Creating a Conducive Environment in the Spiritual Desert
By Rabbi Shimon Raichik
In last week’s and this week’s parsha the Torah speaks about the Bnei Levi. Bnei Levi were responsible for carrying and assembling the Mishkan. The Bnei Kehos carried the vessels; the Aron, Menorah, Mizbeach and Shulchan. The Bnei Gershon carried the curtains etc while the Bnei Merari carried the boards etc. which made up the structure of the Mishkan. The Bnei Gershon and Merari were responsible for setting up the Mishkon in advance so when the Bnei Kehos arrived with the keilim they were ready to be placed inside. What is the lesson that this teaches us today? These mitzvos were only for the Bnei Yisroel when they travelled in the midbar. What relevant lesson does this teach us today in our service of Hashem?
Just like there is a physical desert, so too there is a spiritual desert. At times a person may feel lost in a spiritual desert that seems impossible to leave. So too nowadays in America it seems at times as if we have lost our way. Standards continue to drop. We tend to demand less and less of ourselves and our children. Test scores in the schools are less demanding. Instead of creating an environment that raises the bar on what we can achieve, we see the opposite. Society is lost in the desert. Our job is to find a way out of the desert. So what can we do? Each one of us needs to build a Mishkan for Hashem in our personal lives.
From among the children of Levi, Gershon was the bechor. Kehos was the next oldest followed by Merari. We see in the Torah however that Kehos was counted first, because he was the most holy. If Kehos was the most holy then why didn’t Hashem also make him the bechor? The Rebbe brings in Likutei Sichos (v. 13) an explanation of the Alter Rebbe in Likutei Torah that building of the Mishkan in the service of Hashem is similar to remodeling. First, you must clean and paint, then you can bring in the furniture. So too spiritually, we need to be ‘sur m’ra - to go away from what is improper’, and then to be ‘asei tov – to do good’. Gershon represents the need to drive out the negative. This is the first step. In order to accomplish this we need Merari which represents ‘mar’- bitter, to make an expert and sober accounting of both our accomplishments and shortcomings and our overall condition. After taking spiritual stock we need to be irked by our present state and desire change. This is known by the term ‘mari d’chushbana- master (also ‘mar’ bitter) accountant’. By carrying the structural portion of the Mishkon, Merari represents the wall of separation that comes between the desert and all that comes with it and what is inside of the Mishkon, a discreet environment of kedusha. Once this has been accomplished, then Gershon can hoist the curtains over the walls, completing the separation of the sanctified environment. And then Kehos bring in all of the vessels, which represent’s all of the things that we need to utilize in the service of Hashem.
In summary, Gershon and Merari made a suitable environment, the walls and the covering of the Mishkan, to provide a place for the vessels that provide the revelation of the divine presence that comes with all the warmth and the feeling together with the service inside the Mishkan.
We follow a similar order in our lives, in our service of Hashem. For example, we use tanks to go on mivtzoyim. We pull individuals inside the tanks to do a mitzvah. What do we need a tank for? We need a tank in order to take him out of the street, an environment which is hostile to kedusha. Then you can speak to him and fill him with the warmth and beauty of the mitzvah that he does. In order to do mivtza neshek, you need a candle holder and a table, a suitable environment through which the candle can transform the environment into a holy place. The shul is known as the mikdash me’at, the small mikdash, an environment to daven. It is a place intended to be closed off from the world, to be entered and filled with tefillah. As we know from Shulchan Aruch, there is supposed to be an entry way in between the door and the shul that is there to create a separation from the outside in order to have a removed and settled place to delve into prayer without disturbance. This applies to children in school as well. A teacher needs to create a warm and welcoming environment that is conducive for learning. So too our homes, we need to create an environment that makes it conducive to excel in all aspects of Yiddishkeit.
Even though the main thing is not the environment, rather how we use the environment, nevertheless, we need a fitting environment to be able to accomplish what is necessary. Therefore, Gershon and Merari had to be first, (not Kehos) even though the the main thing was Kehos’ service, which represents Torah and Avodah.
In order to drive away the evils of the world, it isn’t necessary to make speeches full of fire and brimstone or give mussar. A simple and heartfelt expression such as “ez past pisht – it’s not for you” is often more than enough to draw the correct distinction.
So practically speaking; “why do we need a mashpia? If the reason is because we need to hear a maamer, there are many options online! Do we go to a fabrengen to hear a d’var Torah? For that we can open a sefer. We go for the environment, to experience the chassidishe atmosphere. We go to the mashpia for guidance, in order to help create a chassidishe environment out of our home and our life, and how to constantly approve. We go for clear guidance, like a specific maamer to learn or a specific mitzvah to be mehader in. Guidance to see what is missing, in order to pull myself out of the desert and to build a Mishkan, a truly warm chassidishe environment.
There is a story told of Reb Chaim Brisker about once when an individual from the community asked him a shaaloh about whether you can be yotzei the four cups of the Seder on milk. Upon hearing the shaaloh he immediately sent his son with money for this man’s family for the entire Pesach. His son asked; “Tatte, he just asked a shaaloh about milk, he didn’t ask for tzedakah?” Reb Chaim understood this person’s ‘environment’. He understood that if he was asking to be yotzei the four cups on milk, then certainly there was no meat or chicken in the house. He understood the environment of the person who asked the question and therefore he knew how to address his needs properly. This is an example of a true Rav, and that you cannot find online or by making a search using Rabbi Google.
The Rebbe is the Aron with the Luchos and we need to create the environment, a Mishkan with the assistance of our mashpia.