A Tabernacle in Your Heart
In this week’s parashah, we begin to read about the mishkan. R’ Moshe David Valle z”l (Italy; 1697-1777) writes that this follows logically from the end of last week’s parashah, where we read, “The appearance of the glory of Hashem was like a consuming fire on the mountaintop before the eyes of Bnei Yisrael. Moshe arrived in the midst of the cloud and ascended the mountain; and Moshe was on the mountain for forty days and forty nights.” He explains: What Bnei Yisrael witnessed at Har Sinai instilled fear in them, and they gave up hope that Hashem would rest His Shechinah in their midst. Who can stand a “consuming fire”? they asked. Therefore, the Torah immediately says: It’s not so! You can easily cause the Shechinah to rest in your midst, if you only prepare your heart. “Hashem desires man’s heart,” say our Sages. They also teach, “An awakening below [i.e., from man] causes an awakening Above,” i.e., Hashem responds to our initiative. This is why the verse says, “From every man whose heart motivates him you shall take My portion [i.e., a donation for the mishkan].” Notably, the gematria of the word “yidvenu” (“motivates him”) equals the gematria of the word “chessed.” This indicates that Hashem will perform a chessed / kindness for a person who prepares himself and will rest His Shechinah on him.
R’ Valle adds: The word “Terumah” can be broken into “Torah” and the letter “mem,” alluding to the 40 days that Moshe was on Har Sinai. This, too, caused Bnei Yisrael to lose hope. If Moshe, who was like a member of Hashem’s “household,” needed 40 days to receive the Torah, what can we hope for? In fact, R’ Valle writes, Moshe did not need 40 days to receive the Torah. Rather, the 40 days were for Moshe to achieve a special closeness to Hashem.
On a pshat level, R’ Valle concludes, our parashah teaches that the Shechinah will not rest just anywhere. One must prepare a clean and pure place in which to receive the Shechinah. (Brit Olam)
“Speak to Bnei Yisrael and let them take for Me a portion, from every man whose heart motivates him you shall take My portion.” (25:2)
Rashi z”l comments: “‘For Me’ means li’Shmi / for My Name.” R’ Shlomo Kluger z”l (1784-1869; rabbi of Brody, Galicia) writes: Although sacrifices have to be brought “li’shmah” / with certain intentions spelled out by halachah, a sacrifice brought with no intentions is considered to have been brought with the proper intentions and is kosher; all that matters is that there were no incorrect intentions. In contrast, a get / divorce document that was written with no intentions is not valid; rather, the scribe must affirmatively have the specific intentions spelled out by halachah. The Gemara explains the reason for this distinction as follows: The animals being sacrificed exist for that purpose; therefore, no affirmative thought is needed to confirm the purpose of the act being done. In contrast, writing a get is not the natural state of things; therefore, the proper intentions must be confirmed by an affirmative thought.
In this light, continues R’ Kluger, we can understand our verse as follows: Donating to the mishkan was meant to be an atonement for the sin of the Golden Calf. Therefore, Bnei Yisrael had to donate to the mishkan. If so, then, how can we tell whether their donations were given with the proper intention? Perhaps, just as they threw away money on the Golden Calf, they were happy to “throw away” money on the mishkan! Therefore, the first part of our verse requires them to donate specifically “li’Shmi” / “for My Name,” in order prove that spending money was not a part of their nature, the same way that writing a get “li’shmah” gives legitimacy to an act which is against our nature.
On the other hand, there were some people who didn’t participate in the sin of the Golden Calf and didn’t need an atonement. Their donations therefore were voluntary. They had nothing to prove. Therefore, says the second part of our verse, “From every man whose heart motivates him”–i.e., he is giving voluntarily–“you shall take My portion”–without the need for li’shmah, for any specific intention. (Chochmat Ha’Torah p.160)
“This is the portion that you shall take from them: gold, silver, and copper . . .” (25:3)
R’ Nosson Sternhartz z”l (1780-1845; foremost student of R’ Nachman of Breslov) writes: Colors represent good qualities, as we read (Shir Ha’shirim 1:5), “Though I am black with sin, I am beautiful [i.e., not black, but multi-colored] with virtue.” Each Jew has a unique color, i.e., virtue. Moshe’s task was to find the virtue within each Jew and to combine those virtues into an abode for the Shechinah. (Likkutei Halachot)
“They shall make a Sanctuary for Me — so that I may dwell among them.” (25:8)
R’ Zvi Yehuda Kook z”l (1891-1982; rosh yeshiva of Merkaz Harav) asks: How is it possible for Hashem’s Holiness, which is beyond any physical boundaries, to be concentrated in a physical place? He explains: The fact that Hashem identifies a particular place as holy causes us to gather there for holy purposes and to bring honor to Hashem. It is the fact that we gather there, and through gathering there come to recognize Hashem’s actual holiness to the extent man can do so (though it really is beyond any physical place), that makes the place holy. Hashem, who knows the future, did a kindness for us by designating the place as holy in advance, so that we would be moved to come there. (Pe’amim)
On another occasion, R’ Zvi Yehuda Kook said: The fact that Divine holiness can confine itself to a physical place is nothing less than a wonder. Through this wonder, we learn that physical things can have holiness. This teaches that an individual person can be holy, and also that he can make other physical objects and places holy. (Me’orot Ha’Rav Zvi Yehuda Hakohen: Terumah 5723)
“You shall make two keruvim of gold–hammered out you shall make them–from both ends of the cover [of the aron kodesh].” (25:18)
Many ask: Why did Hashem, who prohibited us from making human forms, command us to put human-like forms in the Holy of Holies? R’ Eliyahu Hakohen z”l (the Ba’al Shevet Mussar; Izmir, Turkey; 1650-1729) explains: The Gemara (Chullin 109b) teaches: For everything that Hashem prohibited, He permitted something that parallels it. For example, the Gemara says, He prohibited eating blood, but He permitted eating liver. In the same way, writes R’ Eliyahu, He prohibited making human forms, but permitted these human-like forms.
Why? R’ Eliyahu explains: Hashem created seventy nations and he assigned seventy guardian angels to direct those nations. Those angels are subservient to Hashem, however, and they can do only what He has enabled them to do.
Since each of the nations has an angel, one might mistakenly think that the G-d of Yisrael is also an angel–perhaps a greater angel, since He was able to defeat the angel of Egypt, but an angel nonetheless. To dispel this mistaken notion, Hashem prohibited certain things and then made exceptions. This demonstrates that He is not a subservient being like the angels of the other nations; rather, He is the Supreme Being, and no one can tell Him what He can or must do.
R’ Eliyahu continues: This is why Avraham Avinu’s ultimate test was the command to sacrifice his son. Through the akeidah, Avraham was challenged to recognize that there is One G-d, even when He seems to change His mind or act inconsistently. (Aggadot Eliyahu: Shekalim ch.8)
R’ Ben-Zion Yadler z”l (1871-1962; “Maggid / preacher of Yerushalayim”), describes in his memoir, B’tuv Yerushalayim, some outstanding members of Yerushalayim’s working class at the turn of the 20th century.
R’ Shmuel Schneider, who sewed garments in the Yerushalmi style, conducted his business honestly and set aside much time for Torah and prayer. One who didn’t know him would think he was one of the great men of Yerushalayim and one of its dignitaries, for his wisdom shone on his face.
When R’ Yitzchak (Itzele) Blazer zt”l [1837-1907; one of the most prominent students of Rabbi Yisrael Salanter z”l] settled in Yerushalayim, he sent for R’ Shmuel to come and take his measurements so that R’ Shmuel could sew Yerushalmi garments for him. When R’ Shmuel arrived at his home, the sage thought that one of the rabbis of Yerushalayim had come to welcome him to Eretz Yisrael. Immediately, R’ Itzele stood up and invited his guest to sit, and they discussed Torah and mussar (character improvement) subjects together for a long time. Finally, R’ Shmuel got up and said, “Forgive me, rabbi. Please allow me to take your measurements as I was summoned to do.” R’ Itzele was astounded and said, “Indeed! This is the Yerushalmi tailor, and I had no idea. Fortunate are you, Yerushalayim, that a tailor such as this lives in your midst.” . . .
R’ Naftali Meller (the painter) and R’ Herschel Blecher (the blacksmith) both served as representatives of the congregation [i.e., chazzanim] in the large Menachem Zion shul in the churvah / ruin of Rabbi Yehuda He’chassid on yom tov and the High Holidays. They were exceptional Torah scholars and possessed extraordinary awe of G-d. They were among the most important of the mussar scholars in Yerushalayim.
All of this and more were the fruits of the sacrifices that the earlier generations, who were like angels, made to attain awe of G-d. Even the youth who were apprenticed to tradesmen acted like mentschen and overflowed with Torah and awe of G-d. Alas, alas, for that which is lost but not forgotten!
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