Friday, April 16, 2021

The parsha begins with the final day of inaugurating the Mishkan, and the first day of service. Certainly a tremendous day of joy and fulfillment: We have developed a “resting place” for Hashem’s Shechina to reside within our vicinity and can connect to Him. Right after, we then experience a rather tragic occurrence, involving the death of two of Aharaon’s sons. These two polar opposite emotional moments are also sandwiched by Aharon blessing the nation, whom Rashi explains refers to the “Birkat Kohanim,” which although has not yet been expressed in the Torah, is nevertheless delineated later in Parshat Naso. I wondered if perhaps there is a connection between Aharon’s blessing being said right in between the first day of avodah and the demise of his two children.

The Birkat Kohanim is a most powerful blessing. We are blessed that our property and assets should increase and be safe from theft, that Hashem should deal with us lovingly, that we may find favor in His eyes (Rashi). The Kli Yakar even writes a lengthy list of 20 aspects that we’re blessed with—among them intelligence, the ability to walk, to hear, to see, to speak, that our physical structure should be blessed such as our bones, sinews, and even our spiritual makeup should be blessed. Yet, after all is said and done, the Birkat Kohanim concludes with the blessing of “shalom,” a blessing for peace. The Chatam Sofer (Shemini) explains that shalom in this context refers to the middah of “histapkut,” which means the ability to feel satisfied with all that one may have. In other words, one may have everything, but if one can’t be satisfied and “at peace” with what one has, it’s in some sense as if he has nothing.

This is far from just the icing on the cake. Without this function of shalom, a person won’t recognize the good one has as blessings. It may be last in the blessings but it’s most certainly not least, for this blessing of peace is what gives life to the other blessings, it’s what gives us the capacity to see the good in our lives, whether much or little, and have a deep-seated satisfaction and contentment with what we have. Indeed, the Sifra (Bechukotai, 1:8) says that without shalom, one has nothing, and the Netziv (Ha’amek Davar, Naso, 6:26) explains that shalom is what gives the capacity to contain all the other blessings, much like a vessel that is necessary to contain liquid. We may receive much abundance and good, but without shalom, it may all slip through the cracks. Shalom gives us the ability to be in touch with, recognize, and actively appreciate that which we have, even if it’s not so much.

We say in “ashrei”: פותח את ידיך ומשביע לכל חי רצון. It wouldn’t be uncommon to think that when we say this we’re asking Hashem to give us what we want and what we need. However, the Tzlach on Masechet Brachot (4b) explains that David Hamelech was speaking to the person who has very little, and that we are beseeching Hashem to give him the knowledge and ability to nevertheless be happy with what he has. Hence, we’re not necessarily asking Hashem for more, but rather we are asking Hashem to help us feel satisfied with what we already have. With the middah of histapkut, one can feel he doesn’t need more, and thus instead just asks Hashem to help him feel grateful and content with that which Hashem has already given him.

Kohelet Rabbah (1:13) states a fact that “no person leaves this world with even half his wants fulfilled—for if one has one hundred, he wants two hundred, and if one has two hundred, he wants four hundred.” At first glance this seems to be a reference to materialistic matters (gashmiyut), as Shlomo Hamelech in Kohelet (5:9) says, “One who loves money will not be satiated by money.” Meaning, one whose wishes, desires and pursuits are geared toward the acquisition and amassing of more money or material, such a person will not feel content even when he achieves that which he wished to get. However, Rashi (ibid) understands Shlomo’s statement to also be referring to spiritual matters, such as Torah and mitzvot, and thus one who loves Torah and mitzvot will not be satiated by doing them. So it comes out that the nature of an endless craving for more is universal and all-encompassing, and thus that energy can be utilized towards gashmiyut or towards ruchniyut. That vacuum that is ever-present and drives us to accomplish, and which pushes us to pursue happiness, connection and fulfillment, is the essence of our makeup, and it’s up to us how we want to direct that ambition. The difference is that, granted, one who pursues ruchniyut may be constantly hungry for more, but he is nevertheless simultaneously sated and content with the knowledge that he is doing what’s right in the eyes of God. As opposed to one pursuing gashmiyut, one is never content. Thus, shalom—developing the middah of histapkut—is essential, because it not only helps us focus on the pursuit of ruchniyut, but it also helps one to also appreciate the gashmiyut that we have, be it much or little.

We just finished the inauguration of the holy Mishkan, and we get to now serve Hashem in a phenomenal capacity. Comes Aharon after the first day of the avodah and blesses us with shalom—to have histapkut, so that we too will be able to devote ourselves more to our avodat Hashem. Immediately after comes the death of Aharon’s sons. Children are arguably the greatest “physical” pleasure. But perhaps Aharon’s silence and faithful acceptance of the Divine decree may be teaching us that when one has histapkut in regards to gashmiyut, even when it’s taken away one can still remain grounded and focused on his mission in this world.

Binyamin Benji can be reached at [email protected]