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Rabbi A. Leib Scheinbaum
Hebrew Academy of Cleveland


Moshe assembled the entire assembly of Bnei Yisrael…Moshe said to the entire assembly of Bnei Yisrael…take from yourselves a portion for Hashem. (35:1,4,5)

In this pasuk, Moshe Rabbeinu is addressing the entire nation b'hakhel, all-inclusive - men, women and children - and instructing them with the privilege of constructing the Mishkan. There are a number of mitzvos in the Torah that had been transmitted b'hakhel, during which the entire assembly was convened and instructed in specific mitzvos. The reason for this is that these mitzvos depend upon the koach ha'tzibur, power of the community. They achieve the fullness of their spiritual zenith when they are a communal expression. Horav Boruch Sorotzkin, zl, notes that, conversely, there are certain mitzvos which can be fulfilled even if only one person executes it. He cites his father, the Lutzker Rav, Horav Zalmen Sorotzkin, zl, who related to him that the mitzvah of Lo yarbeh lo sussim v'lo yarbeh lo nashim, a Jewish king is enjoined not to have too many wives or horses, came and complained to Hashem, saying that Shlomo Hamelech had transgressed this imperative. The Lutzker Rav questioned this. Why was it so earth shattering that Shlomo had transgressed a mitzvah? He certainly was not the first tzadik v'kadosh, righteous and holy individual, to err. After all, he was a human being.

Rav Zalmen explains that, if Shlomo would have transgressed any other mitzvah, such as Shabbos for instance, it would not have affected the actual institution of the mitzvah of Shabbos. Others would have made sure that Shabbos would continue to be observed. The mitzvah which applies to a melech Yisrael, Jewish king, applies to only one person. If Shlomo had ignored that mitzvah, it would have been abrogated, since there was no one else qualified to fulfill it. Thus, this mitzvah complained that Shlomo had been causing its extinction.

The mitzvah of erecting the Mishkan is a communal mitzvah. To build a place where the Shechinah will repose, a place from which all of Klal Yisrael will draw inspiration and holiness, cannot be built by individuals. An individual - regardless of his spiritual level - cannot on his own create a place for the Shechinah to repose. The tzibur - together as a unit - must do that.

Furthermore, the Rosh HaYeshivah explains that in order for all of Klal Yisrael to derive spiritual inspiration and influence from the Mishkan, it is essential that they sense that they have a part in it. Therefore, even the poorest Jew was compelled to contribute towards the Mishkan. He had to feel his partnership in this edifice.

The Adanim - which were the silver bases into which fitted the Kerashim, wooden beams - were comprised of a special terumah, collection, from all of Klal Yisrael, because the foundation of this edifice had to originate from everyone equally.

We find later in Parashas Pikudei, that Moshe gave a complete reckoning of the silver, its proceeds and exactly how it was spent. This was done to indicate that there was exactly enough silver, and every bit of it was used for the adanim. This was unlike the gold and copper, which had a surplus. Every individual had to feel that he had an equal share in the Mishkan's foundation.

In Parashas Tzav, we find also that the ceremonies during the Yemei ha'Miluim, the Days of Consecration for Aharon and his sons as they were inducted into the Kehunah, Priesthood, were performed b'hakhel, in the presence of the entire assembly of the Jewish People (Vayikra 8:3). Why was hakhel needed for the induction and consecration service? The Rosh HaYeshivah explains that in order for Aharon and his sons to have a spiritual influence upon the people, it was necessary for the people to sense that they had a part in their appointment. Chazal teach us in Pirkei Avos that one should "make for himself a rebbe." When I make him a rebbe, I have a more binding connection with him. Thus, it was important for everyone to convene together, so that they could all feel a part of the induction. They were accepting the Kohanim as their spiritual mentors.

See Hashem has called by name. Betzalel ben Uri ben Chur, of the tribe of Yehudah. (35:30)

Moshe Rabbeinu emphasizes that Hashem did not simply call Betzalel. Instead, he says that He called him by name. Indeed, the pasuk's trop, cantillation notes, stress the words, "by name," by indicating that these words are followed by an esnachta, a note denoting a stop in the sentence, rather than being read directly in connection with the following words of "Betzalel ben Uri." The Targum Yonasan interprets "by name" to mean "good name," intimating that Hashem called Betzalel by a "good name." What is the name and what is its connection to Betzalel?

In the Midrash Tanchuma, we are taught that during an individual's lifetime, he receives three names: one from his parents, one from other people, and one is the name that he earns himself. The last name, the one that he earns, supercedes the previous two. In support of this statement, the Midrash cites Betzalel, who merited to build the Mishkan as a result of the good name that he had earned for himself.

This Midrash begs elucidation. The name one receives from people is based upon his character and conduct. If he acts respectably, he earns a good name. If he acts inappropriately, he will tarnish his reputation. What then is the difference between the name one receives from other people and the name that he acquires for himself? Are they not one and the same?

Horav Mordechai Gifter, zl, posits that one's inner qualities, which are known only to Hashem, constitute what Chazal suggest is the name that man acquires for himself. He supports this thesis with the episode in Shmuel 1, 16:7, in which Hashem instructs Shmuel HaNavi to go to Bais Lechem and anoint one of Yishai's sons as king. Hashem did not, however, specify which son. After meeting Yishai's sons, Shmuel was certain that Eliav, the oldest son, was most suited for the monarchy. He saw in him the requisite qualities and character that the melech Yisrael, Jewish king, should possess. Hashem did not agree. He said, "Do not look at his appearance or at his tall stature, for I have rejected him. For it is not as man sees; man sees what eyes behold, but Hashem sees into the heart." Despite the fact that Shmuel was a Navi and an individual whose position on the spiritual ladder was preeminent, he was still not able to discern a man's true essence. After all is said and done, he was still a human being. Only Hashem knows a man's true character. Therefore, the name that one acquires for himself - i.e. the name that Hashem gives him, transcends all others. This name is indicative of his true identity.

While others may have presented themselves as more worthy and more suitable for building the Mishkan than Betzalel, Hashem called him by name, "a good name." His reputation, as defined by the Almighty is what counted the most. Thus, he became the Mishkan's master builder.

What was this "name" that Betzalel earned? How was he more worthy than all the other great people that comprised Klal Yisrael at that point? Rav Gifter explains this by first responding to an apparent anomaly. Klal Yisrael had recently been released from hundreds of years of bitter slavery. They had been confined to brutal treatment and brute work. Certainly, fine craftsmanship and the delicate skills required to build the Mishkan were not part of their work portfolio. Therefore, how did they become master craftsmen overnight? The Ramban explains that their desire to build the Mishkan was so intense that they simply found within themselves the talents needed to construct the Mishkan. Moreover, one individual stood out from among the entire nation. Not only did he excel in one or two crafts - he excelled in every craft and facet connected with building the Mishkan. This individual was, of course, Betzalel, so great was his desire to be the Mishkan's builder. The Ramban notes that it is rare for even the most talented craftsman to excel in more than one or two crafts. Betzalel was the master, the predominant craftsman in every field. The reason: his desire. When a man desires with his entire essence to fulfill Hashem's will, Hashem grants him the ability to do so, despite the individual's lack of natural talents. Only Hashem knew the true Betzalel, his burning desire to succeed, his passion to build His Sanctuary. This was the "good name" that Betzalel had earned for himself.

An edifice that is built with G-d-given skills emanating from a desire to please the Almighty, manifests an inherently superior level of kedushah, holiness. It is not built merely with skills that have been acquired or learned, but with skills that have been granted specifically for this endeavor. From its very genesis, the Mishkan was constructed with the purest kedushah. This is why it endured.

Parashas Pikudei

These are the reckonings of the Mishkan, the Mishkan of Testimony, which were reckoned at Moshe's bidding. (38:21)

Moshe Rabbeinu made a full accounting of all proceeds and uses of the contributions. Although all of the metals that were deposited for the Mishkan were done so under the close scrutiny and supervision of Moshe and Betzalel, men whose integrity and distinction were unquestionable, they did not rely on assumptions. Leaders must be beyond reproach, and every penny that passes through their hands must be delineated. The Midrash tells us that, indeed, this accounting was provoked by the rumblings of a group of malcontents. They insolently accused Moshe of pocketing some of the precious metals, using the proceeds to enlarge his own financial portfolio. Despite the ludicrous nature of these claims, Moshe, the consummate leader, insisted that a detailed accounting of "every penny" be made. There are other opinions in the Midrash which contend that there were no allegations leveled at Moshe. It was Moshe's idea that a complete reckoning be made to ensure the total veracity of the proceedings.

In the Shulchan Aruch Yoreh Deah 257:2, it is stated that we do not ask charity collectors to give an account of income and expenditures. Rather, we must trust them to act according to their word. The fact that Moshe gave an accounting was to allay any suspicions. It is thus written in Bamidbar 32:22, "You shall be innocent before G-d and Yisrael." The Bach and Gra both note that Moshe acted on his own volition.

The Mishnah in Shekalim 3:2 says that the gabai, treasurer, who withdraws funds from the treasury of the Bais HaMikdash may not enter the chamber wearing a hemmed garment, shoe or sandal, Tefillin or amulet, or anything that might make people suspect that he placed some coins in a concealed place. The stated reason is that a person must please people in the same manner that he must please Hashem. The pasuk, V'hayisem nekiim," "You shall be innocent," is cited. The Mishnah adds another pasuk as support. "And find favor and good understanding in the eyes of G-d and mankind." (Mishlei 3:8) This pasuk goes further than the pasuk in Bamidbar. The first pasuk teaches us to remove well-founded suspicion, as in the case of the Shevatim who sought to remain in Trans-Jordan, thereby suggesting that they had no desire to go to Eretz Yisrael. In that case, their reputation had already been impugned. The victim of groundless allegations, however, may think that he has nothing to worry about and that there is no need to clear his reputation from aspersions cast by ignorant or even ignoble people. The pasuk in Mishlei implies otherwise. The Ksav Sofer goes so far as to say that not only must one offer an explanation for his ostensibly suspicious actions, but he must even attempt to see that his explanation is understood and accepted.

In summary, we must make sure that all of our actions are above suspicion. There will always be those individuals who look for every reason to gossip. These people have nothing to do with their time but to undermine the efforts of others. Yet, Chazal instruct us to be wary of their tongues. This warning does not always apply. In his commentary to Megillas Rus, Horav Shlomo Alkabetz, zl, explains why Boaz married Rus, disregarding the fact that no one married an Amonis or Moavis. Was he not concerned with what people would say? He explains that the enjoinment to be above suspicion applies only with regard to what sensible, competent people might say. There is no obligation to concern oneself with the suspicions and comments of those who lack erudition, common sense and rationale. Boaz followed the halachah to the minutest detail. The fact that many people were unaware of the permissibility to marry a Moavis did not affect his decision. He was doing the right thing. Let the scoffers talk. They will do so anyway! The Sanhedrin and the Elders of Klal Yisrael were fully aware of the halachah. He was not going to concern himself with what fools might think and say. "Is there a shortage of pious Jewish girls that he is forced to marry a Moavis?" they might wonder. Once again, this critique did not hinder him, since Rus' reputation as a devout, kind, righteous eishas chayil, woman of valor, was undisputed. The obligation of V'heyisem nekiim would not be binding in this circumstance, since the people that would talk did not count. They were the scoffers, the fools, the rabble rousers.

Wha,t really, is the rationale behind this obligation? After all, if I know that what I am doing is above reproach, why should I care what others might think? Horav Yerachmiel Krom, Shlita, explains that this is all part of one's obligation to be mekadesh Shem Shomayim, sanctify the Name of Heaven, in the world. If I tarnish my reputation, I taint the reputation of the Jewish People and - by inference - Hashem. A Jew does not live in a vacuum. He is part of a great legion - Hashem's legion. What he does leaves an impression on the entire army. The Chasam Sofer, zl, views this as an awesome responsibility. He says that prior to any endeavor, one should carefully weigh the action he is about to take to be certain that "people" will view it in the proper light. It goes without saying that if there is no other way to carry out one's mission, if what one must do might not necessarily receive public acclaim, the mitzvah take precedence. He does what he must do, and those who will talk will talk anyway.

Horav Shmuel Vosner, Shlita, interprets the pasuk of V'heyisem nekiim as a promise. If Bnei Gad and Bnei Reuven adhere to the conditions that are asked of them, they will be viewed as innocent in the eyes of Hashem and Yisrael. Their mesiras nefesh, self-sacrifice, to satisfy the demands placed upon them will guarantee their acceptability in the eyes of all. If a person goes out of his way to dispel what people might suspect - he will succeed.

For the cloud of Hashem would be on the Mishkan by day, and fire would be on it by night, before the eyes of all the House of Yisrael throughout their journeys. (40:38)

Horav Sholom Schwadron, zl, suggests that this pasuk alludes to the bitter galus, exile, that has been home to the Jewish People for the last few thousand years. The pasuk is telling us that during all of Klal Yisrael's journeys, throughout the exile following the destruction of the Bais Hamikdash, "fire" has always been burning at night to guide us through the darkness of galus. What is this fire? It is the Torah, as Yirmiyah HaNavi says: "Behold - My words are like fire - the word of Hashem." (Yirmiyah 23:29) This is a reference to the daled amos shel halachah, the four cubits of Jewish law, which illuminates the road for us as we travel through the long, harsh night of exile.

Rav Sholom cites the Ponevezer Rav, zl, who makes a powerful statement regarding these "four cubits of halachah." Chazal tell us that since the destruction of the Bais Hamikdash, Hashem has for Himself in this world only the four cubits of halachah. The usual interpretation of this Chazal is that, until its destruction, the Bais Hamikdash was the place in which Hashem rested His Shechinah. Now that there is no longer a Bais Hamikdash, Hashem has designated a new place - the daled amos shel halachah. This is not the correct interpretation, says the Rav. Even when the Bais Hamikdash was a part of our lives and it stood in all its glory, the four cubits of halachah were still Hashem's focal point and His place of rest. He also graced His Presence in the Bais Hamikdash. Now that there is no Bais Hamikdash, the daled amos are the only place. They are all that is left. Hashem never removed His Presence from the makom Torah, place where Torah is studied.

This is how it has been throughout our exile. The Torah has been our sanctuary, our island of serenity, our place of refuge, our tower of hope. In the Torah, we have always felt that we were with Hashem. We never felt alone. The continued study of Torah was a remarkable phenomenon, especially during the Holocaust, when Jews turned bunkers, cellars or underground tunnels into batei medrash, houses of Torah study. Their persistence in studying Torah in the ghettos and concentration camps was what kept them going. Torah study was worship. It was the air that they breathed, the blood that coursed through their veins. Rav Saadia Gaon's dictum that "we are a people only by virtue of the Torah" was the operative principle for the Jews in the Holocaust. There was no point in national or individual survival if the Torah were to be abandoned. Throughout our history, our refusal to comply with decrees to forbid Torah study has kept us alive.

In the Vilna Ghetto, an entire religious school system continued while the Nazi guards were unaware that it was going on. In the Daltmorgan Camp in southern Germany, a group of yeshivah students would convene at night to study Mishnayos. This was after a day of hard labor in the clay pits. Bone tired and near starvation, covered with vermin from lack of showers, they would listen as a young student from Novardok recited chapter after chapter of Mishnayos aloud by memory, and the rest would repeat after him. Others studied the Talmud by memory as they marched for hours in the biting cold. Their bodies were cold, but their hearts were warmed by the fire of Torah. They were not alone. Hashem reposed in the daled amos shel halachah which they maintained.

Va'ani Tefillah

Aromimcha Hashem ki dilisani - I will exalt You, Hashem, for You have drawn me up. The Radak writes that dilisani, "You have drawn me up," has a dual connotation. Dal is a poor man, thus implying dilisani means being lowered. Also, daloh means to draw up water, intimating that dilisani is to be translated as being raised up. The idea behind this dual meaning, explains the Radak, is that we should realize that every time we are "put down" or "lowered" as in exile or during a painful experience, it is for the purpose of being raised up. As a result of being lowered, we become exalted. Indeed, the Baalei Kabbalah explains that the reason for our exile into different countries and different places is to gather the nitzotzos, spiritual sparks, that we have lost in these places. Indeed, how often do we find Jews returning to the fold as a result of a chance meeting with an observant Jew in a place off the beaten path?

Like the "d'li", pail that is dropped deep into a well to bring up the water, we, too, are dropped into places to retrieve those who have been lost.

Alternatively, the Chidushei Ha'Rim says that David Ha'Melech was suggesting that even when Hashem elevated him, he still remained very lowly in his own eyes. It was Aromimcha Hashem, the Almighty "raised him," but as far as David was concerned, he was still ki dilisani, "lowly" and undeserving of any accolades.

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