1. Today’s farbrengen is connected with several salient points. 1) Being held on Shabbos, it is related to the days of the week and the weekly cycle. 2) As today is Shabbos Mevarchim, it is related to the days of the month and the monthly cycle. 3) It is also Shabbos Shekalim which occurs only once a year, thus placing it in a yearly context — from which, of course, we will take a lesson for the entire year. 4) The portion we read today is Vayakhel, which also occurs only one time each year.

Certainly all of these facets of the day will provide us with a rich source of teachings for our individual Divine service to our Creator.

Whenever we observe different phenomena coinciding, in worldly matters and especially in Torah matters, we must glean a lesson for ourselves; for the world was created for the sake of the laws of Torah.

The Baal Shem Tov taught that when a Jew experiences some worldly occurrence, it must serve as a lesson in his/her Divine service to the Creator. The reason for this: the fact that a Jew saw or heard a specific happening was ordained by Divine Providence, and as such, its purpose was that he/she should utilize the experience in serving G‑d.

The Mishnah teaches: “Who is wise? he who learns from every person,” and we must extend this teaching to include not only every person, but also every phenomenon. This principle may be deduced a fortiori: if we must learn good things even from people who have faults, how much more so must we learn from worldly occurrences, which are controlled by G‑d, and in which man has had no input. When the subject under discussion is composed of several facets, we must find meaning and direction in each detail. This is doubly significant when the subject is connected with Torah and the Jewish people.

In looking for the first subject to be analyzed let us propose the common theme, which is Jewish unity, as a starting point, for it is the underlying rallying point for all the special facets mentioned earlier that are united at this farbrengen.

A farbrengen — gathering — means bringing together many Jews, and this gives direct expression to Ahavas Yisrael and Jewish unity. As the Alter Rebbe once explained; just as a father draws satisfaction when he sees his children gathered together and uniting their efforts, so, too, when Jews gather at a farbrengen it is a time of satisfaction above.

Let us analyze the qualities of a Jewish gathering.

There are, of course, the ultimate good results which emerge from a Jewish assembly, as the Gemara says:

Upon every gathering of ten Jews the Shechinah rests. (Sanhedrin 39a)

The Alter Rebbe elaborates on this thought in Tanya:

If there were an angel standing in the presence of a gathering of ten Israelites [even if there were no words of Torah among them], an unlimited and infinite fear and awe would then befall him from the Shechinah that dwells over them, that he would become completely nullified. (Iggeres Hakodesh ch. 23)

Truly amazing results.

But here we wish to speak of the intrinsic qualities of a farbrengen — not the long term effect or subsequent results — such as the expression of Jewish love and unity experienced at the farbrengen and underlying the gathering.

This aspect of unity will be expressed even when two Jews get together; being that each has a Divine soul which is truly a part of G‑d, when they come together there is a joining of Divinity. And when many Jews gather it is even more intense! And the love and unity are stronger!

Thus, the essential, intrinsic theme of every farbrengen is Ahavas Yisrael and Jewish unity, as the Alter Rebbe explains in Tanya chapter 32:

Being, moreover, all of a kind and all having one Father.

The farbrengen, however, carries another very fundamental theme, that the unity and brotherhood must be borne out in action. “Practice is the essential thing” (Avos 1:17).

During the farbrengen everyone thinks of his/ her neighbor’s well-being; speaks highly of everyone else and acts for the benefit of others. This inherent mutual care generated by the farbrengen will then carry over to other times and affect the activities of the participants. And since we are dealing with the Jew’s G‑dly soul which is “truly a part of G‑dliness” it takes on an eternal quality.

We do in fact see that very often one can extend a helping hand to another Jew or an encouraging word, good advice or some helpful deed, which will help that person and his children forever after.

Thus, we have analyzed the true essence of a farbrengen. It is an expression of Ahavas Yisrael and Jewish unity, including real action, in an eternal manner. This being the foundation for all other matters which came into play during a farbrengen it may be understood that all the other aspects will also reflect these basic elements.

At this point we are able to appreciate that the premier general lesson to be garnered from a farbrengen is to increase all aspects of Ahavas Yisrael, and unity, in thought, speech and action. As always, this must be done within a framework of joy and happiness.

And since G‑d has commanded us to function and work on Ahavas Yisrael and brotherhood with joy, certainly G‑d gave every Jew all the potential powers and all the necessary tools to carry it out — so long as he chooses to do so.

Hopefully, everyone will take this teaching to heart, especially since we are in a synagogue and study hall where Jews gather to identify with the Holy One, Blessed be He, and His Torah, and at this propitious time this will add more strength in all these areas.

And may our actions nullify the galus which is the antithesis of unity. And may we merit speedily the true and complete redemption, so that instantaneously, we will find ourselves in the Holy Land, in Yerushalayim, the Holy City, on the Temple Mount and in the Beis HaMikdash.

There, all the Jews together will gather in perfect unity, quickly and truly in our days.

2. Having established that the fundamental theme of the farbrengen is Ahavas Yisrael, we may now see how it comes through and illuminates the other aspects of this farbrengen.

A) The portion of Vayakhel begins:

Moshe assembled the entire Israelite community.... (Shmos 35:1)

Here we have the unity of the entire nation. In fact, the word “Vayakhel” clearly conveys this idea, and this unanimity prevailed not only during the discussions held at that first assembly, but it continued on to the actual donations and the work of building the Mishkan. Thus, their harmony brought the contributions, which made the Mishkan, that served as the dwelling place for the Shechinah. We see this later, when the donations were brought to Moshe, that the original assembly (Vayakhel) had united all the Jews; men, women and children.

Being that we must “live” with the weekly portion, we see that our Divine service today is to foster and create unison among the Jewish people.

“But,” you may ask, “the Torah says that Moshe gathered the people, I will wait for Moshe to come and unify us all!” Here, a look at Rashi will put the story in the proper perspective.

On the word Vayakhel Rashi states:

..One does not actually assemble people with one’s hands, but they are assembled by his command.” (Rashi, loc. cit.)

In other words, the words of Moshe in the Torah assembled the people. Well, those words are eternal and they stand today as they did back then. In addition, Tanya explains that every Jew has a spark of Moshe in his soul and it is that “Moshe — spark” in each of us which empowers us to gather and unify the Jewish people.

B) In the reading of the special section concerning the mitzvah of shekalim we also see the aspect of Jewish unity emphasized.

In explaining the reasons for contributing a half-shekel, our sages have explained that a Jew must understand and feel that he cannot reach the perfection of “holy shekel” all by himself. Only by uniting with another Jew, who donates his half-shekel, will the condition of holy shekel be accomplished.

When we study the purpose for which the shekalim were used, to procure the community sacrifices for the whole year, we will perceive that each sacrifice included the contributions of many Jews. This stresses even more emphatically the importance of cooperation and alliance among the community of Jews.

Similarly, the silver bases for the walls of the Mishkan were made from the half-shekels (each one was comprised of 3,000 shekalim), which again reiterates cooperative action. Thus, in Jewish life there are aspects of Divine service which each individual must do as an individual, and there are other forms of Divine service which can be performed only when Jews join together.

An example of this is communal prayer, which can only be accomplished by a group of Jews together. Similarly, the practice of studying the entire Talmud cannot be done by individuals, and we must allocate the various tractates to many Jews in order to collectively conclude Shas (the Talmud) in one year. In both of these cases each person who participates has, not only his own share, but also the accomplishment of the whole; he has communal prayer, and the total study of the Talmud. For this reason when the participants gather to celebrate the siyum — completion — of the Talmud, each individual experiences the joy of completing the whole Shas.

By joining other Jews with the contribution of one half-shekel each Jew attains the fulfillment of the holy shekel.

C) Shabbos Mevarchim is connected with the day of Rosh Chodesh, which spreads its blessing over the entire month.

Rosh Chodesh also connotes the idea of unity, for it represents the unity of the sun and the moon. For Rosh Chodesh cannot be proclaimed on the basis of the solar cycle alone, nor on the basis of the lunar cycle alone — only by taking both into account can the Rosh Chodesh be ascertained — clearly a case of harmony (see Or HaTorah, Bereishis 9:2ff.).

Chassidus also explains that the unity of sun and moon is symbolic of the cooperation between benefactor and recipient, for one cannot give tzedakah unless there is a poor person to receive the benevolence. This underlines the requirement that tzedakah should be given with a “cheerful countenance” for then, it becomes evident that just as the benefactor is contributing something to the poor man, the beneficiary also gives something to the giver.

D) In blessing the month of Adar we again introduce the theme of unity:

Haman had argued before Achashverosh that the Jews were “one people,” but they were “scattered abroad and dispersed among the peoples.” He admitted that in certain spiritual matters the Jews were perhaps united, but in down-to-earth matters they were separated and dispersed — there was no unity! How was this criticism counteracted? When Esther suggested to Mordechai:

Go, assemble all the Jews to be found in Shushan, and fast for me. (Esther 4:16)

Her intention was to delineate the oneness of the Jewish people. Even in physical matters they were one. Joining at a feast might not convey the message so strongly, they might have assembled to enjoy the good meat and wine. But, when they unite to fast and not eat, then we see that even in corporeal matters the Jews had true unanimity.

Thus, in the story of Purim we see the harmony of the Jewish people in an eternal way, for:

These days of Purim should never cease among the Jews, nor shall their remembrance perish from their descendants. (Ibid. 9:28)

E) In blessing the new month of Adar II which comes only in a leap year we clearly reiterate the unity of the solar year and the lunar year. For the yearly lunar cycle is shorter than the solar cycle. As the Rambam states:

Hence the excess of the solar year over the (ordinary) lunar year amounts to 10 days, 21 hours and 204 parts. (Laws of Sanctification of the New Moon 6:4)

As the years go by this discrepancy increases, until the Holy One, Blessed be He, says: “Enough... you must reconcile the differences by adding the leap month to the lunar year, so that there will be seven leap years in every cycle of 19 years” (cf. Rambam, Ibid.: 10-11). The leap year establishes the obvious concord between the two cycles. And since the leap year often adds the extra days before they are lost, it functions for the past, present and future. Thus, when we see that after the 12 months of the lunar year have passed we add another month — Adar II — it clearly shows that perfect unity can be attained between the solar and lunar cycles.

With all these points in mind we now see that the essential theme of a farbrengen — unity — emerges from all the details connected to this day, for we bless Adar II, on Shabbos Shekalim, when we read Vayakhel. This gives us the additional power of unity for the future, and through Ahavas Yisrael and Jewish harmony we will bring the true and complete redemption through our righteous Mashiach.

This brings us to the portion of Pekudei which we will read at Minchah, where the accounts of the contribution to the Mishkan are enumerated. Here, too, we see cooperative action. A summation takes into account each individual contribution and combines them together in the total account — thus all of the separate donations were united in the one Mishkan (Tabernacle).

This theme also extends to the ultimate redemption. On the verse:

These are the accounts of the Tabernacle, the Tabernacle of Testimony, (Ibid. 38:21)

Rashi states:

The word Mishkan is mentioned here twice in allusion to the Temple that was taken as a pledge mashkon — as it were — as a security for Israel’s repentance) by being twice destroyed for Israel’s iniquities. (loc. cit.)

This means that the word Mishkan comes from the same root as mashkon (a security). A security is taken only temporarily and then returned in its entirety. So, too, the destruction of the First and Second Temples was only a “pledge,” taken from us by G‑d temporarily, and they will be returned to the Jewish people in the Third Beis HaMikdash.

We accomplish this regeneration through our Divine service. For the Mishkan was called the “Tabernacle of Testimony,” as the Prophet Yeshayahu said: “You are My witnesses.” The Jewish people are G‑d’s witnesses in the world through whom G‑dliness is revealed in the world. This process started with the first Jew, Avraham, who caused G‑d’s Name to be known in the world. It further took place at Matan Torah, when:

They looked eastward and heard the speech issuing forth: “I am,” etc., and so turning towards all four points of the compass and upwards and downwards. (Shmos Rabbah 5:9, Tanya ch. 36)

This was further revealed in the Mishkan:

It is a testimony to mankind that the Divine Providence rests in Israel. (Shabbos 22b)

The whole world became a dwelling place for G‑dliness. Through this we will bring the Third Beis HaMikdash.

May our eyes behold Your return to Tzion in mercy. (Siddur)

May it be built speedily and truly in our days.

* * *

3. In one of the recent publications of “Collected Notes and Explanations” (Oholei Torah, no. 328) several questions were raised on a verse in this week’s portion and on Rashi’s commentary.

The Torah tells us:

[G‑d] also gave the ability to teach, to him and Oholiav son of Achisamach, of the tribe of Dan. (Shmos 35:34)

Here Rashi notes:

He was of the tribe of Dan, one of the lowest of the tribes, of the sons of the handmaids, and yet the Omnipresent placed him, with regard to the work of the Tabernacle, on a level with Betzalel, although he was a member of one of the noble tribes (Yehudah)! This was in order to confirm what Scripture says, “He regards not the rich more than the poor” (Iyov 34:19). (Rashi, loc. cit.)

Several unclear points come to light in this Rashi:

(A) What difficulty do we encounter in the plain reading of the verse which forces Rashi to give us the lengthy explanation?

(B) At the same time, if there really is some problem in understanding the role of Betzalel and Oholiav, Rashi should have made note of it and clarified it the first time that Betzalel and Oholiav are mentioned, back in the portion of Ki Sissa:

I have selected Betzalel son of Uri son of Chur.... I have also given him Oholiav son of Achisamach.... (Ibid. 31:2-6)

Why does Rashi ignore the problem there and elaborate on it here? What new question has come to light here which motivated Rashi to elucidate the dilemma here?

Similarly, why must Rashi tell us that Chur (Betzalel’s grandfather) was Miriam’s son? Why did not Rashi also tell us this fact in Ki Sissa?

C) Rashi uses the expression, “In order to confirm what Scripture says.” This is a very uncommon phraseology, rarely used by Rashi. Why does he drop the usual terminology, “as it is written” and say instead “In order to confirm...”?

In the commentary Levush Ha’orah we find the following discussion:

It is asked, why did Rashi wait until this point? Why did he not explain all this in Ki Sissa when Betzalel and Oholiav were first appointed?

Evidently our questions were already raised many years ago, and the Levush Ha’orah presents two answers; the first of which does not follow the plain meaning of Scripture, but the second attempts to:

Earlier, (in Ki Sissa) when Uri was appointed to work with Betzalel, we might understand from the wording that he would only assist him and he would not share the role of chief artisan with Betzalel. Here, (in Vayakhel) when the Torah says: “Also gave the ability to teach, to him and Oholiav...,” it is clear that he would be equal to Betzalel in teaching the necessary work to the craftsmen, and he would also be considered a chief artisan. Therefore here Rashi tells us that “Oholiav was from Dan...in order to confirm that...He regards not the rich more than the poor.”

This explanation is not completely clear. Why does the question of family lineage and nobility come into play here? G‑d was directing Moshe to choose:

..every skilled individual...to know how to do all the work necessary for the sacred task. (Ibid. 36:1)

If he has the ability to do the work why investigate his ancestry?

And since it is clear that Betzalel and Oholiav were chosen because of their superior knowledge and artistry in the necessary crafts, why connect it to the verse in Iyov about “rich and poor”? The Torah clearly stated:

He has granted them natural talent for all craftsmanship, to form materials, to brocade or embroider.... (Ibid. 35:34)

This verse emphasizes precisely what must be used as a criterion for employment!

In answering these questions we must elucidate Rashi’s words in a manner that the five-year-old Chumash student will understand them, for that was Rashi’s way, to give us the plain meaning and not rely on latter commentaries to reinterpret his words in any particular manner.

Before proceeding to answer this dilemma let me add one more question.

Evidently, Rashi wanted to comment on the verse in Iyov, “He regards not the rich more than the poor,” in connection with the Mishkan. If so, why wait for the appointment of Betzalel and Oholiav? Rashi could have deduced a very clear exegesis right at the outset; when commanding the mitzvah of the half-shekel the Torah explicitly states:

The rich may not give more and the poor may not give less.... (Ibid. 30:15)

What better example of equalizing rich and poor?! Rashi’s goal would have been better served with this case, since this verse appears first and it needs no exegetic explanation; the words are clear as day; the rich may give no more and the poor no less — they are equal! Why, then, did Rashi associate the verse in Iyov with the appointment of Betzalel and Oholiav?

When the perceptive five-year-old Chumash student reviews the verses in Ki Sissa and then in Vayakhel which tell of Oholiav’s appointment he immediately senses a significant change of emphasis. In Ki Sissa it appears that Oholiav would be an assistant and helper to Betzalel, while in Vayakhel he becomes a chief artisan (as the Levush Ha’orah noted)! The five-year-old Chumash student is therefore troubled: Why did Moshe add the role of teaching to Oholiav’s position and why was it not included in the original command of G‑d to Moshe? This is not just the addition of some minor details which Moshe might have added on his own, it is a fundamentally different job! Why was it not taught in Ki Sissa?

Rashi had this question in mind and he reveals to us that when Moshe added this point, it was his intention, “to confirm what Scripture says, etc.”

In bringing donations for the Mishkan everyone was asked to contribute according to his/her ability. Whoever had wool brought wool, those who had gold brought gold, while those who had the wood brought the wood. The Princes (Nesi’im) donated the precious gems for the Choshen and Ephod.

This fact should cause some puzzlement. Being so fundamental an institution, how was it possible that in collecting the contributions for the Mishkan the rich would have a more significant share than the poor?! This would seem to negate the principle, that before G‑d all are equal?! By permitting everyone to bring what he had, you are eliminating the commonalty of the Jews and placing rich above poor.

To neutralize this fear Rashi had to confirm the principle that G‑d treats rich and poor alike, to prove that all are equal before Him.

How can this be proven? By showing that the work of making the Mishkan and its vessels would be directed by two chiefs, Betzalel who hailed from a “noble tribe,” Yehudah, together with Oholiav from the tribe of Dan, one of the “lowest of the tribes.” Despite their lineage the Torah equated them, and this confirms the principle that G‑d does not show preference, and the rich should not feel superior to the poor.

True, the rich had to donate more — but that did not give them any special status.

Rashi had to make this point through the connection with Betzalel and Oholiav and not with the mitzvah of the half-shekel, for there, we could also say that the Torah’s intention was to set the rule for the mitzvah, just as every mitzvah has a measure, e.g. four tzitzis, or ten percent for Maaser Behemah (the tithe given from the newborn flocks), etc.

In the Mishkan, differences between rich and poor had seemingly been revealed: here Moshe realized that it was necessary to show that equality really reigned. By choosing the chief craftsmen from a “noble tribe” and a “lowly tribe,” to make the Mishkan, in contrast to the donations for the Mishkan, it was clearly shown that the rich have nothing over the poor — we are equal before G‑d.

Since this lesson is necessary for the average person — Moshe had never harbored such a thought — therefore the lesson applies only in Vayakhel, when Moshe speaks to the people, here he equates Oholiav to Betzalel and derives the desired effect. For this reason, too, Rashi mentions that Chur was Moshe’s nephew here in Vayakhel, to show us, that Moshe indicated, that no matter what the family pedigree, and no matter who he was related to, G‑d wanted us to see the equality of the two men on their own merits.