Parshat Terumah: The Correct Way to Rebuke

Parshat Terumah: The Correct Way to Rebuke 

Rabbi Shuki Reich serves as rosh kollel at the Joseph and Gwendolyn Straus Rabbinical Seminary and Head of the Susi Bradfield Women’s Institute of Halakhic Leadership

What is the right way to express rebuke, and what does it have to do with the Holy Ark of Hashem?

At times, the elders wished to explain to the younger generation what the difference is between their generations. Since they didn’t wish to speak too harshly, in the form of a rebuke, they would convey the harsh messages in a more agreeable way. This is how they would keep the principles of the wisest of men:

“Do not rebuke a scoffer, for he will hate you; Reprove a wise man, and he will love you.” If you wish to admonish someone, don’t do so by calling that person a jester, but rather, by calling that person wise. This is what King Solomon taught us. “Through forbearance a ruler may be won over; A gentle tongue can break bones.” As soon as he says that, we would lend him our ears and hear this admonishment out of love”. The elder of the generation would only say this based on the words of the Torah, for so it was in his world – they had spoken out of their love of the Torah and their respect for God’s creations, and thus, the Torah and Israel’s love for God’s creations flourished.

He would ask: “What made the Holy Ark so special, that from it the Divine Presence would emerge to dwell among Israel?” Immediately, he would look directly at us with his wise eyes, and continue as follows: Our holy Torah was concerned that it wouldn’t be interpreted properly, and that human beings would peruse the streets with despondent faces, thinking of Hashem and His Torah, thus the Creator, Blessed Be He, cautioned us: ‘The poles shall remain in the rings of the ark: they shall not be removed from it.’ The same Holy Ark, from which Hashem spoke to the world, for there I will meet with you, and I will impart to you—from above the cover, from between the two cherubim that are on top of the Ark of the Covenant”.  Thus commands our holy Torah – that the poles must never be removed from them.

 Yet, in the description of the altar, the text reads: “The poles shall be inserted into the rings”. But didn’t we just read that the poles were never to be removed from the rings?!

This question was asked by Rabbi Yossi, the son of Rabbi Hanina, in Tractate Yoma. When I would ask my father, he would turn his head away from us, close his eyes, and mutter that he did not want to denounce the ancient sages brazenly and loudly.

Sefer Hachinuch answered this question in the following way: “Lest we might be required to depart quickly with the Ark, heading somewhere, and perhaps, due to our haste and tarry, we do not properly verify that the poles are held in place steadfastly, as required, and lest, God forbid, one of the poles falls; this would dishonor the ark”. Yet my father was not placated by this response, because it spoke in admonishment of the People of Israel.

Another interpretation was offered by Rabbi Haim of Chernovitz, in his book, Be’erei Mayim Hayim: “For the poles, when they are separate from the Ark, they are prepared for any bad thing, and usually, they are bad themselves, without the Ark. Therefore, a person should always ensure that the poles, which are like earthly weapons, are kept within the rings of the Ark, such that they remain connected, and tied to the worship of Hashem.” The elder could not accept Rabbi Haim’s fears, for he wondered why any evil would be done with the poles.

This was his answer: Every generation, there are those who cling to the Torah, and do not let the Torah move forward and advance within their generation, and there are those who help the Torah advance, but do not see those eternal precepts within it. The Torah addresses both groups: “They shall not move…” – for the Torah must move, but “and his poles were brought” – the Torah’s movement is tied to its permanence, and therefore, the poles aren’t permanently installed within the Ark.

In any case, the Divine Presence shall make itself heard above the Ark, and its words shall be as illuminating as the giving of the Torah on Mount Sinai.

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