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Rabbi Doniel Staum - Parshios Vayakhel-Pekudei 5775 "Actualizing Aspirations"
by Rabbi Doniel Staum, LMSW

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The holy Chassidic master, Rabbi Zushya of Aniploi, once mused[1], “When I was young I set out to change the world. Then, I became a bit older and I realized that I would not be able to fix all of the world’s problems, but I could surely fix my own community. When I became even older I realized that my community’s problems were beyond me as well. Still, I was confident that I could rectify the issues in my own family. Now that I have reached old age, I realized that I should focus on fixing myself!”

A number of years ago I had the opportunity to spend a Shabbos at the New Springville Jewish Center in Staten Island. The rabbi of the shul, Rabbi Nate Segal, is a veteran and insightful educator, and has also had great success in his efforts to draw unaffiliated Jews back to their roots. At shalosh seudos I was invited to say a few words. When I finished speaking Rabbi Segal commented to me, “I see that you’re young and vivacious. Let me give you a piece of advice: Go out and change the world! I am already older and so I know that I can’t do it. But you’re young and don’t know that yet. So go out and do it; change the world!”

The Torah portions of Vayakhel and Pekudei are most unique, in the sense that they are almost a complete repeat of the earlier portions of Terumah and Tetzaveh. The former portions present the detailed instructions of the precise dimensions and materials to be used for the construction of the Mishkan and the vestments of the High Priest. The latter portions record, with almost exact redundancy, how the Mishkan was indeed constructed as G-d commanded.

There are myriad laws that the Rabbis extrapolate from careful exegesis of every extra letter in the Torah. The Torah writes every word and letter sparingly and with incredible exactitude. The fact that the Torah deemed it necessary to repeat two entire portions, almost exactly as was stated earlier, is indicative of the fact that there is a great lesson to be gleaned from here.[2]

“לך ה' הגדולה והגבורה והתפארת והנצח וההוד כי כל בשמים ובארץ לך ה' הממלכה והמתנשא לכל לראש - Yours, G-d, is the greatness, the strength, the splendor, the triumph, and the glory, even everything in the heaven and the earth; Yours, G-d, is the kingdom and sovereignty over every leader”[3]. Chazal explain that this verse refers to seven attributes of G-d[4], through which G-d manifests Himself in this world, as it were.

However, the verse seems to separate the seventh attribute “kingship” from the other attributes. The verse begins by stating that all of the following attributes are G-d’s. But then, before mentioning the seventh, it reiterates that this attribute belongs to G-d. How does the attribute of kingship differ from the other six?

Rabbi Shimshon Pinkus zt’l explained that every characteristic and attribute has two components: The first component is the desire and yearning to accomplish. For example, one may have a deep desire to do acts of kindness and beneficence. However, despite one’s best intentions and desires, he may lack the ability and capability to fulfill those noble goals. He may simply not have funds or resources with which to do acts of kindness.

The second component is the actualization of one’s inner desires. It is the ability to bring one’s hopes to fruition. Desiring and accomplishing are very different.

The first six attributes are all in the realm of the first component. G-d maintains a deep desire, as it were, to do acts of kindness, and to demonstrate His strength, splendor, glory etc. to us constantly. The seventh attribute, kingship, represents the ability to accomplish all of those desires. A king by definition has the ability to produce and make things happen. He can raise and lower taxes, he can proclaim war or peace, he can honor or disgrace, and he is known among all his subjects as their leader and guide. In a word, a king is appointed to accomplish. Every one else in the kingdom can pine, ponder, and debate. But the king has the ability to proceed and to produce.

The actualization of G-d’s desire to bless His world and His creations is represented by His attribute of Kingship and His Monarchy. Thus, kingship merits its own category for it is the fulfillment of all of the previously mentioned attributes. It is the “crowning glory” that rests above all else, for without kingship all other attributes remain unfulfilled hopes and desires.

The Torah portions of Terumah and Tetzaveh contain G-d’s commands to Moshe regarding the Mishkan and all of its vestments. But desires, plans, hopes, aspirations, and good intentions, are a far cry from accomplishment and actualization. The fulfillment of all of those commands is recorded in the portions of Vayakhel and Pekudei.

The Torah could have easily stated in one encompassing verse that everything was created as was commanded. But the Torah does not take for granted one iota of what was accomplished. Every single vessel, material, and clothing that was constructed as was commanded merited to be repeated on its own. Therefore, the words, “And he made… as G-d commanded Moshe,” are repeated again and again. In this sense Vayakhel and Pekudei represent the “kingship” of the Mishkan.

The construction of the Tabernacle was completed on the twenty-fifth of Kislev[5]. However, the service did not actually begin for almost three months. During the final week of Adar, Moshe performed the Service, during what was known as the ‘shivas yimei meeluim- seven days of meeluim (inauguration)’. Then, on the first of Nissan[6], the Service began to be performed by Aharon and the priests.

The Mishnah[7] states that the first of Nissan is the “new year for kings”[8]. With the aforementioned idea from Rav Pinkus in mind, we can offer a homiletical understanding of the Mishna’s words: Nissan is the New Year for kingship because Nissan is a time of actualization and accomplishment, as was symbolized by the fact that the Service in the Mishkan began in Nissan, despite the fact that it had been completed well prior. In that sense it is a month of regal bearing.

This can also be seen from a passage recited in the Haggadah. “ברוך שומר הבטחתו לישראל - Blessed is He Who maintained His promise to Israel.” G-d had promised Avrohom that his descendants would be slaves and that afterwards they would be redeemed with great wealth. The fulfillment of that promise was accomplished in Nissan at the time of the exodus.[9]

On Seder night we all are granted the status of kings. According to the explanation of Rabbi Pinkus, a king is one who accomplishes - galvanizing and actualizing his potential. To truly become a monarch we have to merit that distinction.

As someone once said, “The only thing that stands between a person and what he wants to accomplish in life is the will to try and the faith to believe it’s possible.

And finally, “Whether you think you can or you can’t… you’re right!”

“Yours, G-d, is the kingdom and sovereignty over every leader”

“The new year for kings”

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[1] This saying has also been attributed to Rabbi Chaim of Sanz, and the Ohaiv Yisroel of Apt, and others.

[2] Every word and letter in the Torah contains endless explanations and esoteric meanings. There are undoubtedly myriad ideas and mystical teachings that are hidden in the extra verses. Our objective here is merely to understand on a simplistic level what lesson we can derive from the Torah’s lengthy repetition.

[3] Divrei Hayamim I, 29:11

[4] These seven attributes were personified by the “seven shepherds” of Klal Yisroel. Avrohom was the paragon of kindness, which is referred to as greatness; Yitzchok was the paragon of spiritual strength; Yaakov was the paragon of pride (the perfect balance between kindness and strength); Moshe was the paragon of triumph/eternity (he transmitted the eternal Torah to Klal Yisroel) ; Aharon was the paragon of glory (he performed the Service which is described as pride); Yosef was the symbolism of faith even when he was alone in Egypt, symbolizing that “everything in the heaven and the earth” are in G-d’s Hands; and King Dovid is the consummate king and sovereign leader.

[5] which was destined to become the holiday of Chanukah

[6] Which the Torah calls “the eighth day”, including the seven days of the meeluim.

[7] Rosh Hashana 1:1

[8] i.e. the year of the reign of a Jewish monarch began anew in Nissan

[9] When this essay was originally written in 5769, the readings of Vayakhel-Pekudei coincided with Parshas Hachodesh. It was also the year when Birchas Hachama was recited. The following is the continuation of the essay as it appeared there:

Every person has dreams and aspirations. But life seems to have a way of sidetracking us and distracting us from those dreams. The final of the four unique Torah portions read during the weeks prior to Pesach, is parshas hachodesh. The bulk of the portion discusses the laws pertaining to the Pesach sacrifice brought just prior to the holiday and eaten at the seder on Pesach night. But the portion begins with the words, “החודש הזה לכם ראש חדשים – This month shall be for you the head of all months.” Our sages note that the word החודש also means renewal. This month, the month of Nissan, is a time of regeneration and revitalization.

Nissan, the month of monarchy and fulfillment, is a time for us to take stock of how many of our own goals and dreams we have fulfilled. It is a chance for us to appreciate what we have accomplished and to renew our pursuit of the dreams that are dormant or have fallen by the wayside.

In Nissan, as the world of winter bursts into spring, and rejuvenates itself in majestic opulence and splendor, we need to be inspired to go out and change the world, (the fact that we cannot do so not withstanding).

This year we have the added merit of reciting the “blessing of the sun” on the morning before Pesach. The blessing is recited once every twenty-eight years, on the day when the sun returns to the exact spot on the horizon on the same day that G-d created it, 5769 years ago.

A blessing, or any ritual, performed/recited only once in twenty eight years, gives a person reason to pause. It is a time to reflect upon where one was twenty-eight years ago when the blessing was last said. How many of one’s hopes and goals has he accomplished and how many of his dreams remain nebulous dreams? On the other hand, it is also a time of hope when one contemplates the next time, G-d willing, he will recite the blessing. Where does he hope to be then and what does he hope to accomplish during the next twenty eight years?

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