Beit Midrash

  • Torah Portion and Tanach
  • Beha'alotcha
To dedicate this lesson

Not Tests - Challenges!

Construction of the Menorah in the Tabernacle was a very difficult task, according to the Medrash. What exactly was so hard about forming it?

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Rabbi Zalman Baruch Melamed

Sivan 14 5781
I. The United Menorah

Construction of the Menorah (candelabrum) in the Tabernacle was a very difficult task, according to the Medrash (Bamidbar Rabba 15,4). The Medrash derives from the words and letters of the verses in the Book of Sh'mot that building the Menorah was so hard that Hashem told Moshe to simply throw the gold into the fire and it would emerge as a Menorah, in precisely the form that Hashem wanted.

 

What exactly was so hard about forming the Menorah? Certainly this was not simply a technical difficulty for Moshe; our Sages were clearly referring to something more profound.

 

 

We read in Sh'mot 25,31 that it was G-d's command that the Menorah be hammered out of a single piece of gold. That is, each of the flowers and cups and other adornments, not to mention the branches, were not to be formed and attached separately. They were instead to be sculpted out of one bloc of gold. While a regular lamp has the function of providing light, the Menorah in the Mishkan was of deeper significance: It represents Wisdom, and its seven lamps symbolize the seven types of Wisdom in the world (see Abarbanel to Bamidbar 8,1-4).


 


There are many different shades of the light of Wisdom, and many different outlooks (hashkafot) and philosophies – but they all stem from the same source; they are of one bloc.

 

The problem is, however, that every individual light generally sees only its own existence, and not the need for other lights. Every person thinks that his way and his outlook is the most correct one, and that the others are false, unnecessary, and possibly even destructive to the world. The most difficult work is the work of uniting the lights – fashioning the healthy hashkafah that sees in each light its destiny, and sees the dot of truth that exists in each of the lights of wisdom. This is the all-inclusive hashkafah that recognizes that the lights not only do not contradict or extinguish each other , but rather contribute all together – since they all come from one source – to the construction of the world.

 

Moshe faced the same difficulty of "uniting the parts" when it came to building the Mishkan altogether, the Medrash tells us. But he succeeded: "He made… he fastened… and the Mishkan was one" (Sh'mot 36,13). The ability to unite all the different hues that appear in the reality of our world is the special strength of Israel. We recite in the Shabbat Mincha prayer: "You are One, Your Name is One, and who is like Your nation Israel, one nation in the land." This is the strength of those who speak of the unity of G-d, and who say twice a day, "Shma Yisrael, Hear O Israel, Hashem is our G-d, Hashem is One" – thus recognizing the fact that all of reality, despite all its different details and various manifestations of lights of Wisdom, is actually the revelation of one united world that emanates from one single root.

 

This was the path of HaRav Kook zt"l, who sought to reveal the unity inherent in the relationships between sacred and mundane, between the Torah's revealed and esoteric aspects, and between Halakhah and Aggadah (Jewish Law and philosophy/ mussar).[1] This is not a unity formed by blurring the differences that exist between the different areas, but rather a unity of joining and merging, forming one total and harmonious totality.

 

Many different views exist not only amid the general public in Israel, but also within the national-religious public. We have different opinions on questions such as: How should we act for the benefit of the nation? How do we have an influence on those who are removed from Torah? What is the proper approach to Torah study and how much time should be allocated to matters of faith, Jewish Law, Bible, etc. Every person who follows a certain path believes that his path is the most correct and profound. Though this is of course legitimate, we must always remember that there are other ways as well, and that they too have light - and "through all of them G-d will be exalted" (Sotah 40a).

 

When we take this approach, we will realize that even if we encounter a view that appears to be downright wrong, it still has some points of light. We will then understand that we cannot disqualify the entire approach; even if there is more darkness than light, its points of light must be acknowledged!  A person must develop the ability to analyze, and to reach a stage at which he knows that whenever he encounters a view that is different than his, he manages to find its point of light and to learn from it, and thus enrich himself. There is nothing wrong with being influenced by other paths and opinions. There is no reason to fear that by listening to and being willing to accept aspects of other opinions, he might be influenced by them totally. Rav Kook teaches this idea in several places in his writings.[2]

 

It is true that this approach is a difficult one. It is hard to analyze, hard to differentiate between light and darkness, and hard to acknowledge the light that exists in another path. It is much easier to avoid question marks and to walk on a single, smooth path, closed off from outside influences. But the fact that this path is difficult does not mean it should be detoured; it is hard, but also has greatness – and it is also correct. This is the path of the Torah of Eretz Yisrael, the special attribute of the Menorah, which was made out of one bloc.

 

II. Hashem Tests the Tzaddik

 

On the topic of choosing the Levites to perform the Divine Service in the Mishkan, our Sages discuss the topic of "tests" that Hashem gives the righteous.

 

In Psalms we read, "G-d tries the righteous, but His soul hates the wicked and he who loves violence" (Tehillim 11,5); G-d tests the righteous man and does not raise him to power  until he checks and examines him, and if he passes the test, He raises him to power. (Bamidbar Rabba 15,12)

 

The tests can be specific, local difficulties that the person faces in his lifetime, or they can be national difficulties that test the entire nation.

 

The Medrash continues and notes that Avraham Avinu was faced with ten different tests, that he passed them all, and that Hashem thereupon blessed him. When a person takes a particular path and meets up with difficulties, his natural thought is that perhaps Hashem is signaling him that he is going the wrong way. When Avraham took the path of fighting idol worship, he was promptly thrown into a furnace. He might easily have thought that endangering himself and fighting the whole world is not the right thing to do. And even when it happened again and again throughout his life, even as he fulfilled G-d's direct commands, Avraham did not give in to the hardships. He was forced to leave the Land – a total withdrawal from the path on which he walked, the path of faith in Hashem – yet he did not give in to despair, and he did not begin to think that maybe he should slow down a bit. And he certainly did not make such despair into an ideology and to say [as the Sages taught] that Israel's Redemption will come slowly and the like.

 

Rather, our Patriarch Avraham was a man who believed absolutely in G-d. He did not lose, even for a moment, his faith in Hashem and in the justness of his way – and as a result, he merited to ascend higher and higher.

 

The Medrash continues:

 

Yitzchak, too, was tested and passed… And Yaakov… And Yosef… and the entire Tribe of Levi. When the Israelites in Egypt scorned Torah and Brit Milah, the Levites were righteous and fulfilled the Torah… They did not take part in the Sin of the Golden Calf… and when Moshe told them to slay those who did take part, they did so… And when Hashem saw that all the Levites were righteous, He tested them, and they passed the test… G-d immediately said, "The Levites will be for Me," to fulfill that which is written, "Hashem tries the righteous."

 

This Medrash repeats itself in several places,[3] justifiably so – for we encounter various tests and impediments during the course of a year, and it is incumbent upon us to recognize the value of these tests and to know how to relate to them. The Gaon of Vilna wrote in his work Kol HaTor that we must not be deterred by obstacles and delays in the Redemption process, for they are a natural part of its progression.

 

Our task at this time, as those who have merited to live in the generation of the Beginning of the Flowering of our Redemption, is to conclude the rectification of the Sin of the Scouts, about which we will read next week in Parashat Shlach.

 

The scouts, most unfortunately, did not have the strength – and so they perceived themselves – to withstand a powerful nation, "sons of giants." Nowadays as well, many feel that the Nation of Israel is not strong enough to withstand the pressures of a great superpower. Today, too, there are those who fear pressures from American, Europe, or others. But just as we were instructed in days of yore, so too today: "Do not fear!" (Bamidbar 14,9)

 

Of course, some say that our situation is different than the one faced by the scouts sent by Moshe and who should have trusted in the clear Divine promise that they would inherit the land and be successful in all their battles. Some feel that taking this path today against the nations without a clear Divine guarantee is actually a rebellion against G-d! But the answer to this is that G-d does not have to renew His promises again and again. Hashem commanded us to inherit Eretz Yisrael, and this Divine charge stands forever.

 

In order to rectify the Sin of the Scouts, the situation must be very similar to the one that they faced. It is clear that the Scouts thought they were doing the right and responsible thing. Israel was weak, inexperienced in war, and seemingly faced the wrath of a powerful army against them. The Scouts most certainly felt that not only were they not rebelling against G-d by convincing the nation not to inherit the Land, but were even acting l'shem shamayim, for G-d's sake and in His best interests! It would be irresponsible, they felt sure, to lead the people into a hopeless escapade that was liable to bring upon them destruction.

 

Yet this was a test, one that demanded tremendous faith, trust, and the recognition that when Hashem is with us, all difficulties fall to the wayside.

 

Our Sages teach us that we need not see tests as something negative. When a person is considered to be a "tzaddik," the test is simply a challenge for him, something from which – and only from which – he can attain greater heights than he had previously attained.

 

III. Moshe's Prayer

 

The Gemara teaches of an incident that occurred in the Beit Medrash of R. Eliezer:

 

A student once led the prayers before R. Eliezer, and he lengthened the prayers too much. The students said, "Our teacher, look how much he prolongs the prayers." He answered them, "Is he longer than Moshe Rabbeinu, who spent 40 days and 40 nights praying in the Heavens?" 

 

Another time, another student led the prayers there, and he was very brief.  He students said, "Our teacher, look how concise he makes the prayers." He answered them, "Is he more brief than Moshe Rabbeinu, who prayed for his sister Miriam with only five short words: א-ל נא רפא נא לה'Please G-d, please heal her.' (B'rachot 34a)

 

One who prays concisely is not like Moshe. Neither does one who prays long, pray like Moshe Rabbeinu. For Moshe prayed both shortly and at great length: When he prayed for the nation of Israel, such as when he would ask G-d to forgive them, he was very lengthy. But for his own individual needs, he was quite brief. When one knows how to pray at length, his prayers are heard no matter how few words he uses.

 

Of course, there is no point in lengthening one's prayers without a particular reason. To do so, one must feel a genuine inner need. In our days, there is on the one hand a great need to pray at length for Israel's salvation. But on the other hand, we have very much for which to thank Hashem regarding all the kindness he has done for us: the past decades of ingathering of our exiles, of national liberation from the yoke of the nations, the liberation of the Land of Israel, and more. For all this it would seem that there is room to occasionally add extra words of thanks in our prayers; when we say blessings such as "He ingathers the dispersed of His nation Israel," and "Sound a great shofar for our freedom and… ingather our exiles" and "He builds Jerusalem," we are not dealing with dreams; we are speaking of a living reality, even if it is not yet totally complete.

 

[1] See Orot HaKodesh I, p. 63-79; Orot HaKodesh II, p. 21-38; and Orot HaTorah 4.
[2] See for instance Ikvei HaTzon, Maamar HaDor, and Orot Hakodesh III p. 324, 326-7, 328, 333.
[3]  B'reshit Rabba 32,3; 34,2; 55,2; Shir HaShirim Rabba 2,2; Tanchuma Sh'mot 10,10; and more.

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