Food For the Soul
The Torah tells us in the Parsha Pekudei: “When the cloud lifted from the Tabernacle, the Israelites would set out, on their various journeys.” This seemingly simple verse raises two very significant questions.
First, what is the connection between the Jews traveling forward and the establishment of the Tabernacle in the desert? Second, the verse implies that the Jews’ march toward the Land of Israel is specifically connected to the Divine Presence leaving their camp in the desert. Only when “the cloud lifted” do “the Israelites set out.” Why is this so?
Chasidic thought understands the Tabernacle to be a paradigm for all of the world. What dynamic is at play behind the timing of the Jewish people’s journeys? One answer is that there is no great spiritual accomplishment in fulfilling the Divine Will at a time when G-d’s Presence is revealed and manifest. The ultimate goal of existence is to rise up and connect to holiness even when it is hidden and concealed from us. The Midrash tells us that G-d desired a “dwelling place for Himself in the lower worlds.” But relative to G-d, is there truly an upper or lower world? His realm is infinite.
We can now understand that when G-d’s cloud was found among the Jewish people and His Presence was revealed, then the material world ceased to be “lowly.” It is only when the cloud of G-d raises itself higher and higher, and His Divine Light is no longer revealed, can we begin the spiritual fulfilling of G-d’s design. And the Tabernacle bestows upon the Jewish people the strength and faculties to bring holiness into the world, the ultimate purpose of Creation.
This is an extremely relevant message for us all at this time in Jewish history. We are in a spiritual state of exile. There is a darkness that rests on the world necessitating our best efforts, even more than before, to engage in the study of Torah and the fulfillment of mitzvot. We must understand that our ultimate goal and purpose is to illuminate that darkness with the light of Torah. Just as the disappearance of the Divine cloud from the Tabernacle became the sign to proceed forward, so, too, should today’s conflicts encourage and arouse us to dedicate ourselves to the fulfillment of G-d’s mission, which is to journey past this era and into the Messianic era of the complete and full redemption.
From an article by Rabbi Shraga Sherman
The Peace of Shabbat Candles
If one only has enough money for either Shabbat candles or Kiddush wine, the Shabbat candles take precedence. The same applies to one who has to choose between Shabbat candles or Chanukah candles: the Shabbat candles take priority. Why? Because they bring peace to the home. The Talmud explains that people may stumble or fall in a darkened room — an environment that can lead to bickering; the Shabbat candles bring light, and thus family tranquility, to the home. The candles also cast a soft, warm and festive glow on the Shabbat meal, fostering the Shabbat atmosphere.
This Shabbat, let us say a special prayer for the safety of the Jewish community in the Ukraine and for peace in this region. “The most important thing at this time is for people to not think they can’t help us here. They can,“ said a Jewish Ukrainian man in an article in Chabad.org. “Every person can do something. Say a chapter of psalms, put on tefillin, give charity, put up a mezuzah. Do a good deed in the merit of the Jews of Ukraine, because that’s what can bring about a miracle.”
Mind Over Matter
Taking An Accounting
The previous four Parshahs dealt with the specifications for building the Tabernacle and its holy vestments. In the Parsha Pekudei, a very important detail is contributed—a calculation of the total sum of the donations received for the cause. This aspect of our Parshah can be very instructive in our everyday lives.
Following the sin of the forbidden fruit, G-d turned to Adam and asked, “Ayekah? Where are you?” Chassidic master Rabbi Schneur Zalman of Liadi explains that this is question each of us must ask ourselves: Where are you? What stage are you at in life? What have you accomplished your thirty or forty years of living? This question gives us pause. Indeed, what have I accomplished in my lifetime? Am I proud of those accomplishments? Could I have done more? Am I living my life to its fullest potential? The answers cannot be known unless we stop to take an accounting, to put together a lifelong register of failures and successes. This is the only way to view life from a comprehensive perspective; this allows us to make the adjustments that will alter (or steady) our course, ensuring that we are headed in the direction we want to go.
From an article by Rabbi Lazer Gurkow
“These are the accounts of the mishkan (Tabernacle), mishkan ha’edut (the Tabernacle of Testimony)” – Pekudei 38:21.
Our sages note that the term mishkan is mentioned twice in this verse. This two-fold reference is an allusion to the Mikdash (Sanctuary in Jerusalem) which was taken away as a mashkon (collateral) for Israel’s repentance, by being destroyed twice (i.e., the first Beit Hamikdash and the second Beit Hamikdash) for the iniquities of Israel. This means that the destruction of the Beit Hamikdash was not intended to be a permanent loss to Israel. It was taken only as a pledge, as surety, and it will be restored eventually. Jewish law requires that he who takes collateral must guard it carefully and in due time must restore it to its owner. When the cause for the Sanctuary’s removal (“the iniquities of Israel”) will be corrected, it will be returned to us, fully intact. The third Beit Hamikdash will thus contain all the qualities of its two predecessors.
Rabbi J. Immanuel Schochet
Have I Got A Story
A Religion of Sensitivity
It was a frigid winter day in Brooklyn, made worse by a heavy downpour. A young girl holding a tiny colorful umbrella stood patiently in front of “770,” Lubavitch World Headquarters, waiting to catch a glimpse of the Rebbe as he arrived for prayers.
The Rebbe’s car pulled up and the Rebbe quickly alighted. He didn’t have an umbrella with him and was about to hurry to the door when he noticed the little girl waiting expectantly to greet him. He smiled at her warmly and started towards the synagogue when she offered to share her umbrella with him. The Rebbe bent beneath the miniature umbrella she proudly held out and walked bent over until reaching 770, thoroughly soaked. After holding the door open for her, the Rebbe smiled broadly and said, “Thank you for sharing.”
Long before the smorgasbord of human and animal rights movements our world has welcomed in recent times, there existed an ancient document, the bedrock of a historic people and their law, that advocated [the values of sensitivity and compassion] and more. That document is the Torah, which concerns itself not only with the wellbeing of man, but of animal and vegetative life as well, and even mandates respect for inanimate objects. It promotes sensitivity and respect for all beings, regardless of their capacity for intelligence or emotive expression.
Regarding animals we don’t have to look far. The very first set of G-d-given commandments was actually not the famous Ten given at Sinai, but a group of seven given by G-d to all of humanity at the dawn of civilization, called the Seven Noahide Laws. You will find there, in the illustrious company of such fundamental and universal laws as the belief in G-d and the forbiddance of murder and adultery, a law forbidding the practice of eating from live animals. In addition to banning cruel behavior to animals, itself a moral contribution ahead of its times, the Torah sought to ingrain in its adherents a sense of compassion towards animals. This can be seen from the emphasis the Torah places on a particular act of our forefather Jacob, when he served as a shepherd. Genesis 33:17 says that: “for his cattle he made sukkot [booths or huts]; therefore the name of the place is called Sukkot” Jacob cared for his animals and built sukkot to protect them from the elements. So remarkable was the sensitivity he showed his animals, and so important was this lesson for posterity, that an entire town was named after this deed! In addition: it turns out that beyond mere animal-compassion, the Torah demands that we place our animals even before ourselves! Based on the order of the verse, “And I will give grass in your fields for your cattle, and [then] you shall eat and be satisfied,” the Talmud derives the law that one is prohibited from eating before providing food for his or her animal. Talk about animal rights.
On to the vegetable kingdom, called tzomeach. A telling Biblical injunction prohibits soldiers from cutting down fruit trees when conducting a siege on an enemy city. Amazingly, we find that fruit-producing trees must be protected at all costs, even at the expense of an expedited military victory! The extent of this mitzvah’s importance is underscored by the words of Rabbi Chanina, a Talmudic sage, who declared that his son Shivchat actually died because he cut down a fig tree before its time; i.e., while it was still productive.
The inorganic world, called domem, does not escape our consideration and respect, either. A moving expression of this idea is found in the Biblical injunction: “You shall not ascend with steps upon my altar [rather build a ramp], so that your nakedness will not be uncovered upon it.” Rashi points out, “[There was] no actual exposure of nakedness, for it is written, ‘And make for them linen pants,’ nonetheless, taking wide steps [on stairs] is close to [appears to be] exposing nakedness, and treats the stones in a humiliating manner…” Thus, we learn that the inconvenience of a Holy Priest, made to climb a ramp instead of steps while doing his sacred Temple duty, comes second to the dignity of a slab of lifeless stone.[Unlike modern environmental and animal rights movements] the Torah’s basis and motive for advocating kindness and compassion towards non-humans is not fueled by self-interest, or the fear of our own delicate futures. (“If we don’t take care of the planet today, tomorrow it won’t be there to take care of us.” Or, in the case of human rights efforts, “If we don’t campaign for the freedom of all, one day we might lose our own.”) The Torah’s concern stems rather from the fact that Judaism, as highlighted by Chassidic philosophy, maintains that there is a point of life, or “a spark of G-d,” in every aspect of creation. That spark is an extension of the Creator, and thus must be treated accordingly.
In the final analysis, then, this is a testament to an ultimate truth and a foundation of our world: that at our core we all come from one Source, continue to be one, and can – and will one day – live as one. “Now, if regarding these stones which do not have the intelligence to object to their humiliation, the Torah says, ‘Do not treat them in a humiliating manner,’ in the case of your fellow man, who was created in the image of your Creator, and cares about his humiliation, how much more so must you treat him with respect!” —Rashi.
From an article by Rabbi Mendel Kalmenson