Post Archive for February 2008

Parashas Vayakhel, Part 2

In regard to the collection of materials for the Mishkan, the Torah states (Shemos 36:7): “And the work [of collection] was enough (dayam) for all the work to be done, and more.” This verse poses two difficulties. First, what does it mean to say that the amount of materials collected was enough and more? Either it was enough or it was more than enough. Second, the suffix mem in the word dayam is seemingly unnecessary. Literally, dayam means “enough for them.” I would have been sufficient to write simply dai – “enough.”
The Maggid, in his commentary on Shir HaShirim 7:2, resolves these difficulties nicely. He first addresses a basic question: When Hashem decided to bring His presence down to dwell among the people, why did He make them engage in the physical labor of building the Mishkan? He could have brought the celestial Temple down to earth, or created the Mishkan with a mere word. Why, then, did He impose upon the people the burden of building the Mishkan themselves?
The Maggid answers as follows. As we know, the Jews of the wilderness generation did not have so many merits. They had not yet reached the lofty spiritual level that would entitle them to stand in the palace of the King. Hence they could not be immediately granted the privilege of having the Divine Presence in their midst: Hashem wanted to give the people the chance to gain merit, so they could become worthy of this privilege. He therefore commanded them to busy themselves with the construction of the Mishkan – to build it with their own hands using materials that they themselves donated, each man according to his talents and resources. This undertaking, with all the effort it entailed, purified the people and brought them to the spiritual level necessary to stand before the Divine Presence. Thus it is written (Shemos 25:8): “And they shall make Me a Sanctuary, and I shall dwell among them.” Initially, the Jewish People were not worthy of having the Divine Presence in their midst, but through the effort they would put forward in building the Tabernacle, they would become worthy – and then the Divine Presence would come down to dwell among them.
The Maggid then presents the following brilliant analogy. Consider someone chopping wood into small pieces for firewood with which to cook some porridge. If he has no other purpose in chopping the wood, then he will chop exactly the amount he needs to cook the porridge, and no more. But now suppose that his doctors have told him to chop wood for exercise, and in the process he is producing firewood that he can use to cook his food. In this case, it will not do for him to chop just enough for what he plans to cook. He also needs a proper exercise session. The amount of chopping that he does must be enough to satisfy both aims.     
The same idea applies to the construction of the Mishkan. Not only did the people need to assemble enough materials to construct the Mishkan and all its vessels. They also needed to donate to the degree required to refine their souls and make them worthy of having the Divine Presence in their midst. The point of the verse we quoted at the outset is to tell us that the people donated enough to satisfy both aims. The work of collection was enough for all the work to be done, and more; that is, more than enough for the Mishkan and all its vessels. In addition, it was dayam – enough for them, the people; that is, it was sufficient to prepare their souls for the Divine Presence.
David Zucker, Site Administrator

Parashas Vayakhel

In this week’s parashah, Moshe directs the Jewish People to bring materials for the construction of the Mishkan, and they proceed to do so. The Maggid remarks that since the collection was made at Hashem’s behest, one might think that the people brought their contributions because they felt they had to, rather than because they truly wanted to. The Maggid therefore notes a number of points that show that the people in fact made their contributions eagerly.
1. First, there is the swiftness with which they brought the materials. The Torah’s account indicates that the people rushed to contribute. Had the people been reluctant to contribute, they would have dragged their feet. Each one would have hoped that the rest of the people would bring all the necessary materials, so that he would not need to contribute. Instead, the people took just the opposite attitude. Each one was afraid that the others might cover everything, leaving him with no part in the project. Hence they all rushed to contribute.
2. Second, there is the great quantity of materials contributed. The people wanted to be absolutely sure that nothing would be lacking. They therefore contributed so much that there were materials left over. Moshe asked Hashem what to do with the extra materials, and Hashem told him to build an extra tent in the Holy of Holies as a covering for the holy ark (Shemos Rabbah 51:2). This extra tent served as testimony to the people’s enthusiasm, as is alluded to in the Torah’s phrase “Mishkan of Testimony” (Shemos 38:21).
3. Third, the people contributed from their main property holdings, and not merely from extra property they had from finding objects or receiving repayments of old loans they had already given up on. Moreover, they contributed top-quality materials. They acted as Shlomo HaMelech exhorts (Mishlei 3:9): “Honor Hashem with your [own] assets, and with the best of your crop.”
4. Finally, each person contributed what was most precious to him. The Torah hints at this when it says that each person made his contribution according to how his heart stirred him – he brought what his heart cherished.
The Maggid goes on to expound on the following Midrash (Shemos Rabbah 48:6, slightly paraphrased):
When [the Jewish People] made the golden calf, the Holy One Blessed Be He said to Moshe (Shemos 32:10): “Now let Me be. [Let My anger flare up against them, and I shall annihilate them].” He [Moshe] said to Him: “Test them when it is time for them to build the Mishkan.” What was said when they came to commit their misdeed [of making the calf]? “Remove the golden rings [from your ears]” (ibid. 32:2). And what did they bring? Rings. And when it came time to build the Mishkan, they built it from donations. What is written [in this regard]? “And all the generous of heart brought earrings, nose-rings, finger-rings, and bracelets” (ibid. 35:22). With rings they sinned, and with rings they achieved reconciliation. And through Hoshea a holy spirit exclaimed (Hoshea 2:1): “And it will be, that instead of it being said to them, ‘You are not My people,’ it will be said to them, ‘Children of the Living God!’”
The Maggid links this Midrash with the points listed above. For the making of the golden calf, the men took their wives’ jewelry by force. They deliberately chose to bring this jewelry, which they regarded as being of little use. They preferred to fight their wives for the jewelry rather than bring something they valued. This shows that they contributed to the calf only reluctantly.
On the other hand, for the Mishkan, the women took the initiative and gave their jewelry willingly. This jewelry, while inconsequential to their husbands, was precious to them. Yet they gladly gave it. This showed, in retrospect, that their refusal to give their jewelry for the golden calf was not because of its value to them, but rather because they regarded the making of the calf a deplorable cause. For the lofty cause of honoring Hashem, they were delighted to give.
David Zucker, Site Administrator

Parashas Ki Sissa, Part 2

This week’s parashah begins with the contribution of half-shekels that was used as a mechanism for taking a census of the Jewish People. The Torah states (Shemos 30:2): “Every man shall give Hashem an atonement for his soul when [you] count them, so that there will not be a plague among them when [you] count them.” This directive raises an obvious question: Why does counting Jews put them at risk of a plague?
The Maggid explains that the answer lies in the distinction between the Jewish People as a nation and the Jews as individuals. He draws an analogy with the distinction between a city’s public assets and each citizen’s private assets. There are cases where a city as a public entity is wealthy, while its individual citizens are all poor. This was the situation with the Jewish People in the wilderness. As a unified nation, they were lofty. But as individuals, they were lowly, for they went out of Egypt barren of merit. (Thus, Hashem had to order them to circumcise themselves and swab the blood of the Pesach offering on their doorposts, so that they could merit being saved.)
The Maggid elaborates with another analogy. Suppose that a person buys some beams from two suppliers on credit, builds a magnificent building, and then defaults on payment. As long as the building is whole, the suppliers will refrain from taking back their beams. But if the person takes the building down in order to remodel it, the suppliers will not hesitate to take their beams back. Similarly, so long as we remain a unified people, we are relatively safe, but once we split up into individuals, we enter a state of peril. Thus, when Haman came to Ahachshveirosh with his plan to wipe out the Jews, he noted that they were “scattered and spread out.” The Jews’ disunity put them at risk.
We can now understand the danger that arises when Jews are counted. The act of counting the people, and generating a breakdown of the population according tribes, family clans, and family clan members, splits up the nation and causes each individual to be viewed separately. Since each person as an individual is lacking in merit, putting a spotlight on individuals places each one in peril. Hence, Hashem commanded that, in the process of the count, each man should give a half-shekel as atonement for his soul.
It will be different, however, in the end of days. Then, every single Jew, as an individual, will rise to a lofty level. And hence a count of Jews, rather than being a source of danger, will be a source of glory. We will be like a galaxy of stars, each brilliant in its own right, and all the more splendorous when enumerated. Thus is Hashem’s promise (Hoshea 2:1): “The number of the Children of Israel shall be as the sand of the sea, which is beyond measure and beyond enumeration. And it shall be, that instead of it being said of them, ‘You are not My people,’ it will be said of them, ‘Children of the Living God!’”
David Zucker, Site Administrator

Parashas Ki Sissa

This week’s parashah includes the tragic episode of the golden calf. Hashem told Moshe about the sin while Moshe was still on Mt. Sinai. Hashem said that He was going to wipe the Jewish People out. Moshe exclaimed (Shemos 32:11): “Why, Hashem, should Your anger be kindled against Your people, whom You took out of the land of Egypt with great power and a strong hand?” The Midrash elaborates (Shemos Rabbah 43:6):
Moshe arose to appease God. He said: “Master of the Universe! They made You a helper, and You are angry at them? This calf that they made will be Your helper. You will direct the sun, and he will direct the moon. You will direct the planets, and he will direct the constellations. You will bring down the dew, and he will make the winds blow. You will bring down the rain, and he will make the plants grow.” Said the Holy One Blessed Be He: “Moshe, you are making the same mistake that they did. Behold, this calf has no real substance.” Moshe replied: “If so, why are You angry at Your children?”
But later, when Moshe went back up to Mt. Sinai, he declared before Hashem (Shemos 32:30): “Please, this nation has committed a grievous sin.” In Shemos Rabbah 47:9, the Midrash relates that when the angels of attack saw Moshe recounting the people’s sin, they left the scene. They said to themselves: “Let us not involve ourselves with indicting. So long as this one indicts them, let them meet their downfall at his hands.”
Thus, Moshe initially tried to downplay the sin, but afterwards magnified it. Why did he reverse his line of argument? The Maggid, in his typical way, answers through a parable.
A rich man had an only son, whom he provided with fine clothes. The man sent his son to another town to learn. While there, the boy fell into a mud puddle and ruined his clothes. One of the townsmen, who hated the boy, sent a letter to the father about the incident. He wrote: “Your son went out to play, and he started to run wild. He got so out of hand that he fell into a mud puddle and ruined his clothes. They are totally unfit to wear now, and you will have to replace them.” Someone else came to the father and said: “What you were told is a lie. The boy’s clothes are not totally ruined. They just got stained in one place. They are still wearable.”
Each of these two men aided the boy on one count and harmed him on another. The first man aided the boy by letting the father know he had to get the boy new clothes. At the same time, he harmed the boy by causing his father to get angry at him for recklessly ruining his clothes. The second man, in saying that the clothes were only slightly damaged, aided the boy by minimizing his offense. The father would thus get less angry at the boy. But he also caused the boy harm by leading the father to think that it was unnecessary to get his son new clothes.
A third man then came and reported to the father as follows: “The real truth is that the clothes are indeed totally ruined, but it was not your son’s fault. He was not out playing wildly. Rather, some hooligan pushed him into the mud.” This third man aided the boy on both counts. The father was no longer angry at him, and he got him new clothes.
The sequence of Moshe’s arguments was along similar lines. Initially, Moshe attempted to directly contradict the Adversarial Angel’s accusations. The Adversarial Angel portrayed the people’s offense as reprehensible. Moshe argued that what they did was not so bad, so they did not deserve to face Hashem’s wrath. Moreover, the argument went, they caused no harm, so there was no need for rehabilitation.
This argument did not succeed before the All-Present One. Indeed, how could it be said that the people did not sin through such a great misdeed as making the calf? So long as Moshe tried to contradict the Adversarial Angel by minimizing the sin, the angel continued relentlessly with his accusations. In the end, Moshe himself came to magnify the gravity of the sin, saying: “Please, this nation has committed a grievous sin.”
It is in this sense that the Midrash says, in Shemos Rabbah 43:1, that Moshe pushed the Adversarial Angel aside and stood in his place. Moshe himself adopted the angel’s line of argument, and magnified the gravity of the people’s sin. But then, as the Midrash relates further on, at the beginning of Shemos Rabbah 43:9, Moshe went on to argue that the people were not to blame, for they had just come out of Egypt—a land riddled with idols. Moshe noted further that the mixed multitude that went along with the Jews incited them to commit the sin. Moshe concluded by saying: “You must therefore show them mercy and rehabilitate them. Their souls have suffered a grave blow due to this great sin, and they are in need of a cure. They need You to implant within them a new spirit—a purified heart. If You leave them as they are now, all the effort that You invested in them will be for naught.” And God did as Moshe suggested – He gave the Jewish People the Tabernacle and the sacrificial service to purify them and make them holy.
David Zucker, Site Administrator

Parashas Tetzaveh, Part 2

The last section of this week’s parashah deals with the golden altar for offering the holy incense (ketores). The last verse of the parashah reads as follows (Shemos 30:10): “Aharon shall bring atonement upon its horns once a year [on Yom Kippur – see Vayikra 16:18–19]; from the blood of the sin-offering of the atonements, once a year, shall he bring atonement upon it for your generations – it is holy of holies unto Hashem.”
The Midrash remarks (Yalkut Shimoni, Tetzaveh, end):
“Aharon shall bring atonement upon its horns ….” And juxtaposed to this (Shemos 30:12, at the beginning of parashas Ki Sissa): “When you take a head count (ki sissa es rosh) [of the Children of Israel] ….” In regard to this it is written (Mishlei 10:20): “The tongue of the righteous is choice silver.” This alludes to the Holy One Blessed Be He, Who [carefully] chose his language and said to Moshe “ki sissa.”
The point of language here is that the Hebrew phrase “ki sissa es rosh,” which refers literally to a census – a head count – can also be rendered as “when you raise up the heads.” We have to understand what the message behind this choice of language is. We will present the Maggid’s explanation, as given in his commentary on the parashah in Ohel Yaakov.
The Maggid begins with another Midrash on this week’s parashah, Shemos Rabbah 38:1. The Midrash applies to Aharon and his sons the following verse (Tehillim 119:89): “For eternity, Hashem, is Your word set in the heavens (ba-shamayim).” The Midrash says that we should read the word ba-shamayim homiletically as ka-shamayim – “like the heavens.” The Maggid connects this Midrash with another Midrash that lists a number of historically prominent figures (Esther Rabbah Pesichta 10). This Midrash notes that Aharon was the head of the line of kohanim. The Maggid explains that the term “head” indicates a point of origin – a source point. Hashem established Aharon as the source of holiness associated with acts of religious service. Just as the sun shines down from the heavens and suffuses the world with light, Aharon’s influence emanates down to all future generations. Aharon is the “holy of holies” – the prime source of holiness.
But Hashem imposed a condition on drawing from Aharon’s influence – we must be worthy of doing so. This is the point behind the juxtaposition of the verse about the Yom Kippur service and the verse beginning with the words “ki sissa.” Hashem was telling Moshe that the people must undergo a process of spiritual elevation in order to tap into the reservoir of holiness that Aharon generated through his service. Let us, then, uplift ourselves, so that we may benefit from this precious legacy.
David Zucker, Site Administrator

Parashas Tetzaveh

This week’s parashah deals with the garments of the Kohen Gadol and the ceremony that Moshe was to perform to induct his brother Aharon into the position of Kohen Gadol. The Gemara in Horayos 12a relates that both Moshe and Aharon were worried about embezzling the anointing oil – that is, gaining personal pleasure from the oil. Aharon was worried that feeling personal joy over receiving his lofty position would constitute improper use of the oil. Moshe had a similar worry regarding the joy of inducting his dear brother into this position. But a Heavenly voice declared that both Moshe and Aharon were completely innocent of any impropriety.
The Maggid, in his commentary on the parashah in Ohel Yaakov, analyzes this Gemara at length. He notes that mitzvos can be classified into two categories: those that involve discomfort and those that involve pleasure. The mitzvah of fasting on Yom Kippur involves discomfort; the mitzvah of making Shabbos a day of delight involves pleasure. With a mitzvah that involves discomfort, it is easy to maintain the stance of performing the mitzvah for its own sake. But with a mitzvah that involves pleasure, the ulterior motive of experiencing pleasure naturally creeps in. It is very difficult to set one’s mind solely on the goal of fulfilling Hashem’s will. In fact, the Maggid says, this is the greatest of all the challenges we face in our mission of serving Hashem faithfully. This quandary is what Moshe and Aharon were worried about.
The highest level of righteousness involves completely purging the heart of all desire; to reach the state where, as David HaMelech put it (Tehillim 109:22), “my heart is emptied out within me.” When a person reaches this state, he is no longer influenced by ulterior motives. Moshe and Aharon were at this level. Hence, their use of the anointing oil was completely devoid of any personal interest.
Most of us, however, are not at this high level of purity. How do we deal with the interplay of mitzvah observance and personal pleasure? The Maggid points us to an answer: We can at least make an effort to use our drive for pleasure in the service of mitzvos, rather than use mitzvos to serve our drive for pleasure. The Maggid develops this idea in the context of making Shabbos a delight. He says that during the week we should minimize our indulgence in pleasures, and save the pleasures for Shabbos. We thereby use our drive for pleasure as an instrument to honor Shabbos. The same approach can be followed in other areas as well. In this way, we fulfill Shlomo HaMelech’s directive (Mishlei 3:6): “In all your ways, know Him” – connect with Hashem in everything that you do.
David Zucker, Site Administrator

Shir HaShirim Volume Goes to Press

With thanks and praise to the Ribbono Shel Olam, I am pleased to announce that I have sent to press a new volume of Dubno Maggid translations: A Voice Shall Sing Forth: Commentary of the Dubner Maggid on the Song of Songs. For more information on this volume, visit the page A Voice Shall Sing Forth. The book will be available for sale in US and Israeli bookstores, and internationally through the Feldheim Publications website, shortly before Pesach. I hope that the public will benefit from this work.

Haftaras Terumah

In parallel with this week’s parashah, which deals with the building of the Mishkan, this week’s haftarah deals with Shlomo HaMelech’s construction of the Beis HaMikdash. I summarize here the Maggid’s commentary on this haftarah, in Kochav MiYaaakov.
The haftarah concludes with the following words:
The word of Hashem then came to Shlomo, saying: “This Temple that you are building – if you follow My decrees, perform My statutes, and observe all My commandments, to follow them, I shall uphold with you My word that I spoke to David your father. I shall dwell among the Children of Israel, and I shall not abandon My people Israel.”
The Maggid notes an odd feature of this passage: Hashem begins by speaking about the Holy Temple, and then breaks off in mid-sentence and changes the topic. Seemingly, He never returns to the topic of the Temple. What is the message here?
The Maggid explains as follows. Building a house for Hashem’s honor does not really mean building Him an ornate structure. Rather, it means making a place for Hashem in our hearts, by serving Him with devotion. This is what Hashem means when He says that if we observe His commandments, He will dwell among us.
Hashem concludes by saying that He will never abandon us. Even after the physical Temple is destroyed, as long as we remain devoted to serving Him, he will continue to “dwell” within our hearts.
The physical Temple is merely a mechanism to aid us in developing our relationship with Hashem. For example, as we explained in our previous post, the collection of materials for the Mishkan provided the Jews an opportunity to demonstrate their love of Hashem. Hashem does not need a “house” to dwell in on the earth. Indeed, no house could contain Him, for His glory fills the universe. In this vein, Hashem declares through His prophet Yeshayah (verse 66:1): “The heavens are My throne, and the earth is My footstool. What house can you build for Me?” Rather, the physical Temple is for our benefit, to help us draw closer to Hashem. 
The same is true of the Temple offerings. Hashem does not need us to bring Him presents. Thus, the purpose of an offering is not to supply Hashem with something. We can see this from the law that an improper thought while bringing an offering invalidates the offering. If the purpose of the offering were to supply Hashem with something, what difference would it make what the person bringing the offering was thinking? Rather, the offerings are simply a means for us to express our love of Hashem and draw closer to Him. Thus, the Hebrew word for offering, korban, derives from the Hebrew word karov, meaning “close.” When a person brings an offering, he is supposed to imagine that he is offering his own self to Hashem, subjugating his heart to Hashem’s will.
More generally, the same is true of all mitzvos. Hashem did not give us mitzvos because He needs us to take care of certain matters for Him within the world. Thus, Job’s comrade Elihu declares (Job 35:7): “If you were righteous, what did you give Him?” Similarly, our Sages teach (Bereishis Rabbah 44:1): “What does it matter to the Holy One Blessed Be He whether one slaughters [an animal for food] from the throat or slaughters from the back of the neck? Thus, the mitzvos were given only to purify man.”
David Zucker, Site Administrator

Parashas Terumah

This week’s parashah deals with the design of the Mishkan (Tabernacle) and its vessels. The parashah begins with Hashem’s directive to Moshe about the collection of materials:
Speak to the Children of Israel, that they should take for Me a contribution; from every man whose heart stirs him to give, you shall take My portion. And this is the contribution that you shall take from them: gold, silver, and copper. …”
The Maggid asks why it was necessary to make the Jewish People go through the trouble of collecting these materials and building the Mishkan. Hashem could have made Himself a Sanctuary without the Jewish People’s help.
The Maggid answers that Hashem’s purpose was to give the Jewish People an opportunity to express their love for Him and gain the merit of having Him “dwell” among them. The reason Hashem chose gold, silver, copper, and so on as materials for the Mishkan was not because He cherishes these materials. Rather, it was because these are materials that man cherishes. When the Jewish People willingly contributed the treasures they loved, they showed that they loved Hashem more. In this way, the people were, in effect, contributing their love of Hashem toward the building of the Mishkan. This is what Shlomo HaMelech meant when he said that the Mishkan was “decked with love” (Shir HaShirim 3:10). The Mishkan was built out of the Jewish People’s love for Hashem.
We can see that there was a essential difference between the collection for the Mishkan and the collection for the palace of an earthly king. In the case of an earthly king’s palace, a person’s contribution achieves its primary goal only when it reaches the royal treasury and is actually used in the building of the palace. But in the case of the Mishkan, the act of contribution in and of itself achieved the primary goal – namely to express love of Hashem.
The Mishkan was divided into two sections: the Holy and the Holy of Holies. Why? The Maggid explains that Hashem designed the Mishkan this way because He knew, with His ability to see into the hearts of men, that the Jews varied in their nobility of intent. The contributions given with great nobility intent went toward the Holy of Holies section, while the contributions given with less noble intent went toward the Holy section.
[I add here a thought of my own: Perhaps one of the reasons why the Torah describes the Mishkan’s design in such elaborate detail is that each component of the Mishkan came from a different Jew. Hashem composed the account of the Mishkan in such a way that every Jew would be represented.]
In addition, the process of building the Mishkan purified the Jewish People. In this way, they became worthy of having the Divine Presence in their midst.
David Zucker, Site Administrator