“And this is the offering that you shall take from them: gold, silver, and copper; blue, purple, and crimson wool; linen and goat hair; ram skins dyed red, tachash skins, and acacia wood.” (Exodus 25:3-5)
Wealth is an incredible blessing from God. But like all blessings, one must know how to use it. What is the proper balance between personal benefit and enjoyment and communal responsibility? It is in this week’s Parsha that God asks the Jewish nation to use their newfound wealth to build a spiritual home and epicenter. The Mishkan would require complete financial participation of the nation. There would be some who would donate precious materials and stones and others who would contribute the necessary fabrics and materials. Rashi raises an interesting question, “from where did they have acacia wood in the desert?” The gold, silver, copper and even fine fabrics were taken from Egypt but where was the wood from? Rashi answers, “Yaakov Avinu prophetically saw that his children would build a mishkan (tabernacle) in the desert. Therefore, when he came down to Egypt, he brought with him acacia trees from the Land of Israel and planted them in Egypt. He commanded his children to take the wood with them when they left Egypt.”
The Lubavitcher Rebbe (Rabbi Menachem Mendel Schneerson, 1902-1994) asks, “Why did Yaakov have to do this? Why all of the effort? The people could have bought wood when they needed it. They could have bartered with neighboring tribes and nations.” The Rebbe advances a beautiful insight. When Yaakov came down to Egypt with his acacia saplings and planted them, people asked, “Why are you doing this?” To which Yaakov responded, “One day God will lead us out of this land, and we will travel to our home and destiny, but along that journey God will reside in our midst, in the home we will build for Him.” As Egyptian persecution intensified the Jews were able to look to the acacia trees and be reminded that one day this servitude would come to an end. And as they felt the sharp whips on their backs, the loads weighing down on their shoulders, their sons being thrown into the Nile, they looked at the acacia trees and reminded themselves, we will get out of this, we will overcome, we will be free. Our ancestors knew of the promise of slavery and redemption but having a physical reminder of salvation is what kept them from drowning in the abyss of darkness. The trees of Yaakov Avinu were the beacon of promised freedom and salvation. They were the physical “light at the end of the tunnel.”
We all experience difficult times; this is part of the human condition. The only variable is the intensity of adversity. In those times of hardship, it is easy to lose hope, optimism and positive disposition. We must find our acacia tree, the thing we can focus on to remind us that everything will be alright. For some it may be the presence of a loving spouse, for others it may be children, and yet, for many it may simply be the belief that God is my rock and He will never leave my side. We made it through 210 years of spirit-breaking servitude because when things looked dark and hope was almost lost, we looked up at the trees of Yaakov Avinu and were reminded, we will emerge from this, there will be light and happiness. The trees we saw every day of our enslavement became the walls of the home of God which inspired us throughout our days of freedom and destiny. May we each merit to plant our acacia trees and may they inspire us with the necessary hope, strength and resolve to make it through even the darkest of days.
Ranchleigh Women’s Chaburah
And they shall make Me a sanctuary and I will dwell in their midst (Exodus 25:8)
The Mishkan (Tabernacle) was a national endeavor. It was not a project undertaken and underwritten solely by the wealthy, it was a result of the collective effort and generosity of the entire Jewish people. It was this inclusivity that allowed this structure to become the House of God. It was not the precious gold and silver, nor was it the incredible workmanship that made this Mishkan into the domicile of the Divine; it was the collective energy, it was the national cohesion created by undertaking this sacred task as one people with one heart which allowed the Divine to rest in this special place. The strength of our people is found in our unity. The strength of Am Yisroel is most present and pronounced when we look out for one another and find ways to build bonds and bridges of understanding and empathy.
This month of February is North American Inclusion Month (NAIM), a month where must take a step back and make sure that our communities are inclusive and embracing of all people with all types of challenges and differences. This month offers us the opportunity to create a Mishkan of inclusion and acceptance within our midst.
I would like to share with you a powerful experience I had just a few months ago. I was invited by Menucha (an incredible organization in Baltimore which is dedicated to helping children with special needs and their families) to be a scholar in residence for their annual Shabbaton. This Shabbos was for the parents and their special needs child. I was tasked with providing some Torah and inspiration for the Shabbaton attendees. There are some experiences which forever change your life and the way you see the world; this was one of them. I had the opportunity to meet these special children. And when I use the world “special” I am not using it as a euphemism for “challenged,” I mean truly special. I saw children who exuded the purest and holiest of love. I saw children who looked at the world and other people though a lens of unadulterated goodness and simcha. I met children who were limited physically and cognitively but possessed an unlimited capacity for warmth, care, empathy and the truest happiness I have ever seen. And I met their parents. These parents are a special breed. I saw for just a couple of hours the care, attention and love these parents provide. I saw a brand of fierce parental commitment that I have never witnessed beforehand. I love my own children very much, but there was something different here. There was a bond that I cannot explain, there was a connection that I cannot put into words. To the onlooker it may have looked as if it was a one-sided relationship: the parent giving and the child receiving. But it was clear that these parents felt the love emoted by their children and the unique and synergistic bond between parent and child grew stronger every moment. I felt that I was at a convention of the righteous. I met the volunteers, a group of young women and men from our community who display patience, compassion and empathy beyond their years. In a time when we struggle to keep our children engaged, I realized that we must push our youth to get more involved in chessed and helping others to cement their bond to our people and Torah. I have never witnessed love, commitment and acceptance as I felt over that Shabbos. I thank Rabbi Aryeh Richter, Executive Director of Menucha for all his incredible work and for inviting me for Shabbos. I want to thank the children and parents of Menucha. I want to thank the parents for teaching me what it truly means to be a parent. Thank you for showing me what is truly means to love a child, not because of what you think they can or will accomplish but because of who they are. I want to thank the children of Menucha. Thank you for allowing me into your world of purity and holiness. Thank you for allowing me to bask in your simple and pure goodness. Thank you for wishing me “ah gut Shabbos” with such meaning and for your beautiful smiles that could light up the darkest of places. Thank you for making me part of your extended family for that one, magnificent Shabbos. Thank you for allowing me to reside in your Mishkan. I came to inspire and had the privilege to leave truly inspired.
Life Lessons from the Weekly Parsha – A Women’s Shiur.
“V’asu Li Mikdash V’Shachanti B’Sochum, You shall make for me a Temple and I will dwell within you.” (Exodus 25:8)
With these simple words, God creates a new paradigm for religious worship. There would be a central address, with physical dimensions to create avenues of spiritual connection. And it was not just for the generation of the desert. In fact, God explains to Moshe: “According to all that I show you, the pattern of the Mishkan (Tabernacle) and the pattern of all its vessels; and so, shall you do.” (Exodus 25:9) Rashi comments: “And so shall you do – for future generations as well.”
It seems as if Rashi is teaching us that the details and dimensions of the Mishkan and its utensils would be the same for all generations. The same plans and measurements for the Mishkan would ultimately be used for the Beis HaMikdash (Temple). However, we know this was not the case. When King Solomon built the Temple, the dimensions were dramatically different. If so, what message is Rashi seeking to convey? What is the message of the Mishkan for future generations?
The great Chassidic master, Rav Levi Yitzchak of Berditchev (1740-1809) explains that the Mishkan was more than a gathering place for communal worship; it served as the physical embodiment of the most important theological and religious messages. Inside the confines of the Mishkan, the Jew was taught the true meaning of life and the path to establishing a meaningful relationship with the Divine.
Each utensil embodied a different life message. The Menorah represented the need to infuse one’s life with the light of Torah. The lessons of the Torah help us navigate the complexities of existence and illuminate the darkness which often enshrouds us. Torah is not simply a list of obligations and prohibitions. Through the mitzvos, God provides us with the moral and ethical clarity to navigate the tumultuous waters of life. The Shulchan (Table) represented the physical world and signified the need to sanctify and uplift the material. We need not eschew the material pleasures of life – but we must be vigilant to never lose ourselves in them. We must look at material wealth and possessions as vehicles to come closer to God and better serve our fellow man. The material world can be enjoyed as long as it lifts me closer to my Father above. The Lechem HaPanim (Show Bread) stayed fresh for an entire week after being placed on the Shulchan. This miracle taught us to appreciate God’s presence in our daily material lives. We must take nothing for granted; every breath and every dollar is a direct blessing from God. Our God-awareness must remain “fresh” as we journey through life. Just as God’s blessing was evident in each of the loaves, we must constantly look for His providence in our daily lives. The Mizbeyach (outer altar used for animal sacrifice) teaches us that we must be willing to share our material blessings with God and others. We do not toil for ourselves; we work and share the fruits of our success with others and in doing so allow God to share in our material success as well. We use our wealth to help and sustain others and to bring us closer to God. The Mizbeyach HaKitores (inner incense Altar) represents selfless giving. The incense was totally consumed on the altar (unlike animal sacrifices which often had portions for the owners and priests as mentioned above). Too often, we only do things for which there is reward, payoff, or some expected reciprocity. In life we must learn that if there is a beautiful opportunity to connect with God or to help another, we should seize it, simply because we can. We must strive to become selfless people. It is only after passing and absorbing the messages of these utensils that one could reach the Aron (Ark of the Covenant). The Ark represented the potential for a loving, passionate and intense relationship with God. On the lid of the Ark were two Keruvim (Cherubs) which according to some were in the image of a man and woman. They were locked in a loving embrace with their wings spread upward and toward one another. This embrace represents the love between God and his people. This love is what we strive for, what we pine for. We yearn each and every day to feel His passionate love and protective embrace. But to reach the Aron, one must first pass the Mizbeyach, Shulchan, Mizbeyach HaZahav and the Menorah. We can only feel the love, if we are willing to do the work. Additionally, in this most sacred spot, God reminds us to love one another. A passionate relationship with our Creator requires us to respect, honor and love each other. We have many differences but we must find a way to embrace.
This is the meaning of Rashi, “And so shall you do – for future generations as well.” Rashi is not referring to the physical dimensions of the Mishkan and its utensils. Rather, Rashi tells us that the message and meaning of the Mishkan and its utensils are perpetually relevant.
“V’Asu Li Mikdash V’Shachanti B’Sochum, Make for Me a Temple and I will dwell within you.” Although we currently lack the physical structures of a Mishkan and Beis HaMikdash, let us carry their eternal messages in the Temple of our hearts, in the Mishkan of our souls.