Parshas Terumah: Upholding Torah

In this week’s parsha, Parshas Terumah, Hashem commands Moshe to instruct the Bnei Yisrael regarding the building of the Mishkan, the Tabernacle, that would accompany the nation on their desert travels.  It is from this hallowed and sanctified space that the Kohanim would serve as representatives of the people, and where the Shechina (Divine Presence) would dwell, keviyachol, amongst the nation.  The Mishkan housed many different keilim (vessels), including the Copper Altar, Laver, Golden Altar, Golden Table, Golden Menorah, and the Holy Ark, the Aron Kodesh that was placed in the Holy of Holies, the Kodesh Ha’Kodashim.  It was in this sanctified space, between the two cherubs that were atop the Ark, that G-d’s Presence dwelt.  

The Aron Kodesh was made of three boxes – gold, wood and gold – that fit one into another (with the inner and outermost being gold, and the middle being wood).  It was surrounded on its lid by a golden diadem all around, representing the crown of Torah.  It was topped by a solid piece of gold, from which two keruvim (cherubs) were hammered.  Additionally, there were four rings on each corner, which housed the two staves of the Ark; these staves were permanently set into the rings, and were never to be removed.  The Ark was the housing for the luchos (Stone Tablets) given to Moshe at Har Sinai, as well as for the Torah that Moshe wrote.  Hence, the entire essence, dimensions, elements and construction of the Ark represents Torah and Torah scholars.

In regard to the staves, which were made of wood, covered by gold, the pasuk tells us: בְּטַבְּעֹת, הָאָרֹן, יִהְיוּ, הַבַּדִּים: לֹא יָסֻרוּ, מִמֶּנּוּThe staves shall remain in the rings of the Ark; they may not be removed from it (Shemos 25:15).

Rav Yitzchok Zilberstein shlita teaches, “The Rishonim (early commentators) offer a number of explanations as to why the staves had to remain permanently connected to the Ark.  The Chinuch writes that all of the vessels of the Ark alluded to deep mystical concepts, which exert a positive influence on people who ponder these vessels.  Because Hashem is interested in our good, He commanded that the vessels always remain in their proper state, and not be removed from that state even temporarily.  A talmid chacham (Torah scholar), who is compared to the Ark, has to make sure that even when he leaves the beis medrash, he does not relinquish the identity of a talmid chacham.

“R’ Shmuel Rosengarten, the Rosh Yeshiva of Belz, told me of the advice that Rav Moshe Feinstein zt’l gave a student at the beginning of bein ha’zemanim (yeshiva intersession).  ‘I asked Rav Moshe how to conduct myself during bein ha’zemanim,’ the student, who subsequently came to learn in the Belz yeshiva, told R’ Shmuel.  ‘He answered me and said: Near your house, there is probably a Mishnayos shiur for laymen between Mincha and Maariv.  You are a ben Torah, and you have completed many volumes of the Talmud, so you will consider it beneath your dignity to participate in that shiur and learn Mishnayos with the laymen.  Instead, you will take out a Gemara from the sefarim shelves and learn on your own, sitting on the side during the shiur.

“‘You should know,’ R’ Moshe continued, ‘that this can be akin to endangering the life of the rabbi giving the shiur, for he might be hurt when he sees that his shiur is not good enough for a ben Torah.  In addition, the people who come to the shiur might be hurt by your conduct; and worse, this might cause them to look down at the shiur and stop participating altogether.  You will be learning from your Gemara at the side, but they will learn from you not to participate in the shiur, and eventually they may stop attending the shiur and instead engage in idle chatter… Eventually this shiur might be canceled entirely!  And those laymen, for whom this shiur represents their only Torah study during the day, will become completely removed from Torah study.’” 

Rav Zilberstein concludes, “I personally know a talmid chacham who lives in a certain city where there is a Mishnayos shiur similar to the one Rav Moshe was describing.  Every time I am in that city, I am amazed anew to see that talmid chacham sitting with a group of laymen, learning Mishnayos along with them” (Aleinu L’Shabei’ach, Shemos, p.434-435).  

The staves are never to be removed from the Holy Ark, because the Ark represents a Torah scholar, and the behavior of a Torah scholar must always be consistent, impeccable and without flaw.  Like the staves that are never removed, the Torah scholar must always uphold the purity and holiness of Torah which he represents.  How he behaves in the Beis Medrash is how he must behave outside the Beis Medrash. How he behaves and interacts with Torah giants and leaders is how he behaves with lay people and pashute Yidden.  

Rav Moshe zt’l, a true giant in Torah and mitzvos, yiras Shomayim and middos tovos, did not preach to others.  He taught by example and the way he personally lived, in a manner that always upheld the sanctity, beauty and purity of Torah.  For him, his personal, proverbial ’staves’ never left the rings of the Aron Kodesh.  

“When Rabbi Berel Wein first moved to Monsey, he davened at the Shul of Rav Moshe’s son-in-law, Rabbi Moshe Tendler (1926-2021).  One evening, R’ Tendler was out of town, and Rav Moshe was present.  R’ Wein relates: ‘There were about twelve people there.  Most of them came in off the street to say Kaddish.  Between Mincha and Maariv there was a short break and Rav Moshe would not allow the time to be wasted.  He took a Chumash from a shelf and began teaching from it to the small crowd.  He read each verse and then translated it into Yiddish with such a simple quality.  He didn’t say any deep Torah thoughts, no deep analyses from the commentators; just the plain words.  Vayomer – un er hot gezokt’ (‘and he said’).  But he spoke in such a way that he wasn’t talking down to anyone.  Great people have that ability to talk to everyone: children, teenagers and adults” (Reb Moshe, 25th Yarzheit Edition, Artscroll, p.264-265).

From the Aron, the integrity of a Torah scholar is learned.  Rava teaches: כׇּל תַּלְמִיד חָכָם שֶׁאֵין תּוֹכוֹ כְּבָרוֹ אֵינוֹ תַּלְמִיד חָכָם, any Torah scholar whose inside is not like his outside is not a Torah scholar (Yoma 72b).  One who truly represents Torah lives a life of consistent holiness wherever, and with whomever, he may be.  

בברכת חודש טוב ושבת שלום


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