April 13, 2024
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April 13, 2024
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Regarding those who would take part in the sacrificial service that is delineated in Chapter 29 in our parsha, the topic commences with Hashem saying to Moshe, “This is the matter (“davar”) that you shall do for them to sanctify them to minister for Me.”

At first glance, the word “matter” (davar) is seemingly superfluous. Yet, the midrash (Shemot Rabbah, 38:4) explains its significance (that“davar” can be understood to mean “words” instead of “matter”): “[Am] Yisrael said [to Hashem]—‘Master of the Universe, when the rulers transgress, they bring a korban and it provides atonement for them; when an anointed [Kohen Gadol] transgresses, he [too] brings a korban and it provides atonement for him; [but] we do not have a korban [through which to achieve atonement]’! Hashem replied that they too have a korban that could provide atonement for them, as it states—‘If the entire assembly of Israel shall err … [the congregation shall offer a young bull as a sin-offering].’” Am Yisrael persisted, saying, “[But] we are poor and we do not have [the wherewithal] to bring korbanot”! Hashem then replied, “Words [of Torah study] I request—as it is stated, ‘Take words with you and return to Hashem’—and I will forgive [you] for all of your iniquities.” Am Yisrael continued to persist, saying, “[But] we do not know [Torah]!” So Hashem said, “Cry and pray before Me and I will accept [that instead].” Hashem brought numerous instances that proved the efficacy of prayer, and the midrash concludes with Hashem saying, “Thus…I request from you words [of prayer], as it is stated, ‘Take words with you and return to Hashem.’”

Rav Leib Chasman raises an apparent difficulty with the first claim of Bnei Yisrael that they were too poor to afford a korban. He asks: Allof Bnei Yisrael were so poor that they couldn’t even afford one korban to atone for them? Rather, explains Rav Chasman, it must be that in this context the term poor is a reference not to finances but rather to being impoverished of understanding. They were so deficient intellectually and in good deeds, much like their admission of how lacking they were in words of Torah (“Ohr Yahel,” Tetzaveh). (Perhaps this could mean that although Bnei Yisrael could have technically afforded a korban, they, nevertheless, were so intellectually and spiritually weak that they couldn’t even get themselves to bring a korban, but only were able to cry out in prayer).

All this notwithstanding, a powerful idea may be deduced from here, that despite the fact that Bnei Yisrael were apparently on such a low level of spirituality—to the point that they were impoverished of good deeds and didn’t know Torah—they nevertheless showed a fervent and genuine desire to repent, to connect to Hashem and come closer to Him. We perhaps see from here that even those Jews who are far from Torah and who are not practicing a Torah life, deep down inside them there still remains a desire to do teshuva and keep the Torah and a longing to connect to Hashem. This underscores the innate goodness, sincerity and holiness that resides within every one of Am Yisrael.

This idea can be seen—perhaps to a greater degree—from the continuation of the aforementioned pasuk: the midrash (ibid, 38:2) records that Habakkuk pleaded to Hashem, “Master of the Universe, since you desire that we be holy (as the pasuk states “…to ‘sanctify’ them”), remove death from us.” Hashem replied, “It’s impossible,” as it states, “O Hashem, you have ordained him for judgment.” The “judgment” refers to when Hashem passed judgment on Adam HaRishon and decreed mortality on him and his descendants.

Rav Henach Leibowitz points out that Habakkuk was essentially claiming, how is it possible that the concept of death should apply to Bnei Yisrael (and especially to the Kohanim) since they are holy? How can it be that something that is holy can die and be lost from the world? And Hashem responded that they must (eventually) die since it was already decreed. We learn from here the tremendous holiness of Bnei Yisrael, for it’s evident that Hashem was agreeing with Habakkuk’s claim that Bnei Yisrael are holy and shouldn’t be subject to the concept of death, if not for the already earlier decree of death.

The innate holiness of a Jew is further amplified by Rav Leibowitz’s further insight that Habakkuk lived during the end of the first Beit HaMikdash—a period of time where Am Yisrael were guilty of many misdeeds to the point that they were exiled by Nevuchadnezzar. Thus, even Jews on this low level were still considered holy to the point that ideally it was not fitting that death should apply to them. This is because, at their core, Bnei Yisrael are holy, and even when they act wrongly they don’t lose their innate holiness (“Chiddushei Halev,” Tetzaveh, 29:1).

This holiness—even which may at times seem covered up and hidden—is something that we are praised for and should be aware of: Our parsha begins with Hashem telling Moshe, “Now you shall command the Bnei Yisrael that they shall take for you pure olive oil.” The midrash (ibid, 36:1) on this pasuk connects to it the pasuk where the Navi Yirmiyah states—“Hashem had called your name, ‘A leafy olive tree, beautiful with shapely fruit’”—and then the midrash asks, “Now, were [Bnei] Yisrael only called after the olive tree? Have not [Bnei] Yisrael been called [also] after all kinds of [more] beautiful and praiseworthy trees?” “Rather,” explains the midrash, “Just as with the olive, while it is still on its tree it is selected for extra ripening, and afterward is brought down from the olive tree and is squeezed, and after it is squeezed it is brought up to the olive-press and are placed on a mill and then ground, and afterward they are wrapped in ropes, and stones are brought [to press down on them], and only after all this do they give forth their oil, so it is with [Bnei] Yisrael: The [other] nations of the world come and beat them, [thereby driving them] from place to place, and they imprison them and bind them with neck chains, and they surround them with soldiers, and after [all] this [Bnei Yisrael] do teshuva [and call out to Hashem] ….” This is why Yirmiyah chose to compare Bnei Yisrael to an olive tree.

At first glance, this midrash may pose an apparent difficulty: As the Shem M’Shmuel asks, by comparing Bnei Yisrael to the process of extracting oil from the olive—thus teaching that Bnei Yisrael only do teshuva after oppression, the midrash seems to be showing a shortcoming of Bnei Yisrael, not their praise! Indeed, as the Ktav Sofer points out, Yirmiyah’s comparison seems to be intended as a praise, as is indicated from the midrash’s question on it that Bnei Yisrael are also compared to many other beautiful trees! So why then—at first glance—does the midrash seemingly learn from this a negative quality in Bnei Yisrael?

The Shem M’Shmuel seems to explain that indeed, Bnei Yisrael are being praised, and Yirmiyah’s comparison and the intended praise is the following: when an olive goes through the whole process of extraction of its oil, the oil that finally emerges is the same oil that was always contained within the olive; it did not become this oil because of the crushing process—the process only enabled it to emerge forth. This oil existed from the start, but was simply hidden by its shell, and through crushing it, the oil becomes revealed. Soo too Bnei Yisrael, at their core they are good—their essence is pure. But it’s just that sometimes it happens that their goodness becomes covered. Afflictions break through the covering, allowing the purity and goodness that always existed to finally become unveiled, and then they can do teshuva.

Similarly, the Ktav Sofer seems to explain that just like the oil that emerges after the crushing process was the very same oil that was there the whole time, so too, the heart of a Jew—his pnimiyut—is clean and pure, and truly wants to do the right thing—to act in the ways of the Torah, to do Hashem’s will; externally, a Jew may sometimes do wrong, but internally—his pnimiyut—remains good; sometimes the yetzer hara “gets the best of him,” amd sometimes he becomes influenced by the inappropriate ways and behaviors of the non-Jews. Afflictions help remove the negative effects of these, allowing his eternal lustrous and pure pnimiyut to become revealed.

We can learn from here that the underlying praise of Bnei Yisrael is that their essence remains pure and holy despite the fact that at times they are involved in less than praiseworthy deeds. No matter where a Jew may be holding, he retains this innate holiness and purity and hence the ability to rise above and reveal that goodness he possesses.


Binyamin is a graduate of Yeshivas Rabbeinu Yitzchak Elchanan, and of WSSW.

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