The Torah Podcast Transcript
The Torah Podcast 004 – From the Bottom Up – Being Responsible
Torah Portion – Tetzaveh
Now, in this week’s Torah portion we were speaking still about the building of the Mishkan, the Temple where God dwelled in the desert. We were going into all the details of the different kelim, the different instruments that were used inside of the Mishkan, and the clothes that the Cohanim, the Priests, used to have to wear. I want to give some background information.
Basically, according to Judaism we know that the world was created from the blueprint we call the Torah. In other words, the Torah was written first and God created the world from that Torah. So, when we learn Torah we’re learning the blueprint of reality. We also know that if the Jews did not accept upon themselves the Torah, the world would have gone back to what’s called tofu v’vohu, it would have gone back into nothingness, because since the whole world is created from the Torah and the whole purpose of the world is for us to keep the Torah, without that the world has no meaning and will just go back into oblivion.
Now, God chose Moshe, Moshe Rabbeinu – Moshe our teacher, to receive the Torah and hand over the Torah. He was the spiritual conduit through which the Torah, the light of the Torah, would come into this world. We also know this because our Rabbis teach us that at his birth the entire room filled with light. So now, Moshe who was filled with the presence of God is now commanded to build a Mishkan which is going to bring God into this world – the connection between the spiritual and the physical. For example, we know for a fact that the Cohen Gadol when he went into the Holy of Holies actually became like an angel. The Temple itself was a gateway between heaven and earth. When the Cohen Gadol stepped into the Holy of Holies it was like he stepped out of the physical world and he went into the spiritual world. Our Rabbis call him at that point a “malach Hashem”, an angel of God. This is even better than science fiction. Can you imagine, you have a man, he steps into heaven as a man and he becomes an angel. This is what would happen when the Cohen Gadol would go in to the Holy of Holies, the holiest part of the Temple, and he would represent the Jewish people and pray for them, for their atonement, and the continuation of Torah and mitzvos in this world. I mean, this is like way beyond science fiction but it’s real. I’m going to be switching between the Temple and Mishkan because really they were basically the same thing, just in different time periods. The Temple was in Yerushalayim, and the Mishkan was in the midbar, in the desert. Both of them were for the presence of God.
Now, the Midrash tells us that the windows in the Temple were wide on the outside and narrow towards the inside, which tells us that the light of the world actually came from inside the Temple and went out. Not that the sun lit up the world, but the Temple was this thing that lit up the world. In other words, once the Jews accepted the Torah and God’s presence came into the Jewish people, into our presence, into our physical world through the Mishkan, the Mishkan now became the source of life for all that we know. Now, this is a really mind-blowing idea, that God gave over his energies to the Jewish people that through fulfillment of the mitzvos and the sacrifices and the prayers and everything that we’re supposed to do, the blessings are supposed to come into the world. In other words, he handed over the destiny of the world into the hands of man, which is a pretty scary idea because now we have to live up to that ideal, to bring the blessings into the world.
Now, this also explains anti-semitism because the gentiles come against us because we’re not doing our job. When they blame us for all kinds of things, the reality is it’s really true. It is our fault, because if the Jews really would become the holy nation that they’re supposed to be, all the blessings would come into the world. And it really is our fault that the blessings are not coming in. We’re not living up to our expectations. God put into reality the safety valve to protect us from assimilation that we would constantly be persecuted when we don’t do our job.
Strangely enough, we also know that the Temple is really just an example of the house of Sarah and Avraham, which means what? We know that God’s presence dwelled between Sarah and Avraham, the way they treated each other, the way they lived in holiness which is the foundation for the Jewish people, Avraham and Sarah. And inside the Temple was a menorah, lights. The lechem hapanim, the breads, the shulchan, the table. The Beis HaMigdash, the Temple itself was really a representation of a household, the life of a Jewish home. And within that Jewish house depending how we live, we will bring holiness into the world. That’s what the Temple was about. In its foundations it was just a copy of the house of Avraham and Sarah.
Rav Chaim Shmuelevitz explains that the foundations of all the Torah and all of the mitzvos are based on this concept of derech eretz. I like to translate derech eretz to mean respect, human respect. It was that respect that Avraham and Sarah had for each other and that they had for other people that brought the holiness of God into their house. But we can also translate it as human rights. Respect for human beings. What brings holiness, what brings light into this world? Why were we given this world? It was handed over to us in order to respect one another.
Now, in this week’s Torah portion it explains that the Cohen Gadol had these pomegranates, shaped bells at the bottom of his clothing. And the Ramban explains that these bells were there for derech eretz, for respect, that the Cohen Gadol shouldn’t enter into the Holy of Holies without announcing himself first. In other words, the bells would make noise that God would become aware as if the Cohen was coming into the room. And the Gemara Pesachim explains from there we learn that even in your own house you’re supposed to knock on the door. Why do you have to knock on the door in your own house? It’s called being respectful. Maybe there’s somebody inside, one of your kids, your wife, who knows who, that they’re doing something private and you’re barging in on them. That’s a lack of human respect. He explains that the whole Torah and the whole Temple were built on human dignity and respect. Everything that was going on there had to be respectful.
He brings another beautiful proof. When Moshe Rabbeinu was commanded to count all the Jewish people including the babies, he knew that he wasn’t able to enter in the tents to figure out. So he asked God, “How am I going to count all the babies? There’s no way.” God said, “You do your job and I’ll do mine,” and he went outside the houses and a voice went out and announced how many people there were in the house. But Moshe understood there was no way for him to go into the house. That’s not called derech eretz, that’s not called respect. Even though he was commanded to count everybody including the children, it was clear to him that there was no way he could go into the houses. There are other proofs, for example Noach didn’t leave the Ark until he received God’s permission to leave the Ark. And Yosef for example, even though he was going to go into prison for years, he didn’t want to rip his jacket away from aishes Potiphar, from the wife of Potiphar. Yosef knew that she was going to use this as evidence that maybe he raped her, or who knows what she was going to say. But he still didn’t want to rip it out of her hands because he had respect.
You see how this idea of respect of human rights, of human dignity, is in the foundation of the Jewish people. And we know that all through history, the Jews were always in the forefront of the human rights movements. We know sometimes they go a little bit too far with this stuff and it gets into giving human rights to some kinds of perversions or who knows what. Even though it is out of place, the foundation is human rights, human dignity.
I want to bring down now – I think I’ve mentioned it before – a very, very essential foundation in the Jewish religion which is called ma hu af at a “just like God, so to you.” We know that man was created as a tzellem Elokim, he’s in the image of God. Now, what does it mean that he’s in the image of God? The Tomer Devorah explains “For the essential aspect of the supernal form…is to be in the likeness of God, “are the deeds of the Holy One, Blessed be He. Therefore, what good is it for a person to reflect upon the form of God in the physical, if his deeds do not imitate those of his Creator?” In other words, we learn how to act the way that God acts. We’re supposed to be like God. Now, what does that mean, we’re supposed to be like God? We’re supposed to emulate His deeds, His kindness, His patience, His mercy. Religion is about emulating God, learning from God how to act. Rav Yisroel Salanter used to say that, “My spirituality is your physicality.” What does he mean by that? By me taking care of you physically, that’s my spirituality. I just want to explain to you what novel idea, what chiddush did I get from this whole story? One thing I understood, what looks like the simplest, smallest act of kindness is really the highest level of spirituality. By you smiling at someone, by you being nice to someone, by you being polite to someone is the highest, highest level of spirituality. You’re bringing God into the world by doing those acts. And the presence of God which was in the Temple is a representation of the house of Avraham, a man and his wife, and how they interact with each other, the respect that they have for each other. This is the highest level. This is what brings the pure spirituality, the light into the world. This is the Temple that gives energy to the universe, and this is the essence of Judaism. These small acts between man and his friend, and man and his wife, these are the things that keep the world going, that bring blessing into the world.
And God-forbid the opposite – when men don’t respect each other, God’s running away. And the blessings that should be coming to the world are not coming in. That’s why the world is in such a mess. People think that spirituality is hiding oneself away in a cave, or praying all day. It’s really the kindness between a man and his wife. It’s the respect that you give to your children, not to barge in on them, not to walk in the door without knocking. This is learned from the Temple itself. And if you’ve even been around any of the really big Rabbis, you’ll see this is the character they have. They’re kind, they’re soft spoken. They’re soft. They’re friendly. Look at Rav Nosson Tzvi Finkel, or Rav Gantz, or Rav Addes – unbelievably sweet, sweet people. This is the real spirituality, to be a sweet, nice person, to be a mentsch. That’s spirituality. It’s not somewhere else. It says, “lo beshamayim hee” it’s not in the heavens, it’s in the earth. The point was that the Torah was given from the heavens to the earth and now everything’s backwards. From the earth, everything’s coming up, from us. It says, “Da ma lemaleh mimcha,” know what’s above you. The Ruach Chayim explained, “Know da ma? Know what? Mimcha. Know that what’s above you comes from you. Okay, you can’t be crazy about it. Everything you’re doing is affecting reality, we don’t see the reality. But you should know what’s happening in your life, what’s happening in the world, what’s happening in general is coming from us. We’re producing it.
Now, since God wants to give us free will he doesn’t show us the cause and effect. It’s not fast, it’s slow. But like I always explain to my kids, if a ship when it leaves the port is off by a foot it’s going to wind up in a different country, if it’s pointing in the wrong direction. In other words, we don’t see the cause and effects but it’s over years, it’s over time. It makes a difference in your life the way you acted, it could take 10 years. You’re going to come out in a different place. So, even though you don’t perceive the good or the bad, you don’t see where it’s going per se, but you know over a long time it’s affecting, it’s a fact. The way we act, the way we behave is affecting the world. It’s affecting our personal lives. It’s affecting the blessings that we have in our lives, or the bad things that are happening in our lives. It’s all based on us, we are responsible.
So, the bottom line is respect. Human dignity and human are the things that are bringing the real blessings into the world or God-forbid, the opposite.
Great Stories – Rav Baruch Ber Leibowitz
I’d just like to tell over a story here about Rav Baruch Ber Leibowitz, the great Rosh Yeshiva, the Kaminetzer Rosh Yeshiva. He says like this. Someone once asked Rav Baruch Ber what he dreams about. He says, “What do you mean? I go to sleep thinking about the Rambam, and I wake up thinking about the Rambam. What could I possibly dream about? Either an explanation of the Rambam or a question on it.” You see how involved in learning he was. This is a great story, it says like this. He was known to stay up very late learning, I mean to 2:00, 3:00 in the morning. So, one night he was in his house and what happens is, he hears somebody out the door at 2:00 o’clock in the morning. All of a sudden he hears a knock. He starts to get scared, you can imagine in the middle of Russia with the pogroms going on. He gets a knock on his door at 2:00 o’clock in the morning. Not only that but it’s a blizzard outside. Someone is outside of his house at 2:00 o’clock in the morning knocking on the door in the middle of a blizzard. He hears outside of his door, “Don’t worry, Rebbe. I just need to tell you something.” He opens up his door and there’s a shivering Rabbi Yaakov Dovid Wilowsky, the Rav of Slutzk. He lets him into the door, he warms him up. He has some tea. He asks him, Rav Baruch Ber, “Why did you come at 2:00 o’clock in the morning? It’s freezing outside.” So he says, “I was working on a problem that I had for 40 years and I finally solved it. I was so excited I thought to myself, ‘Who can I possibly go tell who’s going to appreciate what I have to say?’ I knew that the Rav would be up at 2:00 o’clock in the morning, so I came over to tell the Rav the answer to my question.” I guess it was really a story of two great Rabbis. This story is a little bit close to my heart because my grandfather went into business with the grandson of the Ritvas (Rabbi Yaakov Dovid Wilowsky) They were in business for many years together.
I want to continue now with a little Talmudic logic from the book Darkei Gemara. He says there that all the text of the written and oral tradition were written with an absolute precision and exactness, and therefore must follow the logic of perfect communication. In other words, we assume that the text was written perfectly. Therefore, if we see anything strange, any kind of imperfections in the text we have to ask ourselves what’s going on here? That’s how we will discover what the text is really saying.
He continues and says, “The fundamental principal of intensive study is to approach the text based on exacting and precise use of language. Therefore we must strive to clarify the following problems within a text.” In other words, since intensive study means in depth learning is based on the exact and precise use of the language, we’ve got to now examine these following problems that we potentially could have in a text. Here we go. The first thing you have to look for is extra words. If you see any extra words you have to ask yourself what it’s doing there. The second thing is a repetition of the subject matter. If it repeats itself you have to ask yourself why. The third thing is a lack of a novel idea. Every text in the oral and written tradition has to have a new idea that you couldn’t have known before by yourself. It has to be telling you what’s called a chiddush, something new. The Torah and the Rabbis did not need to speak unless you couldn’t figure it out yourself. We’re going to get into that in a later piece. The next thing is a change in the language. If you see one time for example they called it a barrel, and the next time they called it a pitcher, you have to ask yourself why. The next thing is a change in the law. If you see obviously the law said it was permitted or forbidden, what happened there? And the last thing is a change in the subject matter. If you see the text all of a sudden changed subjects, you have to ask yourself why. These are the yesodos, the foundations, to understanding what the text is saying.
What’s interesting is, any break from perfect communication means the text must be telling you something different. And only by noticing that imperfection you will come to the true understanding of the text.
Peace in Your Home
The last thing I want to speak about is peace in your home. This rule I call “keeping your eye on the ball.” That means understanding the value of having a good relationship with your spouse. We know through experience that if your marriage is going good, everything’s great. But if your relationship is lousy, then everything’s lousy. You could have the nicest house, the nicest car, and everything is going good. But if your relationship is lousy, there’s nothing there.
Therefore you have to protect the peace in your house with all that you’ve got. In other words, drop the pettiness. Don’t argue on small things, just drop it. A huge fight could come out of the smallest thing. Someone forgot to do this, or they left the coffee on the table. Stupid things that have no meaning, it has no meaning relatively speaking to peace in your house. Peace in the house is just too important to allow this small thing to mess it up. That’s called keeping your eye on the ball.
Now, the other aspect of keeping your eye on the ball is perceiving all the benefits that you’re gaining from being married, all the good things that your spouse does for you. A person could write a book entitled, “The positive things my spouse does for me.” I mean, if you would start to list all the different things that your husband or wife does for you, it would be an unbelievable list. So, the Talmud in Yevamos 63A says like this. Rav Chiya was constantly tormented by his wife. His wife used to drive him crazy. Nevertheless, whenever he obtained anything suitable from the market he used to wrap it up and bring it home to her. So, Rav said to him, “Wait a second. She’s driving you crazy.” Rav Chiya said back, “It’s sufficient for us that they rear up our children and deliver us from immoral behavior. Being married protects you.” That was enough for Rav Chiya. If you just focus on the benefits that you’re gaining from the relationship it’s called keeping your eye on the ball, then you will appreciate what you have. A person has to focus on what’s really important and stop being fussy.
I’m going to end this off with a joke. One time a man goes back to his Rabbi a month after he gets divorced, and asks the Rabbi if he can marry her again. So the Rabbi says, “I don’t understand. You just divorced her. Why do you want to marry her again?” He says, “Well, she’s not so bad for a second wife.”
Okay, that’s it for this week’s Torah podcast. Please share it with your friends, if you gain something from it. And leave comments at rabbimitterhoff.com.
Rabbi Eliyahu Mitterhoff