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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 from every man whose heart motivates him you shall take My portion. (25:2)

The Bais Yisrael of Gur offers a homiletic rendering of this pasuk that has practical application, especially for those who devote themselves to Jewish outreach. An issue arises: if one spends most of his time teaching aleph bais, the alphabet, so to speak, to those who are returning to Judaism, he might stunt his own personal growth. In addition, such people spend much of their time in environments that are, at best, quite distant from the milieu of a Torah way of life. Thus, this phenomenon has negatively impacted the ranks of those who might otherwise have chosen to devote themselves to this form of harbotzes Torah, Torah dissemination.

The Gerrer Rebbe interprets the pasuk in the following manner: V'yikchu Li terumah, "If it is your desire to elevate yourself, to ascend the ladder of spiritual ascendency," mei'eis kol ish, "from every man"; by infusing all Jews with Torah and yiraas Shomayim, fear of Heaven, by bringing all Jews closer to Hashem and the Torah way of life," tikchu es terumasi, "you will thus elevate yourself and thereby bring yourself closer to Hashem." The Rebbe says that this path is baduk u'menusah, "tried and proven," to succeed. One who devotes himself sincerely to the fields of kiruv and chinuch, outreach and education, will ultimately enhance his own spiritual development.

If I may supplement this idea with the following: One who teaches - learns. The preparation involved, coupled with the communication skills one develops, enhances one's own understanding of the material by granting him deeper insight. When one has the responsibility of explaining a Torah concept to an individual who has little or no knowledge, he had better be prepared. If one takes his work seriously, he himself will benefit immeasurably.

Furthermore, one cannot possibly infuse another Jew with a passion for Yiddishkeit, unless he himself has it. Kiruv and chinuch work is quite similar to lighting one candle from another. If the first one is not properly lit, the second one cannot obtain its flame. The unaffiliated are infused with the passion they observe and sense that we have. The flip-side is, of course: if we are deficient, we can be a detriment to the development of others.

Last, if we seek to be a terumah, to elevate ourselves, we must reach out to kol ish, all Jews - regardless of background, moral, ethical, social grounding and credentials. Not all individuals are geshmak, "pleasant," to work with. Some have "pathologies," histories that are far from agreeable or sympathetic. In fact, some have downright unseemly backgrounds. There are those who were born Jewish, but that is as far as their heritage extends; they neither have a clue as to the meaning of Judaism, nor do they have a desire to find out. He might present an unsavory fa?ade, but, beneath it all, his chest contains a warm, sensitive heart, just waiting to be spiritually resuscitated. It is a tall order, but, at the end of the day, it brings us the greatest satisfaction - both emotionally and spiritually.

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

The Mishkan was the embodiment of kedushah, holiness, on this world. It teaches us that the mundane can - and should - be elevated. This is the concept of Judaism - elevating the mundane, sanctifying the physical. Whatever Hashem created can be used for a sublime purpose. When we take that attitude to simply physical matters. surely we can apply it to people. Regardless of one's background or religious affiliation, he can become holy. The spark within him is a living potential. It only has to be stoked, and the flame will rise.

When the Torah commands us to perform a mitzvah, it first relates the concept of the mitzvah before getting to the "how to" aspect of it. It is, therefore, surprising that concerning the construction of the Mishkan, the Torah immediately presents the "how to" aspect. "Take for Me"; first comes the fundraising, and later the purpose of the funds is elaborated. Should it not have been the other way around? I want you to construct a Mishkan for Me, where My Presence will repose; then, we get into the fund-raising component. Construction needs financing. In order to perform this mitzvah, the people have to open their wallets and part with some money.

Applying the earlier idea concerning the underlying concept of the Mishkan, Horav Mordechai Gifter, zl, explains what appears to be the reversed roles in the mitzvah of building Hashem's Mishkan. The Rosh Yeshivah explains that financing the construction of the Mishkan was not merely a preliminary stage in the process of building the Mishkan. Instead, it was actually the first step in the building process. Giving of one's possessions to make the Mishkan meant elevating mundane matter and sanctifying it. This is the concept of the Mishkah. The Torah, therefore, instructs us to take terumah before the actual command to construct the Mishkan is conveyed, because doing so embodies the very essence of the Mishkan.

I think we can extend this idea further. What is the difference between donors? Why is it that, for some, parting with their possessions for charity is a breeze while, for others, it is a traumatic experience. When one views tzedakah giving as elevating his material possessions, granting them consecrated status, contributing becomes an uplifting experience. For those who view it as a "pulling teeth" experience, it becomes somewhat of an ordeal - both for the donor and for the beneficiary.

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

The staves/poles were to be left in the rings permanently. One who removed them was in violation of both a positive and prohibitive commandment. This restriction was not applied to carrying the poles of the Mizbayach, Altar, and Shulchan, Table. Another unique aspect of the Badei Ha'Aron, poles of the Ark, was that they protruded into the Paroches, Curtain, which separated the Kodesh Hakadashim, Holy of Holies, from the Kodesh, Sanctuary. In other words, they were visible in the Mishkan and later in the Bais Hamikdash, but only through the Curtain - never directly. This is, indeed, the manner in which they were always seen: through their protrusion in the Curtain. Even when the Mishkan was dismantled and the Aron wrapped in the Paroches, Aharon HaKohen and his sons would pull on the poles until they formed protrusions in the Curtain. In other words, the poles never left their place and were always visible as a protrusion against the Curtain. What is the significance of all this? If they are supposed to be noticed, why are they covered? If they are not to be seen, why are they placed in a manner which compels protrusion?

Horav Meir Bergman, Shlita, cites the Meshech Chochmah in his commentary to Parashas Bechukosai. Rav Meir Simchah quotes a passage from the Talmud Bava Metzia 85b, in which Rabbi Chaviva bar Surmaki said, "I saw that in the morning the eyes of a certain sage who was regularly visited by Eliyahu HaNavi were bright and beautiful, but, in the evening they appeared as if scorched by fire. Rav Chaviva asked the sage, "What happened?"

The sage replied, "I asked Eliyahu HaNavi to show me the sages in Heaven as they rise up from Gan Eden to the Yeshivah Shel Maalah, Heavenly Academy. He told me, 'You will be able to look at all of their thrones except for the throne of Rabbi Chiya, at which you must not look."

"I asked him, 'How can I distinguish between the thrones?" he replied, 'All of them are accompanied by Angels as they rise up and descend again. Rabbi Chiya's throne rises and descends of its own accord.' I was unable to restrain myself. I had to see the throne of Rabbi Chiya." The sage gazed on the throne, and immediately two sparks of fire came and struck his eyes, blinding him. "The next day, I went to Rabbi Chiya's grave and entreated that he intercede on my behalf, and I was healed."

The Meshech Chochmah wonders why Rabbi Chiya's throne was deemed "off limits"? What distinguished his throne? He explains that the difference is like the difference between a talmid chacham, Torah scholar, and a machzik Torah, one who gives material support to enable Torah study. In the Talmud Berachos 34b, Chazal state that all the visions of the Neviim, Prophets, concerning the future were regarding the reward awaiting one who marries his daughter off to a talmid chacham, who does business on his behalf or who grants him something of his possessions. Concerning the talmidei chachamim themselves, the pasuk in Yeshayahu 64:3, applies, "No eye has seen G-d, but Yours what will be done for he who awaits You."

This means that one whose main occupation is in the field of material involvement, things of the mundane, physical and familiar to mortal man - then his reward, splendid as it may be, will nonetheless be drawn from the palette of ordinary human life - something about which he can prophesy, something in line with his physical vision. A person who occupies himself primarily with holy wisdom, the shleimus, perfection, of whose concepts lies beyond the realm of the human experience, then his reward will also be beyond that of human account. The profundities of the Torah's wisdom will be revealed to him, which will delight him in a totally spiritual manner, far beyond the grasp of the human experience. Thus, the Prophets could not speak of it.

Maharal explains that a prophecy is a vision. As such, the Navi with his physical senses can perceive only those things that are part of the physical world; his ability to "see" is limited to the human experience. Those things that are foreign to earthly human life cannot be perceived via the prophetic vision.

The sage could look at the "thrones of the sages" as a reference to the individuals who support talmidei chachamim, as a throne supports the person who sits upon it. He could, however, not gaze upon the sages themselves as they ascended to the Heavenly Yeshivah to study the Torah's hidden wisdom. The reward which they received was supernatural, something which no human eye has been able to behold.

Why was Rabbi Chiya's throne singled out from the others? Apparently, those who were machazik, supported, Rabbi Chiya's Torah were in a league all their own. Their reward was greater than the reward received by the other Torah supporters. Rav Bergman explains that Rabbi Chiya's Torah was different than that of the other sages, because not only was he personally an erudite scholar, but he also traveled around Eretz Yisrael, seeing to it that the children of parents who themselves were illiterate - who could not teach their own children Torah - were taught the Chamishah Chumshei Torah, Five Chumashim, and the Shishah Sidrei Mishnah, Six Orders of the Mishnah. The individual who had the privilege of supporting Rabbi Chiya was supporting both Rabbi Chiya and the future thousands of children whose lives would be changed and given meaning through the efforts of Rabbi Chiya.

This Torah insight is not a primer for fund-raisers, but it very well could be, since it underscores the incredible merit of those who support yeshivos and all forms of Torah education. No praise is too great, no reward too high, for those who enable a tzaddik to build future generations. This was Rabbi Chiya. He was not satisfied with his own learning, unless he was able to provide options for others. The world as man knows it holds nothing so precious, nothing so fitting, to reward the "Rabbi Chiyas" of the world. They were given the Torah itself. They could go to the "highest shiur." No mortal could behold this "throne"; thus, the sage who looked was blinded.

With this idea in mind, Rav Bergman goes on to explain why the Badim were so significant, and why unique mitzvos and miracles encompass them. The commentators teach that the Ark and its poles symbolize the Torah and its supporters. As the poles enable the Torah to be carried and upheld, likewise, the machazikei Torah, who support and sustain Torah scholars, afford them the opportunity to study Torah unimpeded by the mundane demands of the human experience. This is why the poles may never leave the Ark. The Aron is their designated place. If the world was left for even one moment without the sound of Torah study reverberating in the air, if Torah study were to come to a halt, the entire Creation would lapse into tohu va'vohu, nothingness. The Torah supporters have a full-time task that may not be interrupted. Theirs is a unique, critical responsibility. One who removes the poles from the Aron or causes a hindrance, a rift in the support of Torah, incurs punishment.

Why were we not able to see the poles with the naked eye? Why did they protrude against the Curtain, but could not penetrate into visible airspace? Rav Bergman explains that on the Kapores, Cover of the Ark, Keruvim were fashioned. These images were shaped with the faces of children. The Ark represented both Torah studied by adults and Torah studied by children. Both were upheld by the poles, representing the supporters of Torah.

We will now understand why the poles had to protrude, but yet, not be visible. Whoever gives support to those who prepare the next generation of Torah Jews, who enables the continued Torah existence of Klal Yisrael, is achieving the same merit as the supporters of Rabbi Chiya. Regardless of the object focus of one's support: - yeshivos and kollelim, which will provide tomorrow's Torah educators; institutions that prepare one to go into the secular world and maintain his Torah identity; organizations that provide Torah content for lives that would otherwise have little to no meaning, all build the future of our People. Boys, girls, all Jewish children need a Torah education in a Torah environment. The reward of those who sustain our Torah institutes is beyond all imagination.

This is why the poles, although protruding, must be covered by the Curtain. They are seen to remind us that, without material support, the Torah will lapse - and with it, Klal Yisrael. The covering represents the unimaginable reward these supporters will merit as a result of their magnanimity.

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

The designation of the shittim tree, which is a variety of cedar, for the Mishkan dates back to Yaakov Avinu, who had cedars planted in Egypt. Prior to his passing, he instructed his sons to take the wood along when they left Egypt. He foresaw that one day they would be used in the Mishkan. In another view found in the Midrash, these cedars were planted by Avraham Avinu when he was in Egypt. Our Patriarch sought to concretize the foundations of our future Sanctuary, which represented to him the anchor of Klal Yisrael's moral and religious survival through its many trials and tribulations. While he knew that the edifice would not last forever, he was certain that its spirit of sanctity would prevail over the test of time.

The Talmud Yoma 72a and Succah 45b focus on what appears to be an extra word in the pasuk, atzei shittim omdim, "Acadia wood, standing erect." What is meant by the word omdim, standing? Chazal offer a number of interpretations. Rabbi Shimon bar Yochai posits that an important lesson is to be derived from this word. "Perhaps you will say, ovad sivram u'bateil sikuyan, 'Their promise is gone, and their hope is ruined, never to return.'" Now that the Mishkan and its later counterpart, the Bais Hamikdash, have fallen into disuse and their beams have been hidden, it is all over. What purpose is there to the beams without a Sanctuary? This is why the Torah writes omdim, standing: to inform us that they stand for all eternity. This is similar to Chazal's statement in the Talmud Pesachim 87b, concerning the letters of the Luchos. The Torah writes that Moshe Rabbeinu broke the Luchos "before your eyes" (Devarim 9:17). It was impossible for all of Klal Yisrael to have seen Moshe shatter the Luchos. Chazal say the tablets were broken, but the letters flew up to Heaven, a phenomenon witnessed by the entire nation.

How are we to understand the concept of the atzei shittim standing for all eternity? Rabbeinu Bachya explains that the Mishkan and, afterwards, the Bais Hamikdash, were the physical counterparts corresponding to the various spiritual forces that exist in Creation. Each of the world's spiritual components found a parallel in some aspect of the Mishkan's construction. Thus, the Sanctuary expressed the unity that exists between the physical temporal realm with that of the spiritual/eternal realm. There is one problem with this correspondence. If the physical edifice is destroyed, does this mean that there is no longer a physical representative of the spiritual, which, thus, will spell an end to the spiritual dimension it represents? The Torah writes the word "standing" to allay this fear. It teaches us that the spiritual forces which are the life force of the physical, its source of illumination, will continue on - to eternity. Our hope and yearning, which had heretofore been directed toward the Sanctuary, can continue unabated. The light will stay undimmed. Although its physical counterpart may be lost for some time, it will not be abrogated, but will return to its former eminence.

Alternatively, in his Takanos Ha'Shavim, Horav Tzadok HaKohen, zl, m'Lublin, elucidates Chazal's statement, suggesting it applies to baalei teshuvah, penitents, Jews who were raised in an assimilated environment, who have literally "returned" to their heritage. Rav Tzadok notes that the various components of the Sanctuary represent different group of Jews. The Kerashim represent those Jews who have sinned. This is based on Midrash Tanchumah, Terumah 9. The Kerashim support the notion that even those who have sinned will ultimately repent and assume their rightful portion in Klal Yisrael's destiny. What happens, however, to this destiny once the Sanctuary is destroyed? Lest one think that the loss of the Sanctuary's beams reflects the disenfranchisement of these sinners from Klal Yisrael's future, "Their promise is gone, and their hope is ruined!" The pasuk assures us that these beams remain standing for all eternity. Those who have been estranged from Torah will eventually return!

In his Kol HaTorah, Horav Elie Munk, zl, applies the atzei shittim as a metaphor to tzaddikim, the righteous in this world. Chazal teach that there are twenty-four species of cedar, with shittim being one of the most precious. The righteous are often compared to cedars and particularly to the cedars of the Sanctuary. In Sefer Tehillim 92:13,4, David HaMelech declares: Tzaddik ka'tamar yifrach, "The righteous shall flourish like a palm-tree"; k'erez ba'Levanon yisge', "Like the cedar in Lebanon will he grow"; Shesulim b'Bais Hashem. "Planted in the House of Hashem"; b'chatzros Elokeinu yafrichu, "They shall flourish in the courts of our G-d." Accordingly, even if the Bais Hamikdash will not physically survive, the righteous will nonetheless endure and flourish in each generation. Chazal teach in the Talmud Shabbos 33b, "If the Sanctuary falls, the righteous will continue to protect their generation." They are omdim, stand tall and erect for all time.

The eternal nature of Klal Yisrael is due to our never forsaking the Torah, which is nitzchi, eternal. Through exile and tribulation, from pogrom, to inquisition, to Holocaust, we have never renounced the Torah, and, as a result, it has never abandoned us. Many stories abound which underscore this idea. One, which is specifically meaningful, recently came to my attention. In his Living the Parashah, Rabbi Shimon Finkelman relates a poignant story which captures it all.

The city of Gateshead, England, can best be described as quaint. Small in size, it is primarily an industrial town. Its physical appearance leaves little about which to boast. Its spiritual dimension is an entirely different story. Gateshead is home to an excellent yeshivah, world-renowned kollel, Bais Yaakov and seminary. The yeshivah has produced a number of famous Torah leaders. Indeed, the Mashgiach of Beth Medrah Govohah, Horav Matisyahu Solomon, Shlita, himself studied in Gateshead Yeshivah and later became its Mashgiach. He described the austere conditions under which he and his friends grew in Torah.

The yeshivah building was actually a converted house, with two adjoining rooms serving as the bais ha'medrash. Space was at a premium, with students sitting shoulder to shoulder around a long table. It was so crowded that their Gemorahs overlapped. Yet, these conditions did not diminish anyone's ability to succeed in Torah learning. On the contrary, it was due to the mere fact that the students were devoted to learning - even under such conditions - that they excelled to such a high degree.

One day, an American journalist touring England visited the town of Wallsend, a tourist attraction not far from Gateshead. This man was born to Jewish parents, but Torah observance was quite foreign to him. He was aware of some of the more well-known Jewish traditions, but this was the extent of his Jewish orientation and affiliation.

Wallsend's tourist attraction was an ancient pile of rubble covered by green moss. Apparently, this pile was all that remained of a wall built by the Roman Emperor Hadrian when he conquered England and built a wall to keep the Scottish army from entering his newly-acquired territory. This pile of rubble was the "tribute" to Hadrian's triumph. Hence, the name Wallsend.

The journalist was occupied with photographing the stones and recording their history, as if it were something of great import. Suddenly, he remembered that that day was the anniversary of his father's passing. Yahrzeit means a lot to a Jew. For some estranged Jews, it is all they have, all that bonds them with Yiddishkeit. Though he was not observant, the journalist annually made a special effort to recite Kaddish for his father's soul.

He asked around for the location of a synagogue that might have a minyan during the week. He was told that in the town of Gateshead, some ten miles away, was a yeshivah which had a minyan thrice daily.

He drove over to the Gateshead Yeshivah and entered the little house that served as their campus. The scene which he beheld blew his mind. He was awed by the sight before his eyes. Before him, in the cramped quarters which served as their bais ha'medrash, were young men studying Torah. They were arguing passionately, as each one examined the Talmud closely and expounded upon his interpretation. As the journalist stood there in awe, he heard one student shout at his study partner, "But Rabbi Akiva disagrees!"

When the journalist heard the name of the fabled Tanna, the illustrious Rabbi Akiva, he was taken aback. Somewhat versed in Jewish history, he recognized the name of the Tanna, as one of the most distinguished disseminators of the Oral Law. As a result of defying the decree of the Roman Emperor Hadrian not to teach Torah, Rabbi Akiva had been brutally tortured and murdered. It was the same Hadrian who had built what became a pile of rubble.

When the journalist returned to America, he wrote a revealing article about his travels. In it, he observed that nothing was left of the mighty Hadrian, conqueror, ruler, leader of great armies, nothing but a pile of stone and rubble, covered with moss. On the other hand, the teachings of Rabbi Akiva, the man who defied Hadrian and who was the victim of his brutality, the individual who was a thorn in the emperor's side, whom the wicked ruler sought to obliterate, are still being reviewed over and over, almost 2,000 years after his death.

This is the meaning of atzei shittim omdim. The Jewish People and their Torah stand forever.

Va'ani Tefillah

Kadosh, Kadosh, Kadosh, Hashem Tzvakos. Holy, Holy, Holy - Hashem of Hosts.

As mentioned, the three-fold repetition of Kadosh can be interpreted either in ascending degrees of holiness, or in descending degrees. Horav S. R. Hirsch, zl, interprets this Kedushah repetition very much like the Kedushah d'Sidra, which is quoted in the U'Va l'Tzion prayer recited toward the end of the weekday Shacharis. There, the Navi visualizes the Kedushah descending from the highest level to the lowest level. Thus, it is referred to as Kedushah d'Sidra, because it descends in the ordinary world order of things. First, is the holiness of the highest level: Kaddish b'Shmei Meroma, the holiness in the place of His Presence. Then, it descends closer to our world with Kaddish al ara, holiness on this earth fashioned by Him. Last, is Kaddish l'olam u'lolmei olmaya, reference to the future when all the world will be filled with His splendor. Our world is filled with Hashem's splendor. The splendor of His Glory, the Ziv Yikarei, moves people to express themselves emotionally - either to tears or singing, when they perceive the awesome beauty of nature in its various phases or geographical settings. Indeed, the beauty of nature is a reflection of His Shechinah. We have but to look with a penetrating and appreciative eye.

In memory of
Our parents, grandparents
and great-grandparents

R' Naftali Michoel ben Nesanel z"l
Maras Sara Riva bas R' Yaakov Meir Hacohen a"h

The Rothner Family

Peninim on the Torah is in its 20th year of publication. The first fifteen years have been published in book form.

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