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Peninim on the Torah

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Rabbi A. Leib Scheinbaum
Hebrew Academy of Cleveland


On six days, work may be done, but the seventh day shall be holy for you. (35:2)

The Yismach Yisrael renders this pasuk homiletically. One who is a baal melachah - who works for a living, who has a trade or profession - and, consequently, cannot spend the six "working days" engrossed in Torah study should work six days. On Shabbos, however, he should dedicate the entire period for Torah study and holy endeavor. His work week is truly a work week. On Shabbos, he must compensate for the time that he could not devote to learning during the week. The commentators write that such a person who waits a whole week for Shabbos, who yearns for the moment when he will be able to sanctify his endeavor, not only consecrates the Shabbos; but also elevates his mundane work week and sanctifies it. Indeed, Hashem considers it as if he had studied Torah all week. There is a reverse side to this idea. When an individual has the time to study Torah, but does not, he is also punished for the times that he did not study even when he legitimately had no time. Since he has indicated that "time" is not the issue, it no longer plays a factor in protecting him from punishment. One who wastes his Shabbos demonstrates that he attributes little value to his weekday.

But the seventh day shall be holy for you as a Shabbos of Shabboson to Hashem. (35:2)

Horav Avigdor Miller, z.l., teaches us that Hashem has three "sanctuaries", and their order of significance is revealed in this parsha. First and foremost is the Jew, the ben Yisrael, who takes precedence over the other two. Second is the Shabbos, which overrides even the building of the Mishkan. Last is the Mishkan itself, Hashem's abode in this world. Awareness of the Almighty, cognizance of His Presence among us as achieved by the sanctuary of Shabbos, is even greater than the awareness which emanates from the Mishkan. This, of course, is only if the Shabbos is properly revered, and its message utilized.

The expression, Shabbos Shabboson, means cessation of cessations. The focus of Shabbos, its significance to us, is cessation from work, as reflected by Hashem's resting from Creation. In this manner, we remember Creation. We understand that Hashem rested to allow man to recognize - and thereby become aware of - the Almighty. This sets the stage for man to choose by his own free will between right and wrong, between good and evil.

Klal Yisrael utilizes the Shabbos as an opportunity to gain a deeper awareness that nothing functions by itself. As Hashem originally created everything into existence, so does He continue to will everything and only by His will is anything maintained. If properly studied, this lesson of Shabbos is even more fundamental than the lessons imparted by the Mishkan. Rav Miller derives the superiority of the Shabbos over the Mishkan from the fact that one who does labor on Shabbos - even if it is for the construction of the Mishkan - is to be put to death. This represents a clear declaration of the preeminence of Shabbos over the Mishkan. Even more astonishing is the superiority of the sanctuary of the individual Jewish person. It is mandatory to desecrate Shabbos if a human life is in danger, regardless whether the human is a slave, or one whose mind does not function, or even a Jew who is terminally ill and destined to die shortly as a result of a terminal illness. Yet, to prevent the Sanctuary from burning down, it is absolutely forbidden to perform the most simple act of forbidden labor on Shabbos. Hence, we see how the sanctuaries of the Mishkan and Shabbos are secondary to Hashem's ultimate sanctuary: the Jewish person.

Moshe said to the entire assembly of the Bnei Yisrael…This is the word that Hashem has commanded. (35:4)

With the above pasuk, a parsha detailing Hashem's instructions for the construction of the Mishkan and its Keilim, appurtenances, begins. Parashas Vayakhel is followed by Parashas Pekudei which recounts in full detail the successful completion of Hashem's command. In most years, these two parshios are read together on Shabbos. While there are a number of new issues brought up in these parshios, for the most part they are a repetition of Parshios Terumah and Tetzaveh. Nothing in the Torah is unimportant, and no letter is unnecessary. We derive a lesson from everything in the Torah. What lesson is imparted by the seeming redundancy of these parshios?

Horav Avraham Pam, z.l., cited in "The Pleasant Way", an adaptation of his commentary on the parsha, posits that a powerful lesson can be derived from this repetition. Indeed, there is a basic difference between Parshios Terumah/Tetzaveh and Vayakhel/Pekudei. In the former, the Torah uses the word "v'asisa," "and you shall do," while in the latter, the Torah uses the word "vayaas," "and he did", throughout the parshios to denote the completion of the task that was given to him. The chidush, novelty, about this is that what was planned achieved fruition. Simply put, all too often people talk up a storm about what they plan to do. Meanwhile, the rhetoric flows, while the deeds remain dreams which never become reality. The Torah teaches us that everything Moshe and Klal Yisrael were asked to do, they did. Can we say the same?

Questions and Answers

1. In what manner was the free-willed Terumah collected?

2. For what were the Bigdei Hasered, knit vestments, used?

3. Why did the men come together with the women to contribute to the Mishkan?

4. From where did the Nesiim obtain the spices and the oil in the desert?


1. Bnei Yisrael brought the free-willed Terumah together with the mandatory half-shekel (Sforno).

2. They were used to cover the Shulchan, Aron, Menorah, and Mizbachos, during the travel.

3. The women who contributed came with their husbands to confirm their offerings, so that the officers would accept them, since ordinarily we do not accept contributions from women unless they are of insignificant value (Sforno).

4.They brought them from Egypt (Ibn Ezra).


Betzalel, son of Uri, son of Chur, of the tribe of Yehudah, did everything that Hashem commanded Moshe. (38:22)

It seems clear from the text that it was Betzalel who made the Mishkan. Addressing Hashem's choice of Betzalel as the architect of the Mishkan, Chazal wonder why the Torah delineates his pedigree back to his grandfather, Chur. They explain that it was Chur's mesiras nefesh, devotion to Hashem to the point of self-sacrifice, that engendered the choice of Betzalel as the builder of the Mishkan. Chur was killed when he stood up to those who sought to build an idol. Hashem responded to this tragedy saying, "By your life, I will pay you back." The compensation was Betzalel.

There are a number of lessons to be derived herein. Horav Mordechai Ezrachi, Shlita, observes that when one acts with mesiras nefesh, Hashem owes him. It is as if Hashem becomes a baal chov, debtor, to this person. An act of mesiras nefesh creates a debt that demands compensation. Betzalel was Chur's reimbursement.

Let us return to our opening statement. Did Betzalel build the Mishkan? So it seems. The pasuk in Tehillim 30:1 states: "A Psalm, a song for the inauguration of the Temple, by David." Chazal query, "Did David build the Bais HaMikdash? No! It was Shlomo HaMelech who built it. It must be that since David was moser nefesh, sacrificed himself, to build it, it was considered as if he were its builder." While this may be a wonderful tribute to David HaMelech, he nonetheless was not the actual builder of the Mishkan. The psalm should have read, "A Psalm; a song to the mesiras nefesh, by David." Mesiras nefesh - yes - but building the Bais HaMikdash - it was not so.

Horav Ezrachi derives from here that the Bais HaMikdash is not built with stones and mortar. It is built with mesiras nefesh, true devotion. An edifice of this holy nature does not have viability if it is made only of physical materials. It needs the dedication and devotion only mesiras nefesh can produce. The Psalmist uses the words, "Chanukas Habayis," "inauguration of the Temple," because it described exactly what David had done. His mesiras nefesh "built" the Bais HaMikdash.

We may now suggest that while it "seems" that Betzalel built the Mishkan, we cannot ignore the fact that Chur's mesiras nefesh catalyzed it. In addition, the idea that mesiras nefesh gives viability to an edifice applies not only to the Mishkan/Bais HaMikdash, but equally to any Torah institution. Material assets do not build Torah institutions. Blood, sweat, tears and mesiras nefesh build it.

I once heard this thought expressed by my revered rebbe, Horav Chaim Mordechai Katz, z.l.. He cited the Mishnah at the end of Pirkei Avos, which relates the famous story of Rabbi Yossi ben Kisma. He was once approached by a gentleman and questioned in regard to his origin. Rabbi Yossi responded that he came from a large city that was home to many great Torah scholars. The man immediately asked Rabbi Yossi if he would leave his home and come to dwell in his town. Rabbi Yossi responded that even if he would be given a vast amount of money, he would only live in a city that was a makom, place, of Torah. The obvious question is: Why not import scholars to the community by bringing in a yeshivah, starting a kollel and hiring rabbonim? If money is no object, then purchase a makom Torah!

The Rosh HaYeshivah explained that money does not build a makom Torah. It does definitely help. A Torah community, however, is built with blood, sweat and tears. This type of determination and resolve was the foundation of the revitalization of Torah study following World War II. Yeshivos were not built with money; because there was very little money. It was the dedication and hard work of a few good men and women that planted the seeds for the spiritual climate which we enjoy today.

With him (Betzalel) was Oholiav ben Achsimach, of the tribe of Dan. (38:23)

Parashas Pekudei summarizes the building of the Mishkan and the making of the Priestly vestments under the direction of Betzalel and his "partners." The two primary architects were Betzalel and Oholiav. The Midrash notes that the origins of these two individuals were disparate - by design. Betzalel descended from Shevet Yehudah, the tribe of monarchy, dignity and power. Oholiav was a descendent of Shevet Dan, the lowliest of the tribes. In a number of places, the Torah describes Betzalel's genius and unusual spiritual distinction. He was endowed with a G-dly spirit, wisdom and insight. He possessed a degree of wisdom similar to that with which Hashem created the world. Indeed, Betzalel was Divinely inspired to perform the yeoman's task of supervising the building of an abode for Hashem's Presence in this world.

The stage was set, and everything was ready for Betzalel to assume this august position. There was one component that was not yet in place. Betzalel needed a partner. This was not due to his inability to supervise the activity alone. Rather, it was necessary that Betzalel take a specific partner, one who descended from a lineage totally different from his. Oholiav, whose pedigree paled in comparison to that of Betzalel, would be the perfect colleague for Betzalel. What is the reason for this?

Horav Chaim Zaitchik, z.l., explains that the litmus test for successful leadership is one's ability to lead despite having an accomplice working together with him. Some people have difficulty working with others. They want the acclaim for themselves alone. This is especially true if one is relegated to share in the limelight with an individual from an inferior lineage. Regrettably, for some, this might be demeaning. Perhaps, this is why they are weak leaders. There are individuals who are eminently capable, strong and resolute, willing to lead and assume responsibility, even to the point of self-sacrifice. There is one criterion however, which they demand they must do it alone. They neither request, nor desire, any assistance. This is a sign of a weak, insecure person, one who will, not really succeed in the long run.

Betzalel symbolized true leadership. He did not need the "mizrach vont," eastern wall, or any other accolades. There are leaders who are extremely dedicated to a given goal. They give up so much of themselves. There is one condition, however, that must be met: they have to be in charge; they have to get the credit. "It is either ME or nothing" is often the clarion call of individuals who are so wrapped up in themselves that it impedes their ability to see beyond their immediate perimeter. Not so Betzalel. He was happy to take on an associate, to work with another gifted individual, regardless of his position or ancestry. Betzalel set the standard for all future leaders. If only this standard would be followed, there might be room for more leaders.

Questions & Answers

1. What was Isamar HaKohen's function in regard to the Mishkan?

2. Why does the Torah enumerate the quantities of precious metal used for the Mishkan?

3. Why does the Torah specifically describe the method of craftsmanship employed to work with the gold?

4. When was the Mishkan erected permanently?


1. The various services performed by the Leviim in regard to the Mishkan were under Isamar's authority (Rashi).

2. The Torah intimates that, although the amount of precious metal used in the Mishkan paled in significance to that used for the Batei Mikdash, the Shechinah, nevertheless, appeared more often in this humbler edifice. We derive from here that it is not the amount of gold one lavishes upon a structure that draws the Divine Presence to it, but rather the people's obedience to Hashem's Will (Sforno).

3. This was the first time that gold was used as a thread (Ramban).

4. The Mishkan was permanently erected on Rosh Chodesh Nissan of the second year of their journey after Exodus.

Yaakov and Karen Nisenbaum and Family
in memory of our Father and Grandfather
Martin Nisenbaum


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