Wisdom, Heroism, Wealth and Honor – Vayakhel


Parshat Vayakhel is a synopsis. In the parshiyot Truma and Tetzaveh HKB”H gave Moshe the pre-project plans to build the Mishkan. Vayakhel (and Pekudei) are the post-project summary. The pre and post project sequence are not exactly the same (I address this in my shiurim Vayakhel/Pekudei 2021 and Tetzaveh 2022 ).

Parshat Vayakhel lists the four primary keilim in the actual order of placement – the Aron, Shulchan, Menorah, Mizbeach Haketoret (unlike in parshat Tetzaveh where the Mizbeach Haketoret is detailed in delay).

In this week’s shiur I would like to focus on a different aspect of these four keilim – their essence!

Every nut, bolt, board, vessel, structure, angle, color, orientation etc. in the Mikdash has a specific meaning and purpose and this is multilayered.  When Rebi Akiva was asked “Out of the whole Torah, which mitzvah embodies the essence of the Torah?” his reply was –

אמר רבי עקיבא: “וְאָהַבְתָּ לְרֵעֲךָ כָּמוֹךָ – זה כלל גדול בתורה” (ויקרא יט, יח, ספרא שם, ירושלמי נדרים ט, ד).

Rebi Akiva’s response does not in any way denigrate any of the myriad other, equally important mitzvot in the Torah. What it does however, it strips away all the “clutter”, essential as it may be, and digs down deep to the “starting point” – the raison d'etre, the foundation upon which the Torah is built. Without that basic foundation, all the other mitzvot and their multilayered interpretation פשט, רמז, דרש, סוד etc. cannot stand on firm ground.

Similarly, in exploring the essence of the four primary keilim in the Mikdash, I will attempt to cut deep down to the foundation, the raison d'etre of each of them, without in any way minimizing the multilayered meaning behind each, which is intricate and detailed and could fill many a book (e.g מאיר פנים).

We surprisingly find the essential meaning of the four primary keilim in a Mishna in Pirkei Avot (4,1) –

בן זומא אומר:

איזהו חכם? הלומד מכל אדם, שנאמר (תהלים קיט צט)  "מכל מלמדי השכלתי כי עדותיך שיחה לי".

 איזהו גיבור? הכובש את יצרו, שנאמר (משלי טז לב)  "טוב ארך אפים מגבור ומושל ברוחו מלוכד עיר".

איזהו עשיר? השמח בחלקו, שנאמר (תהלים קכח ב)  "יגיע כפיך כי תאכל אשריך וטוב לך", אשריך, בעולם הזה וטוב לך, לעולם הבא.

איזהו מכובד? המכבד את הבריות, שנאמר (שמואל א ב ל) "כי מכבדי אכבד ובוזי יקלו".

At first glance there seems to be no connection between this Mishna and the keilim in the Mikdash. It was only during research into the Lechem Hapanim and writing the sefer מאיר פנים, that I discovered the intricate connection between this Mishna and the Shulchan Lechem Hapanim, and subsequently the other keilim as well.

(Shimon) Ben Zoma, a 3rd generation Tanna, student of Rebi Yehoshua and contemporary of Rebi Akiva, died at a young age. He was considered such an exemplary Talmid Chacham that the Gemara (Brachot 57b) says “If someone sees Ben Zoma in a dream, he will merit wisdom”. Ben Zoma was the last of the “Darshanim” and every year during the Pesach Seder we read his famous דרש about the obligation to read the Haggadah at night. He was one of the four who entered the “Pardes” and did not emerge unscathed. After experiencing the absolute truth of the essence of HKB”H, his elevated neshama could no longer continue to exist in this physical world.

Ben Zoma’s analysis of the four primary keilim begins with the Torah and ends with the Torah, working his way upwards to the climax, the Aron.

The Menorah. The Gemara (Bava Batra 25b) says –

אמר רבי יצחק הרוצה שיחכים ידרים ושיעשיר יצפין וסימניך שלחן בצפון ומנורה בדרום.

There are two keilim that symbolize the Torah, the Aron and the Menorah. As we will later see, the Aron symbolizes the תורה שבכתב. The Menorah, on the other hand, symbolizes the תורה שבעל פה. According to the Gemara above, and Ben Zoma in the Mishna, if someone wishes to become wise in the תורה שבעל פה he should learn how to do so from the Menorah, located in the southern side of the Heichal - ידרים.

The Menorah was not a torch (lehavdil, when the goyim want to convey “light”, they do it in the form of a torch, re: the Olympic games). The secret of the Torah of Am Yisrael is the Menorah – multiple lights, seven in all, with a central light and an equal distribution of three on either side, angled towards the central light.

The Menorah draws from the Aron, its source – the תורה שבכתב, the central light. The three lights on either side face the central light, they bask in its light and they also amplify its light. They are all an integral unit מקשה אחת, the תורה שבכתב and the תורה שבעל פה are indivisible, they are one and the same and the latter draws on the former.

When HKB”H gave us the Torah on Har Sinai He gave us both the תורה שבכתב and the תורה שבעל פה - in its entirety. This includes every סיג, every גזירה דרבנן, every chiddush, drush, pilpul, etc. that ever was and ever will be. It was all given at Har Sinai, to both the 600,000 of Am Yisrael that were physically present and also to all the future neshamot of Am Yisrael. Moshe Rabbeinu did not know the meaning of the כתרים on the letters in the Torah, it took many generations until Rebi Akiva for this to see the light of day, but it was given on Har Sinai just the same. The neshama of Rebi Akiva, who eventually revealed this to us, was at Har Sinai and heard it.

To learn the entire wisdom of the תורה שבעל פה therefore, you need to learn it from all the neshamot who were present at Har Sinai. We can only learn from those who are now and those who have been in the past (unfortunately we cannot see the future, so we will be missing out on all the chiddushim that will be revealed in 100 years, 200 years, or whenever HKB”H deems it fit for them to be revealed). Every neshama of Am Yisrael who ever lived and lives today has some part in this Torah, so to become wise in it, you need to learn from as many people as you possibly can, because each of them has their own (small or big) part in this whole. This is what הלומד מכל אדם and מכל מלמדי השכלתי means.

You have 7 lights symbolizing the שבעים זקנים – you need a very wide spectrum of people to begin to reflect the complexity of the Torah (why seven/seventy? - this is a kabbalistic concept beyond the scope of the shiur). Similarly you have the concept of שבעים פנים לתורה, referring to the number of ways to interpret the Torah. The Mishna and the Gemara are filled with myriad discussions and debates reflecting the different approaches. Ultimately, regarding the mitzvot specifically, there is one final ruling between the different opinions – the הלכה למעשה - there can only be one. However, studying the Torah from the aspect of the הלכה למעשה alone and not studying the other opinions in the Mishna and the Gemara, is a deficient way to study Torah, because it detracts from the vast beauty of the Torah.

There is an equal distribution of 3 lights on either side of the central light, symbolizing the 3 Avot on one side and Moshe, Aharon and Miriam on the other – again a wide variety of personalities - אברהם-חסד,יצחק- גבורה,יעקב- תפארת on the one hand and the different hashkafot olam of Moshe and Aharon and the female insight of Miriam. The wisdom of the Torah is not solely the male domain חכמות נשים בנתה ביתה.  There must be balance on both sides.

It is true that every person must choose his/her own Rav עשה לך רב, who most suits the person’s character and hashkafa, but if someone misguidedly thinks that any specific hashkafa is the only one of worth, they have no concept of what the תורה שבעל פה is. Polarization is not the way of the Torah, diversification is. This is the essence of the Menorah and the secret Ben Zoma is trying to teach us.

The Mizbeach Haketoret. There are many different reasons given for why we need the מזבח הקטורת, but according to Ben Zoma, the essence of this vessel is to symbolize our battle with the יצר הרע. This correlates with the Zohar Hakadosh (חלק ב, ריט א) who says דקטרת ...... דבטיל וכפית לכמה סטרין בישין.

Ben Zoma is teaching us what the true battle in this world is. The goyim’s concept of a (super) hero is someone who possesses supernatural powers, who has muscles larger than Popeye, who sacrifices their life for others, etc. This is not the Torah concept of a hero.

According to the Torah, the essence of conflict in this world is not between nations, philosophies, religions, etc. it is the battle that began in Gan Eden and continues to this very day – the non-razzle/dazzle, daily battle that every one of us wages with their יצר הרע. It may lack “Hollywood” glamour, but it is the essence.

It starts with the inability to control your temper, the inability to control your natural urges etc. and it eventually spirals out of control into - war between nations, philosophies, religions etc. War is just the end result, not the root cause. The true hero is the one who can nip it in the bud, before it spirals out of control, not the one who can kill the most enemies in the resulting war.

How to succeed in the battle with the יצר הרע can be learned from the Ketoret. It is not a single strategy but a multipronged (11 ingredients) approach, each addressing a specific aspect and modus operandi that the יצר הרע wields against us. In order to defeat the true enemy, you need to know who/what the enemy is, what methods and strategies he employs and how to counter them.

Ultimately however, we come to the realization that we are battling with an angel and without HKB”H’s help, we can never defeat him on our own. This is the essence of the מזבח הקטורת.

The Shulchan Lechem Hapanim. According to the Gemara in Bava Batra above, material wealth is associated with the Shulchan (located in the northern side of the Heichal ושיעשיר יצפין).

According to Ben Zoma the essence of the Shulchan Lechem Hapanim is to teach us the concept of איזהו עשיר השמח בחלקו. Wealth is not measured by your bank balance, but rather by being satisfied with what you have AND what you don’t have. Not simply satisfied, but happy with it.

This happiness is reflected by a smiling face and the geometry of the Lechem Hapanim and its configuration on the Shulchan, together with the bowls of Levonah, reflect this.

The passuk Ben Zoma brings "יגיע כפיך כי תאכל", focuses on the letter כ, the shape of the Lechem Hapanim and the shape of a smiling mouth. The elaboration of this concept could fill a book (and it has, my sefer מאיר פנים).

There are other aspects and levels to the Lechem Hapanim, but stripped to its core, this is the essence, as Ben Zoma explains.

The Aron. As Ben Zoma began with the Torah, he ends with the Torah and builds up to the climax - the most significant, central vessel in the Mikdash, the Aron. As stated previously, the Aron symbolizes the תורה שבכתב. It is the repository for the Luchot HaBrit and also a Sefer Torah (some say the Sefer Torah was in the Aron, some say on a shelf alongside it).

The Aron symbolizes our covenant with HKB”H entered into on Har Sinai when we received the Torah. It is our attitude to this covenant that is the essence of our relationship with HKB”H, from which everything else stems.  

כי מכבדי אכבד ובוזי יקלו. If we honor our covenant with HKB”H, in return He will honor us, if we despise it, in return we will be given disdain. You get what you give!

This is the basis, the very core of our relationship with HKB”H. It radiates outward from the epicenter of the Mikdash to every other facet of the Mikdash, outward to Am Yisrael and outward to the entire world.

Our covenant with HKB”H comprises two integral Luchot, one which is בין אדם למקום and the other בין אדם לחברו, they are indivisible. You cannot honor only one half. This is what Moshe explained to the זקנים why he broke both Luchot after the חטא העגל and not only the one side which was בין אדם למקום – because the two are interconnected. You cannot honor HKB”H and despise people and vise versa. Ben Zoma illustrates this principle in the Mishna – some who is honored by people, is someone who honors and respects people.

The core of our existence in this world is dependent on the above principle, our relationship with our Creator and our relationship with our fellow man. They both have to be a relationship of honor. The reward is that honor is reflected back to us on both levels.

This Mishna by Ben Zoma outlines the four highlights of the Mikdash. There are other levels to these כלים, but the above is the essence, they are the blueprint for תיקון עולם and they all stem from the Aron.

Therefore the passuk says –

כֹּה אָמַר ה' אַל יִתְהַלֵּל חָכָם בְּחָכְמָתוֹ וְאַל יִתְהַלֵּל הַגִּבּוֹר בִּגְבוּרָתוֹ אַל יִתְהַלֵּל עָשִׁיר בְּעָשְׁרוֹ. כִּי אִם בְּזֹאת יִתְהַלֵּל הַמִּתְהַלֵּל הַשְׂכֵּל וְיָדֹעַ אוֹתִי וכו' (ירמיהו ט, כג).

Wisdom, heroism and wealth are things we can take little credit for, they are all reflections of how we honor HKB”H.

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