably.

When one remains resolute in adhering even to customs that have been transmitted through the generations, he has the foundation to maintain that fortitude for observing all the mitzvos. Those who have viewed our People's customs as a tradition that could be eliminated, soon had a similar attitude towards mitzvah observance in general. The Klausenberger Rebbe once related, "In Auschwitz, I wore only a torn, thin garment, even in the bitter cold. I preferred it to the other rags we were given, because the buttons were sewn on the left coinciding with the custom followed by my holy ancestors. Who knows? Perhaps I was permitted to continue living because I was careful about what I wore."

We now have an idea of the meaning of standing "erect." It was individuals of such indomitable spirit that have transmitted the legacy of Torah life to us.

You shall make a table of Acacia wood. (25:25)

The Kesav Sofer cites his father, the Chasam Sofer, who related that he saw in the sefer of one of the Rishonim a reason that the Torah prioritizes the construction of the Shulchan before that of the Menorah. The Shulchan represents the machazik Torah, one who supports Torah study, while the Menorah symbolizes the Torah scholar, who actually studies the Torah. When Moshe Rabbeinu blessed Klal Yisrael prior to his demise, he spoke first to Zevulun, the tribe which is characterized as the Torah supporter, prior to speaking to Yissachar, the Torah scholar. Without Zevulun's assistance, Yissachar would not be free to study Torah. If this is the case, however, why does the Torah prioritize the construction of the Aron, the symbol of the consummate talmid chacham, Torah scholar, before that of the Shulchan?

The Kesav Sofer explains that there are two types of Torah scholars. There is the righteous talmid chacham who does not need anyone's support. In fact, he is our source of sustenance. Chazal tell us that Rabbi Chanina ben Dosa was so great that the entire world was sustained in his merit. There are also Torah scholars who have not achieved this lofty spiritual plateau. They need the Zevuluns of every generation to support them.

The Aron Hakodesh, which contained the Luchos and was placed in the Kodesh Hakodoshim, Holy of Holies, symbolizes the "Rabbi Chanina ben Dosa" type of scholar, the quintessential talmid chacham, whose Torah study and piety take him above the realm of this physical world. It is in his merit that Zevulun is successful and is able to support Torah endeavor. This individual is sequestered in his four cubits of Torah law and does not benefit from the physical world around him. The Menorah, on the other hand, symbolizes the other type of talmid chacham, the one who must come on to Zevulun's support. Therefore, the Shulchan follows the Aron, but precedes the Menorah.

Va'ani Tefillah

Kol Zman she'haneshamah b'kirbi modeh ani lefanecha.

As long as the soul is within me, I gratefully thank you.

Chazal have established brachos which express our gratitude to Hashem for providing us with our basic abilities and necessities. There is a brachah for our ability to see and even one for the clothes we wear. Yet, there does not seem to be a brachah acknowledging our power of speech. In the sefer Pesach Hadvir, it is explained that the brachah of Elokai Neshamah, which thanks Hashem for every moment that we have our neshamah with us, is actually the blessing for our ability to speak. Targum Onkeles defines the neshamah which Hashem blew into Adam's nostrils as ruach memalelo, a speaking spirit. The rational soul includes the power of intelligent speech. We daily thank Hashem for this gift. Why does speech not have its own separate blessing?

If there would be a separate brachah, it would have to be recited as soon as one opens his mouth to speak. This is impossible, since the neshamah enters the body as soon as he wakes up. He should then thank Hashem for his neshamah. Once he articulates the brachah for the neshamah, he has already spoken, thereby negating the opportunity for a brachah for the power of speech prior to speaking. Consequently, the brachah of Elokai Neshamah accomplishes both.

Hamachzir neshamos lifegarim meisim - Who restores souls to dead bodies.

The Pri Megadim notes that the word peger/pegarim, dead bodies, is usually a reference to humans, specifically, wicked ones. The fact that Hashem restores the souls of the righteous goes without saying. They deserve it because they accomplish and reach new spiritual heights every day. The fact that He restores the souls of the wicked is novel. It indicates Hashem's altruism concerning the wicked, because they have the capacity to repent and correct their actions.

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