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Parshas Vayakhel
"Gathering" Shekels
By Rabbi Pinchas Winston

FRIDAY NIGHT:

Well, it is a leap year this year, and thus, even though Vayakhel and Pekudei often are read together on the same Shabbos, this year, they are read on different Shabboses (Shabbatos). However, it is also Parashas Shekalim (the first of the four special parshios read at this time of year) letting us know that Purim-Pesach season is now picking steam. (It's time to start checking the batteries on your "Chometz-Busters.")

As we learned in last week's parshah, there is a Torah mitzvah for every Jew -- rich and poor alike -- to contribute one-half shekel yearly for the purchase of Communal-Offerings during Temple times. The payment was due by Rosh Chodesh Nissan, and therefore, on the previous Rosh Chodesh Adar, public announcements were made to remind people about the upcoming obligation.

On the fifteenth day of Adar (Shushan Purim), collections were set up in each city, encouraging the people to give early, because, as of the twenty-fifth day of Adar, collections took place only in the Temple. Therefore, as part of the early-warning system, the parshah of the mitzvah of the half-shekel was read in shul the Shabbos in advance of Rosh Chodesh Adar, since everyone came to synagogue to hear the Torah.

Since we are a people who love our tradition, we continue on with this practice even though we don't bring the half-shekel at this time of history. Furthermore, we also know that, when we can't physically do a mitzvah for reasons beyond our (immediate) control, reading and speaking about the mitzvah can count as the actual mitzvah itself to some degree. And besides, it reminds us about how much we should miss the Temple, and long for its immediate return.

Of course, as always, there is a more esoteric reason for it as well:

Reish Lakish said, "It was revealed and known before the One whose word created the world, that Haman would weigh out shekalim in order to attain the consent of Achashveros to destroy the Jewish people. He [G-d] therefore preceded their shekalim to his, and for this reason we learn that on the first of Adar an announcement is to be made concerning the shekalim. (Megillah 13b)

Like the Mishkan itself, it is another classic case of the "medicine before the wound."

It gets deeper yet. Tosafos (on the same page of Talmud) points out that the gematria of the word "hakesef" in the verse from the Megillah in which Achashveros tells Haman, "The money (hakesef) is yours ... do with the people as you wish," equals the word "ha'aitz," "the tree," an allusion to the gallows that were meant for Mordechai but which were used for Haman.

But, of course, as the Pri Tzaddik points out, the "ha'aitz" of Haman is also an allusion to the "ha'aitz" of the Garden of Eden, as in, "hamin ha'aitz" -- the Talmud's hint in the Torah to Haman HaRashah (Chullin 139b)! Well, then, if "A equals B" (Haman's money alludes to the gallows he built) and, "B equals C" (the gallows allude to the Tree of Knowledge of Good and Evil), then, "A equals C," that is, Haman's money that he gave to destroy the Jewish people is tied to the Tree of Knowledge of Good and Evil.

Furthermore, if the shekalim given in the desert -- and subsequently in Temple times (and now verbally) -- was to counteract the money Haman offered Achashveros for the "right" to kill the Jewish people, then, this means that the same shekalim are also a rectification for the sin of Adam HaRishon, who ate from the Tree of Knowledge of Good and Evil.

And, it is true! For, the word "shekel" comes from the Hebrew "lishkol," which means "to weigh" something, a Kabbalistic process that denotes the achievement of balance between the two opposing forces in creation, Chesed (Kindness) and Strength (Gevurah). Chesed, represented by water, corresponds to the open revelation of G-d's light, and Gevurah, symbolized by fire, represents the constriction of G-d's light.

Too much of either is counterproductive for creation, and life is a tightrope walk of balancing out the two. All sins are the result of going too far in one direction, especially at the wrong historical moment. The eating of the Tree of Knowledge of Good and Evil was the result of excess Gevuros on Adam's part and resulted in even more for history -- and the spiritual vacuum that gives rise to the Hamans of history.

The half-shekel represented the striving for and achieving of that perfect spiritual balance, and therefore, counteracts the negative forces in creation from which Haman and the likes draw sustenance. And that is true in Temple times and non-Temple times; whether we physically give the half-shekel, or do so spiritually.


SHABBOS DAY:

The princes brought onyx stones, and stones for setting, for the Ephod, and for the Choshen. (Shemos 35:27)

The Midrash tells us something that had happened behind the scenes with respect to the building and outfitting of the Mishkan, based upon the above verse in this week's parshah. The word for "princes" is written without the yud -- nun, sin, aleph, (yud), mem -- indicating a lacking in their gift.

Apparently, says the Midrash (Bamidbar Rabbah, 12:19), when Moshe first received instructions to collect donations from the people for the vessels to be used in the Mishkan, the princes told Moshe that they would take care of everything. However, Moshe had been told by G-d to take a contribution from anyone whose heart motivated him to give, and therefore the princes suggestion was ignored.

Upon hearing this, continues the Midrash, the princes then chose a different strategy, waiting until all of the people had given their donations before making up the shortfall. It was a big miscalculation on their part, because, as we see from the Torah, the people had been SO generous that they had to be told to STOP giving after only TWO DAYS! All of as sudden, the princes found themselves with all kinds of gifts and no place to give!

This is a classic example of the well-known halachic concept, "Ain ma'avirin al hamitzvos" ("don't pass over a mitzvah"). In other words, when a mitzvah comes before you, do it NOW! For, you never know what will happen in life to take that mitzvah away.

For example, sometimes we forget to do later what we put off now. Some mitzvos have time limits, and we may remember to do them only after their time has come and gone. Like saying the Shema, for example, at the beginning of the evening as opposed to the later part of the evening.

Another example is the halacha of when a man takes his tefillin out of his tallis bag first, even though normally he puts his tallis on first. In such a case, he must put his tefillin on first, because that's the mitzvah before him right now, and put his tallis on after, in reverse order.

Furthermore, there is another concept called "z'rizim makdimin l'mitzvos" -- "zealots do mitzvos early." As much as our bodies may not be into doing mitzvos, still, intellectually, we must develop a love for mitzvos as an extension of our love for G-d, Torah, and world rectification -- and act accordingly. Until we get to the point where we lovingly run to do mitzvos, we should run to do them anyhow.

Divine Providence works this way. If we put off doing a mitzvah because of another, more pressing mitzvah that requires our involvement, G-d will often work it out that we will still have a chance to do both mitzvos. At the very least, we will get the reward for doing both mitzvos, because our heart was in them both.

However, if we put off doing a mitzvah for the wrong reasons -- laziness, a lack of care, etc. -- then, we will be taught the "hard" way that this is a faulty attitude, and lose the mitzvah to boot. Just ask the princes who were left out of the free-will offerings for the Mishkan!

However, as the Talmud tells us (Megillah 6b), there are times when "ain ma'avirin al hamitzvos" is pushed off for other concepts. For example, in a leap year, even though the first Adar is a month within which Purim could occur, still, we push it off to the second month, or, Adar Sheni.

Why? Because, says the Talmud, we want the redemption of Purim to be celebrated as close as possible to the celebration of the redemption of Pesach. But why should that be so all-important, so as to push off the mitzvah of not passing over a mitzvah? THAT is the subject of the book, "Redemption to Redemption: The Deep & Intricate Connection between the Holidays of Purim and Pesach." (No, this whole d'var Torah was not just to build up to that conclusion ...)


SEUDAH SHLISHI:

... Moshe commanded, and they caused it to be proclaimed throughout the camp, saying, "Neither man nor woman should provide any more work for the Elevated-Offering"; and the people stopped bringing. (Shemos 36:6)

This posuk is not as simple as it sounds. Why does it record that Moshe "commanded" and that "they caused it to be proclaimed," when either one would have informed us of the decree to stop bringing gifts. This is the Chasam Sofer's question, and he answers it by first referring to the following Talmudic passage:

The Talmud asks:

From which posuk do we learn the prohibition of carrying on Shabbos? Rebi Yochanan said, from the verse, "Moshe commanded, and they caused it to be proclaimed throughout the camp ..." Where was Moshe [at the time this was proclaimed]? He was sitting in the camp of Levi'im, and the Levi'im's camp was a "public domain," and Moshe was telling them not to come from their "private domains" into the public domain [where he was because it is a prohibition of Shabbos]. But, who says this was on Shabbos? Maybe this happened during a weekday, [and the proclamation had nothing to do with traversing domains on Shabbos, but rather] because the work was completed, as it says, "the work was enough ..."? Rather, we learn it [from a connection made between the usage of] "ha'avarah" [used in the above posuk, and the use of the same word in posuk referring to] Yom Kippur; it is written [above], "and they caused it to be proclaimed (vaya'avirah), and with respect to Yom Kippur, "They shall cause the shofar to be blown (veha'avartah) on the tenth day of the seventh month ..." (Vayikra 25:9) -- just as that day is one of prohibition, so, too, here [with respect to Shabbos] is it a day of prohibition. (Shabbos 96b)

One could answer that, since, we hold that two people who do a melacha would only violate a rabbinical prohibition, one could argue that, for the sake of the Mishkan, it should be permissible -- just like they would later permit rabbinical prohibitions for the Temple service. However, since the work was completed, and nothing was necessary anymore for the Mishkan, the prohibition remained; this is why the verse says, "Neither man nor woman" together "should provide any more work for the Elevated-Offering" (Chasam Sofer, Shemos 36:6)

-- as if to say that Moshe was telling the people that, "Even though bringing the work TOGETHER would only constitute a violation of a rabbinical prohibition, and therefore, should be permissible as if in Temple times; still I am decreeing against it, since the Mishkan is already complete, and violation of Shabbos even on this level is completely unnecessary." Hence the verse begins, "And Moshe commanded ..." That is, of his OWN volition, and not because G-d Himself told him to.

In other words, though normally we assume that Moshe's request for the cessation of gift-bringing was simply because they had enough already, according to this pshat, bringing extra was no problem, unless the bringing meant violating Shabbos, even rabbinically. That would certainly solve one issue: What is wrong with accepting extra gifts, if a person is inspired to bring them for the right reasons?

Nothing, according to this explanation, for, the central issue has shifted from too much giving to giving unnecessarily on Shabbos. Maybe on Sunday, the gifts could flow once again! However, that wouldn't just change the explanation of Moshe's directive, it would change the whole theme of the parshah, placing the emphasis on keeping Shabbos rather than on the building of the Mishkan. Then again, that would explain the apparent and abrupt shift of focus from the mitzvah of Shabbos to the mitzvah of Mishkan at the beginning of the parshah!

The only problem is that, the rest of the parshah deals so much with the many details of the gifts for the Mishkan, that it is difficult to dispense with the original explanation. Therefore, we are forced to answer, "This and this are the words of the Living G-d," and to assume that the mitzvah of Shabbos and the mitzvah of Mishkan are intimately tied together.


MELAVE MALKAH:

To Dovid, a psalm. G-d's is the earth and its fullness, the inhabited land and those who dwell in it ... (Tehillim 24:1)

With this tehillah, we can explain the same one that appears in two different places: at the end of dovening in the section of the "Psalm of the Day," and, (according to Ashkenazim) at the end of the section of the weekly Torah reading of weekdays and holidays.

That it should be the psalm for Sunday is quite clear. Sunday was the first day of creation, and this tehillah sets the record straight -- ALL OF IT belongs to G-d. And, even though He will give it over somewhat to man on the sixth day of creation (Rosh Hashanah 31a), to act as a stage upon which to exercise his free-will, it will always belong to HIM!

And, because it always belongs to G-d, the Talmud says (Brochos 35a), one cannot take pleasure from the world until he has asked permission from G-d -- each time. To partake of the physical world without making the proper pleasure, says the Talmud, is like stealing from Heaven, or, perhaps even worse, profaning holy property.

Who may ascend the mountain of G-d, and who may stand in the place of His holiness? One with clean hands and a pure heart, who has not sworn in vain by My soul and has not sworn deceitfully ...

There are many people who would like to talk to G-d and ascend "His mountain." However, says Dovid HaMelech, it is not so simple. Like-company can relate to G-d, which means that one has to undergo the proper preparation to develop a close relationship with the Master of the Universe.

The Ba'al HaTurim has another way of saying it:

Torah is not in Heaven, so that you could ask, "Who will ascend for us to Heaven and get it for us ..." (Devarim 30:12)

The first letters [of the Hebrew words "Who will ascend for us to Heaven"] spell the word milah ; the last letters [of these words] spell Hashem (the Tetragrammaton Name), to teach that it is impossible to ascend toward G-d uncircumcized, as the posuk, which refers to milah, says, "Walk before Me and be pure" (Bereishis 17:1). (Ba'al HaTurim)

... Raise up your heads, O gates, and raise up, you everlasting entrances, so that the King of Glory man enter. Who then is the King of Glory? G-d, Master of Legions -- He is the King of Glory. Selah!

Perhaps, this is an even better reason as to why this tehillah should be the first of the week, and the one to be said as the Torah is being returned to the Holy Ark. These possukim emphatically state the whole purpose of man on the earth: to bring the Malchus Shamayim -- the Kingdom of Heaven -- down to earth. It is our responsibility to build a kingdom for G-d down here on earth.

Just as we read, honor, and carry the Sefer Torah, and open the doors of the Holy Ark to receive and safeguard the Torah, so, too, are we to elevate and honor G-d's creation, and making it into fitting "gates" through which the King of Kings is prepared to "walk" through.

It is not a need of heaven, but a merit of man, and it is precisely what was being accomplished through the building and utilizing of the Mishkan.

Have a great Shabbos,
Pinchas Winston



 






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