Unless otherwise noted, "This week's Parsha" comprises articles taken from contributors to the Chabad.org website. We show the original author's name here, so that proper attribution is given. For the sake of brevity, footnotes cited in the original author's writings are omitted from this website. If you need to see the citations, please refer to the original articles on the Chabad.org website.
The Sins of a Leader
Leaders make mistakes. That is inevitable. So, strikingly, our parsha implies. The real issue is how he or she responds to those mistakes.
The point is made by the Torah in a very subtle way. Our parsha deals with sin offerings to be brought when people have made mistakes. The technical term for this is shegagah, meaning inadvertent wrongdoing. You did something, not knowing it was forbidden, either because you forgot or did not know the law, or because you were unaware of certain facts. You may, for instance, have carried something in a public place on Shabbat, either because you did not know it was forbidden to carry, or because you forgot it was Shabbat.
The Torah prescribes different sin offerings, depending on who made the mistake. It enumerates four categories. First is the High Priest, second is "the whole community" (understood to mean the great Sanhedrin, the Supreme Court), a third is "the leader" (nasi), and the fourth is an ordinary individual.
A Silence Louder Than Words
The 27th of Adar marks an unhappy anniversary. On this day in 1992, Rabbi Menachem Mendel Schneerson, "The Rebbe," suffered a severe stroke, which robbed him of his power of speech and led to the illness from which he never recovered. This is the date when the voice which educated, inspired and encouraged millions of Jews and gentiles was stilled.
As the Rebbe always taught us, we look to the Torah portion of the week to gain insight and perspective. Incredibly, this week's portion offers a resoundingly clear message regarding this anniversary, as well as Chabad's apparent state of "leaderlessness."
This week we have a compound Torah reading -- the combined portions of Vayakhel and Pekudei. The Rebbe pointed out on many occasions that these two names convey an important message. Vayakhel means to "gather" and "congregate." Moses gathered the nation into a kahal, a congregation. The whole is greater than the sum of its parts; the congregation is a new entity which, like a marriage, is greater than the sum of its members. Each and every one of us is a part of this greater body, the Jewish people, unified, mixed and blended with each other.
Having said this, we proceed to Pekudei, "numbers": the numbering and counting of each individual vessel in the Sanctuary. Yes, the total is greater than the sum of its parts, but Moses counts the individual vessels, because each individual component is independently significant. The same holds true with the Jewish nation: each Jew is endowed by the Creator with a uniquely precious personality, and is individually significant -- not just as part of the total. Every Jew serves G‑d in a unique and inimitable fashion. Both vayakhel, the congregation, and pekudei, the individual, are absolutely essential components in the construction of a Tabernacle where G‑d's presence will be manifest.
In 1950, the Rebbe was crowned as the seventh leader of the venerable Chabad-Lubavitch movement. At that point, Chabad possessed a prestigious history -- but not much of a present, and it certainly did not seem to have a bright future. This glorious movement, which had once laid claim to hundreds of thousands of adherents throughout Eastern Europe, was almost completely decimated by the Nazi Gestapo and the Soviet KGB. The "grand" Lubavitch synagogue in Brooklyn, where the Rebbe presided, couldn't comfortably fit more than 150 people!
Over the next decades, the Rebbe cultivated Chabad, building it into one of the largest Jewish movements of modern times. He did this through vayakhel -- uniting all Jews by talking to the collective Jewish soul. The Rebbe spoke the language of the soul, and souls the world over heard the call and flocked by the thousands to the doors of the Rebbe's ever-expanding synagogue. The Rebbe then removed layers of tarnish and rust, revealing stunningly beautiful Jewish souls.
I vividly remember standing by the Rebbe's public gatherings. My heart still aches when I recall the vayakhel feeling of being amidst a sea of thousands of Jews who had "lost" their individual identities, egos, talents, desires, etc., and become caught up in an atmosphere of holiness and purity that transcended their own existence. I repeat not stories that I heard from my father or teacher, tales from another generation or a faraway land . . . I am conveying that which my own eyes saw and my own soul experienced.
As beautiful and uplifting as all this was, in order for the divine presence to be revealed, we must now turn to pekudei mode. The next step for us is to take the Rebbe's soulful message, and instead of using it to transcend our beings to become part of a collective whole, to allow this message to penetrate and transform our G‑d-given unique strengths and capabilities. The Rebbe's passion and fire must now be the light which causes the millions of unique colors of our nation's kaleidoscope to sparkle and dance.
Unbelievably, the Rebbe's very last address was given on the Shabbat of Vayakhel. The next week, on the Shabbat of Pekudei, the Rebbe's voice was silent. Perhaps it can be said that now he can be heard through the voices of each and every one of his countless followers and admirers who live his message, and anxiously await the moment when they will be reunited with him with the coming of Moshiach.
Sheryl and her husband Larry were at variance as far as how to handle their young son, Michael.
Whenever Michael misbehaved, Larry would explain his misdeed to him and demand an apology.
Sheryl, on the other hand, was of the opinion that if Michael’s apology wasn’t genuine and self-initiated, it held no value.
“He should apologize only if and when he is ready,” Sheryl asserted. “There is no point in us insisting on it, because that means he feels no true regret for his actions.”
“No, Sheryl,” Larry disagreed. “Michael needs to become accustomed to saying he is sorry, even if we have to prompt him. I believe that, intuitively, he understands that what he has done is wrong; it’s just a matter of training him to verbalize what he essentially feels inside.”
In this week’s Torah reading, Ki Tisa (Exodus 30:11–34:35), G‑d commands Moses to instruct the Jewish people to each donate a half-shekel as an “atonement offering for their souls,” for their participation in the sin of the Golden Calf. The silver was used to make the “foundation sockets” for the Tabernacle (the portable sanctuary the Israelites built in the desert).
The Midrash relates that when Moses heard about this offering, “he became flustered and recoiled,” wondering how a mere half-shekel could compensate for the grave sin of the Golden Calf. In response, “G‑d showed Moses a coin of fire that He had taken from under His throne of Glory and said, ‘Such as this, they shall give.’”
Why did this half-shekel commandment so perplex Moses? How did the “coin of fire” which G‑d showed him explain his difficulty? And what can we learn from this commandment in our role as parents, in what kind of “offerings” to expect from our children?
All the other gifts that the Jewish people donated to the Tabernacle were given, as the Torah repeatedly emphasizes, because “their hearts were inspired to give.”2 Men and women, young and old, from each of the different tribes willingly and enthusiastically contributed as much as they could of the many materials used to make the Tabernacle.
By contrast, the half-shekel gift was mandatory, and a uniform amount was demanded from each individual, poor and rich alike.
Moses could not comprehend how an offering that was compulsory could achieve atonement. If the individual donating did not give wholeheartedly, from his own initiative and to the best of his ability, how could it be considered an “offering”? Furthermore, how would this forced donation achieve atonement for the serious sin of the Golden Calf?
To explain this, G‑d showed Moses this coin of fire. G‑d was alluding to the fire of the soul. Every soul originates from beneath G‑d’s very throne of glory, and is driven by a fiery desire to be connected with its Source. Every soul is continually and eternally bound to G‑d, and all of an individual’s positive actions are a direct result of his soul’s motivational tugging.
G‑d was demonstrating to Moses that even a Jew who is being compelled to give the half-shekel gift, desires to give it. Though his actions may seem forced, in truth he is connecting to his soul’s fiery, inner quest to unite with G‑d.
As a parent, do you hear yourself wondering if there is any benefit in compelling your child to do what is right, when he’s doing so only because he cannot disobey you? Do you feel that unless he enthusiastically volunteers on his own, his actions are valueless? Do you consider it futile to expressly demand an apology for a wrong that he has committed?
The story of the half-shekel reminds us of the essential goodness of every individual. Life is full of challenges and enticing situations that might cause us to deviate from our authentic inner path. But our deep-seated desire is to connect to our Creator.
As a parent, remember that your child was created with a fiery soul, originating from G‑d’s very throne of glory, that innately desires to do the right thing. If your child becomes sidetracked, your parental role is to guide him back to his soul’s genuine inner goals. Different children might need different techniques in helping them overcome outside temptations, but your approach to your child must be based on the fundamental premise that he wants to do good.
Proactively guide your child, to help him act correctly -- even if some of those actions might be forced.
Because despite external pressures, parental reminders or rules, the real motivation for your child doing the right thing is his fiery G‑dly soul.
Even if he -- and you -- are not aware of it.