The Torah Podcast 003 – It’s Your Move
Torah Portion – Teruma
In the portion of the week which is called Truma – Truma means to give a gift. The Jewish people were commanded to give gifts in order to build the Mishkan. Mishkan means the place where the presence of God is going to exist.
I want to bring a Midrash that speaks about this subject. The Midrash says, “Man doesn’t really know what the Torah is.” The only way we do know what it is, is by the commission (which Moshe received). What did he get as his commission? It says that Moshe didn’t know that his face shone. Actually, his face shone so much that he had to cover it up in order to speak to the Jewish people after that point. But his face was shining like the sun, and he didn’t know it. You see, that was his commission. You can learn from there the value of the Torah itself.
Then it goes a little further and it says, there’s also types of transactions where the person who owns the object comes along with the transaction. Okay, it’s not so common but in this case, it happened because the verse says, “Yikach li truma,” take for me truma. In other words, God came along, the Midrash learns that God came along with their transaction. When the Jewish people gave their money in order to build a Mishkan, a place where God could dwell, so they acquired God along with the deal. L’havdil, which means to make a separation. We can never say we acquired God. But in a certain sense, God came with the deal.
The Sefas Emes is now going to explain…who’s the Sefas Emes? One of the great Chassidishe Rebbes, is going to explain this Midrash. It says that Moshe’s face glowed. Now, what does it mean, it glowed? It had a radiance. It means that the Torah enhanced his spirituality. The Torah has the ability to enhance the spirituality of a human being. It’s kadosh, it’s holy. The more we interact with it, the more we relate to it, the more we think about it, we start to become holy people. We start to become spiritual. There’s a transformation that starts to occur in our inner being and we start to think differently, and look at life differently. We become spiritual beings. And we saw this on Moshe Rabbeinu. We saw that the commission was that his face started to shine. And the possuk in Koheles says like this. “A man’s wisdom lights up his face, and the boldness of his face is transformed.” The more wise a person becomes, actually his face starts to shine. There were stories, once when they were trying to hide the Brisker Rav from the Nazis, they tried to dress him up different ways, but his face was shining. It was very hard to hide him. This was the reality. The reality was that his face was shining. So, that was the first part of the Midrash.
The second part, the Sefas Emes explains, is what does it mean, “They will acquire Me?” How can we acquire God? It means that God will start to relate to us as we accept the Torah upon ourselves, the commandments, the mitzvos, God will start to relate to us more. And the more we related to it, the more we will receive. On the other hand, if we don’t relate to the Torah we will not receive the spirituality that we’re supposed to get. He says an unbelievable thing. He says, “Our relationship with God is 100% dependent upon us.” In other words, God threw the ball into our hands. Do we want to relate to God or not? God is so far beyond us in a certain sense, He’s so far beyond this world. There are stars that are hundreds of millions of light years away, and God is way beyond all that, and God is creating all these things. What stops the earth from spinning off its orbit and flying into the sun? One thing goes wrong in this universe, the whole thing’s over. And God created the universe in all of its perfection, and He’s much, much beyond.
And on this I want to bring the Chofetz Chaim who brings the Peskita who explains on the verse, “Let them make a sanctuary and I will dwell among them.” It says there, “How is it possible for man to make a house for God?” It doesn’t make any sense. The verse says, “Heaven and the heavens cannot contain You.” Nothing can contain God. How are you going to take God who’s totally infinite, beyond space and time, and have His presence dwell into a small dwelling? This is the question that Moshe asked God when He asked him to make Him a sanctuary. How is it possible? God answered him, “I don’t ask according to My measurements, according to My strength. I am speaking according to yours. All you have to do is put 20 boards on this side, and 20 boards on that. And you can build it, and My presence is going to dwell there.” Moshe said, “And even if I brought all the animals and sacrificed all the animals for Your sake, does it mean anything to You? Or if I burn every tree in the world and make a fire so great that it would burn up to the heavens, would it mean anything to You?” God answered, “No, all you need to do is put one little lamb on the altar and that’s enough.” Then Moshe Rabbeinu asked Him, “What about the pidyon hanefesh? What about if a person has to die, we know you’re supposed to give a ransom for his soul. How is it possible to offer up anything for a human being? A human being’s soul is so vast, it’s so deep it’s so rich, there’s so much going on in one human being. How is it possible to replace him with something we could offer to God as a replacement for his sins, to replace him if he did something wrong and he’s really not supposed to be in this world any more. What can he do to continue to live?” God said, “Don’t worry. Just give half a shekel.”
The Chofetz Chaim explains, “We are only obligated to do what’s in our power”. Even though it makes no sense in terms of the magnitude of what we are actually obligated. Or how can we possibly relate to God who’s infinite? He brings the famous words of the Rabbis that say, “Open up an opening for me that’s thin as a needle. I will open for you like the gate of a hall.” Each person has to do what he’s obligated to do. Any person can go and open up the books. Just open up books, start to read the Chumash with Rashi. Look in Mishnayos, maybe go to a Daf Yomi shiur. Find a friend who can teach halacha, a law or two. Then things will start to open up for you. The spirituality will start to come in. A person starts to do mitzvos, lights Shabbos candles. He doesn’t keep Shabbos? Okay, he doesn’t keep Shabbos. Light candles before the sun goes down on Friday night. You’ll be surprised to see what can happen.
The Chofetz Chaim explains that there’s a downside to this whole story. What is the downside? I’m going to bring Rabbeinu Bachye also, who talks about that. He says that a rich man cannot be exempt with the giving of a poor man. In other words, a poor man can only give a small amount, and a rich man is obligated to give more. Don’t think that if you’re rich, if you have more spirituality, if you have more understanding that you can goof off and give less, this is not going to work. It’s going to be detrimental.
I want to bring the Rabbeinu Bachye who explains that. The Rabbeinu Bachye who’s a Rishon, one of the earlier Rabbis, explains that anyone displaying laziness in his attitude of the acquisition of the Torah is liable to punishment. In other words, you’d better watch out. You get involved with the spirituality stuff, you can wind up in trouble. “It’s not a question,” he says, “Of lip service, of serving God with a lukewarm heart.” It’s like you have a kid in the house, you need to clean up. The kid’s sitting on the couch and you ask the kid to help. On one side if he would just sit on the couch, we may get a little bit angry. But if he gets up and starts moping around, all of a sudden your anger starts to flare because here’s a kid who’s supposed to be helping and he’s helping with a lukewarm attitude, to say the least. That’s the same thing between us and God.
Even a king – imagine you go to the king and you’re kind of lazy. You’re not dressed properly. Everybody understands this idea. You have this thing with the Olympics, I forgot…I think it was the Chinese, where somebody didn’t dress properly, didn’t have a tie on. It represents his country. So, if you’re going to play the game you’ve got to play the game until the end. We have no choice but to play the game. The Rabbeinu Bachye explains, “It’s like a two-edged sword in the sense that it’s like fire, for example. Fire gives warmth, which is a good thing. But it also has smoke. Vinegar is bad for the teeth, but it’s good for the stomach.” So, you have things that have two sides.
He continues and says, “When a person is diligent in perfecting his character traits, he’ll experience that he enjoys constant personality growth.” In other words, if you start to plug away, things are going to start to move. On the other hand, he brings a possuk from Mishlei, Proverbs, that says, “The way of the lazy man is like a hedge of thorns. But the way of the upright is paved.” In terms of spirituality, there is a dangerous side.
I want to go back a minute to what the Sefas Emes said. He said that everything is dependent on us. That is a really scary thought. In other words, in a certain sense…we don’t like to reveal all these things, but it happens to be true…God does not need us. You’re going to say, “What do you mean, He doesn’t need us? We’re here to serve Him, and He needs us to reveal Him in the world, and to show the world who God is.” He doesn’t need us. If He had needs, He wouldn’t be God. God has no needs. If God has no needs, He doesn’t need us either. We need Him. We need Him for everything, because nothing happens without a blessing from God.
There’s a story my Rosh Yeshiva used to tell over. One time he went to a very rich man who was sick. He was so sick unfortunately, that he had to have a maid to serve him food. He says to the Rosh Yeshiva, “I’m a millionaire. The food is on the table. It’s prepared. It’s right in front of me, but I can’t bring the fork to my mouth. I need my maid, and she’s in a bad mood. What am I supposed to do, she doesn’t want to feed me?” Everything’s there, everything’s set up. The same thing in life. Everything is set up. Everything you worked for, without the blessing of God, without the okay, without the decree that it’s going to happen, it will not happen. That’s what people don’t realize. What’s the difference between an expert and a non-expert? An expert understands everything can go wrong. A non-expert says, “What’s the problem? Everything, ma baya.” My kids say, “ma baya,” what’s the problem, what’s the problem? No problem. An immature mind thinks that there’s no problem. A mature mind understands how many things could go wrong, how many things you need to be into place for a thing to happen. It’s only with the blessings of God that things happen. We need God. We need God for our children to come out right, we need God for our relationships to come out right. We need God to have money. We need God to have health. We need God for everything. We need God to keep the world on its axis, so it doesn’t spin off and hit the sun. But you’ll say to me, “Rabbi, come on. I don’t feel any of these things. What do I need? I need God for all this stuff? Come on. All this stuff happens by itself. I work, I get money. My health is okay, I eat healthy, I run, I exercise. What are you talking about?” The answer is because spirituality is dependent on us. We have to take the step towards God, and then God will come into our lives. If we don’t take a step towards God, you need a big blessing. Sometimes it is true that God will come into your lives on the merits of your forefathers, that God gives a person a greater closer chance to come close to Him. But in general, it’s dependent on us. It’s not going to happen unless we take a step towards God. That’s what this whole piece is about. The Sefas Emes said, “The amount that you put in, that’s the amount that you are going to get back.”
I want to bring down here the Miktav Mi Eliyahu. He also said a very interesting thing, the same kind of idea. You have the Mishkan and you have the Migdash. We know in Chazal, the Rabbis have two different words for the Sanctuary where God dwelled. We know that sometimes it’s referred to as a Mishkan, which means a dwelling place, and sometimes it’s referred to as a Migdash which is a place of holiness. On one side it’s a Mishkan which means a dwelling place that God comes down to us. On the other side it’s a Migdash, it’s a holy place that we could hardly come up to it. He brings the verses. When in terms of being a lowly place that God’s coming down into our world he says, “The commandments to God are straightforward and rejoice the heart.” A person is very, very happy. On the other hand, when we start to come up to God, so it says, “Rejoice in trembling, fear.” We start to relate that we are actually relating to the Master of the Universe, we would faint. Now, this dynamic relationship between us and God, us going up to Him and Him coming down to us, is always wavering back and forth. But the main thing is that we have to push. We have to come close to God. It’s up to use to use our free will to reveal God, to seek God in the world and to come closer.
The main way is through the Torah itself, through learning the Torah, sitting and spending hours in thinking about what life is about, what’s called Cheshbon haNefesh, doing an accounting of your soul. “Where am I going? What am I doing? Why am I doing this? What do I want out of life? What’s my goal?” Questioning, constantly pushing to find the purpose in life. That is the way that God will come into your life. It’s not going to happen any other way.
I want to just now bring the Kli Yakar, who says a very beautiful thing. He brings a Gemara that says like this. “He who prays must direct his eyes below, and his heart above.” What does that mean? The eyes – the eyes are the things that go after this world, what you see, the senses. The eyes have to go down and the heart which is the relating of the human being to God, has to go up. He explains that inside the Mishkan, inside the dwelling of God, one thing was the holy ark. The measurements of the ark were always created in fractions, in other words halves – one and a half. The length of the ark was one and a half amos, and the width of the ark was two and a half amah. The ark relates to the pure spirituality. In terms of that relates to heart, the revealing of God. That always has to be set in halves. Why halves? Because a person always has to feel that he’s missing. A person always has to feel that he wants to get more spirituality.
On the other hand the table which was inside the Mishkan, parts of it were built on whole measurements which he says, has two meanings. One meaning was that a person should be happy with what he has. He should feel whole. It’s called someach behelkah, be happy with his lot when it comes to the physical world. And the other parts of the table which were built in halves, that’s to realize that you’ll never, ever fulfill all your physical desires. It’s impossible. No matter how much you run after them, they will never be fulfilled.
Now, I just want to point out that there’s no concept of someach bechelko, to be happy with your lot in terms of spirituality. Spirituality is infinite. You can get more, and more, and more. There’s no such thing as saying, “Ah, a little bit is okay for me.” It’s not really true. A person is tricking himself, because even in the physical, a person can never say this. The Mesillas Yesharim brings down that a person can’t say, “Oh, enough. It’s enough that I drive a Subaru, if my neighbor’s driving a Mercedes. That’s okay maybe for a while, but not forever.” Imagine in the world of spirituality, whatever you get here that’s what you take with you into the next world. That’s going to be forever. You’re never going to see your neighbor driving a brand new Mercedes all day while you’re driving a Subaru. It’s not really true.
So to conclude I just want to bring one last piece here which is Rav Chaim Shmuelevitz on the Parsha. He says a beautiful thing, and he brings the Rashi. When it says that you should make for a Migdash, so Rashi says there, “Li lishmi,” for my name. This Migdash, this place where God is going to dwell has to be 100% for the sake of God. It can’t be any side things. It can’t be for your kavod, for your honor, for your benefits, for the money you’re going to make out it, for any kind of personal thing. Spirituality has to be 100%. And if your spirituality is 100% and if you push and try to grow, you’re guaranteed that you will grow. And the benefits which we saw from Moshe Rabbeinu’s shining face, is real, inner growth. Real growth in your inner being, and then all reality changes. The whole life becomes different, and it’s called quality living. Living with spirituality, living with higher values, and having a better and happier life.
I hope to cover every week a little bit of a Talmudic Logic. The Torah itself is a text. Now, in order to understand the text you have to spend time on the text. And you have to know how to read a text, and you have to understand how to get from thought, word, thought. The author, whoever wrote the text whether it be God Himself or the Rabbis, or later Rabbis, early Rabbis, they wrote out of thought, put that thought into words. Then from that word, we have to produce the thought. How are we going to do that?
Rav Yitzhak Confatone wrote a little book called Darkei Gemara, the way of the Gemara, the way of the Talmud. He starts like this. He says, “somebody who wants to become wise should increase his devotion in the yeshiva,” that’s a Gemara in Nidda. You have to sit, you have to spend time on the text thinking about it, looking at it this way, looking at it that way, back and forth. And he says, “It’s inconceivable that a person will not discover something completely new. The more you look into it, the more that’s going to come out of it. The more you’re going to appreciate it, the more you’re going to understand the words, the beauty of the words, the intention of the words.” He brings a Gemara in Chagigah that says, “There is no comparison between one who studies a text 100 times and the one who studies the same text 101 times.” That’s why we’re sitting in yeshiva all day. What do Jewish people do? They sit in yeshiva. What do Rabbis do? They sit in yeshiva. They’re going over it again and again, and back and forth. And the more you go over it back and forth, the more the beauty comes out and you see a chochma, a wisdom that is so far beyond anything else that’s available in our world. You start to appreciate what the Torah really is.
I could give an example from business. Sometimes a guy could work in a business for two, three years, five years, ten years. And all of a sudden he gets an angle on something and he goes, “Wow. I understand this now. I didn’t understand it.” He has a different way of looking at it. The same thing happens in the Torah. The Torah is God’s word. The more you spend in it, the more you’re going to understand it, the more it’s going to help you grow and to become a greater person.
Great Stories – Rav Aharon Kotler
Okay, I want to tell you a little story about Rav Aharon Kotler. Rav Aharon Kotler was the great Rosh Yeshiva of Lakewood – an unbelievable Torah scholar. He says like this. I’ll just tell you the story, this is an amazing thing. He talked about people who witnessed Rav Aharon Kotler in real life, spent time with him in his house. They said that even during his meals he was involved in learning. This was the way of the Rosh Yeshivas. They were constantly involved in learning, non-stop, 24/7. As long as they were awake, they were learning until they went to sleep.
The cook of the yeshiva saw that Rav Aharon was so involved in learning, he wasn’t even eating. He wasn’t paying attention to what he was eating. She decided that she was going to cut up his food before he eats it, so he would be served a plate of food that was already cut, in order that it wouldn’t interfere with his learning. This basically means that he was eating for the sake of God. He wasn’t involved in just getting the real pleasure out of the food. He was so involved in the pleasure that he was getting from the learning that the food was really just a side point. The Rebbetzen, his wife, said about him – his wife said she never remembered him eating without a book open in front of him. You wonder why he became Rav Aharon Kotler. That’s the only way he became Rav Aharon Kotler.
There’s another story, he was sitting with Rav Beryl Pecker and the Rebbetzen served desert. Rav Aharon was a little bit bewildered. He didn’t understand why the Rebbetzen served desert first. But really she did not serve desert first, because he just didn’t pay attention that he actually finished the meal. He didn’t know that he finished the meal.
And another story was that one time the Rosh Yeshiva asked for a cup of coffee, and the Rebbetzen was also wondering what that was about, because the person sitting next to the Rosh Yeshiva says, “He didn’t even realize what he ate was fleishig or if it was milkig.” What’s the point of these stories? The point of these stories is that the Rosh Yeshiva was so involved in learning that the physical pleasure of the food was really just secondary to him. That’s what starts to happen to a person who gets involved in learning in a real way, is the physical world starts to lose its meaning and Torah itself takes on new dimensions.
Peace in Your Home
The last part of this podcast is peace in your home, how to get peace in your house between you and your spouse, between you and your kids.
One basic, fundamental rule which everybody knows is communication. How do you get communication happening where both people feel that they were listened to? Even though it doesn’t have to be an agreement, but at least each side has to feel that the other person heard what they said. It relaxes everybody, it makes everybody feel that they respect each other. The way to produce that is to realize that the main part of the conversation is to listen. Our obligation in a conversation is to listen, to hear what the other person is saying, even though we disagree with them. The problem is, we’re so busy interrupting, involved in our own thoughts in what we want to say, we don’t even hear what the other person’s saying. Rav Aharon Twerski even made a joke that maybe couples should speak with two-way radios, which means walkie-talkies, you remember those walkie-talkies you push on. Only one person could speak at a time. That would solve a lot of problems in the house, if you just listen to what the other person says.
There’s a story, Rav Yitzhak Elchanan once listened to 15 students tell him the same story. There was big news in the Yeshiva, so all the students felt that they were the first person to tell the Rosh Yeshiva what happened. And he went along with it, and listened to each one and pretended and said, “Thank you for telling me.” He knew how to listen, which makes the other person feel good, which makes the relationship healthy.
Another point is you have to know when to talk. Not every time is the right time to talk about things. If you’re talking about something serious, you don’t talk about it in a public place. You don’t talk about it if your kids are around. You don’t talk about one kid if the other kid is around. You have to know when to speak about things, so the other person feels comfortable. Again, it’s a question of respect. And you have to know how to say what you want to say. You don’t scream it. Koheles says, “The words of the wise are heard when spoken softly.” Speak softly, make the person feel comfortable. The main thing is that the other person has to feel that they got their message across the way that they wanted to say it. When that happens, you start to feel close to the person. You understand them, they’re expressing themselves and you’re hearing what they’re saying. How could a couple really get to know each other if they don’t listen to each other? How are you supposed to build the relationship? It’s about communication.
Okay, that’s it for this week’s Torah podcast, I hope to speak to you next week. If you enjoyed it, please share it with your friends. If it helped you it could help others also.
Rabbi Eliyahu Mitterhoff