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Parshat Vayak'hel (5763)

This week we read the Torah section of VaYakhel which relates in detail how the Jews donated materials for the Tabernacle and how it was built.

But it is also called 'Sh'kalim' because of the special 'Maftir' read this week telling us how every Jew gave an equal Half-Shekel donation to the Tabernacle.

Now, the Baal Shem Tov taught that every idea and even every detail in the Torah has importance in our daily, personal lives … and here we seemingly have a paradox.

The Half-Shekel donation stresses that everyone is equal: Never think you are essentially better (or worse) than your fellow man because even one who seems to be 'rich' or 'poor' by human standards can contribute equally. As the portion says (Exodus 30:15) "The rich shall give no more, the poor no less than a Half-Shekel"

But VaYakhel, seems to stress the exact opposite! Everyone donated differently; the rich gave gold, the poor gave copper or even less. In other words, everyone is NOT equal!

To understand how these fit together here is a story.

The Baal Shem Tov, the founder of the Chassidic movement, had many enemies. But it was nothing compared to the opposition against one of his successors, Rabbi Shneur Zalman of Liadi (the first Rebbe of Chabad who wrote the Tanya and Shulchan Aruch HaRav).

The Besh't spread his refreshing teachings about G-d, Torah and the Jewish people on a small scale, but the Chabad Rebbe really went public. He printed and distributed his ideas in his 'revolutionary' book the TANYA, held open debates in the stronghold cities of his enemies (Mitnagdim), and suddenly transformed thousands of his most bitter detractors into his pupils and admirers.

In desperation, thinking that Judaism was in danger, the Mitnagdim forged documents to the effect that Rabbi Shneur Zalman was planning to overthrow the Czar and presented them to high Government officials. The Rebbe suddenly became not only a hated but a hunted man as well; wanted for high treason.

The story has it that when the first group of soldiers arrived at the Rebbe's house to put him under arrest he escaped from a rear window and fled into a nearby cemetery to hide.

But by Divine providence one of the Rebbe's most unique Chassidim, Rabbi Shmuel Munkis, also happened to be in that cemetery (exactly what he was doing there is not clear).

Rabbi Munkis was paradoxical; on the one hand he was among the holiest and most learned of the Rebbe's pupils, but on the other he had a wild sense of humor.

"Rebbe" he asked "What are you doing here?"

"They've come to arrest me for a crime I did not commit. According to the Torah I have an obligation to save my own life!" was the answer.

"Ahh!" replied Rab Shmuel "Your own life!" He fell into deep thought for several seconds then suddenly looked up at the Rebbe and said,

"If so ….. Shame on you!! Shame on you!!! In any case you should let them take you!

"If you are a Rebbe," Rab Shmuel continued, "then nothing will happen to you. But if you aren't a Rebbe, then you deserve to be punished: Why did you ruin this world for so many people!!?"

(The Rebbe taught that one should never be satisfied in his service of G-d; thus ruining any possibility of real self-satisfaction.)

The certainty with which Rabbi Munkis spoke had a deep effect on the Rebbe and the next time the soldiers arrived he allowed himself to be imprisoned. (Fifty three days later he was miraculously released thus firmly verifying the success of the Chabad movement).

After he was freed, The Rebbe thanked Rab Shmuel and asked him how he could have been so sure of himself.

""Well" replied Rav Shmuel, "When I heard what you said that day in the cemetary, I remembered something that happened to me years ago

"A while ago I had a to make a very long and important journey but when I went to the wagon driver that I ordinarily use he refused to take me. He said that his wife is complaining that I take him for a long time and don't pay him enough money, so I'll have to find someone else.

"I told him that I have no intention of taking another driver and he can satisfy his wife by selling one of the two horses hitched to his wagon and we can begin our journey with one horse instead of two.

"'But Rabbi', he insisted, 'It won't work. The wagon won't travel as fast and not only that, it will be dangerous coming down hills with only one horse to hold us back. No, no! Better find another driver'.

"With no other choice, I gave him a blessing and promised him that if he had faith everything would be alright. He just looked at me as though he regretted that he ever had doubts in the first place, nodded his head in agreement and proceeded to unhitch one of the horses to sell him.

"The next day we began the journey and everything was fine. The solitary horse pulled the wagon wonderfully and everyone was happy. Until, on the third day of our journey we had to descend this long, steep hill.

The driver got out and helped the horse slow the cart down and at first things seemed to be under control. But little by little the wagon sped up; the lone horse couldn't stop it. The driver tried digging his feet into the ground and when that didn't help he jumped back in to the wagon and began pulling on the reigns with all his might screaming Whoa!! 'Shma Yisroel!!

In no time we were racing full speed, the poor animal running for all he was worth before the plummeting carriage and the driver screaming and waving his hands insanely.

To tell you the truth all this really had no effect on me; I was sure everything would be alright and calmly continued reciting Talmud by heart like I always do.

In fact even when the road turned and we continued straight, crashing through the high fence of this large mansion that was on the corner and then into its ornate front porch where we both were thrown from the carriage into the open door of the house, I still wasn't really moved.

But when the driver started crying and pointing at me just because the house owner appeared holding a big club I have to admit that I was surprised.

I managed to calm the owner down by showing him that miraculously the damage to both his house and our horse and carriage wasn't really substantial.

In fact he ended up being so amused that he even gave us an old horse of his and after a few minutes we were back on our way with two horses pulling us.

But after we traveled a while I turned to the driver and told him that I wasn't angry, but I never dreamed that he would inform on a fellow Jew.

"The driver stopped the horses, looked at me and answered.

"'Forgive me Rebbe, please forgive me. But I just reasoned that …. well, if you are really so holy, then you had nothing to worry about. And if not … well you deserved a good clubbing for pretending!'

This answers our questions.

True, every Jew is equal (All are called 'Son's of G-d' as is explained in the 32nd chapter of the Tanya). As Rabbi Munkis said to the Rebbe, '"You ruin our pleasure in the world: no matter what I do, I'm equal to the simplest Jew.

But simultaneously each has a unique personality and talents. As Rabbi Munkis began, "If you are a Rebbe you are a different type of person and nothing will harm you."

And this paradox was best revealed was in the Holy Temple (and its prototype the Tabernacle). There everyone felt both negated to the Creator and special and valuable at the same time: they felt both total SURRENDER and total JOY.

And ultimately this will be revealed in the Raising of the Dead: The world will be completely nullified in G-dliness and simultaneously each person will be resurrected separately with all his unique character traits.

That is why Moshiach (and his prototype the Rebbe) will bring these two things: building the Temple and Raising of the dead. He will teach and encourage every Jew to express these two opposites: both total surrender to G-d and at total development of every unique potential and talent.

And it all depends on us to bring…….

Moshiach NOW!!

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(5760- )



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