Parshas Vayakhel - Pekudai


Moshe gathered together the entire assembly of the Children of Israel and said to them, "These are the things that G-d commanded to be done." (Shemos 35:1)
Someone told me recently that a person went before one of the Torah leaders of our generation and suggested calling a massive prayer session to help the Jewish people with their troubles. The rabbi shrugged, seemingly unimpressed by the idea.

Surprised, the man who made the suggestion and who thought that the great rabbi would certainly lend his name to such an important event and give it his blessing, questioned the Rav's uncharacteristic reaction. The rabbi answered,

"Today the problem isn't so much tefillah (prayer). We know how to pray. The problem is achdus (unity)."

The rabbi was referring to an age-old problem that seemingly matters more to G-d than it does to us. The Jewish people after thousands of years remain largely fragmented. It has been this way for so long now that we seem to accept that just as there is "Kohen," "Levi," and "Yisroel," there are also Orthodox, Conservative, and Reform Jews.

How many groups do these three categories break up into? Who can count that high? Then, there are those who live in Israel and the "Chutzniks," those who live outside of Eretz Yisroel, and who knows how many other categories of Jews! It is a good thing that history only lasts six thousand years, because we're running out of names to call each new group of Jews that forms!

All sarcasm aside, achdus is not easy to achieve prior to the arrival of Moshiach. The Torah itself makes sure of this, because it lays down very strict guidelines about what constitutes loyalty to G-d and Torah, and what does not. It even tells us what to do with people who have become disloyal and how to feel about them.

Yes, as long as intellectual confusion and hidden Divine Providence is the order of the day, Jewish unity will remain a distant concept. It was one thing for Bais Hillel and Bais Shammai to have argued with one another over the details of mitzvos that both groups accepted to be from G-d, or even for Misnagdim and Chassidim to "battle" over traditions while both accept the entire Torah as being Divine. However, how do you deal with this:

Wednesday, February 20, 2002

High Court Accepts Reform, Conservative Conversions
By Dan Izenberg

The High Court of Justice this morning, in a 9-2 decision, ruled that the Interior Ministry must register as Jews Israeli citizens who were converted by the Conservative or Reform movements in Israel or abroad. Supreme Court President Aharon Barak stressed that the court declined to go into the question of whether Reform or Conservative conversions were valid according to Jewish religious law. Instead, he based his judgment on the long-standing precedent that states that the ministry's population registry must list details given to them by Israeli citizens regarding their personal status without question. This is the first time that a court has ruled on the non-Orthodox conversion of Israeli citizens living within the country.

Such decisions attack the very foundations of Torah Judaism and water down the Jewish genetic pool. Granted, if someone does not believe in Torah from Sinai and instead believes that Judaism is what you want it to be, then such decisions will only be viewed as bringing about more "achdus" since less people are being excluded from the Jewish people.

Of course, the Orthodox can't be happy about such actions and can only feel excluded, again. However, they represent a much smaller group compared to the non-Orthodox groups, and usually remain somewhat aloof anyhow, so the gain far outweighs the loss, the larger group reasons. Furthermore, existing animosity within an Israeli Secular Supreme Court towards the Orthodox Torah world, coupled with an intense desire to be on equal footing with their gentile counter-parts makes it easy to understand why such "achdus" was achieved in approving the momentous decision. It had been coming for decades, indeed, thousands of years, and in fact, it is not the first time that it has been attempted throughout Jewish history.

Given the direction of the Jewish people in the past and today, if Moshe Rabbeinu had to gather together the entire assembly of the Children of Israel today, he would have to use prophecy to know who they are and be a big miracle-worker to unify those who were. If the call went out today to do so, there'd be big arguments as to who could actually answer it!

Fortunately, that is what Moshiach will be all THREE things: a big miracle-worker, a prophet, and his soul will be that of Moshe Rabbeinu.

There's hope for us yet. However, other opinions say . . .

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Do not light fire in all your dwellings on the day of Shabbos. Moshe spoke to the entire assembly of the Children of Israel saying, "This is what G-d commanded, saying, 'Take from yourselves an Elevated-Offering to G-d . . .'." (Shemos 35:3-5)
The juxtaposition of the parshah about building the Mishkan with the parshah about keeping Shabbos is an allusion to the fact that construction of the Mishkan does not supercede the mitzvah of Shabbos. Furthermore, we also learn from here that it is the creative activities used to construct the Mishkan and its implements, that are prohibited to be performed on Shabbos, thirty-nine in total.

On a deeper level, the juxtaposition reveals that Shabbos and the Mishkan both accomplished a similar purpose, being that they allowed G-d a place to "rest." Of course, in this case "rest" means a moment in time and a place in space where G-d can allow His Divine Presence to manifest Itself overtly, since "hiding" it is an aspect of "work" for G-d being that hiding Himself goes against His Nature, if you will.

This is why the Mishkan was pushed off for Shabbos: why break Shabbos to accomplish that which was already achieved automatically through Shabbos itself?

However, there was one Mishkan that can be built on Shabbos every week, and that is the one within the hearts of the Jewish people. Make no mistake about it it is the REAL Mishkan, the only one that would have existed had we not sinned with the golden calf. It is one that does not require physical materials or the types of creative activity forbidden on Shabbos.

The holier we make ourselves, the more of a Mishkan we become within which the Shechinah can dwell and overtly reveal Itself. Holiness is a state of mind that can be achieved by sitting in one spot meditating on the eternal truths of life, and that will direct one's actions in a holier manner.

However, when we behave in just the opposite manner, what happens then? Again, we can learn from the Mishkan, or in this case the Temple, to appreciate the results of our actions. Says Rav Chaim Vital:

When the Temple was destroyed, the Shechinah was exiled amongst the K'lipos (world of spiritual impurities) because the souls were also exiled among them, and they lack the ability to extricate themselves being blemished by their sins. Therefore, the Shechinah, of which it is said, "Hashem your G-d is a consuming fire" (Devarim 4:24), entered the K'lipos in order to gather the sparks of the souls within them, to separate and elevate them to a place of holiness, and renew them for life in this world, in the bodies of people. This is the sod of the Shechinah in exile. (Sha'ar HaGilgulim, Chapter 15)
If there is no rest for the weary, then there certainly isn't any "rest" for G-d who busies Himself on our behalf trying to elevate us out of the lowly materialistic world into which we have fallen, and within which we are spiritually vulnerable. Rav Chaim Vital continues:
Since the destruction of the Temple, this is what G-d has been doing. Until such time as all the souls that fell amongst the K'lipos of "Adam Bli'al" (another name for the world of spiritual impurity) intermixed there from the head unto the feet have been gathered, even those that fell as low as the feet, Moshiach will not be revealed nor will the Jewish people be redeemed, as the Zohar says (Pekudai 258): "When the legs approach the legs," as it says, "They stood on their legs on that day on the Mount of Olives" (Zechariah 14:4) . . .
Kabbalistic talk for bringing the Jewish people back to a state of holiness once again ALL Jews who are still redeemable. He continues:
However, the Shechinah does not gather them except as a result of the actions of those below and their prayers, b'sod, "Give strength to G-d" (Tehillim 68:35). According to the extent of the actions of those below, so too is the extent to which souls can be drawn out. Thus, if the entire Jewish people were to do teshuvah, then the Shechinah would be able to take all the souls out in one instance . . .
And, Moshiach would come early without the need for further war or bloodshed, without the need for any additional terror of any type.

On the other hand, our sins weaken G-d's strength (so-to-speak), as it says, "You weakened the Rock that bore you" (Devarim 32:18). Once the souls are able to leave from there, then the Shechinah can remove them. After removing their life force, the K'lipos then die and the evil are consumed like smoke. This is the sod of the posuk, "Death will be swallowed forever" (Yeshayahu 25:8): the K'lipos, which are called "death," can be "swallowed" in a single moment for the very reason that the Shechinah has been removed from among them, together with the Soul-Sparks that were among them.

This is because evil has no intrinsic life force of its own, but rather it feeds off the side of holiness. As long as good and evil remain intermingled, as long as Jewish souls remain immersed in false philosophies and the externalities of life, evil will have a source of light and life. We will not be able to be a Mishkan for the Divine Presence, nor will we be able to radiate the holiness of Shabbos.

As they say, "You can pay us now or you can pay us later." G-d does not plan to remain exiled forever, and perhaps not much longer either. Come out and home we must. The only question is, who will lead the way: us or G-d? Looking around today, it seems as if G-d has taken the lead, but He'll be more than happy to relinquish it to anyone willing to lead the Jewish people out of the blackness of spiritual impurity and into the light of Shabbos and the Mishkan.

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Parshas Pekudei

This is the accounting of the Mishkan -- the Mishkan of Testimony -- as commanded by Moshe of the Levites, under the guidance of Itamar, the son of Aharon the priest. (Shemos 38:21)

To what did the Mishkan testify? According to the Midrash, it testified before the nations of the world that G-d had forgiven the Jewish people for the sin of the golden calf (Shemos Rabbah 51:3).

How could G-d accept the construction of the Mishkan and dwell within it if He still bore anger towards the Jewish people for the sin of the golden calf? Obviously He would not, and the fact that He did dwell within the Mishkan was a sign to the world that the episode of the golden calf was history.

Even more than this, the Mishkan was testimony to the eternal relationship of G-d and the Jewish people. To have committed such a grave error and still be around to talk about it, and indeed to even continue on with the relationship with G-d, showed that G-d does everything He can to maintain a relationship with the descendants of Avraham Avinu.

It is like the mitzvah to remember what Amalek did to the Jewish people, and the mitzvah to eradicate his name, something I didn't quite appreciate until I read a manuscript of a Holocaust survivor on its way to publication. Providing his own personal experience and glimpse of the nazi beast first hand, this survivor reiterates once again how much delight the nazis took from grinding Jewish faces in the dirt with daily doses of, "Jews! You are finished! Dirty Jew! Your annihilation is at hand!"

Yet, there he was writing about it some fifty-five years later, and there I was reading it from the comfort of my own homeland while spreading the Torah they tried to eradicate. As I stood quietly and very alert for the reading of Parashas Zachor that Shabbos, I felt a slight sense of eradication of Amalek from the very fact that we Jews are still here today en masse and learning and living Torah, thank G-d.

This is what Amalek and the golden calf represent: the end of the Jewish people, G-d forbid. Therefore, the Mishkan and Jewish survival represent just the opposite, and our eternal relationship with G-d. If we surrender it, Jewish survival that is, then we whittle away a piece of that testimony as well. For, every Jew that stands up to be counted amongst those who believe in Torah makes a statement against the enemies of truth, and even weakens them.

We have left Purim. We are now entering the area of Pesach. This is our mission. This is our survival. This is the reason we were brought out of Egypt in the first place, to bear testimony before the world of G-d's special relationship to the children of Avraham Avinu, and in doing so, we bring rectification to mankind and history.

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Parashas HaChodesh

This is the fourth and last special Maftir read at Purim-Pesach time. Being the last Shabbos in advance of Nissan, the first month the Jewish people were told to sanctify even while still in Egypt, we read the parshah about this mitzvah, appropriately referred to as "Parashas HaChodesh" the parshah of the month.

Last week, we spoke about the significance of the number eleven and what it represents in terms of achieving personal and world rectification. Once again, we have reason to refer to this number again, for the difference between the lunar year and the solar year is exactly eleven days. This, of course, is not incidental.

In our minds, the moon pales next to the sun. Indeed, how can you compare a floating rock to a massive and powerful thermonuclear explosion, especially when the only source of light of the former is that of the latter? When it comes to excitement, the sun generates far more than the moon does, even though the sun belongs to the entire universe and the moon is uniquely ours.

Yet, it is a tortoise-hare story all over again. True, the hares of history have the speed and pizzazz, but it is the tortoises of history that often win the race, in this case, the human race. That will certainly have been the story of the Jewish people, the most reviled and downtrodden nation of all of history, certainly a "tortoise" compared to the "hares" of Western society.

I know what you're thinking. You want to ask me, "But haven't so many great inventors and leaders been Jewish? Granted the masses who either followed them or mass-produced their inventions were not Jewish, but still, almost every dramatic turn in Western history was initiated by some Jew. Or, so it seems . . ."

However, how many outside of the Torah world have heard of Rabbi Shlomo ben Yitzchaki, or Rabbeinu Tam, his grandson? Have they heard of the Maharshah or the Maharshal? What about the Maharal or the Chasam Sofer, or his son, the K'sav Sofer? The Chazon Ish, the Chofetz Chaim, the Steipler HaGaon or the thousands of spiritual giants before and after these Heavenly "angels?"

Einstein, Marx, etc., they have heard about, for one reason or another. There is no shortage of famous Jews throughout history who have captured the attention of the world. There have even been Jewish popes, uh, well, after they turned their backs on Judaism. There is no question that per capita we have had one of the greatest impacts on Western civilization and its direction, one way or another.

However, the moon is not the symbol of famous Jews who made it big in the non-Jewish world. The moon represents those Jews who made it big in the Torah world, who succeeded as Jews and in leading other Jews closer to G-d and personal and national redemption. It represents those Jews whose Judaism was not incidental to their success story, but the cause of it.

There is a special brochah that we make upon seeing the sun as it completes its cycle once every couple of decades. However, there is a special brochah we make upon seeing the new moon once every month. That's a lot of brochos throughout the course of one's lifetime.

Furthermore, the solar year is called "shannah" which means "change." However, the month is called "chodesh," which means "renewal," something that indicates dynamic change. The Jewish people are not only about change, but about renewal and growth, longevity and eternity.

Ironically, there is a quote from one of the greatest Amalekians of history that goes like this:

On a beautiful clear night in 1924 at Landsberg am Lech, where he was imprisoned by the Bavarian government, Adolf Hitler remarked to Rudolf Hess: "You know it's only the moon I hate. For it is something dead and terrible and inhuman. It is as if there still lives in the moon a part of the terror it once sent down to earth. I hate it!"
The irony of this statement is almost too much to bear. Though Hitler, may his memory be erased, was the enemy of all mankind he was also a spokesman for it on some level. For, he took to an extreme what others think on more moderate levels, and that is, in the Jewish way of life there is none, just death itself.

Even Adam HaRishon on some level thought this. This is why he abandoned the seemingly fruitless Tree of Life for the glamorous and seemingly fruitful Tree of Knowledge of Good and Evil, and look where it landed him and us, for that matter.

Thus, the number eleven is associated with the lunar year and not the solar one. Eleven, as we explained previously, represents Da'as Elokim, the Heavenly knowledge necessary for extracting the Hidden Light of creation and revealing it to all mankind, causing the great healing of history called the "Final Redemption."

This is why the month of Nissan the month of redemption in the words of the Talmud is the one during which this issue surfaces the most. At this time of year we are on the path to freedom, like a plane racing down the runway in anticipation of its takeoff and freedom from the ground.

"There is nothing new under the sun," said the wisest king of all time, Shlomo HaMelech. However, had he spoken about the moon, it would have been a different story, one of "hischadshus," of tremendous renewal. And this year especially, in the year 5762, in the eighth year of a Sh'mittah cycle, the potential for an ultimate hischadshus is phenomenal. If we only understood this, we would increase the speed of our "engines" and bear down that runway of history like a nation starving for redemption after 3314 of years of intense anticipation.


Have a great Shabbos,

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