When the Chofetz Chaim first started his yeshiva in Radin, it was located in the town’s bais medrash. With time, however, the mosad was flourishing with many talmidim. Space became cramped and it was necessary to build a new bais medrash for the yeshiva. The Chofetz Chaim turned to the tzibbur for help in this great endeavor. He made a public appeal for people to start donating money to build a new mikdosh me’at for Torah and yiras Shomayim.
In a small village right next to Radin, there lived a very wealthy Jew known to all as Reb Moshe the Villager. When he heard the news that in the next town a new bais medrash was being built for hundreds of bochurim, he conferred with his wife about contributing to this new project and then traveled to Radin.
He paid the Chofetz Chaim a visit and said, “Rebbi, the Ribono Shel Olam blessed me and my wife with riches, but we were not blessed with children. My wife and I decided to donate all the money necessary to build the entire new bais medrash with beauty and splendor so that we will have a portion in the Torah learned between its walls. After all, Chazal say that one who teaches his friend’s son Torah is like having fathered him. They will be like our children.”
The Chofetz Chaim was visibly moved by the man’s magnanimous offer. This could save the tzaddik much time and effort in procuring the necessary funds, and the building could get underway immediately. Of course, we would think that the tzaddik would gladly accept the offer and immediately move forward with the plans. But gedolim have a different thought process, a more elevated approach than a regular person.
“You should be gebentched, Reb Moshe,” said the Chofetz Chaim, “for your noble generosity. But I’m afraid I cannot take you up on your offer. You see, a yeshiva is a public organization. It belongs to Klal Yisroel. How can I accept your donation and in the process deprive the public at large of the zechus of contributing to this cause as well? Yes, I realize that collecting funds will go slowly and stretch out over a long period of time. And in the end, who knows if we will be able to afford to build the building to the size we desire and as beautiful as we’d like? But we must do what is right and we cannot exclude the rest of the tzibbur from taking part in this venture.”
Reb Moshe was very disappointed and decided to summon the tzaddik to a din Torah before the renowned gaon hador, Rav Chaim Ozer Grodzensky. In his great humility, the Chofetz Chaim agreed, and together they traveled to Vilna to present their cases. Undoubtedly, Rav Chaim Ozer was heartened by this altruistic argument that came before him. In his great wisdom, he issued the following p’sak.
“Yes, the Chofetz Chaim is correct in wanting to avail the entire tzibbur of this golden opportunity. But since he did make a public appeal and Reb Moshe graciously answered the call, he has a right to donate the mizrach vant of the bais medrash. This will be a zechus and will perpetuate the memories of both Reb Moshe and his wife. The other three walls belong to Klal Yisroel.”
Both litigants happily accepted the decision.
On the way back home, Reb Moshe asked the Chofetz Chaim for a bracha. The Chofetz Chaim blessed him by saying, “As long as I am alive, you, too, shall be amongst the living.” At the time, Reb Moshe was older than the Chofetz Chaim, and with the tzaddik living a very long life, Reb Moshe lived to a ripe old age. Shortly after the Chofetz Chaim was niftar, Reb Moshe passed away. Many years later, talmidim of Radin still remembered the plaque on the mizrach wall at the yeshiva inscribed with the names of Reb Moshe and his wife, celebrating them for their generous donation.
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“Speak to the Bnei Yisroel and let them take for Me a portion, from every man whose heart motivates him you shall take My portion” (Shemos 25:2). There is something unique about the building of the Mishkan. Although it is a mitzvah from the Torah and the halacha mandates bais din to enforce the mitzvos, here the Torah stresses that donations for the Mishkan may only be taken from people whose hearts are self motivated for the cause.
While all commandments in the Torah require kavanah, the main part is the act of the mitzvah itself. Not so with the building of the Mishkan. Here the Torah says openly that a perquisite for this mitzvah is for its donors to give with their hearts. It is conceivable, then, that if no one was willing on their own to contribute, there would be no Mishkan. Why is this so?
“And they shall make a Sanctuary for Me, so that I may dwell among them” (ibid. 8). The Mishkan wasn’t merely an edifice where the avodah would be done. Rather, it was a place where the Shechinah would dwell. It is understandable, then, that the physical structure of the sanctuary wasn’t really what housed Hakadosh Boruch Hu, for as Moshe Rabbeinu asked Hashem, “How can we mortals build a physical abode for you?” Shlomo Hamelech similarly asked years later, “And who can gather enough strength to build a Temple for Him? For the heavens and the highest heavens cannot contain him” (Divrei Hayomim 2-2:5).
The answer to this question is that it was not the material Tabernacle that brought the Shechinah down amongst us. While each and every part of the Mishkan was saturated with holiness and special meaning, they were merely the outer trappings for Hashem’s abode. What drew the Shechinah down and sustained it here was the nedivus haleiv of Klal Yisroel. It was the deep inner desire to be close to Hashem and to contribute to His being with us that brought the Shechinah to the camp of Klal Yisroel.
When an organization like a shul or a yeshiva decides to erect a new building, they go out and appeal to their constituents for contributions. First they announce the need for new quarters and the plans, and then they ask for donations. Yet, here, the Torah does the opposite. It first asked for the donations and then told the Bnei Yisroel about erecting the Mishkan. It is precisely for this reason. Because the magnanimity, the good-heartedness, the desire for closeness to Hashem, was the main factor in His dwelling with us. The physical was secondary.
Regarding all of the vessels of the Mishkan, Hashem said to Moshe Rabbeinu, “And you shall make…,” in the singular. Only regarding the construction of the Aron does it say in the plural, “And they shall make an Aron of atzei shitim” (ibid 10), meaning that the public should make it. The Ramban offers two explanations for this. His second reason based on a Medrash is what the Chofetz Chaim told Reb Moshe the Villager. The Aron represents Torah, in which each and every individual must have a part.
The first reason is because the Aron was the “kedosh mishkinei elyon – the most sacred of the dwellings of the most high” (Tehillim 46:5). It therefore takes the combined efforts of all of Klal Yisroel and their collective nedivus haleiv to invite the Shechinah to dwell here and to ensure that it stays here.
“And Hashem descended upon Har Sinai to the top of the mountain” (Shemos 19:20). Har Sinai today does not have a special holiness about it. “Upon an extended blast of the shofar they may ascend the mountain” (ibid. 13). After the period of Maamad Har Sinai concluded, the mountain lost its sanctity. Yet, the makom haMikdosh, the Har Habayis, still maintains kedushah to this day, thousands of years after its destruction. What is the difference between them?
Rav Elya Lopian explains that “hashomayim shomayim laHashem,” the heavens are sanctified by Hashem’s Presence, but “vehaaretz nosan livnei adam,” the earth was given to mankind to consecrate with their actions (Tehillim 115:16). In this earthly domain, the only time kedushah is maintained is when humans expend special effort and mesirus nefesh to make something holy.
At Har Sinai, the Bnei Yisroel did not put forth any effort to consecrate the mountain. Its holiness came only with Hashem descending upon it. Thus, when the Shechinah ascended back to the heavens, the place lost its kedushah. The Bais Hamikdosh, though, was erected on the initiative of the tzibbur. Dovid Hamelech and Shlomo Hamelech put a lot of effort into building it. The Yidden donated to its cause. The place was sanctified many years before through the mesirus nefesh of Avrohom Avinu and Yitzchok Avinu at the Akeidah. Again during binyan Bayis Sheini, the Yidden were moser nefesh for its construction. Therefore, its place is forever holy.
This should give us pause for thought during these dark and turbulent days of chevlei Moshiach. Klal Yisroel faces many nisyonos, both of physical and spiritual natures. Foreign nations threaten to destroy us while the ill winds of a corrupt society compromise our spiritual level and our connection to Hashem. Often, we find it difficult to keep our heads above water. Why are things so hard for us?
Perhaps it is because in the near future we will merit to witness the geulah. The third Bais Hamikdosh will remain with us forever. For this to be possible, we are required to put forth extra effort, to be moser nefesh more in serving Hashem. This will enhance the sanctity of this earthly realm and return the Shechinah to once again dwell amongst us.