Thursday, February 24, 2011

Vayakhel 5771

In this week's parsha, G-d appoints Betzalel to build the Mishkan (Tabernacle) and to craft the holy vessels and priestly garments. "He filled him with G-dly spirit, wisdom, insight and knowledge, and with the ability for all types of work: to do master weaving, to work with gold, silver and copper, with the craft of setting gems and with the craft of wood, to do all kinds of skilled work…and the ability to teach." G-d gives Betzlalel the skills necessary to carry out the mission entrusted to him. In addition to endowing him with specialized skills, G-d also grants Betzalel the ability to transmit these skills to others.

Wouldn't it have been enough for Torah to mention Betzalel's spiritual qualities – his wisdom, insight and knowledge? Why does Torah also enumerate Betzalel's talents with materials?

Reb Chaim Volozhin, a student of the Vilna Gaon, notes that Torah uses the phrase lachshov machshavot, which means "to weave designs." This phrase also carries another connotation: "to ascertain thoughts." While the phrase would seem to point to physical capabilities, it represents spiritual qualities as well. G-d gives Betzalel extraordinary knowledge and wisdom, to enable him to discern the intent behind all of the people's donations towards the building of the Mishkan. The gifts of those who give purely for the mitzvah, Betzalel earmarks for the most sanctified area; those given for the donor's honor, he relegates to a less holy area.

By ending the account of Betzalel's qualities with his ability to teach, Torah makes us aware that when we are given knowledge and skill, it is our duty to transmit this knowledge and these skills to others. The Hebrew word for "to teach" is l'horot. Interestingly, the Hebrew word for parents is horim, a word that shares its root with l'horot. We learn from this that parents are expected to be teachers. We are expected to teach from Torah, the book whose name also derives from l'horot and literally means "instruction." In one of the later Torah portions, we are commanded to "teach them [Torah precepts] diligently to your children."

The fulfillment of this commandment requires that we parents become well versed in the Torah teachings. Just as G-d fills Betzalel with wisdom, insight and knowledge, may He graciously endow us with these qualities so that we can understand Torah and transmit it to our children, as we are commanded.

Thursday, February 17, 2011

Ki Tisa 5771

This week's parsha contains the troubling account of the fabrication of a golden calf idol. The Israelites, who have just heard G-d deliver the Ten Commandments, must now wait forty days for Moshe to come down from Mount Sinai, where G-d is teaching him the meaning of the Torah. On the fortieth day, they miscalculate the number of days Moshe has been away and fear that he has died and will not return. Bereft of their leader, the men collect their gold earrings and have them turned into a golden calf idol. The women, however, refuse to contribute their gold jewelry.

Rashi, the medieval Biblical commentator, relates that it was the Satan, the angel-adversary who puts obstacles in our way, who convinces Bnei Yisrael that Moshe has died. Rashi writes that the Satan conjures up an image of "darkness, gloom and confusion." The Midrash tells that the Satan presents a frightening vision of Moshe in a coffin carried by angels. When they see the image, which appears so real, the people lose all hope.

How can the nation that has just witnessed G-d's revelation at Mount Sinai, and has faithfully followed their leader Moshe, be swayed by an illusion?

Harav Boruch Ezrachi teaches that we must always be aware that Satan is capable of creating illusions that seem real. The only thing that can prevail over the false imagery is our firm belief in the truth. When we lack conviction, we provide the Satan with just the opportunity he needs to confuse us and make us lose faith and hope.

As parents, we must never waver in our convictions. We should take our cue from the righteous women who faithfully waited for Moshe's return. When we are in uncertain and trying situations, we must never allow negative thoughts and images to overwhelm us, lest they cause us to lose faith in G-d, or to lose hope in a positive outcome.

Thursday, February 10, 2011

Tetzaveh 5771

In this week's parsha, Moshe's brother Aharon and Aharon's sons are appointed Cohanim (priests) to manage the sacrifices offered in the sanctuary. The parsha details the garments Aharon will wear. Included is a long robe whose bottom edge is trimmed with golden bells. "It should be on Aharon when he performs the service and its sound should be heard when he enters the Holy Place before G-d." Over the robe, Aharon wears an apron.

Why does the Torah provide such detailed instructions for clothing?

By paying so much attention to clothing, the Torah informs us that there is an important relationship between what we wear and what we do. What we wear greatly influences how we act, how we perceive ourselves and how others perceive us. This makes a strong argument for school uniforms, business suits and doctors' white coats. It also suggests that there is an appropriate time and place for pajamas, gym attire and beachwear. Each of these outfits signifies a specific status, or that the wearer is entrusted with a specific job, or engaged in a specific activity. Clothing both dignifies and distinguishes us.

The general purpose of the priestly garments is to glorify Aharon and his sons and to inaugurate them as priests. Some of the garments are purely decorative; others are functional as well. It would seem that the apron, which fits over the robe, does not serve a purpose and is merely ornamental. In his commentary, the medieval Biblical commentator Rashi surmises that the apron does have a function: it gives Aharon an extra measure of modesty, ensuring that parts of the body that are meant to be covered and private are not exposed.

The noisy bells on the hem of the robe also teach us about privacy. Just as the Cohen is not permitted to enter the Holy Place without making his presence known through the jingling of bells, we should never enter a room or a house, even our own, without knocking. We should never sneak up anyone or take them unaware. We must teach our children to respect our privacy and the privacy of others.

In Parshat Yitro, before He gives the Ten Commandments, G-d designates the Jewish people as a kingdom of priests and a holy nation. This special role requires us to dress in a manner that befits this designation. Though our children may pressure us to allow them to fit in by wearing the casual and revealing styles that are popular today, we parents must remind them who they are and what their clothing represents. We truly are what we wear.

Thursday, February 3, 2011

Terumah 5771

In this week's parsha, G-d instructs Moshe (Moses) to tell the people to make a sanctuary dedicated to Him. The parsha contains directions for designing and furnishing the sanctuary, including making a menorah. G-d tells Moshe: "You should make a menorah of pure gold, hammered out [from a single piece of gold]…see and make, according to their form that you are shown on the mountain."

A story in the Midrash teaches that Moshe has great difficulty visualizing the exact appearance of the menorah, so G-d shows him a menorah made of fire. Even after observing this, Moshe still is concerned that he will not be able to make the menorah according to G-d's specifications.

G-d tells Moshe, "All you must do is cast the bar of gold into the fire. Give it one blow with the hammer and a finished menorah will emerge." Moshe takes a kikar of gold, throws it into the fire and prays. "Master of the Universe, the gold is in the fire. Do with it as You wish." Immediately, the complete menorah appears out of the fire. (The Midrash Says, vol. 2, p. 262)

Thus, the menorah is completed with Divine intervention.

Why does Moshe need to see the menorah in order to construct it?

The Torah used the word ur'ay when it means for Moshe to observe G-d's menorah of fire. This unusual construction of the Hebrew verb lirot (to see) can also be found in psalm 128, which alludes to the blessing of receiving nachas, pleasurable pride, from one's children: "And you will see sons of your sons, peace upon Yisrael." Our Sages teach that children, life, and livelihood require Divine intervention, just as the making of the menorah does.

HaRav Ze'ev Weinberg provides the formula for achieving nachas from one's children. Its key ingredient is "vision." We parents must have a vision, an image, of what we want our children to be like when they grow up. We must set specific goals based on Torah values, and we must give our children an education that will provide the means to achieve these goals. We must turn our homes into sanctuaries in which G-d's presence can be felt, reserving places and times for prayer and Torah study. Finally, we must hope and pray that we parents will be worthy of receiving nachas from our children.

The rest is up to G-d.