Terumah – The Legs of the Aron

In describing the design of the aron, the Torah says:

וְיָצַ֣קְתָּ לּ֗וֹ אַרְבַּע֙ טַבְּעֹ֣ת זָהָ֔ב וְנָ֣תַתָּ֔ה עַ֖ל אַרְבַּ֣ע פַּֽעֲמֹתָ֑יו וּשְׁתֵּ֣י טַבָּעֹ֗ת עַל־צַלְעוֹ֙ הָֽאֶחָ֔ת וּשְׁתֵּי֙ טַבָּעֹ֔ת עַל־צַלְע֖וֹ הַשֵּׁנִֽית׃

And you should cast four rings of gold for it, and put them in its four pa’amos; and two rings shall be on its one side, and two rings on its other side.

- Shemos 25:12

The word “pa’amosav” is difficult to translate. Rashi, following Unqelus, renders it “corners”. But the Ibn Ezra and Chiquni note that the word is never otherwise used to mean corners. They each cite

תִּרְמְסֶ֖נָּה רָ֑גֶל רַגְלֵ֥י עָנִ֖י פַּֽעֲמֵ֥י דַלִּֽים׃ -ישע’ כו:ו
צֶ֭דֶק לְפָנָ֣יו יְהַלֵּ֑ךְ וְיָשֵׂ֖ם לְדֶ֣רֶךְ פְּעָמָֽיו׃ –תה’ פה:יד
מַה־יָּפ֧וּ פְעָמַ֛יִךְ בַּנְּעָלִ֖ים בַּת־נָדִ֑יב חַמּוּקֵ֣י יְרֵכַ֔יִךְ כְּמ֣וֹ חֲלָאִ֔ים מַֽעֲשֵׂ֖ה יְדֵ֥י אָמָּֽן׃ –שה״ש ז:ב

In these and many other cases, the word pa’am is used to mean leg. In Yeshaiah, it is paralleled with “regel“, in Tehillim, it is something with which one walks, and in Shir haShirim, it wears shoes.

On Friday night, Rav Aharon Cohen’s devar Torah was based on a seifer called Areshes Sefaseinu. He asks why the pasuq would use the word “pa’amosav” rather than the far more common “raglav”?

Angels are stationary, which is why the prophet describes them as “standing upon one regel“. See the idea in greater depth in this post on the travels of parashas Mas’ei. Regel connotes the ability to stand, stability. Tables have raglayim.

We see from the pasuq in Tehillim that the Ibn Ezra uses, “and he will place his feet on the path”, that pa’amos has a greater connotation of legs as a means of motion. This is more like the nature of people than of angels. People move, we progress. (I also discuss the difference in the essay “People and Angels“. And in this article for Mesukim MiDevash, I try to relate them to the placement of the instruments in the Mishkan.)

The aron‘s role in the Miskan parallels that of the soul in the body. Therefore, the Areshas Sefaseinu suggests, it has pa’amos, not raglayim.

I was thinking about the etymology of the words. Regel also connotes regilus, regularity, and hergel, habit. It is looking at the repetitious rhythm of walking. A pa’am is a time, a notable event.

What causes stagnation? When one looks only at the mechanics of the mitzvos, following them out of habit or culture. To grow as people, each performance must be done with
intent for forward motion, to concentrate on this particular encounter with G-d as an event.

The 29th of Shevat

Today is the 80th Yahrzeit of R’ Nosson Tzvi Finkelzt”l, the Alter of Slabodka.

The Alter’s school of mussar focused on gadlus ha’adam – the greatness of man. Anavah (modesty) needs to be distinguished from having a poor self image. A person who thinks he is worthless will not try to accomplish much, since he doesn’t think there is much he is capable of accomplishing. An anav is someone who can not take credit for what he did because he is well aware of the gifts Hashem gave him, and much more he could have accomplished.

In the past, I suggested the term anvanus for poor self image, using the gemara in which Rabban Gamliel blames anvanuso shel R’ Zechariah ben Avqulus, when he refused to take a strong stand in the story of Qamtza and Bar Qamtza, for causing the fall of the second Temple. (The essay is about the Purim story, so it may make good reading for Rosh Chodesh Adar.)

The Alter of Slabodka offers this bit of advice to his students. At all times a person should keep in one of his pockets a note that reads “For me the world was created” (Sanhedrin 37a), while in the other pocket he should keep one that reads “But I am dust and ashes” (Bereishis 18:27). The Alter recommends that one have a pair of dialectical views about one’s self-worth.

The first speaks of one’s potential, being in the Image of Hashem. The other, of what one has actually accomplished. I would propose that anavah is a kind of synthesis between egotism and anvanus; a keen awareness of the gap between who you are and who you could be. Therefore, unlike shefeilus which says “Who am I to try anything?”, anavah is a powerful motivator.

R’ JB Soloveitchik credits this refocusing of mussar with its absorbtion into mainstream Lithuanian Orthodoxy. That the objections Vilozhin (including his grandfather, Rav Chaim Brisker) had toward mussar no longer held.

I believe that of all the schools of mussar, Slabodka may have the most to say to people of our generation. It was the only one to take real root in modernized German soil, in the form of the Seridei Eish, Rav Avraham Elya Kaplan, and Dr. Nathan Birnbaum.

And, the teacher of the greatness of man produced a remarkable number of great men. The Alter succeeded in creating a very large percentage of the Torah greats who planted the Torah in new lands after WWII, fundamentally influencing yeshivos from YU’s RIETS (R’ Yaakov Moshe Lessin) to the Mir (R’ Lazer Udel Finkel), from Chevron (which was a branch of Slabodka) to Lakewood (R’ Aharon Kotler), from Rav Kook to Ponevezh (R Yosef Kahaneman, R’ Schach). There are literally over a dozen yeshivos founded by his students.

The Alter’s shmuessin were written up in a number of journals, and were collected into Ohr haTzafun.

The project Growth and Greatness is distributing an 8 page tribute to the Alter titled “Tzohar leOr haTzafun – A Glimpse of the Hidden Light“. There is a biography, some stories, some Torah, and the eighth page is an impressive list of some of his better known students, and thus a testimonial to a master of the art of showing people how to find their own path to holiness and how to become the kind of person who can walk it.

In our own lives, this is a fine line we must walk. We must always dream high, realizing the true worth of the gifts Hashem gave us, not settle for a life of mediocrity. And yet know that these gifts come with the responsibility to use them, that we must work at honing ourselves to our full potential.

Next time you catch yourself saying “they ought to…” Stop and think. Aren’t I part of the “they”? “In a place where there is no person, strive to be a somebody!”

The 25th of Shevat

[This is an expansion on an earlier yahrzeitz's post.]

Today is the 25th of Shevat, the 124th yartzeit of Rabbi Yisrael Ben Ze’ev Wolf Lipkin of Salant. Rav Yisrael’s best-known work, his Iggeres haMussar is available on line in English (translated by R’ Zvi Miller as part of Or Yisrael) and in a bilingual edition (by R’ Menachem G. Glenn, from his book “Rabbi Israeli Salanter: Religious-Ethical Thinker“).

Mussar is mandatory for three reasons. First, because without developing one’s middos, one is unable to overcome as many of the challenges of following halakhah. Mussar enables better observance. Second, there are many mitzvos of the mind. The middos required in the Rambam’s Hilkhos Dei’os. The six perpetual mitzvos listed by the Chinukh and cited in the beginning of the Arukh haShulchan (1:14), Chayei Adam (kelal 1), and Biur Halakhah (1:1) — (1) belief in a Creator who (2) alone is in charge of the universe (3) and is unique and indivisible, to (4) love and (5) fear Him, and to (6) protect oneself from sin. Mussar is not only needed to perform the mitzvos ma’asiyos, the mitzvos of action, it is itself the subject of a number of mitzvos. Last, is the realization that man’s entire task in life it to perfect himself.

To my mind, the essence of Rav Yisrael Salanter’s innovation is to extend this notion that Mussar is the goal of life to conclude that one must therefore actively engage in self perfection. Second, that this self perfection is a rational concept, one measured in personality, reactions and decisions. Mitzvah performance without the concomitant “Duties of the Heart” are unlikely to be sufficient to reach that goal. And in fact, Rav Yisrael took the idea even further, and applied man’s duty to be holy, as the Ramban puts it “Sanctify yourself with that which is permitted to you” to find acts that go beyond the law to help one improve in particular areas that require work.

However, Rav Yisrael’s focus on the self and self-improvement didn’t make the Mussar Movement’s approach narcissistic. Man is to perfect himself — but perfect himself at being what? Man has three primary relationships: mitzvos between himself and other people, mitzvos between himself and the Omnipresent, and mitzvos between himself and his [own] soul. The first two categories are classical, the third was first articulated by Rav Yisrael. However, in perfecting the bridges outward to other people and to G-d, one can only work on their side, on the stanchion at their end. Mussar is about self-perfection, but that means perfection at relating beyond oneself. Which is why a characteristic of his Mussar Movement is stories of its greats, and how they saw ways to address the needs of others that the rest of us wouldn’t have even noticed.

What can you do about it? Buy a notebook. For many people, the first step into the world of mussar is keeping a Cheshbon haNefesh, an Accounting of the Soul. It need not be in some formal format. Simply get in the habit of taking a few minutes at the end of the day to recall the decisions, reactions and actions you made that day. It’s about your soul, your free will — so it should focus on what you did, not what happened to you. You should be the subject of the sentence, not the object. The daily exercise teaches the ability to step outside oneself and see what you’re doing. It teaches introspection and reflection. And it allows one to see where the areas for improvement lie. Rav Yisrael identifies hargashah, feeling the gap between what one is and what one could be, as the first step.


The following by Rabbi Avi Shafran was sent to my email box by Am Echad Resources. The point made, the dignity of man regardless of whether he is a wealthy member of our community, or an African American homeless man living on the streets, is one that needs hearing.

Anyone who frequents the streets of lower Manhattan has seen him. He’s not the sort of fellow who easily escapes eyes.

Like many who spend their days wandering big-city downtowns, he seems to carry all his possessions in the upright shopping cart he pushes along. It is a colorful and eclectic collection. Peeking out from within the wire grid are assorted pieces of clothing, cardboard boxes, plastic bottles, empty cans, newspapers, the flag of some unknown country, and other assorted detritus of a life lived on the street.

Unlike many other unemployed homeless, though, he never panhandles or even seeks eye-contact with passers-by. He just pushes along proudly, a look of satisfaction on his face — and a large, green, foam-rubber Statue of Liberty crown atop his head.

It’s the crown that really makes him stand out, and which, along with his piled-high pushcart and resolute gait, makes the security dogs at the Staten Island Ferry terminal go berserk with barking at the sight of him. To be sure, one sees the occasional tourist with a similar headdress; the hats are popular souvenirs from nearby Liberty Island. But tourists wear them as kitsch, for photographs; to King Liberty, as I call the proud cart-pusher of Wall Street, it is clearly a diadem, a mark of royalty.

It is easy to dismiss the king as someone suffering from a mental illness, although “suffering” may be too strong a word, considering how content he seems. But what occurred to me when I recently saw him is that he is, at least from what one can know from observing him, not all that different from the rest of us, only perhaps a bit more transparent. After all, he’s busy collecting stuff and exulting in the status he imagines can be gleaned from flimsy things.

Our own stuff might seem more practical than King Liberty’s, but that’s just a function of our personal perspectives. His possessions are every bit as valued by their owner as ours are by us. And our own crowns — be they fancy watches, designer clothes, BMWs, the latest model cell-phone, or corner offices with nice views — are really no more meaningful in the end than gaudy foam-rubber garlands.

And the rest of us collect our stuff and our status, just as King Liberty does his, in an effort to achieve respect, mistaking the counterfeit for the real thing.

But it’s not. True honor comes from accomplishment, not acquisitions. It’s not what we have or wear or drive that counts, but what we are.

And the rabbis of the Mishneh point to a particular aspect of life that is a key to respect. “Who is honored?” they ask in Avot, 4:1, “He who honors [G-d's] creatures.”

At first glance, one might interpret that statement as a simple good strategy: honor others and they will return the favor. But that’s hardly always true, and it is particularly untrue in our crass times, when cynicism and insults, aimed even at people who deserve the respect they themselves show others, are the coins of all too many realms.

The Hebrew words for “Who is honored?”, however, might better be rendered “Who is honorable?” — who, in other words, is inherently, meaningfully worthy of honor, honored, if not by his fellows, by his Creator.

And more food for thought lies in the Mishneh’s answer, “He who honors [G-d's] creatures.” A proof-verse is offered, and it is laden with meaning: “As the verse says, ‘For those who honor Me I will honor…'” [Samuel I 2:30].

On a simple level, the verse is invoked to show that since G-d Himself honors those who honor Him, surely we mortals should act similarly. But something else clearly lies in the verse’s words — namely, that honoring others is itself an honoring of G-d. For man, after all, is created in the Divine image, and every human being — the word “creatures” is used pointedly — carries a spark of holiness within. Thus the famed Talmudic leader Rabbi Yochanan ben Zakkai, we are taught, would swiftly greet every person he met each day “even a Gentile on the street.”

And so, the next time I spy King Liberty, who got me thinking about things in the first place, I will try to focus less on his hat than on what lies below it, and remember that he, no less than any of us, is worthy of honor. Because, royalty or not, he is the handiwork of the King of kings.

[Rabbi Shafran is director of public affairs for Agudath Israel of America.]

A philosophical side-note: Should one show respect for others because they are in the Image of G-d, and therefore one is respecting G-d? Or are Avodah (worshipping Hashem) and Gemillus Chassadim (supporting others through acts of lovingkindness) independent primary values?

I would think that because Shim’on haTzadiq considers Torah, Avodah and Gemillus Chassadim to be distinct pillars upon which the world stands, that one needs to perform chessed because it’s chessed. In the ideal, one needs to develop a relationship with other people for its own value, not only because it is part of having a relationship with Hashem or perfecting oneself through Torah. Although one should have all three, and they should intertwine.

I touch on this question in my post on the lishmah of interpersonal mitzvos.


As developed in the past, I believe that man’s dialectic nature is inherent in the purpose for which we were created.

“It is the nature of good to have someone to whom to be good.” With these words the Ramchal explains Hashem’s purpose for creating man (Derech Hashem 1:2:1, see also Rav Saadia Ga’on, Emunos veDei’os). The human being can be defined as a keli for shefa, a receptacle for emanations of Divine Good and sustenance. Simply and personally put, you and I exist so that G-d would have a recipient of His Good.

And yet, there is much unhappiness in this world. Hashem could have insured that receiving shefa would make us happy, but He didn’t. While it is important to note the difference between bestowing good and making happy, that isn’t enough to explain why this would be true. Suffering, even if it is in some cosmic sense “good”, is a lack of goodness in how that cosmos was created. After all, we are speaking of the Bestower who defined the emotion of happiness, and created within us the mechanisms that generate it. He could have chosen to make the two identical, that true good and only true good would make us happy. Man is therefore lacking in two ways: we are not receiving His full goodness, and amongst that Divine Good that we lack is that very union between what we want and what is good for us.

We are left with a dilemma. We would conclude that Hashem created imperfect keilim, and that is why we are not receiving the full shefa. However, we would need to explain why a Perfect Creator would make beings that don’t perfectly fulfill His purpose for them.

In the Torah, Hashem introduces the idea of creating people with the words “let Us make man in Our Image, like our Semblance” (Bereishis 1:26). The ultimate good the Creator has to share with us is His own “nature”, the gift of being free-willed, having the capacity to make meaningful decisions, and to create.

This is the root of the ideas in Rav Dessler’s Qunterus haChesed (a section of Michtev meiEliyahu vol. I). Man’s higher calling is giving, not taking — which is distinguished from receiving. Love is based on this interplay of giving and receiving.

We therefore find that even gevurah, Divine Restraint, is actually a manifestation of chessed. The Malbim understands a prophecy of Daniel to include this lesson. When Daniel sees the angel Gavri’el, the messenger of gevurah, its arrival is described by the phrase “mu’af biy’af” – its flight is described as “flying in flight”, a double language. Chazal explain that Micha’el can span the world in a single wing stroke, however Gavri’el requires two. Rav Saadia Gaon understands the doubled language in Daniel to refer to this two-part flight. The Malbim explains the reason for the difference between the angels. Gavri’el must first fly to Micha’el before proceeding on his journey, because he takes instruction and orders from Micha’el.

We say in the prayers with the bedtime Shema, “On my right is Micha’el, on my left is Gavri’el.” Micha’el is the messenger of chessed, which is a sefirah on the right side of the Eitz Chaim. Gavri’el, gevurah, is on the left. Giving is on the stronger side. But also, gevurah must report to chessed because Hashem shows restraint only when it’s the greater gift than doing for the person. “Olam chessed yibaneh – the world is built on chessed.”
This fundamental paradox, that the ultimate chessed must include gevurah, restraint in one’s giving yields a dialectic inherent in man. On the one hand, man exists to receive good. On the other, he exists to be G-d-like, and create it himself, to be mashpia’ others. Man the creature, receiver of G-d’s Good vs. man the creator who lives in His Image.
If we view the issue from the perspective of imitation Dei, emulating Hashem, we gain a second perspective on the paradox.

If you were called upon to decide which student of a Rebbe is the better student, how would you judge? Intuitively, one would choose the one who remembers the most of the Rebbe’s teachings, who includes them most thoroughly in his own thoughts, and whose words of Torah are closest to the mentor’s style. But what if a key idea of the Rebbe’s thought was the importance of individuality, and of personal creativity? The one who is most loyal to the Rebbe’s words or even his style is less loyal to this overall idea of the importance of finding one’s own contribution.

Following our Ultimate Teacher presents us with a similar paradox. On the one hand, we are “to walk in his ways” . On the other, those ways include free will, choice, and creativity. Man the student, receiving Divine Truth, can only receive it by giving it his own perspective. For both archetypes to co-exist, a must be given the opportunity to participate in creating the ability or opportunity to receive, to earn his reward. The most suitable keli for shefa is one that is created imperfect, and then is charged to perfect him- or herself. Thus, we are created lacking in the second manner we identified above, with an imperfect identification of what ought to make us happy, as well as a need for many painful lessons.
But gevurah is rooted in chessed; challenges and unhappiness exist to enable the greater gift.

This fundamental idea brings us to a dialectic inherent in man. On the one hand, man exists to receive good. On the other, he exists to create it.

The concept of dialectic is core to Rav Yosef Ber Soloveitchik zt”l’s philosophy. Human beings are fraught with tensions, opposing ideas that are each simultaneously true. Halachah’s role is not to resolve these dialectics; such resolution would be impossible as they’re inherent to human nature. It is through these tensions that force us to make choices that we become creative, growing, beings. Rather, halachah aims to bring us to unity by giving us the tools to navigate between the two sides.Many of Rabbi Soloveitchik’s dialectics are related, and can be seen as deriving from the same underlying principle. In Halachic Man, he speaks of the need to balance homo religiosus, the religious man who aspires to transcend the world, with cognitive man, who tries to comprehend and categorize the world. Homo religiosus relates to G d by seeking means to receive from G d. Cognitive man engages in science and technology, changing the world to supply his own needs. Halachah serves as a tool for navigating a life of both, with all the conflicting values that implies.

The notion of community is a also central to his thought; it not only refers to the greater society in which one lives, but the married couple are also a community of two, G d and Israel are viewed as a covenantal community, etc…. In short, Rav Soloveitchik uses the notion of community to refer to a wide range of constructive relationships. Community also involves the tension of giving and receiving. On the one hand, the role of a community is to provide resources and safety to its constituents. It exists to serve its members, and therefore the members expect to receive from the community. On the other hand, the most noble action a member of a community can do is one doesn’t just benefit himself but one that gives to the community as a whole. The relationship is a dialectic of both receiving and giving.

Another dialectic understanding of community that RJBS uses heavily is the community of fate vs the community of destiny. The community of fate is a group of people who are united in their shared history and their shared treatment by nature and others. This is am Yisrael, am from the word im (with), the community of all Jews, whether they adhere to Orthodoxy or not. The community of destiny is a group of people united in a shared mission. Adas Yisrael, the community of eidus, testimony to revelation. The Rav therefore permitted joining the SCA despite the participation of Conservative and Reform Rabbis, since its mission is to improve the Jewish fate, to work kelapei chutz, toward the external world. Kelapei fenim, work that is internal, must be limited to the religious community and participation in a joint organization is prohibited. Here to its a question of receiving one’s fate vs creating one’s destiny.

One last example. In The Lonely Man of Faith, the Rav presents the notions of Adam I vs. Adam II. In Genesis 1, G-d appears as “E-lohim”, a name that denotes Divine Justice. Creation builds from light, to land, onward until animals and finally people are created. Man is presented as the pinnacle of creation. He is charged to “be fruitful and multiply, to fill the world and subdue it.” Adam as presented in this chapter is man the technologist, the master of his domain. In our terms, man the creator.

In Genesis 2, we are introduced to the sheim Havayah, to the name that refers to G d the giver, the Source of mercy, Who provides all of its existence in all its detail. Adam is a needy being, searching for redemption through a covenantal relationship with G d. He seeks meaning, as is evidenced in his naming the animals. What we described as man the creature.

The marital relationship is also colored by this dialectic. In Genesis chapter 1, the time at which each gender was created is ignored. They are presented simultaneously. Marital intimacy is “to be fruitful and multiply”, for procreation. In chapter 2, Eve is created in response to Adam’s existential loneliness. “Therefore man will leave his mother and father and cleave to his wife, and they will be one flesh.” Relations are for the purpose of achieving unity. Not to create, but to gain for oneself a sense of unity and wholeness.

Free will is not only core the the creator/giver side of the dialectic, it arises from this dialectic nature. It provides the conflict of drives and desires from which to choose, the bechirah point which is the center of conscious thought.

This idea that we were created to create also means the world in which man lives is necessarily imperfect. First, because it contains other people who must be allowed their imperfections. Second, because the ability to create necessitates the existence of things that are still incomplete, opportunities for man to build and repair upon.

Yeshaiah tells Cyrus, a Zoroastrian king who believed in a good deity and an evil one, to compare the creation of evil with that of darkness. “Former of light and Creator of darkness; Maker of peace and Creator of evil.” (Yeshaiah 45:7, c.f. Birkhas Yotzeir Or in Shacharis) Both darkness and evil are described with “uvorei – and created” ex nihilo. Creating darkness entails creating empty space that contains no light. The implication is that evil is similarly a vacuum, a “place” where good was not yet performed. It is not an entity, but an opportunity for man to shine that light, to “repair the world”. To create.