Parshat Pekudei – 15 Praises For Hashem

Torah Observations
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The parashah of Pekudei (Numbers) begins with Moshe’s report of the quantities of gold, silver, copper, various gems and so on that were used to construct the Mishkan.

Rabbi Tanchuma bar Aba, speaking about Moshe’s report, quotes the words from Mishlei (28:20): “A trustworthy man will have many blessings, but he who hastens to become rich will not go unpunished.”

About Moshe Rabbeinu, G-d Himself declared: “…My servant Moses; he is faithful throughout My house” (Bamidbar 12:7). Could it be that someone of the stature of Moshe must give an accounting of how he used public funds, even though the Almighty has testified to his integrity? This week’s parashah gives us the answer: Yes, he must. This is a categorical lesson in personal conduct for everyone involved in public affairs. No one is above scrutiny.

We have already discussed the multiple steps that the Kohen was required to take when he withdrew funds from the treasury room of the Temple. It was essential to avoid even the slightest risk of arousing suspicion of the misuse of public funds.

But despite all the precautions, one might suspect that the Kohen was forgetful. Even Moshe, the greatest of the Prophets, needed to make it clear to all that he had appropriated 100-percent of the donations to the Mishkan.

As Moshe was delivering his accounting, he momentarily could not recall what had been done with a sum of 1,775 silver shekels. He prayed to G-d, asking Him to help him remember. G-d answered his prayer; Moshe recalled that these shekels were used for the hooks attached to the pillars and for the silver threads that were wrapped around the pillars, and then added this fact in his report to the people.

Overwhelmed with gratitude, Moshe offered up 15 praises to the Almighty. It is interesting to note that we find that the number 15 also occurs in three of the prayers of gratitude that Jews around the world recite to this day: Baruch She’amar and Yishtabach—which open and close the Pesukei D’Zimrah section of the morning prayers, and Emes V’yatziv (the 15 words of praise following the word emes) at the conclusion of the Krias Shema in the morning prayers.

Parshat Vayikra –
Are You Guilty?

The Commandments regarding the various sacrifices belong to the category of Torah laws whose rationale is beyond our understanding. Such laws are called Chukim (“decrees” or “statutes”). Why, for example, are some parts of a sacrifice burned, and some left for food? Why are some portions reserved for the Kohanim and forbidden to others? What is the general point of sacrificing an animal or eating the meat of a slaughtered animal? What distinguishes an offering that is burnt whole from one that is apportioned for food?

In his commentary in Parshat Vayikra, Ramban offers some helpful insights in reference to the foregoing questions:

We atone for our wrong actions through sacrifice. How does a person perform an act? The act begins with a thought, is deliberated in words, and ends with the hands—with a concrete act—a deed. If a person understands (thought) that he did wrong, he brings an offering to the Temple, confesses (words) over the animal and before G-d so that no one will hear. He then slaughters the animal (deed). Thus, performing a sacrifice requires the inclusion of all elements of action—the same elements that went into performing the transgression. This is how unwanted thoughts, words and deeds are reversed or annulled.

When a person makes a sacrifice to G-d, he is already conscious of his guilt and hopes for forgiveness. The act of making a sacrifice—the very procedure of the sacrifice—helps him to realize his guilt even more deeply.

A Jew’s “defenses” can easily break down—he might sometimes transgress (for instance, he allowed himself to get angry), his “blood boiled,” for a moment he got carried away by excess (symbolized by the fat in the animal). Then, before his eyes, they slaughter the animal, dash its blood against the sides of the altar, put the fat on the fire and completely burn it. Willingly or unwillingly, a person draws an analogy between himself and the sacrificial animal. The dying of the animal makes the sinner feel deep down that his life is in the hands of G-d. And he thinks, “Did I not, by my own behavior, merit the shortening of my days?” He decides to give up the forbidden pleasures—to “burn the fat,” to refrain from anger! These thoughts and feelings are remembered for a long time. Entering the Temple, confessing his sin, choosing, and buying a sacrificial animal; all those things require time, effort, and money, which mean that they also help to solidify the impression.

We don’t have the Temple now. We cannot bring sacrifices. Once again, we must ask: Why study the laws of sacrifice? Out of our interest in history?

As already mentioned in the Introduction, we ask G-d to restore the Temple, so we must be ready to serve in it. The great sage and tzaddik, Rabbi Yisrael Meir Kagan, known as the Chofetz Chaim, wrote in a letter to his community: “Seeing that we are ready for this, the Almighty will fulfill our request…” However, continues the Chofetz Chaim, it is necessary to add a further explanation: At Hashem’s behest, the Prophet Yechezkel must reveal to the Jews Hashem’s plan for rebuilding the Holy Temple. Puzzled by this request, Yecheskel addresses the Almighty and asks, “Why do You ask me to describe how the Temple should be built? After all, we are in exile, in the lands of enemies!” The Almighty answers: “Reading about the construction of the future Temple is as valuable as the construction itself. I will credit it to the Jews as if they were building the Temple with their own hands!”

We find the same principle stated in the Midrash: “Rabbi Yitzchak said: ‘One who studies the laws of the Chatas is considered to have brought a Chatas.’ And this applies to all types of sacrifices. The one who studies the laws of the Shelamim is considered as if he were the one who brought a Shelamim.”

The prophet Hoshea (14:3) referred to this principle in three words: “Let us render [for] bulls [the offering of] our lips.” In other words, prayer, and study of the sacrificial laws of the Torah are equivalent to bringing a sacrifice.

Therefore, even though we are now unable to bring an offering to the Holy Temple, pray and study the laws of the Temple Sacrifice, and Hashem will reckon it to you as if you yourself had brought the sacrifice to the Temple.

In the last Mishnah of Tractate Menachot (110a), it is written: “It is said about the sacrifice of the one who offered the [bullock]: ‘…an Olah, a burnt offering made by fire, a smell pleasing to G-d’ (Vayikra 1:9). About the sacrifice of one who offered a bird as a burnt offering: ‘…an Olah, a burnt offering made by fire, a smell pleasing to G-d” (ibid. 1:17). About the Minchah, the flour offering: ‘…a burnt offering made by fire, a smell pleasing to G-d’ (ibid. 2:9). In all three cases, the same phrase is used: ‘A smell pleasing to G-d.’ This means the following: It doesn’t matter whether a person has brought a lot or a little. If he made the sacrifice with all his heart, the smell is the same: it is equally pleasing to G-d.” One offeror donates 1,000 shekels and another gives one shekel. Perhaps scraping up that one shekel is just as hard for the one person as it is for the other to raise a thousand shekels. They are equal before G-d.

The same is true for Torah study. One grasps instantly; the other, slowly. The first learned more in one hour; the second, less. One has the freedom to study Torah all day while the other is busy with work and can hardly find an hour for study. But G-d considers the abilities, the possibilities, and the intentions of every person—He takes everything into account.

The smell of burning feathers cannot be called “pleasing”! But the Almighty is pleased that a person fulfills a law that is incomprehensible to him, in the belief that such is the desire of the Creator.

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