Sunday, February 13, 2011

- TERUMAH 5771 -

The Mishkan was made of forty-eight vertical wooden boards that were connected by the "bri'ach hatichon": a horizontal support bar that ran through holes drilled through the thickness of the beams.  There were also other support bars that connected various groups of beams together, but the bri'ach hatichon was the only support that "ran from one end of the Mishkan to the other"  connecting all the forty-eight beams of the Mishkan into one united structure.
The Gemara explains that as the bri'ach hatichon was inserted through the holes of the beams, it miraculously twisted around the corners in order to connect the northern, western, and southern walls of the Mishkan.
The Targum Yonasan states:
The bri'ach hatichon was carved from the tree that Avraham Avinu planted in Be'er Sheva.  When Bnei Yisrael passed through the Red Sea, the angels chopped down the tree and threw it into the sea where it floated on the face of the water.  An angel then announced, "This is the tree that Avraham planted in Be'er Sheva, where he called out in the Name of Hashem!"
Bnei Yisrael took the tree and carved from it a bar seventy amos (110 feet) long.  Wondrous miracles occurred with this bar.  When the Mishkan was erected, it would go through the holes of the beams, twisting around the corners like a snake.  When the Mishkan was taken apart, it would straighten out like a stick.
Avraham planted this tree so that his guests could rest beneath its shade and eat of its fruit.  After his guests would eat and drink their full, they would bless him for his hospitality.  "Why do you bless me?" he would ask them.  "It was not my food that you ate.  It was the food of the Master of the World.  Bless and thank Him instead."   In this way, Avraham publicized Hashem's Name in the world.
Avraham's kindness, and his efforts to draw people beneath the wings of the Shechinah, created such an aura of holiness that the very tree beneath which his guests sat was sanctified.  The bar carved from the tree was thus able to miraculously bend to connect the beams of the Mishkan.

The Tree of Kindness

Our communities are also a kind of Mishkan.  The Shechinah dwells in our shuls today, just as it dwelled in the Beis HaMikdash in Yerushalayim.   Each member of the community makes his important contribution, thus making him into a veritable "board" in the Mishkan.  But what connects us all together, turning us from a collection of individual boards into a united structure in which the Shechinah may rest, is the kindness and generosity symbolized by Avraham's tree.  Kindness is the "bri'ach hatichon" that unites our communities.
Thus the foundation of every Jewish community and of every new shul must be the commitment of its members to help one another: both materially and spiritually.  "Let each man help his friend and tell his brother, 'Be strong!'"
Rather than each person davening by himself in the privacy of his home, we daven together in shul in order to publicize Hashem's holy Name in the world.   We therefore look towards the example of Avraham Avinu, who was the first to publicize Hashem's Name, as the Rambam writes:
Avraham stood forth and called out in a great voice to the entire world, to inform them that there is only one G d, and Him alone we must serve. 
Avraham publicized Hashem's Name through his kindness and hospitality.   He proved to people that he was truly interested in their benefit, and thereby earned their love and trust.  Only then were they willing to accept his teachings.  So too, the ability of a new shul to bring honor to Hashem's Name depends entirely on the kindness practiced in and around it.  Kindness is the key to success in spiritual matters, and in material matters as well.

Building an Ark of Rescue
When starting a new shul, it is important to establish good relations with the general community around it.  "Chein (grace) is given to the humble,"  Shlomo HaMelech said.  When the members of a new shul are humble, showing respect and consideration to the general community around them, they are sure to win the chein that is necessary for the shul to flourish.
At first, Noach was sentenced to be killed in the Great Flood that destroyed the rest of mankind, but he found chein in Hashem's eyes and was spared.   The Zohar notes that the word chein is spelled from the same letters as Noach's name, thus implying that there was something particular about his personality through which he earned the chein that saved his life.  "He was pleasant (neicha) in his speech and manners," the Zohar explains.
In our times, we also face a deluge of sorts.  Corruption and promiscuity flood the world.  Our shuls are the arks that protect us from the floodwaters of spiritual destruction.  Like Noach's ark, the survival of our shuls depends on the chein we earn by showing kindness and respect in and around our communities.  Our arks can contain a wide range of people, each with his own customs and personality, just as Noach saved a wide range of creatures, including ferocious beasts and even demons, who also boarded Noach's ark, as our Sages tell us.
Our Sages tell us that every place has a special "chein" that makes it particularly attractive to those who live there.   However, it is up to the people who establish new shuls to add to the chein of their surroundings through the middos and derech eretz that makes their shul into a pleasant place to daven, graced by a spirit of friendship and unity.
Rebbe Tzadok HaKohen of Lublin writes that every shul increases the level of holiness in the world and thus serves to eradicate the traces of Amalek.  For this reason, the laws regarding shuls are recorded in Maseches Megillah.  As we enter Adar, the month of joy, we pray that there be many occasions for joy in this community, and in all the communities of Israel, until our greatest joy arrives with the construction of the Beis HaMikdash.  May it be soon and in our days.

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