Wednesday, March 28, 2018

Rav Moshe Weinberger - Parshas Terumah 5778 - Concrete Connection

Below, please find this adaptation of Rav Weinberger's drasha from parshas Terumah 5778.  Enjoy!

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Rav Moshe Weinberger
Parshas Terumah 5778
Concrete Connection

One of the great mashpi’im, influential figures, in Chabad was Rav Shlomo Chaim Kesselman zt’l. He was arrested in Polotzk, under the former Soviet Union, for teaching Torah and spent several years in prison. During this time, he missed the upsherin (first haircut at age three) of his twin sons Velvel and Berel. Afterward, his wife somehow managed to smuggle an envelope into prison for him, which contained a picture of the two boys from the upsherin and a little bit of hair from the event. After he had was released, he said that while he treasured the picture of his sons, his primary comfort was physically holding his sons’ hair.

How is this story relevant to the parsha? I will explain. With regard to the Jewish people’s mitzvah to build the Mishkan in the desert, how they obtained the materials necessary for the task. In particular, how did they obtain the trunks of cedar trees which were used to build the beams supporting the outer curtains of the Mishkan (Shmos 26:15-29)? Rashi (on ibid. 15), quoting the Midrash Tanchuma, explains that Yaakov Avinu saw through Divine inspiration that the Jewish people would one day be redeemed from Egypt and would need cedar trees to build a Mishkan. He therefore planted them in Egypt and commanded his children to bring them out with them when the redemption arrived.

The Lubavitcher Rebbe zy’a asks why Yaakov Avinu had to do this. The Gemara (Yuma 75b) tells us that non-Jewish merchants ascended from Egypt with us and provided the Jewish people with many things that they needed. They may not have been Amazon.com, but they could have supplied the cedar wood necessary to build the beams of the Mishkan. Why did Yaakov Avinu need to plant cedar trees hundreds of years before the redemption and then trouble his great-grandchildren to lug them into the desert when these merchants could have provided the lumber instead?

The Rebbe answers that even though Yosef HaTzadik made a promise that Hashem would remember us and redeem us from Egypt (Bereishis 50:24) and the Jewish people transmitted this promise from generation to generation, the comfort provided by these words must have been limited. The suffering, back-breaking labor, degradation, discouragement, and humiliation, which must have felt unbearable, and which the Jewish people endured every single day, must have made any comfort or hope difficult. Perhaps husbands and wives, after feeling completely broken at the end of the day, may have reminded each other of their great-grandfather’s promise and felt a little bit of comfort.

But this promise could only go so far because it was just words – in contrast with their suffering, which was real and tangible. Yaakov Avinu therefore wanted to plant a grove of cedar trees in Egypt so that his grandchildren could look out their windows and see the trees. They would pass them every day, touch them, and say to themselves, “These are the actually trees we are going to take out with us when we finally get out of this place.” One cannot compare the comfort provided by mere words to the hope that came with a physical piece of their ultimate salvation. Perhaps this is why Rashi, when relating how Yaakov planted cedar trees for us, quoted the Tanchuma, as the word Tanchuma comes from the same root as the word nechamah – comfort. It was only Yaakov Avinu’s physical, tangible cedar trees which could truly comfort us.

That is why Rav Shlomo Chaim was comforted more by his sons’ upsherin hair than by the picture. He could hold the hair in his hands and remember that his children are real. They were out there somewhere and he could see them again one day.

Rav Levi Yitzchak of Berditchev zy’a once prayed to Hashem:

Master of the World, how can You blame the Jewish people for sinning? They see the temptations of the world right in front of them everywhere. Yet Your existence and the promises of the World to Come and Gehenom are just words. They cannot see these things in front of them. So how can You possibly blame them for straying after the things they see before their eyes?!

One cannot compare the effect something tangible has on us relative to something ephemeral like words and promises. My father, may he live and be well, kept a pair of tefillin with him throughout his time in Mauthausen. It was a tangible piece of a sane world in the chaos of the Holocaust.

What physical manifestations of Hashem, Torah, and the World to Come do we have before us today? The passuk says, “A tzadik… grows like a cedar in Lebanon” (Tehillim 92:13). The Navi compares tzadikim to cedar trees. Just like Yaakov Avinu’s cedar trees were a tangible reminder to his grandchildren of their upcoming redemption, so too the tzadikim are a tangible piece of the World to Come right here before our eyes. When we watch the behavior of tzadikim, when we listen to their words and observe every single facial expression, we realize, “Wow, the Torah isn’t something theoretical. This is real!”


A husband can remember the reality of his relationship with this wife more concretely by keeping tangible reminders of her, their relationship, and their love with him when he is at work or traveling. Parents and children can keep physical representations of one another with them to keep the reality of their gratitude and love for one another in their hearts. May we all merit to keep tangible manifestations of the Torah and Hashem’s promises to us, like the tzadikim, before our eyes so that we will retain our hope in and commitment to the future Hashem has in store for all of us with the coming of the complete redemption, may we see it soon in our days.

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