This page presents insights by Rabbi Tuvia Bolton on the weekly Torah portion.
The latest article is posted here once a week. You can search the archive for past articles.
Parshat Tetzaveh (5763)
This week's Torah portion is devoted to G-d's instructions to Moses regarding the GARMENTS worn by the priests serving in the Tabernacle. Unlike last week's Torah portion which explained how the Tabernacle itself and its vessels were to be made.
But strangely this week's portion ends, not with priestly garments but by describing how to make the 'inner' (or golden) altar (located in the 'Tent of meeting' and used for burning incense).
Why wasn't this included in LAST week's section with the rest of the VESSELS! Why is the incense alter at the end of this week's reading?
Furthermore, last week we learned there was a large 'outer' (copper) altar where the sacrifices were burned; why was this second golden altar necessary? Why not just burn the incense on the outer altar where the sacrifices were made?
Thirdly; both of these altars were made of Shittim wood with a thin coating of copper or gold. How is it that the wood didn't burn, there was a fire burning on it for at least several hours each day?!
And finally, and most importantly, what has this got to do with us now? Today there is no Tabernacle or Temple.
To answer all this here is a story.
The Baal Shem Tov, founder of the Chassidic movement in Judaism some 300 years ago taught that Jews are supposed to be happy people; happy to be alive, happy they can serve G-d, happy that we have His Torah and His commandments but most of all happy that they have a Rebbe who teaches them what to be happy about. And the Jews were 'Chosen' by G-d to spread this happiness to all mankind.
But Rabbi Gavriel was miserable. True, he was alive, Jewish, observant, a Chassid but nevertheless he was miserable and it showed.
Here is how it happened.
Years earlier he and his wife Chana Rivka lived in a fine mansion staffed with servants. His father was a successful businessman and he and his four brothers, all religious G-d fearing Jews, were equal partners in their business.
But then a movement called 'Chassidut' began sweeping over Europe and Western Russia conquering the minds and hearts of Jews like wildfire.
Begun by a Jew called the "Baal Shem Tov" (a.k.a. the Besh't), this movement taught that Judaism without joy is like a body without a soul. And the only way to obtain this joy was by understanding ideas in Kabala in a way that brought out the importance of a Jew and the Torah in this physical world.
But these ideas were considered dangerous and even blasphemous by many scholarly Jews. Judaism, they claimed, had to be serious and intellectual with no place for outbursts of joy and emotion that could destroy the entire edifice.
It wasn't long before the Besh't and his Chassidim were branded as apostates and were finally officially excommunicated! It was forbidden to even talk to them and a big 'mitzvah' to hate and pursue them.
Rav Gavriel also heard all these accusations but he had serious doubts if they were true. All these charges did not exactly make sense to him. So when he heard there was to be a public debate lasting several days against the Rebbe of Chabad, Rebbe Shneur Zalman, he had to attend.
After a few days of listening he, and tens of others from the audience, secretly decided to become Chassidim.
But when his father and brothers heard about his change they declared war. At first they tried to change his mind by screaming and threatening him and when that didn't work, they evicted him from the partnership, his father disowned him and when he managed to borrow enough money to set up his own business in another city they tried to ruin it by stealing his customers and ruining his reputation .
But he took it all with a smile. "Nu" he said to his wife Chana Rivka, "We're in good company. Abraham the first Jew had even more enemies than us. Besides, if we lose our money it's not so bad, as long as we don't loose our good mood."
In time he lost his fine house, his riches and even his good name but he wasn't sad. Even the fact that he had no children after years of marriage did not destroy his positive spirit. He had hope for the future.
But then something happened that changed it all and almost broke his spirit.
Once a year, the Rebbe of Chabad, Shneur Zalman, sent out collectors to gather money to support the Chassidic communities in Israel (Hundreds of Chassidim moved there because they couldn't bear the hatred of the Mitnagdim ('opposers')) and up to now Rab' Gavriel always managed to pay the sum set for him.
But now the Rebbe sent collectors for a special cause. Jews had been kidnapped by Gentile criminals, a large sum was needed and poor Rab Gavriel was assigned to loan a big portion; more than he could dream of paying.
And that broke his spirit.
He tried to borrow money but no one would lend him; he owed too much as it was. He even considered selling his store but even that wouldn't cover the amount.
Dejected, he went for a walk. What would be with the poor captives? What would be with himself? He wanted so desperately to help the Rebbe he began to cry.
But when he returned home his wife was beaming with joy. Before he could ask for an explanation she held out a leather pouch and said, "Here is the money you need for paying the ransom. I sold my jewelry and got a good price."
She explained that when she saw how sad he was she suddenly remembered that she still had jewelry from the 'good times'; a valuable watch, a diamond necklace, a custom made bracelet and other things. So she waited for him to leave the house, bundled it all together, ran to the jeweler and got a good price.
Her husband was overjoyed, first because he now had the money he needed and even more because he had such a self-sacrificing wife.
He took the pouch of money and without counting it, put it in his pocket and immediately traveled to the Rebbe. (Usually donors waited for the Rebbe's messenger to come and collect their donations, but as the saying goes, when it rains it pours. To add to all his troubles, Rab Gavriel had recently been falsely accused by one of his workers of cheating the government, was now awaiting trial and was afraid this newfound money would be confiscated from him if he lost).
He reached Liozna, the city of the Rebbe, got a private audience, entered the Rebbe's room and gave him the pouch.
The Rebbe put it on the table before him, pulled the string and watched as brilliantly shining coins rolled from it onto the table, glistening as though they had been polished!
The Rebbe looked at Rab Gavriel and then lowered his head upon his folded hands on the desk before him in deep contemplation. After several minutes he looked up again his face ablaze with inspiration and said melodically,
"When the Jews were commanded to build a Tabernacle in the desert they brought many types of donations; them gold, silver and copper that were used to make the holy vessels.
"But a vessel called the Kior was the last vessel to be made. From it the Cohanim (Priests) washed their hands and feet before they began their holy tasks in the Temple, so it was the first used in the daily Temple service.
"But this Kior was the only vessel in the Temple that shined and glimmered. That's because it was made from the copper donated by the women that was scraped from the backings of their mirrors that they used in Egypt to beautify themselves for their husbands.
" …. Tell me, Rav Gavriel, why are these coins shining so brilliantly?"
Rab Gavriel realized that his wife had polished them and had no choice but to tell the Rebbe (In those days the Chassidim did not trouble the Rebbe with their personal problems) the entire story: how and why his family had disowned him, his wife had to sell her jewelry, that he was now being tried for a crime he didn't commit and to top it off he had not been blessed with children.
The Rebbe again put his head on his folded arms on the table, thought again for a few moments raised his head and answered.
"The prosecution has no case against you and your trial will end immediately. G-d will bless you and your wife with many children and with long life. And regarding your livelihood, I advise you to sell your shop and deal in precious stones and pearls."
When he arrived home his wife admitted that she had polished the coins one at a time so it would be pleasing to HaShem and that the Rebbe's blessings would be fulfilled.
And they were.
Shortly afterward, Rab Gavriel's trial was thrown out of court. He then sold his shop, began to deal in gems and in just months was wheeling and dealing among the aristocrats of Russia. The next year his wife had a baby boy and the year after that a girl.
Twenty years and many children later Rab Gavriel was a fantastically rich man and had begun marrying off his children. He and his wife lived to the age of one hundred and ten and saw children and great grandchildren living healthy Jewish lives.
This answers our questions.
Just as Chana Rivka's shining of the coins was last act in her giving of the coins… but what made them special, and the Kior was the last vessel to be made but it was the only vessel that gleamed, so the inner alter was the last to be explained in the Torah, but it too is what makes Jews shine.
The Tabernacles and the Temple were prototypes of man's service to G-d. The Outer Altar upon which were sacrificed animals demonstrates man's external service of the Creator; good deeds, charity etc. [the word 'Korbon' – (sacrifice) means to come NEAR]
But the inner, incense, alter represents a deeply personal connection to G-d from the depth of the heart. [The word Ktoret (incense) means to be BOUND as one]
Just as the shining of the coins came from the essence of Chana Rivka's heart and put a depth and self-sacrifice into her act of charity, so each of us must develop a hidden connection with the Creator and His Torah; a personal relationship of self-sacrifice that is above all logic to put depth and meaning into our daily lives.
It might be the last thing we acquire, but it is certainly the most essential…. And human.
That is why the outer altar wasn't sufficient and why this 'inner' altar was the last thing mentioned; the END is the most important (hakol holech achai hasium).
And that is why the fire did not burn the Shittim wood.
The word Shittim indicates Shtoot which means 'craziness'. This is the source of the Joy the Besh't taught about. And it comes from 'Shtoot' being crazy for truth like Abraham the first Jew was and it can never be consumed. Therefore both altars and most of the vessels in the Tabernacle were made from it because the purpose of the Tabernacle was to spread this 'craziness' to the entire world… and NO fire can ever destroy it.
That is why we Jews long for the Moshiach who will build the Holy Temple in Jerusalem and fill the world with Joy, meaning and blessing… as happened to Rabbi Gavriel and his wife in our story.
But it all depends on us. Just one more good deed, word or even thought can tip the scales and fill the world with the awareness of the Creator with
Copyright © 1999-2018 Rabbi Tuvia Bolton. All rights reserved. No unauthorized reproduction or copying of this material shall occur without prior permission.