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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 Terumah/portion. (25:2)

The pasuk has been used for much homiletic discourse concerning the attitude one should manifest upon contributing to a worthy cause. In V'chai Bahem from Horav Weiss, zl, the author quotes the well-known concept, posited by the Baal Shem Tov, that the faults a person notices in others are actually his own failings. Since Ein adam ro'eh nigei atzmo, "One does not perceive his own plagues/failings/shortcomings/indiscretions." We notice everything regarding others, but never that which applies to us. Thus, the pasuk is informing us that, whatever indiscretions one notices in others, are a mirror image of his own failings. Likewise, when we observe a fellow Jew committing a positive act, we should view it as a personal message: "You, too, can do the same."

This is the idea to which David Hamelech alluded when he said Haaveir einai mei're'os shav, "Avert my eyes from seeing futility" (Tehillim 119:37). When David sees no evil in anyone else, it indicates that he, too, is pure of iniquity. This may also be the underlying meaning of Klal Yisrael's declaration, Naaseh v'Nishma, "We will do, and we will listen." They were intimating that we can hear/derive a lesson from everything, so that we can act accordingly. Because we listen first, we are predisposed to learn how to do whatever is asked of us. Nothing is beyond our ability and willingness to learn from others, because whatever we see in others is an indication of our own ability.

In order to say Naaseh v'Nishma, which is derived from good relationships between fellow Jews, the people had to get along and live harmoniously with one another. Thus, Hashem said, V'yikchu Li Terumah, "And let them take for Me a Terumah." The word Terumah also means to uplift or elevate. The Torah is teaching us that one can elevate himself by studying kol ish, every person. If one sees something negative, it is a message for him to correct himself. If he sees positive activity, the message is: "You, too, can achieve as well as your friend." The world around us is a large classroom - if only we are inclined to learn.

They shall make for Me a Sanctuary, then I will dwell in their midst. (25:8)

Parashas Terumah, which details the construction of the Mishkan is the logical sequel to Parashas Mishpatim, which contains the principal features of the Code of Law and of the Bris, Covenant, built upon the foundations of that Law. The symbolic function of the Mishkan/Mikdash is to express the collective task upon whose fulfillment the Presence of the Shechinah in Klal Yisrael depends. The two accompany one another. If we do not uphold our end of the Covenant, the Mishkan and Hashem's Presence within the Jewish People will not occur.

The construction of the Mishkan, which is the external Temple, is for us to facilitate: V'asu li Mishkan, "They shall make for Me a Sanctuary." As Horav Chaim Volozhiner, zl, writes, however, the true Mishkan is in the heart of man; V'shachanti b'socham, "Then I will dwell in their midst." The Bais Hamikdash which was built in Yerushalayim was only an instrument serving the inner-temple of the heart. Therefore, explains Rav Chaim, when the inner-temple became corrupt, the outer temple was no longer of any use, so it was destroyed.

The outer temple depends upon the inner temple, which is the sanctity of the heart. What is the sanctity of the heart? Horav Eliyahu Eliezer Dessler, zl, explains that this is the ratzon ha'lev, will of the heart or complete self-sacrifice, expressed by offering one's entire ego to Hashem. This, explains Rav Dessler, is the meaning of sacrifice and tefillah, prayer, whereby one nullifies his will in the service of Hashem. Chazal teach, Bateil rezoncha mipnei Ritzono, "Nullify your will before His Will." It does not say to "bend" your will, but to "nullify" it. This means that a person should exert so much control over himself that he does not want anything that does not coincide with Hashem's Will. When a person distances himself greatly from his desires, eventually, he will no longer feel desire for them anymore.

Rav Dessler cites the well-known commentary of Ibn Ezra, who writes concerning the tenth commandment, Lo Sachmod, 'Do not covet.' How does one not covet? How can he be enjoined not to want something that he wants? He can be told not to take it, but can he be told not to want it? Is this possible? Ibn Ezra explains that Hashem is teaching us that the prohibition against taking someone else's property should be so lucid that the very idea becomes an impossibility. He analogizes this to a coarse villager who sees the king's daughter. He has no desire to wed her, because he knows that she is unattainable; she is totally inaccessible. Likewise, one's heart is so focused on Hashem and what He expects of us that he has no room for his own desires. Anything that is not in sync with what Hashem wants of us - is so remote that he does not even think of it.

The Torah describes the nidvas ha'lev, heartfelt contributions, of the various materials which were given toward the Mishkan. It is certain that these voluntary gifts were enthusiastically given with complete goodwill. We have no idea of the excitement generated within each and every Jew who was about to donate towards the construction of the Mishkan. The intensity, enthusiasm, desire and sublime devotion that motivated each donation is beyond our grasp; nor can we imagine the joy inherent in the heart of each individual when he knew that his money or property had reached the hands of the gizbar, treasurer, which signaled to him that his silver or gold would be built into the Mishkan. He would actually have a share in the House of G-d, and the Divine Presence would actually rest upon his voluntary gift. This is how one gives tzedakah, charity, and this is the emotion that should be engendered thereby.

In reality, however, the Torah alludes to the idea that this was not how the Mishkan was constructed. Apparently, an even higher spiritual plateau was demanded of the people. The Torah says, V'yikchu Li Terumah, "And let them take for Me a gift." What is the meaning of "taking" from oneself? Indeed, Ibn Ezra remarks that "take" is usually the opposite of "give," but "taking for someone else" is the equivalent of giving. Rav Dessler explains that, while a person may indeed give for the right reasons - his motives noble; his giving completely unselfish - this may not be considered "taking." He may not be "taking from himself"; he is not overcoming resistance in order to give. Why is this? It almost sounds self-defeating. The greater the motivation, the loftier the enthusiasm and fervor, the less one seems to be "taking from himself."

The problem is that when a person reaches the level of lishmah, of unselfish giving purely for the sake of the mitzvah, his actual service of Hashem decreases. Why? Because, ironically he is doing what he enjoys, what he likes, whereas service means bending one's will to do what Hashem likes. If so, how is a person acting as a servant of Hashem, if, in fact, he is no longer "serving" Him in this sense? Indeed, Horav Yeruchem Levovitz, zl, teaches that the purpose of free will is to "outgrow" free will to the point that one feels "compelled" to do what is right. How does one who attains such a spiritual plateau "serve" Hashem?

Rav Dessler explains that essentially everyone - even the greatest tzaddik, righteous person - since he is alive in this olam ha'gashmi, physical world - still has within him something, however miniscule, of this world. It, therefore, follows that, even when giving with great emotion and enthusiasm, somewhere in the deep recesses of the heart a fine point of real resistance still exists on the part of the yetzer hora, evil inclination. Even if it is only in the nature of a "shadow," it still constitutes an element of opposition to the good that we are doing.

With this premise in mind, Rav Dessler explains how the great tzaddik is able to "serve" Hashem. These great tzaddikim, who always acted out of love, in what area lay their toil, their onerous service of the Almighty? Let's face it: they loved what they were doing. It was their penultimate experience. The answer is: Their dealing with the very fine points of resistance is concealed deep within their subconscious minds. These immeasurable vestiges of resistance are ingredients which are extremely difficult to detect. All of the greatness of these unique men is required in order to ferret out, fight and eventually destroy them - wherever they may be.

This is why the Torah instructs the people to "'take' from themselves for Me." This was a generation that had been exposed to the greatest Revelation of all time, the most seminal Jewish experience: the Giving of the Torah. The members of this generation had reached an unparalleled plateau in their spiritual journey. Now, they were to look deep within the innermost recesses of their hearts to find that fine point of yetzer hora, evil resistance, which actually does not want to give to the Mishkan. Once they find that point, they must "take" from themselves - overcome its gravitational pull away from the Mishkan - and then take the materials and contribute to the Mishkan. This was their service. This was the foundation upon which the Mishkan was built.

You shall make two Keruvim of gold… It is there that I will set My meetings with you, and I will speak with you from atop the Cover, from between the Keruvim that are on the Aron HaEidus. (25:18,22)

It is interesting to note the change in the spelling of the word "two." At first, the Keruvim are referred to as shnayim Keruvim, while later on they are called shnei Keruvim. Rabbeinu Bachya distinguishes between shnayim which means "two," but does not denote anything more than a quantity of subjects or items. Shnayim is not used when the "two" are of equal status, such as: Shnei Luchos HaEidus, Two Tablets of Testimony, which were the same; shnei seirim, two he-goats, used for the Yom Kippur service, which were also similar to one another. The Keruvim, however, were male and female, which represent two distinct images. The second time that the Keruvim are mentioned is in reference to their both being comprised of gold. In this respect, they were equal. Thus, the word shnei is used.

Horav Avraham Gurwitz, Shlita, applies the distinction between shnayim and shnei homiletically in establishing the principles of marriage and the ideal relationship between husband and wife. One Keruv has the image of a male, the other has the image of a female; the two together, represent the union of man and woman in matrimony. The Torah describes the image manifest by the Keruvim as they face one another, "The Keruvim shall be with wings spread upward." This "spreading upward" alludes to both the husband and wife's aspirations to reach upward, to achieve great heights in their spiritual endeavor. Both are focused on establishing a Torah home dedicated to glorifying Hashem's Name. Also, the Torah says that they are both "sheltering the Cover with their wings." This implies their attitude with regard to protecting the Torah (within the Aron Kodesh, beneath the Cover): "They live together in love and harmony, their faces toward one another." What could be wrong? This appears to be an idyllic relationship, a marriage that is totally in accord with the Torah's views.

Yet, is important that their relationship be a shnayim, two distinct, individuals who each knows his or her specific and unique role in life. Each one respects the other's individuality and does not attempt to usurp or outdo the other. While their goals are equal, the manner of achieving them are different, because man and woman are different. A woman understands that she gains access to Olam Habba, the World to Come, through the medium of Torah study. She also understands that her z'chus, merit, for Olam Habba is the result of the support that she gives her husband in pursuing his Torah study. No envy exists between them, because the woman realizes that she and her husband are different: that he has a mitzvah of limud haTorah, and she is empowered to assist, encourage, and spur him on to achieve greatness in Torah. Neither one feels, "My purpose is greater than yours," because they are both aware that one complements the other and neither one can do it alone.

Concerning such a couple, the Torah writes, "It is there that I will set My meetings with you, and I will speak with you from atop the Cover." The Torah now refers to the Keruvim as shnei, because, although they are different, the harmony that exists between them equates them.

Veritably, in the "olden" days, this is how a Jewish girl was raised. She understood her role in a Torah home and never clashed with her husband concerning the supporting nature of that role. She understood that supporting Torah is a privilege and raising children to be Torah Jews is an honor. She was a complete partner with her husband - despite their distinct roles. It was relationships such as these that produced the Torah leaders and spiritually-committed laymen of the past and present. The Torah exhorts us never to remove the Badim, poles, referring to the Tomchei Torah, those who support Torah study and dissemination, from the Aron. They too, should maintain an inextricable bond to the Torah, never being removed from it. This applies not only to their attitude, but to the reciprocal feeling between them and the bnei Torah who devote their lives to Torah. They must acknowledge, appreciate and extend everlasting gratitude to those who serve as their partners in Torah study.

To the external view, it appeared as if those who carried the Ark via the poles were somehow supporting it, when, in truth, it was impossible to lift - it was that heavy. Hashem had the Aron miraculously carry itself and those who carried it. Thus, we have the rule, Aron nosei es nosaav, "The Ark carried its supporters." This idea is equally true with regard to Torah support. The Torah actually sustains its supporters. One who makes the move to uphold the Torah, will, in turn, be supported by it.

Horav Eliyahu Miller, quoted by Horav Shlomo Levinstein, maintains that the idea of the Torah supporting its supporters does not apply exclusively to the wealthy who write out checks in support of Torah study. It applies to anyone who plays a role in supporting Torah learning. This is especially true of wives and mothers who are true tomchei Torah. This, explains Rav Miller, is why, when a man marries, he is referred to as a nasui, which is also translated as "being carried." The woman becomes a nesuah, which is the feminine gender for being carried. Since Aron nosei es nosaav, the Ark carried those who carried it, as a tomeches Torah, she, too, is carried. The marriage bond is concretized with a ring that the man gives to his intended. Similarly, the poles which carry the Aron are fitted into the tabaos, rings!

There is no shortage of stories concerning our gedolim, Torah leaders, and the unique relationship they had with their wives. I had the opportunity to read Rabbi Yechiel Spero's wonderful biography of Horav Chaim Pinchas Scheinberg, zl, and I came across a picture of the Rosh Yeshivah sitting next to his Rebbetzin as she recited Tehillim. I think this picture alludes to the message we have presented: men and women, husbands and wives, have a similar purpose - to raise a Torah family that will be an honor to Hashem. The manner in which each individual achieves his or her goal is distinct from one another. Rav Scheinberg and his Rebbetzin had an incredible relationship that flourished for close to eighty years! The Rebbetzin's role in the Rosh Yeshivah's avodas hakodesh, holy service, was supportive. Yet, the Rosh Yeshivah considered her to be an equal partner in all of his endeavors, and he displayed extraordinary reverence for her. On Simchas Torah, as he was being escorted home by hundreds of students, amid singing and dancing, his Rebbetzin would look down from the porch of their fifth floor apartment. When he entered the apartment and was greeted by his wife, he would say to her, "Did you see that? Did you see all the talmidim, students, dancing and singing? That was all because of you! It is all yours, Basha!"

When the Rebbetzin would walk into the yeshivah building to visit him in his office, Rav Scheinberg would rise and give her his seat. With tears in his eyes, he would say, "Basha, this seat belongs to you." He was acutely aware that his wife did everything within her power to enable his learning, by eliminating any outside distractions. He would say, "The only reason I have a yeshivah today is because of my wife."

You shall make two Keruvim of gold - hammered out shall you make them. (25:18)

Rashi teaches that the Keruvim had the image of young children. The Mishkan/Bais Hamikdash was the holiest place on the Jewish spiritual landscape. The Kodesh HaKedoshim, Holy of Holies, was the holiest place in the Sanctuary. The penultimate seat of holiness within the Kodesh HaKedoshim was the Keruvim which rested atop the Ketores, Cover, of the Aron Hakodesh. It was from there that Hashem's Voice would emanate out to speak with Moshe Rabbeinu. The Keruvim had the image of children. In Sefer Bereishis, when the Torah relates Adam HaRishon's expulsion from Gan Eden, two Keruvim stood at the entrance to the holy Garden. Interestingly, in his commentary in the pasuk (Bereishis 3:24), Rashi defines Keruvim as Malachei chabalah, Angels of destruction. How are we to reconcile these contrasting definitions, especially in light of the fact that the Keruvim represented the holiest place on earth?

Horav Moshe Mordechai Epstein, zl, offers a classic explanation, which has often been realized. Keruvim symbolize children. Indeed, when they are young and full of potential, they are the essence of sweetness. In them lies the hope for the future, the aspirations that tomorrow will be a better, more productive day. If we educate them properly, by placing them above the Holy Ark which represents the Torah, they will serve as the realization of our dreams. The Torah will guide and mold them, shaping their lives so that they grow up into G-d-fearing, observant Jews, who are contributing members of the Jewish community. If, however, we are lax in fulfilling our responsibilities, we allow them to become angels of destruction. A Torah education makes the difference - as anyone who does not bury his head in the ground is aware.

When a child follows in the prescribed path of Torah, he brings merit to his parents and mentors. If he does not - and (I must add) it is most often due to their refusal to provide or support a Torah education - we have no idea of the damage and destruction they can generate. It is true, however, that some parents try to the best of their ability to guide their child properly, but, sadly, for a number of reasons (which are beyond the scope of this dvar Torah), it simply does not work. They will not be held accountable. It is only when parents ignore and/or undermine the work that others do to help our children that we pay dearly for their lack of achievement.

Horav Shlomo Levinstein, Shlita, quoted a powerful insight from Horav Zalmen Sorotzkin, zl, when he spoke at the inaugural dinner establishing Chinuch Atzmai, Torah schools for Israel. The Rav cited the Talmud 45b quoting Rabbi Yirmiyah in the name of Rabbi Shimon ben Yochai who said, "I have seen bnei aliyah, people of the highest level (spiritual elites), and they are few. If there are one thousand, then my son (Rabbi Eliezer) and I are among them; if there are one hundred, my son and I are among them; if there are (but) two, my son and I are they." Rav Zalmen wondered why Rabbi Shimon ben Yochai stopped with two. Why did he not go on, stating that if there is one who is able to receive the Countenance of Hashem - it is he.

The Lutzker Rav explained that Rabbi Shimon ben Yochai is teaching us that Klal Yisrael's purpose, its raison d'etre, is fulfilled when its legacy endures. When a father successfully transmits his heritage to the next generation in such a manner that he can declare, "My son and I," our commitment to Hashem persists and is able to prevail over the vagaries of time and the challenges that arise with each generation. When it is "myself" alone, when there is no concern, no hope for a Jewish future, what really do we have to declare?

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

Rashi teaches that the word ha'kerashim, with the hay ha'yediah, (the beams) with the definite article hay, is written by design. The Torah is alluding to specific shittim wood that was "standing" - designated for the unique purpose of serving as the walls of the Mishkan. Yaakov Avinu took along with him saplings from the shittim trees planted by Avraham Avinu in his eishel, travelers' welcome house, where he performed his famous acts of chesed, kindness. Yaakov then replanted these saplings in Egypt and commanded his children that, upon leaving the country, they were to take these trees along. He saw that in the future Hashem would instruct the Jews to erect a Mishkan, and these trees would play a vital role in its construction.

Apparently, the holy Sanctuary, which was the place in which the Divine Presence reposed, the holiest place on earth, still required an infusion of kedushah via the medium of Yaakov and Avraham's shittim wood which were imbued with the middah, character trait, of chesed. Why was it necessary to supplement the already elevated level of kedushah inherent in the Mishkan?

In his He'aros, Horav Zaidel Epstein, zl, derives an important principle concerning our avodas ha'kodesh, holy service, to Hashem. The most sublime level of kedushah, sanctity, rests upon a material/physical entity which a person himself sanctified. It is no kuntz, novelty, to have something holy brought down for our utility. It is much more sublime for man to put forth effort, and by his spiritual efforts effect a transformation in a simple, mundane, physical object. The beams which were used for the Mishkan - which comprised the walls of this most holy edifice - were made from trees that were originally planted for the purpose of performing chesed and thereby glorifying Hashem's Name. By taking the saplings from these trees, replanting them for the express purpose of designating them for the Mishkan, Klal Yisrael elevated them beyond their base materialism, endowing them with holiness. Likewise, the Briach HaTichon, Middle Bar, of the Karshei HaMishkan, beams/walls of the Mishkan, was derived from Yaakov's makel, walking stick. This is all the Patriarch possessed, a simple walking stick. Despite being relegated to live in abject poverty, he served Hashem with complete love and fidelity. The stick represented his physical possessions - or lack thereof. This symbol of poverty was elevated to serve in the Sanctuary.

Thus, when Hashem chose a place where He would repose His Divine Presence, He selected an edifice whose walls represented Avraham's chesed and Yaakov's paucity. Hashem wanted the real thing - a kedushah which was catalyzed by the devotion of man. He wanted the Mishkan to be constructed of material which had been elevated and sanctified through human devotion and labor on behalf of the Divine. This product maintained greater significance before Hashem than the work of the Ministering Angels.

Va'ani Tefillah

and fearsome and grand.

The fact that Torah is desirable and sweet can work against us. These are qualities which attract people because they appeal to their self-interests. If a person is willing to forego the self- interest because he does not want to be "stuck" with the obligations that are part of "this matter," he could easily do so. Thus, it is stated that "this matter" is also "fearsome and grand." In other words, we have little choice in the matter. Observance is required of us, since Hashem is fearsome, and He is the great, awesome King over everything. The Torah, which is G-d's gift to us, is His word. It is, therefore, also fearsome, demanding utmost reverence. Likewise, Horav Avigdor Miller, zl, observes that the rabbinic scholars who disseminate Torah are also to be feared due to their connection with Hashem through His Torah.

Hashem's awesomeness is not something of which we are afraid - in a perilous sort of way. No! Our fear of Hashem is due to His "grandness": He is splendid; He is majestic; He is awesome. One who lacks fear of Hashem apparently does not perceive His grandness.

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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