Parshat Vayakhel תשע”ט
Parshat ויקהל – Vayakhel describes in detail how the artisan Betzalel and his helpers executed each of the instructions of how to build the Tabernacle and its components. Having been conceived by Hashem, it is reasonable to assume that the vessels’ dimensions and features had deep reasons and meanings behind them. The Sages dwell on these details and extract many valuable lessons. Here are a few.
At Mount Sinai when Hashem gave the instructions to build the Tabernacle, the Jewish people still needed to travel to the promised land, Israel. The Tabernacle was modular, and could be assembled and used when they camped and dismantled and carried with them when they traveled. Exact instructions directed who would carry what, and how to prepare each item for transport.
The large beams, which comprised the Tabernacle’s walls, traveled on wagons; the vessels and other components were carried by hand. Theארון (Aron)- Holy Ark, the שלחן (Shulchan) – Table with the show bread, the מזבח – brass altar for the animal sacrifices, and the מזבח הקטרת -the gold incense altar, all had sets of rings in which were inserted carrying poles. The Menorah, its tongs, spoons, and vessels for the oil, were all put into a sack of turquoise wool and then covered with a tachash skin and carried on a pole by members of the Kehat Levite family. (Tachash refers to an animal with multicolored skin, that existed only for when the Jews needed to construct the Tabernacle.) The other Tabernacle items were also carried by poles in sacks of tachash skin.
Although all four vessels shown, the Holy Ark, the Table for the show bread, the brass altar, and the gold incense altar all had poles as part of their original construction, their respective poles had different laws. For example, as to the Holy Ark only, the Torah forbids the poles’ removal from the rings. As to the other vessels, the poles would be removed from their rings when at rest in their respective places in the Tabernacle, and reinstalled for travelling. We will consider the significance of this later.
In instructing Moshe to build the Holy Ark and the brass altar, it seems that there is an extra verse (Exodus 25:14):
יד) וְהֵבֵאתָ אֶת הַבַּדִּים בַּטַּבָּעֹת עַל צַלְעֹת הָאָרֹן לָשֵׂאת אֶת הָאָרֹן בָּהֶם
14) And you shall pass the poles through the rings on the sides of the Ark to carry the Ark with them.
ספר שמות פרק כז
ז) וְהוּבָא אֶת בַּדָּיו בַּטַּבָּעֹת וְהָיוּ הַבַּדִּים עַל שְׁתֵּי צַלְעֹת הַמִּזְבֵּחַ בִּשְׂאֵת אֹתוֹ
27:7) And its poles shall be put through its rings, and the poles will be on the altar’s two sides when it’s carried.
Why the specific instructions to insert the poles through the rings? Is that not obvious? To compound the difficulty, when describing the construction in this week’s portion, consistent with the instructions for these two vessels, the Torah once again tells us that they put the poles through the rings. What is the meaning of this?
ספר שמות פרק לז
ה) וַיָּבֵא אֶת הַבַּדִּים בַּטַּבָּעֹת עַל צַלְעֹת הָאָרֹן לָשֵׂאת אֶת הָאָרֹן
ספר שמות פרק לח
ז) וַיָּבֵא אֶת הַבַּדִּים בַּטַּבָּעֹת עַל צַלְעֹת הַמִּזְבֵּחַ לָשֵׂאת אֹתוֹ בָּהֶם
The Netziv (Rabbi Naftali Tzvi Yehudah Berlin, 1817-1893) teaches a profound message from this question. Unlike the other vessels that had poles to carry them, the poles of the Ark and the brass altar comprised an integral part of the vessel, not just a method for transport.
The Holy Ark contained the second set of tablets with the Ten Commandments on them, the broken tablets, and a Torah scroll that rested on a small shelf inside the ark. The Holy Ark represented the Holy Torah.
The brass altar on which the individual community members brought their offerings symbolized the עבודה – temple service. This corresponds to the daily and holiday prayers recited in the Shuls throughout the year. Because we no longer have the sacrifices, the Sages have instituted the daily prayers. The morning prayer שחרית – Shacharit, replaced the daily morning sacrifice. The afternoon prayer מנחה – Mincha, replaced the afternoon daily sacrifice. And ערבית – Maariv, the evening prayer, corresponds to the meat of the sacrifices that burned on the altar all night. Our prayers do not compare to the holiness generated in the Holy Temple, but they suffice to get us by. As you can imagine, the more the better.
This is why we face Jerusalem when we pray. The Code of Jewish Law actually states that we should not only direct our prayers to Jerusalem, but we should direct them to the Holy Temple, and, more precisely, to the Holy of Holies in the Holy Temple. This is because despite our prayers having replaced the temple service, the site of the Holy Temple is still the conduit for our prayers to reach Hashem and provides the source of blessing to the world.
The Netziv explains that the poles, which represent the vessels’ portability, indicate that the Ark and the Brass Altar are designed to travel with the Jewish nation throughout the diaspora. That is, being portable and accompanying the Jewish people through their travels, is part of the job of these two vessels. What is the significance of this?
These vessels were designed to travel because the Jewish people cannot survive in the diaspora without them. Without the Torah (the ark) and a Shul (the altar) to pray in, a Jewish person cannot retain his identity as a Jew in the face of the greater gentile community. The raging tide against the Torah’s values and concepts is so strong that without constant reinforcement, it will quickly and easily wash away every last vestige of Torah from the person. Both vessels are crucial in their role of preserving the Judaism in the Jew throughout the diaspora.
Torah study is the only way to create Torah Sages to serve as leaders for the Jewish people. The constant and diligent study of the Torah connects one’s mind directly to Hashem’s thinking and to the concepts and ideas that He has determined are important. Over time, as one amasses more Torah, his mind becomes aligned with Hashem’s thinking and infuses him with the Torah’s true values and ideals. This is how a Sage becomes a Sage. Their dedication and study of the Torah is so complete, that they are actually living Torah scrolls.
This is why a Kollel is such an important institution for the Jewish people. A Kollel is a group of bright, knowledgeable, motivated, dedicate married men, who could excel at any vocation of their choice, but who instead choose to dedicate their energies to the study of Torah exclusively. They study together in groups of two, and challenge each other and learn from each other, honing their skills as scholars. So that they may dedicate every bit of their energy to their study, they are provided a modest stipend to relieve them of the burden of earning a living. These bright stars will be the future leaders of the Jewish people serving in many of the necessary capacities of Jewish leadership.
Torah study is the only way to create scholars knowledgeable in the Torah’s laws to guide the community to properly perform the many mitzvot done each day that require know how. When unusual situations arise, a Torah scholar must be consulted as to how to proceed. As new products come to market and test the limits of what is permitted on the Shabbat and what is not, what is kosher and what is not, there need to be scholars who are intimately knowledgeable in the depths of Jewish law and can correctly apply Torah reasoning.
Torah study is the only way to secure Rebbeim and Morahs (Male and female Torah teachers) to educate each generation of the Jewish nation. Without adequate teachers, we are doomed to uneducated children, who will lack the understanding of what makes us Jewish and why we should bother being Jewish at all! Torah education for our children (and for us!) is the future of our people.
Torah study is the only way to create Rabbis who will lead congregations throughout the world, who will inspire their congregants to study Torah and to pray properly, and to grow in their Judaism.
Indeed, history has borne this out. Wherever the study of Torah was primary and central to the lives of the Jewish people, Judaism thrived; where Torah study was neglected, Judaism withered.
The role of the synagogue, shul, in Judaism is also crucial to the Jewish people’s success and future.
The shul is the place where a person cultivates his relationship with Hashem. We speak to Hashem thrice daily – time set aside just to connect to Hashem in the deepest way. That’s significant!
The shul is also where a Jew goes to water his soul with words of Torah by the rabbi through various classes that are given throughout the week and some every day.
People need people. No person can be an island. Humans are too frail and needy to be able to do everything by themselves. A community in which each member cares for the other members is essential. The shul creates a community on many different levels.
Because one needs to hear the weekly Torah portion read on Shabbat, there is a need to go to Shul where there is a minyan (quorum), to fulfill that mitzvah. Because Torah observant Jews don’t drive or take public transportation to shul on Shabbat, the shul must be walking distance from his home. How far does one want to walk to and from shul three times every Shabbat? A mile, maybe two? Not much more than that. Hence, people have to buy their houses within a certain distance from the shul. This perforce creates community living. People who live next door to each other socialize and help each other in times of need. Their children play together on the street and at each other’s houses, becoming lifelong friends. People meet in the streets and greet each other and may even walk to and from shul together.
Not only a Jew is obligated to pray three times a day, he should try to pray with a minyan where he is guaranteed that his prayers will be accepted. If he prays alone, his prayer is scrutinized and, if it’s not up to par, may be rejected. Therefore, one starts his day by praying the morning prayer -שחרית in a shul with many other people like himself. He may say “good morning” to fifty to a hundred people every morning. If he attends a different shul, he will see different people. The same obtains for the afternoon and evening prayers. Often the decision of where to pray depends on a person’s schedule, which may vary from day to day. Once again, and irrespective of where you end up, community and camaraderie are being created by the minute. When a person does not show up to his usual spot in the minyan, very often a call goes to the person, “Hey Joe! I haven’t been seeing you in shul lately. Everything okay?”
In shul, people share their personal happy occasions with the greater community. A birth of a boy brings a bris, and the birth of a girl brings a kiddush. Friends from all over town make their way to the kiddush to wish “mazel tov!” and bestow good wishes to the new parents. Bar Mitzvah’s and ufrufs (when a groom is called to the Torah the Shabbat before his wedding) are also celebrated in the shul with friends from all over coming to participate. It is not unusual for a person to visit three of four different shuls on one Shabbat to share in the simcha of different friends. These are also the people whom we are going to invite to our children’s weddings. They want to share their joy with us and be part of our happiest times, and we wish to reciprocate.
The shul community also stands by its members in their difficult times, such as illness or loss. Visits to the hospital and home after surgery, or condolences upon the loss of a loved one, are restorative and consoling.
Living our Jewish life with the support of friends and community enhances its enjoyment and spirituality.
This, says the Netziv, is why the poles constitute an integral part of the Holy Ark and of the brass Altar. What these vessels represent has indeed travelled with us throughout the diaspora and through the ages and has protected the Jewish people.
The Holy Ark brings out this concept in a different way.
When the Jewish people were ready to enter the Land of Israel, they needed to cross the Jordan River. A river flows, and it can’t be split in two. I guess that Hashem could have stopped the water from flowing, but He instead did something even more spectacular.
The events are recorded in the book of Joshua chapters 3&4. He commanded the Cohanim who carried the Holy Ark to step into the river bed with the Ark. As soon as the soles of their feet hit the ground, the water started flowing upwards, perpendicular to the river. It kept flowing higher and higher until the last person had crossed the Jordan river. The Cohanim were then commanded to step backwards, back onto the river bank, whereupon the water flowed back down into the river. But there was a small problem. How were the Cohanim carrying the Ark going to get to the other side? The Talmud in Tractate Sotah 35a reports that the Ark itself carried the four Cohanim who were carrying it, and floated across the river.
This is the basis for the idea, “The Ark carried those who carried it.” Even though it looked as if the four Cohanim were carrying the Ark, in reality, it was carrying them! They were only going through the motions.
This idea rings true as we travel through history. It looks like we are preserving the Torah when we learn and teach it, but, in reality, the Torah is preserving us. The Torah is the Tree of Life and the secret to the Jewish people’s eternity, since it keeps us connected to the Source of Life, Hashem.
There is another very important message in the relationship of the poles to the Holy Ark. The Chofetz Chaim (Rabbi Yisroel Meir HaCohen Kagan) says that the poles through which the Holy Ark was carried represent the financial supporters of the Torah. The law that the poles may never leave the Ark teaches us that the Torah’s supporters are a fundamental constituent of the Torah, never to be separated from it. When the Ark is in the Holy of Holies, the supporters of Torah are there with it. Similarly, when the Torah scholars reap the reward for their diligent Torah study, the supporters will be there with them as equal partners in their accomplishments, since they were the ones who allowed it to happen through their generosity and continued commitment.
To this the Sages as well apply the concept that “the Ark carried those who carried it.” Though it appears that the supporters are providing the funds for the study of Torah, in reality the Torah is the source of blessing for their business to succeed so that they may have the wherewithal to support Torah.