Wednesday, April 14, 2021

The Gift of Speech

 By Rabbi Pinchos Lipschutz

Having just lived through a plague, we have become familiar with the deprivation it causes, even among the people not physically affected by it.

One of the many costs of the coronavirus was that governments used it to force people into isolation. Elderly people who depended on visitors to keep them connected to the world and provide for them social stimulation became deprived of that vital human need of speaking and interacting with others. They suffered cognitively and physically. Illnesses crept up on them and they lost their ability to walk and move about.

Children who were locked out of school were severely impacted by not being able to play and speak with their friends and classmates, leading to mental diseases and other lingering long-term effects brought on by a lack of personal instruction and social contact.

Thankfully, in most places where our brethren live, the pandemic has dissipated and the conditions have eased. People are able to resume normal social activity and are no longer confined to their homes. They are being rejuvenated as they are reconnected to the world in general, and to their families, friends, workmates, and shul-mates.

Playing with a baby is one of the most joyous things a person can do. The baby has no concerns other than being entertained by you. All your pressing concerns are washed away as love is returned with love and a smile begets a smile. It is all pure and genuine. But there is at least one major drawback: the baby doesn’t speak. It is difficult to develop a relationship with someone with whom you cannot carry on a conversation. Hashem blessed man with the gift of speech, of being able to communicate. Those who are unable to speak or hear are able to communicate through other means. It is by doing so that they are able to have meaningful relationships. Without communication, a person is virtually alone.

There are people who are talented in music, but do not have the time or ability to take lessons and reach a professional level. They are busy working and making a living to support their family, put food on the table, and pay their mortgage or rent. The music lies buried inside of them.

When the Jews were enslaved in Mitzrayim, their inherent greatness lay dormant inside of them. Their music and song were trapped inside of them. They were unable to express themselves. They were subdued and their humanity was suppressed. They went through their days occupied with mundane servitude, happy to make it to another day.

When they were redeemed, their gifts of speech burst forth, their greatness and depth stifled no longer. They crossed the Yam Suf and emerged new people, a new nation ready to burst forth and accept the Torah on Har Sinai.

Parshas Tazria teaches us the majesty of man. Following the receipt of the Torah and its laws and the construction of the Mishkon, we receive the parshiyos dealing with the laws of tzoraas.

We have been blessed with speech, and now that the Jewish people were freed and empowered, they learned the punishment of those who use their gift in a way that is inconsistent with its purpose in creation.

Each one of us is a scion of majesty and greatness. The words we utter must be precious to us. Everything we say should be measured and clearly thought through before being spoken.

The parshiyos of Tazria and Metzora are read as we enter the Sefirah period. The parshiyos discuss the affliction of tzoraas and the necessity to remove the afflicted person from among the community and place him in isolation for weekly periods.

Bodod yeisheiv.

The Medrash (Vayikra Rabbah 16:1) teaches that tzoraas is caused by a person succumbing to seven anti-social activities: bearing conceited eyes, a tongue that speaks falsehood, hands that spill innocent blood, a heart that plans wicked thoughts, feet that run to do evil, a liar who testifies falsely, and, the worst of them all, someone who causes disputes to break out between people. This is accomplished through spreading slander and lies, motzie sheim ra and lashon hora. Thus, the Torah refers to the person with tzora’as as a metzora, for the word is formulated from the words motzie sheim ra.

In this world, there are four elementary forms. They are domeim, tzomei’ach, chai and medaber, the inert, such as stone and dirt; that which grows, such as grass and trees; that which is alive, such as animals; and, above them all, man, who is granted the gift of speech.

The ability to speak allows us to effectively communicate with each other. With speech, we can learn, grow, develop, study Torah, engage in mitzvos, and be part of a cohesive social fabric. Thus, Targum Onkelos famously says that the words in Bereishis that state that man was alive, “Vayehi adam lenefesh chaya,” indicate that “vehavas b’adam ruach memalela,” man was given the power of speech. The ability to speak gave man his spirit and life.

Life is that ability to connect with other people – the experience of interacting with them and using words to convey emotion. The breath invested into each word is the stuff of life itself.

This is why a person who spreads dissection is punished with tzora’as. Man was bestowed with the gift of speech to enable him to live an exalted life, connected with Hashem and Klal Yisroel. A person who abuses that gift and uses it to separate people from each other is therefore isolated from everyone else and locked away.

Bodod. Alone. Because he rejected the gift of life and used his words to create division and hate, he is forced to become withdrawn from society, deprived of the essential joy of life and social interaction.

We received the Torah when we were united, k’ish echod beleiv echod, and all of Klal Yisroel became areivim zeh bozeh, interconnected. Yisroel v’Oraisa v’Kudsha Brich Hu chad hu. We are connected to each other, to the Torah, and to Hashem, as one.

Sefer Derech Mitzvosecha (Issur Sinas Yisroel, Mitzvas Ahavas Yisroel) discusses the arvus that connects all the Jewish people. He quotes the Arizal, who says that all of Klal Yisroel is one body, with each person being a different limb of the single entity. We are all intertwined with each other. He quotes Rav Chaim Vital that the Arizal would recite vidui on behalf of sinners, because all of Israel is one body.

Someone who recognizes that we are linked with each other and each one of us is comprised of parts of other Jews is not encumbered by pettiness or jealousy. Those who are cognizant of that which connects us are conscious of the fact that our neshamos emanate from the same place, beneath the Kisei Hakavod. When they view another Jew, they feel the deep connection, unfettered by externals that distract the rest of us.

Man is made up of chomer, a spiritual component, and tzurah, a physical component. The image of the person is his tzurah, which includes his fine character, depth and spirituality, which are encompassed in the outer physical container. A person who is fully occupied with the superficial aspects of life is entrapped by his chomer and misses out on the significance and essence of life.

A person of chomer, who lacks in tzurah, rejects unity, as his shallowness takes away from him the ability to appreciate the tzurah at the root of everything. He sees everything in terms of their physical appeal and judges people by their physical possessions. When he sees that others have more money than him, more expensive wines and cars, and larger and more stately homes, he becomes overcome with jealousy. That leads him to speak lashon hora and seek to create animosity for the subjects of his jealousy. He finds it hard to live among other people because, invariably, he finds people who have more than what he has.

Tzoraas forces the person consumed with exterior impressions to confront physical imperfections that are brought on by his spiritual inadequacies, as he ponders the essence of his existence.

The posuk in Bereishes (2:18) states, “Lo tov heyos ha’adam levado.” As Hashem was creating the world, He said that it is not good for man to be alone and He fashioned a partner for him. Loneliness is not healthy. Man must be involved with other people and not become selfishly wrapped up with himself, his own wants and desires.

The purveyor of lashon hora, hotzaas sheim ra and rechilus divides people, bringing on loneliness and ill feelings. His punishment fits the crime, as he is left in solitary confinement.

Great people perceive the joy in being around people. They value being part of a whole. They seek people whom they can help. For we are all one.

This week’s parsha equips us with the insight to give life to others.

There is no shortage of lonely people. They may even have spouses and large families. Some appear to have many friends. They are regular, nice, normal people of any age. But they are lonely. Talk to them.

There is no shortage of people who can use a little chizuk. Let them know you care about them.

One who speaks lashon hora seeks to deprive his victims of their self-worth and the respect others have for them. Someone who lacks respect for others and causes them to lose their own self-respect snuffs out their spirit.

Someone who is so wrapped up with himself that he snuffs out other people’s respect is a person who cannot live with others. This is the reason why one who has tzoraas is locked away by himself until he learns to respect others.

If being alone is being separated from life, then being together is being very much alive. With a genuine interest in others, we can help restore life to people and give them a reason to smile. With our gift of speech, we can build people.

Consideration of other people’s feelings on any level strengthens our connection not only to each other, but also to the depths of our neshamos and to Hashem.

We mourn for the students of Rabi Akiva who died during the Sefirah period. Lo nahagu kavod zeh lozeh. They didn’t treat each other respectfully and therefore were afflicted by a plague.

These days of Sefirah are referred to in many seforim as days when we can rise spiritually. The period approaching Shavuos is considered an auspicious time. As the time of Matan Torah approaches, so does the inherent kedusha of every progressing day.

The study of the parshiyos and halachos of tzoraas should serve to assist us in the toning down of our concentration on the pursuit of physical pleasures involving chumriyus and intensifying our quest for spiritual achievements. They are longer lasting and more productive, bulking up on that which defines us and contributes to the wholesomeness of our tzurah.

The study of this week’s parshiyos should serve to remind us of what our priorities should be in life. As government money flows, as certain industries benefit from the government largesse, and as stimulus money fills bank accounts, we should remember not to compare what we have to what other people possess and not to become jealous and bitter when we don’t have as much as the other person appears to have. Doing so leads us to depression and anti-social activities, which have no rewards and only cause us to become bitter and angry, engaging in the speaking of lashon hora, one of the worst and most dangerous sins.

May the lessons of Tazria and Metzora - the significance of words, the value of being connected, and the appreciation of others - fill us with the resolve to use our gift of ruach memalela correctly, elevating ourselves and our lives to new heights.

Wednesday, April 07, 2021

Savor the Flavor

By Rabbi Pinchos Lipschutz

Every Yom Tov adds to our life. It adds holiness and emunah and brings us closer to Hashem. A Yom Tov is not simply something that we experience and then move away from, going on to other things as the Yom Tov recedes in our memory.

We all have just enjoyed the beautiful Yom Tov of Pesach. Hopefully, regardless of where we were physically located for the duration of the chag, it touched our souls, bringing us joy and depth. We sang its songs, hummed its tunes, studied its sugyos, reviewed its halachos, and scooped up as many divrei Torah as we could.

And here we are, days later, much improved by the experience. Let’s not permit it all to fade away and return to living life the way we did before Yom Tov. Let us act noticeably improved, living better.

I thought it would be nice to share some poignant thoughts and stories I came across in various Haggados that I perused over Yom Tov.

• • • • •

One day, as Rav Yosef Chaim Sonnenfeld was walking with Rabbi Gelbstein, head of the Yerushalmi Chevra Kadisha, it began to pour. Rabbi Gelbstein quickly opened his umbrella and held it over the head of his renowned elderly companion, but Rav Sonnenfeld would have none of it.

“I am now going to fulfill the will of my Maker, and as I do so, I am a soldier in Hashem’s army. Have you ever seen a soldier go to war with an umbrella over his head to protect himself from the rain? Of course not! The concepts of a soldier and an umbrella are diametrically opposed to each other. A soldier cannot allow himself the luxury of being under an umbrella. He has to be prepared for any eventuality as he concentrates on his mission, and it is inconceivable for him to be holding an umbrella in his hand at a time like that.”

We need to be cognizant of what it is we are doing as we perform a mitzvah. It is not just something we do out of habit or without concentration. We need to be like a soldier focused on fulfilling the will of Hashem.

As we march onwards through the days of Sefirah towards Shavuos, let us bear that in mind.

• • • • •

Many years ago, it happened in a European country that there was a king who had one son. The king sought a mentor who would prepare the heir to the throne for his eventual position.

He hired an experienced professional who specialized in three areas: horses, diamonds and human psychology. The man began his task with much aplomb.

There was an equestrian auction, and since the prince sought for himself a fine horse, he proceeded to the area where the sale was held, with his mentor, an acknowledged expert in the field, naturally accompanying him.

A particular horse stood out, white and regal, with a perfect pedigree. The mentor counseled the prince not to bid on it. “That horse throws off its unsuspecting riders and kills them,” he said.

The prince found it strange that the expert would be able to discern that and he put him to the test. He asked the seller to ride it around the coral so that he could judge its gait. The seller quickly obliged. He climbed aboard the horse and began riding around the track. Suddenly, the horse began acting wildly, throwing off its rider and stomping him to death.

His confidence in the mentor reinforced and thankful that he had saved his life, the prince removed a small bill from his pocket and gave it to the man in appreciation.

Sometime later, there was a large diamond sale in the kingdom and the prince wanted to go there and check it out. He asked his mentor – a diamond expert – to join him. As they were inspecting the diamonds, the mentor told him that they should leave. “They are all fakes,” he said.

A few of the diamonds were inspected and it was ascertained that they were made of glass and worthless. In appreciation, the prince reached into his pocket and handed the mentor a small bill.

Having passed his tests in two of the areas in which he declared expertise, the prince decided that it was time to see how he did in the third, his understanding of human psychology. “Tell me what you think of me and my personality,” he said.

The man approached the prince and whispered in his ear, “You are not the son of the king and queen. You were found as an infant, abandoned. The king and queen had you brought to the palace and they adopted you as a baby.” The prince expressed disbelief, but the mentor told him again, “I have no doubt about it. You are not a royal child. If you don’t believe me, go back home and ask the king and he will confirm what I am saying.”

The prince, torn inside, returned to the palace and immediately went looking for his father. “Tell me, is what the mentor told me true? Am I your son or not?” To his great surprise, the king confirmed the story. “The queen and I were not blessed with children. When you were found, we had you brought to the palace and we concocted a story that the queen gave birth to a healthy baby boy.”

The crestfallen prince rushed back to his mentor. “It is true,” he blurted out. “I am not the natural born son of the king and queen. But tell me, how did you know?”

The man said to him, “I’ll tell you the truth. I am not a prophet. But tell me, do you think a king’s son, who was saved from death, would reward his savior with a pittance? If the heir to a royal blood line was saved from a heavy financial loss, would he reward the person who saved him with a small bill? Of course not! True royalty would handsomely express appreciation. When you didn’t, I knew that you were not an heir to a long line of kings and queens. You were a commoner who had been adopted.

Says Rav Yitzchok Zilberstein, we are children of royalty, heir to a golden chain stretching back thousands of years. It is not becoming of us to busy ourselves with pettiness, with silly things of little consequence. We have to be better than that. Let us demonstrate that we are worthy successors to the greats of our people who have come before us.

We were detached from our usual responsibilities for eight days plus and able to re-bond with our family and ourselves. Let us show that we learned lessons about priorities in life and will put them into practice. Let us show that we were able to calmly observe mitzvos and daven without being rushed and constantly checking our watches and phones.

Let’s try to maintain that renewed devotion to our spiritual obligations and the things that we now have realized are the really important things in our life, concentrating on dedicating ourselves to fulfilling our responsibilities calmly and joyfully, with love and dedication.

• • • • •

One day, the distinguished mussar personality, Rav Eliyohu Lopian, arrived at the Ponovezh Yeshiva in Bnei Brak to visit the mashgiach, Rav Yechezkel Levenstein. When they finished their discussion, Rav Levenstein asked his visitor to address the talmidim.

Until a few generations ago, he said, blood libels were a fact of Jewish life. Gentiles would allege that the Jews had killed a Christian child and sucked out his blood for use in the production of matzos. The story of the murdered child would spread like wildfire and the peasants were whipped into a frenzy to exact justice on the poor, helpless Jews. Pogroms would ensue, and Jews would be beaten, robbed, pillaged, and often massacred.

One evening prior to Pesach, in a city with a Jewish population of 30,000, a Christian child was found dead on the property of a Jewish family. The city erupted, demanding blood for blood. For some reason, the town’s mayor wasn’t convinced that the Jews had killed the Christian child. He questioned the justice of killing the Jews without being certain that they had committed the dastardly deed. “Maybe one of you did it so that you can massacre Jews,” he said.

“But how can we ever know for certain?” the townspeople responded. “We can’t compound the crime by letting the killer go free.”

The wise mayor told them that he had a way to know if it was the Jews from the home in front of which the boy was found or if it was someone else. “We will procure the services of a sniffer dog. He will pick up the scent of the child and follow its traces. If the dog sniffs his way towards the house, then we will know that the Jews killed the child. If that happens, we will kill the entire family and throw all the Jews out of our city. But if the dog traces the steps away from the house and towards the street, then we will know that he was murdered somewhere else and dumped on the Jew’s property. We will know that the Jews are innocent this time and we will leave them alone.

The plan was approved. The Jews ran to their shuls and began pouring their hearts out in prayer to Hashem. They begged to be saved. They davened that the dog be given the intelligence to make the correct decision and follow the scent away from the Jewish house.

The dog was brought and, under the watchful eye of the mayor, it began sniffing the lifeless body as it lay on the property. It smelled and smelled, picking up the scent, and began walking in circles around the dead boy, keeping its nose down and seeking to pick up all the various smells that surrounded it. Finally, when the dog was sure it had picked up the scents, it began slowly walking straight towards the street with its nose down, signaling that the boy was killed elsewhere and dragged there by evil plotters.

Said Rav Lopian, “That was the story. But I have a question for you. What reward do you think the dog should receive? It saved 30,000 Jews from immediate eviction and saved a Jewish family from immediate certain death. Shouldn’t it get something?”

“Should it get Olam Haba? Maybe, but dogs don’t get Olam Haba. So maybe a special Olam Hazeh? Also not. It gets nothing. Maybe a bone. Do you know why? Because it performed a purely natural act. It was trained to pick up smells and follow them. That’s what it did. It doesn’t know any differently. For doing that, it gets no reward.

“If so, when a Jew awakes in the morning, washes negel vasser, gets dressed and goes to shul, puts on his tefillin, davens, puts away his tefillin, and goes home to eat breakfast, what is that? It’s purely natural to him. He does it out of habit, without any thought. How much reward should he get for what he did?”

Of course, every mitzvah is rewarded, but I’m sure you get the point. If we do mitzvos by rote, out of habit, without thought or concentration, then we aren’t doing what we are supposed to do, and although we will be rewarded for what we did and our actions are certainly commendable, the reward is not what it would be if we would add thought and concentration and think about what we are doing and saying.

We have an opportunity to bring ourselves closer to Hashem and perform mitzvos properly. Let us do so.

When we ate matzah on Pesach, it was with great concentration. We went through great effort to procure the matzos, and when we ate them at the Seder, we made sure that we were eating the proper amount at the proper time while seated in the proper position. That is how we should perform all mitzvos.

When we read the Haggadah, we didn’t just run through it. We stopped to think about what we were saying and regularly paused to ponder what we were reading. That is how we should daven, thinking about what we are saying and not just racing through the siddur without stopping to think about the concepts and words we are mouthing. If we would, we would feel so much more connected to the Source of all life. Davening Shacharis would be a daily inspiration and not just something to finish and be done with. Its impact would linger throughout the day and infuse us with emunah and bitachon, as well as simcha and tzufriedenkeit. We would feel better about ourselves and do ourselves good, as our tefillos would be accepted On High.

• • • • •

The Dubna Magid (Ohel Yaakov, Lech Lecha) explains the influence of Yomim Tovim with a moshol.

A king was camping in the desert and his water supply was finished. He had a choice: He could either send his runners ahead to find water and return with it or he could put to work the hydrologists who traveled with him.

If he would send his messengers, they would return with water, but it would be a limited supply. However, if he put his hydrologists to work, they would take soil samples, consult maps, and get to work digging until they reached water. It would take longer this way, but they would have water for as long as they wanted. They’d tap into the natural underground water, and as long as they kept the flow open, there would be water for many years to come.

So too, if we tap into the kedusha and hashpa’os of the chag, they will remain with us for many years and not quickly dissipate.

• • • • •

The Meor Voshemesh writes that the reason we usually read Parshas Shemini after Pesach is because this parsha discusses the food that we are forbidden to eat. Someone who partakes of treife food is unable to learn Torah because he becomes defiled. Over Pesach, we became sanctified because we abstained from chometz and only ate matzah. By doing so, we purified ourselves and our mouths. Therefore, we attempt to maintain that higher level of holiness by ensuring that we refrain from the foods that dilute our kedusha and cause us to become impaired.

Rav Elozor Menachem Man Shach retold that on a visit to Warsaw, Rav Chaim Soloveitchik saw the sefer Degel Machneh Efraim for the first time. He read there in Parshas Eikev that the author recounted a story told by his grandfather, the Baal Shem Tov.

Thousands of people from a certain country wrote a letter to the Rambam, inquiring about a point related to emunah. The Rambam demurred from responding to their question. Instead, he wrote them that they should inspect the kashrus of the shechitah in their area. Upon inspection, they discovered that the local shochet had been feeding them treife meat for some thirteen years. They wrote to the Rambam and asked him how he knew that there was a problem with the kashrus of their food supply.

The Rambam responded that he knew that the residents of that country were fine, observant people, so as he read their question, he wondered how it could be that they would send him a question that bordered on kefirah. He determined that it had to be that their hearts and souls had become corrupted by eating non-kosher food. He knew that they couldn’t have been knowingly eating neveilos and treifos, so he perceived that it had to be that the shochet was fooling them and feeding them forbidden meat.

• • • • •

This week’s parsha discusses laws of foods. None of us could be accused of knowingly eating neveilos and treifos, but we can all use a reminder to be cautious about what we put into our mouths and what we put into our minds, hearts and souls.

Just as we were so careful over Pesach not to partake of even a morsel of chometz or have any of it in our possession, as we transition back to our non-Yom Tov daily lives, we should be more cognizant of pernicious influences and do what we can to lead our lives in tune with the higher spiritual levels where we are purer, happier and better.

Wednesday, March 24, 2021

From Maror to Matzah

By Rabbi Pinchos Lipschutz

Many reasons are given to explain the custom of children stealing the Afikoman from the head of the Seder and hiding it from him.

One year, when the Chasam Sofer’s son Shimon was seven years old, he asked his father to explain the custom. To Shimon’s great surprise, his father ignored his question and continued with the Seder as if the question had not been asked. The boy understood not to ask again and moved on.

When the Seder ended at 4 a.m., the Chasam Sofer turned to his son. “You asked me a very good question,” he said. “At the Seder we do many things to remind us of what took place in Mitzrayim. The Torah recounts that on the evening of the first Pesach, as the Jews were removing belongings from the homes of the Mitzriyim, their dogs should have barked at the thievery that was going on in front of their eyes. But Hakadosh Boruch Hu made a miracle and not one dog barked. The custom to steal the Afikoman was instituted to remember that miracle which took place many years ago on this night, which Hashem conducted to allow the Jews to retrieve things from the Mitzri homes.”

The boy accepted the explanation, but asked his father a question. “I asked my question many hours ago, during yachatz. When did you think of the answer?”

“As you were asking,” the father answered.

“So then, dear father, why did you wait until the end of the Seder to tell me the answer?”

The Chasam Sofer answered, telling the boy who was to grow up to be the famed rov of Krakow that the night of Pesach is all about emunah. The explanation of emunah is to do what we have to whether or not we understand why we are to do that action. We do it because Hashem - and in this case our chachomim - told us to do it.

“Sometimes,” said the Chasam Sofer, “a person will say, ‘I don’t understand it, so I won’t do it.’ That is why I did not answer you. I wanted you to take the Afikoman even though you did not understand why you were taking it. Now you have seen that it is possible to do an action that you do not understand, and you have experienced another part of emunah that is fundamental to our existence as the Jewish people.”

The Gemara in Pesochim (120a) quotes Rava, who rules that the obligation to eat matzah the first evening of Pesach is a de’Oraisa, a Biblical obligation. The obligation to eat maror in our day is derabonon, rabbinic.

This is because there is a posuk – “ba’erev tochlu matzoswhich obligates the eating of matzah on the first evening of Pesach, but there is no posuk that obligates the separate eating of maror.

The reason we ate maror at Pesach Mitzrayim and in the time of the Bais Hamikdosh is because the posuk states, “Al matzos umerorim yochluhu,” that the Korban Pesach must be eaten together with matzah and maror. But there was no specific obligation to eat maror.

The Rambam writes in Sefer Hamitzvos (56) that there is a mitzvah to eat matzah and there is a mitzvah to eat Pesach, and maror is tangential to the Pesach and there is no mitzvah to eat it.

The Ramban (Shemos 12:8) writes similarly that the mitzvah was to eat the meat of the korban and matzah, and there was no mitzvah to eat maror.

We see that maror never played a leading role in the Seder, and even today, in our golus status, when we are obligated to eat a kezayis of the bitter vegetable, it is a requirement imposed on us by the rabbonon.

Why is that? Doesn’t the Seder commemorate our painful existence in Mitzrayim, as well as the miraculous redemption? Why do we minimize the aspect of the Seder that elicits the biggest purely physical emotion and play up the matzah, which, the posuk says, reminds us “ki bechipazon yatzasa mei’eretz Mitzrayim,” that Hashem removed us from the bitter life so quickly that the dough for the bread they were planning to bake for the trip was not able to rise?

Today, before we depart for a trip, we go shopping and buy everything we think we will need to keep us fed and nourished and keep the children occupied. Everything is much simpler these days. Then, if you wanted to have peanut butter and jelly sandwiches for a trip, you had to procure wheat, grind it into flour, add the other ingredients, wait for it to rise, and bake it. As for the peanut butter and jelly, that was a whole different story, besides that peanuts weren’t around yet in that part of the world.

And even at the first Seder, which took place in Mitzrayim before the Jews left in haste and their bread didn’t rise, there was matzah because the korban and the matzah were the foundation upon which the seder was formed. Even back then, when the bitterness and pain were freshly seared in their memories, the maror was but a sideshow.

Maror, which symbolizes the bad times and the periods of suffering, doesn’t play a major role in the Seder, because we are to view those times as temporary and fleeting.

We begin the Haggadah by proclaiming, “Ha lachma anya,” on the matzah, which is referred to as “lechem oni,” because we recite the Haggadah over the matzah. This is because our permanent situation is to be geulim.

Rabbeinu Mano’ach (on the Rambam, Hilchos Chometz Umatzah 7:6) says that this is the reason why, after we recite and hold aloft the Pesach, matzah and maror, we proclaim, “Bechol dor vador, in every generation, a person has to view himself as if he has left Mitzrayim.” This is so that if a person will feel down when something unfortunate happens to him, he will trust that Hashem will help him in his time of need. And just as the tzaros of suffering in Mitzrayim were so intense that Hashem redeemed the Jews earlier than had been planned. Similarly, all the anguish we experience in our golus will serve as a justification for Hashem to quickly bring about the final redemption. The maror gave birth to the matzah.

Just the same, if a person endures suffering in their personal life, the lesson of Mitzrayim should bring them strength and emunah that the pain will soon end and they will go on to lead a happy and successful life. The maror will bring on the matzah.

Hashem did not bring us to this world to suffer. Rather, He created us to be kind to us and to allow us to enjoy the blessings of His beautiful world. We are reminded of this every time we perform a mitzvah, and also when we recite in Kiddush, Zeicher l’Yetzias Mitzrayim.” Just as Hashem saved us from the evil Mitzriyim, so will He save us from those who torment us and cause us pain.

Thus, we also recite, “Vehi she’omdah la’avoseinu velonu.” It wasn’t only the Mitzriyim who sought our destruction, but for all time, in all ages, centuries and continents, the nations of the world plotted against us and sought to destroy us, and every time, we ultimately prevailed. We survive against all odds because Hashem assists us.

The people in Mitzrayim were so beaten, they weren’t able to accept Moshe Rabbeinu’s promise of salvation. Imagine being alive at that time, or at the time of the harugei Beitar, or during the Crusades, or when Polish or Lithuanian peasants came crashing through your town, killing every Jew they could. Imagine being in Chevron in 1929, or in Itamar only ten years ago. Or more recently, in Yerushalayim at a bus stop, or in a kosher supermarket in Paris, when a crazed Arab with a knife came looking for Jews to kill. Imagine the feelings of anguish and agony. Their whole world darkened and closed in on those Jews. While they were beaten physically, instead of being defeated, they remembered the message of the matzah and carried on with their mission to live Jewish lives. It wasn’t easy. With proper faith, they persevered, and that is why we are here today, celebrating Pesach.

We can’t even imagine what it was like to be in a concentration camp, or on a labor march, fingered for death by the evil Nazis and their killing machines. Just the thought of it can cause a person to collapse. Yet, because people who lived through that inferno retained their faith, upon their exit they were determined to rebuild what had been destroyed and give birth to a new generation that would replace the one that had been wiped out. They pushed aside the maror and embraced the matzah. And that is why we are here, flourishing as never before. For all we know, it was in the merit of the extreme suffering of the Holocaust generation that our people have reached unprecedented heights, in the amount of Torah studied, and in wealth. The maror gave birth to the matzah.

Similarly, Rabbeinu Yonah writes in Shaarei Teshuvah (2:5), “Ki yihiyeh hachoshech sibas ha’orah – Darkness is the cause of light.”

The following story took place on Erev Pesach in the Bergen-Belsen concentration camp. The Bluzhever Rebbe, Rav Yisroel Spira, asked for and received permission to bake matzos in the camp.

After returning to the camp from their body-breaking labor the night before Pesach, the rebbe, along with a small group, assembled an “oven” and ground wheat kernels into flour. They mixed the flour with water and quickly kneaded the mixture, rolling out matzos to bake in their small oven. Flames danced atop the branches fueling the oven and the holy work of baking matzos for Pesach in Bergen-Belsen was underway.

Suddenly, the commandant burst into the room, shouting wildly and swinging at everyone. His eyes fixed on those of the rebbe, whom he beat within a hairsbreadth of life.

The next night, the people sat down to a “Seder” in the rebbe’s barracks. They had everything – well, almost everything. The rebbe knew the Haggadah by heart, and he was going to lead the Seder. For wine, they were going to drink the slop the Nazis called coffee. There was no shortage of maror, with bitterness everywhere. The rebbe let it be known that he was able to retrieve a very small piece of matzah from their failed attempt.

When it came time at the Seder to eat matzah, everyone assumed that the rebbe would be the one to perform the mitzvah and eat the small piece he had rescued.

After proclaiming “motzie matzah,” the rebbe looked around, as he tried to decide who was the most appropriate person to partake of the matzah. A widow stood up and said, “Since upon this night we engage in transmitting our traditions from one generation to the next, I propose that my young son be the one to eat the matzah.”

The rebbe agreed. “This night,” he said, “is all about teaching the future generations about Yetzias Mitzrayim. We will give the child the matzah.”

When freedom came to the camp, the widow approached the rebbe. She needed help. Someone had proposed a shidduch for her, but she had no way to find out about the man. Maybe, she said, the rebbe could help her. “Can you find out who he is? Can you see if he is appropriate for me and if I am appropriate for him?”

“What is his name?” asked the rebbe.

The woman responded, “Yisroel Spira.”

The rebbe said to her, “Yes, I know him well. It is a good idea that you should get to know him.”

She returned to the shadchan and gave her approval to set up the match. When the woman showed up at the right address, standing before her was none other than Rav Yisroel Spira, the man she knew as the Bluzhever Rebbe!

A short time later, they married, and the little boy who ate matzah in Bergen-Belsen became the rebbe’s son and eventual successor.

Which spiritual attributes did the rebbe see in that woman that led him to marry her? When asked, the rebbe answered that in the cauldron of Bergen-Belsen, where the horizon was measured in minutes and the future was a day at a time, a woman who believed in the nitzchiyus of Am Yisroel, that our people is eternal, and who worried for the future generation, was someone with whom it was worthy to perpetuate the golden chain.

It is thanks to people such as the rebbe and the widow and those with them at the Seder that night that we have survived as a people. They never forgot that the maror they were experiencing was temporary. They knew that as strong as they appeared to be, the Nazis would crumble and the Jewish people would endure. No amount of pain and torture could remove the taste of matzah and freedom from their souls and mouths.

Their maror gave birth to their matzah. Their darkness led to great light. Thankfully, our situation is not nearly as dire as theirs was. Historically speaking, our golus is one of the better ones. But we all have holes in our souls and tears in our hearts. We are all lacking and missing and don’t have all we need or want. Everyone has their own pekel of maror and darkness.

We pray that very soon, our maror will lead to matzah and the darkness will lead to the great light that will shine when Hashem finally sends us Moshiach to bring about the final redemption. Amein.

Wednesday, March 17, 2021

Freedom of Living

By Rabbi Pinchos Lipschutz

Nissan is here. Soon the cold will be gone, snow will be a distant memory, and the harsh weather will be a thing of the past. Landscapers will start coming around as the ground warms. Trees and bushes will soon start showing signs of life as tiny green buds begin to unfurl. Branches will bloom, the grass will turn green, and squirrels and birds will run across the lawn enjoying life. Daylight Saving Time is here, bringing an additional hour of light as the sun rises higher in the sky, shining brighter, filling hearts with promises of warmth and color.

Young and old soak in the pleasures of recreation, walking, biking, and playing ball, as they strengthen their bodies, enhance their well-being, and broaden their perspective.

Spring, the season of new beginnings, announces that Pesach, the Yom Tov of freedom, is almost here. Freedom is the feeling of not being subjugated to another power. Freedom is the ability to think, speak and act without fear. Freedom is a feeling of liberty and emancipation. The freedom of living a Jewish life is here.

It was during this period so many years ago that Hashem announced that the time for our freedom had come. He told our beleaguered ancestors that this month of Nissan was to be the first of the year for them.

As the Bnei Yisroel were about to become an independent nation and gain their freedom, Hashem told them that they would begin counting their months from Nissan. The world may have been created in Tishrei, but that month precedes the doom of winter, while Nissan heralds spring. It is fitting for our nation to begin counting from when the world starts to get back to itself after lying in semi-hibernation.

Spring, the season of new beginnings, gave rise to the newfound freedom for an enslaved nation. For 210 years, they knew subjugation and torture. The people were like a tree in the depths of winter, broken by pain, hunger and demoralizing servitude. Hashem appeared to Moshe and told him to inform the slaves that life as they had known it would come to an end.

Hachodesh hazeh lochem.” There would soon be a new month, a new season, a new reality. “Lochem,” given to you, a personal gift that you would recognize and appreciate. From this month forward, you will never be the same. No longer lowly slaves, you will become a holy nation.

Rav Dovid Cohen, rosh yeshivas Chevron, discusses in his new sefer Zeman Cheiruseinu on Pesach, why the month of Nissan was proclaimed as the “rosh,” and why it supplanted Tishrei as the first of the months. He quotes Rav Yitzchok Eizik Chover, who writes that Tishrei marks when the world was created according to teva. But Nissan is when Hakadosh Boruch Hu began to deal with Klal Yisroel lemaalah m’derech hateva. For Klal Yisroel, it is as if the world was created anew. Therefore, we begin counting months from Nissan and that is why it is the month of geulah.

The Jewish people were purified as gold is purified by fire through their subjugation in Mitzrayim. Until then, they were in a darkened state and weren’t able to be receptive to Torah. But after they were purified, the middas hadin was pacified and they were able to be given the Torah and mitzvos. By the time they left Mitzrayim, they were on the level of Adam Harishon prior to his sin.

At the Pesach Seder, we retell the story of our redemption from Mitzrayim. We tell of the misfortune that befell our forefathers as our nation was forming. We speak of what the Jews in Mitzrayim endured and proceed to discuss their liberation and formation as a new people, for there is no spring that is not preceded by winter, no freedom that comes without agony, and no birth without pain.

Thus, the posuk states (Devorim 16:1), “Shamor es chodesh ha’aviv v’asisa pesach laHashem Elokecha ki bechodesh ha’aviv hotziacha Hashem Elokecha miMitzrayim loylah - Watch the month of spring, and make in it the Korban Pesach to Hashem, because in the month of spring Hashem removed you from Mitzrayim in the night.”

Pesach is intrinsically tied to spring. We were taken out in this season and we celebrate our delivery in this season. The Gemara (Sanhedrin 11a) understands from this posuk that the month of Nissan must be watched - “shamor” - to ensure that it falls in the spring, and when it appears that it will be during the winter, we must make a leap year.

Perhaps we can also explain that the reason the posuk interjects that we were taken out of Mitzrayim during the spring and at night, “loylah,” is to reinforce the concept that we were enshrouded in slavery, darkness and tumah. We were removed from that dark situation and placed in “aviv,” spring, with our newly-gained freedom and soon-to-be rebirth as a nation.

Even after our formation as a people and even after receiving the Torah, there were ups and downs, as there are in daily life. The lesson of “Hachodesh hazeh lochem” reminds us that there is always opportunity for hischadshus, renewal, in our world. We should never despair. Cold will give way to heat and sadness to joy. If things aren’t going right for us, we have to believe that there can be improvement and set ourselves to realize that goal. It may be difficult and it may take special effort, but there is no goal that is unattainable for a person of faith.

Leading up to Pesach, we scramble, expending much energy preparing for Yom Tov. The drive to clean every part of the house and clean every closet is widespread, even when not halachically mandated. It hints to the fact that we remember our history and that before the geulah there was hard work. Mekubolim reveal that the sweat that results from working to clean for Pesach has the purifying qualities of a mikvah, for there is no purity and no holiness without lots of hard work and sweat.

The connection between the exertion involved in biur chometz and the enduring struggle against evil is referenced by Chazal, who compare the yeitzer hora to se’or sheba’isah, chometz in the dough. Chometz represents immorality, and by eradicating it, we undergo a profound spiritual cleansing.

The eternal message of chodesh Nissan is that just as winter leads to spring and darkness leads to light, periods of g’nus - shame - lead to times of shevach.

Now, with winter’s end, with so many of us dealing with various challenges, hardships, sicknesses and discouraging news, we grab on to the message of hope and rebirth afforded to us by this glorious month and the glorious Yom Tov.

A year ago, a new sickness descended onto the world. Many lost their lives, people lost their jobs, and many businesses did not survive the lockdowns. Yeshivos, shuls and schools were closed. Children were out of school. Stores were closed and people feared to venture outside. Social interaction was cut to a minimum. People were separated from their families, loved ones and friends.

Last year, at this time, many of us were lying in bed, sick with the coronavirus, unable to move and wondering if we would ever be able to move again. Hashem was very kind to us, and we were able to slowly regain our strength and return to leading our lives.

Though we cannot bring back to life those who were lost, much of the turmoil caused by the disease has dissipated and we are able to see a path forward.

Sickness will give way to health, failures will lead to achievements, losses will lead to triumphs, and golus will lead to geulah.

Although it may appear to be laylah, armed with emunah and bitachon we fortify ourselves with additional strength. We sense that we are in chodesh ha’aviv and that our travails will give birth to recuperation and success.

Freedom is accompanied by obligations. We are given the abilities we need and enabled to rise to greatness. We are not held back from dreaming and setting goals.

When the Alter of Slabodka decided to open a yeshiva, he approached his rebbi, Rav Yisroel Salanter, and asked him what his main task should be as he directed the yeshiva.

Rav Yisroel told him that the task of a rosh yeshiva is to recharge the lives of the downtrodden and depressed. The Alter adapted this message and set as his goal in Slabodka to educate and inculcate the message of “gadlus ha’adam,” the greatness that man can reach.

Seemingly, they are not the same goal, for while Rav Yisroel told him to raise the weak and deficient, the Alter concentrated on motivating the bright.

But, in essence, they are one and the same, for the way for people to realize their talents and inner greatness is by helping them when they are down and letting them know that periods of darkness and dread don’t need to be followed by despair, because each person has greatness within that they can tap into and realize.

Each person can have their own spring. When everything seems dark and dreary, when all seems lost and you understand nothing, know that each person has a path that they can follow that can lead them to light, warmth and understanding.

As deep as a person has sunk, and as locked away as he may feel, if he latches himself onto Torah, he has a way out of his personal swamp. “Asei lecha rav,” make for yourself a rebbi, a teacher, “uknei lecha chover,” and procure for yourself a good friend, for they will guide you and lead you and help you reach your own promised land.

Seek warmth on a cold day and light when all is dark. “Hisna’ari mei’ofor kumi,” lift yourself off the floor and out of the dirt. “Hisoreri, ki va oreich,” lie not in slumber, awake, for your light is there, “kevod Hashem olayich niglah,” Hashem’s honor is upon you.

You’re not alone, you’re not weak, and you’re not powerless or incapable. Spring has sprung and you can, too.

Pesach calls out to all, from the rich to the poor. It proclaims in a language all can understand, in a voice all can hear, that Chag Hacheirus is here. You have the freedom and the ability to accomplish any goal you set for yourself.

Kol dichfin yeisei veyeichol, kol ditzrich yeisei veyifsoch.” Let us all partake of the Yom Tov’s blessings. We will soon be redeemed as blessed, free, wholesome people in the land Hashem promised us.

Wednesday, March 10, 2021

Every Day a Gift

By Rabbi Pinchos Lipschutz

If there is one thing that most people learned from Covid, it is the necessity to adapt to changing situations. People had thought that they were set and had everything figured out. Then the world careened and many plans, careers and businesses were toppled. Firmly established wasn’t firm enough, as people and their businesses quickly ran out of money and collapsed.

Families were devastated by premature deaths. Millions were sickened and millions died. There was no escaping the pandemic and the ravages it left in its wake.

Through it all, people had to learn to adapt to the new reality. Those who did were able to keep themselves afloat. Those who didn’t suffered much hardship and pain.

By the same token, people who can’t apply their values to a changing reality are also in trouble. The trick is to hang on to your inner truth as you confront new surroundings and realities.

Adapting means to strengthen what makes you strong, enhancing the attributes that distinguish you from others, and reinforcing them so that you can excel in new surroundings. You must size up the new situation and recognize that things will change and may never be the same again.

Figure out where your strengths lie and do what you must to survive and succeed in the new reality.

Jews who immigrated to America during the first half of the past century believed that the religious life they led in the old country could not be replicated here. Many had no hope that their children would be able to be religious in the new country and quickly surrendered to what they thought was inevitable assimilation. They were led to believe that in order to adapt to the new country, they had to jettison their essence, identity, and what made them great. Jewish children from religious homes were sent to public school and quickly became lost to the Jewish people. 

A minority understood that although America was totally different than what they were used to, they could still hold on to their children. They struggled to make a living and expended extra effort raising their children to retain their heritage while adapting to the new environment. It was an uphill battle, but they sacrificed to establish yeshivos and/or sent their children to already existing ones.

Both types recognized that the world had changed, but they differed radically in their methods of dealing with the new reality.

Those who held fast to their values survived with their essence and their values intact. They transplanted those values to a new country, translated them into the new language, and they flourished.

Every era presents new temptations and challenges. A society that is strong and realistic studies the new situation until it can navigate it competently. But one that is weak and fatalistic either continues on as if nothing has changed or compromises everything that gave it its identity in the first place.

We have to deal with the challenges that face us in our time and confront them wisely. We mustn’t bury our heads or engage in illegitimate compromises. Neither of those options holds any chance for long-term success.

The Bnei Yisroel were able to survive as a people in Mitzrayim because they held fast to certain attributes. As Chazal say, “Lo shinu es shemom, lo shinu es malbusham, lo shinu es leshonam.” They adapted to a life of servitude and endured because they made sure not to change their identifying characteristics. This is reinforced by the Haggadah Shel Pesach, which says, “Vayehi shom legoy, melameid shehoyu metzuyonim shom.” They made sure to maintain their identity and not to compromise on anything that would have diluted their people.

In our time, as well, we are confronted by a constantly changing society, one that is plagued by ebbing morals and a host of temptations that threaten us. New problems arise daily. We have to remember why we were created and what our mission is. We mustn’t fall prey to the fads of the moment.

As we enter Nissan, the month during which the Jewish nation came into existence, we should remember that we have endured longer than any other people because we remained loyal to our belief in the Torah’s unchanging character and the timelessness and sanctity of its every word.

And because we, the Jewish people, have a mission in this world.

We mustn’t compromise on that which ennobles us and sets us apart. We must remain metzuyonim, excelling in all we do. If we cling to the Torah and seek to excel in its study and the observance of its precepts, we not only enhance our lives, but hasten the end of the exile.

So many bowed, capitulated and fell, while the Torah community continues to grow and flourish in this county and across the globe. In every language, in every society, we have the means to persevere, as long as we are committed to remaining metzuyonim, distinguished by the lofty attributes that define the Jewish people.

There is currently a battle being waged to turn back the force of halacha and the purity and holiness of the Jewish people. As we wrote last week, Israel’s Supreme Court ordered that the country accept fictitious conversions performed by Conservative and Reform clergy and mark people converted by them as Jews on all official documents.

They are fictitious conversions because Judaism is guided by a system of rules and laws borne out of the Talmud, the Shuchan Aruch, codifiers of halacha, and millennia of practice. It is adherence to these laws that identifies us as religious Jews and guides our lives. To ignore these laws and certify people as Jews without committing them to living according to the laws as represented by halacha is to falsify conversions and religious life.

We live at a time when society allows people to identify themselves as being something they are not and can never be. As we are forced to adapt to new legal realities in one way or another, Torah and halacha remain immutable and are not subject to passing whims.

Those who mock us and seek to dilute Jewish laws in the name of adapting to a new world and new situations are usurpers who debase themselves and the people they preach to.

Israel’s Chief Rabbinate is guided by halacha, as all religious rabbis have been since there have been rabbis. To claim that they are guided by interests of power is subterfuge and wrong. It may earn the practitioners of faux Orthodoxy some favorable press, but it is meaningless and won’t endure.

Two of our old friends, Avi Weiss and Marc D. Angel, leaders of the so-called Open Orthodoxy movement, wrote an article in the Jerusalem Post to let the world know that not all Orthodox Jews are as backward and closed-minded as we are. Some are intelligent enough to adapt to new realities.

This is how they began their article: “We are Orthodox rabbis who have served in Orthodox synagogues and taught in Orthodox schools for five decades. It is precisely because we love Orthodoxy that we speak in support of the Israeli Supreme Court’s decision validating Conservative and Reform conversions done in Israel for Israeli citizenship. 

“This move, we believe, will help foster in Israel a less coercive Orthodoxy and worldwide will embrace all of our people as part of Am Yisrael, with a shared past and shared future.

“No doubt, the Chief Rabbinate will disagree with the position we’ve taken, as they fiercely want to hold on to power, determined to be the sole arbiters on conversions, leaving no room for Conservative and Reform.”

They go on to bash the Chief Rabbinate’s form of Orthodoxy.

You see, it is too oppressive and is not inviting. If they would relax the rules and recognize outsiders as insiders, we would all be so much better off, they claim.

Sounds like Joe Biden’s rhetoric to welcome foreigners to the United States. They don’t have to become citizens. It is enough just to cross the border and declare an intention to live in the country. That entitles them to all – or most – benefits of citizenship. There are no obligations, no tests, no background checks. You want to be an American? You are one. That is not going to work for the country, and that philosophy does not work for us either.

They rationalize, “If Israeli citizens have a choice of where to go for a conversion, it may catalyze the rabbinate to be more open in their conversion policies, taking into account the whole corpus of Jewish Law, which is more flexible than the current extreme Chief Rabbinate’s standards.  Competition is always good, as it encourages everyone to do better.  This bill could create a dynamic which would prod the Chief Rabbinate to become less insular and adopt a broader view of Klal Yisrael.”

According to Weiss and Angel, we should be broad and welcoming, diluting our nation by allowing people to enter simply by identifying as Jews, taking some courses and going through a meaningless ceremony.

Halacha does not recognize such people as Jews, and neither can those of us who are halacha observers.

The parsha this week begins with the words, “Vayakhel Moshe es kol adas Bnei Yisroel.” Moshe returned from receiving the Torah on the day after Yom Kippur and all of Klal Yisroel flocked to him to hear what he brought them.

There is a lesson here for us that is relevant throughout the year. The Jewish year, just like Jewish life, is composed of peaks and valleys, times of joy and times of pain. Every period has its specific avodah, whether it is a day that is spent in shul or one that is spent eating and drinking. Even on a routine day, our life is loaded with opportunity and meaning.

The time that passes will never return, and every moment that arrives is unique.

Mimochoras Yom Kippur is the day following the most exalted twenty-four hours of the year. How can you top that? Any day that follows must be a downer, maybe even a day off, without its own specific recipe for growth.

Our parsha opens on that day, mimochoras Yom Kippur, when Moshe Rabbeinu gathered the nation. As they stood listening to him, they were once again together, b’achdus, and they merited the Mishkon.

Following his return from Har Sinai after the chet ha’Eigel, Moshe called out, “Mi laHashem eilay - Everyone who remains with Hashem come to me.” Only the bnei Levi answered the call. But following that, the Jewish people repented for their involvement with the Eigel and understood that when Moshe speaks, everyone should listen and obey.

The parshiyos of Vayakhel and Pekudei conclude the five parshiyos that discuss the construction of the Mishkon and its design. The building of the Mishkon began after Yom Kippur and continued until Rosh Chodesh Nissan.

The work required hundreds of workers and large amounts of material. To facilitate its construction, there was a fundraising campaign in which everyone participated. When the Mishkon was completed, the festivity lasted twelve days.

Rav Yaakov Kamenetsky points out the incongruity between the effort exerted into building the Mishkon and the original intended duration of its existence. The Bnei Yisroel left Mitzrayim on Pesach and were to travel in the desert until reaching the Promised Land. Had the sin of the meraglim not taken place, they would have entered Eretz Yisroel in a matter of months and would not have wandered in the desert for thirty-nine extra years. Why, then, was so much effort and expense invested in constructing a temporary edifice? Why all the specifics, precise measurements, and exhaustive work?

The Mishkon, epicenter of holiness, repository of Hashem’s presence on this world, defied time. Although the Mishkon would be temporary, its effect would be eternal. While it was only meant to last for several months, it represented the ideal that every day could be spent in the presence of Hashem. No day, or even part of it, should be taken for granted or wasted. Every minute is precious and can generate greatness. We know nothing about which day or which moment is most important.

Every action is eternal, every teaching of Moshe is eternal, every halacha is eternal.

Klal Yisroel, newly-cleansed from the chet ha’Eigel and desirous of the return of a proper relationship with Hashem, appreciated the opportunity to construct a dirah batachtonim. And they knew that in a relationship, there are no off moments. For however long it would stand, they would ensure that the Mishkon would be a place where Hashem would, kevayachol, be comfortable.

They understood that building the Mishkon was an act of teshuvah for their sin and they immediately responded to the appeal. It did not matter that the Mishkon was to stand for only a short period of time, for they would take advantage of the opportunity to become closer to Hashem, and in that merit they would enter Eretz Yisroel and build the permanent Bais Hamikdosh.

Their efforts were a labor of love.

As the Mishkon was completed, Moshe Rabbeinu blessed the Jewish people, stating, “Vihi noam Hashem Elokeinu aleinu.” Rav Simcha Sheps explained that they were blessed upon the completion of the work and not when they began it, because Moshe knew that there would be an initial burst of enthusiasm for the project. He didn’t have to bless them at the outset. He feared that the initial euphoria would wear off and they wouldn’t be able to maintain the proper spiritual levels to merit the Shechinah remaining among them. When the job was done and the Mishkon was set up, Moshe was able to look on with pride at the lesson his people had learned.

In the great mussar yeshivos, every talmid was infused with an awareness of the greatness inherent in man, referred to as gadlus ha’adam.

Every day is a gift from Hashem and worthy of expending the effort to construct a Mishkon - a place for Hashem - in our hearts. Every day presents new opportunities to grow, learn and achieve greatness. Every day deserves cleanliness and preparation for Godliness.

The posuk states, “Vayavo’u kol ish asher nesa’o libo” (35:21). Every man “whose heart lifted him” came to work on the construction of the Mishkon.

The Ramban states that none of the people who were engaged in building the Mishkon had learned that trade, nor did they have any previous experience. They were the people who responded to the call of Hashem. Niso’om libom, their hearts lifted them. They were consumed with the desire to fulfill the wish of Hashem. They didn’t say that they weren’t trained for anything that the Mishkon required. They didn’t say that the work was too difficult. They didn’t say, “Leave it for someone else to do.” The Mishkon was built by men of greatness who ignored their shortcomings and pushed themselves to do what they didn’t know they could to serve Hashem.

Perhaps, in light of our understanding, we can appreciate the lesson. Our year doesn’t consist of “on-days” and “off-days,” and our nation doesn’t boast capable people and those who are absolved of work. Every day has its special light, and on any day we can accomplish something.

They achieved greatness. They brought the Shechinah to this world. They received the brocha of Vihi Noam and the Mishkon lasted much longer than anyone thought it would. In fact, the Mishkon was never destroyed. It lies in hiding, waiting for the day when we can appreciate our blessings, the potential that lies in each moment, and all join together and summon the inner strength we all possess to put aside differences and work together to reestablish a dirah laHashem batachtonim.

They sinned with the Eigel and were punished. They learned from their mistake and adapted their behavior to be able to return to Hashem’s embrace. They dedicated their efforts to the construction of the Mishkon reinforced with the knowledge that every day, every person and every halacha is important and is transformative. 

They wouldn’t return to the Eigel ever again. They wouldn’t allow people who seek to dilute the greatness of Am Yisroel to convince them ever again to compromise on Moshe’s teachings.

May we merit the construction of the Bais Hamikdosh speedily in our day.