Holiness on Hand by Aaron Haber


In this week’s Parashah, after the completion of the construction of the Mishkan, Moshe inspects the work that has been done. The Pasuk states, “VaYar Moshe Et Kol HaMelachah VeHineih Asu Otah KaAsher Tzivah Hashem… VaYevarech Otam Moshe,” “Moshe saw the entire work and behold, they had done it as Hashem had commanded… And Moshe blessed them” (Shemot 39:43). What exactly was the blessing Moshe gave?

The answer is found, as quoted by Rashi (ibid.), in BeMidbar Rabbah (2:19): “May it be Hashem’s will that his Shechinah will rest in the work of your hands.” The Midrash continues by stating that Bnei Yisrael then responded with the Pasuk, “ViYhi No’am Hashem Elokeinu Aleinu UMa’aseih Yadeinu Konenah Aleinu,” “Let the pleasantness of Hashem be upon us, and establish the work of our hands” (Tehillim 90:17). Interestingly, this Perek of Tehillim is the only one devoted specifically to Moshe Rabbeinu, beginning “Tefilah LeMoshe” (90:1). Since the only handiwork Bnei Yisrael perform under the leadership of Moshe is the building of the Mishkan, this Perek of Tehillim is understood as what Moshe said when he approved the construction in this week’s Parashah.

Another Pasuk in Tehillim may help to clarify the exact definitions of the terms in Bnei Yisrael’s response. The second Pasuk states, “Achat Sha’alti MeiEit Hashem…Shivti BeVeit Hashem…Lachazot BeNo’am Hashem ULvakeir BeHeichalo,” “One thing I have asked of Hashem…is that I may dwell in the house of Hashem…to behold the pleasantness of Hashem and to visit in his sanctuary” (Tehillim 27:4). This Pasuk, describing David HaMelech’s yearning to construct the Beit HaMikdash, also refers to a sanctuary of Hashem, and seems to suggest that the term “No’am Hashem,” “pleasantness of Hashem,” is actually giving a more graceful description of the Anan (cloud) which engulfs the Mishkan in His holiness at the end of Parashat Pekudei. It is from these Pesukim of Tehillim that the Midrash interprets Moshe’s blessing as hoping that Bnei Yisrael should have the presence of Hashem “in their hands.”

The Chief Rabbi of England, Rav Lord Jonathan Sacks, believes that this blessing has ramifications to the very structure of Judaism. To prove his point, he cites a Halachah recorded in the Gemara (Gittin 45b). The ruling states that if someone who does not believe in Hashem writes a Sefer Torah, Tefillin, or a Mezuzah, the scroll must be burned. This is because Hashem’s name was written without proper intent and can be destroyed, for it contains no inherent holiness. Furthermore, it must be destroyed because there is a mitzvah to destroy the works of heretics. Rav Sacks points out that if one were to have two aesthetically identical scrolls, one written by a Halachically acceptable Sofeir and one not, there would be no possible way to tell the holy one from the one that must be burned. This is because holiness is not a property of objects; rather, holiness is a reflection of following Hashem’s Mitzvot. Rav Meir Simcha of Dvinsk, the Meshech Chochmah, stresses this point. He states that after Matan Torah, Har Sinai, which at one point was the holiest place on earth, was used for grazing animals. As soon as it was done with its purpose of helping give the Torah to Bnei Yisrael, the mountain no longer had any holiness. This is because our words, intentions, and actions construct holiness; it is not an independent, abstract entity.

This concept is seen at the very beginning of the commandment to build the Mishkan in Parashat Terumah, “VeAsu Li Mikdash VeShachanti BeTocham,” “They shall make for me a sanctuary, so that I may dwell among them” (Shemot 25:8). Hashem doesn’t say He will dwell in the Mishkan, but “BeTocham,” in them. As Rav Sacks says, it is not the structure that has the holiness but its builders and worshippers. Only acts of doing Hashem’s will can endow the objects with holiness. Moshe attempts to impart this message to Bnei Yisrael with his blessing. When looked at by an objective observer, the Mishkan is nothing more than a large portable room with jewelry in it. The only thing that makes the Mishkan holy is the reason Moshe gives the blessing: Bnei Yisrael have built it “as Hashem commanded.” It was this action that gave the Mishkan its intense holiness. This is a message applicable today as well. Merely doing something good for the sake of Hashem can create an object with greater sanctity than even the holiest of places.

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