Torah for All

V’asu Aron atzei shittim (Shemos 25:10)

Parashas Terumah introduces us to the Mishkan, which Hashem commanded the Jewish people to build as a resting place for the Divine Presence. Hashem instructed Moshe regarding all of the vessels for the Mishkan, relating to him their appearance, dimensions, and the material from which they should be made.

For each of the vessels, Hashem gave the command to Moshe in the first-person singular: “You shall make a Menorah.” “You shall make an Altar.” “You shall make a Table.” The commentaries point out one curious exception. The commandment regarding the construction of the Aron, which housed a Torah scroll and the Tablets which Moshe received at Mount Sinai, was given in the third-person plural: “And they shall make an Ark.”

As Moshe didn’t actually build any of the vessels himself, it was clear that in commanding him to do so, Hashem intended for him to appoint others to do so on his behalf. If so, why was the Aron any different? Why did Hashem emphasize that all of the Jewish people should be involved in its construction instead of simply allowing Moshe to delegate responsibility for it as he did for the other vessels?

An insight into understanding this difficulty can be gleaned from a powerful story told by Rabbi Yissocher Frand at the most recent Siyum HaShas. There was once a Jewish boxer who was very far removed from Judaism. His son didn’t have a bar mitzvah, but as he grew up, he became interested in learning more about his roots and found himself studying with great diligence in a local yeshivah. When he came home each night, he immersed himself in the review of that day’s Talmudic studies.

His father, who was himself engrossed in mindless, mundane pursuits, couldn’t fathom what could be so stimulating and enjoyable about the study of the Gemara. Eventually, the father began begging his son to teach him the Talmud. The son dismissed him, explaining that he didn’t even know Hebrew and certainly couldn’t understand a page of difficult Aramaic text.

The father pressed his son to at least give him a taste by teaching him just one daf of the Gemara. The son relented, but it was a long, arduous project. Line by line they continued, forgetting, reviewing and plodding forward until after one full year they finally realized their goal and completed the study of an entire page of the Talmud.

The father asked his son to make a siyum to celebrate their accomplishment, but the son explained that one must complete an entire tractate to make a siyum. The father persisted with his request, and the son agreed to ask Harav Moshe Feinstein, zt”l. Rav Moshe not only ruled that under the circumstances it was permissible to make a siyum, but insisted that he himself would attend.

The night after the siyum, the boxer died in his sleep. Eulogizing the man, Rav Moshe commented that just as the Gemara teaches (Avodah Zarah 17a) that some people acquire their portion in the World to Come through one deed, this man acquired it through one daf.

In light of this story, we can appreciate the answer to our question given by many of the commentators. The Aron, with the sefer Torah and Luchos inside, represents the study of Torah. Although Hashem was able to individually command Moshe to make the other vessels, the Torah belongs to every one of the Jewish people to study on his individual level. The Aron could not be made by one man because the Torah cannot be learned by one man.

Every one of us has his own unique portion in the Torah. It may be completing the entire Shas, it may be finishing one daf, and it may be studying on the phone one hour weekly. The key is to always remember Rabbi Frand’s message: “Whatever we do, it’s never too little, it’s never too late, and it’s never enough.”

 Q: Hashem commanded Moshe to collect donations for the Mishkan from every individual whose heart desired to contribute (25:1–2). Were women also permitted to give donations toward the building of the Mishkan?

Q: Rashi writes (25:5) that the tachash was a beautiful, multi-colored animal which Hashem created at the time of the construction of the Mishkan and which then became extinct. How can this be reconciled with the verse in Koheles (1:9) which teaches that ein kol chadash tachas ha’shemesh — there is nothing new beneath the sun — which the Gemara in Sanhedrin (110a) understands to mean that Hashem doesn’t make new creations after the original six days of Creation?

 A: The Meshech Chochmah writes that Hashem commanded Moshe (25:2) to collect donations “from each man” to teach that women were unable to contribute to the Mishkan because the Gemara in Bava Kamma (119a) rules that a gabbai tzedakah may not accept a large contribution from a married woman, due to a fear that she may be giving without her husband’s knowledge and contrary to his wishes. The Mishmeres Ariel questions this claim, as the Torah explicitly states (35:22) that the women contributed bracelets, rings and other jewelry to the Mishkan. He answers that this was allowed because the very same verse records that they brought them together with their husbands so that the collectors would know that the donations were being given with their husbands’ permission (as the Seforno explains on that verse). Alternatively, the verse mentions that the women specifically contributed jewelry, which belonged exclusively to them and which they could donate even without their husbands.

 A: Harav Aharon Leib Steinman, shlita, initially explains that the tachash was created during Creation, just that its location and existence was unknown to mankind until it was needed for the Mishkan, at which time it either entered the Jewish camp on its own or was successfully trapped by them. However, in light of the Midrash Tanchuma (9) which implies that the tachash was only created at this time, Rav Steinman suggests that Hashem stipulated at the time of Creation that the tachash would be created at this time, just as He did regarding the splitting of the Red Sea, which does not violate the principle in Koheles.

Originally from Kansas City, Rabbi Ozer Alport graduated from Harvard, learned in Mir Yerushalayim for five years, and now lives in Brooklyn, where he learns in Yeshivas Beis Yosef, is the author of the recently-published sefer Parsha Potpourri, and gives weekly shiurim. To send comments to the author or to receive his Divrei Torah weekly, please email oalport@Hamodia.com.