I dedicate this parsha post l’ilui nishmas all those who were murdered in the attack on the Douglas High School in Florida, and as a zechus for salvation, healing, strength and comfort for their families and survivors.

It is not up to us to justify another’s pain and trauma – G-d forbid!  Rather, we must stand by them in their suffering, sympathize and empathize, listen and assist, all the while remembering in our hearts and minds that G-d has an ultimate plan.  Its divine design is beyond our understanding and perception, but one day, the meaning and question of all will be revealed.  I suppose some might term that the “leap of faith.”  And they are right.  We believe in a brighter future – and we know that the darkest hour is before the dawn – but are we aware that we’re partners in ushering it in?

The victims of the shooting were of varying ages, but the majority were young people, who probably lived with a unique energy, zeal and idealism characteristic of so many teens.  Why were they taken in their prime, with so much possibility and potential ahead?  Perhaps the question is not “Why?” as much as “How?”  How can we pick up the shattered and scattered pieces?  How can we continue the path that they had begun to blaze?  How can we perpetuate their legacy?  We are taught by our Sages that “the Gates of Tears are never closed.”  Rav Yitzchok Hutner famously stated, “The purpose of prayer is not to get us out of trouble. The purpose of trouble is to get us into prayer.”  Utilizing human imagery, we are taught that G-d possesses a very precious goblet, into which He collects every tear we shed.  When the burning tears reach the rim of the goblet and flow over, that is when we will meet Redemption.

Still, we must remember that only sincere, emotional prayer coupled with positive action (and of course Hashem’s will and assistance) can warrant a true and sustainable difference, and forge the proper keili (vessel) to draw down infinite blessings in full from Above.  What can we do in the sacred memory of those who were lost?  We can give tzedakah, offer our services as volunteers, campaign and make calls, motivate others to take on mitzvos and resolutions in their merit.  And of course… let’s unite as one, and learn to love unconditionally, one human being their fellow, for that is the only key to remedy such evil and darkness as that has occurred.  Love and harmony between people is indeed reflected in our relationship with our Creator Himself.  Let’s stir and storm the heavens above.

Hashem guides us “Uvacharta bachayim – And you shall choose life!” {Devarim 30:19}.  Indeed… choose life, and live… for them.  For them, and all those we’ve been forced to bid farewell to before… for now.  May we step over the threshold of Geulah and greet our loved ones once more with the coming of Moshiach, speedily in our days.


Hit the time-travel button to five years ago… I’m sitting in shul listening to the Kriah, and following along in my Chumash with the translation.  It is Shabbos Parshas Terumah, and I am now learning the dimensions and details of the workings of the Mishkan (Tabernacle) – the structure that was the foretaste and predecessor of the more permanent Beis haMikdash to be established in Yerushalayim a while into the future.  My young and uninitiated mind (and I won’t boast that I am today so greatly transformed), perceives tremendous repetition, and I decide to cheat.  My crime entails skipping and flipping pages ahead until I pass into a fresh concept.  My eyes cross and head hurt attempting to differentiate between loops and rings and pegs and sockets.  After it being mentioned probably a hundred and fifteen times, I wonder what on earth a “cubit” is.  I was never one for the numbers and arithmetic, and if I read the calculating measurements of curtains or boards one more time, I’m going to bang my head against the wall.

Indeed, we may ask, “What was the point of it all?”  When it comes to the Ohel Moed – the Tent of Meeting in which Moshe spoke to G-d Himself and the Kohanim performed their holy work – why does the Torah devote chapter upon chapter to the most mundane action and description of manual labor and craftsmanship, instead of lofty secrets and saintly inspiration?

If you truly believe in Creation, then in conjunction with the “The Beginning,” your belief also includes that the same G-d who created the world in 6 days me’ayin yesh (ex nihilo), is the same One and Only G-d who perpetuates creation without pause, vitalizing every microcosm and macrocosm with but a nurturing ray of His infinite light; or else, everything as we know it would cease to exist, and revert to absolute nothingness.  The world ain’t runnin’ on autopilot; it is all quite intentional.  Therefore, everything – and I mean everything, from the stone on the ground to the most transcendent idea to each and every living being – is invested by G-d with a spark of light, Emes (truth), and purpose… in its deepest essence, Him.

Hashem established a goal (though it may sometimes be concealed by obtuse and resistant Kelipos [shells]) for every existence in creation.  He bestowed upon us the mission and privilege to reveal and release those imprisoned sparks of holiness and return them to Him, by elevating the “thing” through employing it for the purpose Hashem intended, as directed by the Torah.  The Torah is no archaic book of history, drama or accounts, but rather a ‘blueprint’ of sorts for us to live by, a condensation and transmittal of the brilliant wisdom of the Master Architect of it all.

This week’s parsha opens with Hashem addressing Moshe Rabbeinu:

“‘Dabeir el-Bnei Yisrael vayikchu-Li terumah mei’eis kol-ish asher yidvenu libo tikchu es-t’rumasi’ – ‘Speak to the Children of Israel, and have them take for Me an offering; from every person whose heart inspires him to generosity, you shall take My offering.'” {Shemos 25:2}

The word “terumah – offering,” is rooted in the Hebrew word “rom (רמ) – high.”  Why is this?  Kabbalah teaches that the higher a spark of holiness originally is, the further it falls, waiting to be picked up, polished, and its incredible worth rediscovered.  For clarity’s sake, let’s use a mashal (parable):  Picture a tower of stones, and at its very top sits a precious gem.  Something causes the cairn to collapse, and the highest entity – the jewel – tumbles the furthest, burrowing into the dust.  Someone walks by the toppled pile, and observes a glint in the earth.  There’s a possibility that – and behold! – it’s a jewel!  He dusts it off and wipes it down, and now, he desires to find, and return it to, the original owner.  The individual passing by is symbolic of us, the entire Jewish People, except that we don’t simply happen upon such opportunities by chance; rather, the charge was placed into our hands as a nation at Har Sinai.  Matan Torah was the time and place at which all barriers were broken between the “holy” and “mundane,” the “physical” and “spiritual,” which had originally been totally foreign to one another.  The Torah is our guide in order to accomplish this mind-altering fusion.  It is significant that it was bestowed upon us just prior to the initiation of the intricate Mishkan project.  It is on our hands to bring “heaven down to earth.”  Indeed, this is Hashem’s will:  Just as it all came from One, so it shall be united once more.

The Mishkan, and later along our timeline, the Batei Mikdash, were conduits in establishing this union and peace.  They were sanctuaries of ultimate harmony, where not only we could climb high and come close to meet our dear Father in Heaven, but also a place, a House, where He would be comfortable in our material world.  While the Bais haMikdash has been temporarily removed from our charge, our homes, our synagogues, and even our own bodies, have become as miniature Batei Mikdash.  There are times when we may question why we have so many mitzvos – six hundred and thirteen, plus all Rabbinic mitzvos and safeguards, and on top of that minhagim (customs) – that govern every element and area of our existence.  “Mitzvah” does not only mean “commandment,” but also denotes “connection.”  Your mitzvah is your vehicle to connect with Hashem, with mindfulness and devotion.  Torah and mitzvos create the framework that is absolutely necessary to establish and enhance a “dirah b’tachtonim – a dwelling place in the lower worlds” for Hashem.

Imagine the efforts you would invest in preparing your home for a guest, tidying up not only his room, but refreshing the house as a whole; shopping and cooking your best recipes for a gourmet meal; encouraging your family to brainstorm polite conversation or interesting story ideas to keep their guest entertained; and of course, review table-manners.  You don’t simply want to impress, but you also strive to make your guest as at ease as if they were in their own home.  Now, try to envision the lengths you would go to for royalty, a king!

Now… pause, rewind, and reframe:  All those countless “technical details,” and all those mitzvos are no longer excessive, messhuggezze, repetitive, and the like.  Every detail is sacred, every particle endowed with Divine purpose – and Hashem’s will and wisdom.  They are the building blocks of a fitting home for our King.  Even when they might not make the most sense to us – such as whether we should use silver or gold to cover the poles, or why we must not wear shaatnez (clothing made from both linen and wool) – we will nevertheless do it for Him.  This is one key in cultivating loving and healthy relationships:  Even if what you want or perhaps need doesn’t make sense to me, even if I wouldn’t find satisfaction in it myself, since I love you (quirks and all), what you desire is my desire as well.  It doesn’t need to be rational all the time.  I love You, Hashem, and fulfilling Your desire is one way I express it.*  Although we don’t carry out mitzvos for the sake of receiving something in return, Hashem does bless us with the greatest reward in the merit of our dedication:

“‘V’asu Li mikdash v’shachanti b’socham’ – ‘And they shall make Me a sanctuary and I will dwell in their midst.'” {Shemos 25:8}

Hashem wants a relationship with us.  When we do our part, He will join us – “Shachahnti b’socham – I will dwell within them.”  For the love of G-d… let’s do all we can, together, to make it a union of harmony and delight.


The Messenger Bird

*Inspired by and sourced from a lecture by the esteemed Rabbi Manis Friedman.