Post Archive for February 2009

Parashas Terumah

This week’s parashah deals with the design of the Mishkan. In his commentary on Shir HaShirim 3:9-10, the Maggid explains how Hashem’s directive to build the Mishkan reflects His great kindness toward us.
The Maggid develops his point with a parable about a great king who settled in a city of craftsmen. Initially, these craftsmen were all poor, but eventually they became very rich by doing work for the king. After some time, the king took a tour of the entire city. He noticed a rickety old house inhabited by a wretched pauper. The king felt pity for this man, and he asked him: “Why are you so much poorer than everyone else in town?” The pauper replied: “All the others are craftsmen; they became rich by working for you, Your Majesty. But I have no way to earn such sums of money, for I am not skilled in any craft. So I have remained poor.”
The king devised a scheme to make this man rich. He told his servants to build him a special abode unlike any other royal palace. He directed that this abode be constructed as an exact replica of a poor man’s shack, with no detail missing. The king’s craftsmen searched the city for a house that met the king’s description, so they could use it as a model for their work. After a long search, they found the home of the pauper whom the king had met. This home matched the king’s description perfectly. The craftsmen bought the pauper’s house for a great sum of money. In addition, they hired the pauper as an adviser, to make sure their replica would be perfectly accurate. In the end, the pauper became very rich.
The parallel is as follows. Hashem created a vast universe: the physical cosmos with all it contains, the heavens, and the supernal world above the heavens. Upon this entire universe, Hashem shines His splendid radiance. His abode is suffused with power and exultation, and He is served by countless angels. Meantime, man lives in a humble state upon the lowly earth. Hashem wished to bring man merit. He therefore commanded that a structure be built for Him out of materials that can be found only on earth. Thus it is written at the beginning of our parashah (Shemos 25:3): “This is the contribution that you shall take from them: gold, silver, and copper.” The next few verses list further materials of a similar sort. The phrase from them indicates that Hashem applied human standards in rating the value of the contribution. Hashem chose materials that are precious to us, albeit of little value in the Heavenly realm, so as to endear us to Him and to the angels.
This idea is reflected in Shir HaShirim 3:9-10. This passage begins: “The King, the Master of Peace, made for Himself a canopy of Lebanon wood. He made its pillars of silver, its couch of gold, and its curtains of purple wool.” It might be argued: Why did Hashem choose to have the Mishkan built of these materials, which are of so little value on the Heavenly scale? It would have been more fitting for Hashem to seek an abode fashioned from celestial lights. The passage thus continues with the answer to this objection: “Its interior was decked with love, from the daughters of Jerusalem.” Hashem, in His kindness and compassion, designed the Mishkan in such a way that our efforts in constructing it would endear us to Him.
David Zucker, Site Administrator

Parashas Mishpatim

This week’s parashah deals with civil laws: justice and concern for our fellow men. It is written (Yeshayah 56:1): “Thus said Hashem: ‘Observe justice and perform righteousness, for My salvation is soon to come, and My righteousness to be revealed.’” The Midrash on this week’s parashah expounds on this verse as follows (Shemos Rabbah 30:24):
It does not say “your salvation is near,” but rather “My salvation.” … Said the Holy One Blessed Be He to Israel: “If you have no merit, I will do it – so to speak – for My sake.” … As it is written (Zechariah 9:9, which literally speaks of Moshiach but is intepreted as speaking of Hashem Himself): “Jubilate greatly, O daughter of Zion; shout for joy, O daughter of Jerusalem. For behold, your King will come, righteous and victorious (nosha).” It does not say “saving” (moshia), but rather “saved” (nosha).
The Maggid notes that the Midrash’s reading of the end of the verse in Yeshayah is at odds with the beginning of the verse. Why must we take pains to observe justice and perform righteousness, if the final redemption is going to come no matter what?
The Maggid answers as follows. It is true that the final redemption is sure to come. Still, it makes a difference whether the redemption comes due to our merit or due to a decision by Hashem to bring the redemption for His own sake. If Hashem redeems us due to our merit, then He will do so in a magnanimous way. On account of our overall high level of righteousness, He will redeem all of us – even those who are not so worthy. But if Hashem brings the redemption for His own sake, then He will be very selective – He will redeem only the most saintly ones among us. Thus, the proclamation “My salvation is soon to come” serves as a warning: If we are not careful to observe justice and perform righteousness, and thereby bring the final redemption through our own merit, then Hashem will step in and bring it for His sake – on less favorable terms than if we brought it ourselves.
The passage in Yeshayah continues (verse 56:2): “Praiseworthy is the man who does this.” We may read this statement, the Maggid says, as teaching that it will be praiseworthy for us to be the ones to bring about the final redemption. And, if we do so, the redemption will be of the kind described in the subsequent verses in the passage – a redemption embracing all classes of people, with no one set aside.
Zechariah 9:9 concludes by portraying the King – meaning Hashem, according to the Midrash – as “a humble man riding on a donkey.” The Maggid explains the idea behind this portrayal with a clever analogy. Suppose that a person on the outskirts of town is making a bris. If he wants many people to come, he will send a convoy of wagons into town. If he wishes just to bring in some close relatives and friends, he will send a single wagon. And if he wants merely to fetch the mohel, he will send a lone man on a donkey. The message is that if Hashem is forced, so to speak, to bring the redemption for His own sake, He will act like a lone man on a donkey – He will take along but a few.
It is generally acknowledged that we are now in the era of the footsteps of Moshiach – the redemption is coming soon. If we bring it about through our merit – by observing justice and performing righteousness – it will be on the grandest possible scale. If, instead, we let Hashem bring it about on His own, it will be on a more limited scale. The choice is ours.
David Zucker, Site Administrator

Parashas Yisro

This week’s parashah records the revelation at Har Sinai, including the Ten Commandments. The First Commandment begins with the word anochi, meaning I. The Gemara in Shabbos 105a presents three renderings of this word as an acronym. One of them is the following, with the letters of anochi in reverse order (yud, kaf, vav, aleph): “Yehivah k’sivah ne’emanin imrei – [The Torah] has been handed down in writing, for faithful are its words.” We present the Maggid’s explanation of this acronym.
The scope of our holy Torah, notes the Maggid, is boundless: all the world’s wisdom is embedded in it, at least by hint. Hence, in regard to the Torah it is written (Mishlei 4:2): “I have given you good counsel (lekach, literally acquisition).” This is like telling someone: “Go to the treasure house and take whatever strikes your fancy, as much as you can carry.” The Torah is filled with wisdom, solid counsel, and words of delight. Everyone can find within it whatever portion he needs, be it large or small, to satisfy his intellect and inclinations. It offers the same rich array of resources to everyone; different people get different portions only because their capacities differ. Hence, the Torah is called a lekach, an acquisition, for what it supplies each person depends only on the taker (lokeiach); the Giver, for His part, could readily give a thousand times more.
In this vein, Shlomo HaMelech portrays the Torah as declaring (ibid. 8:21): “To those who love me, I have what to bequeath, and I shall fill their storehouses.” A mortal giver has a limited treasury. Eventually the treasury is exhausted, and the giver can give no more, but the receiver’s desire to take is not exhausted. With the Divine Giver, it is just the opposite. He always has what to give, without limit. When someone stops taking, it is because his storehouse is full, and he cannot take any more.
Shlomo declares (Koheles 1:4): “A generation passes and a generation comes, while the world forever endures.” The Midrash remarks (Koheles Rabbah 1:9) that this verse alludes to the Torah. We can explain this remark in line with our discussion above. Generation after generation partakes of the Torah’s insights, while the Torah constantly provides the same enormous wealth of riches – like the earth, which gives forth its grain and fruit every spring, never ceasing. Thus, we say in our morning prayers that Hashem’s words are “living and enduring … forever and unto all eternity.” It is for this reason that the Torah was given in writing – so that its words could bear all its wisdom. Consider, by analogy, a seller with a chest full of goods. If someone comes to buy some of them, the seller will not give the buyer the chest to hold what he bought, for the seller still needs the chest to house the goods he has left. Similarly, the Torah had to be given in an enduring written form, in order to properly contain all the insights it holds for each generation. In Menachos 29b, the Gemara relates how Hashem told Moshe that Rabbi Akiva would derive mounds of laws from the crowns on the Torah’s letters. The written Torah therefore had to include these crowns
The Gemara in Berachos 34b speaks of “wine stored up in grapes from the six days of creation.” Maharsha interprets this Gemara as referring to Torah secrets – the gematria (numerical value) of the word yayin (wine) being identical to that of the word sohd (secret). Just as wine is stored up in grapes, so, too, are the Torah’s secrets stored up in its letters.
David Zucker, Site Administrator

Parashas Beshallach

This week’s parashah relates the events that took place after Pharaoh sent the Jewish People out of Egypt – including his regret over having done so, his decision to chase after them, and the ensuing miraculous deliverance at the Sea of Reeds. The Midrash connects the sending out of the Jewish People with the following verse (Shir HaShirim 4:13): “Your most arid ones are like a pomegranate orchard laden with luscious fruit” (the word shelachaiyich, meaning “your arid places,” is related to the word shalach, meaning “sent out”). The Midrash teaches as follows (Shemos Rabbah 20:5, slightly paraphrased):
We can liken this episode to the following story. A man had a field with a pile of stones in the middle of it, and he sold this field to someone else. The buyer removed the pile of stones, and found beneath it a flowing spring. He planted grapevines … and pomegranate trees, … and whoever passed by it would praise it. The one who sold it saw it filled with everything good, and said: “Woe to me for selling this precious field, and letting it pass out of my hands!” Similarly, the Jewish People in Egypt were like a pile of stones, as it is written (Shir HaShirim 4:12): “A locked garden is she, my sister the bride, a blocked stream, a plugged-up spring” (the word gal for “stream” also means “pile”). But when they left, they became like a pomegranate orchard, as it is written: “Your most arid ones are like a pomegranate orchard laden with luscious fruit.” [The Midrash goes on to elaborate.]
The Maggid explains this Midrash as follows. The purpose of the Jewish People’s experience in Egypt to prepare them to receive the Torah. First, they were humbled through slavery. They then witnessed Hashem’s dominion over of the world, and His kind concern for them as His special nation, through the great wonders He wrought in Egypt – smiting the Egyptians with fierce plagues while miraculously shielding them from all harm. The staggering display of Divine power that they saw implanted within their hearts a firm awareness of Hashem’s existence and ominpotence. But so long as the Jewish People were still in Egypt, the strong inner faith they had acquired was hidden from view, shrouded by the pall of defilement with which Egypt was pervaded. They were like a person who had an operation that cured him of a grave eye impairment, but could not yet see because he was still in a dark room. The Jewish People had been cured of their spiritual impairement, but they did not yet have the opportunity to exercise their new spiritual prowess; they were still in the darkness of the Egyptian exile and had not yet received their allotment of Torah and mitzvos. But once the Jewish People escaped the pall of exile, removed their filthy garments, so to speak, and came under the guidance of Hashem’s word, the spiritual power they had stored up deep within came to the fore. They quickly flourished in all areas of true wisdom. And, thus, they were like a spring that was freed from a stifling pile of stones – once set free, they gushed forth with spiritual achievements.
David Zucker, Site Administrator