The Price of Laziness (Trumah)

The Price of Laziness (Trumah)

A lazy person, whatever the talents with which he set out, will have condemned himself to second-hand thoughts and to second-rate friends. -Cyril Connolly

Moses calls upon the nation of Israel to donate material for the construction of the Tabernacle in the desert, the structure that will house the Tablets of the Law which they received on Mount Sinai. This portable Temple would accompany the Jewish people throughout their desert journey until they entered the land of Israel. Within Israel, the Tabernacle would have a semi-permanent structure and location, until the building of the First Temple in Jerusalem by King Solomon, hundreds of years later.

What is particularly impressive about Moses’ call for donations was the speed with which the Jewish nation responded. The donations came so quickly and so plentifully, that the artisans actually had to tell Moses to announce to the people to stop bringing anything more. They had more than they needed.

Rabbeinu Bechaye on Exodus 25 (Trumah) learns a lesson as to the vital importance of such alacrity and the converse hazards of laziness. Laziness is a negative trait, but it is particularly damaging when it comes to bear on the performance of commandments.

Rabbeinu Bechaye gives a number of examples, the first being prayer. It is not hard to pray. What is challenging during prayer is to remain focused on the words you’re saying, on connecting and actually communicating with God, and not letting your mind wander to ruminations about work, money, possessions and other mundane thoughts. Not only is such prayer not effective – it is an affront to God, and may provoke His ire more than His pleasure. (This doesn’t mean you’re better off not praying – it means focus!).

Laziness can affect all aspects of our lives, primary our work lives. Rabbeinu Bechaye expands, based on King Solomon’s phrase that “as smoke is to the eyes, so too is the lazy person to his senders.” When you want to warm yourself by lighting a fire, if the fire produces a lot of smoke which then goes into your eyes, you may not remain so pleased with the fire. Likewise, a lazy person who is assigned a task or an errand will somehow manage to spoil the undertaking by their lack of energy, drive or motivation.

Quoting the Sages of the Talmud, “If someone said: “I didn’t try and I accomplished, don’t believe them. I tried but I didn’t accomplish, don’t believe them. I tried and I accomplished, believe them.” For that reason, King Solomon in Proverbs constantly attacks laziness and asks us to look at the industrious ants as positive models who work hard in the summer to provide for themselves in the winter. For those who stir themselves and are quick to work hard, especially in Torah, in the commandments and in character development, they will see gains, they will see accomplishment, they will elevate themselves from level to level, and will always make progress in their lives. The lazy ones will always fall back.

May we get our acts together, get out of bed, and conquer ourselves and our world.

Shabbat Shalom,

Ben-Tzion

Dedication

To our forces engaged on the Syrian front.

 

Golden Spirit

Golden Spirit

An excellent man, like precious metal, is in every way invariable; A villain, like the beams of a balance, is always varying, upwards and downwards, himself his own dungeon. -Saskya Pandita

Since time immemorial, mankind has admired metals for their strength, their reliability, their durability. It is therefore no coincidence that the first three materials that God requests for the construction of His Sanctuary are gold, silver and copper.

Because of our modern sophisticated metallurgical products, in our industrialized and technologically advanced era, we generally don’t have an instinctive understanding of the roles and properties of these different metals. In biblical and pre-industrial times there was a greater affinity and appreciation for the different metals, how they were found, refined, processed and used.

Rabbi Hirsch on Exodus Chapter 25 explains how these precious metals are mentioned here not only for their practical uses, but also because of the characteristics they represent:

“In our discussions of Jewish symbolism we have shown how the Biblical text has chosen metals, because of their hardness, as the most appropriate metaphors for firmness and strength. Because of the value attached to metals, Scripture employs them as symbols of the value attached to qualities of the spirit. But it is especially because of their metallurgical properties that Scripture cites metals as the most striking symbol of all that is good and true, in “alloys” of various degrees with evil and falsehood, and as a metaphor for the process of “testing” and “refinement” associated with truth and morality. Copper symbolizes baseness, or nature still in its unrefined state. Silver connotes a more advanced stage at which the object is still in need of purification but has clearly become amenable to refinement. Gold, which primarily occurs in unalloyed form and can withstand the most rigorous tests, is taken as the symbol of the purest, most genuine form of moral nobleness and true constancy.”

“Metals combine maximal ductility with maximal firmness. When softened by fire and beaten with a hammer while still soft, they can be given any desired shape, but once they have received that shape they retain it so firmly that it can be destroyed only by superior force. Hence metals symbolize to us the character trait we should activate in our obedience to the dictates of duty and particularly to the will of God as it has been revealed to us. Indeed, the Word of God is described as a “hammer” and a “fire.”

“Consequently, metals, more than any other substance in nature, present themselves as the most fitting symbol of what our moral attitude should be toward our calling.”

In Rabbi Hirsch’s analogy, copper would be our starting point, silver is the next level of refinement and gold is the goal. The fire and hammer of God’s word should mold us; guide our innate strength and capacity, to shape ourselves as vessels for Him. Once we have found that ideal path, that ideal form of service, we should not be easily moved from it, but rather retain a solid, useful, steadfast direction, that is not easily bent or turned.

In short, our spirit, our dedication, our commitment should be metal-strong.

Shabbat Shalom,

Ben-Tzion

Dedication

To the precious women of Garin Be’Matan. Stay strong. You’re on amazing paths.

Impossible Reality

 Your goals, minus your doubts, equal your reality. -Ralph Marston

drawinghands

Philosophers enjoy debating as to the nature of reality. However, their musings are rarely relevant to the common man. Scientists limit reality to what our senses and their instruments can detect, and while highly practical, their contemplations do not address the needs of the soul.

Judaism has generally taken a holistic view of reality, encompassing body and soul, this physical world as well as a spiritual plane. The Kabbalists go into intense detail providing sophisticated constructs as to how the spiritual world functions, how it interacts with the physical and the various relationships this engenders.

The Sfat Emet in 5631 (1871) explains that reality is malleable, and that the shaper of reality is none other than ourselves. He learns this from the Torah and the relationship between God, the Torah and human beings. He claims that everything (whatever that means) is in the Torah and that man can reach all (again, subject to definition) solely based on his earnest willpower.  And the reality-creating willpower is really faith. Depending on the strength and focus of one’s faith, he is able to determine, able to define the reality of the world around him.

May we develop strong faith and build a worthy reality.

Shabbat Shalom,

Ben-Tzion

Dedication

To Escher. His mind-bending reality has a spiritual quality to it.

Bread of Faith

First posted on The Times of Israel at: http://blogs.timesofisrael.com/truma-bread-of-faith/

Baal Haturim Exodus: Trumah

Bread of Faith

There is hunger for ordinary bread, and there is hunger for love, for kindness, for thoughtfulness; and this is the great poverty that makes people suffer so much. -Mother Theresa

The Baal Haturim on Exodus 26:9 states that in the merit of the service of the Table of the Showbread in the Temple, the entire world was bestowed with blessings.

Story: A simple baker was reading the Torah portion. He read about the Showbread that the priests placed in the Temple every week. He felt bad for God that since the destruction of the Temple, nobody was giving God bread anymore. He decided that in honor of the Sabbath, he would place two loaves of Challah, the traditional bread for the Sabbath, in the Ark of the Torah in the synagogue. He was so excited about his decision, he woke up before dawn Friday morning and placed the very first loaves he had baked in the Ark, with a short prayer to God to accept his offering.

In the same synagogue there was a poor caretaker who had fallen on hard times. He couldn’t afford Challah for that Sabbath. That Thursday night in the synagogue, he cried and pleaded to God to help him, that he should not come to his family empty-handed. As was his ritual, every Friday morning, he cleaned up the synagogue for the Sabbath. He opened the Ark to check on the Torah, and lo and behold! Two warm fresh Challahs were waiting there for him. The caretaker cried for joy, thanking God for this miracle, for remembering him after all and listening to his prayer.

The baker arrived early Friday afternoon to the synagogue, curious as to what had happened to his loaves. He opened the Ark, and to his surprise, the loaves were gone! God had accepted his humble offering! Encouraged, the baker did the same thing the following Friday. The caretaker was humbled and moved each time he found the warm, fresh bread. This cycle continued for months, both the baker and the caretaker filled with an extraordinary joy, yet unaware of each others actions.

One Friday, the Rabbi of the synagogue woke up early and decided to do some studying in the back of the synagogue. Unnoticed, the Rabbi saw the baker bring in his loaves and put them in the Ark and reverently bestow them to God. Later, he saw the caretaker gingerly, lovingly, removing them and thanking God. The Rabbi understood immediately the error these simpletons were making. He called them both and berated them: “You fools! God is not placing or receiving the Challah. It is your own human hands that are responsible.” Both the baker and the caretaker stood there ashamed, while their foolishness was brought to light and their simple faith shattered.

That night, the Prophet Elijah came to the Rabbi in a dream: “You evil man!” Elijah screamed at the Rabbi. “God has not had as much joy in the world, since the service of the Showbread in the Temple was stopped, as when the baker delivered the Challah, and the caretaker received it, and they both displayed a pure, simple faith. Know that the evil you have done cannot be undone and you have caused great anguish to God!”

Sometimes, simple faith is the best.

Shabbat Shalom,

Ben-Tzion

Dedication

To our baker, Netanel, on his first batch of successful and tasty biscochos!

 

 

Portable Honor

First posted on The Times of Israel at: http://blogs.timesofisrael.com/truma-portable-honor/

Netziv Exodus: Truma

Portable Honor

“There are three crowns: the crown of Torah, the crown of priesthood, and the crown of royalty. But the crown of a good name is greater than them all.” Rabbi Simon, Avot 4:17

God instructs Moses to build the Tabernacle, the portable desert Temple. The people of Israel contribute generously of their time and resources towards its construction. The last part of the Book of Exodus is filled with the details of the building, materials, labor, components, utensils, measurements and final assembly of what is otherwise also known as The Sanctuary.

There were a few components within the Tabernacle that were of particular significance. The most prominent was the Ark of the Covenant that carried the tablets of stone that bore the famed Ten Commandments. The Ark was situated in the innermost chamber of the Sanctuary. Two other components are worth mentioning for their symbolism: the Table and the Altar.

According to the Netziv on Exodus 25:14, the Ark is symbolic of Torah, the Altar is symbolic of the priesthood and the Table is symbolic of kingship. As per Rabbi Simon quoted above, it relates well to the concept of the three crowns and indeed, each of these components (the Ark, Altar and Table) had a raised border that surrounded its upper surface not unlike a large physical crown. The Mishna in Tractate Avot goes on to enumerate how one can attain these metaphorical crowns. Those of priesthood or kingship are by definition only available to a small subset of the people of Israel, but the crown of Torah is available to all.

The Netziv makes another interesting observation. The crowns of kingship and priesthood are not only attainable based on ones lineage, but can also only be reached when the people of Israel are fully established in the land of Israel. However, the crown of Torah can be reached anywhere in the world, independent of the national situation.

May we not only individually find our crowns of Torah, but as a nation may we see the crowns of priesthood and kingship restored speedily in our days.

Shabbat Shalom,

Ben-Tzion

Dedication

To the Uruguayan parliament, for their meaningful and moving remembrance of the victims of the Holocaust.

Concentrated Divine Presence

[First posted on The Times of Israel: http://blogs.timesofisrael.com/trumah-concentrated-divine-presence/]

Ibn Ezra Exodus: Trumah

Concentrated Divine Presence

“The only thing that makes one place more attractive to me then another is the quantity of heart I find in it.” -Jane Welsh Carlyle

Man is often likened to a universe onto himself. Ibn Ezra relates to this theme often and states that by understanding ones inner workings, a person can often gain insight into the world.

It is agreed that the heart is the primary component for the functioning of the body. It is perhaps the most vital organ, providing life-sustaining force to the rest of the body. The major veins and arteries adjacent to it are likewise critical pathways to the other major organs. The further we get away from the heart, the less the amount of blood that is pumped to far away limbs. There is a greater concentration of life and vitality the closer one gets to the heart.

Ibn Ezra on Exodus 25:40 says that geographically it is the same. The Temple Mount has the most concentrated presence of God on our planet. That is where His heart is. The city of Jerusalem likewise has a high concentration of God’s presence and to a lesser extent so does the land of Israel. Outside of Israel, Ibn Ezra argues, God is still present, for He fills the world, but not in the same concentrated fashion.

As they say in the real estate business, the three most important factors are location, location, location.

Shabbat Shalom,

Ben-Tzion

Dedication

To the memories of Rabbi David Hartman and Israel Ivtzan. They both contributed to the people of Israel with all their heart in their own significant and distinct ways. May their families find comfort amongst the mourners of Zion and Jerusalem.

In honor of the marriage of Shoshi Taragin and Gidon Kupietzky. May they contribute much to the people of Israel in their own way.