By Dr. Nosson Chayim Leff
Sfas Emes, Zechuso Tagein Aleinu, Parshas Pekudei 5632/5635
The parsha begins: "Eileh pekudei ha'mishkan, mishkan ha'eidus ..."
(ArtScroll: "These are the reckonings (i.e., the accounts) of the
Tabernacle, the Tabernacle of Testimony ..."
The Sfas Emes starts his ma'amar by quoting the first paragraph of
Medrash Rabba on the parsha. That paragraph, in turn, refers us to a
pasuk in Mishlei (28:20): "Ish emunos rav berachos ..." (ArtScroll: "A
man of integrity will increase blessings ..."). Finally, to complete
this introduction, we note the comment of the Medrash on that pasuk:
"Ish emunos, zeh Moshe." ("Who is the 'man of integrity' of whom the
pasuk speaks? Moshe.")
This Medrash is truly enigmatic. We are therefore grateful to the Sfas
Emes for explaining it to us. The Sfas Emes tells us that this
Medrash is trying to deal with a basic problem. Chazal (Ta'anis, 5a)
have taught us that counting things can harm them. Similarly, things
that are kept out of sight -- by not being counted -- are more likely
to flourish. In light of these principles, why did the Mishkan have to
undergo an accounting process?
Before going further, we address another question. On what basis does
the Medrash see "ish emunos" as an allusion to Moshe Rabbeinu? I
suggest two answers. As you may remember, HaShem refers to Moshe as
"be'chol bei'si ne'eman hu" (Bemidbar, 12:7). (ArtScroll: "In My
entire house, he is the trusted one."). And "ne'EMaN" quickly evokes
Another possible answer also comes to mind. The pasuk's word 'emunos'
readily suggests the shoresh (root) MNH -- to count (as in the word
'minyan'). The Torah (Shemos, 38:21) tells us that in fact, Moshe
Rabbeinu was personally involved in the accounting. Bringng it all
together, we can understand why Chazal saw Moshe Rabbeinu as the 'ish
This discussion helps us answer a key question that the Sfas Emes
raised earlier. We know that counting generally harms the objects
being counted. Why, then, did the mishkan have to undergo an
accounting process? As is so often the case, the Sfas Emes finds an
answer in the Zohar. Citing that sacred text, he explains that the
enumeration recounted in our parsha had a special feature. As noted
above, Moshe Rabeinu himself was doing the counting. For this reason,
he accounting came not with a negative effect, but, to the contrary,
with a blessing. As the pasuk tells us, "Ish emunos," -- - i. e., when
Moshe Rabbeinu is doing the counting -- "rav berachos" -- he brings
with him an abundance of blessings.
How does this work? To answer, the Sfas Emes begins by explaining why
counting objects can be harmful. He notes that counting involves
giving each item in the set a number of its own. But having a number
of its own separates the item being counted from the others in the
set. In this situation of "pirud," each is on its own, without mutual
support. By contrast, a batch of uncounted objects constitutes a
"klal," with each member of the klal drawing strength from being part
of a larger group.
Likewise, when Moshe Rabbeinu was counting the objects, his
involvement brought them closer to their shoresh (their source). And
proximity to HaShem brings with it a happier state -- i.e., berachos.
We can readily understand how this pirud / klal pattern works with
people. Why HaShem established the same pattern for inanimate objects
is not clear. One possibility is that the reason is pedagogic. That
is, to drive home the point about pirud and klal, HaShem built the
same pattern into the world of inanimate objects.
We move now to the second paragraph of the Sfas Emes of the year
5635. The parsha's first sentence contains the words "pekudei
ha'mishkan". As we saw earlier, the pshat (simple, plain meaning) of
these words is "the reckonings of the Tabernacle." But the Sfas Emes
shares with us a deeper understanding of these words. "Ahl pi remez"
-- by allusion -- we can read the word "pekudei" as having the sense
of commands or orders, as in Tehilim (19:9): "Pekudei HaShem yesharim
..." (ArtScroll: "The orders of HaShem are upright ...")
The Sfas Emes understands "commands" in this context to refer to
mitzvos. But how does this sense of "pekudei" fit in with the pasuk's
next word, "ha'mishkan" -- the Tabernacle? The Sfas Emes answers that
the word "mishkan" comes from the same root as does the word Shechina
(the Presence of HaShem). Thus, continuing this line of thought, we
see that "pekudei hamishkan" comes to mean that by doing mitzvos, we
bring HaShem into our midst.
Transition from the pshat meaning of "pekudei ha'mishkan" -- the
Tabernacle's accounts -- to its meaning via allusion -- mitzvos bring
HaShem to us -- is clearly a bold intellectual khap (coup). But being
bold is not enough for a dvar Torah. It must also be true. As his name
indicates, the Sfas Emes is a person who insists on truth. Thus, he
asks, how does our performing mitzvos bring the Presence of the
Shechina to our midst?
He answers with a close reading of the Torah's text. The pasuk says:
pekudei hamishkan, mishkan ha'eidus" (" ... the Tabernacle of
Testimony"). The Sfas Emes explains that by performing mitzvos, we
bear witness that we accept HaShem's Kingship. Every mitzva we do is
testimony that we subordinate our will to that of HaShem ("Avinu,
Malkeinu"). And in our so doing, HaShem's Presence in the world
becomes more apparent to the naked eye.
Note further the Sfas Emes's conceptualization -- that by doing
mitzvos, we can deepen our relationship with HaShem. This
conceptualization can help us avoid a standard pitfall of observant
Jews -- doing mitzvos, but without much of a relationship to HaShem.
For one more thought of the Sfas Emes on this parsha, we go to the
third paragraph of his ma'amar in the year 5635.
The Sfas Emes quotes the pasuk (Shemos, 39:32): " ... vaya'asu Bnei
Yisroel kechol ahsher tziva HaShem ...." (ArtScroll: "All the work of
the Tabernacle was completed ... the children of Israel had done
everything that HaShem had commanded ....")
The Sfas Emes tells us that much more is going on here than a
superficial reading would suggest. He explains that construction of
the Mishkan was the "tikun" (the repair, redemption) of "asiya"
(building, doing). Physical activity (i.e., "asiya ") can be used for
Avodas HaShem or (chas ve'shaslom) for bad purposes. When we used our
asiya to make the golden calf, asiya acquired negative associations.
But apparently HaShem wanted to redeem asiya from disrepute. How did
He do it? By giving Bnei Yisroel the option of building the
mishkan. Constructing the miskan involved the complete range of asiya
activities. Hence, by building the mishkan, Bnai Yisroel redeemed all
This is why the activities used to construct the mishkan are the same
melachos that are forbidden on Shabbos. For these activities are the
prototypes of the actions with which HaShem created the world. By
commanding Bnei Yisroel to use the very same activities to create the
mishkan, HaShem made it clear to Bnei Yisroel that asiya in this world
can be a noble activity, indeed, "ahsher tziva HaShem."
Text Copyright © 2004 by Rabbi Dr. Nosson Chayim Leff and Torah.org.