We hope you enjoy this selection of short divrei Torah, presented to family and guests at our Shabbos table as a springboard for discussion. Each one is followed by a question. The responses shared at our table are enlightening, entertaining, and always thought-provoking.
Please share them at your own Shabbos table, and send us your most interesting responses. A selection of the best will be posted on the website, and eventually, included in a book.
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Parshas Vayakhel #1
“And Moshe summoned Betzalel and Ohaliav, and every man of wise heart in whom Hashem instilled wisdom and understanding, everyone whose heart inspired him to come near the work to do it” (Shmos 36:2).
The details of the construction of the Mishkan and the crafting of its sacred Vessels are again repeated in Parshas Vayakhel, to highlight their exceptional importance and how dear they are to Hashem (Rabbenu Bechayye, Shmos 35:1). Moshe now calls upon those “of wise heart” to come forth and take part in the work of the Mishkan.
What need is there for the lengthy description of “everyone whose heart inspired him to come near the work to do it?” The passuk could have more simply said, “those who were skilled, did the work.”
The Malbim explains. In Egypt, the Jews had not learned the delicate crafts necessary for the construction of the Mishkan – their work there had been with clay and bricks. Hashem now inspired the people with this newfound knowledge.
But how could any individual know that he personally would have the skill to do the work?
The passuk tells us that if his “heart inspired him to come near” this sacred task, it meant that he was among those designated to do the job. If he was drawn to it and felt that he could do it, that itself was the sign that Hashem had given him the wisdom required.
Rabbi Mordechai Kamenetsky illustrates this principle with a story about Rav Elazar Menachem Shach (1898-2001), revered rosh yeshivah of Ponevizh.
Jews from all over Eretz Yisrael – and all over the world – would come to Rav Shach’s home in Bnei Brak, seeking advice, answers to a wide variety of questions, and blessings. One evening, a father and his young son were among those waiting in his small, simple apartment. The father only wanted to ask for a brachah for his son, who unfortunately had no interest in learning. He said that he would not be long, so another visitor allowed the pair to go in ahead of him.
To everyone’s surprise, the quick minute in Rav Shach’s study turned into forty-five. Both father and son walked out glowing, and the father explained what had taken so long. He had made his request, but Rav Shach said that the boy didn’t need his brachah. Instead, he asked him what he was learning. Rav Shach then took a sefer off the shelf, and taught the youngster the mishnah until he understood it. He next guided him through the Rashi, and the gemara, and the Tosfos, showing him how interesting and absorbing a page of gemara really is. It was the lesson of lifetime: this boy had discovered first hand that when he got involved in the gemara, coming close to it and working on it, he loved it!
Building a Mishkan is a complex, demanding undertaking. The same can be true of any spiritual endeavor or project – it may be daunting and draining, too big or too difficult to handle. If our “heart inspires us” and we “come near the work” – getting involved, bringing it close to our hearts, step by step – then, with Hashem’s help, we will “do it” (Rabbi Mordechai Kamenetsky, Parshas Vayakhel, “Up Close and Personal”).
Question for Discussion:
In almost any undertaking – learning, davening, raising a family, work, and more – being inspired is an important key to success. What is something that really inspires you?
“Dave,” originally from the United States, living in Israel since 1992, had not set foot in a shul in many years. Then his father passed away, and he committed to saying Kaddish every day. His Hebrew reading skills are not that strong, and he struggles with both reciting the Kaddish and the davening itself.
Dave said that when he went to “minyan factories,” where the davening is very fast, he had a hard time keeping up. Even in slower minyanim, he felt that the davening was “uninspiring,” and that he was not getting anything out of it.
I told Dave that he should not expect the davening to inspire him – instead, he should make the effort to come to shul inspired. If he prepared for davening, studying the words he would be saying, thinking about their meaning, and focusing on the One we pray to, he would bring the inspiration to his davening.
Our daughter Ayelet, at age twelve, found the International Bible Contest (Chidon HaTanach) in Jerusalem very inspiring. High school students worldwide study for years to prepare for this annual contest, answering questions like “Where is this location mentioned in Tanach?” The time and effort invested, and the contestants’ extensive knowledge of the material, is a testament to what we can achieve if we set a goal and are motivated to work for it.
Parshas Vayakhel #2
“And he made two gold Keruvim, hammered out” (Shmos 37:7).
“And he made the Menorah of pure gold, hammered out” (ibid. 37:17).
The Torah recounts the details of the Mishkan and the sacred Vessels, listing materials, dimensions, and in some instances, how the articles were made.
Rav Aharon Lewin (1879-1941), the rav of Reisha and president of the Agudas HaRabbanim of Poland, points out that there were three sacred Vessels which were to be made as mikshah achas (hammered out in one piece). Two are mentioned in Vayakhel, the Menorah and the Keruvim. The third was the Chatzotzros: Moshe was commanded, “Make for yourself two silver trumpets, hammered out” (Bamidbar 10:2).
These articles were “hammered out” of one lump of precious metal, while the others could be made piece by piece, with the separate parts welded together into a finished whole (see Rashi, Shmos 25:18). It is far easier and less costly to make a complex sculpture section by section and then assemble it, than it is to carve it out in a single piece. However, the finished product will be stronger and more durable than one composed of separate parts. Why, of all the sacred Vessels, did these three have to be beaten out of one lump of gold or silver?
Firm and Determined
Rav Lewin explains the common thread uniting the three: each one is symbolic of an area requiring great effort and unwavering determination to reach a defined goal.
The Menorah represents Torah. Its construction from one solid piece of metal teaches us that success in Torah learning demands strong, steadfast commitment, sustained focus, and hard work.
The chatzotzros were silver trumpets, used by Moshe to assemble the nation. They represent leadership and the responsibility to guide the community in the proper path. A leader needs strength of character and the ability to make difficult decisions, even if they may prove unpopular with his constituents. If he is tough and resolute, and does not allow himself to be swayed by vocal, influential people, he will succeed in his work and be able to teach the people to fear Hashem.
The Keruvim were the golden Cherubs above the Aron (Ark). Their faces resembled those of young children, representing a parent’s obligation to educate his sons and daughters. The Keruvim too were mikshah achas, indicating that as much as parents love their children and would do anything for them, they must also be strong. They need to teach their children right from wrong, and discipline them when necessary; excessive pampering is ultimately to the child’s detriment. In the long run, through their hard work, they will form their children into angelic Keruvim and will see much nachas (HaDerash V’HaIyun, Parshas Behaalos’cha 80).
Rav Ovadia Yosef, zt”l, the world-renowned Sephardic posek, was legendary for his extraordinary, lifelong diligence in Torah study. Already as a young yeshivah student he worked hard on his learning – and he never stopped. Rav David Ozeirey related that on a visit to Flatbush, Rav Ovadia and his wife stayed at their home. Before Shabbos, Rav Ovadia asked his host if there was a place in their room where he could set up a lamp to learn at night, without disturbing his wife’s sleep. The one available option did not appear very promising; the room had a small walk-in closet, which did have a light… but it was very cramped and uncomfortable. The only chair that fit into the space was a narrow folding chair, but Rav Ovadia was more than satisfied with the arrangement.
Rav Ovadia did not learn for an hour or two that evening – he spent the entire night sitting in that closet, with a sefer balanced on his knees and the door closed so that the light would not bother his wife. The next morning, Rabbanit Yosef told the Ozeirey family that Rav Ovadia never slept on Shabbos; the Torah learned on this sacred day was too precious to allow any time for sleep (Maran HaRav Ovadia, by Rabbi Yehuda Heimowitz, pp. 525-526).
Question for Discussion:
Torah, leadership, and chinuch are goals worth working for, but they do not come easy. Determination, persistence and hard work are essential for success in all three areas. When have you worked hard to achieve a goal?
“Oded,” a secular Israeli businessman and the father of three teenagers, came to our home for a Shabbos meal as part of an Aish HaTorah outreach program. The owner of a chain of small newspapers, he works fourteen to sixteen hours a day, and would be happy to work even more… Oded and his wife are always on the go, too busy to focus on any specific goals. Oded’s relationship with his children is sketchy; he admitted that he could go weeks without having a real conversation with them. He often did not even know whether or not they were at home, because they were closeted in their rooms, glued to various pieces of technology.
Our Shabbos seudah lasted three hours that day. We talked about the parshah, in particular the importance of working hard to achieve goals. We discussed the practical aspects of an observant life-style, as well as many other questions raised by Oded and his wife. Oded was amazed and moved, especially by our children’s participation and insightful contributions. He told us that in their own family, they had no specific goals and no forum for meaningful conversation.
After Shabbos, the organizer of the group called to tell me that Oded had volunteered to speak at their Seudah Shelishis. He described the Shabbos seudah at our house, and encouraged everyone to make a point of having family Shabbos meals, where the parents and children talk to one another and discuss lessons learned from the weekly parshah.