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Peninim on the Torah

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Rabbi A. Leib Scheinbaum
Hebrew Academy of Cleveland


And they shall accept for Me an uplifted donation. (25:2)

The Midrash quotes an intriguing dialogue that ensued between Hashem and Moshe Rabbeinu. When Hashem commanded Moshe concerning the building of the Mishkan, Moshe asked, "Is it possible for Klal Yisrael to make a Mishkan capable of serving as a place of repose for the Shechinah?" Hashem replied, "Even one Jew is able to do so by himself." Apparently, a hidden force, a concealed power, within every Jew is capable of transforming the entire world into good.

The greatest Jews, those who actually catalyzed outstanding transformation, stood alone. They acted by themselves, because they knew that they were not really alone. Hashem was always supporting their endeavors. In truth, everything that we achieve is really Hashem's doing. We just go through the motions. His blessing is our successful achievement. It began with Avraham Avinu. He had no supporting cast. Acting alone, he confronted an entire pagan culture. He fought kings and emerged triumphant.

This phenomenon has repeated itself throughout the generations. It is the power of one, which is usually interpreted as the power of one person acting alone. I think we can safely change that to the power of One - upper-case letter "O." When a person realizes that it is Hashem Who supports him, he then has the courage and fortitude to undertake the most difficult and seemingly impossible endeavor, because he realizes that he is not alone; the power of One accompanies him.

Horav Yisrael Salanter, zl, once said, "Give me one true yarei Shomayim, one uncompromising G-d fearing Jew, and through him I will bring merit to the entire world. When we think about it, we realize that most of the great spiritual success stories throughout time have been catalyzed by one individual with an idea, who worked resolutely to promote his cause, thereby meriting siyata diShmaya, Divine assistance, to achieve success well beyond his dreams.

As mentioned earlier, Avraham Avinu is the father of all success stories. We have been blessed throughout the generations with individuals of great stature, whose dedication to Torah and its values was paramount. These were the leaders of each community who stood up against the alien winds of change, that which would stop at nothing to undermine and impugn the character of Torah. At first, they rallied together support from the grass roots community, and later it continued to spread. They began with "one," and the numbers grew. The innovators plunged into uncharted waters to undertake projects and establish organizations that merited unparalleled siyata diShmaya, thereby allowing them to succeed beyond expectation.

Among these spiritual giants was: Horav Marcus Lehmann, zl, who, after noticing that young people had nothing "kosher" to read, undertook to write historical novels primarily for young people. This brilliant talmid chacham, Torah scholar, certainly had other things to do, but Klal Yisrael needed these books. Imagine, the Chief Rabbi of Mainz was writing books for children! These books were soon devoured by adults, and an entire generation was infused with yiraas Shomayim. His weekly divrei Torah were circulated throughout Germany, and, in some of the smaller communities, served as the rabbinic sermon for the day!

Another of these spiritual giants was Horav S.R. Hirsch, zl, who stood up to the secularists in Germany. With dedication and sheer brilliance, he succeeded in saving the Orthodox Jewish community. His legacy continues to thrive today. Horav Yosef Breuer, zl, came to this country during World War II with a vision of rebuilding the Frankfurt Jewish community. He succeeded beyond his dreams. Horav Yechiel Schlesinger, zl, was determined to establish a yeshivah gedolah in Eretz Yisrael. Together with Horav Baruch Kunstadt, zl, and Horav Yonah Merzbach, zl, he founded Yeshivas Kol Torah. Who can forget the Ponevezer Rav, Horav Yosef Kahaneman, zl, the architect of Torah in Eretz Yisrael, post Holocaust? He had an idea and a burning passion to rebuild the Torah that the Nazis had attempted to destroy.

In this country, we were blessed with Horav Shraga Feivel Mendlowitz, zl, an indefatigable individual whose love for Torah and Yidden was relentless. In his own eyes, he considered himself a poshuter baal habayis, but, in the eyes of the world, he was the captain of Torah. He was joined by Horav Aharon Kotler, zl, and together they and a handful of Roshei Yeshivah established the American Torah world.

What was Cleveland before Horav Eliyahu Meir Bloch, zl, and his brother-in- law Horav Chaim Mordechai Katz, zl, arrived to establish Telshe? What was Baltimore before Horav Yitzchak Yaakov Ruderman, zl, laid the groundwork for Ner Yisrael?

Kiruv, Jewish outreach, did not exist before the Lubavitcher Rebbe, Horav Yosef Yitzchak Schneerson, zl, sent out his shluchim throughout the world. The Bostoner Rebbe, Horav Levi Yitzchok Horowitz, zl, and Horav Shlomo Friefeld, zl, each in his own way - with his own unique approach - changed Yiddishkeit. In Eretz Yisrael, it was Horav Noach Weinberg, zl, who started a "movement" of kiruv through his Aish HaTorah programs. These are but a few of the individuals who represent the "power of one."

Another aspect of the "power of one" is the individual who devotes himself to saving one mitzvah by raising our awareness of its significance. At the forefront of this endeavor stands the Chafetz Chaim, zl, who devoted himself to teaching Klal Yisrael about the sin of lashon hora. When the Tzeilemer Rav, Horav Levi Yitzchok Grunwald, zl, came to America, he noticed the dismal condition of kashrus. He took it upon himself to ensure the Jewish community reliable kashrus supervision. These were gedolei Yisrael, Torah giants, who were inculcated from "day one" with an achrayus, a sense of responsibility, for Klal Yisrael. The reader might ask: "What does that have to do with me? I am a simple, plain Jew. I am not a gadol. What can I do?"

The individual who shatters this myth, who demonstrated that gadlus is defined by emunah, boundless faith, was Reb Yosef Rosenberger,zl, or - as he was endearingly referred to - "Mr.Shatnez." He came to America a penniless refugee, still bearing the physical and emotional trauma of the notorious Dachau concentration camp, but with an indomitable spirit and undaunted faith. While others came here with the hope of rebuilding, of revolutionizing America, he came with an idea. His idea was not a get-rich-quick scheme. It was a concept that would elevate kedushah, holiness. Expending time, tremendous effort, and, of course, siyata d'Shmaya, Reb Yosef taught America the importance of the mitzvah of shatnez. He realized his ideals by lighting a spark of idealism in the hearts and minds of others. He saved a mitzvah of the Torah from disappearing into oblivion. One mitzvah - one person - the power of "one."

And they shall accept for Me an uplifted donation, from every man whose heart moves him to make a free-will gift you shall accept My uplifted donation. (25:2)

We note that the gift is not to be given directly to G-d; rather, each individual should contribute to the community, who, in turn, shall set up institutions dedicated to Hashem's purposes. Horav S.R. Hirsch, zl, suggests that the implication is clear: it is not for individual donors to set up these institutions. They must be the fruits of labor of the community as a whole, whereby everybody shares in their upkeep. Nonetheless, there seems to be too much redundancy in this pasuk. The Torah emphasizes asher yidvenu libo, free-will gift, and terumah, uplifted donation. What is the difference between that which one gives to a poor man and the donation he gives to G-d's institutions? Tzedakah, charity, is tzedakah - or is it not?

The Kehillas Yitzchak enlightens us with regard to the tzedakah that is given to Hashem's establishments and its marked distinction from tzedakah given to the needy. Two aspects comprise a tzedakah donation: the individual's good intentions. Examples include: his overflowing heart which is sensitive to the needs of others; and the end result of his good deed: a poor man is sustained; a broken person is temporarily made whole; a floundering family is balanced. In other words, we consider both the motivation / attitude of the benefactor and the end result, the consequences of his giving.

When a person donates to the Mishkan, it is necessary for his motivation to be pure and virtuous. It must be a free-will offering that is dedicated l'shem Shomayim, for the sake of Heaven. Normally, tzedakah does not have to be given lishmah. The benefactor may have ulterior motives in giving. Veritably, that is true of the tzedakah given to a poor man. Then the primary goal is that the man receives his alms, he has food to eat, a place to rest his head, etc. As long as he is sustained, the attitude of his benefactor does not matter. All that matters is that he has benefitted from this interaction.

When one contributes "to" Hashem, it is an entirely different process. This contribution is governed by a different set of rules. Hashem does not need our contribution. In fact, whatever we give Him is actually His! There is nothing physical that we can give Him, since everything already belongs to Him. Only our attitude, our good intentions, our holy and pure thoughts matter. Those belong to us, and it is precisely those machashavos, thoughts, which comprised the lishmah aspect of our donation to the Mishkan.

They shall make an Ark of acacia wood, two and a half cubits its length; a cubit and a half its width; and a cubit and a half its height. (25:10)

There were actually two Aronos. Betzalel made the first one, which is described above. When Moshe Rabbeinu descended Har Sinai and took one look at the Golden Calf, he shattered the Luchos, Tablets, which he was carrying. This was followed by prayer and repentance, after which Hashem instructed him to prepare new Tablets upon which He would inscribe the Ten Commandments. To hold the second set of Luchos, as well as shards of the broken Luchos, Hashem instructed Moshe to make an Ark of wood, which would be used until Klal Yisrael built the permanent Ark. Rashi cites an opinion that after the permanent Ark was built, Klal Yisrael left the broken Tablets in the wooden Ark. The Ark containing the shards of the first Luchos accompanied Klal Yisrael into battle. Ramban, however, notes that most opinions agree that the two Arks were never in use simultaneously. After the permanent Ark had been constructed, everything was transferred there, and the wooden Ark was hidden.

Rashi's opinion that the Aron which accompanied them to the battlefield was the wooden one, containing within it the broken Luchos, begs elucidation. Why did they not take the one which held the Torah? Clearly, they wanted to make use of every merit available to them. The z'chus haTorah, merit of Torah, is an extremely powerful intercession. Why not use it? Horav Mordechai Yehudah Leib Saks, zl, explains that while Torah is a most effective advocate, a danger surfaces in applying it, due to an inherent weakness in the "system." The Achilles heel is that not everyone observes the entire Torah. This is the weak spot in the armor provided by the Torah. It can work only if everyone is aligned and on the same page. Regrettably, this is not a reality and, thus, can actually work against us.

By taking the wooden Ark containing the broken-shards of the first Luchos, we are calling attention to Klal Yisrael's deficiency in achieving a proper spiritual calling. The wooden Ark presents an obsequious Jewish nation, asking for forgiveness, knowing fully well that the people have failed to live up to Hashem's expectations of them. The broken shards represent the nadir of sin, the sudden fall from grace when Klal Yisrael lost control of their faculties and swore allegiance to the Golden Calf. If all this is true, what merit do they have? What factor should catalyze favorable merit, so that they emerge victorious against their pagan enemies? It is not their merit but, rather, the wickedness of their enemy that brings about their downfall. This is consistent with the pasuk in Devarim 9:14, "Do not say in your heart, when Hashem pushes them away from before you, saying, 'Because of my righteousness did Hashem bring me to possess this Land and because of the wickedness of these nations did Hashem drive them away from before you.'" It is not because of your merit. It is because of their evil. The wooden Ark downplays our worthiness, instead, appealing to Hashem's compassion.

Make the Mishkan from ten curtains…Five curtains shall be joined together, and the other five from curtains as a covering for the Mishkan, you shall make eleven of them…and you shall put five together and the other six altogether. (26:1,3,6,9)

The Mishkan itself was comprised of curtains resting upon beams. The first set of five curtains was sewn together, as was the second set of five curtains. They were attached to one another by means of special hooks. It seems odd that they had to be attached. Surely, all ten curtains could have been sewn together into one great curtain, thereby obviating the need for hooks to join them. The Baal HaTurim suggests a symbolism for this requirement. The ten curtains correspond to the Aseres HaDibros, Ten Commandments, with each of the five curtains representing the five commandments which were on each one of the Two Tablets.

The Shem MiShmuel sees this symbolism as sending us a crucial message concerning the purpose of the Mishkan. The Mishkan had to be a constant reminder of the purpose of the whole system of worship: The observance of the Torah Revelation as encapsulated by the Ten Commandments. By going to the trouble of having us connect the two sets of five curtains, rather than sew them all together, the Torah sought to retain the image of Matan Torah, the Giving of the Torah, in our minds.

I think we can take this reminder a bit further. The fact that there are two tablets with five commandments on each one - rather than all ten being on one large tablet - teaches us an important lesson. When all ten are together, there is room for suggestion that they might be listed in descending level of significance. When they are, however, placed side by side, the Torah is teaching us that a harmony exists between them, that they coincide with one another. One cannot observe the laws that address our allegiance to Hashem, while ignoring the five which address our relationship with our fellow man - and vice-versa.

The Shem MiShmuel says that the upper layer of goat hair curtains symbolizes the entire Torah system: the five curtains denoting the Five Books of the Written Law; and the six curtains representing the six books of the Oral Law. Thus, the Mishkan was a means to an end. It taught us the significance of Torah in our lives. The Mishkan brought us closer to Hashem via His Torah.

A similar idea applies to our modern day Mishkan: the shul. Its purpose is to elevate us spiritually by fostering a deeper and closer connection with the Torah. As Horav S.R. Hirsch, zl, explains, the Mishkan implies two distinct concepts: Mikdash- Sanctuary; and Mishkan-dwelling place. Mikdash designates the mission we are to discharge for Hashem. Mishkan expresses the denouement of the promise issued by Hashem to us in return for properly discharging our mission. When we increase our study of Torah we strengthen our observance, thereby allowing Hashem to rest His Shechinah in our midst. It is that simple.

You shall erect the Mishkan according to its manner, as will have been shown on the mountain. (26:30)

Moshe Rabbeinu was commanded a number of times concerning the injunction against deviating from the original design of the Mishkan and its vessels. Exactly as he had been shown on the mountain, should it now be constructed. The fact that this enjoinder is repeated a number of times indicates that there might be something "more" to it. Horav Meir Shapiro, zl, suggests that it has something to do with the overall design of the Mishkan - not from an architectural standpoint, but from a practical perspective concerning its accessibility to the various groups which it served.

Prior to the Giving of the Torah, Klal Yisrael was commanded in the mitzvas Hagbalah, establishing assigned boundaries around Har Sinai. "Bound the mountain and sanctify it" (Shemos 19:23). The Chidushei HaRim, zl, explains the practical reasoning behind this mitzvah. Why were they commanded specifically before Mattan Torah, the Giving of the Torah, concerning not overstepping the designated boundaries? It seems that Hashem also offered the Torah to the gentile nations. They rejected the offer, claiming that observing the Torah went against the grain of their national character. After all, how could they be expected to maintain a high moral posture and refrain from committing adultery? The media is filled with escapades of the most prominent and distinguished celebrities, politicians and sports figures. This is the way they live!

To deprive them of murder - either the actual taking of someone's life or its more "popular" substitute, character assassination, which seems to have become their favorite pastime - would be unthinkable. If they were divested of this callous form of entertainment, they might be compelled to act as sensitive human beings. This would be highly demanding.

The problem is that the nations had a reasonable objection to not being held accountable for refusing the Torah. They felt that Klal Yisrael so readily subscribed to the Torah because it does not inherently go against their grain. Nothing in the Torah stands in contrast with the Jewish psyche. To counteract this "excuse" on the part of the gentile nations, Hashem gave us the mitzvah of Hagbalah, which basically demanded order and discipline. At the time of Mattan Torah, each Jew had his preordained place, so as not to infringe upon his neighbor. It is a mitzvah which, in the area of spiritual ascendance, is non-conforming to Jewish nature.

A Jew is driven to move forward, strive higher - not maintain a status quo. In this area, the Jewish personality is not prone to regimentation and restraint. Thus, if the Jewish People were to accept the mitzvah of Hagbalah, it would seal the mouths of the gentile nations. The Jews were willing to go against their intrinsic nature.

The Lubliner Rosh Yeshivah applies this line of reasoning in his interpretation of the pasuk. During the Giving of the Torah, there were three stations, three pre-set boundaries, in place. Moshe Rabbeinu was permitted to ascend the mountain and enter into the Cloud where Hashem rested His presence. The next position was reserved for the Kohanim and Zekeinim, Elders. They were permitted to accompany Moshe part of the way up the mountain. The third boundary was designated for the remainder of the nation, who were instructed to encircle the mountain. Three levels of kedushah, holiness; three groups of people. The Mishkan's design incorporated a similar design, whereby it was sectioned off into three distinct ascending levels of kedushah, holiness. The inner sanctum, Kodshei HaKedoshim, Holy of Holies, was the domain reserved only for the Kohen Gadol on Yom Kippur, the holiest day of the year. This was preceded by the Ohel Moed, or Heichal, which was designated for the Kohanim. Last, was the Chatzar HaMishkan, Courtyard, or - as it was referred to in the Bais HaMikdash - the Azarah. This section was appropriated for all Jews.

The Torah repeats its instructions to adhere to the original architectural plan when rebuilding the Mishkan, as a mandate that there be three levels of kedushah as was demonstrated during the Giving of the Torah on Har Sinai. As the original Mishkan followed this design, so, too, must all subsequent structures conform to this prototypal concept. The Mishkan is a continuation of the Revelation which occurred on Har Sinai. Just as the mountain which was the scene of Revelation is the place from which Torah emanated to the Jewish People, the Mishkan is, likewise, the oracle of Torah teaching to the nation. As a continuation of Sinai, the Mishkan serves as the nation's focal point of spirituality.

Yehallelu Shemo b'machol, b'sof, v'chinor yezamru lo.
They will praise His Name in a dance; they will sing to Him with drum and stringed instrument.

Chazal describe this machol, dance. "In the future, HaKadosh Baruch Hu will make a dance for the tzadikim, righteous, in Gan Eden, and He will sit in their midst, and everyone of them will point their finger (at Him)." The Chafetz Chaim explains the idea of the circle: in a circle, no part of it is closer to the center than the other. All those dancing in the circle around Hashem are equidistant from Him. So, too, in the future, all the righteous will realize that they are all equal in their relationship to Hashem. The Chasam Sofer applies the same idea to their intentions. In other words, even though there were differences of opinion among the great Sages concerning halachic decisions, they all had the same intent: l'shem Shomayim, for the sake of Heaven. One said asur, prohibited, while the other opined, mutar, permitted; one said tamei, ritually impure, while the other claimed tahor, pure; but they all meant the same thing, and they all had the proper aim and purpose. Thus, they all remain equally positioned in relation to Hashem.

In memory of
Our parents, grandparents
and great-grandparents

R' Naphtali Michoel ben Nesanel z"l
MaRas Sara Riva bas R' Yaakov Meir HaKohen a"h

The Rothner Family

Peninim on the Torah is in its 18th year of publication. The first fourteen years have been published in book form.

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