• Dvar for Vayakhel (Exodus 35:1-38:20)

    The Torah describes the two cherubim on either end of the aron cover as being made from one piece of gold facing each other (37:8). The word used to characterize each end, קצוותו, is spelled with an extra vav not typically there. What is the significance of adding a letter to the word קְצוֹתָֽיו?

    Rav S. R. Hirsch explains that the extra vav symbolizes the plurality of the cherubim. Just like the two tablets of ten commandments serve as one cohesive list of commandments, the two cherubim also unite to form one entity. The cherubim illustrate that although they, and we, may seem different and on opposing ends, they are still formed from just one piece of gold and join together toward our common goals. Perhaps it’s no coincidence that the duality of its ends are what unites the cherubim, as they symbolically reach for each other. Our differences unite us, and just as G-d and others see the Jewish people as one indivisible unit, we too should unify as a people and act as one.

  • Dvar for Vayakhel/Pekudei (Exodus 35:1-40:38)

    As the nation transforms into a giving people, the materials needed to complete the Mishkan are donated so generously that Moshe must tell the people to stop contributing (36:6). The tribal leaders commit to supplying whatever materials are not supplied by the children of Israel, but once everything has been donated for the Mishkan, the leaders are stuck not having contributed. This subsequently prompts the priests to contribute the shoham stones for the ephod and choshen before anyone else is given the opportunity (35:27). Generally, וְהַנְשִׂיאִים is the word used in the Torah to denote leaders but here, when referenced, their name seems to be missing a yud, וְהַנְשִׂאִם. Is there a plausible explanation for this?  

    The priests’ offer to supply all that was missing from the donations could have amounted to a more generous donation than that of anyone else. Rav Chaim Shmulevitz highlights Rashi’s assertion that however generous the priests’ proposal may have been, their underlying motivation for that offer stemmed from laziness. Their seemingly magnanimous offer to cover the balance of what was needed was simply a way to excuse them from donating initially.

    Our mind has an uncanny ability to justify and rationalize our actions, to the point where we can sometimes fool ourselves into believing the justification. This inclination to rationalize poor decisions is the reason why we are urged to be “zrizim,” jumping at opportunities when they present themselves.

  • Dvar for Vayakhel/Pekudei (Exodus 35:1-40:38)

    One of this week’s Parshiot, Vayakhel, tells of Moshe gathering the entire Jewish community and begins with instructions for not working on Shabbat (35:1-2). The very next Passuk (verse) strangely specifies that fire should not be kindled in dwellings on Shabbat (35:3), and moves on to the next topic. Why would the Torah single out only one type of work?

    Recent world events provide an interesting perspective that could help us understand this Passuk. When a virus spreads, sometimes the carriers themselves may be asymptomatic, unwittingly spreading the virus to others. The same can be true of fire – while it may not do damage to our property, there is a chance that it spreads beyond our control and hurts others. The Torah’s instructions specifically included the words “community” and “in dwellings,” possibly to highlight that we should be concerned for our community as much as we should be concerned for ourselves. This example isn’t just an extension of the commandment to keep Shabbos; it’s the very example the Torah used to highlight the need for thinking of each other in every way.

  • Dvar for Vayakhel (Exodus 35:1-38:20)

    After the disappointing event of the golden calf, Parshat Vayakhel recounts some of the Jews’ positive traits, including their eagerness to contribute materials needed to erect the Mishkan. The Passuk states that “the work was enough for the work that was needed, and there was extra” (36:7). Rashi explains that the first “work” refers to the act of bringing the materials to the craftsmen, but if that’s what the Torah meant, why not be clear about it? Also, if they were stopped after bringing what was needed why would there also be extra?

    The Or HaChaim answers both questions by suggesting that G-d was so pleased with the people’s eagerness to contribute that He found a way to make use of the excess donated, such that no one’s contributions were wasted. G-d was pleased with the effort of the people’s delivery of the materials as much as the donation of the materials themselves. This could be why the Passuk uses the same word to describe the bringing of the material and the material itself. The Passuk would then be conveying that the effort and eagerness of the people was so appreciated that it was as important as the material itself. What’s clear is that we don’t need to be experts in what we do – effort and enthusiasm is fundamental in how we interact with G-d as well as each other.

  • Dvar for Vayakhel/Pekudei (Exodus 35:1-40:38)

    In Parshat Vayakhel, it describes that the frame of the Tabernacle was constructed of “shittim wood, standing.” The talmud offers several explanations of this phrase. The first and simplest is that it refers to the orientation of the planks used in the construction; they should be vertical rather than horizontal. Another interpretation is that “standing” means that they are standing to this very day – the Tabernacle has been hidden away, but has not been destroyed. R’ Baruch Simon cites a number of sources who contrast this to the Temple, which was burned to the ground. Why will the Tabernacle stand forever while the Temple has been destroyed?

    He explains that the Temple was largely constructed by the hired labor of Tyrean craftsmen who were working for money, not for the sake of the task itself. Their hearts weren’t truly in it. However, the Tabernacle was built by Jews themselves, out of commitment and love of G-d. Our accomplishments are most likely to endure when they are done in this fashion, with dedication and for their own sake.

  • Dvar for Vayakhel (Exodus 35:1-38:20)

    In this week’s Parsha, Vayakhel, we learn about Moshe gathering the Jews (on G-d’s command) to tell them about keeping Shabbat. Describing the laws of Shabbat, G-d says that ordinary work should “be done” for six days, and Shabbat should be holy, and should be used for rest. Two questions emerge: 1) Why gather the Jews for this particular law? And 2) why the strange wording of work “being done”?

    One possible answer is that work shouldn’t be done for the purpose of doing it, but rather so that it gets done. Too often people get caught up in their job or work, and fail to realize what it is they’re working for. That’s why G-d installed Shabbat, to re-focus our perspective on what our real goals are and should be. Taking it a step further, even when the work is building the Mishkan for G-d to dwell in (a holy and noble cause on its own) G-d made sure everyone heard first-hand (hence the gathering) that the main goal is not to work or build it, but the completion of the work so we can focus on its function and purpose. We too should train ourselves to take time out every Shabbat to reflect on our life’s purpose and goals, as well as how we intended to reach those goals.

  • Daily Aliya for Vayakhel/Pekudei, Shvii (7th Aliya)

    Aliya Summary: G‑d instructed Moshe to erect the Tabernacle on the first of Nissan. G‑d also instructed Moshe to place all the Tabernacle’s vessels in their proper places, and to anoint all of the items with the anointing oil, thus sanctifying them. Moshe is also directed to dress Aaron and his sons in the priestly garments, and to anoint them, too. When Moshe finished this task a Cloud of Glory and the Divine Presence filled the Tabernacle. This cloud also served as the Jews’ guide throughout their desert sojourn: when the cloud lifted, the people would travel, following the cloud until it rested, where they would set up camp until the cloud would lift again.

    Rashi says that on the 8th day of the dedication of the Mishkan, Moshe and Aharon were on equal status. But only on that day. After that, Moshe is “only” a Levi, and Aharon takes over the reins. It is said that Moshe would have been the Kohen Gadol, except for the way he spoke to G-d at the Burning Bush. It was then that G-d brought Aharon to Moshe, so to speak, to share the responsibilities and privileges of leadership.

  • Daily Aliya for Vayakhel/Pekudei, Shishi (6th Aliya)

    Aliya Summary: The rest of the priestly garments were completed: The High Priest’s me’il (blue robe adorned with golden bells and cloth “pomegranates”) and tzitz (a golden band worn on the forehead, which was engraved with the words “Holy to G‑d”); and the four garments worn by both the High Priest and the regular priests: tunics, turbans, sashes and pants. With this, the construction of the Tabernacle and all its vessels and accoutrement were finished. The craftspeople brought their finished products to Moshe. Moshe saw that all the work had been done exactly to G‑d’s specifications, and he blessed the workers.

    Talmud Yerushalmi notes that the phrase, “as G-d had commanded Moshe” appears 18 times in Pekudei. Correspondingly, we have 18 brachot in our weekday Amida (the connection between Service in the Mikdash and Davening is obvious). Thus says Sh’muel b. Nachmani in the name of Rabbi Yochanan. This does not include the first time the phrase is used: And Bezalel… did all the G-d had commanded Moshe. There are differences between the context of the phrase with Bezalel and contexts of all the other uses of the phrase that justify its not being counted together with the rest. On the other hand, our Amida does have a 19th bracha, so the “extra” phrase is accounted for.

  • Dvar for Vayakhel/Pekudei (Exodus 35:1-40:38)

    One of this week’s Parshiot, Pekudei, relates a very interesting story between Moshe and Betzalel, who built all the utensils for serving G-d in the desert. When Moshe told Betzalel to build the utensils before the actual housing (Mishkan) for them, Betzalel uncharacteristically spoke up, claiming that you couldn’t have the tools without first building the house because you’d have nowhere to put them. Moshe thought about it, agreed, and praised Betzalel for his insight. This seems very odd, being that Moshe got his orders from G-d, and there was never a valid reason to deviate until now. Why did Moshe suddenly change the way it was to be done?

    As Rashi helps us understand, Betzalel’s reasoning had a more global meaning: Jews can’t just perform the actions (Mitzvot) that are required without first having a ‘home’ for them. To some that home is a real home where they can share the learning and performance of Torah with their families. To others that home lies within their hearts, as they struggle to be Jews in an environment that’s not as supportive. But each of us has to perform Mitzvot and store them within our own “Mishkan” (housing). The point is not to just perform G-d’s commandments and hope that one day we’ll be inspired to grow from them, but to always have in mind that our goal is to realize their value. To appreciate and learn of the beauty of the Torah is to realize that we’ve always had a home for it in our hearts.

  • Daily Aliya for Vayakhel/Pekudei, Chamishi (5th Aliya)

    Aliya Summary: The High Priest’s ephod — a reversed apron which covered the back — and its precious-stone-studded shoulder straps were made. The High Priest’s Choshen Mishpat (“Breastplate of Judgment”) was assembled. It contained four rows of precious stones, each row containing three stones. Artisans engraved the names of the Twelve Tribes of Israel upon these twelve stones. The Choshen Misphat was then secured by straps which connected it to the ephod.

    The names of the 12 tribes (actually, it was the 12 sons of Yaakov) were engraved on the stones, six on each stone.

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