by Rabbi Yisrael Kaniel – February 17, 2015
In the Torah section of Terumah, in the process of describing the details of the construction of the Mishkan (Tabernacle), used in the desert for sacrifices to G-d, we read (Sh’mot 26:15), “And you shall make the planks of the Tabernacle of acacia wood, standing erect.”
Our Sages comment on the above verse (Sh’mot Rabbah 35:2): “Why acacia wood? The Holy One Blessed be He is teaching … that if someone wants to build his house using a fruit bearing tree, one should say to him, “And when the King of Kings that all is His, when He instructed to make a Mishkan, He said, ‘Do not bring except from a tree that does not bear fruit,’ you all the more so [should not use a fruit bearing tree for construction]!”
In speaking about this verse and the Sages’ comment on it, the latter day Torah great R. Yaakov Galinsky reflects further on this matter (VeHigadeta, Sh’mot p. 496 – 497). He points out that we are being taught that even if we want to do something holy that will help us rise in holiness, we must weigh our actions to avoid causing damage in the process.
When Moses, R. Galinsky notes, was asked by G-d Himself to lead His people out of Egypt and present them with the Torah – an unparalleled elevation in our history – he refused to do so for fear of slighting his older brother Aaron. Only after G-d reassured him of Aaron’s joy at Moses’ stature, did Moses acquiesce.
R. Galinsky proceeds to tell of a very short man who was spotted by another Jew who saw the opportunity to perform an uncommon mitzvah [precept]. “This is a generation of collectors of uncommon mitzvot. The common mitzvot, Torah [study] and [acts of] kindness, we have already become satiated from! He wanted to make the blessing [over the short man] … ‘Who makes the creatures different’ … And it is clearly prescribed in the Shulchan Arukh (Orach Chaim 206:4), anything one makes a blessing upon, one must hold it in his right hand when making the blessing … He lifted him [the short man] from the ground and made the blessing with great conviction! … [Our Sages] say [Babylonian Talmud] (Chagiga 15a) that everyone has a portion in Gan Eden[Garden of Eden] and a portion in Gehinom [Hell]. The righteous one merits taking his portion in Gan Eden and his fellow’s portion. The wicked one gets his portion and his fellow’s portion in Gehinom. I have no doubt that the one who made the blessing [for ignoring the shame he heaped on his fellow Jew] received with this blessing two portions in Gehinom!”
R. Galinsky continues to tell a story of the famous R. Yisrael Meir Kagan, known as the Chafetz Chaim. Once upon coming to participate in a student’s wedding, which was held in the bride’s parents’ home – not in a wedding hall – as was customary at the time, as he entered, there was a flask for washing hands near the entrance. In respect for him, all waited to wash hands until he did. Before washing his hands, R. Kagan entered the kitchen. All were certain that he was inquiring as to the kashrut of the food which happened to be of top standards. When he came out, R. Kagan filled only a third of the washing cup and washed only his fingers. All were perplexed by his actions. During the meal, guests mentioned in passing our Sages’ saying (Babylonian Talmud, Shabbat 62b) that one who washes his hands with much water receives much blessing. R. Kagan commented on his actions, “When I entered the kitchen earlier, you thought that I entered to verify about the kashrut? … I entered to verify whether there is a water carrier who fills the barrel, and it was clarified that the maid is appointed for this and she is assisted by her daughter. I continued and I verified, the maid is a widow and her daughter is an orphan. And I do not want much blessing at the expense of a widow and an orphan.”
G-d in his Torah, as taught by our Sages and amplified by R. Galinsky, is teaching us that we must not engage in construction while at the same time causing destruction. There must be construction without destruction. Otherwise, no matter how holy the act of construction, it is seriously flawed. Blessing at the expense of another’s hardship, physical or emotional, is not true blessing, and construction by way of destroying materials that can be useful otherwise cannot be considered holy. We must properly weigh our actions. This is G-d’s instruction to us. This is how we can truly perform His precepts. This is how we can truly heed His Torah.