In my family, when we consulted with my parents about important decisions, the constant refrain was a phrase in Persian. I’d phonetically write it out in Persian, but it would basically just serve for a laugh as y’all would try to sound it out. Translated literally, it means that Hashem’s will should be your will (okay, fine, I’ll transliterate, too: reza berazay Chodah), and it’s used as an expression of using your faith in Hashem and making the right choice, despite your fears. Do what’s right and what is Hashem’s will, and let Hashem take care of the outcome. Growing up hearing this evoked deep within us a love for pessukim that talk about turning to Hashem and submitting to His salvation, such as “השלך על ה’ יהבך” from Tehillim.
[Side note: True, embarrassing nerd story: while in Seminary in Israel, I followed the rite of passage of going to Geula to get a silver necklace engraved with “my” possuk. Most girls, as I recall, got “Ashira Lashem B’Chayay”–a nice, uplifting possuk. Others got the more sentimental “Im Eshkachech Yerushalyim”. I told the unsuspecting lady there that I wanted either ‘Hashlech Al Hashem’ or ‘Harchev Picha V’almalayhu’ (both pessukim that relay the theme mentioned above). Her reaction was priceless: a blank stare, an open mouth, a slack jaw, a long pause, and then a firm, resounding “Lo.” Yes, this really happened. No, I don’t think I was unbearably pretentious all the time. Yes, I did get what I wanted. No, I never wore it, it was weird. ]
Many times, faced with a tough decision, or just a hard undertaking, my parents would tell me that if I know it needs to be done, I should forge ahead and let Hashem take care of the details…and of me. Choosing a seminary, a husband, and a house…this phrase followed me.
A few years ago, when hearing a hard diagnosis, I forgot it. Hashem sent a messenger, a malach, to remind me….
We’re now at an odd time of year. I remember the first year I was married, heading to the Jewish grocery store on my corner on Shushan Purim morning. I was shocked to see that the more than half of the aisles were cleared and ready for Pesach products. My mind was blown–are we supposed to live in suspended reality where we don’t need to eat for the next 4 weeks??
And yet, this is the reality we all swing into right after Purim. Pesach is coming, and despite shiur after shiur that we’ve heard telling us that “Pesach cleaning is not Spring cleaning”, we feel a need to truly give it our all and search every crack and crevice in our homes. Beyond that we also start making arrangements, planning menus, outfitting the family for Pesach, and generally taking care of a million and one details. It’s 4 weeks of running frantically towards a finish line.
While we tend to think of this time solely as preparation for Pesach, we are still in Adar, and something quite significant happened during this time, way back when B’nai Yisrael were in the midbar: On the 23rd day of Adar, the inauguration for the mishkan, the ימי המלוים, began. This seven-day consecration process did not have to be in the month of Adar. In fact, we are clearly told that the construction of the mishkan was finished in the month of Kislev. Moshe waited to do the inauguration in Adar, so that the 8th day, the first day of real service, would be the first day of Nissan. (This is, of course, the infamous 8th day when Nadav and Avihu died–ויהי ביום השמיני) Coming off of Purim, and going into Pesach, what message can we take from these ימי המלוים?
Let’s set the scene:
B’nai Yisrael have just gone through a roller-coaster of ups and downs. They’ve witnessed the miracles of majesty of the exodus. They’ve lived through the Divine revelation at Har Sinai, and experienced large-scale prophecy. After these extreme highs, in record time, they fall to extreme lows, namely, the eigel. In mere days, they go from hearing the Divine voice at Har Sinai, to Heavenly discussions about their obliteration and the vow to Avraham. They go from constant presence of the Shechina and open miracles, to the Shechina leaving their camp and residing a certain distance away. Through Moshe’s efforts, they receive a chance to redeem themselves and gain it all again, with the building of the mishkan.
So, they dive into the building of the mishkan wholeheartedly. Everyone contributes, being sure to follow Hashem’s command on every detail. The construction is done, and as the nation waits from Kislev until the 23rd day of Adar for the inaugural ceremonies to begin, anticipation and longing for the full acceptance of their teshuva is felt by all. For the first seven days of the inauguration, Moshe acts as the Kohen. Every day, he erects and dismantles the mishkan, and goes through the order and procedures of the sacrifices and offerings, giving instruction to Aharon and his sons, who will soon take over the priestly duties. (Incidentally, all of this is recounted in yesterday’s Parasha, Parashas Pekudai, as well as in Sefer Vayikra.)
Finally, it’s Rosh Chodesh Nissan. Aharon, nervous still due to his part in the eigel, is hesitant to step forward and take over. Moshe kindly gives him comfort and encourages him. As Aharon goes through the motions of the offering, he waits for the Heavenly fire to descend, and for a heart-stopping moment, it seems like Hashem has found B’nai Yisrael lacking and is going to reject the mishkan. Moshe and Aharon beseech Hashem, and the fire descends from Heaven, accepting the offering. With that, the nation is uplifted. They’ve been redeemed.
Were the Torah following the script of a typical fiction story, we would now be at the end: we had the conflict, the resolution, and now we’re due for the happily-ever-after. In fact, the non-Jewish editors who inserted perakim (chapters) in the Torah, end the chapter here, on a nice, happy note, seeking to cut the story off at the climax. However, we know that what follows immediately after Aharon’s high is a new low: His two beloved sons, men of great stature in their own right, commit a fatal sin amidst all the joy and celebration of the day.
The history of the Yidden is replete with these ups and downs. It’s Adar, and the story of Purim is fresh in our minds (right there, under the cobwebs we picked up Pesach cleaning!). Was there a “happy ending”? Not quite. Esther lived the rest of her life with Achashvarosh, her children lost to her faith. The Torah, and all of Jewish history, follows the pattern of this never-ending cycle.
Beyond the historical reality, this is a personal reality for each of us as well. We’re told that Yaakov Avinu, having lived through troubles, thought he was at the end of strength, and sought to have tranquility. Immediately, Chazal tell us, the incident with Dina and Shechem came upon him. As a nation, and as individuals, we’re compelled by the situations Hashem puts us in to strive and grow, and to reach beyond ourselves.
How do we approach each challenge, knowing that there’s no happily-ever-after in this world? By learning the message of the mishkan itself.
Sefer Berashis is about Hashem seeking to perform the ultimate level of chessed. To do so, He created a void wherein the world could be created. He created us and cultivated us into a nation, through the actions of our Avos. Sefer Shemos, too, begins with the myriad of kindnesses and miracles that Hashem does for us. How He redeemed us from Egypt with miracles, took us out with wonders that left no doubt that we were chosen by Him, sustained us in the desert, and nurtured us as we became a nation–His nation.
When B’nai Yisrael build the mishkan, they reciprocated in the relationship with Hashem, creating an earthly abode for the Shechina, a symbol of their renewed dedication to Hashem after the eigel.
Who undertook to build the mishkan? The possuk tells us, “ויבאו כל איש אשר נשאו לבו” –Those who were inspired to come help were the ones who merited to build the mishkan. Having been enslaved for generations, B’nai Yisrael didn’t have among them people who were trained or skilled to contribute. Moshe even questioned Hashem, asking whether the nation would be able to build the mishkan. Hashem answered Moshe “מאת כל אשר ידבנו לבו” – the mishkan will come from any person whose heart rouses him and stirs him to join in. All those who felt a calling and whose hearts yearned to participate stepped forward, put in their effort and were blessed with success.
During the seven days of the inauguration, Moshe built and took down the mishkan daily. The mishkan was tremendously heavy. All of the workers of the mishkan were unable to assemble the finished pieces, and brought them to Moshe instead, seeking further instruction. Rashi recounts that Moshe, too, was unsure what to do, and asked Hashem. Hashem told Moshe that he, Moshe, should work with his hands to lift it. It then appeared as if Moshe were assembling the mishkan, while it in fact assembled itself.
THE MESSAGE OF THE MISHKAN
This is the key to understanding the message of the ימי המלוים, and the message of the forgotten days at the end of Adar. Regular people, not necessarily skilled or trained to build the magnificent mishkan came forward and worked. Moshe moved his hands, as if to erect it, while the pieces sprang together. All this to build a mishkan that would be a sanctuary for the Shechina.
We’re told that the true mishkan is the one we build in our hearts. “ועשו לי מקדש ושכנתי בתוכם” This mishkan must also be built out of sincerity and fire that we find within ourselves, a fire that galvanizes us to action. Although that action might be beyond our skill set, or beyond what we thought our skill set was, we act anyway. Then, just as Moshe’s physical actions were met with Heavenly help, our actions will be blessed with success. The show of effort and the inner desire must come from us, so that we may be answered by Hashem.
Life is not a fairy tale. There’s no ‘one moment’ where we do our task and are granted our happily-ever-after. There’s always the next bridge to cross and the next mountain to climb. Each challenge we’re presented with initially seems beyond our grasp–that’s precisely why it’s a challenge, and precisely why it was chosen for us!
Back to my story. The news that Temima could not hear was broken to me by a well-known and highly regarded Audiologist. How I got to her office and the almost prophetic conversations I ever-so-casually had with the head Audiologist before her check-up are for a different time, but when she stepped out and a different Audiologist came to administer the test, things got odd. Long story short, the Audiologist told me that the results were very conclusive, as they had done various testing and retesting to be sure, and Temima had severe hearing loss. The doctor said, in these exact words, “Your daughter will never hear human sound”. To be fair, the doctor looked uncomfortable and may have said a few more sentences, I’m not sure. What I know for sure is that nothing was mentioned about hearing aids, cochlear implants, or speech therapy (I knew absolutely nothing about any of those things). The doctor put a box of tissues on the desk, told me to take as long as I need in the room, and to schedule a follow-up for the next week. With that, I was left alone in the office. I spent a while there, crying and trying to understand what this new reality meant. Eventually, I made my way out to the waiting room, where I attempted to feed Temima before the drive home. My heart was shattered, and I had tears streaming non-stop down my face as my mind futilely sought a path of escape from this situation that I knew I couldn’t handle. I wasn’t aiming to make a spectacle–I thought I was quite subtle, given the circumstance. A Chassidishe lady hesitantly approached me and asked if she could sit beside me. Slowly, pacing her words and keeping her voice gentle, she started repeating, over and over: “Doctors are not Hashem….and it’s not a death sentence. Daven.” After a while, I started talking to her, asking her what I’m going to do with a deaf child!? And she just repeated: “Doctors aren’t in charge of this world, Hashem is. If this is really her situation, then Hashem has sent her your way, Daven and take care of her like He knew you can. It’s not a death sentence.”
Several months later, in a much better state of mind, I spoke to her, this malach, again. I told that her words helped me remember Hashem’s constant presence at my side, and that I was trusting Him to help me handle. She told me a beautiful vort that she had been told by her Rebbe: Hashem, in His infinite Goodness, created the world in a chasm so that we may have bechira and earn reward. Sometimes, for our own ultimate benefit, Hashem has to give us hardships, yissurim, in life. But even in the hardships, He has infused His chessed, overriding the laws of nature. When a person carries a package, step-by-step, the longer he carries it, the heavier and more burdensome it gets. When we have yissurim, Hashem gives a special chessed, that as we carry it longer and longer, He eases the burden, letting us adjust, overcome, and triumph.
In these last few days before Rosh Chodesh Nissan (when the full pre-pesach madness hits), let’s remember that messages of the ימי המלוים . Life is not a happily ever after story, but when we strive and seek to do Hashem’s will, we will emerge victorious. Every one of us is tested. And every one of us have faced a test, where in our own hearts we doubted our own ability to pass. In those situations, we have to make Hashem’s will our own, and go through the motions, as Moshe did while erecting the mishkan, and trust Hashem to give strength to our actions.
We’re told that at the end of our lives we’ll be shown nisyonos we’ve passed and the yissurim we’ve faced. Tzaddikim will behold their tests and hardships as a huge insurmountable mountain. They will rejoice, yet cry, exclaiming, “How could it be that I climbed such mountains?” Resha’im, those who have failed their tests and succumbed to their hardships, will see not a mountain, but a hair-thin thread. They, too, will cry wondering how they failed the test of their lives, and did not cross the thin thread. The magnificent mishkan, a work of art, was built not by artisans, but by those who yearned to do it. It erected itself, but only after Moshe worked it with his hands. When we look past our hardships and seek to climb the next mountain, our efforts are blessed with success by Hashem.
Truly, Clearly, and Sincerely Yours,
(Sources: parts of the dvar Torah are based on the Sefer והגדת from Rav Galinsky. The Shem Mishmuel has a piece regarding the contribution of the Nesi’im in the mishkan, where he touches on the same themes. The idea of the break in the perakim denoting a fiction-like ending is from a shiur from R’ Elly Krimsky. Other ideas about the sequence of events are from R’ David Fohrman.)