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Body and Soul

By: Rav Yaakov Yisroel Wenglin

This week’s parsha is the first of four parshiyot in the Torah describing the crafting and assembly of the Mishkan and its vessels along with the garments of the kohanim.  That the Torah spends so many verses on the subject indicates the Mishkan’s critical importance to the Jewish People and the world.  As is well known, the Mishkan at once represented Hashem’s way of indicating His forgiveness of the Jewish People for the sin of the golden calf, and more important, it reflected His desire to dwell in the world (so to speak) -- to be revealed in the realm of physicality -- via the actions of the Jewish People.  In other words, Hashem hides His unity and oneness via the natural world that He created, but His goal is that we do what it takes to reveal to the world that the ultimate reality is ain ode milvado – there is really nothing other than Him, that is to say that there is nothing that exists other than Hashem.  The Mishkan went a long way to facilitating that process.

A building is only as good as its foundation, and the Mishkan was no exception.  The beams of the structure were held up by silver sockets called adanim.  The silver for these sockets was obtained via the first donation of the half-shekel, which is commanded in parshat Ki Tisa.  What can we learn from this fact?  On the verse “This shall they give… a half-shekel of the sacred shekel,” (Exodus 30:13), Rashi brings from the Midrash that Hashem showed Moshe a coin of fire.  The Talmud Yerushalmi tells us that Moshe Rabbeinu was challenged by the mitzva of the half-shekel until Hashem showed him the fiery coin.  Some of our holy books inquire as to what exactly was so difficult for Moshe to comprehend, and they answer, based on the Midrash, that Moshe found it hard to understand how the donation of a silver coin could atone for one’s life, which had become forfeit after the sin of the golden calf.  The fiery coin demonstrated that such atonement can come only if a Jew dedicates his physical resources to spiritual pursuits and only if he does so with passion and fire.

The Bnei Yissaschar notes a lovely hint to this idea in the very word “shekel,” and he thereby extends the notion beyond mere monetary matters to all one’s spiritual-based powers.  The word shekel has the gematria of 430 ( = 300, = 100, = 30), as does the word nefesh ( = 50, = 80, = 300), which is the aspect of the soul that provides the life-energy to the body.  The idea of a half-shekel indicates that a Jew’s life energy – in fact a Jew’s entire being – is rooted in the spiritual realms high above (or, better, Above) while being revealed in the Jew’s body down below in this world.  The half-shekel represents the idea that a Jew must unite the half of his nefesh that is experienced down here in his body with its source Above that is attached to the truth of Hashem’s unity.  What this means practically is that a Jew has the free will to marshal his energies and talents and abilities – not just his money-- to reveal the oneness and unity of Hashem in the physical world via Torah, mitzvos, and good character traits, or to, G-d forbid, use those same energies and talents and abilities to contribute to the illusion of Hashem’s hiddenness.

Now we can understand why this silver was used for the foundation sockets of the Mishkan.  As already mentioned, that edifice was meant to be ground-zero for the revelation of Hashem’s glory in the physical world.  That the sockets were made from the half-shekel, which in turn represents each Jew’s passionate dedication of his being to the process of the revelation of Hashem’s glory in the world, tells us of the significance of our efforts in this process.  Our holy books note that the name of the sockets themselves brings this point out: as mentioned above, the sockets are called adanim, which is a hint to Hashem’s Name of ---, which captures His attribute of mastery and dominion over the physical world, as in Adon Olam.  Human beings will perceive this mastery when it is clear that the reality of the world is ain ode milvado, there is nothing other than Hashem. This clarity will be achieved when Hashem’s unity and oneness is manifest despite the mask of nature behind which He hides.  In fact, in his book Worldmask, Rabbi Akiva Tatz notes that the word for “nature” in Hebrew is teva, whose linguistic root means “drown.”  He explains that a person can drown in the natural world, losing all awareness of the reality of Hashem.  But the word teva is also the root of matbei’a, “coin,” which has an embossed image stamped on its surface, indicating that the physical world is really a stamped-out image of a higher reality, that reality being Hashem.  And now we come full-circle and understand why Hashem showed Moshe Rabbeinu a fiery coin – to teach each of us that we must experience the physical world as a manifestation of a higher spiritual reality.  We must always be wary of drowning in the physical, and the lesson of the half-shekel is that we should strive to assess that our activities in the material world go beyond the physical, beyond the natural façade.  Rather, if we dedicate ourselves to being part of the physical world and participating in it, using our spiritual powers – our talents, energy, and abilities – to reveal Hashem’s unity, then we will go a long way to fulfilling His purpose in the world.

Shabbat Shalom.




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