“‘Nu, so I understand why I need my feet, for otherwise I wouldn’t be able to walk all the way to the city. What about my hands? Ah, of course. I need those because otherwise I wouldn’t be able to get the sack of flour onto my back. And my back I surely need because the flour is resting on my shoulders and back. But why do I need my head?’ “Bendel did not have an immediate answer. He walked on and on, very perplexed. Then it finally hit him. He stopped and smiled, very pleased with his brilliant deduction.
“‘Of course I need my head,’ he reasoned, ‘for without it, where in the world would I place my hat?’”
Now everything was clear and Bendel moved on happily, having completed his thought for the day.
“It sounds funny,” said the maggid, “but more and more people are becoming lazy in using their minds and their heads serve merely as storage for their hats. Educators complain that over the years the concentration level of students has plummeted. Even adults will tell you that they find it hard to concentrate at shiurim and speeches.”
This can be attributed to numerous factors. Experts are quick to blame modern technology as a distraction and a means of relaxing the brain by not forcing it to think. It is a lot easier for children to engage in these activities than having to focus on something that challenges their thought process. It also offers shortcuts, so that even while studying, they don’t have to exert their brains.
When we were students, it was unheard of to allow the use of a calculator during math studies. All calculations were done with pen and paper. Today, using a calculator is the norm. Back then, to become knowledgeable in a topic, you had to read up on it. Today, you can just Google it. In addition, because of technology and travel, the world functions at a much more accelerated pace, robbing us of the peace of mind necessary for pure thought. It goes without saying that our indulgence in gashmiyus like never before clouds that which is most important: our emphasis on thought and our connection to ruchniyus. What a gift to us is the human mind and how it is taken for granted.
In this week’s sedrah, we learn of the building of the holy Mishkan, the dwelling place of Hashem. What was the purpose of the Mishkan? The Rambam says that it was for Hashem to dwell amongst us in a house consecrated for His name so that He could continue to speak to Moshe Rabbeinu and give commandments to the Bnei Yisroel. This is why the mitzvah to construct the Aron and the Kapores were said first, for that is where the Shechinah rested and from there Hashem spoke to Moshe.
The Mishkan was essentially an extension of Maamad Har Sinai. What openly transpired at Har Sinai would happen in the Mishkan in a hidden manner. At Har Sinai, Hashem openly showed us His glory and His greatness, and we heard His voice from amidst the fire” (Devorim 5:21). Similarly here, “the glory of Hashem filled the Mishkan” (Shemos 40:35). Just as Hashem spoke to Moshe at Har Sinai from amidst the fire, so too, in the Mishkan Hashem spoke to him from between the Keruvim. This is why the Keruvim were made of gold, shining as bright as a fire, a reminder of the fire at Har Sinai.
Nowadays, when we no longer have the Bais Hamikdash with the Aron and the Keruvim, how does Hakadosh Boruch Hu communicate with us? Well-known is the Nefesh Hachaim (1:4) who says that the real lesson of the Mishkan is that we must live a life of holiness, sanctifying our bodies so that the Shechinah will rest upon us. Every one of our limbs corresponds to a different part of the Bais Hamikdash. Our mind and heart correlate with the Kodesh Hakodoshim, the place where the Shechinah actually rested. Consequently, we must be extra careful to prevent impure thoughts from entering our minds, for they are tantamount to defiling the Holy of Holies.
Accordingly, it would stand to reason that today Hashem communicates with us via our Kodesh Hakodoshim, our hearts and minds. Simply put, through limud haTorah we are literally hearing Hashem’s word. But there are other ways that Hashem sends us messages. At Maamad Har Sinai, we were told, “And now, if you hearken well to Me and observe My covenant, you shall be to Me the most beloved treasure of all the peoples, for Mine is the entire world” (Shemos 19:5). The Kotzker Rebbe gave a moshol for this.
A man was once walking through a thick forest with his young son. As children will often do, the boy let go of his father’s hand and went off to the side to jump on some old fallen trees. The father warned him not to stray very far, because in this forest it was easy to get lost. But the boy insisted that he wanted to play a little bit because it was fun.
The father, seeing that the boy wanted some independence, said, “Very well, you can continue walking on the side. I will call out to you every minute or two. As long as you hear my voice, you will know that you are still close to me. When you hear my voice getting fainter or when you don’t hear me at all, know that you have strayed far from the path and that you must call out to me with all your strength so that I can find you.”
In days of old, when the Shechinah dwelled amongst us, we had a constant connection to Hashem. Alas, today we are in a deep and dark golus, where it is not so easy to feel our connection and one can easily get lost. Sometimes, you can be walking in the street when suddenly an inspiring thought enters your mind, a feeling that you must strengthen your commitment to Hashem. Your heart can be moved by something you experienced or you hear a devar mussar that causes you to ask yourself, “Did I daven with enough kavanah today? Did I learn enough? Did I do anything for my fellow Jew?” You might not even have any idea why you suddenly are stimulated to improve your ways.
This is the voice of Hakadosh Boruch Hu speaking to you through your personal Kodesh Hakodoshim. This is the sound that Hashem is referring to when He says, “If you will hearken to My voice. The voice of my Beloved knocks, open your heart to Me” (Shir Hashirim 5:2). As long as we hear these voices, we know that we haven’t strayed far from Hashem. Once these messages stop coming, once our conscience no longer beckons to us, we know that the chasm between us and our Father in heaven has widened and that we must do everything possible to try and cry out to Him and find our way back. Our job is to use the precious mind for thinking about lofty matters, so that we always remain connected and do not get distracted with the trivialities of life.
Constantly being connected to Sinai also means remembering the important mission that we have been charged with. When Moshe RabBeinu ascended to Shomayim to receive the Torah, the malachim protested, for by giving the Torah to mortals, Hashem was entrusting us with controlling the entire briah. We now had the ability to elevate the entire universe with our good deeds or bring its descent with sin. Even the level of the angels depends on our conduct. The malachim felt that we couldn’t be trusted with such an important responsibility, but Hashem did. We must always be cognizant of the fact that the entire world depends on us.
A few weeks ago, over 114 million people were glued to their seats, totally focused on the Super Bowl. While this writer wasn’t one of them, it was hard not to hear the surprising result broadcast on national news. Last year’s championship team, the Seattle Seahawks, were behind, but in the last minute of the game, they were boldly advancing to their goal, poised for another victory. With a few seconds to go in the game, they were just a yard away from winning. It was expected that they would hand the ball off to their behemoth running back, who was capable of breaking through defenders and carry three of them on his back while they are helpless to stop him. In just an instant, the Seattle team would be on top of the world, their coaches and players idolized, and their fans delirious with joy.
But then the unexpected happened.
To the shock and deep disappointment of the fans, their coach experienced a moment of brain freeze. He called for a different play that totally backfired and they went down in defeat. The coach turned from a hero into a goat in just seconds, and it was touted as one of the dumbest decisions in sports history. For days afterward, he was ridiculed, and perhaps he still finds it hard to sleep at night. Had they won, the coach and his players would have been honored with a gala parade and with a warm welcome to the White House. And for what? For this ever so important achievement of carrying a piece of leather, filled with air, across a white line.
A Yid wakes up tired in the morning, but overcoming his yeitzer hara, he gets out of bed to learn with an early morning chavrusah or to chap a minyan. At night, he attends a shiur, struggling to stay awake after a long, hard day of work. Does anybody notice? The mother is raising a family of Yiddishe kinderlach, worrying about their development while working hard to maintain the household. Does anyone have the faintest idea of what kochos she is investing into the family?
The yeshiva bochur aspiring to become a talmid chochom pushes forward to learn with hasmadah, battling the doubts nagging at him about himself and his future. He feels so lonely in his quest to accomplish his goal. “Who knows what I am going through?” he wonders.
Ah, but we are connected – connected to Hakadosh Boruch Hu and His entire briah. Beshvili nivra ha’olam. The world stands on my shoulders. You might not notice it, but Hashem is rooting for you. The entire briah is waiting with great anticipation for our success, for the elevation of the universe depends on each and every individual. The previous generation, with all its holy tzaddikim, is watching, hoping that we can carry out the legacy that they have passed on to us.
And if we succeed, we will gain stardom forever. We will merit eternal honor beyond our imagination, not the earthly adulation of some pastime that makes a lot of noise for the moment but fades very quickly. The key is not to be distracted, not to weaken our connection with the current futilities, but to be tuned in to what ultimately matters.