שבת טעם החיים תרומה תשע”א
Shabbos: Ta’am HaChaim Terumah 5771
Preparing for Holiness in the Exile
ועשו לי מקדש ושכנתי בתוכם, they shall make a Sanctuary for me – so that I may dwell among them. (Shemos 25:8)
In this week’s parasha the Torah relates how HaShem instructed Moshe regarding the building of the Mishkan, the Tabernacle that would accompany the Jewish People in the Wilderness for forty years. The Mishkan remained in existence for close to five hundred years. One must wonder why the Torah elaborates in four parshiyos regarding the building of the Mishkan when ultimately it was destroyed and was replaced by the Bais HaMikdash, the Temple. Certainly such an extensive dissertation regarding the construction of the Mishkan is to teach us a profound lesson that will remain with us for eternity. What is it that the Torah wishes to teach us?
To gain a better understanding of the function of the Mishkan, we must look to the words of the Ramban in his introduction to the Book of Shemos. The Ramban writes that the Book of Shemos is referred to as ספר הגאולה, the Book of Redemption. Contained within the Book of Shemos is the narrative of the Jewish People being enslaved in Egypt and Hashem liberating them from their oppressors. The Torah then records the journey in the Wilderness and the Receiving of the Torah. Although it would seem that the Receiving of the Torah was the climax of the redemption, the Ramban introduces a novel idea concerning redemption. The Jewish People were only deemed to be truly liberated when they constructed the Mishkan and the Divine Presence that had rested on the tents of the Patriarchs returned to repose on the Mishkan.
When we examine the lifestyle of the Patriarchs, we will have a better understanding of this idea of the Divine Presence resting upon their tents. The Torah elaborates on the episode of Avraham instructing his servant Eliezer to find a wife for his son Yitzchak. The Torah records Avraham’s conversation with Eliezer and then repeats the narrative of Eliezer’s dialogue with Rivkah’s family. Rashi cites the Medrash that states that HaShem cherishes the talk of the Patriarch’s servants more than the Torah of their descendants. Proof of this is that the Torah repeats the entire narrative of Eliezer finding a wife for Yitzchak. Yet, regarding many of the mitzvos of the Torah, there is only a hint to their instructions while the details can only be gleaned from studying the Oral Law. In a similar vein, we find that in Parashas Terumah and Tetzaveh, the Torah records the instructions of building the Mishkan and fashioning the Priestly Vestments. The Torah then relates the actual construction of the Mishkan and the fashioning of the Priestly Vestments in Parashas Vayakhel and Pekudei. One must wonder why it was necessary for the Torah to repeat the entire construction of the Mishkan and donning of the Priestly Vestments. It would appear from the words of the Ramban that there is an obvious parallel with the Divine Presence that reposed on the tents of the Patriarchs and the Divine Presence that rested on the Mishkan. Essentially, the Divine Presence that rested in both locations was one and the same. This leads us to wonder what action catalyzed the resting of the Divine Presence.
The Gemara (Sukkah 45b) raises an interesting question. One would think that since the Mishkan was destroyed, the wooden planks had lost their value. The Gemara cites the verse (Shemos 26:15) that states עצי שטים עומדים, of acacia wood, standing erect. Perhaps one would say that their hope has been lost. The verse that states עצי שטים עומדים teaches us that the pillars and forever. It is clear that the Gemara does not mean that the planks of the Mishkan actually still exist, because we know that the Mishkan was destroyed. Rather, the Gemar is emphasizing the message of the Medrash that Rashi cites in this week’s parasha. The Medrash Tanchumah states that the cedar wood that the Jewish People used to construct the Mishkan was planted by Yaakov when he went down to Egypt. Prior to his death, Yaakov instructed his sons that upon liberation from Egypt, they should take the cedar wood with them. Yaakov explained to his sons that Hashem would instruct the Jewish People in the Wilderness to construct a Mishkan, and they should have the cedar wood prepared. What was the significance of Yaakov preparing in advance cedar trees for use in the Mishkan? The answer to this question is that the wooden planks were the foundation of the Mishkan. The Gemara (Pesachim 88a) states that in the future the Bais HaMikdash will not be called a mountain, as was referred to by Avraham at the Akeidah, the Binding of Yitzchak. The Bais HaMikdash will also not be referred to as a field, which is the reference the Torah makes when Yitzchak went out to the field. Rather, the Bais HaMikdash will be called house, the name that Yaakov gave to the site of the future Bais HaMikdash when he fled from his brother Esav. This Gemara teaches us that Yaakov understood that the significance of a Bais HaMikdash, literally translated as a holy house, is the preparation that one puts into the house so that the house will be a worthy receptacle of holiness Yaakov perpetuated this message when he descended to Egypt, a locale notorious for its depravity. Yaakov demonstrated to his children that the way to be worthy of redemption is to purify and sanctify one’s self in the Exile. The Divine Presence only reposes in a home that one prepares to be worthy of holiness. Thus, the holiness of the Mishkan stands forever, as every Jewish house should be a receptacle for the Divine Presence. When we prepare ourselves properly for holiness, we will merit the Divine Presence in our lives.
Shabbos with the Sfas Emes and the Rebbes of Ger
It is said (Shemos 25:8) ועשו לי מקדש ושכנתי בתוכם, they shall make a Sanctuary for me – so that I may dwell among them. The Sfas Emes writes that this verse can be interpreted as follows: ועשו לי מקדש, during the weekday, ושכנתי בתוכם, on Shabbos. The Gemara states כמעשהו בחול כך מעשהו בשבת. The way it is during the weekday, so it is on Shabbos. The Kotzker Rebbe interpreted this verse homiletically to mean that the way one conducts himself during the weekday, that is the way he will be on the subsequent Shabbos. Rashi explains the words ועשו לי מקדש to mean לי לשמי, the Mishkan should be built solely for the sake of HaShem. The Lev Simcha writes that when one builds a house of holiness during the week, he will merit ושכנתי בתוכם on Shabbos.
Rabbi Michael Farber was studying in the office of his Dallas shul when there was a knock on the door.
A well-dressed man in his forties entered the room.
“Hello, Rabbi. My name is Fred Fisher, and I would like to make a donation to your synagogue.”
“Certainly,” stammered the rabbi, not used to people walking in off the street with donations. “Please sit down and tell me why you wish to help the shul.”
Mr. Fisher sat down and told the following story.
“I’m Jewish, Rabbi, but I’ve never been very religious. I’m officially Conservative, but not very involved there either. Recently our temple organized a trip to Israel to show solidarity with our Israeli brethren, and I decided to go along. I’d never been to Israel before, and it was a real eye-opener for me.
“But the highlight of the trip was when we visited the Western Wall. I prayed and felt some closeness to God, but what was really amazing was this Hasidic Jew who was praying at the Wall. I’ve never seen anything like it. He prayed with such devotion, such concentration; he was oblivious to the world. I couldn’t take my eyes off him. For twenty minutes I stood there and watched this Jew pray. It was like I had been given a glimpse into a world of spirituality, a world I’d never even known existed.
“Eventually I had to leave, since our bus was going, but I couldn’t stop thinking about what I had seen. Those twenty minutes were the high point of my trip.
“I decided that when I returned to Dallas I would do something good in honor of the anonymous Jew I’d seen praying at the Western Wall… So here I am, Rabbi. I would like to donate $12,000 dollars to your synagogue in honor of this Hasidic Jew.”
Rabbi Farber was almost overcome by this amazing story. He said, “Mr. Fisher, you should know that we’ve had plans to build an educational wing for the shul for some time now, but we haven’t had the money to get the project off the ground. Your $12,000 will help us get started on the new wing, and once we get started, it would be much easier to raise the rest of the money.”
I first read this story in one of Rabbi Paysach Krohn’s books, and it taught me about the tremendous influence one can have on others, not when trying to influence them, but even when unaware that they are observing at all. It is an awesome responsibility, as well as an awesome opportunity.
Mohel in the Icy Wasteland
Yom Kippur is the holiest day of the Jewish year. This is the day that we shed ourselves of excess baggage, of those needless obstacles on our path to human fulfillment.
The following true story, set in early-20th century Siberia, gives us pause to reflect on our own station in life, and how our unique set of circumstances is custom-engineered to lead us on our own destiny with greatness.
The train’s wheels chugged along. The blast of the steam horn echoed through the air, clearing the way for the train racing from Warsaw on its way to Russia.
The railroad cars were jammed with hundreds of recruits in sparkling uniforms just out of the factory. Their crisp newness made a pleasant sound in the soldiers’ ears. The air was lightly scented with the smell of fear mixed with burning steam from the powerful engine.
In the midst of this sea of humanity sat one figure completely different from the rest. A thick-bearded soldier leaned his head back upon his pack, which contained all of his possessions, and he gave a muffled sigh. He would have happily forgone the doubtful pleasure of being the lone Jewish soldier among this jumble of thousands of Russian and Polish recruits [in the Czar’s army]…
The train’s whistle announced an upcoming station.
“Where are we?” the passengers asked, their eyes still heavy with sleep.
“Everyone off immediately!” the officers shouted. “You’ve reached paradise. One of these days you’re going to long for this black hole!”
“Black?” the recruits wondered. “There’s nothing here but white snow!”
“But they’re right,” one of the soldiers explained nastily. “When you’re 2,000 miles from home, everything is black.”
Deep in the icy wasteland, thousands of miles from civilization, the soldiers descended, trembling from the cold that seemed to cut their flesh like swords. They were settled within a huge army camp. No one had the slightest idea of what he was to do in this forgotten place: Officers muttered something about continuing the journey to the borders of Manchuria, near China, to the battlefields of the Russo-Japanese War, but it seemed that even they were not certain of anything.
They stayed in the camp awaiting orders.
The group was sitting in the dining room eating their tasteless army meal. A tall figure entered the room, and caught the attention of the listless diners. The officer in charge jumped up respectfully and fearfully to greet the general, whose uniform glistened with medals.
The general motioned lightly with his finger. The officer quickly walked with him to a corner of the room. After a moment he returned to the soldiers, his face a mask of confusion.
“Is there a Jewish soldier here?” he asked hesitantly.
Hundreds of eyes turned towards Chaim Shlomo.
The officer took his arm with distinctly unmilitary gentleness. “Our esteemed guest, General Nikolai Fyodorov, wishes to speak with you.”
Chaim Shlomo followed the general, who gestured to him to join him outside. A short and swift walk brought them to the edge of the camp. They stopped near the general’s quarters.
“I have something confidential to tell you,” the general said sternly. “But if you reveal a word of it –” The words he did not articulate could be clearly heard ripping threateningly through the frigid air.
“I am a believing Jew. You can have full faith in me,” Chaim Shlomo declared ceremoniously.
“Okay, then,” the general began, looking suspiciously around him [and began to relate his own tale of woe:]
The sound of wailing pierced the icy vastness. “You have a little boy,” the army physician told General Fyodorov, the happy father.
The Jewish wife of the top officer shared his joy for only seven days. Her deceased father, who had been a G-d-fearing Jew in his life, had allowed his heavenly rest to be disturbed and had descended into her dreams. “Know, my daughter, that this son born to you is a Jew. You must circumcise him!”
The dream recurred night after night for several months. The general’s wife almost lost her mind. How many times, after all, could a person see her dead father and remain sane? She beseeched her husband again and again, “You are a gentile but your son is a Jew. He must be circumcised!”
“And where am I to find a Jew in this frozen desert?” he would protest.
The argument began anew each day until today, when the wife had warned him, “If you can’t find a Jew, don’t bother coming back home!”
“And now that I’ve found you, do you know what to do?” The general pressed his fingers together, until the tips turned white.
Chaim Shlomo could hardly speak; his heart beat wildly inside. One moment’s illumination, and suddenly everything was magically clear. All the shadows and the darkness, all the suffering and torture, all were destined just for this moment. To bring a child into the covenant of Abraham, here, at the very end of the earth.
“I am a professional mohel,” the broken whisper, trembling with joy, barely came out of his dry throat.
The infant’s cry of pain there in frozen Russia was obscured by the ecstatic weeping of the mother, who had finally merited to see her son circumcised. Remarkably, it even brought a sigh of pleasure to the gentile who was his father.
“What can I do to reward you?” the general asked, clearly moved.
“I don’t need anything. I have but one request: Exempt me from the army,” Chaim Shlomo answered. “I cannot keep my Torah in the army.”
General Fyodorov was an important figure, and he used all his many connections for Chaim Shlomo’s sake. After a short time, the young Jew was free.
“There are times when a person must travel to the ends of the earth to help a Jewish soul,” his rabbi, the Sfas Emes, explained after Chaim Shlomo had happily returned home with his story of Jewish sacrifice. “Now you’ve done your duty as a soldier.” (www.innernet.org.il)
Shabbos: Ta’am HaChaim Terumah 5771
Is sponsored by Rabbi and Mrs. Ary Kostelitz of Southfield, MI in honor of their dear son Yossi’s Bar Mitzvah. May they be zoche to raise Yossi and all their children LiTorah Lichuppah Ulimaasim Tovim
Mazel Tov also to the Grandparents, Rabbi and Mrs. Moshe Mordecai Lowey and Rabbi and Mrs. Nesanel Yitzchak Kostelitz
Have a wonderful and delightful Shabbos and a Good Chodesh
Prepared by Rabbi Binyomin Adler
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