Tetsaveh: Fragrance

You shall make an altar for burning incense; make it of acacia wood…Overlay it with pure gold…Place it in front of the curtain that is over the Ark of the Pact — in front of the cover that is over the Pact — where I will meet with you. On it Aaron shall burn aromatic incense: he shall burn it every morning when he tends the lamps, and Aaron shall burn it at twilight when he lights the lamps — a regular incense offering before the Lord throughout the ages. (Shemot 30:1-8)

The tabernacle stands:
God’s dwelling on earth.

A breeze tugs the curtains
while candle flames dance
in the sheen of the gold
and the gloss of the wood.

And amid all the splendor
dwells the Unseen.

The fragrance of incense
suffusing the chambers
wafting impalpably,
surrounds us, reminds us:

each in-breath is filled
with invisible spirit.

The aroma of spices
burned on the altar
infuses the emptiness
circling upwards

floating like prayers
by day and by night.


The question of why God wanted an earthly dwelling fashioned for Him has occupied the Rabbis throughout the ages.
In a commentary from 2005, http://learn.jtsa.edu/content/commentary/terumah/5765/grandeur-and-grace-our-lives, Dr Ismar Schorsch asks, “How can we conceive of God as both transcendent and immanent? Our knowledge of the universe demands a Creator who is grand, majestic and remote; our insufficiency pleads for a God who is nearby and caring.” Dr Schorsch cites a midrash depicting Moses as astonished by God’s command to build Him a dwelling place on earth, “”Lord of the universe, behold the heavens in all their expanse cannot contain You and You say ‘Make Me a sanctuary!’ But the Holy One, may He be blessed, responded: ‘Moses, you misconstrue what I ask. Just take twenty planks for the north side and twenty for the south and eight for the west. And I will come down and contract My Presence to be with you below.'” (Pesikta de Rav Kahana, ed. by Mandelbaum, p. 33).
Dr Schorsch continues, “In other words, transcendence and immanence are not mutually exclusive…Judaism never cut the Gordian knot. It stubbornly refused to sever the polarities. The history of its theology is an unending struggle to be true to heart and mind, to a divine reality that is intimate yet infinite, loving yet beyond reach. The retention of polarities acknowledges the complexity of existence.”
In a commentary on Parashat Tetsaveh, from the book Hazmana LaParasha – Invitation to the Parasha, Rabbi Noam Perel addresses the relevance of the altar for incense, which, he says, represents the sense of scent in God’s tabernacle. He notes that fragrance may have an intense presence but is totally impalpable, and thus connects and fills the vast gap between the tangible and the invisible. Rabbi Perel adds that the altar of the incense was among the last of the vessels and garments described – that it essentially completed the labor on the Tabernacle, and he suggests that the incense fills in all the spaces between the sacred vessels with an ongoing presence that touches and doesn’t touch, that exists but is intangible, and hovers enduringly. He concludes that this altar strengthens the recognition that there is no place that is not filled with God’s presence.
The cloud of aromatic incense in the Tabernacle was thus perceived as a reminder of God’s invisible presence, as was the cloud that accompanied the Israelites as they journeyed through the wilderness.
The Rabbis attach special significance to the sense of smell as it says in the Talmud: “Rav Zutra bar Toviyah said in the name of Rav, “From where is it derived that we recite a blessing over fragrance?” For it is stated, “”Let every “soul” praise God.” What is something from which the soul derives pleasure but the body does not derive pleasure? You must say that this is the fragrant smell.” (Berachot 43 b) The Schottenstein commentary remarks, “Since smells do not enter the body in the same tangible form as do food and drink, smell is considered, by comparison to eating, a “pleasure of the soul.” ” The etymological connection between “reyach” – smell, and “ruach” – spirit, is noted. Also God blew a soul into the first man through his nostrils (Bereishit 2:7). The word “neshama” – soul, and the word “neshima” – breath, are likewise derived from the same root.

In an article entitled Secrets of the Incense, http://www.jewishmag.co.il/11mag/mystic/mystic.htm, Rabbi Avraham Sutton offers an exhaustive study of the incense offered up in the Tabernacle and later the Temple.*
He notes that the Hebrew word for incense, “ketoret” describes something that “rises up in circles, and whose aroma wafts and spreads” (Keritot 6b). He adds that the word has an etymological connection with the root “kesher” meaning connection, hence in Aramaic, ketoret has the meaning of connection to the Divine, so he says, “It has the power to elevate us and bind us to our spiritual root (Zohar 3:11a). Rabbi Sutton adds that there is an intimate connection between prayer and the ketoret as King David says, “May my prayer rise up as ketoret before You, and when I lift my hands to You [may it be considered as if I had brought] a minchah offering of my whole being” (Psalms 141:2).

Rabbi Menachem Mendel Schneerson of Lubavitch also comments that the word ketoret means “bonding” and so he interprets the essence of the ketoret as the inner yearning of the soul to draw near to God.

*In the following parasha of Ki Tissa (Shemot 30:34) only four ingredients are specified. The Talmud adds a further seven that comprised the incense and describes the proportions: seventy measures each of balsam, onycha, galbanum and frankincense; sixteen measures each of myrrh, cassia, spikenard, and saffron; twelve measures of costus, three measures of aromatic bark, and nine measures of cinnamon. The spices were blended and pulverized and placed on the incense altar every day.
The galbanum emits a disagreeable odour when burned. This is diffused when blended with the other aromatics and strengthens the overall aroma. Rashi teaches from this that even marginal, disagreeable people have to be included in the community. This is emphasised in Ki Tissa when we learn that all members of the community were to be involved in building the Ark (Tanchuma 13), thus the two leaders responsible for overseeing the building of the Tabernacle were Betsalel from the tribe of Judah – the largest and most important tribe, and Oholiab from Dan, the smallest tribe.

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Terumah: Giving

The Lord spoke to Moses, saying: Tell the Israelite people to bring Me gifts; you shall accept gifts for Me from every person whose heart so moves him… And let them make Me a sanctuary that I may dwell among them. (Shemot:25: 1-8)

Rescued from slavery
blind to redemption,
helpless, confused,
they protest and revolt.

Despite all the miracles,
portents and wonders,
they remain unconvinced,
discouraged and weak.

Yet when comes the summons
to give of themselves,
they gather together
with purpose and strength.

They move into action:
their giving transforms them;
they build God a home
and He dwells in their midst.


In Covenant and Conversation http://www.rabbisacks.org/covenant-conversation-5771-terumah-building-builders/ in 2011, Rabbi Jonathan Sacks addresses the portrayal of the building of the Mishkan or Tabernacle, the portable sanctuary which was carried through the desert. It follows the dramatic epic of the Exodus and the Giving of the Torah on Mount Sinai. He notes the unusual length of the description which comprises one third of the book of Shemot: whereas the account of G-d’s creation of the universe takes a mere thirty-four verses, the account of the building of the Mishkan is fifteen times as long!
This is even more mystifying, given that the Mishkan was to be only a temporary fixture in the spiritual life of the children of Israel, as it was to be replaced by the Temple in Jerusalem. Rabbi Sacks wonders “What enduring message are we supposed to learn from a construction that was not designed to endure?” He finds the answer when he examines the behavior of the newly-freed slaves. They were fearful, easily discouraged and very passive, expecting God or Moses to do all the work.
Despite the signs and wonders which God has performed, they murmur and complain until Moses despairs. Rabbi Sacks comments, “… G-d does the single most unexpected thing. He says to Moses: speak to the people and tell them to contribute, to give something of their own, be it gold or silver or bronze, be it wool or animal skin, be it oil or incense, or their skill or their time, and get them to build something together – a symbolic home for my presence, a Tabernacle. It doesn’t need to be large or grand or permanent. Get them to make something, to become builders. Get them to give.”
Moses does as God tells him, and the people rise to the challenge – they give so munificently that we read later, in parashat Vayakhel, that the report comes back from the artisans that the people are bringing more than is needed. We learn there also that not only do they give of their belongings, they offer their skills. They make many of the appurtenances required and skilled women are mentioned who dye, weave and spin yarns and linens.
Rabbi Sacks points out that during the entire period while the Tabernacle was being constructed, there was no murmuring, no revolts. He says, “What all the signs and wonders failed to do, the construction of the Tabernacle succeeded in doing. It transformed the people. It turned them into a cohesive group. It gave them a sense of responsibility and identity.”
In a further commentary from 2015, http://www.rabbisacks.org/gratitude-labour-terumah-5775/ Rabbi Sacks expands on this theme, noting that the concept of an earthly dwelling-place for God is paradoxical, as we find, for example, in Isaiah (66:1) who quotes God saying, “The heaven is My throne and the earth My foot-stool. Where could you build a house for Me, what place could serve as My resting place?” So the Rabbis teach that the verse, “Let them make Me a sanctuary that I may dwell among them,” means that God will dwell not in a building, but in the hearts of the people. Rabbi Sacks notes that until now, the people had been passive recipients – God had redeemed them and wrought miracles, but they had been unable to offer anything in return.
The instruction to the people that anyone whose heart moved him should bring gifts was their chance to give back. Those are the hearts in which God could live.

Rabbi Matthew Berkowitz in a commentary from 2014, http://learn.jtsa.edu/content/commentary/terumah/5774/tabernacle-divinity-and-practicality, describes the construction of the Tabernacle as “a building campaign.” He emphasizes that it is not only the work of a few skilled Israelites, but rather a “communal project demanding communal participation.” He says that only this will draw God’s presence down among the people. However, he notes that it seems that the spiritual experience on Sinai a short while before has been replaced by  very material practicalities. So he asks, “How are we to understand the role of the Tabernacle, then and now?” And he responds that the spiritual peak reached at Sinai could not be sustained. He says, “The Tabernacle becomes a vital symbol of transition. At Sinai, the Israelites are given the raw materials of the life they will build together. Not only are they gifted with laws toward creating a moral and ethical life, but they are also handed the blueprints of the Tabernacle. The design is divine, but its execution is the work of human hands. Moses is shown the plans firsthand, but now the Israelites translate the Godly vision into reality. More than a dwelling place for God, the Tabernacle becomes a powerful model of divine vision mediated through human participation. God and Moses’s vision elevate the biblical Israelites and modern-day Jews to lead sacred lives that truly become the dwelling place of God.”

And finally, in a commentary from 2003, http://learn.jtsa.edu/content/commentary/terumah/5763/between-wilderness-and-jerusalem-tale-two-holy-spaces, Dr Ismar Schorsch compares the construction of the Tabernacle detailed in the parasha with that of the Temple (some 480 years later) described in the Haftarah. While both, he says, are concerned with the construction of sacred space, and the basic design is the same (although the former is wooden and mobile and the latter of stone and fixed), he sees great differences in the human involvement. He notes, “Both institutions reflect God’s will. In the case of Moses, the instructions are given directly, orally and visually (Exodus 25:9, 40; 26:30; 27:8). In the case of David, the sanction comes from God (II Samuel 7), the execution is left to Solomon. Yet the contrast could not be greater, and herein lies the value of the juxtaposition.”
With regard to the Tabernacle, the entire people comes forward and overwhelmingly offers both material gifts and skills to build it. Dr Schorsch says “The Torah leaves little doubt that the building of the Tabernacle was a consensual enterprise. The people’s enthusiastic response to Moses’s call for contributions translated into action the verbal assent they had given at Mount Sinai at hearing the content of the covenant: “Then he took the record of the covenant and read it aloud to the people. And they said, ‘All that the Lord has spoken we will faithfully do!'” (24:7). Their faith was the wellspring of their philanthropy.”
However, he contrasts this with Solomon’s Temple concerning which no eager and generous idealism is described. We learn that Solomon taxed the people fiercely, as the Haftarah says, “King Solomon imposed forced labor on all Israel; the levy came to 30,000 men. He sent them to Lebanon in shifts of 10,000 a month. . . Solomon also had 70,000 porters and 80,000 quarriers in the hills, apart from Solomon’s 3,300 officials who were in charge of the work.” (I Kings 5:27-30).
Dr Schorsch adds, “The difference did not escape the attention of a medieval midrash. “The Tabernacle for which the people volunteered wholeheartedly never fell victim to the evil eye. The Temple, however, for which they did not, fell victim to the hand of the enemy.” (Torah Shlema*). So he observes “The lasting lesson of the Tabernacle is the supreme importance of voluntarism in the conduct of the Jewish polity…While the endless details of the building of the Tabernacle may drive us to distraction, we should not lose sight of the selfless ethos that drove the project to completion. Salvation in Judaism is about losing ourselves in the welfare of the whole and making a difference in the lives of others.”

*The Torah Shelema was authored by Rabbi Menachem Mendel Kasher (1895 – 1983), a Polish-born Israeli rabbi and prolific author who authored an encyclopedic work on the Torah entitled Torah Shelema.

Rabbi Kasher was born in Warsaw, Poland (then part of the Russian Empire), the son of a Rabbi. At the age of 19, he edited the periodical Degel Ha’Torah, the mouthpiece of the Polish branch of Agudath Israel.
In 1924, in response to a call from the Gerer Rebbe, Rabbi Avraham Mordechai Alter, Rabbi Kasher moved to Jerusalem, in Mandatory Palestine, to establish the Sfat Emet Yeshiva in honour of the Rebbe’s father, Rabbi Yehudah Aryeh Leib Alter – the Sefat Emet. He subsequently served as the head of the yeshiva for its first two years and later helped bring the Rebbe to Palestine about six months after the outbreak of World War II.

Rabbi Kasher’s major work, Torah Shelema (“The Complete Torah”) is divided into two parts. The first part is the encyclopedia, the first work to publish all of the Written Law (the Pentateuch) and the Oral Teachings (Talmud and Midrashim) side by side. He published from manuscript form several previously unknown midrashic works such as the Midrash Teiman. The latter part consists of the extensive annotations and addendum in which he uses his awareness of variant texts as well as his almost encyclopedic knowledge in all Jewish works to clarify many obscure points in the Talmud and the Rambam’s commentary.

The first volume was published in Jerusalem in 1927 and included 352 entries to the first chapter of Bereishit. The 38th volume was still published in his lifetime (1983) and included Parshat Beha’alotcha. The 39th volume was published posthumously by his son-in-law Dr. Rabbi Aaron Greenbaum and includes a short biography. The 40th volume includes an expanded biography and full list of his works.
To date, 45 volumes have been printed covering the first 4 Chumashim (books of the Pentateuch).

Another work, Gemara Shelema, which was to have discussed and compared variant texts of the Talmud was never completed except for Tractate Pesachim.

In response to the establishment of the State of Israel, Rabbi Kasher advocated the drinking of a 5th cup at the Passover Seder. However, his request to the Chief Rabbinate that it be officially instituted was dismissed.

In 1963, Rabbi Kasher was a recipient of the Israel Prize in Rabbinical literature in 1963 and was also awarded an honorary doctorate from Yeshiva University.

Mishpatim: The Burden

When you see your enemy’s donkey lying under its load and would refrain from raising it, you must nevertheless raise it with him. (Shemot 23:4-5)

The braying of the fallen donkey
does not quench the clamour,
does not drown the voice of protest
within an angry heart.

The piteous sight of flailing limbs
does not shift the stony mask,
does not ease the bitterness
of ire and affront.

Yet as you labour with your foe,
heaving up his laden beast,
the turmoil ebbs, the mask dissolves:
you drop your load on harrowed earth.


The Etz Hayim commentary of the JPS notes, “The Torah commands us neither to love nor to hate our enemy. Generally, the Torah commands behaviour not feelings. Its goal is justice, which is attainable – as opposed to loving everyone, which is an emotion-based attitude that cannot be commanded. We are to avoid malicious acts and treat everyone decently.”

In his book Torah of Reconciliation, Rabbi Sheldon Lewis cites a story from the Midrash: “Rabbi Alexandri said: Two donkey drivers who hated each other were walking along the road. The donkey of one of them lay down. His fellow passed by and saw he was lying down under his burden. He said: “Does it not say in the Torah ‘If you see the ass of him that hates you…you shall surely raise it with him’?” What did he do? He turned back and loaded [the animal] and accompanied [his enemy]. He began to converse with him. He loosened [the straps] a little from one side, lifted [it] from the other side, and strapped on that side until he had reloaded [the donkey] with him. The result was that they made peace with each other. The other said: “Didn’t I think he was my enemy? See how he had mercy on me when he saw me and my donkey in dire straits.” The consequence was that they entered an inn and ate and drank together. They developed affection for each other.” (Midrash Tanchuma*, Mishpatim 1)

Rabbi Lewis adds, “The case described in Torah is extreme, an encounter with an enemy who is in need of help. The goal is to seize this opportunity to overcome hatred and make a new beginning in a strained relationship. By doing this unexpected kindness, both parties are forced to reexamine their assumptions about each other. Being and remaining in a state of tension with another is intolerable. Any opening to show the other kindness becomes an opening to transform hatred into its opposite.”

In a current commentary on the parasha, http://learn.jtsa.edu/content/commentary/mishpatim/5775/i-can’t-stand-my-neighbor-his-ox-needs-hand, Rabbi Joel Alter says, “In the matter of one’s enemy’s animal that has collapsed under its load, we should recognize first that it’s taken for granted that one would assist a friend in that situation. The Torah is making the point that even in the situation where one might self-righteously think that the fool got what he deserved for overloading his animal, that he’s made his bed and now he’s going to sleep in it—that is precisely the situation in which one must act in the most responsible way. One must assist the owner in unpacking the animal’s load and then in repacking it. The Talmud and other sources debate whether the reason for this obligation is out of concern for the animal or to take the opportunity to overcome one’s most negative impulses. Maimonides concludes (Laws of Murder and Preservation of Life, 13:13) that the core motivation here is the latter. We are to walk into a situation that will challenge us deeply precisely because that is the case. We have to get over ourselves in order to make ours the kind of society it’s meant to be.”

However, in a commentary on Parashat Mishpatim from 2011, http://parshathoughtsmore.blogspot.co.il/2011/01/parashat-mishpatim-on-unloading-of.html, Dr Rachel Anisfeld addresses the unloading of burdens. She notes that the Torah first describes the natural reaction – not to help one’s enemy – but then demands that one does in fact go to assist.
She says, “The word used here for the “raising” of the burden is azov, which also means “to leave behind.” “Leave behind what is in your heart concerning him,” says Targum Onkelos**, an ancient translation of the Torah into Aramaic. “Leave behind at that moment the hatred in your heart concerning him and take apart the burden and carry it with him,” says Targum Yonatan***, another classical translation.
So Dr Anisfeld suggests that it is not only the ass weighted down with a heavy load, and this commandment is meant to help you offload your own baggage of hatred of someone else.
She points out that this mitzva, like many others, not only helps the one in need, but also teaches the one proffering the aid, to act righteously, despite his feelings, and then find some relief from the burden of his bitter emotions. She adds, ” After all, the Torah could have stated the law more simply: Help your fellow when his animal is collapsing under his burden. The mention of hatred indicates that what is important here to the Torah is not just the net result of aid given but also the state of mind of the giver.
“Perhaps it is for this reason that the Torah bothers to tell us the initial thoughts of the one who sees this animal. He first thinks he will refrain me’azov lo, “from raising it for him.” His first thought is that the action will be solely for the benefit of his enemy. No, says the Torah. Azov ta’azov imo. Imo, “With him,” not “for him.” With him. Together. You will both be benefiting, you as well as he.”

Dr Anisfeld concludes with a story of the Piaseczna Rebbe:**** “[He] is said to have told his young students every Shabbat eve, between every single course, the same exact message – “The most important thing in the world is to do something good for another person.” And when you do, do not think that the only person who is gaining from this do-gooding is the other. It is you. Azov ta’azov imo. Together. When you help another, it changes you, too, lifting both your burdens at the same time.”

*Midrash Tanhuma is the name given to three different collections of Pentateuch aggadot; two are extant, while the third is known only through citations. These midrashim, although bearing the name of R. Tanḥuma, must not be regarded as having been written or edited by him. They were so named merely because they consist partly of homilies originating with him (this being indicated by the introductory formula “Thus began R. Tanḥuma” or “Thus preached R. Tanḥuma”) and partly of homilies by aggadic teachers who followed the style of R. Tanḥuma. It is possible that R. Tanḥuma himself preserved his homilies, and that his collection was used by the editors of the midrash. The three collections were edited at different times.

**Targum Onkelos is the official eastern (Babylonian) targum (Aramaic translation) to the Torah. However, its early origins may have been western, in Israel. Its authorship is attributed to Onkelos, a famous convert to Judaism in Tannaic times (c.35–120 CE).
According to Jewish tradition, the content of Targum Onkelos was originally conveyed by God to Moses at Mount Sinai. However, it was later forgotten by the masses, and rerecorded by Onkelos.
In Talmudic times, Targum Onkelos was recited by heart as a verse-by-verse translation alternately with the Hebrew verses of the Torah in the synagogue. This tradition still exists in Yemenite communities.

***Targum Yonatan is the official eastern (Babylonian) targum (Aramaic translation) to the Nevi’im (Prophets). Its early origins, however, are western i.e. from the Land of Israel, and the Talmudic tradition attributes its authorship to Yonatan ben Uzziel. Its overall style is very similar to that of Targum Onkelos, though at times it seems to be a looser paraphrase.
In Talmudic times and to this day in Yemenite Jewish communities Targum Yonatan was read as a verse-by-verse translation alternatively with the Hebrew verses of the haftarah in the synagogue. This tradition still exists in Yemenite communities.
Thus, when the Talmud states that “a person should complete his portions of scripture along with the community, reading the scripture twice and the targum once” (Berachot 8a-b), the passage may be taken to refer to Targum Onkelos on the Torah as well as Targum Yonatan on the haftarah.

**** The Piaseczna Rebbe, R’ Kalonymus Kalman Shapira (1889–1943) see biographical notes in blogpost of Chayei Sarah 2014 (Sarah’s Cry).

Yitro: What of tomorrow?

And the Lord said to Moses, “Go to the people and tell them to stay pure today and tomorrow…(Shemot 19:10)
We stand immobile,
a silent throng,
gazing upwards
infused with awe.
Rapt, we yearn that
this aura of light
this cascade of grace
might follow us forever.

And yet, turning back
to a world unchanged,
how to we retain the grace
how do we keep the light
from fading, and how
do we transmit the wonder?


On the phrase, “…and tell them to stay pure today and tomorrow,” the Etz Hayim commentary states, “It is easy to be pure while standing at Sinai. Will the people be able to maintain that sense of purity tomorrow, when they return to the challenge of living in the world? An ancient rabbi taught: Not only literally tomorrow but in the distant future, Israel will be purified by this encounter with God.”

On this phrase, the Pardes Yosef* says “The holiness will remain tomorrow. Even after you leave here, the influence will continue onwards, not only when you hear words of Torah and ethics.”
Aaron J. Greenberg in his series Itturei Torah cites Y. Yefet in a further comment on this phrase, ” “There is tomorrow that is beyond time,” (Mechilta Shemot 13:14) not only today at the time of the giving of the Torah, but even afterwards you will be holy. And this is understood from the verse in Psalms 34:12, “Go, children, listen to me,” – it would seem that it should say, “Come, children, listen to me,” but it means, not just while I am teaching you of ethical behaviour, listen to me, but also when you go from me. In Parashat Tetsaveh (Shemot 27:20-21) [we find the phrase] “to kindle the lamp regularly…outside the curtain”. God’s light has to shine in the hearts of the children of Israel, not just in the synagogue and study hall, at the time of prayer, but also outside the curtain – in the marketplace, in secular business, and in dealings with one’s fellow – to keep the flame alight always.”

In a column on Parashat Beshalach http://www.oztorah.com/2007/12/why-did-they-want-to-stay-bshallach/ Rabbi Raymond Apple addresses the several times that the people balk at moving forward, even wanting to return to Egypt. He notes that the Midrash wonders why they were reluctant and adds, “Surely they knew they were on the way to destiny! Surely they wanted to settle down in the Promised Land as a nation with its own way of life! What was the attraction of the wilderness?
“The answer the Midrash offers is to the people’s credit. They had had a remarkable emotional and spiritual experience. Crossing the Red Sea was exhilarating. Standing at Mount Sinai was inspiring. They wanted the great experience never to end.
“We are all like that from time to time. Like Christopher Robin who wanted to stay six for ever and ever, we have moments when we are on a high and wish it would never end. But the Israelites had to move into the wilderness, as we have to move back into day to day living. We all have to come down from the mountain top and face life on the ground. We have to move into the sometimes harsh world and face its challenges.
“In “This is my God” (p.54), Herman Wouk relates that the Vilna Gaon** once asked the Dubner Maggid*** to tell him his faults. “The maggid at first declined. When the Gaon pressed him, he at last spoke somewhat like this:
“ ‘Very well. You are the most pious man of our age. You study day and night, retired from the world, surrounded by the rows of your books, the Holy Ark, the faces of devout scholars. You have reached high holiness. How have you achieved it? Go down in the market place, Gaon, with the rest of the Jews. Endure their work, their strains, their distractions. Mingle in the world, hear the scepticism and irreligion they hear, take the blows they take. Submit to the ordinary trials of the ordinary Jew. Let us see then if you will remain the Vilna Gaon!’ They say the Gaon broke down and wept.”
Rabbi Apple concludes, “There are times for high holiness, but there are times to stand in the market place and hold onto your faith, dignity, ethics and honesty when other forces push and pull you hither and thither. The Torah is not for ministering angels in the rarefied atmosphere of heaven, but for ordinary people facing dilemmas on earth.”

On the same phrase, the Likkutei Yehuda**** says, “Moses wanted the holiness to continue also in future generations.” He too cites the comment from the Mechilta, “There is tomorrow that is beyond time” and brings a quotation from the Talmud, (Shabbat 87a) that is, “…tomorrow means a day with its night,” that implies the coming generations, through mists and darkness, and so he added one day [of holiness] which he wanted to continue onwards through future generations.”

*Pardes Yosef is a series of commentary on the first three books of the Torah and was authored by Yosef Petsnovski and published in Petrakov between 1930 -1939. Petsnovski, a Gerer Hasid, was a businessman who lived in Pavnitz in Poland. The series of his books contains a wide collection of original thoughts, commentaries and response from both the earlier and later rabbis. The commentaries are generally scholarly and a large proportion was gathered from unpublished works. The author died in 1942 before he managed to publish the volumes on Bamidbar and Devarim. However, as the books were so popular, a number of authors brought out their own versions in the style of Pardes Yosef. These were called “The New Pardes Yosef.”

**Rabbi Elijah ben Shlomo Zalman Kremer (1720 – 1797) known as the Vilna Gaon or by his Hebrew acronym the G’ra, was a talmudist, halachist, kabbalist and the foremost leader of the Mitnaged (non-Chasidic) stream of Jewry of the past few centuries.
Through his annotations and emendations of Talmudic and other texts he became one of the most familiar and influential names in rabbinic study since the Middle Ages.
Born in Vilnius, capital city of Grand Duchy of Lithuania, he displayed extraordinary talent while still a child.
At the age of seven he was taught Talmud by Rabbi Moses Margalit, the author of a commentary on the Jerusalem Talmud. His young pupil was said to have already known several of the Talmudic tractates by heart. He is known for having possessed a photographic memory. By eight, he was studying astronomy during his free time. From the age of ten he continued his studies without the aid of a teacher, and by the age of eleven he had committed the entire Talmud to memory.
When he was somewhat older, he decided to go into “exile” and he wandered in various parts of Europe including Poland and Germany, as was the custom of the pious of the time. By the time he was twenty, rabbis were submitting their most difficult halachic problems to him. Scholars, Jewish and non-Jewish, sought his insights into mathematics and astronomy. He returned to his native city in 1748, having by then acquired considerable renown.
He devoted much time to the study of the Torah and Hebrew grammar, and was knowledgeable in the secular sciences, enriching the latter by his original contributions. He also encouraged his students not to neglect the secular sciences, maintaining that Judaism could only gain by their studying them. He was also attracted to the study of Kabbalah.
The Vilna Gaon’s modesty precluded him from accepting the office of rabbi, though it was often offered him on the most flattering terms. In his later years he also refused to give approbations, though this was the privilege of great rabbis; he thought too humbly of himself to assume such authority.
He lived ascetically, interpreting a teaching that the Torah can be acquired only by abandoning all pleasures and by cheerfully accepting suffering. He practised this and was thus revered as a saintly man.
He set off once on the arduous journey to the Land of Israel, but for unknown reasons did not get beyond Germany. (However, in the early nineteenth century, three groups of his students, known as Perushim, did manage the trip, settling mostly in Tzfat and Jerusalem).
When Chasidic Judaism became influential in Vilna, the Vilna Gaon, joining the rabbis and heads of the Polish communities, took steps to check the Chasidic influence. In 1777 one of the first excommunications by the Mitnagdim was launched in Vilna against the Chasidim, while a letter was also addressed to all of the large communities, exhorting them to deal with the Chasidim following the example of Vilna, and to watch them until they had recanted. The letter was acted upon by several communities; and in Brody, during the trade fair, the cherem (ban of excommunication) was pronounced against the Chasidim.
In 1781, when the Chasidim renewed their proselytizing work under the leadership of their Rabbi Shneur Zalman of Liadi (the “Ba’al Ha’Tanya”), the Vilna Gaon excommunicated them again, declaring them to be heretics with whom no pious Jew might intermarry. However, the excommunications did not stop the tide of Chasidism.
Except for the conflict with the Chasidim, the Vilna Gaon almost never took part in public affairs and, so far as is known, did not preside over any school in Vilna. He was satisfied with lecturing in his bet ha-midrash to a few chosen pupils, whom he initiated into his methods.
He laid special stress on the study of the Jerusalem Talmud, which had been almost entirely neglected for centuries. Convinced that the study of the Torah is the very life of Judaism, and that this study must be conducted in a scientific and not in a merely scholastic manner, the Vilna Gaon encouraged his chief pupil, Rabbi Chaim of Volozhin, to found a yeshiva in which rabbinic literature should be taught. Rabbi Chaim Volozhin opened the Volozhin yeshiva in 1803, a few years after the Vilna Gaon’s death, and revolutionized Torah study, with the resulting impact on all of Orthodox Jewry.
The Vilna Gaon was a copious annotator; there is hardly an ancient Hebrew book of any importance to which he did not provide marginal glosses and notes, or write a brief commentary, which were mostly dictated to his pupils. However, nothing of his was published in his lifetime.
He also wrote on mathematics, being well versed in the works of Euclid and translated geometry books to Yiddish and Hebrew, chief among them Sefer HaEuclid.
After his death in 1797, aged 77, he was buried in the Šnipiškės cemetery in Vilnius which was closed by the Tsarist Russian authorities in 1831 and partly built over.
In the 1950s, Soviet authorities planned to build a stadium and concert hall on the site. They allowed the remains of the Vilna Gaon to be removed and re-interred at the new cemetery.

***Jacob ben Wolf Kranz (1741 – 1804) was known as the Dubner Magid. He was born in Dziatłava, by Vilna in Lithuania, today Belarus. At age 18 he married and went to live in his father-in-law’s home in Mezeritch. While there, he would sit in the Beit Midrash and teach Halachah to the young men. From time to time, he would give sermons in Yiddish on the weekly parasha, not for pay, to the crowds of people who came to pray. These sermons included stories and parables which had literary value in their own right. At some point, his father-in-law lost his wealth and R’ Jacob was forced to support himself from a meagre stipend offered to him by the Mezeritch community for his sermons. So he left Mezeritch, finally arriving in Dubno in Volhynia, where he remained for 18 years. In his final years he lived in Zamosc in Poland, where he died.
During his lifetime, there were many “maggidim” – traditional Eastern European Jewish religious itinerant preachers, skilled as narrators of Torah and religious stories, but the Dubner Maggid was the most famous. He adopted the Midrash’s method of explaining by parables and the incidents of daily life, such as the relations between the city dweller and the village man; between the bride and bridegroom, and drew parallels with the relationship between Israel and God. He also drew moral lessons from the “Arabian Nights” and from other secular stories in illustrating explanations of a midrash or a Biblical text. Moses Mendelssohn named him the “Jewish Æsop”. He authored the book “Ohel Ya’akov”.

****The Likutei Yehuda Al HaTorah is a five volume commentary based on the teachings on the Chumash of the Gerer Rebbes and compiled by Rabbi Yehuda Leib Arye Heine, seemingly in the late 19th or early 20th centuries. He was the grandson of Rabbi Avraham Mordechai Alter who was the third Rebbe of Ger and was also known as the Imrei Emet.