Friday, March 16, 2007

Parshas Vayakhel- Pekudei 5767

Rabbi Label Lam

Taste and See HASHEM is Good!

For the cloud of HASHEM would be on the Tabernacle by day, and the firewould be on it by night before the eyes of all the children of Israelthroughout their journeys. (Shemos 40:38)

Perhaps your heart will say, “Just as it shined for Israel did it not alsoshine for the nations of the world?” So the verse comes to teach us, “tothe eyes of all the children of Israel”, - on all of Israel it shone butnot to the nations of the world! (Sifri)

How do we understand that the light shone for one group and not foranother?

The Alter from Kelm, Reb Simcha Zissel Ziv asked an important questionabout the following Mishne in Pirke’ Avos; “This is the way of Torah: Eatbread with salt, drink water in small measure, sleep on the ground, live alife of deprivation- but toil in Torah. If you do this, “Happy you will beand it will be good for you” – “happy” you will be in this world and itwill be “good for you” in the next world! (Avos 6:4) The Alter askedabout the latter part of the Mishne, that we can understand how this self-sacrificing approach can gain for men goodness in an-other-worldly settingbut how does the Mishne confidently promise happiness in this world?

The answer he offers emerges from a careful reading of the Mishne. Hehighlights the words, “If you do this”. If you are the one who is doing itthen you can be the one to experience true happiness. If a visitor from aricher culture and with an untutored eye, would peer into a hall of Torahstudy in Meah She’arim and observe the austere living and learningconditions within, it would most likely arouse feelings of pity. However,if you are the one who is doing it, learning with vigor and rigor then theexperience from within is a-sweet joy beyond- beyond.

Yawning at dawn in a Jerusalem study hall my early morning study partnerexplained something to me that I had always misunderstood andmisrepresented. Since we (I) were (was) so tired, I commented loosely,that I didn‘t know how the Vilna Gaon got away with only two hours ofsleep total in a 24 hour cycle. He told me that the Vilna Gaon did notsleep two hours daily. I insisted that it was true and that I had read itin an authenticated biography but he stubbornly refused to accept it. Thenhe explained, “The Vilna Gaon learned 22 hours each day! He was not intosleep deprivation as much a he was involved in the sublime joy oflearning.

I remember discussing with some friends in Yeshiva the idea of making amovie of some kind that would entice others to come join us in learning.The conversation concluded with a consensus that it was probably anexercise in futility. What would convince people that learning is fun?What could we possibly show? People shaking back and forth? How could wereveal in a visual medium the joy being generated in the minds of thoselearning- Torah?

The Nefesh HaChaim writes: “And so a person from the Holy Nation thatcontains the whole organization of the creation…he is also constructedlike the Tabernacle and the Temple and its vessels, corresponding to theorder and connections of the segments of the limbs and the ligaments andtheir functions. So it is detailed in the Zohar how the Tabernacle and itsvessels are each referring to Man.”

Like the Tabernacle, if the deep delight of the Vilna Gaon’s Torahlearning would be visible then the world would be blinded by the light.It’s an acquired taste, though, not accessible to dabblers through visualacuity alone, and so King David wrote in Tehillim: “Taste and see HASHEMis good!”