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Peninim on the Torah

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Rabbi A. Leib Scheinbaum
Hebrew Academy of Cleveland


This is the portion that you shall take from them: gold, silver and copper. (25:2)

The definition of the concept of kavod haTorah, the honor and reverence that should be accorded to the Torah, seems to elude us. The Aron Hakodesh was covered with gold, both internally and externally: the Menorah was comprised of one solid gold slab; the Shulchan, Mizbayach Haketores and Kerashim were all covered with gold. The Bais Hamikdash was a most impressive edifice, both from the architectural and aesthetic perspectives. There was certainly no shortage of gold in its outer trappings. Imagine the beauty and radiance of this monument to holiness! What is the lesson that we should derive from this unparalleled display of elegance and luxury?

We are to derive from here that the House of G-d "also" has to be exalted. Why is it that beauty, opulence and exceptional architecture are terms equated with secular structures, while religious institutions may often be housed in the most simple and austere repositories? If, indeed, we build an edifice that is a bit on the extravagant side, it becomes something to denigrate and even mock. Why should not our cultural/religious habitats be just as beautiful as theirs? Indeed, why should they not be even more impressive? This does not mean, of course, that we should waste money that is needed for other important necessities on structural and architectural extravagance. Why should those who live in mansions, however, settle for a shul in a storefront? Why should the Aron Hakodesh be a carpenter's nightmare, while the same baalei batim have no compunction about spending thousands of dollars on a dining room set?

Yeshivas Slabodka in Eretz Yisrael was going through a difficult financial period. It was weighed down with debt, and the banks were losing patience. The Rosh Hayeshivah, Horav Mordechai Shulman, zl, was relegated to visiting individuals personally on behalf of the yeshivah. One day, after returning from an unusually trying fund-raising trip, he came into the office and heard the administrator complaining bitterly about the yeshivah's financial straits. "Imagine, we are undergoing such extreme pressures just to survive, while a certain Chassidic dynasty is building a massive synagogue for millions of dollars, using imported Italian marble on their walls," he said.

When the Rosh Hayeshivah heard this, he turned to the administrator and said, "You have no idea what is the meaning of kavod haTorah." He was intimating that to build an impressive edifice for a makom Torah does not suggest a misappropriation of funds. If people are doing it for the correct purpose and with the right attitude, it manifests kavod haTorah.

Furthermore, I think that our generation of post-Holocaust survivors and their children must show the world that the Jewish nation which Hitler - with the assistance of a number of apathetic countries and individuals - sought to obliterate, did not succumb. We are back, and we are thriving. The study of Torah is at an all-time high. Mitzvah observance is an accepted and respected lifestyle. The baal teshuvah, return to Judaism, movement is accelerating. We have nothing of which to be ashamed, and we have nothing to hide. We are a vibrant nation that is committed to Hashem, and, therefore, when we erect a repository to glorify Him - it is truly a glorious event.

The staves shall remain in the rings of the Aron; they may not be removed from it. (25:15)

The Badim, poles, that remain in place on the sides of the Aron are an allusion to the tomchei Torah, those who support Torah study. Just as the Badim were not to be removed from the rings on the sides of the Aron, so, too, should there be an unseverable relationship between the Torah supporter and the individual who studies the Torah. While the machazik Torah will certainly receive an incredible reward for supporting the one who devotes himself to studying Torah, it goes without saying that the Aron Hakodesh had greater distinction than the Badim. Regrettably, we have lost sight of this notion.

It was a number of years ago that the Vaad Hayeshivos, the organization under the direction of Eretz Yisrael's Torah leadership, prepared an inaugural dinner in honor of the presidium of the "Joint," American supporters of life in the Holy Land. These individuals were directly responsible for the aid that was dispensed to the Orthodox community in Eretz Yisrael. As a display of hakoras hatov, appreciation and gratitude, the dinner was attended by the leading Torah leaders of the day. Included were: Horav Yechezkel Abramsky, zl, president of the Vaad Hayeshivos; Horav Eliezer Yehudah Finkel, zl, Rosh Yeshiva Mir; Horav Zalman Sorotzkin, zl, Lutzker Rav; and many others. It was truly an impressive representation of hakoras hatov.

Various roshei yeshivah spoke from the podium, expressing their heartfelt gratitude on behalf of the many students who had been availed the opportunity to study Torah through the efforts of the "Joint." It was the turn of Horav Ezra Atiyah, zl, Rosh Hayeshivah of Porat Yosef, to speak. He rose and began to walk up to the podium. Suddenly, he stopped and appeared as if he was looking for something to say, but could not speak. A few moments went by before Rav Ezra broke out in bitter weeping.

Understandably, all those assembled were shocked and did not know what had occurred to motivate this strange behavior. The master of ceremonies ran over to the rosh yeshivah and attempted to assuage his feelings. "Did I say something wrong? Perhaps I offended the rosh yeshivah?" he asked.

"No, no. Nothing like that," responded Rav Ezra. "It is just that as I was walking up to the podium, I realized that we were still in galus, exile."

"Of course we are in galus," the toastmaster replied, "but is now the time or place for such a display of bitter weeping?"

"You do not seem to understand what I mean," Rav Ezra said. "If Moshiach Tzidkeinu would be here, and we would be making a dinner for the Torah supporters, would it have been similar to this one? It would certainly have been much different. Obviously, we are still in galus."

What the venerable rosh yeshivah meant was that, without a doubt, we have an obligation to pay gratitude to those that perform mitzvos. It is just that had Moshiach been here, the dinner would have been arranged in a different manner. It would have been the supporters that would have been making the dinner for the roshei yeshivah. Apparently, we are still in exile.

On the Shulchan shall you place show-bread before Me, always. (25:30)

The Mishnah in Meseches Menachos 99b describes the procedure of the weekly exchange of the Lechem HaPanim, show-bread. Since the halachah demands that the Lechem HaPanim rest continuously on the table, it was essential for the Kohanim to take great care that, as the previous week's bread was being removed, other Kohanim would simultaneously be placing the new bread on the table. This is the meaning of the word tamid, continuously: the Table may not be left without bread even for a moment. To paraphrase the Mishnah, "The handbreadth of this one takes the place of the handbreadth of this one." This means that as each handbreadth of space on the table was cleared of the bread of the previous week, it was immediately filled with that of the new week. Rabbi Yosi disagrees, contending that even if the Kohanim were to remove the old bread from the Table completely and the other Kohanim were to place the new bread on the Table, it would still be a fulfillment of the criteria of tamid, continuously. He feels that it is not necessary to have the bread on the table every single moment of the night and day. It simply means that, at some point during both the day and the night, bread should be on the Table. No full night or day should pass without panim, bread, being on the Table.

In other words, the dispute between the Tannaim is whether the word tamid mandates a constant presence or a regular presence. In the Talmud's commentary on the Mishnah, Rabbi Ami says that from the words of Rabbi Yosi we may derive that even if a person were to study one chapter of Torah in the morning and one chapter of Torah in the evening, he will have fulfilled the obligation of Lo yamush sefer ha'Torah ha'zeh mipicha, "This Book of the Torah shall not depart from your mouth; rather, you shall contemplate it day and night" (Yehoshua 1:8). Just as one may fulfill the command of tamid, continuously, concerning the Lechem HaPanim by ensuring that no day or night go by without Panim bread, so, too, may a person similarly fulfill the command of V'higisa, "You shall contemplate it day and night by seeing to it that no day or night go by without the study of Torah."

With this in mind, Horav Yosef Sholom Elyashiv, Shlita, points out that we can derive a powerful lesson from Rav Ami's exegesis concerning Rabbi Yosi's definition of the word tamid. The Rabbanan who argue with Rabbi Yosi - and are of the opinion that a moment should not go by during which no Panim bread is on the Shulchan - will accordingly maintain a similar definition with regard to the "day and night" of Torah study. Just as concerning Lechem HaPanim, where "the handbreadth of this one takes the place of the handbreadth of this one," no moment should pass in which one does not study Torah.

Rav Elyashiv has exemplified this commitment to Torah study throughout his life. Is it any wonder that he has achieved such exalted status? His perspective on Torah study reflects his outstanding commitment.

You shall make curtains of goat hair for a tent over the Mishkan. (26:7)

The second covering over the Mishkan was called an Ohel, Tent, and was placed directly over the Mishkan. Indeed, the Mishkan was called Ohel Moed, Tent of Meeting, symbolizing the significance of the Yerios, coverings, as the essence of the Mishkan. This is similar to a Sukkah, which gets its name from the schach, covering/roof, which determines its halachic validity. We wonder why Hashem insisted that it be specifically the covering over the Mishkan which essentially establishes the Mishkan's essence. Is there a reason why gold was not used?

Horav Tuvia Lisitzin, zl, cites the Midrash at the beginning of our parsha, which explains Hashem's desire for a Mishkan with the following analogy. A king had a daughter of marriageable age. One day, a king from a distant country came and asked for her hand in marriage. Her father was concerned, since his future son-in-law wanted to take his only child away with him to his home. The father said to his prospective son-in-law, "I cannot tell you that I do not agree to you taking my child with you, because, after all, she will be your wife, and a wife goes with her husband. I ask but one favor of you. Please make for me a small room wherever you live, so that I can be near my daughter."

Likewise, Hashem says to Klal Yisrael, "My Torah is like my only child. I cannot be away from her. On the other hand, you must take the Torah wherever you go. Please make for Me a small place where I can repose near My Torah." Hashem asked Klal Yisrael to make a Mishkan for Him so that He could be close to the Torah.

This Midrash begs elucidation. The king surely was not at a loss for funds with which to build a palace for himself. Why was he satisfied with a small room? He could have easily built himself a large palace on his son-in-law's property and still be within walking distance of his daughter. The answer is as simple as it is profound. The king had only one objective: to be near his daughter. He did not need a palace. Indeed, a palace might have conveyed the impression that he was near his daughter because of the palace. Therefore, he chose a small room to allay any doubts concerning his real purpose in living there.

Likewise, Hashem chose a simple goat-hair covered Mishkan, demonstrating that the Shechinah was here due to one reason: the Torah. This may be the underlying explanation of Chazal's maxim in Pirkei Avos 6:4, "This is the way of Torah: Eat bread with salt, and drink water in small measure, and sleep on the ground." In other words, we are being informed that one should not enjoy any other pleasures. Torah should be studied lishmah, only for its own sake, so great and unequivocal should be one's love for Torah. Any other benefit, even one of a spiritual nature, detracts from the singularity of one's love of Torah.

Many inspirational narratives depict the prodigious love for - and devotion to - the Torah that individuals throughout history have manifest. One very inspiring story that comes to mind is related by Rabbi Yechiel Spero in his Touched By A Story. The talmidim, students, of the Novordok Yeshivah were known for their intense religious observance. The communist government had a problem with this. They proceeded to arrest the entire yeshivah on trumped-up charges, with the intent that after some therapeutic discipline, their commitment would lose much of its fervor.

They were deprived of the basic physical provisions which were essential for survival. They were served the bare minimum of a meal that by some stroke of the imagination might be called food. With neither blankets nor coats, they were subject to the bitter cold night and day. These special young men, however, were not bothered by their lack of material essentials; what they yearned for most was their Gemaros, the volumes of Talmud that were so precious to them.

Aware that their families were permitted to bring them food packages, one of the young men came up with a clever plan. When they were arrested, the students had been studying Meseches Makkos, one of the shorter tractates in Shas. It is only twenty-two blatt, pages. They sent a message to their families that they could really use twenty-two packages of cheese, each package wrapped in a page of the Talmud Makkos. This ruse allowed them to have their precious Gemara smuggled into the prison. This was worth much more than food to them.

With regard to the halachic ramifications concerning tearing apart a Gemara and using it as wrapping paper for cheese, Horav Eliezer Rabinowitz, zl, the Rav of Minsk, stated emphatically that for pikuach nefesh, matters of life and death, it was certainly permissible. For these young men not to be able to study their precious Torah was, indeed, an issue of pikuach nefesh.

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

The walls of the Mishkan were made of huge wooden planks of Acacia wood. The trees that provided this wood had a long and interesting history. Avraham Avinu was informed by Hashem that his descendants would one day, after being slaves in Egypt for two hundred and ten years, be liberated and travel to Eretz Yisrael via the wilderness. Hashem would command them to erect a Mishkan as a place for the Shechinah to repose. Avraham prepared the wood for the Mishkan by planting Acacia trees. These trees were cut down by Yaakov Avinu on his way to Egypt. When Moshe Rabbeinu informed the Jewish People that the time for their redemption had finally arrived, they were overjoyed, and, with great faith in Hashem, they prepared to leave. They did not even prepare food for the trip, because they were to be guests of Hashem. He would provide for them.

While they did not take along food, they did, however, take along the Acacia wood. On their shoulders, on their donkeys, in their wagons, wherever they could, they took Acacia wood. Why? If they were to rely on Hashem for food, why could they not have relied on Him for wood, as well? After all, Hashem seems to have been able to provide everything the Jews needed in the wilderness. What was their obsession with wood, that Avraham had to plant it, Yaakov had to cut it down and Klal Yisrael had to carry it with them from Egypt?

The answer is simple: the Mishkan is like no other edifice. It is the resting place for the Shechinah. It is the place where the Divine service is carried out. It is a holy place. It is the place from which our emunah, faith, in Hashem has its underpinnings. It is the center of our spiritual sphere.

It would be a grave mistake to view the wood that is the foundation and support of the Mishkan as mere construction material. This wood represents the real construction material which makes up the Mishkan: the Avos ha'kedoshim, holy Patriarchs. Their tears, their prayers, their utter devotion, their total commitment - this is the stuff that comprises the Mishkan. An essential prerequisite in building the Mishkan is the inclusion of the foundation of the past. Our future lies in our building of the present upon the foundation of the past, on the traditions and service, the commitment and dedication, expended and manifest by our forebears.

While I have reiterated this idea many times, there is another aspect to Avraham and Yaakov's actions that serves as a crucial lesson for us: they cared about their future. They prepared the materials, so that their future descendants could build with and upon them. It is our function and obligation to provide for the next generation, to show them the way and prepare for them the means so that they can travel the road ahead.

Chazal relate that Choni HaMaagel once met a man who was planting a carob tree. He asked him how long it would take for it to reach maturity. The response was, seventy years. "Do you think that you will be here in seventy years?" Choni asked. "No," the man responded, "but when I was born, I discovered a mature tree that was planted by my ancestors. I will do the same for my descendants." That is the story of life and our

obligation to the next generation. Our parents have provided for us, and now it is our turn to provide for our children.

Va'ani Tefillah

Pesukei d'Zimrah - The Introductory Service. (Verses that sing G-d's praises)

Chazal refer to the added introductory verses which precede the actual Tefillah as Pesukei d'Zimrah. This section begins with Baruch She'Amar and concludes with Yishtabach. The heart of Pesukei d'Zimrah is Tefillas Ashrei. This prelude to the main section of Shacharis avails us the opportunity to focus our concentration on prayer, so that we may be able to recite the Shema and Shemoneh Esrai in the proper frame of mind. It is a time when one clears his mind of any extraneous thoughts, preparing himself for proper entreating of Hashem. Horav Shimon Schwab, zl, notes that throughout the Pesukei d'Zimrah we find two commonly recurring words: Shirah and Zimrah. These words are not synonymous, but rather they complement one another.

The word shirah has its root in shir, which means a connection. Thus, we intimate that through shirah, song, we express our attachment to Hashem. Zimrah, also defined as song, has its root in a contrasting idea, that of zamor, which means to prune. Through the concept of zimrah, we prune or sever whatever misdirected desires or inappropriate thoughts may have developed in our minds. Thus, zimrah is a happy singing to Hashem, through which one prunes out the powers of tumah, ritual contamination, and replaces them with his deep feelings of being close to Hashem. The Pesukei d'Zimrah, with its two components of shirah and zimrah, is an appropriate preparatory prayer for the main portion of the Tefillah. We battle the forces of the yetzer hora, evil-inclination, and cut down the forces of tumah by overwhelming them with our shirah, expressions of our deep yearning and innate longing to be attached to Hashem.

In memory of
Our father, grandfather and great-grandfather
Mr. Nathan Rothner
R' Naftoli Michael ben Nesanel z'l
niftar 7 Adar 5763
The Rothner Family

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

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