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Sukkat Shalom B'nei Noach



Vayakhel (Exodus 35:1-38:20 )

Shemot, 37:1“And Betzalel made the Ark of shittim wood, two and a half amot in length, one and a half amos in width, and one and a half amot in height. And they coated it with pure gold on the inside and the outside…”
Daat Zekeinim, Shemos, 25:11: Dh: And you will coat it: “It was fitting for the Aron to be completely gold [even in the middle] but because they would have to carry it on their shoulders it would be too heavy. And even though it says that the Aron would carry those who carry it, that was temporary.

The Aron HaKodesh (Holy Ark) was coated with gold on the inside and the outside, with wood in the middle. The Daat Zekeinim notes that it would have been ideal for the Ark to be completely made from gold, so why was wood placed in the middle? They answer that even though the Ark generally carried itself, there were times when people had to carry the Ark, and had it been made solely of gold, it would have been much heavier to carry. They make the same point with regard to the Mizbayach Hazahav (Golden Altar on which the incense was burnt). It was made of lighter Shittim wood and only overlaid with gold on the outside, to make it lighter to carry.

Rabbi Yissachar Frand uses this idea to answer another question pertaining to the Tabernacle. The Torah says that after Moshe told the people to donate to the Tabernacle, once the required amount had been reached, the people wanted to continue to donate and Moshe had to tell them to stop.1 The Seforno points out that this was not the case with the building of the first and second Temple.

In both cases, more money and raw materials than necessary was collected. What did they do with the extra funds?

The Talmud Yerushalmi states that they made duplicates and triplicates of all the vessels used in the Temple. This is easy to understand – vessels can break, wear out, or become impure, so in the event of that happening, the duplicates were available. However, this was not done for the Tabernacle – why not?

Rabbi Frand explains, based on the Daat Zekeinim, that the people were wandering in the desert at the time of the building of the Tabernacle. Therefore, the Tabernacle and its vessels had to be carried on all the journeys. Had there been duplicates, then it would have required much more exertion to carry it. This reason did not apply in the times of the Temples.

These explanations remind us of a fundamental idea – that we should not be righteous at the expense of other people. Even G-d Himself, so to speak, did not make the Aron in the most ideal manner, of pure gold, because that would have been a stringency that adversely affected other people.

Rabbi Yisrael Salanter emphasized this concept in his teachings and his personal actions. He once came to someone’s house for a Shabbos meal. He went to wash his hands for netilat yadayim. The halacha is that ideally a person should wash his hands up until the wrists.2 In difficult circumstances, a person fulfills his obligation for washing his hands by only washing until the knuckles. Rabbi Salanter did not wash his entire hands, rather he relied on the opinion that he only needed to wash to the point where his fingers bend.

The observers asked him why he was being so lenient with his handwashing. In those days, there was no running water. The water had to be carried from a well to the house. Rabbi Salanter knew someone had to schlep the water up from the well to the kitchen and he saw that the hired help was a poor girl who would be the one carrying the water. He decided that he was not going to be righteous at her expense, and instead relied on a lenient opinion!

Thus far, we have seen that one should not cause pain or discomfort when being strict in halacha, when it can adversely affect other people. The following story3 demonstrates a similar idea can apply when being strict will prevent a person from doing kindness to his fellow.

Rabbi Shlomo Zalman Auerbach was walking down the street in the month of Nissan and he passed a house with a fruit tree. He paused in front of that house and prepared to recite the blessing of Birkat Ilanot (the blessing we make in Nissan on trees in blossom). Another Jew passed by and told him that two blocks down the street, there was a house with two blossoming trees in front of it. Based on Kabbalah it is ideal to say the blessing in front of two trees.

Rav Auerbach pointed out to this Jew the window of the house in front of which he was now standing. “Do you see the woman in the window? She is a widow. She is standing in the window and is bursting with pride that I, Rabbi Shlomo Zalman Auerbach, the leading halachic authority of the generation, am making my blessing on her tree! It is better to do a kindness by bringing pleasure to a widow, even if it means making the blessing on just one tree, rather than adding the dimension of the Zohar’s preference of making the blessing on two trees.

May we all merit to emulate G-d’s concern for other people even when we are involved with our own service of Him.

By Rabbi Yehonasan Gefen


  1. Shemos, 36:4-7.
  2. Shulchan Aruch, Orach Chaim, Simun 161, Sif 2.
  3. Cited by Rav Yissachar Frand in the name of Rav Silberstein.

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