"For My Brethren" and "For the House of God"

  • Harav Aharon Lichtenstein

Sicha for Shabbat from the Roshei Yeshiva
Yeshivat Har Etzion



"For My Brethren" and "For the House of God"

Adapted by Dov Karoll



"Speak to the children of Israel, and let them take a collection for Me; from every man whose heart motivates him shall you take My portion." (Shemot 25:2)


The opening phrase in this verse, "Speak to the children of Israel," comes up a number of times in the Torah. One notable example is at the beginning of the parasha of tzitzit (Bemidbar 15:37). One simple explanation for the appearance of this phrase here is that this parasha, the beginning of the unit dealing with the Mishkan (which will dominate the rest of Sefer Shemot), is addressed to the Jewish people on a communal level. In contrast, the preceding parasha, Mishpatim, deals mostly with laws that pertain to individuals (other than the parasha's closing section). The laws of a Jewish male servant or maidservant, laws of damages, guardians and loans, to give but a few examples, deal with personal interactions. While these laws serve as the basis of a great part of Jewish civil law, as codified in the Choshen Mishpat section of the Shulchan Arukh, the clear emphasis is on the individual.


The Torah's discussion of the Mishkan, the Sanctuary, on the other hand, is addressed to the Jewish people as a group. The construction is an undertaking for the entire community working together. While we regularly think of categorizing mitzvot by the Rambam's division between positive and negative commandments, the Ba'al Halakhot Gedolot, known by his acronym the Behag, as well as Rav Sa'adya Ga'on, categorize mitzvot based on a distinction between personal mitzvot and communal ones. The mitzva of building the Mishkan clearly is included in this latter category. While there is some discussion with regard to the number of mitzvot to count in the process, what is clear is that the mitzva of building the Mishkan applies to the community.


Let us bring a few examples to highlight this distinction. The Shulchan Arukh (Orach Chayim 144:3) rules that if one has only one Sefer Torah on an occasion where there is more than one Torah reading, one should roll the Sefer Torah, rather than read it from memory. Notwithstanding this law, which is of Talmudic origin (Yoma 70a), the Gemara states (mishna Yoma 68b, Gemara 70a) that when the Kohen Gadol read from the Torah in the service of Yom Ha-kippurim, he would recite the second reading from memory rather than rolling the Sefer, because of "kevod ha-tzibbur," respect for the assembled, not wanting to take their time unnecessarily.


The Magen Avraham (144:7) asks why reading from memory is preferred for the Kohen Gadol, whereas rolling the Torah is preferred otherwise. He answers that there is a fundamental difference between the assembly in a regular synagogue and those assembled in the Temple on Yom Ha-kippurim. He explains that in the Temple, the assembly is "all of Israel," and they cannot waive the honor due them as a group. In a regular synagogue situation, on the other hand, it can be assumed that the relatively small group assembled would forego its honor to fulfill the mitzva properly.


Answering this same question, the Rav zt"l once explained this without making reference to foregoing one's honor, for it may be problematic for any "community" to forego that honor. The Rav claimed that the difference lies in the nature of the Torah reading in each scenario. On Yom Ha-kippurim in the Temple, the Torah reading is considered to be for the entire Jewish nation, even though they are not all there. In a synagogue situation, in a regular "community," this special status is absent, and the preferred option is to cause the slight delay by rolling the scroll.


Another area where this is clear is with regard to the daily schedule of offerings in the Temple, which revolved around the communal offerings. While the communal sacrifices had fixed times, the individual offerings were brought at irregular times and were not generally factored in to the schedule. Why is this? Communal offerings, unlike offerings shared by a smaller group (korbenot shuttafin), reflect and represent the organic whole of the Jewish people.


The Gemara (Yoma 51a) deals with the status of the Korban Pesach in this regard. The Gemara explains that since the Korban Pesach was brought by all of the Jewish people together, it was like a communal offering with regard to laws such as overriding Shabbat and impurity.


In light of these sources, we can say that the realm of the Mishkan generally, and the construction of the Mishkan specifically, represent a communal project and mitzva. While it is true that certain individuals answered the call in a more active way, the project was still one of a communal nature.

There is a similar concept in the Ramban's comments on the beginning of the parasha (25:1, s.v. ka'asher), where he speaks of the Mishkan as a perpetuation of Ma'amad Har Sinai. Chazal emphasize the unity that came along with the arrival at Har Sinai – "As one person, with one heart" (Rashi Shemot 19:2, s.v. va-yichan, based on Mekhilta Yitro 1). Ma'amad Har Sinai was a communal experience, and the Torah was given to the community qua community, as well as being addressed to the individuals included therein.


Throughout the generations -- and especially through the centuries of exile -- the Temple and Yerushalayim (which is the extension of the Temple) have served as unifying factors for the Jewish people. In the halakhic sense, Yerushalayim takes the place of the camp of Israel in the desert, as the outer circle surrounding the Temple. Har ha-bayit, the Temple Mount, corresponds to the camp of the Leviyim, and Yerushalayim corresponds to the camp of Israel, with regard to laws such as the consumption of kodashim kalim and Ma'aser Sheni. Yerushalayim is referred to as "Tel Talpiyot – Tel she-kol piyot ponot elav," "The mount to which all mouths turn [in prayer]" (the original phrase appears in hosha'not, and the homily is based on Shir ha-shirim Rabba 4:6). Throughout the exile, Jews scattered all over the globe have centered their hopes and prayers on returning to Yerushalayim and the Temple, though they may not have had a common language or common government.


With the Emancipation and Haskala, this feeling of unification around Yerushalayim was weakened in parts of the Jewish people. And, sadly and ironically, with the return to Israel and the establishment of the State, this has become even more problematic. Much to our chagrin, much of the disagreement among the Jewish people has centered around the issue of how we relate to Yerushalayim and the Temple. While at the moments of great excitement, during the Six Day War, with Motta Gur's pronouncement, "Har ha-Bayit be-yadenu," "The Temple Mount is in our hands," there was great unity, this has been far from true during other times. It has served as a source of strife and disagreement between the religious and non-religious elements of the Jewish people.


In this context, the emergence of a party in recent years whose platform is the hatred of fellow Jews is particularly troubling. When they emerged in the last elections, from nowhere, and achieved six seats, it was quite alarming. When they more than doubled that in the recent elections, rising to fifteen seats, it should both sadden us and awaken us to the seriousness of the problem. The phenomenon of hatred of fellow Jews is saddening per se, and the fact that they are specifically opposed to religious Jews, taking issue particularly with groups of people for whom service of God is a priority, makes it even more troubling.


In combating these and other such phenomena, we need to measure steps taken on the communal level in terms of their long-term ramifications, rather than always looking for short-term gains. Taking actions that have seemingly yielded short-term "fruits" has actually yiesome "rotten fruit," whentaken in perspective, one of which is the emergence of Shinnui.

A few years ago, I was asked to speak at the Tel Aviv University Law School, which is not exactly a bastion of Religious Zionism. I spoke about the message of two familiar verses, "Lema'an achai ve-re'ai adabbera na shalom bakh," "For the sake of my kin and friends, I pray for your well-being," and "Lema'an beit Hashem E-lokeinu avaksha tov lakh," "For the sake of the house of the Lord our God, I seek your good" (Tehillim 122:8-9). Ideally, the achievement of these two ends, the good of my kin and friends and the good of the house of God, should come together. Unfortunately, in contemporary society, we are sometimes forced to choose between acting "For the sake of my brethren" and acting "For the sake of the house of God." May it be God's Will that that we should be able to achieve both goals, "For the sake of my brethren" as well as "For the sake of the house of God."



[This sicha was delivered at se'uda shelishit, Shabbat parashat Teruma 5763 (2003).]


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