Ester and the Mishkan: The Truth Hurts by Leiby Deutsch


This week’s Parashah begins the transformative endeavor of allowing God into the world that He created. While the pieces seem to be falling into place for those who are actually building the Mishkan, the narrative is puzzling for those reading it generations later. Firstly, why must the initial sponsors of the Mishkan be, “Yidevenu Libo,” “those whose hearts are dedicated to the cause” (Shemot 25:2)? Did Hashem not expect everyone to donate towards the Mishkan? Secondly, (a more global question about the narrative as a whole) according to Rashi (Shemot 31:18 s.v. VaYitein El Moshe), who says that the Cheit HaEigel takes place before this week’s Parashah, why would the Torah choose to place that section in Parashat Ki Tisa, thereby dividing the construction of the Mishkan into two parts with a seemingly unrelated intermission?

In two weeks, we will read about another improbable and illogical juxtaposition between two episodes in Megillat Ester: at the end of Perek Bet, Mordechai uncovers and foils Bigtan and Teresh’s plot to take Achashveirosh’s life. At the beginning of Perek Gimmel, Achashveirosh appoints Haman as his second in command. The two episodes are linked with the words, “Achar HaDevarim HaEileh,” “after these things” (Ester 3:1), implying a chronological connection between Mordechai saving Achashveirosh and Achashveirosh appointing Haman, the man who almost destroys the Jewish people. How could these two events be related? Why would Mordechai doing something brave for the king result in the king lending to the rise of Mordechai’s enemies? Rav Moshe Weinberger answers that this presentation and the connection of these two events in the Megillah strongly resembles the struggle within a person's mind related to his growth. A person who does something brave or unprecedented is often forced to reevaluate his current life circumstance. In this reflection, he may decide to do something brave for the “king,” whether it be HaMelech Achashveirosh or Melech Malchei HaMelachim, HaKadosh Baruch Hu. It is during the moments after that brave act that the “Hamans” begin to surface in that person’s mind and bother him: “What did I do?” “What was I thinking?” “Why did I not see the truth sooner?” In other words: “Am I seriously capable of moving forward along the road of spiritual heights, or am I already a lost cause?”

This is the plight of Bnei Yisrael as they embark on their relatively new journey towards greatness. They leave Mitzrayim on the lowest level possible, and they do not have any reason to believe that they are entitled to redemption. The opportunity falls into their laps and they seize it, even if it is an opportunity against the unknown. Hashem carries them the entire way to Har Sinai, whether they deserve it or not. Now, in Parashat Terumah, during a very significant chapter of their brave journey towards spiritual heights, they dedicate a part of themselves to Hashem and his “home.” For the first time they are acting on their own—their personal strengths and weaknesses acting as a guide. The Torah’s placement of Cheit HaEigel shows that even Bnei Yisrael in the Dor HaMidbar, the generation of the largest and most convincing Giluy Shechinah (divine revelation) in history, have their “Hamans.” They know that as long as Hashem is doing everything for them, their worthiness should go unquestioned, as otherwise Hashem would not have taken them so far. However, once Bnei Yisrael can act independently, they will inevitably face the question of their worthiness and will not only need to contend with the challenges of building a sanctuary for Hashem, but with the challenges of their own internal doubts as well.

How does someone overcome the doubt that plagues him and threatens his progress? One solution can be found in a Pasuk in Megillat Ester (8:16): “LaYehudim Hayita Orah VeSimchah VeSason Vikar,” “The Jews had light and gladness and joy and honor.” Curiously, light is the only visible element of the Pasuk. The Sefer HaLekach VeHaLibuv in its commentary on Parashat VaYigash describes the relationship between light and Simchah as that of a Mashal and a Nimshal. Just like a small amount of light can help someone escape a dark room, a small amount of Simchah can help someone overcome his sadness and his doubts about himself in the aftermath of what he does wrong. The greatest foil to potential is cynicism and resignation. A person is sad and skeptical when he realizes his mistakes, but when he is happy and content with what his resultant future may bring, he is able to climb out of the dark room truly stronger than when he ever was before.

Chazal teach, “KeSheim SheMiShenichnas Av MeMa’atin BeSimchah Kach MiShenichnas Adar Marbim BeSimchah,” “Once Adar enters, we increase in joy; once Av enters we decrease in joy” (Ta’anit 29a). As Chodesh Adar begins and our happiness becomes plentiful, may it be not just a temporary experience, but a light that continues to drive us forward along the path of growth, even if we encounter points of lowliness and sadness.

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