Thursday, March 6, 2008

Parashas Pekudei

Vayar Moshe es kol ha-melachah, v’hinei asu osah ka’asher tziva Hashem ken asu, vayivoraich osom Moshe ... and Moshe saw all of the work and behold they had done it in the manner that G-d had commanded, and Moshe blessed them (Shemos 39:43)

Rashi, quoting the Midrash, explains that Moshe’s first prayed that it should be G-d’s will that His Shechinah rest upon them. He then added the verse, later incorporated into Tehillim (90:17): v’yehi noam Hashem Elokeinu aleinu, u’ma’aseh yodeinu konenah aleinu, um’aaseh yadseinu koneneihu ... and may the pleasantness of Hashem our Lord be upon us, and just as the work of our hands has brought it upon us, [so too] may the work of our hands [in the future continue] to bring it upon us. Rav Dovid Mann, shlita, rosh yeshiva of Kfar Chassidim, once explained the concept of noam Hashem - the pleasantness of Hashem - to which Moshe refers.

Malbim points out, in his introduction to sefer Vayikra, that there are no synonyms in lashon hakodesh. The precision of the Hebrew language is such that each word conveys a different idea. Noam - which we have translated as pleasantness but which has a connotation of sweetness and tranquility as well - is not a synonym for good. Something can be good without being sweet; e,g., a medication might well be good for me even though it is foul tasting and has side effects. Similarly, a surgical procedure might be beneficial and necessary - i.e., good - yet I would never characterize it as being pleasant. In English, on the other hand, we can describe something as being pleasant even though it is not good for us. Lashon hakodesh however, does not provide for this possibility. If something, relating to G-d, is described as being noam - pleasant - then it is both sweet and good. Noam Hashem is thus an elusive and rare quality. Intellectually, I can accept that kol d’avid l’tav avid - all that He does is for the good. Nonetheless, it is often difficult to discern how G-d’s actions, albeit good, can also be deemed pleasant. Given this problem, one can understand why Dovid ha-Melech prayed (Tehillim 27) that he be given the opportunity lachazos b’noam Hashem - to glimpse the pleasantness of G-d - even though he expected (ibid.) l’iros b’tuv Hashem - to see the goodness of G-d.

In a number of places, Rashi comments that the phrase ken asu in the passuk above teaches us that the work was performed exactly as commanded by G-d; i.e., every Divine instruction was precisely fulfilled and nothing was added or subtracted by either Aharon or Betzalel or whoever else was fulfilling Moshe’s instructions. Last week, we noted that man often has a tendency to try to do more than he is commanded in an attempt to achieve a spiritual bond with G-d. Later, we will see that many of the commentators see this as the root of the sin of Nadav and Avihu, Aharon’s sons who died during the consecration of the Mishkan because they had brought a fire which G-d had not commanded.

Reading the pasuk from this week’s parashah, one would assume that the reason why Moshe blessed the people that they be able to see noam Hashem was v’hinei asu osah ka’asher tziva Hashem ken asu, - because they built the Mishkan precisely according to the directions received and made no changes or additions of their own. How is fealty to Hashem linked to experiencing noam Hashem - the pleasantness of G-d? Again, intellectually I can accept that all that G-d does is not only ultimately good, but is good in itself. This does not, however, make the Divine way pleasant or sweet. As a case in point, take the fast of Yom Kippur. Clearly it is good for me, for it brings me forgiveness. It might even be physically positive. Nevertheless, the Torah refers to fasting, as well as to the other prohibitions of Yom Kippur as being inuyim - afflictions - which I accept upon myself and does not see them as being representative of noam Hashem.

Perhaps the key to understanding this is to go back to Moshe’s blessing. He first told the nation that it was his prayer that G-d rest the Shechinah upon Israel; i.e., that the Divine presence be palpable and tangible. He then added that this resting of the Shechinah should be the result of their actions; i.e., something that they could bring forth and that was not necessarily beyond their grasp. What greater blessing could there be than to realize that man has the ability, as it were, to bring G-d’s presence to this world, how empowering a thought. All of man’s suffering, all of his pain, all of his turmoil, is it not but a manifestation of the confusion caused by the Divine being hidden? When man sees G-d’s Hand as clearly as he sees his own, then he will also experience the pleasantness of His ways. And this all is dependent upon one thing, following G-d’s law precisely instead of confusing it with our own misinterpretations.

Moshe saw this when they completed the Mishkan. The Shechinah took up residence and the world existed in perfect harmony and balance. We have it within our powers - ma’aseh yadeynu - to recreate that moment.

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