Post Archive for February 2011

Parashas Vayakhel

This week’s parashah deals with the building of the Mishkan. The Midrash relates (Shemos Rabbah 34:1, end):
When the Holy One Blessed Be He said to Moshe (Shemos 25:8), “Make Me a sanctuary,” he broke out in wonder: “The glory of the Holy One Blessed Be He fills the heavenly realm and the earthly realm, and He is telling me, ‘Make Me a sanctuary’?” Moreover, he looked out [with prophetic vision] and saw Shlomo standing and building the Beis HaMikdash, which was larger than the Mishkan, and saying before the Holy One Blessed Be He (Melachim Alef 8:27): “Will God indeed dwell on earth?” Moshe declared: “If in the case of the Beis HaMikdash, which is much larger than the Mishkan, Shlomo speaks thus, how much more so with the Mishkan!” … Said the Holy One Blessed Be He: “Not as you think do I think. Rather, [just] twenty planks on the north side, twenty on the south side, and eight on the west side. Moreover, I will descend and contract My Presence into a space of a cubit by a cubit” [the dimensions of the luchos, which were contained within the aron].
In explaining this Midrash, the Maggid turns to the following saying (Sanhedrin 7a): “When our love was strong, we could lie down together on the breadth of a sword. Now that our love is not strong, a bed of sixty cubits is not enough for us.” As “proof” of this saying, the Gemara points out the small size of the Mishkan and the large size of the Beis HaMikdash, and notes that Hashem eventually disparaged the Beis HaMikdash, declaring (Yeshayah 66:1): “The heavens are My throne, and the earth is My footstool. What house could you build for Me?”
Although the Gemara’s analogy is apparently just rhetorical, the Maggid draws from it an important insight about what it means to speak of the Divine Presence dwelling in a specific place. In truth, we have no real grasp of Hashem’s nature or of where He is “situated.” As the Zohar relates, the angels declare: “Where is the place of His glory?” But our Sages tell us that the Divine Presence abides where the Jewish People show their love of Hashem: The one depends on the other. When the Jewish People show love for Hashem, their love creates a spiritual space in which the Divine Presence can rest. Thus, the degree of love that the Jewish People show for Hashem determines whether the space available for the Divine Presence is large or small.
Moshe’s wonder over the small size of the Mishkan was due to a concern that the Jewish People’s love of Hashem might diminish. The space available for the Divine Presence would then be very small. Hashem answered him: “Not as you think do I think.” Hashem designed of the Mishkan under the assumption that the Jewish People would show Him a supreme degree of love.
Indeed, at the time the Mishkan was built, the Jewish People were ready to give all they had for Hashem, even to the point of death. Thus, it is written (Shir HaShirim 8:6): “For strong to the death is my love.” Hence, the room for the Divine Presence within the Mishkan was great. Although the Mishkan was small in physical size, it was expansive in quality and eminence due to the great love of Hashem that the Jews had. When the Beis HaMikdash was built, the Jewish People’s love of Hashem was weaker, and hence less room for the Divine Presence was available. So the final word on the Beis HaMikdash was a declaration of its limitedness (Yeshayah 66:1, quoted above): “What house could you build for Me?”
Hashem specifically chose gold, silver, and other precious items as building materials for the Mishkan in order to give the Jewish People a chance to show their great love for Him by offering to Him the possessions they most cherished. The people responded superbly to Hashem’s call: As our parashah relates, they eagerly contributed the requisite items, ultimately bringing more than needed. Hashem’s plan and the Jewish People’s response is reflected in Shir HaShirim 3:9-10. The 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.” This segment describes Hashem dictating that the Mishkan be made of precious materials. The passage then concludes by describing the result: “Its interior was decked with love, from the daughters of Jerusalem.”
David Zucker, Site Administrator

Parashas Ki Sissa

In this week’s parashah, the Torah states (Shemos 31:13):
“However, safeguard My Sabbaths, for it is a sign between Me and you throughout your generations, to know that I am Hashem, who makes you holy.”
The Maggid interprets this verse using a parable. A cloth merchant decided to use some of his finest stock to have a suit and a cloak made for his young son, and he gave the cloth to a tailor for this purpose. The tailor finished the suit and gave it to the merchant, who, in turn, gave it to his son. The lad was thrilled with the beautiful suit; right away, he put it on and went out to show it off. But after a short while, a bully pushed him into the mud, and the suit got stained all over. Some time later, the cloak was finished. When the father gave it to his son, he cautioned him: “Be careful, my son, with this beautiful cloak and make sure you keep it from getting stained – for it alone will prove that the clothes you are wearing are of the finest quality, and the dingy appearance of the suit is just due to a mishap.”
The parallel is as follows. Hashem fashioned various mitzvos to make man eminent. The mitzvos fortify man’s soul. To a person with a clear intellect, whose mind is free of the agitation of passion, the mitzvos are just as pleasureable as the activities that fortify the body, such as eating and drinking. Hashem intended for man to sense the sweetness of mitzvos, and He initially endowed him with the capacity to do so; as the Rambam teaches in Moreh Nevuchim, Part 1, Chapter 2, Adam HaRishon was created with a perfect intellect. But when Adam sinned by eating from the tree of knowledge of good and evil, he became suffused with passion. At that point, man lost the capacity to feel the pleasure of the mitzvos, and they became a burden.
Ultimately Hashem will free us of the scourge of passion, and the mitzvos will then be pleasurable once again. Thus, the Torah states (Devarim 30:6): “Hashem shall circumsize your heart and the hearts of your offspring, to love Hashem your God with all your heart and all your soul, that you may live.” Similarly, Yechezkel declares (verse 36:26): “I shall give you a new heart, and I shall implant a new spirit within you; I shall remove the heart of stone from your flesh, and I shall give you a heart of flesh.” Here, Hashem will not be introducing a new creation that never existed before, for, as Shlomo HaMelech teaches (Koheles 1:9), it is not His way to introduce new creations. Rather, Hashem will simply be restoring the state that existed before Adam’s sin.
There is one mitzvah, however, that remains in its original splendid state: the mitzvah of Shabbos. On Shabbos, we wear fine clothes and dine on delicacies, and through such pleasurable means we draw close to Hashem and earn eternal reward. Why is Shabbos different from all other mitzvos? The mitzvah of Shabbos is different because, at the time Adam sinned, this mitzvah had not yet been given to him. Shabbos therefore was not sullied by the sin – it remained intact. In the verse we opened with, Hashem cautions us to safeguard Shabbos, just as the father in the parable cautioned his son to safeguard the cloak. And then Hashem gives the reason: “for it is a sign between Me and you throughout your generations, to know that I am Hashem, who makes you holy.” In Yalkut Shimoni I:390, the Midrash remarks that Shabbos ushers us toward the sanctity of the world to come. The pleasure of Shabbos is a sign that all mitzvos are in essence pleasurable, and that ultimately, when our souls are purified in the end of days, we will feel this pleasure.
David Zucker, Site Administrator

Parashas Tetzaveh

This week’s parashah deals with the appointment of Aharon and his sons as Kohanim, invested with the responsibility for the Temple service. On account of Aharon’s great righteousness, Hashem dictated that the status of Kohen be passed down within his family, from father to son. This scheme prompts an obvious question: How can responsibility for the Temple service, which requires the utmost piety, be passed down by inheritance – irrespective of whether those receiving this responsibility are worthy of it? Would it not be more appropriate to employ a scheme whereby, in each generation, people are appointed as Kohanim based on their level of eminence? Indeed, when Yeravam ben Navat set up his new system of worship for the Kingdom of Yisrael, to replace the Temple service in Yerushalayim, he adopted such a scheme for appointing priests (Melachim Alef 13:33). Evidently he convinced the people that this scheme was more sensible than the inheritance-based scheme for Kohen status. Why did Hashem dictate that Aharon’s descendants would be Kohanim for all generations?
The Maggid provides an answer based on a Midrash. The opening section of parashas Emor presents some key laws governing Kohanim. The Midrash remarks (Vayikra Rabbah 26:6):
“The fear of Hashem is pure, enduring forever” (Tehillim 19:10). Said R. Levi: “On account of Aharon’s fear of Hashem, he merited having this section of laws given over to him – a section of laws that will never budge from him, nor from his sons, nor from his sons’ sons, throughout all time, down to the last generation.”
Hashem did not designate Aharon’s descendants as Kohanim without regard to their worthiness. Certainly only the most pious can perform the Temple service. Rather, Aharon’s outstanding piety, along with the natural tendency of sons to follow the ways of their fathers, made it certain that his descendants would always include men of the requisite spiritual caliber. In this vein, the Torah’s account of the Yom Kippur service states that atonement will be provided by “the Kohen who has been annointed, or who assumed his place to serve in his father’s stead” (Vayikra 16:32). We can read the phrase “assumed his place” as referring to the son’s adopting his father’s righteous ways, and thereby making himself qualified to perform the atonement service. [Cf. Malbim on Vayikra 16:32.]
Thus, Hashem’s grant of Kohen status to Aharon and his descendants was not a reward solely for Aharon’s righteousness; rather, Hashem had a broader view in mind. By way of analogy, if a person brought a king a basket of the most superb grapes, the king would buy the entire vineyard. In addition, he would make the person a member of his royal staff, with all the associated benefits, assigning him the duty of tending the vineyard on his behalf. Clearly the king would not be granting the person honor and riches just in return for one small basket of grapes. Rather, from the sample of grapes that the person brought, the king would recognize that the vineyard as a whole must be superb, and would therefore arrange to acquire and care for the crop of fine grapes that the vineyard would produce year after year. Similarly, when Hashem invested Aharon and his descendants with Kohen status, it was on account of the exemplary righteousness that He knew Aharon’s descendants would exhibit on an ongoing basis, generation after generation. Aharon’s fear of Hashem was so great that it was guaranteed to endure forever, propagating through the generations in perpetuity.
L’ilui nishmas Matisyahu ben Yaakov, z”l, my father-in-law Mr. Mathew Foner, who passed away this week.
David Zucker, Site Administrator

Haftaras Shabbos Rosh Chodesh

In this week’s special haftarah for Shabbos Rosh Chodesh, Yeshayah says (verse 66:10): “Rejoice with Yerushalayim and jubilate over her, all you who love her; exult with her in exultation, all you who mourned for her.” The Maggid links this verse with the following one (Yirmiyah 31:12): “Then the maiden shall rejoice with dance, and the young men and elders together; I shall transform their mourning into exultation, and I shall comfort them and gladden them from their grief.” This verse mentions both the young and the old, hinting that each will rejoice in a different way. The Maggid elaborates on this idea.
Regarding the manna that Hashem provided the Jewish People in the wilderness, our Sages teach that each person tasted in it whatever he wished to taste. Hashem employed great wisdom in sustaining the Jewish People in this specific way. He could have provided everyone gourmet delicacies, but the commoners would not have appreciated them, and it is not Hashem’s way to perform miracles for nothing. On the other hand, He could have given each person the food that most befit him, but then each person would get a different portion, which would cause jealousy. He therefore sustained them in a way such that everyone’s portion looked the same, but each person tasted in it whatever befit him.
Hashem faces a similar problem in regard to the final redemption. The Jewish nation comprises both old people and young people. The old people have absorbed a great deal of the suffering of exile, and therefore, when the final redemption comes, they will need a great deal of gladdening. The young people, who have suffered less, will need less gladdening. Now, if Hashem granted everyone a large portion of joy, the young people would wind up with an excess. But if He granted each person the portion befitting him, the differences in the portions could cause jealousy. He will solve this problem using a strategy similar to that of the manna. He will enable everyone to behold the same wondrous salvation, but each person will feel a different level of joy, depending on how much suffering he felt before.
As an analogy, suppose someone goes traveling, and later an erroneous rumor is spread that he was killed. Everyone who knew him will mourn, but they will not all mourn to the same degree. Close friends will mourn more than acquaintences, and the man’s wife and children will mourn most intensely. Afterward, when the man returns home, everyone who mourned over him will now rejoice, but, again, not to the same degree. Those who mourned more when the man was reported dead will rejoice more over his safe return.
It will be the same with us when the final redemption comes. Hashem will work great miracles which we all will be privileged to behold, and we all will rejoice. Thus, Yirmyahu’s prophecy says that Hashem will impart joy to “young men and elders together”—on an equal basis. Yet each will feel a different degree of joy, depending on how much he mourned before. Accordingly, Hashem’s says that He will “transform their mourning into exultation”—each person’s previous mourning, whatever its specific level, will be transformed into a matching level of exultation. He will “gladden them from their grief”—each person’s previous grief will serve as the source of his final joy.  In a similar vein, Dovid HaMelech declares (Tehillim 126:5): “Those who sowed with tears will reap with joy.” And just as a person who sows more naturally reaps more, those who mourn more will naturally rejoice more. Similarly, in our haftarah, Yeshayah says: “Exult with her [Yerushalayim] in exultation, all you who mourned for her.” However much one mourns now over Yerushalayim’s degraded state, he will exult to the same degree when she is restored to her full glory.
David Zucker, Site Administrator