Eretz Yisrael in the Parashah
by Rabbi Moshe D. Lichtman
[For more writings and books of Rabbi Lichtman, see https://toratzion.com/]
One of the major themes of Parashat VaYakhel is the mitzvah of Shabbat. Chazal tell us that this mitzvah is equal to all other mitzvot of the Torah: “The Holy One Blessed be He said to Israel, ‘If you merit keeping the Sabbath, I will consider it as if you kept all the mitzvot of the Torah; and if you desecrate it, I will consider it as if you desecrated all the mitzvot’ ” (Shemot Rabbah 25:15). In fact, the Midrash goes on to demonstrate that this concept is alluded to in all three sections of Tanach. The obvious question is, “Why?” We all know that Shabbat is important, but if a Jew keeps all the mitzvot besides this one, why should he be considered as one who violates the entire Torah?
The Chafetz Chayim answers this question based on another statement of Chazal: “The Holy One Blessed be He said to Moshe, ‘I have a good gift in My treasure house, and Shabbat is its name; and I want to give it to Israel…’ ” (Shabbat 10b). We see from this Gemara that the Sabbath is a gift from God. The Chafetz Chayim explains: When an engaged woman returns all the gifts she received from her fiancé, she is not just saying that she wants better quality merchandise. She is telling him that she is no longer interested in the relationship, that the engagement is off. The same is true of the Sabbath. If we refuse to keep its laws, we are, in effect, rejecting God’s gift and sending Him the message that we are not interested in the whole relationship. Thus, one who desecrates the Sabbath is considered as if he violates the entire Torah. On the other hand, one who keeps the Sabbath shows that he appreciates God’s gift and wants to strengthen his relationship with the Creator.
I believe that this explanation can be applied to another mitzvah in the Torah. On two separate occasions, Chazal tell us that dwelling in the Land of Israel is equal to the entire Torah (Sifrei, Re’eh 28; Tosefta, Avodah Zarah 5:2). In addition, there are numerous sources which state that one who dwells in Eretz Yisrael is like one who has a God, while one who dwells outside the Land is like one who has no God (BeReishit Rabbah 46:9; Sifra, BeHar 5:4; Tosefta, Avodah Zarah 5:2; Ketuvot 110b; Avodah Zarah 8a; to mention just a few). Thus, the question raised above regarding Shabbat can also be asked in connection to Yishuv HaAretz. If a Jew lives in Chutz LaAretz and keeps all the mitzvot he can (don’t forget, many mitzvot cannot be kept outside the Land of Israel), why should he be categorized as one who has no God?
Here too, the answer lies in another statement of Chazal: “The Holy One Blessed be He gave three good gifts to Israel, and He gave them only through suffering. They are: Torah, Eretz Yisrael, and the World to Come” (Berachot 5a). By refusing to dwell in God’s chosen Land one does not just neglect one mitzvah in the Torah; he rejects a gift from God. He is, in effect, saying, “I do not care to have a more intimate relationship with HaShem. I want to call off the engagement.”
For close to two thousand years, we had no choice. The vast majority of Jews had no way of accepting God’s gift, for He withheld it from us. In our generation, however, we have been given the opportunity to benefit from His gift once again (Baruch HaShem). All we have to do is make the decision, plan right, pray hard, board the plane, and expect the worst (after all, this gift has a price: a little suffering). How will we answer our children or grandchildren when they ask, “Where were you? Why didn’t you take advantage of the greatest gift that God gave the Jewish people in close to two millennium?”
[For a more direct connection between Parashat VaYakhel and Eretz Yisrael, see Terumah, “Guard Your Share” (beginning); Tetzaveh, “Behind the Scenes”; and VaYikra, “A Small Reminder.”]
Lessons of the Mishkan
אלה פקודי המשכן משכן העדות אשר פוקד על-פי משה… (שמות לח:כא)
These are the accounts of the Tabernacle, the Tabernacle of the Testimony, which were reckoned according to Moshe…
Rashi comments: “[The word] משכן [is mentioned here] twice in allusion to the Temple which was taken as a pledge (נתמשכן), by being destroyed twice for Israel’s sins.”
Rabbeinu Bachya finds a hint to this in the gematria (numerical value) of the words המשכן משכן העדות. The numerical value of משכן is 410, corresponding to the number of years the First Temple stood. The gematria of the word המשכן, including its five letters, equals 420. This number corresponds to the duration of the Second Temple. And finally, the word העדות (without the letter ו, which is how it is spelled in the verse) numerically equals 479, which corresponds to the number of years the Mishkan stood before King Shlomo built the First Temple.
The Chatam Sofer switches the order around. According to him, the first word, המשכן, refers to the First Temple, while the second word, משכן, refers to the Second one. He explains that משכן is written without the letter ה (whose numerical value is five), because the Second Temple lacked five major features that existed in the First Temple (see Yoma 21b).
Various sefarim quote a related idea based on the end of our verse אשר פוקד על-פי משה. We translated the word פוקד as “reckoned,” but it can also mean, “missing.” Thus, our verse can be interpreted as follows: The two Temples were destroyed (or “missing”), על-פי משה – because of the mouth of Moshe. Moshe was banned from entering Eretz Yisrael because he said to the Jews, Hear now, O rebels (BeMidbar 20:10). Had he not sinned with his mouth, he would have entered the Land, the Children of Israel would never have worshipped idols, and the Temple would never have been destroyed.
Midrash Tanchuma learns from the repetition of the word משכן that there is a supernal Temple in heaven directly opposite the earthly Temple here on earth. The Shelah HaKadosh explains this concept as follows:
…It is known that the Holy One Blessed be He clings to us and we to Him. We cause this great clinging (d’veikut), for when we effect an awakening from below, a great emanation awakens from above. This explains Rashi’s comments on the verse To bring you to the place which I have prepared (Shemot 23:20). Rashi writes: “His [God’s] place is already perceivable opposite it [the Beit HaMikdash]. This is one of the sources which indicate that the upper Beit HaMikdash is situated directly opposite the lower Beit HaMikdash.” This is difficult! Who compares himself to whom? Surely, the smaller one compares himself to the greater one? Rashi should have said that the lower Beit HaMikdash is situated directly opposite the upper one. Furthermore, he contradicts himself. At first he says, “His place is already perceivable,” implying that the upper Beit HaMikdash came first. But afterwards he says, “is situated directly opposite the lower one,” implying that the lower one came first, God forbid!
The explanation is as follows. The upper Mikdash existed first. HaShem commanded that the lower Mikdash be made according to the secrets of the upper one, for the Divine service causes the lower Mikdash to be prepared to receive the influence from the upper Mikdash. But, this influence does not descend from above until a preparatory awakening ascends from below. Thus, in terms of this influence, the upper Mikdash is situated directly opposite the lower one. For, there must first be an awakening from below – that is, a seat and a foundation upon which the influence from the upper Mikdash can rest. (Sh’nei Luchot HaBrit 2:48b; quoted in Eim HaBanim Semeichah, pp. 218-19)
This concept – that God helps us reach greater spiritual heights only after we do our share – is alluded to elsewhere in the parashah. On the verse, They brought the Tabernacle to Moshe (39:33), Rashi comments: “No one was able to erect it [the Mishkan] due to the weight of the boards… Moshe said to the Holy One Blessed be He, ‘How can man possibly erect it?’ [God] said to him, ‘Busy yourself with your hands.’ He appeared to be erecting it, but it rose and stood up by itself…” One could ask: if God made it stand up, why did Moshe have to make believe he was helping? I believe that God wanted Moshe to prove that he was willing to do all that he could, and only then, the Almighty “chipped in” and finished the job.
The same is true of every spiritual endeavor, including aliyah to Eretz Yisrael. We must first show HaShem that we are doing our best to achieve the goal, and then He will help us succeed.