The Unity Prerequisite


rabbi-pinchos-lipschutz-By Rabbi Pinchos Lipschutz

This week’s parsha of Vayakheil makes a point of stating that the mitzvos contained therein were transmitted by Moshe Rabbeinu to the entire assemblage of Klal Yisroel. The pesukim report that the nation gathered to hear about the Mishkon and Shabbos.

It is important to note that these two commandments relate to the dual approach of bringing Hashem into our midst.

The Mishkon, whose construction is discussed, was the Creator’s earthly home, a dirah betachtonim. There, the Jew would be able to encounter Hashem’s Presence and offer thanks or repentance, tefillos and korbanos. The Mishkon offered a location where Hashem’s Shechinah would rest among mortals, heightening man’s holiness and raising his level of being, while offering the ability to better serve Hashem.

Shabbos serves some of the same functions, raising our level of holiness and perfecting our lives, enabling us to attain the status for which we were created. Shabbos gifts us with a higher neshomah and more closely attuned kedushah. As we take a break from the six days of work, Shabbos allows us the opportunity to better welcome Hashem’s Presence into the Jewish home, giving every family the opportunity to appreciate the Divine Presence and creation each week anew.

We must understand why the mass assemblage, namely hakhel, was a prerequisite to the discussion by Moshe of these two mitzvos and why it was necessary for every Jew to be present.

The Ramban, in his introduction to Shemos, refers to the sefer as Sefer Hageulah. He explains that Klal Yisroel was not redeemed from Mitzrayim until they had constructed the Mishkon. The physical structure that would house the Shechinah was not simply an adjunct to their travels in the desert on the way to Eretz Yisroel, it was the climax of the redemption from Mitzrayim.

Although the Jewish people were no longer slaves dominated by a foreign nation, they were not free people until the Mishkon and its avodah were in place.

Thus, we can understand that being a member of the newly formed Jewish nation meant participating in the construction of the Mishkon and being present when the instructions regarding its construction were taught, as well as having an active role in its erection through contributions.

Shabbos observance is a fundamental component of Yahadus. One who observes the other commandments but disregards those relating to Shabbos is referred to as a mumar lechol haTorah. Shabbos affirms creation. One who neglects its observance is, in fact, denying that Hashem created the world. The world was created by Hashem for a purpose. Shemiras Shabbos affirms that fact, while chillul Shabbos contradicts it (Chullin 5a).

To welcome these two mitzvos, it was imperative for every Jew to join in complete unity. The malchus of Hakadosh Boruch Hu necessitates that His nation collectively acknowledge His domination. If there is a split among the people, His rule is, kevayachol, lacking.

Aharon Hakohein was oheiv shalom verodef shalom, a person who always sought to engender peace, because the objective of the kohein was to create unity between Hashem and His people. Aveiros cause a separation to be created between man and his Creator, while the Mishkon and its korbanos served to repair the breach. In order for the kohein to succeed in his mission, he had to create unity among individual Jews.

Hence, the two fundamental mitzvos discussed in this week’s parsha are interconnected. The 39 forbidden melachos of Shabbos are the actions through which the Mishkon was constructed. Melachah is defined by what was performed in constructing the Mishkon, for on Shabbos we celebrate our comprehension that the world was created by the Creator for higher purposes.

On Shabbos, we abstain from any of those actions to demonstrate that on the seventh day Hashem’s work was complete and no further action was necessary. We endeavor for the holiness of our Shabbos to resemble that of the completed Mishkon. All mundane activities have been completed so that we can bask in the glow of holiness.

There are other parallels as well. For example, the Gemara (Shabbos 114a) states that the obligation to wear special clothing on Shabbos is derived from the fact that kohanim dressed in bigdei kehunah when performing the avodah in the Mishkon.

These two mitzvos, bound as they are in their nature and in their significance, require unity. If there are Jews who haven’t participated in the Mishkon’s construction, it is incomplete. So too with Shabbos observance. Until all of Klal Yisroel observes two Shabbosos, the world cannot experience its tikkun and we remain incomplete.

Purim is a time that demands a unified Jewish people in order for the day to achieve its potential.

Prior to the deliverance of the Torah to Am Yisroel, the Torah states that it was necessary for the Jewish people to be united. Regarding the position of the Jews at the foot of Har Sinai as Moshe Rabbeinu alighted, the posuk states, “Vayichan shom Yisroel.” Chazal analyze the singular verb of vayichan to denote that they stood together, ke’ish echod belev echod, when they accepted the Torah.

Purim commemorates the period of time when the Jewish people freely accepted upon themselves the observance of Torah Shebaal Peh, the Oral Torah. As the Gemara (Shabbos 88a) states, “Hadar kibluha b’yemei Achashveirosh.”

Just as the acceptance of Torah Shebiksav, the Written Torah, necessitated unity among Am Yisroel, the voluntary receipt of Torah Shebaal Peh also required that there be no divisions amongst the people. That this was the case is evident from the posuk in Megillas Esther which states that the Jews of the time gathered together “lehikoheil velaamod al nafshom” (Esther 8:11). Their hakhel – coming together as one – led to salvation.

Many of the mitzvos that Chazal introduced to commemorate the miracles of Shushan serve to bring Jews together. We celebrate the day with many expressions of “ish lerei’eihu, as people extend themselves to draw closer to others and spread joy. The mitzvah of simchas Purim, as the Rambam tells us, is fulfilled in its most glorious fashion when one brightens the lives of those who are less fortunate.

In the merit of achdus, we accepted Torah Shebaal Peh in the time of Achashveirosh. On Purim, we seek to recreate the brotherhood and joy of that time.

What can we do to bring ourselves to the level of accepting others and achieving the unity of “Hadar kibluha b’yemei Achashveirosh“?

During my recent trip to Eretz Yisroel, I had the zechus of visiting the Chevroner rosh yeshiva, Rav Dovid Cohen. During our conversation, the rosh yeshiva removed a worn sefer Meshech Chochmah from his bulging bookshelves, where the bindings of each sefer tell of toil and exertion. He showed me the words he had underlined in the posuk of ‘Vehamayim lohem chomah” (Shemos 14:29).

The Meshech Chochmah discusses the teaching of Chazal that even though the generation of Dovid Hamelech was righteous, nevertheless, “since there were among them people who manipulated their neighbors for profit, they were defeated in battle. The people of the generation of Achav were ovdei avodah zarah but had no tale-bearers in their midst, thus they were victorious in war.

The Meshech Chochmah says that “even if a community is derelict in the areas of avodah zarah and immorality, the posuk states that Hashem is ‘shochein itom besoch tumosam, He rests with them, even in impurity.’ But if they are lacking in decency and middos and engage in lashon hara and petty strife, Hashem disengages His Presence from amongst them.”

The Meshech Chochmah states further that Hashem forgave the Jews for the sin of the Eigel after they showed remorse, for that involved avodah zarah. They were not forgiven for the sin of the meraglim, because that was brought about by lashon hara and kefiyas tovah, a deficiency in middos.

In order for us to be b’achdus and merit for the Shechinah to dwell among us once again, we have to improve our middos. People who are baalei middos tovos are able to get along with each other and Hashem rests His holy Presence among them. As long as we squabble and are unforgiving, we will be unable to merit Hashem’s direct connection.

The heart of Klal Yisroel is achdus. If we are connected to each other kelev echad, we can overcome aveiros and golus, but if there is no unity, we are fair game for any enemy.

The Ponovezher Rov, Rav Yosef Shlomo Kahaneman, recounted a period of great antagonism in Radin. The local townspeople became involved in a disagreement between local shochtim and the town was torn apart. The Chofetz Chaim called a general gathering.

“A Jew who fights is compared to a wealthy man with a pocket-full of gold coins, but there is a hole in his pocket,” the gadol’s voice trembled. “With every step he takes, money pours out of his pocket. Eventually, the small hole will cost him his entire fortune!”

Continued the Chofetz Chaim: “Radiner Yidden, I beg you. Don’t lose what you have…”

Rav Michel Stern, the famed Yerushalayimer expert in niglah and nistar, contends that our main concern should not be regarding Iran and its ability to obtain a nuclear weapon. He says that our lack of achdus is more dangerous than what is going on in Iran. Peirud, division, is the most lethal threat we face.

By working on perfecting our middos, we can come to appreciate the good in others and the benefits we derive from each other. If we develop proper middos and attitudes, we are able to unite and create the achdus necessary to work together. Doing so enables us to combat those who seek our demise and expend effort to help and support each other, rather than battle one another.

The way we act towards others impacts our souls and dictates the type of people we are. If we are cognizant and appreciative of others, we become better people and can work to achieve achdus and prepare the world for Hashem to once again rest His Shechinah among us.

The Ponovezher Rov explained with an allegory why we say shalom aleichem at Kiddush Levanah.

Two countries that were divided by a river declared war on each other. They lined up soldiers on each side of the river, ready to face off. As night fell, one of the generals sent soldiers across the river to size up the opposition.

Under the cover of darkness, the soldiers swam across. Working quietly and surreptitiously, they were determined to find the best point to stage their attack. All of a sudden, in the still of night, they heard the most awful sound from behind them: the click of three guns. Fearing for their lives, they grabbed their guns and swung around to face their opponents and shoot them before they themselves were shot.

At that very moment, the sky cleared and the moon lit up the night. The soldiers were amazed and shocked. They saw that the men they were about to shoot were actually their own countrymen, from a different brigade, also sent to spy out the enemy fortifications.

Instantly, they said to each other, “Oy, shalom aleichem! Shalom aleichem! Shalom aleichem! Oy, my brother! We aren’t enemies. We are brothers.”

When we stand under the light of the new moon monthly and recite Kiddush Levanah, we remind ourselves and each other that we are on the same team and we are battling the same enemies. We say, “Shalom aleichem, let us not fight each other. Shalom aleichem, let’s join together to fight the battles of the day so that we can emerge victorious. Shalom aleichem, let’s get closer to each other so that we can merit the return of Hashem’s dirah batachtonim and have the Shechinah among us once again.”

Purim is a day of light. As the posuk at the end of the Megillah states, “LaYehudim hoysah orah.” Let us prepare for that holy day by building bridges of love, respect, care and shalom.

Parshas Vayakheil is a timely reminder, calling upon us to join together at this auspicious time and seek to create more achdus in our world so that we merit the blessings of the Mishkon and Shabbos, Torah Shebiksav and Torah Shebaal Peh.

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