The Mishkan: For Hashem or For Us?

30 01 2014


With the exception of the tragic incident of the Golden Calf, the rest of Sefer Shemot is devoted to the preparations for and construction of the Mishkan. According to the Sforno, the construction of the Mishkan was only necessary because of Israel’s lapse into Avodah Zarah. The Sforno argues that ideally there would have been no need for the Mishkan, after Maamad Har Sinai, as every Jew then had experienced the Shechinah as it later fell on the Bet Mikdash. Only after the Golden Calf, when the Jewish People fell from that high level of spirituality, was the Mishkan necessary.

The Torah in Shemot 25:8 commands Am Yisrael to build a Mishkan, and through that physical and tangible body, the Shechina can rest within Am Yisrael. In Shemot 25:9, Hashem states that Am Yisrael would be directed very clearly as how to precisely construct this very real and solid portable piece of construction. In Shemot 29:45/46, the Torah says that through the Mishkan, the Shechina can be present within Am Yisrael and also through the Mishkan, Am Yisrael will be reminded of Yitziyat Mitzrayim.

The question of who initiates and is the more active partner in the encounter between man and Hashem goes back to Sefer Beraishit. At times Hashem takes the lead and appears to the Avot. For instance, in 12:1 and 26:24, Hashem appears to Avraham and in 35:1 Hashem appears to Yaakov. In contrast, in Beraishit 46:1, Yaakov takes the intiative. So we see in Sefer Beraishit, it isn’t clear who goes in the driving seat and who is more passive. There is obviously a balance or contrast being presented, like in any relationship, at times one side – Hashem, takes the initiative and at times the other side, in the context of Sefer Beraishit the Avot, must do the hishtadlut and take charge.

Rashi says that the instructions for the Mishkan were only given AFTER the Golden Calf – as Rashi believes that the order of the Torah is not chronological.

The Ramban says that Yitziyat Mitzrayim was only completed through Maamad Har Sinai and consequently the building of the Mishkan.The Ramban says that the Mishkan represents and continues the Matan Torah experience at Har Sinai. The Mishkan, like Maamad Har Sinai was a central rallying point of the nation – surrounded and ringed by the Tribes and topped and protected by the Shechinah. The function of the Mishkan in the Midbar, was continued by the Bet Hamikdash in Yerushalayim, in that it was a place where the Korbanot could be offered up and man could hope to elevate himself spiritually.

The Ibn Ezra comments that whilst Moshe was on Har Sinai, Hashem commanded him regarding the Mishkan, so it would be a permanent resting place for the Shechinah. Now, there was a Mishkan, Moshe could communicate to Hashem through it and he wouldn’t have to go up to Har Sinai.

The Malbim and Midrash Tanchuma viewed the Mishkan as a microcosm of Briyat Ha’Olam. The Malbim, compares the materials used to build the Mishkan with the materials and substances used to create the world and draws parallels between the two.

The Rambam in the Mishneh Torah, Hilchot Bet Habchirah 1:1, sees the Mishkan and the Bet Mikdash as primarily the location where the Korbanot offered. In other words, the Rambam, sees the Mishkan/Bet Mikdash as a means through which man intiates his connection to Hashem, but through the routine and highly regulated Korbanot. There is little room for spontaneity or spiritual freedom.

The Kuzari has the famous view, that the purpose of the Mishkan was that after the spiritual ecstasy of Maamad Har Sinai, Am Yisrael need a more concrete and realistic means through which they could relate to Hashem. The Kuzari says, that the sin of the Golden Calf was as a result of the spiritual high of Har Sinai, and now the detailed Mishkan was a way Am Yisrael could get back to a more normal and down to earth form of Avodat Hashem.

Rav Hirsch in Shmot 27:21 saw the Mishkan as a meeting place for Hashem to have an encounter with Am Yisrael.Rav Hirsch said the root of the word ‘Mo’ed’ is ‘Ya’ad’, related to ‘Yachad’, to fix a meeting. ‘Moed’ is a time or, as here the place for such a meeting. The Mishkan is an ‘Ohel Moed’ since it is through the Sanctuary that the special presence of Hashem rests on Am Yisrael, brought about by the acceptance of the Torah with complete self-surrender. Also, Rav Hirsch says that the Mishkan is called the ‘Ohel Moed’ as Hashem appointed it as the place for the revelation to take place with Moshe Rabbenu, as well as the place where Israel is constantly to give afresh practical proof of their relationship and connection with Hashem, where they have ever afresh, ‘to come to a meeting with Hashem’.

However you view the Mishkan, whether it was more needed by Hashem to connect with Am Yisrael via a more physical structure, or whether it was needed by Am Yisrael to reach Hashem in a more concrete and tangible way, it was an opportunity for Hashem to be able to have a more long term and consistent relationship with Am Yisrael.

Both sides had to put in effort for it to work and be a meaningful and productive relationship. At times Hashem had to take the initiative and at other times Am Yisrael had to show they wanted and were enthusiastic about their encounter with the Divine.

So, maybe the answer is to my question is that the Mishkan was BOTH for Hashem and Am Yisrael. After Yitziyat Mitzrayim and Matan Torah both sides needed to be able to connect with each to other in a less dramatic and more calm and grounded way and the Mishkan provided for that more stable and less overtly ‘spiritual’ dynamic.

Shabbat Shalom,

Benjy Singer.


Rabbi Chaim Brovender: What was the purpose of the Har Sinai Experience?

23 01 2014

Last night in his Parsha shiur, Rabbi Brovender discussed the significance of the Har Sinai Experience. I will be writing my blog posts more briefly and concisely, so they take less time to read.

rabbi brovender

Firstly, when talking about Ma’amad Har Sinai and Matan Torah we need to be clear on the timeframe we are referring to.

The Har Sinai Experience through which the Torah was given (what was actually given, and at what stages in a shiur in itself), actually covers 120 days, from the 6th or 7th of Sivan until Yom Kippur, when Moshe Rabbenu received the Second Luchot. These 120 days comprise of 3 blocks of 40 days each.

Parshat Mishpatim is clearly a continuation of Parshat Yitro when many of the Mitzvot are given. There is a debate amongst the Rishonim as to what was given in Parshat Yitro – was it just the first two of the ten commandments or all of them? Certainly though, all agree that Parshat Mishpatim and subsequent Parshiyot in the Torah continue and add to what was given in Parshat Yitro. When and the stages in which the Torah She’Baal Peh was given is also discussed at length by the Rishonim and Mefarshim.

The idea that the month of Tishrei and the Asseret Yemei Teshuvah is now a time for Teshuva, is based in the Torah itself. It was in this third and final 40 day time period between Rosh Chodesh Tishrei and Yom Kippur that Moshe was up on Har Sinai after having spent the middle 40 day block, trying to make Am Yisrael do Teshuvah and preparing them for receiving the second Luchot. Many don’t realize that primarily Yom Kippur is the culmination and climax of Matan Torah, which started 120 days earlier, on Shavuot.

Now we have the outline of the timing clear, we can think about what the essential purpose of Matan Torah was.

Rabbi Brovender explained that there are two schools of thought as to the deeper significance of Matan Torah:

1) The Rambam in Moreh Nevuchim (2:33): The Har Sinai Experience was a means through which Moshe could demonstrate that HE was the unique and true prophet who had a special relationship with Hashem. Of course, Matan Torah is when the ‘Torah’ was first given, but beyond that it was an opportunity for Am Yisrael to see that Moshe was the main prophet and leader. Har Sinai was primarily a lesson to teach Am Yisrael the concept of hierarchy in leadership. The Rambam writes that, ‘Speech was addressed to Moshe alone’. The Rambam believed that it was at Har Sinai that the prophecy of Moshe Rabbenu was validated.

2) The Ramban, Drashot Ha’Ran and Kuzari: At Matan Torah, Am Yisrael JOINED with Moshe Rabbenu and were EQUALLY part of that unique experience. At Har Sinai all of Am Yisrael stood before Hashem and received the basis of our Torah and faith. It was a 120 day time period when we could develop a unique connection and relationship with Hashem, and not an opportunity for Hashem to show Moshe Rabbenu was the leader of Am Yisrael. Har Sinai was a time period of coronation of Hashem and the Torah for Am Yisrael.

Which approach do you think fits in best to the Pshat and meaning of the text? Was Matan Torah a means through which Moshe Rabbenu could assert his authority and leadership or was it an opportunity for all of Am Yisrael to celebrate being part of the ‘Am Segulah’, rooted and based at Har Sinai.

Shabbat Shalom,

Benjy Singer.

Ha’Rav Medan on Parshat Yitro – 6 Points for ‘Shabbat Table Talk’

17 01 2014

parsha big

Last night Ha’Rav Medan spoke about the following issues in his Parsha shiur at the Begin Center. As Friday is short and we all have lots to do, I was asked to keep my blog concise. I have written it in a way it can be used over the Shabbat table, if you don’t have time to read it before Shabbat:

1) What motivated Yitro to join the Jewish People? The Mechilta quoted by Rashi cites 2 opinions: R’Eliezer who says Kriyat Yam Suf-the culmination of Yitziyat Mitzrayim and R’Yehoshua who said the war against Amalek. When analysing the Pesukim in Perek 18: 1-11, you can see both views in the text. Which reason do you think and why? Which would have impressed you more?

2) Ha’Rav Medan spoke about how Yitro felt when Moshe left for Egypt, leaving his wife Tziporah and Gershom and Eliezer with him to look after. What does this tell us about Moshe and how do you think this affected how Yitro viewed Moshe?

3) Rav Medan spoke about the Mitzvah to wipe out Amalek and that the Chazon Ish, based on the Shulchan Aruch in Even Ha’Ezer ruled that in each generation there is an Amalek. Why do you think Hashem wants there to be an Amalek type character is our National Story? How does this affect how we perceive ourselves and other nations see us?

4) Chazal say that Yitro joined in the Har Sinai experience. What does this teach us about how we should treat outsiders and the nature of the Torah and Judaism? Isn’t it ironic that the Parsha in which the Har Sinai experience happens is named after a non-Jew?

5) Rav Medan spoke about a famous argument between the Rambam and Kuzari. The Rambam in Hilchot Yesodai Hatorah writes that the purpose of the Har Sinai experience was to inculcate Emunah – faith and for Am Yisrael to internalise belief in G-d and that Moshe was His Prophet. The Kuzari says that Am Yisrael remained in a state of ‘Safek’- uncertainty even after Har Sinai, and the main purpose of Har Sinai was to teach Am Yisrael about the Torah and Mitzvot, and not just Emunah in Hashem and Moshe. Who do you think is right – the Rambam or Kuzari. Do you think they are mutually exclusive positions? I don’t!

6) Rav Medan finished off his shiur talking about the two aspects to the Asseret Ha’Dibrot. The first half refer to ‘Ben Adam La’Makom’ – between man and G-d. The second half refer to ‘Ben Adam Le’Chavero’ – between man and man.
‘Kibud Av Va’em’, Rav Medan discussed has both these aspects. Rav Medan explained that when we are young and our parents are healthy and independent, we respect them out of love and fear of G-d. But, as we get older and our parents become more dependent and reliant on us, we love and respect them out of ‘Ben Adam Le’Chavero’ – driven by human instinct, out of genuine ‘Hakarat Ha’Tov’ – appreciation, for all they have done for us throughout our lives.

Rav Medan spoke about how it is because of all our parents have given us, that we can succeed and go forward in our lives. By respecting and caring for our parents we learn how to relate to our ‘Mesorah’ – tradition and thereby G-d Himself. It is through developing healthy relationships with our parents, we learn how to approach G-d.

Rav Medan finished by quoting from Mishlei ‘ Shmah Bni Musar Avichah Ve’al Titosh Torat Imecha’. We see clearly in Mishlei, that being part of G-d’s Mesorah of Har Sinai is inextricably linked with being part of a personal, family Mesorah, rooted in our relationship with our parents.

Shabbat Shalom,

Benjy Singer.

Tu B’Shvat: Is Man Really Like a Tree?

15 01 2014

tu bishvat

In Israel, Tu B’Shvat means so much more than back home. After all, we are living in Eretz Yisrael where the fruits we are eating and singing about at our Tu B’Shvat Sedarim tonight are actually grown and where the New Year for Trees as discussed in Massechet Rosh Hashanah has Halachic significance.

Tu B’Shvat is a time when you are likely to hear songs and poems comparing man to trees. Of course, the parallel of man to trees is rooted (excuse the pun) in the Tenach. For instance, in Tehilim 1:1, man is compared to a tree planted besides streams of water.

Furthermore, the Torah in Devarim 20:19, also brings man and trees together in the same Pasuk. However, the plain meaning of this Pasuk is that man is NOT like a tree and is more questioning the parallel. Rashi in this Pasuk comments in fact that in war it is permitted to attack soldiers of the enemy, but a tree is not a soldier and Jews shouldn’t feel the need to deprive anyone of the tree’s fruit. Devarim 20:19 is saying, when you go to war against a city you have to besiege it for a long time in order to capture it – UNLIKE man, who sadly are killed in war, the trees must be left alone to live and you CANNOT cut them down. Only those trees you know do not yield fruit may be destroyed.

So, is man essentially like a tree? I want to suggest that this question actually reflects the dichotomy in the nature of man and his complexity, as described by Rav Soloveichik in ‘The Lonely Man of Faith’ as I will explain.

The Chiddushei Ha’Rim, the grandfather of the Sfat Emet, quotes the Rabbenu Tam who writes in his ‘Sefer Hayashar’ that man is like an upside down tree, his roots are in Heaven and the branches and fruits of the tree, represent Torah and Mitzvot, connects him to earth. The Chiddushei Ha’Rim says that Olam Habbah, is where mans roots and origins truely are and that is where he should be focused. This world, Olam Hazeh, is just a means, a channel to getting there. There is a plethora of Chassidic literature on Tu B’Shvat that in various ways says the same. That man is weak, defenseless and helpless and blows, sways and drifts in the wind, like a tree. From this perspective, life is transient, ephemeral and temporary, where man is ever cognisant and mindful of his mortality.

But, does the Torah itself view man as a passive, impermanent bystander in this world who can’t take control of and shape his destiny?

If we look through Sefer Beraishit, when the Torah describes the Avot, they are men whose roots are very much in this world and not the next. Avraham Avinu in Beraishit 21:33 plants in Beersheva, Yitzchak Avinu is described in Beraishit Rabbah 65 as staying in Eretz Yisrael in order to plant and sew. Yaakov Avinu in Beraishit 33:19, is described as planting his tent in the fields.

So, we see all three of our Avot, are described as men who plant and sew in Eretz Yisrael. They were people who were very much entrenched and fixed to the Land, to Eretz Yisrael and Olam Hazeh – this world and not Olam Habah and higher spiritual worlds. We see in Sefer Beraishit, the opposite to what the Chiddushei Ha’Rim and other Chassidic writings say. That man is not rooted in Heaven, but rather is very much part of this world and his foundations are very firmly ingrained in the ground, not Heavens.

Rav Soloveichik in ‘The Lonely Man of Faith’ talks about Adam 1 and Adam 2, based on the first and second Perek of Sefer Beraishit. In Perek 1 of Sefer Beraishit, Adam 1 conquers, rules and takes control. He is master of his own destiny. He is very much rooted and in control of this world. In contrast, Adam 2 in Perek 2, is not so active and is more passive.

Rav Soloveichik proposes that the two accounts of the creation of man (in chapters 1 and 2 of Beraishit) portray two types of man, two human ideals. In their approaches to G-d, the world and the self. Adam 1, is guided by the quest for dignity, which is a surface social quality attained by control over one’s environment. He is a creative and majestic personality who espouses a practical-utilitarian approach to the world.

Adam 2, on the other hand, is guided by the quest for redemption, which is a quality of the depth personality attained by control over oneself. He is humble and submissive, and yearns for an intimate relationship with God and with his fellow man in order to overcome his sense of incompleteness and inadequacy – hence it is Adam 2 who is commanded to marry.

How we see the analogy between man and trees is a reflection of how we perceive ourselves and our religious outlook. Do we perceive ourselves as weak and passive and that our lives down here in ‘Olam Hazeh’ are mere thoroughfares on the way to Olam Habah. Or rather, are we down in this world to conquer and be part of it and we do aim to be creative and take control over our fate and destiny like Adam 1 would. Are our roots in heavens, like the Chiddushei Ha’Rim suggested, or firmly in the ground, as we see in Sefer Beraishit with the examples I drew from the Avot?

I think the answer is in balancing between these two poles. On the one hand we need to be firmly rooted in this world, as Adam 1 is, in order to fulfil our Divine Mission to be a ‘Mamlechet Cohanim and Goy Kadosh’ and perform ‘Tikun Olam’ . But we also need to bear in mind there is a sphere of the religious experience that is beyond this world and the here and now, as Adam 2 yearns for.

The Maharal in Devarim 20:19 says that the comparison of people to trees has far reaching consequences. Just as trees must grow branches, twigs, flowers, and fruit to fulfill their purpose, so man is put on earth to be productive and work to produce moral, intellectual and spiritual truth. Which is why the Maharal explains Chazal refer to the reward for good deeds as “fruit”, for they are the true human growth.

Tu B’Shvat Sameach,

Benjy Singer.

‘Manna’: Food of Faith or Food of Equality?

9 01 2014


Ha’Rav Yaakov Medan in his Thursday night Parsha shiur this week at the Begin Center spoke about the ‘Manna’ – the food from Heaven that sustained the Jews in the wilderness for forty years. The Ibn Ezra comments that the ‘Manna’ was the greatest of all miracles, even more than the splitting of the Sea – because the Manna was with the Jews, day in day out for forty years, whilst other miracles were isolated events.

The Ramban explains that the Jews, seeing they were in the barren wilderness feared there was no prospect of finding food. The Or Ha’Chaim explains that the desolate, non-direct route that had been chosen by Moshe through the wilderness frightened them. Whilst the Sforno, says the Jews following Moshe in the wilderness showed their greatness as a nation in following G-d’s lead, even into an unsown desert.

The people feared starvation and complained that had they stayed in Egypt at least they would have died by the hand of G-d during the plague of darkness, which would have been preferable than dying the slow and painful death of starvation. It should be noted, that G-d already promised the Jews food in the wilderness with a daily ration of Manna, even BEFORE they complained. The Ramban proves this as G-d only mentions their complaints of being starving in Pasuk 12, which is AFTER G-d told Moshe about the Manna.

Food of Faith:

Relying on the Manna, was a lesson of Faith for Am Yisrael. The Gemarah in Sotah 48b states, “Whoever has enough to eat today and says, ‘What shall I eat tomorrow?’ is a person of little faith”. Rav Hirsch comments further that by G-d providing a double portion of Manna on Friday, He is showing Am Yisrael that the observance of Shabbat would never be an obstacle for making a living.

The Ramban adds, that by limiting the Manna to a one-day supply, G-d showed Am Yisrael, that He was the ultimate provider and source of existence. R’Akiva in the Gemarah in Yoma 75b, quotes the opinion of R’Akiva who sees the Manna was the same as the food that sustains the angels. According to R’Akiva the Manna reflected the spiritual side of man, and by eating it, man was identifying himself with the Divine.

The Gemarah in Yoma 75b says that the Manna was the measuring rod of a persons spiritual worth. For a righteous person, it fell by him in his threshold, for a wicked person, he would have to walk out into the desert to take it for himself. The Gemarah is Yoma 76a says that far more Manna fell than required, showing that Am Yisrael should have faith in G-d that He will provide.

Food of Equality:

Ha’Rav Medan though focused on another aspect of the Manna. That is the aspect of equality it represented. The Pesukim 16-21, describe how every day’s portion of food would be equal for everyone – everyone was expected to eat the same quota of food each day.

Furthermore, Ha’Rav Medan discussed Pasuk 16:19, where we are told the Manna could not be put away for another day but had to be eaten up, and if it was put away, it became spoiled overnight. Ha’Rav Medan said that G-d was concerned people would keep the Manna overnight and sell it in the morning and that Pasuk 16:19, which says the Manna couldn’t be stored overnight, showed how G-d did not want the Manna used for bartering or doing business, but rather just for consuming. The Manna was not a means through which to make profit, but purely for human consumption and survival.

Ha’Rav Medan explained that this idea of equality was also central to Shabbat, when we are all reminded that we are all equal in the eyes of G-d.

So, whether one sees the Manna as food of equality or food of faith, both taught Am Yisrael an important lesson in preparation for how to build a society in Eretz Yisrael.

Shabbat Shalom,

Benjy Singer.

The 10 Plagues: Revelation of G-d OR Cure for Arrogance?

3 01 2014


Ha’Rav Yaakov Medan in his Parsha shiur at the Begin Center last night, quoted a Sfat Emet in his explanation of why specifically Ten Plagues. What was unique to the number Ten in the context of the Plagues and what does this teach us about the purpose of the Ten Plagues in general?

The Sfat Emet, sees the Ten Plagues in the context of the Ten Declarations the world was created in, where G-d was hidden and withdrew, and the Ten Commandments during which G-d was completely revealed and had a personal connection with Am Yisrael.

The Sfat Emet explains that through the Ten Plagues, Am Yisrael would go through a process during which their perception of G-d changed. From being remote, hidden, distant and concealed to being revealed, disclosed, visible and overt.

The Ten Plagues therefore had to be linked to the Ten Declarations and the Ten Commandments, by the number Ten.

The purpose of the Ten Plagues was for Am Yisrael to see G-d differently from being remote and distant to being personal and individual. The Malbim explains how each individual plague had a specific role in deepening the relationship between G-d and Am Yisrael and in changing the way G-d interacted with mankind and the physical world.

The Rabbeynu Bachya in this week’s Parsha 10:3, comments that the reason why Pharaoh couldn’t be humbled was due to the fact he was arrogant,conceited and haughty. As a result he couldn’t see that G-d and not man, was the source of our existence, success and achievements.

The Rabbeynu Bachya says the purpose of the Ten Plagues was also to humble man and make him submissive to G-d. Pharaoh paid the price for his arrogance by having his country devastated and his army drowned in the Sea of Reeds.

We should bear in mind that as the Rambam describes in the Moreh Nevuchim, Moshe Rabbenu was our greatest leader and prophet, but at the same time was one of the most humble and modest men to have ever lived, due to the fact that he saw G-d, not himself, as the source of his power. Moshe Rabbenu has learnt both the lessons of the Ten Plagues.

Shabbat Shalom,

Benjy Singer.