"We are closer to G-d when we are asking the questions, than when we think we have the answers" Heschel

Friday, February 19, 2010

FNQ - Parsha Thought

In the list of the necessary materials for the construction of the Mishkan, Hashem’s dwelling place within the encampment of Klal Yisrael, something is found which presents a slight difficulty. Atzei Shittim, perhaps acacia wood, or any wood for that matter, simply does not exist in Midbar Sinai. How could Hashem ask for the construction of a structure in the middle of a desert which requires wood!?
Rashi quotes the Midrash with an answer, “From where did they have wood? Rabi Yaakov Tanchuma explains, ‘Yaakov Avinu saw with ruach hakedesh that in the future Klal Yisrael would come to build a Mishkan in the desert, he therefore brought trees to Mitzrayim, planted them and instructed his children to take them along with them upon their departure Mitzrayim”.

On this explanation, the Ibn Ezra asks two poignant questions. First, the pasuk says later in Parshas VaYakhel that the materials which were used for construction were “found in his [the individual who chooses to make a donation] possession”. It seems that they must have had wood at their disposal in their day to day lives. Why would any Jew have walked out of Mitzrayim with giant logs, for he most certainly had no prior knowledge of the Mishkan? Second, all of the various things which Klal Yisrael had with them upon their exodus were things that they "borrowed" from Egyptians. Why, asks the Ibn Ezra, would a Mitzri have lent wooden logs to an exiting Jew? He therefore, develops his own understanding for the source of the wood.

He says that at Har Sinai there was a forest of Atzei Shittim and that while Klal Yisrael were at Har Sinai the protective Ananei HaKavod were not present. They therefore cut down the wood from the forest and made shelters known to us as “sukkot”. The greater the individual the more honorable of a dwelling he had. Many, many trees were chopped in the process. It was not long after this that Moshe commanded the construction of the Mishkan and when that time came, after Yom Kippur, each Jew who chose to make a donation, destroyed his own home and gave the very wood of his dwelling for Hashem’s.  What a phenomenal expression of love, “my personal dwelling is secondary to the home of Hashem”. Just as Dovid Hamelech proclaimed, “See now, I am living in a house of cedar while the Ark of God dwells within the curtain!?” (Shmuel II, 7:2)
Although this explanation of the Ibn Ezra is beautiful and a fundamental principle for our service of Hashem can be gleaned, I have a tradition from my Rebbe that we must always strive to defend Rashi (not to mention Chazal). In order to do so, we turn to the Maharal in the Gur Aryeh, who dismisses the Ibn Ezra’s attack instantaneously. He answers that it is completely sensible to say that the Jews knew that eventually they would come to establish a Mishkan.  He adds that prior to the command they utilized the wood for their own needs with the acknowledgment that they would donate it as soon as the need arose. Additionally, he explains, it was not ridiculous for the Mitzrim to “lend” them such giant logs for their short service, since 600,000 people can construct a massive structure in a very short time.
The Maharal concludes by saying that the Ibn Ezra doesn’t necessarily disagree with Rashi’s (Chazal’s) principle regarding the advance planning of Yaakov Avinu. It is a wondrous concept, so integral to our faith and our nation and it cannot be disputed. Our Avos as well as our great leaders throughout all of our generations have always been able to be characterized as men who have not only looked out for the Jewish people in the here and now, but have had a focus on our future, on the eternality of Am Yisrael. Yaakov Avinu was burdened with difficulties, family strife, suffering and other struggles for his entire life. This did not cause him for an instant to lose focus on the fact that his existence was not momentary or even for the span of his life. He was confident in, and absolutely aware of, his eternal impact.

It would be irresponsible to conclude without the following account from Masseches Taanis 23a.
R. Yochanan said: All the days of this righteous man [Choni HaMeagel], he troubled himself concerning the meaning of the passage "When the Lord will bring back again the captivity of Zion, then shall we be like dreamers." Choni would constantly say: "How can a man sleep or be like a dreamer for seventy years?" Once he was travelling on the road, and he noticed a man planting a carob-tree. He asked him how many years it would take before the tree would bear fruit, and the man answered: "Seventy years." Choni then asked: "Are you sure that you will live seventy years?" And the man replied: "I found carob-trees in existence when I came into the world, consequently my ancestors must have planted them. Why should I not also plant them for my children?”…
May we merit to follow in the paths of those righteous pillars of our nation who left us with soo much goodness and to perpetuate their legacies and strive to constantly plant for the Jews of the future as did Yaakov Avinu and Choni HaMeagel. If we succeed in this than we can be very confidant that our progeny as well will make the declaration of Klal Yisrael in the midbar to be solely concerned with making this world a fitting Dira B’Tachtonim for Avinu SheBaShamayim. She’Nizkeh!!

1 comment:

  1. I enjoyed your thought. One of the most challenging aspects of the world we live in is that we feel so small. Only when we stop and appreciate that even the little things we do now can have an impact in the far distant future can we get a perspective of how important every mitzvah is.