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Friday
Feb242012

IMPETUOUS

A PUZZLING MIDRASH
The opening verse of this week’s parsha contains the key phrase, “They shall take for Me an offering.” This was G-d’s commandment to the Jewish people to contribute to the construction of the Mishkan, the portable Sanctuary in the desert.
One enigmatic Midrashic comment, when deciphered, will assist us in understanding the significance of this structure.
The Midrash states, “When the Jewish nation said naaseh – ‘we shall do’ before nishma – ‘we shall listen,’ G-d said, ‘They shall take for Me an offering.’”
There is an obvious need for us to understand what the connection is between their enthusiastic acceptance of the Torah—mentioned at the end of last week’s parsha—and G-d’s commandment to contribute to the building of the Mishkan.
And since both our acceptance of the Torah and the building of the Mishkan are ongoing processes—we must accept the Torah and construct a Sanctuary in our own hearts everyday anew —the explanation of the foregoing Midrash must have relevance to our own lives as well.
INSPIRATION TRANSLATED
A simple but relevant approach is that when the Jewish people expressed such exuberant acceptance of the Torah it was necessary for them to quickly translate their excitement into something concrete.
Inspiration comes often to each and every one of us. The question is: what can we do to make the inspiration endure? The Midrash’s approach here is simple: Take your life and turn it into a sanctuary for G-d. Do concrete things so that the inspiration becomes the soul of your actions. A soul by itself cannot stay grounded; its nature is to fly away and connect to its source. A soul-less body cannot survive. Likewise, inspiration without commensurate action is like a soul without a body and so will “fly away,” while action that is not infused with spirit and devotion will not endure.
We must still look for additional insight as to why this message of harnessing the inspiration to action is specifically connected to the Jewish people’s prefacing naaseh before nishma, “I will do” before “I will listen.” There are many way one can show enthusiasm, and there are many ways one can translate that enthusiasm into practical deeds. Why specifically does the Midrash pick on their prefacing “naaseh – we will do” before “nishma – we will listen” as the inspiration that needed to be concretized? And second, why did G-d select this specific approach—contributing to the construction of the Sanctuary—as the means of concretizing that inspiration?
MOUTH BEFORE EARS
The Talmud relates that a heretic once observed how the great Sage Rava was studying Torah and was oblivious to the way his fingers were bleeding. The heretic criticized Rava by saying that he was a member of a people who “put their mouth before their ears.” He meant that when we were informed that we would receive the Torah we were so enthusiastic about it that we impulsively responded with our mouths, “we will do” even before we heard what accepting the Torah would entail. Similarly, the heretic implied that Rava too was impulsive and so eager to study Torah that he was not aware of his own hand bleeding.
From this passage in the Talmud we can gather that their reciting naaseh before nishma was an expression of impulsive behavior which nonetheless the Talmud considers to be a great virtue.
The question arises, isn’t impulsive behavior a negative trait? Haven’t we read in the Torah that Jacob criticized his son Reuven for his impulsiveness?
The answer can be derived from the analysis in a Chassidic discourse (entitled Basi L’Gani) the previous Rebbe issued to be studied on the day of his passing and has since become the major Chassidic classic of our generation. Since 1950 the Rebbe has devoted at least one discourse a year elucidating the landmark discourse of his predecessor.
FOLLY: GOOD AND BAD
One of the central themes of these discourses is that there are two forms of folly. There is a median level of rational behavior and logic. Deviating in any direction from this mean is called shtus – folly in Hebrew. Deviating below the line of normality is referred to as Shtus D’Klipa, or negative folly, that is generally associated with immoral behavior. A positive form of foolishness is when a person goes beyond the limits of their rational mind to do good. This is also called folly, but with the additional qualifier: Shtus D’k’dusha – holy folly.
This can also explain the difference between the two forms of impulsiveness. When impulsive behavior causes a person to perform an action that goes against the will of Jacob, who was the spiritual leader of his generation, as was the case with Reuven, it was deemed improper and therefore criticized by Jacob. When impulsive behavior brings a person closer to Sinai, i.e., to acceptance of and dedication to Torah and Mitzvos, it is laudable.
We can now understand why the Midrash links the words “and take for me an offering” with the Jewish people’s uttering the words “we will do” before “we will listen.” But first a few words of introduction concerning the nature of the revelation at Sinai:
A MOUNTAIN OF LOVE
At Sinai they were under the “spell” of G-d’s unprecedented revelation. Our Sages tell us that G-d covered them with the mountain and threatened to bury them if they did not accept the Torah. Chassidic thought explains that this is a metaphor for the overwhelming G-dly love that was showered upon them and which smothered them to such an extent that they could not possibly refuse to unconditionally embrace all of the Torah. G-d’s passionate love for them elicited a reciprocal feeling of love for G-d and His Torah which transcended the bounds of logic—Shtus D’k’dusha – holy folly.
This clearly was not good enough. There were two dangers that had to be addressed: The first is that when the mountain (read: G-d’s passionate love for them) would cease to hover over them, their enthusiasm would fizzle out. The second, and, perhaps an even greater danger, was that they might take their supra-rational love and the impulsive behavior it would engender and channel it away from a Shtus D’k’dusha and convert it into Shtus D’Klipa – from holy folly to its negative counterpart.
To forestall these two potential problems, G-d instructs them to contribute towards the construction of the Mishkan. This instruction had two functions that addressed both of the concerns.
First, as stated above, it gave them an opportunity to channel their passion into concrete action so that the energy would not dissipate.
Second, it reinforced the idea that their supra-rational passion should remain above the line and not be diverted into irrational and negative impulsiveness.
FOOLISH WOOD
Indeed, the Mishkan was built from shittim wood. The word shittim is related to the word shtus – folly. As discussed in the discourse referred to above, the reason the Mishkan was constructed of this material was to underscore its function and objective. It was not just a place to come and worship G-d, but a place that represented the transformation of the negative folly into Shtus D’k’dusha – holy folly.
In other words, this supra-rational approach to Judaism that does not allow us to limit ourselves to rational modes of dedication to Torah, notwithstanding the importance Judaism places on logic, was to be institutionalized and enshrined in the Sanctuary. It was not intended to be a onetime experience at the time we stood under the influence of the Sinai event. The building of the Mishkan demands that this approach become a permanent fixture which would guarantee the survival of Judaism.
MOSHIACH: TRANSCENDING LOGIC
As we prepare for the final Redemption it is necessary for us to apply the above lessons to this process. The Chassidic classic Tanya teaches us that the future Messianic Age is the time when the spiritual effects of the Sinai experience will become permanent and will permeate the entire world. It follows then that the lessons that applied to the giving of the Torah and the construction of the Mishkan must be applied to our generation which has been told by the Rebbe, “it is the last one of exile and the first of Redemption.”
In recent years, due to all of the incredible changes that have occurred, both positive and negative, the Jewish people have been inspired with the realization that Moshiach’s coming is imminent. The miracles that we have witnessed have left us awestruck and profoundly moved. But all of this does not suffice. The lesson of G-d’s instruction to contribute towards the construction of the Mishkan as a response to their saying “I will do” before “I will listen” is that we must take this inspiration and translate it into concrete action. By doing one more Mitzvah we will succeed in internalizing that inspiration, perpetuate it, and hasten the process of Redemption.
The second lesson is that we should not allow our enthusiasm to be diverted into doing things that serve our own interests that are out of the bounds of logic. Everything we do must reflect supra rational passion of our divine soul and not the egotistical, irrational desires of our animal nature. Our observance of the Mitzvos should not be confined to our limited human faculties. We must always endeavor to reveal the inner Shtus D’k’dusha, the inner voice that comes from our soul’s essence that inspires and enables us to go beyond our boundaries.
This has a special connection to Moshiach in consonance with Tanya’s explanation of the enigmatic Talmudic statement that seems to suggest that Moshiach comes when we are distracted from his coming. The actual literal translation of that statement is that Moshiach’s coming transcends our knowledge and goes beyond our expectations. No matter what we imagine it will be like, it will be much more than that. Moshiach will introduce us to an utterly transcendent level of G-dly awareness.
Accordingly, our preparation for this time must also involve reaching the limits of knowledge – and then transcending it.

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