Friday, February 24, 2012

Pulling Both Ends


While the entire tabernacle was also called the "משכן" or dwelling place for the Divine Presence, the passuk ascribes this lofty title to one particular part, the first layer of cloth coverings.

There were three (or four) layers that covered the mishkan. The first was made up of multiple strands of dyed wool, linen and gold and was woven into a pattern of cherubs. The second was called the "אהל" or tent and was made out of goat hairs woven together. The final layer of curtain was either a singular layer that incorporated both the dyed ram skins and the skins of the miraculous tachash (a rainbow colored animal that resembled a unicorn – see Talmud Shabbos 28a), or two individual curtains – one made up of each material, respectively.

It is interesting to note, however, that the lower two layers were not whole curtains. Hashem instructs Moshe to make these layers out of individual strips that would later be sewn together to form two curtains and those two curtains would be connected by a series of hooks called "קרסים". Both sections of curtain ended in fifty loops and fifty double edged hooks attached the two edges together.

Two questions stand out rather starkly.

Firstly, if the strips were to be sewn together permanently – why weave them as different strips at all? Secondly, if the two section were to be connected – why not have the hooks woven into one section and the loops in the other, so that they could hook each other easily? It seems more intuitive that having loops on both edges and a separate, double-edged, hook to hold them together.

One question is answered by the kli yakar. The innermost layer of curtain, the "mishkan" itself, was made of exactly ten strips. These were sewn into two sections of five strips each, and they represented the Ten Commandments. The Ten Commandments had two parts, one dealing with the obligations of man to his Creator and one dealing with man's duties to his fellow man. Similarly, the "mishkan" was split, one side to cover the Holy of Holies which contained the Word of G-d, and one side to cover the Holy which contained the offerings of man.

So why use the cumbersome double loop structure? To teach us that neither side has precedence. If we would have crafted the sections to latch one onto the other, we have been tempted to view one part of the curtain as central and the other as merely hitching a ride. In light of the symbolism of the Ten Commandments we can assess just how tragic such a misunderstanding would be. Neither the obligations of man to his fellow nor the duties of man to G-d, take priority over each other. Rather, they both represent the fulfillment of the Divine will.

By latching them equally, G-d is teaching us the secret to achieving Divinely inspired harmony. When we assist our fellow man with the same fervor and piety usually reserved for service to G-d, and when we approach our divine duties with the same goodwill and generosity that we manage to garner for our fellow, we will have truly fulfilled the message of the "mishkan". And in doing so, we will merit the blessing "ועשו לי מקדש ושכנתי בתוכם" [שמות כה:ח] "And they shall make me a sanctuary and I shall dwell amongst them" [Shemos 25:8] And hosting the Divine Presence is a harmonious experience indeed.

Haztlacha !!

Friday, February 17, 2012

Putting In Your Entire Half


Rav Shmishon Raphael Hirsch points out that at the end of Parshas Shekalim, the Torah issues a profound commentary on human accomplishment.

The commonly understood message of the half shekel is that we should never view ourselves as being a law onto ourselves – we are always one of the greater community and anything that we may accomplish is but a half, a fraction of the work of the greater whole. However, the Torah concludes the reading with the mention that the shekel was one of twenty pieces. Simple mathematics tell us that the half shekel was then the equivalent of ten pieces.

Why would the Torah tell us to contribute such a round and complete number of pieces for the donation famous for being a fraction? To teach us that our efforts must be complete. While we need to realize that we are never the bottom line and, at most, our efforts constitute the half of the greater whole. We should concurrently keep in mind that we have to put in all ten pieces. Our effort should be a complete representation of what we have to offer. No holding back, and no leaving a little for the next guy to do. Only when we perform our contribution to it's fullest, and place in all ten pieces, do we reach the fifty percent mark of the shekel.

To paraphrase : "Be the greatest and fullest half you can be"

Hatzlacha !!

Friday, February 10, 2012

Seeking G-d


When Yisro joins the camp of the Israelites he is struck by an imbalance. The Jews, ever thirsting for the knowledge of G-d, seek Moshe out to learn from him. Yet, there is only one Moshe, and so, the people stand and wait "…from morning until night" [Shmos 18:14]. Seeing this, Yisro casts about for a solution and comes up with a new system of judges that would enable a much more efficient distribution. He proposes four tiers of judges, each circuit only referring to the next one up as necessary, to achieve clarity. One of the drawbacks of the judicial system proposed by Yisro is that now, the Jews have less direct connection with Moshe and would only take their case before him if it was sufficiently complex to warrant it.

Perhaps this was why Moshe had not come up with the idea first and why this idea is directly juxtaposed with the awesome revelation at Har Sinai; because accessibility is only one facet of seeking Hashem. While it is important for us to have access to Torah and teachers who are available to us, there is an incomparable value in connecting to as direct a source as possible. It could also be seen as one of the messages of the mitzvah of Hakheil.

In light of this double edged lesson of the parasha, let us endeavor to assimilate both facets of it. Lets make efforts to seek out G-d's word from at the level that we find ourselves at and at an availability that is doable. But, let us not end there. Set our sights high and realize that there is an entire chain, stretching back to Har Sinai itself, of scholars and righteous souls that can guide us in our quest of closeness to G-d.

Hatzlacha !

Bonus Track - Woo Hoo !

Just to take a moment and be impressed and inspired by klal yisrael. When Yisro sees them standing all day to try to reach Moshe Rabbeinu and learn Torah from him – he tells Moshe that he won't be able to keep it up. But the Jews didn't lose faith. Even though it took all day (and then some!) they still stood on that line to receive the dvar Hashem from Moshe. מי כעמך ישראל !!

Friday, February 03, 2012

Bursting Forth In Song


The Medrash [Shemos Rabba 23:4] goes to great lengths to praise the Jewish people for singing a Shira to Hashem. Even implying that G-d was waiting for such a thanks since the beginning of time.

What makes a shira a better medium for expressing thanks and praise than any other? Seemingly, it even trumps the korbanos that were offered for this purpose!

Let's analyze Shira and see what we come up with.

Shira is made up of two components : niggun(melody) and words.

Rebbe Nachman of Breslev is quoted as saying that when a Jew sings a niggun his neshama is communicating directly with Hashem. More popular is the phrase, "music is the language of the soul". So we see that there is a special significance to praising Hashem through a niggun rather than just expressing yourself in plain words.

However, even the words of a shira are different. There are constraints and limitations within formal verse structure. The more complex the Shira, the more specific the phraseology has to be. And it is precisely through these constraints that a greater beauty takes shape. By focusing and narrowing the expression of the narrative, the shira actually brings out higher praise. If the melody of the Shira is the contribution of our neshama, the phrases are the input of our mind.

What are the two unique aspects of Hashem's crowning achievement of creation? Man's soul and man's mind. Adam was created at the tail end of creation with these two unique facets. The human mind is an unparalleled testament to the divine wisdom that created it and the precious neshama that we carry in our selves is an embryonic connection to the same. By utilizing, specifically, those two tools to create and weave a magnificent symphony of tribute to Hashem, the form of shira is fulfillment incarnate. Perhaps it is this completeness that shira personifies which leads the Medrash to declare that when Moshiach comes we will greet him with none other than shira to Hashem for this final redemption.

Can this edifice of thanks be improved upon? Yes. The women of that generation go even one step further. As Miriam leads them in an instrument accompanied song, they praise Hashem with their neshamos, minds and even their bodies.

Let us take this Shabbos Shira and utilize our precious, divine gifts. Firstly, to recognize Hashem's kindnesses, and secondly, to praise and thank Him for them. May we all reach a level of gratitude that is expressed by our minds and souls, and even extends even to our lowly physicality, as the passuk states "כל עצמותי תאמרנה ד' מי כמוך" "Let all my limbs declare before you, Hashem, who is comparable to you", and may our shira echo the last, greatest shira to usher in the geulah shleimah, amen.

Hatzlacha !