Thursday, March 3, 2011

266 - Pekudei

Rashi in the beginning of this week's parsha quotes an interesting Gemara in Berachos (55a): "Betzalel was so called because of his wisdom. When Hashem told Moshe, 'Go tell Betzalel make for Me a Mishkan, an Aron and utensils,' Moshe reversed the order and told him to make the Aron, the utensils, and then the Mishkan. [Betzalel] said to Moshe Rabbeinu, "The way of the world is to first build a house and then afterwards bring the utensils inside, and you told me to first make the Aron and only afterwards to build the Mishkan. Where should I put the utensils that I make? Perhaps Hashem told you to build the Mishkan and then the Aron and utensils? Answered Moshe Rabbeinu, 'Maybe you were in the shadow of Hashem (b'tzal Ale) and that is how you knew!'"

Rav Wolbe writes (Alei Shur vol. II pgs. 503, 504) that Betzalel taught us a timely lesson. The purpose of the Mishkan was to house the Aron and the luchos that it contained. The Shechina would rest on the Aron and Moshe would receive his prophecy from the area in between the keruvim which stood upon the Aron. With this in mind, how could one not commence the building of the Mishkan with the construction of the Aron and instead choose to begin with the walls and curtains? The answer to this question was Betzalel's message for all generations.

We say in davening, "Search for Hashem and His might, seek His Presence always." One who wishes to fulfill the dictum of this pasuk might feel compelled to "search for Hashem" by trying to "seek His Presence." Whether it be through his prayers, his performance of mitzvos, or even via lofty thoughts, he will try to place himself in Hashem's presence. Yet, to his great chagrin he will not succeed in his endeavors. Moreover, the harder he pushes himself to attain this goal, the harder he will fall, thus causing him to decide that, "This is just not for me."

Where does the mistake of this well meaning individual lie? One who wishes to "seek Hashem's Presence" must build his own personal Mishkan. Just as there was specific order in the construction of the Mishkan, so too, one must follow this blueprint in the construction of his own Mishkan. He must begin building from the part of the Mishkan that is furthest from the Aron (Hashem's presence). He must first construct the outer walls and only then proceed towards attaining the ultimate goal. The "outer walls" represent the derech eretz which preceded the Torah.

If we too would like to build our personal Mishkan, we must be sure that the construction takes place in the proper order. We must first work on correcting and perfecting our character and middos - the true manifestation of the type of person that Hashem intended to create - and only then advance towards "seeking Hashem's Presence."

265 - Vayakhel

Chazal tell us (Brachos 55a) that Betzalel, who was charged with building the Mishkan, possessed the knowledge of how to connect the letters that were used in creating heaven and earth. This knowledge is the quality of da'as. Rav Wolbe writes (Alei Shur vol. I pg. 138) that da'as is a quality which enables one to unite even things that seem to be opposites. With this da'as, Betzalel succeeded in building the Mishkan; a structure that united spiritualistic Heaven with the materialistic Earth.

It might very well be that properly exercising this trait is the very purpose of creation. Hashem presents us with seemingly contradictory entities and our avodah is to fuse them into one single entity. We are given a body and a soul, heavens and earth; and with the middah of da'as we are supposed to unite them in order to accomplish our avodas Hashem.

Likewise, the Gemara tells us (ibid. 33a see Maharsha) that da'as is the ability to strike a balance between chessed and din, and similarly, the Beis Hamikdosh struck a balance between Heaven and Earth. Therefore, one who possesses the quality of da'as is so great that it is considered as if the Beis Hamikdosh was built in his days. Once again we see that da'as is the ability to fuse two opposites into a harmonious expression of avodas Hashem.

This being the case, a vital aspect of avodas Hashem is ensuring that our physical actions are united, i.e. act in consonance, with our spiritual knowledge. There have been brilliant thinkers who preached ethics and morals, but whose actions belied all that they espoused. This is not the Torah way. Any discrepancy between what one practices and what he preaches is duplicitous. It is an expression of shleimus when one's actions mirror their knowledge.

When we hear a drasha, learn a halacha or study a mussar sefer, the knowledge gained isn't meant to be stored away in the recesses of the mind. Rather, as the Ramban writes in his famous letter to his son, "When you finish studying from a sefer, contemplate whether there is an aspect of your learning that you can fulfill."