Thursday, March 30, 2023

The very beginning of parshat Pekudei refers to the Mishkan as the “Mishkan of testimony.” As Rashi explains, the Mishkan “testifies” to the fact that Hashem forgave them for the transgression of the golden calf, since Hashem’s Shechina would now rest among them (in the Mishkan).

Wouldn’t there be many seemingly more appropriate attributions to give to the Mishkan? This was Hashem’s dwelling place, so to speak! This was where we did the avodah, where we achieved such great spiritual experiences and proximity to Hashem! This was such an utterly holy place! And so, as I heard a question along the following lines—why not call the Mishkan, the “Mishkan of the Shechina,” or the “Mishkan of holiness,” or the “Mishkan of spiritual elevation” or the “Mishkan of connection to Hashem” etc.?

I thought that we, perhaps, see from here the importance of forgiving. Among the many other lofty attributions the Mishkan could’ve been personified by, the feature that prevails is the one of forgiveness. The transgression of the golden calf was devastating. Yet, Hashem forgave us. The fact that this supremely holy edifice of the Mishkan testifies to this forgiveness, and—above other high falutin characteristics it carries—is classified by this forgiveness, may show us how vital and important it is to forgive.

In parshat Vayakhel, in regards to who will be constructing the Mishkan, Moshe related Hashem’s message to Bnei Yisrael: “See, Hashem has proclaimed by name, Betzalel, son of Uri son of Chur…” Why Betzalel, and not Moshe himself? According to the Da’at Zekeinim (35:30), when Hashem originally spoke to Moshe regarding the making of the Mishkan, Moshe actually thought that he would be the one to construct it. But Hashem told him: “It’s not as you think; rather, the righteous person (Chur) who was killed (when protesting) by the incident of the golden calf, his grandson (Betzalel) will construct it, since the Mishkan is an atonement on that incident.”

Rav Henach Leibowitz points out that one could have thought that Betzalel is exactly the person who should not construct the Mishkan, since it was his very own grandfather who was killed by Bnei Yisrael! For, since the Mishkan would benefit Bnei Yisrael (by providing atonement), presumably, he would harbor ill-will towards the people who killed his grandfather, and would, therefore, not build the Mishkan wholeheartedly and with the proper intent!

It must, therefore, be—says Rav Leibowitz—that Betzalel overcame his nature, and totally purified and cleansed himself of any ill-will towards Bnei Yisrael, and was, therefore, capable of building the Mishkan wholeheartedly and with joy, that this Mishkan would provide atonement for Bnei Yisrael.

We could, perhaps, glean from here, the amazing ability that one has to forgive. Even though it was Betzalel’s own grandfather, he—nevertheless—was so forgiving, to the degree that he was eager and so happy to even bring benefit to those very people who killed his very own grandfather.

But a question may still remain: Even if we grant the explanation of the Da’at Zekeinim, wouldn’t the Mishkan still provide atonement if Moshe, himself, would build it and not Betzalel? Granted, Betzalel’s grandfather was killed by the incident; but still, if the overall purpose of the Mishkan is to provide atonement, should whoever builds it make a difference and affect the Mishkan’s ability to atone?

However, we can suggest that if—above all—other lofty characteristics, the one that personifies the Mishkan is that of forgiveness for the golden calf, then it could be appropriate that specifically someone who has mastered the “art of forgiveness”—i.e. Betzalel, who is also in a position of forgiveness to those who were involved in the golden calf, should be the one to build the Mishkan which represents forgiveness for the golden calf.

Based on this, I thought that maybe things with Betzalel could be understood as follows: True, Betzalel may have worked hard to cleanse himself of any ill-will towards Bnei Yisrael, but maybe really, subconsciously, some slight sliver of it might have still remained. But, if that’s so, then we’re back to the question: maybe he shouldn’t be the one to build it, since he might not do it with 100% pure intention!

Once, Rav Yisrael Salanter (1809-1883) was on the train, in a cart that was designated for smoking. After lighting his cigarette, another Jew—not recognizing this was Rav Yisrael Salanter—turned to him and said he can’t handle the smell of smoke. Rav Yisrael didn’t attempt to notify him that this was the smoking cart they were in, but instead apologized and distinguished the cigarette. Moments later, this person angrily said, “It’s impossible to sit close to this old man! Now, he opens the window and lets in the bitter cold air!” Despite the fact that it wasn’t he who opened it, Rav Yisrael pleasantly apologized, told him it wasn’t he who opened it and went to close it. When the train reached Vilna, this person was bewildered when he saw a whole crowd of people waiting there. He asked someone, who responded, “Don’t you know that Rav Yisrael Salanter is arriving?!” Shocked, he now realized who this “old man” really was, and was deeply distressed by what he had done.

The next morning, he came to Rav Yisrael’s lodging, entered his room and before he could say anything, Rav Yisrael—with a pleasant demeanor—said, “Please sit; how are you feeling? Have you recovered from the long trip?” Taken aback by such friendliness, this person broke out sobbing and began begging for forgiveness. Rav Yisrael told him not to feel bad and reassured him that he harbored no ill-will. Rav Yisrael asked him, “Perhaps you will tell me, what has brought you to Vilna?” He told him that he came to receive ordination to be a shochet. Rav Yisrael immediately responded, “I can help you with that—my son-in-law is one of the head Rabbi’s of the city … ”

Rav Yisrael set it up, and his son-in-law—Rav Grodzinsky—came shortly after and began assessing this person’s knowledge of shechita. Rav Grodzinsky realized this person barely knew anything, but Rav Yisrael told this person to rest up some more from the long journey and come back in a few days. He didn’t return, and Rav Yisrael himself went to find him. Indeed, he found him, and he explained to Rav Yisrael that he felt he wasn’t capable after all, and so, he decided to give up on the shechita endeavor anyway and just go back home. Rav Yisrael, however, encouraged him to continue studying and even found a qualified tutor to help him. This person advanced, and some time later, he was able to receive ordination. But, it wasn’t over. Rav Yisrael, then, went out of his way to find a community that would be fitting for this Jew …

Upon being asked why Rav Yisrael did so much for him, Rav Yisrael said, “When this person asked me for forgiveness, I told him that I fully forgave him and harbored nothing against him. And the truth is, I said this genuinely and wholeheartedly. However, being that I’m human, I suspected that, perhaps, there was still some remnant of ill-will that I had against him, and I, therefore, made an effort to help him and give him as much good as I could—in order to eradicate any semblance of negative feelings.”

Perhaps, we can suggest that while subconsciously, an infinitesimal lack might have existed at the beginning of embarking on this endeavor to build the Mishkan. Yet, through Betzalel proactively giving of himself for Bnei Yisrael’s sake by investing himself to build the Mishkan— which would bring so much good to the people who had hurt him in the past—perhaps, erased any remnant of grudge that may have existed, so that upon completion of the construction, he reached a confirmed cleanse of any ill-will—through and through—and thus, ultimately, the Mishkan was “built” (i.e., completed) in a state of absolute wholeheartedness and joy.

To forgive—but also to then give good to those who have wronged you—could truly seal the deal, and through which, one can, perhaps, reach a pinnacle of forgiveness. By Hashem appointing Betzalel—who is in a position of forgiveness towards Bnei Yisrael for a deed that took place during the incident of the golden calf, and whom might be a model of this ideal method of forgiveness—to be the one to build the Mishkan which, itself, represents forgiveness for the incident of the golden calf, could then not only be an appropriate match between builder and that which is being built, but also, perhaps, in order to show us an ideal method of forgiving others.

Binyamin is a graduate of Yeshivas Rabbeinu Yitzchok Elchanan, and of Wurzweiler School of Social Work.

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