This week’s parsha deals with the construction of the Mishkon, the dwelling place of the Shechinah in this world. Introducing the description of this holy place and its construction, the posuk (Shemos 25:2) states, “Veyikchu li terumah – And they should take donations for Me” to build the Mishkon.
The Vilna Gaon
that the Shechinah was in the hearts of the Bnei Yisroel, but the people needed a place where they could gather together. This was accomplished by “all the hearts” – all the people who had the Shechinah beating in their hearts – donating as per their heart’s desire, “asher yidvenu libo.”
When people demonstrate that they appreciate what Hashem has given them, they show that there is holiness in their soul. Kedusha seeks to expand and strengthen. When they give of themselves and their possessions, they are able to build a place where kedusha can take hold, gather other sparks of holiness, and fashion a place of holiness in the world.
To understand this, we can imagine a single person striking a match on a dark winter night. The match lights for a few seconds and then withers away. Suppose two people are together and each one lights a match. The flame is larger, brighter and warmer than when a single match is struck, though it is still quite feeble. The more matches struck together, the more warmth and light there will be.
Every Jew has an individual spark of kedusha, but by itself and when it is cold and dark, the spark can’t accomplish much. When Jews join together, each one with his spark, a torch of kedusha erupts and the Shechinah has a place to visit.
This is the explanation of the Mishnah in Pirkei Avos which states that when two Jews join to study Torah, the Shechinah is among them. This is because they have combined their sparks to light the world for Torah. In such a place, the Shechinah feels comfortable and joins.
When the entirety of Klal Yisroel joins in contributing “bechol levovom,” for a place of kedusha, the Shechinah has found a dwelling place among us in this world.
With this, we can understand a statement of Rabi Akiva: “Ish v’isha zachu Shechinah beineihem – If a man and woman merit, the Shechinah is with them” (Sotah 17a). When a man and a woman marry, if each one is filled with hopes of building a proper Jewish home and has strengthened themselves with good middos and fidelity to Torah and kedusha, that is a couple who have fostered a place where the Shechinah can feel comfortable.
We no longer have the Mikdosh among us, but we do have within us sparks of holiness, and if we properly observe halacha, study Torah, and help other people, we can fashion within our hearts and homes a place for the Shechinah.
Hashem told Moshe to accept donations from people “asher yidvenu libo,” who want to give. Nobody should be forced to contribute to the construction of the Mishkon.
The Alter of Kelm asks that considering that the call for the construction of the Mishkon came in the desert after the redemption from Mitzrayim and receiving the Torah, who of the Jewish people wouldn’t want to contribute to a building where the Shechinah would dwell among them?
How are we to understand that people in their situation would not want to part with a few shekels to help construct a Bais Hashem?
The question is strengthened by the fact that nobody among them had earned any of the riches with which they had been blessed. Thus, any money they had was obtained through chesed Hashem, fulfilling the promise made to Avrohom of “V’acharei chein yeitz’u b’rechush gadol” (Bereishis 15:14).
Since none of the Jews of the Dor Hamidbor worked hard for what they had and none of them could convince themselves that their money was a product of “kochi ve’otzem yodi,” why would they not willingly give some of it back to the Benefactor who enriched them?
It would appear that once man gains a possession, he convinces himself that it is his, that he earned it, and that nobody can take it away from him. In an effort to remind us of this message, back when we were in yeshiva, we would write in our seforim before our name, “LaHashem ha’aretz umeloah, b’reshus,” loosely translated as, “Hashem is the owner of the world and all that is in it, and has placed this object in my possession.”
Hubris and selfishness are ingrained in our mentality to such a degree that it is with great difficulty that we part with our possessions to benefit others. We forget that Hashem has given us what we have and that it is incumbent upon us to recognize His beneficence. We look back at the people who were enriched by looting the Mitzriyim and wonder how they could not appreciate the source of their wealth. Yet, others from different generations can view us similarly. They can easily say, “Look at the wealth Hashem gave the Jewish people at this time of history. Look at how Hashem removed so many of the impediments to Jewish people being accepted among the general populace and accumulating great wealth.” They may wonder about us, “How can it be that they didn’t realize that Hashem had blessed them? Why didn’t they share more of it? Why did they think that they were entitled to ignore the cries of the poor and needy?”
Sure, there are many generous people among us, and it is thanks to them that Torah is built and maintained. It is to their credit that there are so many charitable organizations that help people deal with every conceivable need. Who knows if charity was ever distributed on the level it is now? But we also know that there is so much more that can be done.
If you want to merit a share in the Bais Hashem in your area, if you want to merit a Mishkon and a Mikdosh, you have to be a person of nedivus halev, thoughtful generosity. That comes by recognizing that all that we have is a gift and acknowledging that the Torah is made of halachos pertaining to bein adam lechaveiro, not only bein adam laMakom. We have to care about others. We have to seek to benefit fellow Yidden.
The Baal Shem Tov is quoted as saying, “It is worth living seventy-eighty years if only to do chesed with another Jew one time.”
As we study Parshas Terumah, we learn of the keruvim (Shemos 25:20), angels with cherubic faces of young children that were fashioned on top of the Aron. The keruvim were generally facing each other, but when the Jewish people didn’t act properly and sinned, the keruvim turned around and faced the wall of the Mishkon.
Rav Gamliel Rabinowitz explains that the optimal situation is when Jews face each other and care about one another. When a person turns away from others and doesn’t care about them, even if he is facing the holy wall of the Mishkon and working on his own avodah, Hashem sees him as a sinner.
A person who cares only about himself is unable to grow in Torah and have a proper relationship with Hashem. [See also Avodah Zorah 17b.]
A story is told about the Chofetz Chaim, who once called an urgent meeting of communal leaders to discuss and solve a pressing matter. Although the Chazon Ish was very young and virtually unknown at the time, he was invited and participated in the gathering. The Chofetz Chaim noticed that the Chazon Ish did not seem like he wanted to be there and was anxiously awaiting the meeting’s culmination so he could return to his Gemara.
The Chofetz Chaim turned to the Chazon Ish and said, “You should know that I am aware that were I to lock myself away and only study Torah, I would grow to much greater heights in Torah and avodas Hashem, but our task in this world is not to think only about ourselves. Man wasn’t created for himself, but rather to bring satisfaction to Hashem, who desires that we help others. This is compounded when dealing with matters that affect the community.”
This is the way tzaddikim and good people conduct themselves.
Many years later, the Chazon Ish, already living in Bnei Brak, was raising money for an important cause. He asked a certain rov to visit a wealthy man in Tel Aviv to solicit a donation from him. The rov didn’t want to go and said, “An adam gadol is needed to explain the importance of this cause to him.”
The Chazon Ish wasn’t impressed with the excuse. He said to the rov, “How does a person become an adam gadol? When he succeeds in a mission such as this one.”
When we care about others and give of ourselves to help people, we grow, for by doing so, we are following the ways of Hashem, as the Rambam states in Hilchos Dei’os (Perek 1), “Mah hu nikra chanun af atah heyei chanun.” The most important thing we can do is help each other.
An adam gadol is one who understands priorities and acts upon them. MK Shlomo Lorencz was leaving on one of his many fundraising trips abroad and went to the Chazon Ish to bid farewell and ask if there was anything he needed done before he left. The Chazon Ish told him that there was a small yeshiva that was experiencing a specific problem. He asked Rabbi Lorencz to ensure that the issue was resolved before leaving.
Rabbi Lorencz asked what was so important about helping this small yeshiva. He wanted to know if there was something really important that had to be taken care of before he was to leave. Helping some tiny yeshiva he never even heard of didn’t seem to fit the bill.
The Chazon Ish told him, “Yeshivos are of utmost importance. What happens outside of yeshivos is of secondary consideration. Our main focus is on yeshivos, and not only large, famous yeshivos, but every yeshiva, even the smallest ones, even those that are taking their first baby steps, such as this one, which you never heard of. They are paramount, and it is worth devoting time and working to ensure that the issues are cleared up and the talmidim can enter their building and begin learning.”
Yeshivos, botei medrash and shuls are what we have today in place of the Mishkon and Mikdosh. We have to appreciate them and seek to spend time there engaged in Torah, tefillah and seeking to become closer to Hashem. We enter them with our small sparks of kedusha and the Shechinah, and we team up with the other people there and their sparks, together lighting a torch of kedusha that brings light to our lives and to the world.
And just as the Mikdosh, in its time, served as a location from where holiness spread out to Klal Yisroel, so too, great tzaddikim are able to accept Hashem’s influence, and from them it spreads to those who have properly prepared themselves to accept it.
[The Drashos HaRan (Drush 8) enhances this point and adds that the same applies to kevorim of tzaddikim, and it is for that reason that Chazal (Sotah 34b) advise to daven there. See also Oros HaGra page 226.]
As we study Parshas Terumah this week, let us delve beneath the surface and learn its lessons. As we learn the halachos pertaining to the construction of the Mishkon, let us feel its absence and strive to improve the way we conduct ourselves with each other. Let us seek to keep our sparks alive and work to be proper hosts for the Shechinah. Let us contribute to mikdoshei me’at we have been blessed with and appreciate that they are hosts for the Shechinah.
Let us appreciate the tzaddikim who live among us and the benefits they bring to the generation. Let us be close to them and support them, so that we may enjoy the kedusha that emanates from them.