Dean's Letter Vayakhei-Pekudei

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Dear Parents,

In last week’s parshah, the Torah describes how the giving of Machatzis Hashekel was shared equally by all. Each person could only bring a half shekel regardless of how wealthy he was. We are told that the reasoning behind the Machatzis Hashekel is to teach us that we are incomplete without each other. Another lesson is that when we merit to achieve wealth, we can either attribute it to our personal hard work or to a gift from Hashem. The Nesivos Sholom tells us that by understanding that all comes from Hashem we can take materialism and elevate it to serve Him. Rabbi Motti Kamenetzky shares a dvar Torah about his grandfather, Rav Yaakov Kamenetzky z”tl, showing that even mirrors, seemingly a sign of vanity, were included as an integral part of the Mishkon.

The Torah portion this week tells us: “He made the laver of copper and its base of copper, from the mirrors of (women who reared) the legions who massed at the entrance of the Tent of Meeting.” (Exodus 38:8) Mirrors? Where did they get mirrors from? And why would women’s mirrors – clearly a symbol of vanity, if not indulgence – become the very essence of the utensil used to prepare the Kohanim for sanctity? Rashi tells us that Moshe had those exact reservations. So how did they become an integral part of the holy Mishkon?

One afternoon a young scholar came to Rav Yaakov Kamenetsky to share his novella on the Talmud with him. As he sat at the table and was about to begin sharing his self-concocted discourse, my grandmother entered the room with a freshly baked piece of cake for my grandfather and the guest.

Before my grandfather had a chance to thank the rebbetzin, the young man, obviously steeped in his own thoughts, flippantly discarded her generous offering. “That’s all right,” he said, “but I already ate. I really don’t need another shtikel (piece) of cake.”

Rav Yaakov remained silently shocked as the rebbetzin returned to the kitchen, and then the young man began to speak.

“I would like to share with the Rosh Yeshivah a shtikel (piece of) Torah thought that I formulated relating to a sugya in the Gemara in Yevomos.” Rav Yaakov was quiet and then responded. “That’s all right,” he said, “but I already heard Torah on that sugya. I really don’t need another shtikel Torah on that sugya.”

When my grandfather saw that the boy realized that Rav Yaakov was chiding him on his reckless indifference to the Rebbetzin, he went on to explain, “You see, that piece of cake was her shtikel Torah. That was something that she prided herself on. That is how she wanted to make me and you feel comfortable. One has to appreciate that as well!”

When the Israelite women saw how exhausted their husbands were because of the crushing labor, they used to bring them food and drink and induce them to eat. Then they would use the mirrors to endear themselves to their husbands and awaken their husbands’ affection. They subsequently became the mothers of many children. (Rashi from the Midrash)

Because of the women’s pure motives, Hashem chose the copper mirrors to be part of His Mishkon. He saw the greatness of those mirrors. They were used to enhance the harmony of the home and induce the love and appreciation of husbands and wives.

We too can learn this important lesson from our parshah. By elevating the mundane into the spiritual, we can enhance our avodas Hashem. A vacation is a needed rest to gain strength for our D-vine obligations. Our homes can be used to sponsor a sheva brochos for a friend. Our tables are adorned to uplift our Shabbos experience. The list goes on and on. Mirrors are a sign of mundane vanity, yet Hashem chose them because of the role they played in guaranteeing the future of Klal Yisroel. The recognition that everything in our life is a blessing from Hashem will allow us to live a much healthier life, one that constantly connects us to Hashem.

Good Shabbos,
Rabbi Peretz Scheinerman
Dean