Torah Portion of the Week – Vayakhel -Pekudei – The Power of Being Happy – Starting with Love – A Powerful Parable about a Morged House – A Great Story about the Marasha and Peace in Your Home – A Pleasant Countenance
The Torah Podcast Transcript
092 The Torah Podcast – The Power of Being Happy – Starting with Love
Torah Portion of the Week – Vayakhel-Pekudei
The Shem Mi Shmuel starts with this verse from the Mishkan, the building of the Tabernacle. It says, “And the sockets for the pillars were bronze, the hooks of pillars, and their joints were silver. And the covers on the tops were silver.” So, he has a question, why now all of a sudden do we mention silver? Already when we spoke about the building of the Mishkan before the chet ha egel, it didn’t mention anything about silver. So, he brings two possukim, one is from Tehillim which says, “The beginning of wisdom is the fear of God.” And the other one is from Mishlei that says, “The fear of God is the beginning of wisdom.” What does the Zohar say on this? “How does somebody accept God into his life? The only way is to first accept the ol, yoke” which means like an ox. It means it’s difficult. If you don’t first accept the ol, if you don’t first accept that you have to do what God says, so how are you going to serve God? And he brings the verse from Tehillim, “Serve God with fear, and the beginning of wisdom is the fear of God.”
So, we see that really lehatchila, in the first position, a person should serve God. How does he begin? He has fear of God. He sees there’s a Creator to the universe, and he says, “Well, I’d better get my act together. I’d better do what my Creator told me to do.” But he says, “This is very difficult, and especially after the chet of the egel it’s very difficult, because we went down a level.” So instead he says, “Ever since the destruction of the Beis HaMigdash, the only way we can come to serve God is through love. Love in God will enable us to fear God. Since we don’t have the Beis HaMigdash any more, the only way we can come to serve God is through love. And love will lead to fear.”
He brings the possuk from Devarim that says, “And you shall love the Lord your God with all your heart, and all your soul, and strength. And these words…” Which words? The Torah. The Torah which I shall command you today shall be on your heart.” How do we come to love God? By learning God’s Torah. When we see the Torah, we see the unbelievable levels and the unbelievable thinking, and the unbelievable ideas of the Torah, we come to love God. And from loving God, we’ll come to fear God.” So, he wants to answer, “Why all of a sudden when we did the chet ha egel, and then we had to build the Mishkan, then all of a sudden we started talking about silver there, because in the entrance to the Mishkan there had to be silver. Silver represents chessed, which means the midda of rachamim, the midda of love. And that’s the starting point, at the entrance to the Mishkan, to the Beis HaMigdash, we had silver there. The silver there was to remind us that our avoda, service, has to start with love. And we know there are many Chazals, there are many places that speak about the Beis HaMigdash being a place of love, love and inspiration. When you’d go to the Beis HaMigdash, you’d be inspired. Rav Dessler brings the Midrash Tanchuma that says, “Our Rabbis say that all the offerings come because of our sins, and our obligations. But the ketores only comes from joy.” The incense would bring tremendous happiness to a person. The idea expressed by bringing the incense is, it is our will to do Your will, to give to You, so to speak, pleasure and satisfaction from our actions.” That’s the idea of the ketores. We act here, and our actions go up to God. We give pleasure to God. And the Zohar on this week’s Parsha brings down, “Whoever smelled the smoke of the ketores ascending straight upwards felt his heart being clarified in light and in joy in the service of God. The ketores has the power of breaking the yetzer hara. It has the power to break our evil inclination. There is nothing more loved before the ketores.” This is what the Zohar says.
Rav Dessler continues and he says, “This is one of the wonders of the Holy Temple. The heavenly angels manifested in it. It enabled every heart to experience what pure and loving service of the Almighty could mean.” When you would just go into the Temple, you’d be so influenced with a feeling and emotions of love, you’d get overwhelmed. You would want to serve God. You would want to be an eved Hashem. You’d want to do the right thing. You would get a new spirit when you went into the Beis HaMigdash. So, we see that the Temple was a place of inspiration.
Now, the Minchas HaChinuch brings down, “There is a mitzah,149 that says, ‘The Cohanim may not enter the Holy Temple with long growing hair. They can’t have their hair grown for more than 30 days.’” Why is that true? He brings the shoresh, basis for the mitzvah. It’s because when growing your hair for more than 30 days, this is what mourners do. A person who mourns can’t cut his hair. Like it says in the Scroll of Esther, “For no one might enter the King’s gate clothed with sackcloth.” You can’t come into the Beis HaMigdash like a mourner. The house of the Eternal Lord only enter in a state of happiness, joy and delight, and not in a state of mourning and grief. Everything that happened in the Temple was to impress on our hearts our state of worth, and our state of nobility, to move far from the heart any thoughts of ugliness or sinfulness. Therefore, since that was the purpose of the Temple, our mood respects the reverent fear, the thinking of joy, while fastening our thoughts to the importance of the place, that its grandeur, splendor and majesty will soften our hearts and make them receptive, that we’ll be worthy to receive the true good. The Mishkan and the Temple had the ability to inspire us. And therefore, we cannot go into it in a state of mourning. It’s not suitable. We have to be happy. If we’re not happy, how are we going to be inspired?
And Rav Pam says like this. “A Jew coming to the Beis HaMigdash should be overwhelmed with feelings of joy and good fortune that he has, just to be there. There should be no place in his heart for sadness, or depression.” And he brings a proof. The entire city of Yerushalayim had a special status of simcha. It says in Tehillim that Yerushalayim was considered one of the most beautiful of sights and of joy of the earth. And the Midrash in this week’s Parsha says that there was a special bookkeeping chamber outside of Yerushalayim. Why did people go? They would go there in order to do an accounting. If you came to the Beis HaMigdash for the holidays and if you needed to do some of your business, you had to go outside of the city in order to do your business. Why is that true? Since the city was so filled with simcha and the people were always happy and joyful from the holiness that was there, they didn’t want to have any kind of business problems to affect the spirit of the people and make them sad. Therefore, they had to go outside of the city of Yerushalayim in order to do their business.
We see the importance of having happiness when you serve God. You have to be happy when you serve God. And this is what Rav Pam says. It’s not only the Cohanim in the Beis HaMigdash that have to be happy. Every ben Torah has to be happy. If a ben Torah, a person who dedicates himself to God is depressed, it’s a chillul Hashem. People think that being religious is depressing. “Why do I want to be religious if it’s depressing?” Those who are not willing to endure hardships in this world for a promise of the pleasures of the world to come, they’ll throw off the Torah. “What do we need the Torah for?” But if a ben Torah is always happy, and he’s always in simcha, and he always projects an image of a person who is living with purpose and a sense of a mission, that’s a tremendous kiddush Hashem. And it brings people closer to the Torah. Not only that, it also brings your children closer to the Torah, because if you’re a yeshiva guy, and all day you complain about money, and all day you complain about what happened in the yeshiva, and you complain about the tzibor, community, and you talk badly about religious people, so your kids are not going to want to be religious. No, you have to be happy. If you are happy being religious, religion is going to spread. And he brings Rav Moshe Feinstein who explained that many Jews of the last generation had a saying, “Oy, it’s difficult to be a Jew.” And it’s because of that, their kids went off the derech. Their kids didn’t want to be religious. He says you should always say, “It’s great to be a Jew. It’s wonderful to be a Jew. It’s the best thing in the world to be a Jew.” So of course, your children are going to want to follow.
Rav Yitzhak Zilberstein brings a story. There was one time in Haifa a building with one religious Jew in the building. Everybody else was not religious. But this religious Jew always had a smile on his face. And every day he would say Shalom to his other neighbors. And the neighbor thought to himself, “You know what? Nobody else says hello to me, and nobody else smiles at me. What’s going on with this person?” So he says, “Eventually, I began to think. There must be a reason why this neighbor has to be cheerful all the time. He must have a very rich inner life. Maybe I should become observant as well.” And that’s exactly what happened. He became religious. And because of the zechus of this Jew always smiling and always saying hello to him, because of that, he was chozer b’teshuva. He became religious, and his children were religious future generations. Can you imagine the merit the person has from just smiling at another person, what an effect it can have? By being happy and serving God, it doesn’t mean you have to give up everything in this world. You can also use everything in this world to serve God.
Rav Moshe Feinstein brings down the verse that says, “And Moses commanded the men and women that they should do no more work, because of the gift of the Sanctuary.” We see there, Moshe Rabbeinu told the people to stop bringing materials to build the Mishkan. So he says, “Why should that be true? Let them bring as much as they bring, we’ll save the money on the side, and we’ll use it for the upkeep of the Beis HaMigdash.” So, Rav Moshe Feinstein wants to answer, “Moses knew that even the property people kept all for themselves could be used in Hashem’s service. You don’t have to be poor to serve God, you can be rich. Indeed, even materials we own could be a means to serve Hashem.” And as long as we keep in mind all the pleasures He gives us are meant not just for our own enjoyment, but to help adorn ourselves to perform His mitzvos in a way that brings honor to God. Like King Solomon said in Mishlei, “Hashem has done everything for His sake, everything in the world is for Hashem’s sake.” So, it doesn’t mean you have to be poor, and you have to be a shlepper, and you can’t have any physical possessions. No, ad araba, Moshe Rabbeinu told the people to stop bringing gifts. You know why? Because there’s enough here in the Beis HaMigdash. And the things that you have, you can also use to serve God. It doesn’t mean you have to be poor, to give everything away. No, you can have a nice car and serve God, you can have a nice apartment and serve God. You could have beautiful things. And if all you possess pushes you forward and do avodas Hashem, and that pleasure that you get from the physical world brings you to do more mitzvos, and more avoda, and more learning, so of course you can enjoy those things. That’s part of being religious.
I remember 23 years ago when my daughter had a horrible accident and was left a CP. We lost the lawsuit because the hospital did not have any insurance, but we got some money as a settlement. So, I had a chance to buy a car without taxes for my daughter. And the question was, which kind of car was I going to buy? Since we got the money I said, “Let’s by a Volvo.” But then I said to myself, “How can I buy a Volvo. Maybe it’s too much?” So, I went to ask my Rosh Yeshiva what he thought. He said, “No. You should buy the nicest car you can buy.” Why? Because at least you’ll feel you got pleasure, you got something after this horrible accident. “After what happened to her, at least you got something. You’ll get some pleasure. It will help you to serve God.” So of course, the pleasures of life are there to help you to serve God. You don’t have to feel guilty about it. You don’t have to feel bad about it. But you have to be doing it, you can’t be faking yourself out. You have to using these things for the right reasons, to push you forward in your service of God.
On the other hand, we see that Rav Moshe Feinstein brings the verse, he says like this. “And these are the reckonings of the Tabernacle.” This verse also tells us it’s the opposite. Just as the artisans had to account for the use of every object of material which was donated to the Mishkan, so we too must also give an accounting for the bounty which Hashem gave us and blessed us. In other words, all the things that we have, of course it’s a blessing. Of course we should thank God for it, and we should be happy. We should have tremendous love for God. But it’s not there to take for ourselves. Why God created us, and why God gave us everything – to be happy, to be happy with what? To be happy, just to be happy and sit in your living room and do nothing? No. To be happy to serve God, to do something with your happiness. To take that happiness and to push it forward, to bring to higher levels of spirituality, higher levels of ruchnius, that you should grow, use the things, the physical things that you have to grow. Because if not, on the other hand you’re taking for yourself, you’re selfish. What are you doing with your physical things? You’re keeping it for yourself? No, you use it to serve God.
And the Chassam Sofer brings a proof for this. He brings also a possuk in this week’s Parsha that says, “Take for yourselves the portion for Hashem, that everyone whose heart motivates him shall bring it as a gift for Hashem.” So, he asks the question, “It’s kaful loshen,” it’s double language. It’s a portion for Hashem, a gift to Hashem, why does it say both? The answer is, because the only thing that you can actually give to Hashem is already Hashem’s. The only thing which you could give Hashem is your own enthusiasm, your motivation and generosity. That’s why it’s a gift for Hashem, not His gift to us. Since Hashem does not influence man’s free will, He gives us the ability to give. But really, everything belongs to God. What are we giving? We give tzedakah, we’re giving the money that Hashem gave to us we’re giving to somebody else. When we use our things to bring to the Tabernacle, we want to bring and we want to give donations, what donations? Hashem gave them to us, and we’re giving back to Hashem. Everything belongs to Hashem. So of course, we can’t have the attitude that things are ours. Obviously, they’re legally ours. But we can’t have the attitude that it was given to us for our own personal pleasure. No, everything was given to us to give us more enthusiasm, to give us more excitement, to give us more love, to serve God even more.
And the Sefas Emes brings another aspect of the Beis HaMigdash which brings happiness. This week is Parshas Shekalim, the possuk says, “On the first day of Adar we informed the people of their obligation to donate a half shekel to the Beis HaMigdash.” So he asks, “Why were these donations asked specifically on the first day of Adar?” He says…listen to this, this is unbelievable. He says, “Adar is like Ellul. Ellul is the month before Rosh Hashana which is the beginning of the year. But there’s another beginning of the year, which is Pesach, which is the month of Nissan. It should be the first of the months for us, the Gemara says. So, we see that the month before Nissan is the month of Adar. So, just like Ellul is to Tishrei, Adar is to Nissan, which means that a month before you have to do teshuva. Which teshuva? The teshuva of ahava, the teshuva of love, returning to God with love. Just like in Ellul we return to God with fear because the beginning of the year is yom ha din, so too the beginning of the year in Nissan, that’s the beginning of the year with love. In other words, we should do teshuva out of ahava.” This is an unbelievable thing. And that’s why we’re commanded in the Beis HaMigdash to bring the shekel specifically in the month of Adar. It’s to awaken our good feelings and our dedication to Him, that we should begin the year with good feelings and love. We have an opportunity to express our love for God and give us even more joy. So now, in the month of Adar, is our chance to return to God with love and happiness. And that’s the way, like I started the piece, that’s the way that we could start our avodas Hashem, and eventually come to fear of God. But the love and happiness is the thing that’s going to bring us close.
A Powerful Parable
The Maggid Mi Dubno brings a verse from this week’s Parsha. “These are the camps of the Mishkan, the Mishkan of testimony.” Rashi explains, “Why does it say in that verse, Mishkan, Mishkan twice? Because the Mishkan was taken as collateral and destroyed twice as the result of the sins of the Jewish people. In other words, instead of the Jewish people being destroyed, Hashem destroyed and took away the Beis HaMigdash. So, he wants to bring a moshul like this.
One time, there was a man who was sentenced to life imprisonment. And there was another old man who heard about it. He couldn’t take it, he says, “You know what I’m going to do? I’m going to mortgage my house, I’m going to get the money, I’m going to get this guy out of prison.” And that’s exactly what he did. So, when the guy came out of prison he thanked him very much. But basically, he went on his way. So, when somebody else heard this story, a friend of the man who went on his way, he says, “What are you doing? How could you do such a thing? Are you a rasha, wicked person? Don’t you know, this man, he mortgaged his entire house, he took the money to get you out of jail? Don’t you feel you have to pay him back, that he could get his house back?” So, that was the moshul, what’s the nimshal?
Hashem also gave us a Beis HaMigdash. We had a Beis HaMigdash but because of our sins, the Beis HaMigdash was given over to the nations, and we no longer have it. It’s there, but it’s not functioning. But now that we’ve returned to Eretz Yisroel, we should pray that the Beis HaMigdash comes. What kind of middos, what kind of character, is it that we don’t pray that Hashem’s house should be given back to Him?
Great Stories – The Maharsha
The verse in this week’s Parsha says, “Every man and every woman whose heart has motivated them to bring any worth that Hashem has commanded to make through Moshe, the Children of Israel brought a donation to Hashem.” So, one time the Yeshiva of the Maharsha needed to build a new building. It was a tremendous zechus, a tremendous merit to build this building. So, they decided they were going to make an auction and they were going to see how much money they can get.
So, one of the men came to the gabbai and said, “Listen, I will donate 500 rubles,” which was a tremendous amount of money. “Please, just don’t tell anybody who it is.” So, they had the auction, then it went up, then he made the announcement that a person gave 500 rubles, and he won. So, now they’re all waiting to see who is going to lay the cornerstone of the Yeshiva. So, the man also had anticipated that, and he told them, “Listen, I don’t want to do anything. I want to keep it a secret. The Maharsha himself will lay down the first stone in the Yeshiva.” And that’s exactly what happened. So, afterwards the Maharsha decided to invite this person to his house. So, he found out that this person really was not a rich person at all. So he didn’t understand, how can you donate so much money? You’re not a rich person. He says, “Listen, I don’t have any children. But at least I want to make sure that I give my money to a yeshiva. I want to make sure that that will be the purpose of my life, to help children, to help other people to sit and learn Torah.” So, the Maharsha said to him, he blessed him that he would have a son. And he said, “The son you have will eventually learn in the Yeshiva.” That’s exactly what happened. A year later he gave birth to a son, and then 13 years later he brought the boy to the Yeshiva. In the end, the boy was in the Yeshiva.
So, the Alshich wants to explain, what does it mean, what is the main resting place of the shechina? Aino Hinami, it’s a building that’s a yeshiva, but it’s really the people inside the yeshiva. So therefore, when Hashem sees that a person gives money to help a yeshiva, he rewards him with righteous children, that the shechina should be on the people, not just on the building – on the righteous children of Yisroel. And that’s why the verse says, as Rav Pam explains, that’s what the verse says, “The Children of Israel that brought a donation.” Why specifically the Children of Israel? Because through their donations we were going to have children that were going to have the shechina on them, and the Divine Presence will be with these children.
Peace in Your Home
Rav Moshe Aaron Stern explains that part of having peace in your house is also being happy. It’s also having a pleasant nature. He says, “Like it says of Beis Shammai it says of Pirkei Avos. Beis Shammai says, ‘A man must always receive another person with a pleasant countenance.’ Rabbeinu Yona says, ‘that means to have a happy expression.’ So, you would think, why is Beis Shammai saying this? Hillel should say it. Beis Shammai is middos ha din, is strict. And Hillel is the one who is always happy. He was one of the talmidim, students of Aaron who said, ‘Love peace and pursue peace.’”
So, Rav Dessler wants to say that even according to strict justice, even if you want to be machpid, even if you hold by frumkeit, you still have to be happy to people. You still have to be happy. Orach Chaim of the Rosh says, “Your face should never be angry as you pass somebody by. And all the more so, people in your household, you have to be happy, and you have to smile at your wife and smile at your kids. It’s the same for your own sake, just as a person could have onas devarim, verbal abuse, so also there’s ayin hara. Which means to say, that this is a hara. You’re hurting people in your house if you’re sad. If you go around mopey all day, you’re hurting your children. You’re hurting your wife, you’re not allowed to do such a thing. A pleasant face is more important than all the material gifts in the world. If you give somebody a gift, if you give your wife or your kid a gift and you look down and aren’t happy, it doesn’t mean anything. But if you smile at them, it’s like you give them every gift in the world. By giving your heart to your wife and your children, you’re giving them everything.
The Meiri brings a bit of a drosha on, “Seveh panim yafim,” which means you should hold, even if you don’t like somebody else, you should make them feel like you do like them. And all the more so your own family, when there’s tough situations going on in the house, you have to be disciplined not to have a bad mood.
So, one time he says that he escorted Rav Shlomo Zalman Auerbach through very stormy weather, and just before he got in the house, he made sure he was all tidy. He fixed up his beard, and his peyos. He said, “A wife shouldn’t have to see her husband disheveled. He should look neat and pleasant when he walks in the house.” And this a person who’s been married for 50 years! So, surely when you come home, you should be pleasant, be pleasant to your wife and your family. They say that the Chazon Ish suffered from health problems his entire life, and still he always received people pleasantly. Like the Gemara says, “Greater the one who whitens his teeth and smiles before his friend than one who gives him milk to drink.” A good word can change a person’s entire day.
Rav Yochanan greeted everybody, Jews and non-Jews alike. He was always the first person to say, “Shalom.” And Rava said in Gemara Taanis that if you see a talmid, a student, whose learning is difficult for him as iron, it’s because his Rebbe did not show him a pleasant face. So, even being nice to people can help people to understand. We can give daas to another person by being nice to another person. Showing a pleasant countenance in the home can cast a new light on all of the difficulties that you have in your house, and bring peace and tranquility to your home. The Zohar writes, “A man must behave properly in his house, and from there his children and his wife will learn how to behave.”
Okay, that’s it for this week’s Torah Podcast. I hope you enjoyed it and please share it with your friends.
Rabbi Eliyahu Mitterhoff