May 16, 2024
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On a train ride across the frozen Lithuanian countryside, the Chofetz Chaim traveled with a group of disciples on their way to an important meeting. The heated passenger compartment kept them warm, and though the Chofetz Chaim remained in his coat, he removed his gloves and put them into his pockets.

After a while the cabin began to get stuffy and one of the students opened the window to allow in some fresh air. While the Chofetz Chaim moved out of the way, shifting from one seat to another to allow the student to pass, one of his fur-lined gloves fell out of his pocket and flew out the window. Instinctively, the Chofetz Chaim quickly reached into the other pocket and tossed the other glove out the window as well.

Seeing the confused look on his students’ faces he explained, “One day someone will be walking along the train tracks in the cold and come across a fur-lined glove. I thought to myself, ‘What good will a single glove be to them? Since I already lost the first one, at least the person who finds the glove should enjoy a complete pair to warm their hands.’”

***

In our sedra’s description of the materials, design, engineering and construction of the Mishkan, it tells us:

כָּל־מֵרִים תְּרוּמַת כֶּסֶף וּנְחשֶׁת הֵבִיאוּ אֵת תְּרוּמַת ה׳ וְכֹל אֲשֶׁר נִמְצָא אִתּוֹ עֲצֵי שִׁטִּים לְכָל־מְלֶאכֶת הָעֲבֹדָה הֵבִיאוּ:

Everyone who set aside an offering of silver or copper brought the offering for Hashem, and everyone with whom acacia wood was found for any work of the service, brought it. (35:24)

The walls of the main sanctuary were constructed of wooden kerashim, 48 vertical boards connected by bri’ach ha-tichon, a singular support beam made of shittim (acacia) wood that ran contiguously from one end of the Mishkan to the other.

וַיַּעַשׂ אֶת־הַבְּרִיחַ הַתִּיכֹן לִבְרֹחַ בְּתוֹךְ הַקְּרָשִׁים מִן־הַקָּצֶה אֶל־הַקָּצֶה׃

They made the center bar to run halfway up the planks, from end to end. (36:33)

The bri’ach ha-tichon slid into a series of aligned holes halfway up the boards and was embedded inside the thickness of the walls. This way, the bri’ach ha-tichon was hidden from sight and provided “back-end” support, holding all the walls together and securing the perimeter of the Mishkan (Rashi on 26:26). By moderate estimations, a singular wooden support beam would have to be at least 30 amos long—well over 50 feet!

The Midrash (Bereishis Rabbah 94:4) says that when Yaakov descended to Mitzrayim, he made a detour through Be’er Sheva, a settlement that his grandparents Avraham Avinu and Sarah Imeinu had established and dwelt in as they embarked on a life of inspiring and serving others. Be’er Sheva became the world headquarters of chesed and inspiration, and the place where Avraham “called out in the Name of Hashem” (Bereishis, 21:33).

During this “roots trip” to Be’er Sheva, while paying homage to family history, our sages say that Yaakov also uprooted the legendary “eshel” tree planted by his grandparents. This was the tree in whose shade they cared for their guests. Rashi reads the word eshel as an acronym for achila, shetia and lina—“food, drink and lodging.” The tree was thus a “motel,” offering five-star hospitality to travelers, with the bonus of a powerful spiritual upgrade to monotheism and service of the One True God.

According to Targum Yonasan, by Rebbe Yonasan ben Uzziel, klal Yisrael fashioned the bri’ach ha-tichon, the unique, central beam of the Mishkan, from this eshel tree. And this beam stretched “from one end to the other,” surrounding us with a reminder of the central quality of chesed that bound together and supported all the elements of Divine service in the Mishkan below it.

Regarding the עצי שיטים עומדים, the acacia planks from the eshel that were placed “upright” in the Mishkan (Shemos, 26:15), the Gemara (Sukkah, 45b) ascribes an eternal quality: עומדים לעד ולעולמי עולמים, “they remain ‘standing’ forever.” This means they were never destroyed along with the Beis Hamikdash; rather they were placed in protective genizah and preserved for all generations.

The first bracha of the Amida draws down the zechus Avos, the merits of our ancestors: “Blessed are You, Hashem, Shield of Avraham!” The Gemara, in Pesachim, reveals Hashem’s words to Avraham that describe this blessing: Becha chosmin, “With you shall the People of Israel ‘seal’ or conclude their bracha.” Rebbe Yechezkel of Kuzmir zy”a interprets Becha chosmin as ‘With you they will conclude’ our exiles; our final redemption will arrive on the merit of Avraham’s outstanding trait of chesed and our carrying this trait forward. Thus, the Beis Hamikdash will be rebuilt and supported by our eternal commitment to engage in upright ways of life, the indestructible merits of our avodas Hashem, our service of God, and our work to ensure that the needs of others are met and that they are surrounded by kindness and warmth.

Upon completing the building of the Mishkan, Moshe Rabbeinu blesses us:

ויהי נועם… ומעשה ידינו כוננה עלינו

“May it be God’s will… that His Presence rest in the work of our hands.

Indeed, may we be blessed to continue the holy work of our forefathers and mothers in living our lives in the service of others, building mishkans: creating homes and institutions suffused with the value of chesed—one pair of gloves at a time.


Rav Judah Mischel is executive director of Camp HASC, the Hebrew Academy for Special Children. He is the mashpia of OU-NCSY, founder of Tzama Nafshi and the author of “Baderech: Along the Path of Teshuva.” Rav Judah lives in Ramat Beit Shemesh with his wife Ora and their family.

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