Blog - Torah Insights

Would You Donate Some Wood? - ויקרא


Would You Donate Some Wood? 

The entire first portion of the third book of the Torah, Vayikra, is dedicated to the laws of the various offerings in the temple: elevation offerings, meal offerings, peace offerings, and sin and guilt offerings. There is one offering that, while not mentioned explicitly in the Torah, was the cause for a great holiday for various Jewish families. 

The Talmud explains that in a time of shortage, some families donated wood for the fire on the Altar. The times of those donations became holidays for those families who would then donate wood on those days in subsequent years:  

When the people of the exile ascended to Jerusalem in the beginning of the Second Temple period, they did not find enough wood in the Temple chamber for the needs of the altar. And these families arose and donated from their own wood to the Temple. And the prophets among them stipulated as follows, that even if the entire chamber were full of wood, the descendants of these families would donate wood from their own property on these specific days, as it is stated: “And we cast lots, the priests, the Levites and the people, for the wood offering, to bring it into the house of our God, according to our fathers’ houses, at appointed times year by year, to burn upon the altar of the Lord our God, as it is written in the Torah” (Nehemiah 10:35). Although these donations were not always necessary, it was established that all generations would observe these days. (Talmud, Taanit 28a)

While the wood offerings were not mentioned explicitly in the Torah, they caused a great holiday because, in some ways, they were even more profound than the offerings mentioned explicitly in the Torah. Every offering represents the effort to draw one specific aspect, dimension, or experience of self closer to G-d. Yet the wood, to fuel the fire of the Altar, present in all offerings, represents the general longing and desire to transcend and connect to G-d, expressed by abandoning the orientation toward self and focusing entirely on what is needed. Thus, the person donates not a specific offering, which is a Mitzvah, giving him the satisfaction that he is the one performing the will of G-d, but rather he donates the wood which is merely an accessory, allowing others to bring their offerings. 

Joy is a by-product of transcending self. Therefore, the holidays were established specifically to celebrate the wood, where the emphasis was not on an individual’s own spiritual growth, but rather on his enabling others to reconnect and reunite with G-d.

Adapted from the teachings of the Rebbe, Likkutei Sichos 22 Vayikra 2


The Sanctuary of Testimony - פקודי

The Sanctuary of Testimony 

For the first time since the introduction of the Mishkan, the temple that the Jewish people constructed in the desert, the Torah presents the term "Mishkan of testimony". In the opening verse of the final portion of the book of Exodus, we read:  

These are the numbers of the Mishkan, the Mishkan of the Testimony, which were counted at Moses' command; [this was] the work of the Levites under the direction of Ithamar, the son of Aaron the Kohen. 

Rashi addresses the word "testimony" and explains: 

the Mishkan of the Testimony: [The Mishkan] was testimony for Israel that the Holy One, blessed is He, forgave them for the incident of the calf, for He caused His Shechinah to rest among them [in the Mishkan].

The construction of the Mishkan `was more than just a story of building a place of worship. The Torah devotes so much attention to every detail of the temple because it expresses the triumph of the marriage between G-d and the Jewish people, which survived the terrible betrayal of the golden calf. Underlying every detail of the home is a story of love and forgiveness; the building of the home is testimony that, indeed, G-d and the Jewish people are reunited. 

Idolatry at its core is the notion of dichotomy, that there is a space devoid of the Divine presence. Idolatry argues that G-d is far too great to be concerned with the physical world, leaving a vacuum where the forces of nature are in control. The Mishkan was a testimony "that the Holy One, blessed is He, forgave them for the incident of the calf" because the Mishkan is an antidote to the sin of idolatry, the Mishkan is a testimony that the infinite G-d is present within a physical home constructed by mundane worldly materials. 

We, too, are engaged in creating a metaphorical Mishkan for G-d. We bridge the superficial dichotomy between the physical and spiritual by using the physical blessings of our lives as a conduit and vessel to bring the Divine presence into our own life and environment, ultimately transforming the entire world into a home of the Divine. 

Adapted from the teachings of the Rebbe, Likkutei Sichos 1 Pekudei 


Why are the Goblets Upside Down? - ויקהל

Why are the Goblets Upside Down? Menorah.jpeg


In his drawing of the Menorah, Maimonides drew the "cups" that were on the base and branches of the Menorah as upside-down cups (Maimonides writes that the goblets "had wide mouths and narrow bases"; in the drawing, the wide end of the goblets face downward). This detail seems, at first glance, inconsistent with the principle explained in the Talmud that when performing a Mitzvah with an object, it must be held or placed in its natural position: 


Ḥizkiya said that Rabbi Yirmeya said in the name of Rabbi Shimon ben Yoḥai: With regard to all objects used in performance of each and every one of the mitzvot, a person fulfills his obligation only when the objects are positioned in the manner of their growth. One must take the lulav with the bottom of the branch facing down, as it is stated with regard to the beams of the Tabernacle : "Acacia wood, standing" (Exodus 26:15), indicating that the beams stood in the manner of their growth.


Why then were the cups of the menorah upside down?


The answer must be that, at least in the context of the Menorah, the cup's natural position was not to receive and contain but rather to pour and share. The purpose of the temple in general, and the Menorah in particular, was not to create a sanctuary of light and inspiration for the temple itself, but rather to "pour", shine, and influence the rest of the world. 


Perhaps we can apply this lesson to our own lives. There is a built-in tension regarding our metaphorical "goblet," our defined personality, talents, and skills. Are we a goblet that "receives" or one that "pours"? 


Within each of us, there are two opposing drives. On the one hand, we want to self-actualize, to achieve and enjoy a degree of success, recognition, meaning, and significance. On the other hand, deep within our souls is the desire to transcend itself, to submerge within something greater than ourselves. As the Tanya explains, the Torah refers to the soul as a candle because just as the fire surges upward as if to escape the wick, so too does the soul seek to escape the confines of its independent existence and "unite with its origin and source in G‑d, blessed be He, who is the fountainhead of all life. Though thereby it would become null and naught, and its identity would there—in its source—be completely nullified, with nothing at all remaining of its original essence and self, this is its will and desire by its nature."


Perhaps the Menorah's lesson is that we need to create a goblet which receives and contains our success. Yet, the ultimate purpose of creating a vessel which "contains", why it matters to us to accomplish and to feel significant, is in order for us to "pour", to share the blessing with others. In the final analysis, our desire to be significant is itself part of the greater transcendence because the reason we crave to be a goblet that "contains" is in order for our goblet to "pour" and "share".  


Adapted from the teachings of the Rebbe, Lekutei Sichos 21 Terumah 3




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