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by Yaacov Dovid Shulman
"Speak to the children of Israel, and let them bring Me a terumah--an uplifted offering."
There are two ways to relate to the Torah. The first is that the Torah has to speak to us. It has to relate to us on our level. Otherwise, although it may be wise and holy, it seemingly does nothing for us. It becomes a parochial teaching for a cloistered community of sheltered, if venerable, families.
On the other hand, the Torah at times must speak to us in ways that we do not understand. Rather than lower itself to us, it must raise us to God: even if its concepts are not readily assimilated, even if its disciplines seem uninviting, even if its teachings seem distant from our concerns.
A Torah that only lowers itself to us becomes a mere reflection of our lives and does not guide us. A Torah that only raises us becomes a burden that cannot be maintained.
The Torah is both meaningful and challenging at that nexus where it speaks to us as we are and challenges us to a level that is beyond where we are.
This week's parshah begins the long series of parshios dealing with the laws of the mishkan, the sacrifices, and related ritual details, often repeated from one parshah to the next.
Such details may appear far from our interests and concerns. They relate specifically to a mishkan, a tabernacle, that was only meant to exist for a finite measure of time; and, indirectly, they relate to the Beit Hamikdash, which at the present does not stand.
Yet the mishkan itself is the vehicle by means of which God's presence rests amongst the people of Israel. From that point of view, there can be nothing more relevant and vibrant than discussion of the mishkan.
The mishkan represents the locus between a Torah that lowers itself to us and a Torah that raises us to God.
Thus, the parshah begins: "Speak to the children of Israel"- -the Torah must lower itself and speak to each one of us. "And let them bring Me a terumah--an uplifted offering"--and it must guide us to raise ourselves up to God.
by Rabbi Nachman of Breslov
If God poured His kindness onto us, we would not need to trigger His kindness by engaging in making a living.
After all, God created the entire universe from total nothingness, when nothing existed to initiate any "awakening from below." He created worlds through His kindness alone, without any awakening from below at all. As the verse states, "The world is built on kindness" (Tehillim 89:3).
Since God is able to create such universes without any awakening from below, but only with His kindness, He can certainly enliven and maintain the universes solely through His kindness.
Were this to be the case, we would have no need to engage in any effort and work. Even our basic necessities could be taken care of by others. As the verse states regarding the messianic era, "Strangers will stand and shepherd your flocks, and gentiles will be your farm-workers and vineyard workers, and you will be called the priests of Hashem" (Is. 61:5-6).
At that time, we will be "the priests of Hashem." That status indicates kindness--"the world is built on kindness." When we will be called "the priests of Hashem," we will not have to engage in any work. The world will be maintained by God's kindness.
But when kindness is withheld, heaven forbid, and God does not pour His kindness onto us, we must act in order to create an awakening from below.
The verse states, "To You, Hashem, is kindness, for You recompense a man according to his act."
"To You, Hashem, is kindness"--when kindness remains with God, and He does not pour it down on us, then, "You recompense a man according to his act"--God recompenses only according to our acts and work. We must work and act, because the kindness remains with God, and He does not pour it down upon us.
But if Hashem were to pour His kindness down on us, we would not have to work at all. And then, we could translate the second phrase of the verse differently: "You recompense a man similar to his acts"--similar to how it would be if he acted. At that time, we would not really have to act in order for God to pour down His kindness.
Likutei Moharan Tinyana 4
by Rabbi Avraham Yitzchak Kook
It appears that God had to diminish His light in order to create this world--and that is a standard Jewish explanation of the working of our universe. But why should God be subject to such a condition? Examining the matter, we can see that the diminution of God's light is not a necessary condition to creating the world: rather, that diminution is itself an expression of the unfettered perfection of God's light.
I. Paraphrase: We sense that there is evil in the world. But why should that be? We should realize that everything is ultimately good. Evil comes about when God's goodness and light are filtered. But our soul yearns for total goodness-- without filters and diminution. We might talk about how that filtering is necessary. But why should such a necessity exist? The very idea impugns God's greatness. What causes the continued presence of the idea of the existence of evil in the world? Our point of view should be able to rise to a reckoning of a clear and inclusive world. It should be able to observe a totality that is good and complete. The idea of the existence of evil is merely a diminution of the illumination that is filtered through various levels. As a result of that diminution, the soul asks: "Why can't everything be exalted, completely good and great?" We might respond that a division into levels is necessary for the improvement of the world. But by saying so, we appeal to the idea of impossibility. We are claiming that it is impossible to bring about perfection without division into levels. However, claiming that anything else than such a division is impossible impairs our appreciation of the supernal, our sense of the ultimate and infinite ability of the Creator of everything.
II. Paraphrase: When we look at the matter in depth, we grow beyond definitive declarations on why that filtering of God's light is necessary--those declarations that invite dissatisfaction. And then we address the two reasons for our soul's complaint: the first conceptual, and the second emotional. When we arrive at the depth of the matter, we uproot the entirety of this misleading idea, this definitive statement regarding division into levels, which results in complaints about the narrowness of reality. There are two reasons for [complaint].
III. Paraphrase: The first reason for complaint is that we see from an ultimate point of view that everything is great and exalted--so why should we live in a world where that greatness is not apparent? The diminution of that greatness is what our weary eye sees. Our weariness impels us to a new understanding: not that diminution is somehow necessary, marring perfection. Rather, diminution is itself, from a certain standpoint, perfection. The first reason [for complaint] is an internal one. Through the true revelation of the all, the viewpoint of unity is revealed. In unity, everything is truly great and exalted, without any smallness or diminution whatsoever. When our eye is weary, we see smallness and diminution. But even this has a [positive] consequence. We are impelled to examine the basis of goodness, greatness and light. We realize that our sense that greatness and light are the ultimate goodness and fulfillment is true--in its place. What is that place? Wherever it is fit that infinite greatness and goodness be revealed. But there are also places where diminution is fitting. There, diminution and smallness themselves comprise the complete and total goodness--just as greatness does in its place. Then everything rises and returns to a state of total goodness, which doesn't require any measure of withholding. The measure of withholding is a reality that appears dualistic: there are two aspects completing one other. One aspect is like the soul and the other like the body. Darkness perfects goodness, which is light. There is no day without night. Day and night provide the basis for the perfection of the framework of time. If not for the darkness, which presents the viewpoint of separation, there would be no drive toward continuous ascent. That drive is basic. It perfects everything, until the quality of perfection in existence is no longer lacking: neither the [static] perfect quality that has no excess (and certainly no lack); nor the perfect quality that constantly adds perfection and that diffuses a constant, never-ending pleasure. If not for the viewpoint of separation, we would only be aware of the quality of completeness. There would be no progress, no renewal of ascent. And so the diminution, which causes the renewal of ascent, is literally complete good, like complete goodness itself. From the aspect of that diminution's ultimate supernal, infinite perfection, it has no connection to addition and ascent.
IV. Paraphrase: We are also dissatisfied for emotional reasons: we suffer pain. Our suffering can be dealt with by either accepting God's judgement, beyond our own, or--on an even higher level--by transcending our consciousness. There remains only the feeling of pain and sorrow. We ask regarding this feeling: Why does it exist? Sorrow is ameliorated in two ways. The first is by accepting suffering with love. That is the level of supernal consciousness. The second is by attaining a supernal viewpoint that transcends consciousness of belief in the quality of goodness.
V. Paraphrase: We grow beyond the idea that God so to speak had to make the world with certain limiting conditions that diminish His goodness. Our new state of consciousness is one that will be generally revealed in the days of the Messiah. And so, everything is truly the measure of goodness, with no necessary conditions, no necessary circumstances. This will certainly be revealed in the messianic future. At that time, we will make the blessing on everything, whether apparently good or bad, "He is good and does good." At that time, God's name [of compassion] will be pronounced just as it is written [when it indicates strictness].
VI. Paraphrase: But this is not to denigrate those viewpoints that give credence to the idea that God had to withhold and narrow His light. These viewpoints have reality in a world in which darkness exists. To the degree that those viewpoints speak truthfully to us and positively transform us, they speak truth. Such viewpoints invite bitterness and pain. But the source of that bitterness and pain is a darkness that is constantly being transformed into a great light. Nevertheless, [there are] viewpoints that give credence to this withholding, with a proper appreciation for the supernal honor. These viewpoints have their place, once darkness exists. To the degree that these viewpoints reconcile our consciousness, their essence comes from the supernal light of truth that shines on those viewpoints. All the bitterness and pain that we feel in those viewpoints comes from the foundation of darkness. That darkness, however, is continuously transformed into great light. Oros Hakodesh II, pp. 461-63
All translations and original material. Copyright 1998