By Rabbi Pinchos Lipschutz
This week’s parshiyos of Vayakhel-Pekudei conclude the five parshiyos that discuss the construction of the Mishkon and detail its design. It took six months to erect the Mishkon, which began after Yom Kippur and continued until Rosh Chodesh Nissan.
The work required hundreds of workers and large amounts of material. To facilitate the construction project, there was a large fundraising campaign, in which everyone participated. When the Mishkon was finally completed, there was great festivity that lasted seven days.
Rav Yaakov Kamenetsky zt”l points out for all that effort, the Mishkon was originally intended to stand for a short period of time. The Bnei Yisroel left Mitzrayim on Pesach and were to travel in the desert until reaching the Promised Land. Had the sin of the meraglim not taken place, they would not have wandered in the desert for thirty-nine extra years. Why, then, was so much effort and expense invested in constructing such a temporary edifice?
After experiencing the joy of Purim and being reminded of our obligation to eradicate Amaleik, we can understand the necessity of the expenditure of time and effort for a building that would last but a few months. Throughout the generations, Amaleik has mocked us, as he seeks to cause us to wonder about Hashem’s Presence in our lives. Purim celebrates our victory over Haman, the embodiment of Amaleik in his time, and demonstrates for us that we can overcome evil if we unite and raise our level of commitment to Torah and mitzvos. For one day, we manage to hew to the message.
On Purim, we are b’simcha and we seek to be mesameiach others. We go through the day taking special care to observe its mitzvos. We meet new people, make new friends and reconnect with old ones. We are introduced to worthy causes and recruit others to causes we believe in.
We gain an appreciation for what can be accomplished in one day. We see that every minute is precious. Long after the sun goes down, music plays and people still celebrate the miracles and messages of Purim.
We learned in last week’s parsha how the Jews had sinned with the Eigel Hazohov. Misled by the Soton, they feared that Moshe Rabbeinu would not return and fashioned a golden image to replace him. The people desired leadership and a Divine relationship, but they were misguided. Following their teshuvah, they were granted their wish, along with the directions of how to construct a place among them where Hashem could be found.
Although the Mishkon would be temporary, its effect would be eternal. While it was meant to last for several months, it represented the ideal that every day could be spent in the presence of Hashem. No day, or even part of it, should be taken for granted or wasted. Every minute is precious and can generate greatness.
Klal Yisroel, newly-cleansed from the chet ha’Eigel, desirous of a proper relationship with Hashem, appreciated the opportunity to construct a dirah batachtonim. They understood that building the Mishkon was teshuvah for their sin and immediately responded to the appeals. They engaged in a labor of love, determined to begin again. It mattered not to them that the Mishkon was to be temporary, for they would take advantage of the opportunity to become closer to Hashem and in that zechus they would enter Eretz Yisroel and build the permanent Bais Hamikdosh.
Alas, that was not meant to be. They sinned again, this time with the meraglim, and they didn’t merit entering Eretz Yisroel. The Botei Mikdosh were felled by internecine hatred and battles.
A parable is told about a king who announced his intention to visit a certain town. The locals were excited to actually see their revered and beloved king, and they spent weeks cleaning the town and decorating the streets. A special tax was levied on the townspeople and a beautiful gift was purchased for the king.
The great day arrived. Men, women and children lined the streets, waiting for the king’s entourage to appear. After a while, it was visible on the horizon. Everyone craned their necks and saw the magnificent horse-drawn carriage as it made its way toward them.
Finally, the king himself, a tall, handsome man with royal bearing, appeared. He stepped out of the carriage and waved to the people. A special delegation, led by the mayor and local dignitaries, came forth and presented him with the gift.
The king smiled and held up his hand. “I appreciate the gift,” he said, “and in return I am giving this town a year with no taxes. In addition, I will send money to build new roads and a few parks.”
The grateful crowd, overcome with emotion and gratitude, burst into applause. The king beamed at his people and continued on to the next town, leaving behind his assurances of all sorts of relief and help.
The next week, a golden carriage pulled up in the town square and out stepped an impressive looking man, surrounded by guards. There was no delegation on hand to greet him and no crowds lining the streets.
The irate man claimed to be the king. He was aghast that there was no welcoming ceremony for him and his great benevolence to the town. The mayor was summoned and hurried to the square to explain to the guest that the king had come the week before. The new visitor explained that he, in fact, was the king and that the person who had come before must have been an imposter who had taken advantage of the impending royal visit.
The mayor apologized profusely, describing to the king the expensive gift, the parades, and the cheering of the week before. The king was incensed over the mistake and prepared to leave in anger.
A local wise man approached and begged for permission to speak. “Honored king,” he said, “last week, an impostor came to down. We gave him an expensive gift and we all came forth to show respect, but we thought it was you. That gift, that parade, that reception, they were all for you, even though you didn’t see it, because it reflected our feelings for you. Please accept that what we did was our expression of how we feel toward you.”
The king was calmed, as he recognized the truth of the wise man’s words.
Just like those townspeople, we are sometimes influenced by charlatans. We see things that we mistake for G-dliness and we follow them. We mean well, but we can sometimes be misguided.
In the binyan haMishkon, our forefathers had the opportunity to welcome the real King. Newly pardoned, they were given a second chance. The authentic King was coming to rest among them and they were charged with making the preparations for His arrival.
This time, there would be no mistakes. They toiled and labored in joy, thrilled at the opportunity to welcome their beloved and revered King. They understood that even one moment of hashro’as haShechinah was worth everything.
On Purim, we sensed and felt the points of light and holiness that define us. If only we could keep those embers alive for longer, we could merit the joy and fulfillment felt on that one day throughout our lives.
As the Mishkon was completed, Moshe Rabbeinu blessed the Jewish people, stating, “Vihi noam Hashem Elokeinu aleinu.” Rav Simcha Scheps zt”l explained that they were blessed upon the completion of the work and not when they began it, because Moshe knew that there would be an initial burst of enthusiasm for the project. He didn’t have to bless them at the outset. He feared that once they were done, the initial euphoria would rub off and they wouldn’t be able to maintain the proper levels to merit the Shechinah remaining among them.
Rav Yisroel of Ruzhin zt”l was a princely figure, exalted in deed and action. He was imprisoned on trumped-up charges of establishing his own kingdom and being a potential threat to the Czar. The regal rebbe was confined to a dark, dirty dungeon, where he was treated poorly. In prison, the rebbe quoted the words of the posuk in Tehillim 23:4, but with his own twist. “Gam ki eileich begei tzalmovess lo ira, even when I am in the valley of death, I do not fear,” he said. Then the rebbe continued: “Ra, ki Atah imodi, the part that I find painful and bad is that You, Hashem, are with me here. The Shechinah is in golus along with me, and that hurts me.”
The rebbe was reminding his chassidim that if we are worthy, the Shechinah rests among us, wherever we find ourselves.
In the great mussar yeshivas, every talmid was infused with an awareness of the greatness inherent in man, referred to it as gadlus ha’adam.
Rav Mordechai Shlomo Friedman zt”l, the rebbe of Boyan, had a bais medrash on the Lower East Side. One year, on Erev Pesach, he was seen in the shul wiping down each bench with a rag, even though the janitor had already cleaned the shul.
A chossid walked in and wondered what the rebbe was doing. The rebbe answered that in the evening, many people in shul would be wearing new suits lekavod Pesach. He explained that the suits reflect the stature of a nation of princes, elevated to the point where they get to serve Hashem. The new suits were really bigdei malchus. “I am making sure that there is no dust or dirt on these benches that could dirty those suits.”
After Purim, we remove the masks and find that we are wearing new suits. We are newly invested with a sense of the abilities we carry within us.
On Purim, people shlepped with their children from rebbi to rebbi and teacher to teacher, with one eye on the road and the other on the watch. There was so much to accomplish in just a few hours. Yet, special simcha permeated the day.
We should seek to maintain the sense of the opportunities we associate with Purim – the chance to do good, to increase and spread happiness and kedushah. We need to recognize that not only Purim, but every day, is a gift from Hashem and worthy of expending the effort to construct a Mishkon – a place for Hashem – in our hearts. Every day presents new opportunities to grow, learn and achieve greatness.
On Purim, we performed the mitzvos hayom with boundless energy, giving as much as we thought we could and then, when we thought we were done, giving a little more. We must likewise stretch our spiritual reserves every day. When we have pushed ourselves to our maximum ability, we will merit the eternal blessings promised to the eternal people. The amount we accomplish from the time we think we have no strength left until we are really depleted is the difference between greatness and also-rans.
The Chazon Ish would learn daily until he only had enough strength remaining to place a pillow under his head. Stories are told and retold of gedolim who would sit at their Gemaros with their feet in buckets of cold water to keep them awake.
Greatness means never saying, “What good is it? It’s only for a few minutes, a few days, or a few months.” Greatness means utilizing every opportunity and moment to gain knowledge and grow.
We can gain an impetus to accomplish that by examining the connection between Purim and masks. Purim is a day when we put everything else aside and spend our time in revelry and high spirits. To do this, we mask a part of our lives, the things that are disappointing or painful. We subjugate the somber tendencies to the mitzvah of simcha and mishteh. For people who can accomplish this feat, simcha shines from them with a new radiance.
Perhaps, the influence of yayin helps some gain a new perspective on life. They realize that, for at least one day, they can set aside the pressures that sap their attention and energy. And so they smile.
A person thus acquires a new face, a new perspective; a mask. The test of Purim is to hold on to that fresh perspective after the yayin has worn off and after the last mishloach manos has been eaten. Keep your priorities straight. Remember what is tofel and what is ikkar.
Sometimes we need to be reminded to have faith in our convictions. We have to bear in mind that it is not always important to be popular. We must have the moral courage to stand up for what we believe.
A winner does not bend his beliefs to conform to popular ideas, even if doing so makes him appear to be a loser. The real loser is the one who has no courage, twists with the wind, and has no core beliefs that he is ready to sacrifice for.
Rather than fall prey to apathy, fatalism or self-serving causes, let us remain idealistic, dedicated to the ideals and values of the Torah. Let us remember that elections, political intrigue and world events are veils masking the working of Hashgochah.
The posuk states, “Vayavou kol ish asher nesao libo” (35:21). Every man “whose heart lifted him” came to work on the construction of the Mishkon.
The Ramban writes that none of the people who were engaged in building the Mishkon had learned that trade, nor did they have any previous experience. Those who built the Mishkon were the people who responded to the call of Hashem. Nosom libom, their hearts lifted them up. They were consumed with the desire to fulfill the wish of Hashem. They didn’t say that they weren’t trained for anything that the Mishkon required. They didn’t say that the work was too difficult. They didn’t say, “Leave it for someone else to do.” The Mishkon was built by men of greatness who ignored their shortcomings and pushed themselves to do what they didn’t know they could to serve Hashem.
They achieved greatness. They brought the Shechinah here. They received the brochah of Vihi naom and the Mishkon lasted much longer than anyone thought it would. In fact, the Mishkon was never destroyed. It lies in hiding, waiting for the day when we can all join together and summon the inner strength we all possess to put aside all differences and work together to reestablish a dirah laHashem batachtonim with the arrival of Moshiach Tzidkeinu.