A Remedy Before Sickness
By Rabbi Pinchas Winston
The mitzvah to build the Mishkan (Tabernacle) was given to the Jewish
people when Moshe descended Har Sinai on the day after the first Yom
Kippur. After 80 days of prayer and pleading with G-d, Moshe came down with
the good news that "all was forgiven" regarding the golden calf, and the
second set of Tablets upon which G-d had re-written the Ten Commandments.
Now the Jewish people were to be given a way to positively channel their
spiritual energies and contributions of gold and silver.
"What?" you say. "The golden calf doesn't spring up on us until Parashas Ki
Sisa, two parshios from now. True, but as the Talmud points out, G-d
prefers to make the "remedy" ready in advance of the "sickness," which
translates here into the account of the Mishkan in advance of the episode
of the golden calf. This is a very important principle to keep in mind
whenever bad things happen to the Jewish people, for, it lets us know that
even as we go through hardship we can at least take solace in the fact that
the "cure" already exists and will be administered at the right time.
The verse states:
G-d said to Moshe: Speak to the children of Israel, that they should take
for Me an elevated-offering; from every person whose heart compels him,
take My elevated-offering. (Shemos 25:1)
On the surface, there seems little need to explain regarding this possuk;
the statement itself is clear: G-d asked the Jewish people to contribute to
the making of the Mishkan according to personal discretion. Whatever a
person was moved to contribute, that was to be his or her contribution.
However, Rashi (who comes only to provide a simple explanation of the
words) thought differently. As a result, he interpreted the words "for Me"
to mean "in My Name." But isn't that exactly what the reader would have
thought when he read the verse? What then is Rashi adding that we don't
The Sifsei Chachamim explains that Rashi was troubled by a dilemma: if the
whole world belongs to G-d, and any gift we bring to Him is already His
property, then how is it possible to give something to G-d? Thus, Rashi
concludes, it is not possible, for everything belongs to Him - everything,
that is, except for how we give, as the Talmud confirms.
All is in the hands of heaven except for fear of Heaven. (Brochos 33b)
What this means is that Heaven owns everything except for the way we choose
to perceive reality, and respond to it. That is something we decide, and it
is that for which we are either rewarded or punished.
A simple analogy illustrates this point. Let's say there is a father who
wishes to reward his son, purely because he loves him. The father knows,
however, that a reward can only be appreciated if the son believes he has
earned it. Therefore, the father plans for the son to give him a gift to
express his appreciation for all his father has done for him, after which
the father can reward his son's act.
Unfortunately though, the son has little personal property with which to
honor his father. Therefore, the father devises a scheme. He calls his son
in before him, and tells him that his (the father's) birthday is
approaching. The father says, "Go my son, and buy me a gift, and do not
worry about the expense, for I will provide you with the money."
Now, even still, when the son returns with the gift, can it really be
called a gift? Did the father not buy it for himself? What did the father
gain through the exercise? The answer is simple. The gift was never meant
to be the real gift, but just a vehicle for bringing the true gift: love.
If the son presents the gift in a detached manner, then the gift is nothing
more to the father than his own property being returned. However, if the
gift shows thoughtfulness and is given with a full heart showing love for
the father, then the father has received the best gift of all - one that he
did not previously own.
The analogy holds true with G-d as well, who is our loving Father. It is
G-d who provides the environment and the vehicles necessary to inspire our
desire to relate to Him and enable us to do so.
The Holy One, Blessed is He, wished to cause merit for Israel, and
therefore increased their mitzvos. (Makkos 23b)
The only gift we can give G-d are nedavos haleiv - gifts of the heart. All
else already belongs to Him. This is what the verse and Rashi are coming to
teach, that everything we possess physically is really G-d's, on loan to us
(even our children!). However, what we do with what we have to express our
love and gratitude to G-d is uniquely a gift from us to Him. This is the
true Mishkan we build within which to serve our Creator.
But even nedavos haleiv only have value when given within the guidelines
G-d has established.
To begin with, as Rashi points out in this week's parsha, there were
actually three contributions made by the Jewish people for the
construction and operation of the Mishkan. Two of the "gifts" were
obligatory while one was mandatory; it is the latter which the Torah called
nedavos haleiv - gifts of the heart. One obligatory contribution, a
half-shekel, was made towards the construction of the sockets which held
together the boards of the walls of the Mishkan. The second obligatory
contribution, another half-shekel, was for the purchase of communal
sacrifices. The third contribution, the nedavos haleiv, was for the
construction of the vessels to be used within the Mishkan.
In other words, the Mishkan itself was the product of "gifts" we were
obligated to give, and of a fixed amount. These "gifts" were not dependent
upon what each person's heart motivated him to contribute. What were the
actual nedavos haleiv used to construct? These gifts were for the klei
HaMishkan - the implements used within the Mishkan to perform the service.
One can draw a very deep and important message from this. When it comes to
building that which the world stands upon (for the Mishkan was a microcosm
of the world, and the sockets held this up and in place), G-d does not
depend upon the whims of flesh-and-blood, or the world could never stand.
(Today a person wants to do the right thing, tomorrow he doesn't...) That
is the limitation of man's free will: up until a decision that can destroy
the world. Hence, the all-important sockets were the result of a
commandment, whereas the vessels to be used in the daily service were the
result of the gifts of the people.
This theme surfaces again elsewhere, brought out through the genius of the
Maharal (Tifferes Yisroel, Chapter 32).
It is well known that when G-d offered the Torah to the Jewish people at
Mt. Sinai that they accepted it by saying, "We will do, and we will
understand" (Shemos 24:7), for which they were exceedingly praised. It is
also well known that the Talmud states that at Mt. Sinai, G-d held a
mountain over the heads of the entire people "like a barrel," and
threatened, "If you accept the Torah, well and good. If not, then this
will be your burial place" (Shabbos 88a).
The question has always been: from the Torah it seems that acceptance of
the Torah was a free will decision; from the midrash it seems as if Torah
was forced upon the Jewish people. If the Jewish people had already
accepted the Torah willingly, what purpose was served by threatening them?
If they had been coerced into accepting Torah, what praise do they deserve
for saying, "We will do and we will understand?"
Answers the Maharal: The Jewish people did accept the Torah of their own
volition. However, the mountain was held over their heads to send an
important message: Do not think for a moment that you could have chosen to
decline Torah. For, had you done so, the world would have resorted back to
its original state of "null and void." This was a condition, Rashi points
out, that was built into creation:
...And it was evening and it was morning, the sixth day (ha-shishi; heh,
shin, shin, yud). (Bereishis 1:31)
The sixth day... The letter "heh" [preceding the word hashishi (sixth)] is
extra at the end of the creation process to say that [G-d] made a condition
with them (all of creation), "If the Jewish people accept the Five Books of
Torah [then well and good (heh equals 5); if not, then you will resort back
to null and void]." -Rashi
Thus, from the contributions for the Mishkan to the receiving of the Torah,
we learn the same fundamental lesson concerning man's most precious gift.
Yes, Man has free will to choose and make decisions. However, that free
will only has value up until it threatens the existence of the world.
If any verse expressed the overall theme of the Mishkan, it is this one
from this week's parsha:
"You shall make 50 loops on the end of the one curtain that is the
outermost in the joining, and 50 loops on the edge of the curtain that
joins to the second. You shall make 50 catches of copper, and put the
catches into the loops, and join the tent together, that it may become
one." (Shemos 26:11)
Fifty is a number associated with unity, and everything holy in Judaism
because it alludes to the ultimate spiritual understanding approachable by
man, the "Fifty Gates of Understanding" (see "Redemption to Redemption,"
Section One: Purim). Just as the number "eight" symbolizes the departure
from the physical reality (since the physical world was created in seven
days), so too does the number 50 (which is the first number after "seven
times seven"), represent the entrance into a sublime spiritual
consciousness, within which there is only unity.
This idea is also expressed in the word "chayn," which, in Hebrew is
spelled, ches-nun (as in "Noach found chayn (grace) in the eyes of G-d"),
letters that represent "8" and "50" respectively. Chayn symbolizes one's
ability to go outside of the physical reality and to tap into a godly
understanding, one that speaks more to the mind's eye than to the physical
eye, at least at first. It is ignorance that leads to pettiness and all
that divides mankind, internally, and from G-d.
This is why "chayn" is the root of the words "chinuch" (education) and
"chanukah" (dedication), as if to say: the essence of education should be
to help a child mature intellectually and spiritually to the point that he
is no longer "blinded" by the limitations of the physical world; it is to
this philosophy that we, as a nation, are to be dedicated. Only when we
stray from this ideology to we become fragmented as a people.
This was the unifying aspect of the Mishkan too; everything about the
Mishkan hinted to this reality. First of all, the entrance to the courtyard
was veiled by a curtain 20 amos in width, a number that symbolizes physical
limitation (see "Redemption"). Successfully passing this curtain, one was
confronted by a courtyard 50 amos square, the traversing of which placed
one at the front door to the Mishkan itself. The Sanctuary inside also was
20 amos in length, but, coming after the 50 amos of the Courtyard, it did
not hide the hand of G-d, but, instead, revealed it; for it placed a person
at the curtain to the Holy of Holies, and the "home" of the miraculous Holy
Ark (which, the Talmud says, took up more space than it was allotted!).
The combined distance of Courtyard and Sanctuary was 70 amos, a number that
symbolizes Divine wisdom, and the number of years that transpired between
the destruction of the First Temple, and Haman's miraculous overthrow.
No wonder Haman built the gallows to hang Mordechai... 50 amos high! (I
know, I know, see "Redemption to Redemption," Section One: Purim)
The opening words of this week's Haftarah are:
And G-d gave Shlomo wisdom, as He had promised him, and there was peace
between Chiram and Shlomo, and they made a covenant with each other. And
Shlomo HaMelech raised a tax from all of Israel... (Melachim 1:5:26)
This week's Haftarah concerns itself, naturally, with the building of the
first Temple. Coming on the heals of the instructions from this week's
parsha to build the first (portable) Temple, the Mishkan, it is only
logical to speak about how Shlomo 480 later built the first Temple in
Yerushalayim, and how he went about raising the funds to do so.
The only thing is, the fulfillment of G-d's promise to grant him wisdom
mentioned here is out of place. Most commentators point this out, and offer
some kind of explanation as to why it is written here. Of those who
comment, the Malbim states that this is to emphasize that, though, King
Chiram respected Dovid HaMelech for his great and powerful military skills,
he respected Dovid's son, Shlomo, for his great wisdom.
Interestingly enough, the word for "peace" (shalom) in the verse is written
defectively (i.e., the vav is left out. Instead of being written "shin,
lamed, vav, mem," the "vav" is absent, though the word is read the same.
This way, the word can be read either "shalom" (peace) or "shalaim"
(completeness). Reading this into the verse would yield:
And G-d gave Shlomo wisdom, as He had promised him, and there was
"completeness" between Chiram and Shlomo, and they made a covenant with
Perhaps this is why Shlomo's wisdom is mentioned here as well. After all,
it is easy, when in the process of serving G-d and "constructing" important
projects to get "caught up" in the fervor of the moment, and justify
violations of mitzvos between one and his fellow in the name of mitzvos
between man and G-d. A lot has been wrongly justified, and is still being
wrongly justified, in the name G-d (even Suddam Hussein is fighting a
"holy" war against the Americans and the Jews!).
When you build a Mishkan, or a Temple, or anything for G-d to "dwell"
within, it is to be built with far more than dollars and cents, more than
from bricks and mortar, and a lot of clever design. In fact, an important
way to measure the quality of the physical construction is by the quality
of the spiritual construction that went into it, so-to-speak.
In Shlomo's wisdom, when he set out to build the House of G-d, he made a
point of not stepping on toes, or giving people the impression that he
considered himself the center of attention, though he was. Whoever he
involved in the construction of the Temple, even the non-Jew Chiram, walked
away feeling "shalaim," complete, as if he was not taken advantage of, or
lacked being appreciated.
To help others feel this way definitely takes a lot of wisdom, and help
from G-d, for people are sensitive, and they are fickle, and they can be so
demanding sometimes, if not most of the time. People can be so petty, and
when we are, the first thing to go out the window is "derech eretz,"
refined behavior towards our fellow human beings. It can be so taxing
sometimes that one could just throw his hands up in the air and justifiably
say, "Who cares?! Who needs them anyway?!"
It is not a question of whether we need others or not, especially when we
don't. It is a question of being a "mentsch," of making others feel needed,
and cared for, and involved. After all, if G-d was willing to risk giving
heretics an opening for their heretical views, so that He could teach this
point to us, we ought to take it to heart and act just as He did, when He
built His own version of a portable Temple:
G-d said, "Let Us make man... " (Bereishis 1:26)
Let Us make... Although [the angels] did not assist [G-d] in forming him,
and although the plural may give heretics an opening to reject [the notion
of a monotheism, still] the Torah did not refrain [writing "us"]. This is
in order to teach derech eretz and the trait of humility, that the greater
should consult and request permission from those less important... (Rashi)
What a fitting way to greet the new month of Adar, of which we are told,
"When Adar comes in, increase joy..." May our understanding and
implementation of all that is embodied in the Mishkan empower us to do just
Have a constructive Shabbos.
Your welcome, don't mentsch-ion it (sorry).
Copyright © 1998 by Rabbi Pinchas Winston
and Project Genesis, Inc.
The author teaches at both Neve
Yerushalyim (Jerusalem) and Neveh
Rabbi Winston has authored fourteen books on Jewish philosophy
(hashkofa). If you enjoy Rabbi Winston's Perceptions on the
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