by Rabbi Yisrael Kaniel – February 9, 2011
The Torah section of Tetzaveh discusses the elegant clothes of the kohanim (priests) and the inauguration of services in the newly constructed Mishkan (Tabernacle) whose components were described in the previous Torah section.
Upon perusing the above Torah sections, one finds that all of the different structures and vessels are discussed in the first section except for one – the inner golden altar for incense. Only after all of the priestly clothes are described and the kohanim are instructed how to inaugurate services in the Mishkan, do we read, towards the very end of the Torah section of Tetzaveh about the golden altar. We are told (Sh’mot 30:1), “You shall make an altar on which to bring incense up in smoke.” Why was the golden altar for incense so blatantly separated out from all the other holy structures and vessels of the Mishkan and left to be mentioned only after the description of the priestly clothing and their inaugural service?
In answer to the above question, R. Shimshon Pincus, in his comments on the Torah, points out the following: The center of the holy services in the Mishkan and later in the Bet HaMikdash was the main altar upon which sacrifices were offered daily, to symbolize to us that the ever-important messages of the Torah can only be acquired through sacrifice and great effort. Also, regarding other services such as those performed on the Shulchan (holy Table) that alludes to the purity of food that enters our mouths, we are taught to take care that all food should be within kashrut (dietary laws) norms, a matter that can involve much effort and added expense. Also, the Menorah (holy Candelabra) that alludes to the light of wisdom involves the choicest oil that symbolizes the sacrifice of monetary expense to merit the acquisition of wisdom. Only after all the above, do we find mention of the altar of incense, which entailed no sacrifices that were offered nor significant expense – just some incense that was made to smoke and spread an amazingly pleasant aroma all over the sacrificial grounds and their surroundings.
This order, R. Pincus notes, is to teach us that all the sacrifice and difficulty entailed in the path of true service to G-d are only when one begins embarking upon the path, but, as one nears the end and culmination of the journey, all transforms to pleasure for both the body and soul. This is alluded to in mentioning the incense altar at the very end. Only after the entire involvement in all of the components of the holy service including the priestly garments and the purity to be maintained by the kohanim in their service, entailing sacrifice, effort and expense, can we arrive at the sweet scents that lift both body and spirit.
So do we find to some degree in the development of Eretz Yisrael (the Land of Israel) as we see it today since the first significant waves of Jewish pioneers who undertook the awesome trek to settle the land of their forefathers.
Since the phenomenal Torah giant and kabbalist, R. Moshe b. Nahman, known as Ramban (a.k.a. Nachmanides) renewed Jewish settlement in our land in the year 1267, a steady stream of individuals followed, including men of note such as the kabbalist R. Shem Tov b. Avraham Gaon, who came from Spain in the 14th century and wrote his Keter Shem Tov in Israel, the great Italian scholar R. Ovadia Bertinoro, writer of the well-known commentary on Mishna who arrived in 1488, the renown Spanish scholar R. Yosef Caro, author of the famous Shulchan Arukh who came in the 16th century, R. Betzalel Ashkenazi, known for his Shita Mekubetzet who entered the land in 1588, R. Yeshaya Ha’Levi Horowitz, author of Shne Luhot Ha’Brit who came in 1621, R. Hayyim b. Attar, author of Or HaHayyim who ascended from Morocco in 1741 and R. Moshe Hayyim Luzzato, author of Mesilat Yesharim who arrived in 1743, to name but a few. According to one report, the Jewish community in Jerusalem alone numbered 10,000 in 1741. And, along with these settlers of our land, there were built synagogues and schools of learning in Tzfat (Safed), Tiveria (Tiberias) as well as in Jerusalem – whatever the relatively small population could muster at the time. The steady immigration of individuals was then followed by the influx of groups: students of the founder of Hasidism known as the Baal Shem Tov starting in the year 1777, students of R. Elijah of Vilna, known as the Vilna Gaon, beginning in the year 1808, and shortly afterwards students of the famous Hungarian Torah scholar R. Moshe Sofer, known as the Chatam Sofer.
During this period in time, when large groups of followers of the aforementioned great scions of Torah and Judaism arrived, so did Jews begin to expand through the land, building new communities, new neighborhoods and new villages. The first neighborhood was established in 1847 within the walls of the Old City of Jerusalem, Batei Machse, near Mount Zion, with the help of donations from the leading scholars of the time, R. Yakov Ettlinger, author of Arukh La’Ner, and R. Shamshon Rafael Hirsch of Frankfurt. A second neighborhood, built outside the walls of the Old City of Jerusalem, Mishkenot Sha’ananim, otherwise known as Yemin Moshe, was formed shortly after. Around the same time, other sections and buildings were constructed, both within and outside the Old City walls, nearby. One small neighborhood, known as the Wheat Gate, was built between the Damascus Gate and the Lion Gate. Others were the Kirya Ne’emana section of Nissen Beck near the Damascus Gate and Machane Yisrael, which was spearheaded by the rabbi of the Mugrabi congregation, R. David b. Shimon. In 1857, the organization of Bonei Yerushalayim was founded. This organization was headed by men of note such as R. Yosef Rivlin and R. Eliezer Dan Ralbag, sons-in-law of R. Yosef Schwartz, author of Tvuot Ha’Aretz, R. Avraham Brisker, R. Yeshaya Orenstein, son-in-law of R. Moshe Maggid, R. Arye Leib Horowitz, son-in-law of R. Eliyahu Yosef Rivlin, R. Zalman Baharan, R. Zalman Baharil Levi and R. Ben Tzion Leon, all scholarly members of, or descendants of the aforementioned Ashkenazi groups, especially that of the students of the Vilna Gaon. As a result, in 1869, the cornerstone of the first house of the new neighborhood Nachalat Shiva was laid, followed shortly afterwards by the neighborhood known to this day as Meah Shearim. Expanding further the initiative to build up the land of our forefathers, R. Yoel Moshe Salomon, descendent of one of the Vilna Gaon’s students, spearheaded the establishment of the then farming village of Petach Tikva in the 1870’s.
Those initial sparks of developing the land bestowed to the people of Israel by the Al-Mighty G-d grew brighter and brighter as more and more Jews came to this once forsaken land to redeem its ground and, with great toil, sweat and a good deal of tears, along with constructing homes for its population, factories for the production of all sorts of goods, as well as plumbing and electricity, developed farming lands throughout Eretz Yisrael. We can see today with our own eyes the beauty that has evolved from the initial efforts of those groups of followers of the great Torah scions. Indeed, we can see the fulfillment of the verse (Tehillim 126:5), “Those who plant with tears will reap with joy.”
Nevertheless, we must ensure that the momentous effort of our pioneers does not falter. We cannot allow lands worked and toiled over, developed with Herculean efforts of our pioneers with sweat and tears, after being forsaken for centuries, untouched by any non-Jewish hands, to slip out of our hands. Like our pioneers who sweated and sacrificed for years so that we can reap the benefits of this beautiful land today, so too must we make the effort and the sacrifice to maintain and hold on to the wonderful land that we have. The importance for Jews to establish, maintain and not relinquish possession of our Holy Land is decreed in the Torah in the words “Lo Techanem” (Devarim 7:2), which our Sages interpret as not allowing others “an encampment in the Land”, as is emphasized in the Mishna and elaborated upon in the Gemara (Babylonian Talmud, Avoda Zara 19b, 20a) and reaffirmed in the Code of Jewish Law, Shulchan Arukh, Yoreh Deah 151:8.
If we are stalwart in our responsibility and service to G-d and heed His Word, making the needed sacrifice, whether physical or monetary, to serve Him, then as mentioned above, with regard to the service in the Mishkan, while the path of service may be lined with obstacles full of sacrifice, much effort and significant expense, in the end, we shall inhale the sweet incense of the ensuing rewards and be able to joyfully exclaim the words of King David, “Those who plant with tears will reap with joy.”