All of the Menorah’s varied shapes and forms had to be hammered out of one large ingot of gold. Nothing could be made separately and later attached. Chazal (Midrash Tanchuma) teach that this feat (the making of the Menorah) proved to be difficult for Moshe Rabbeinu to conceptualize. He simply could not visualize how the Menorah should appear. Hashem showed Moshe a Menorah made of fire. Still, our leader and Rebbe could not properly create the Menorah. Hashem instructed Moshe to fling the ingot into fire, and a completed Menorah emerged. This miracle is alluded to by the words, “shall be made,” rather than “shall you make,” since Moshe did not actually make the Menorah. Obviously, much commentary has been written concerning the creation of the Menorah. For our purposes, however, we wonder why Moshe found it so difficult to make the Menorah. In contrast, Betzalel immediately proceeded to make the Menorah. Why?
The Gerrer Rebbe, zl (Chidushei HaRim), related that this question (why Moshe had such difficulty with making the Menorah) had troubled him for forty years. How could it be that Moshe was stymied, and Betzalel, his student, approached the job as if it was just another job? It happened that the Rebbe’s son-in-law required a surgical procedure in Warsaw. The Rebbe went to visit him during his recuperation. While he was there, the Rebbe inquired concerning the surgeon’s health and welfare. (Apparently, this was a difficult procedure that required a master surgeon. The Rebbe felt that it was appropriate to visit him).
The surgeon was honored to meet with the saintly Rebbe whose reputation as a world leader had reached even his ears. The surgeon told the Rebbe that, although he had performed this same surgery numerous times, this time he was very nervous and had gone through every aspect of the procedure, reviewing it many times. He explained this with an analogy. The king had a beautiful diamond. No one could place a number on the diamond’s value, due to its extraordinary appearance. There was, however, one tiny flaw – one minute spot which was almost undetectable – but, nonetheless, present. It had to be removed, otherwise the diamond’s value would severely depreciate. Due to the diamond’s great value and the fact that its owner was the king, no expert was willing to touch the stone. One mistake and the stone would be shattered. The king’s advisors came up with an insightful plan. They gave the diamond to a simple cutter who had no idea concerning its value or to whom it belonged. He did a wonderful job of removing the blemish – all because he was clueless about its value or the identity of its owner.
The surgeon continued, “Napoleon’s wife was experiencing severe pain during childbirth, to the point that unless something would be done immediately, the doctors despaired for her life. Every midwife that they called suddenly demurred. No one was willing to risk their reputation by undertaking treating such a celebrity. The margin for error was zero. The ramifications resulting from a mistake on their part were serious. Napoleon’s aides sought a rural midwife who had no idea who Napoleon was and certainly was unaware of the identity of his wife. This midwife treated the wife of the king, and mother and child came through the ordeal in good health. All this was because she was not anxious about the identity of her patient.
The surgeon continued, “This is the reason that I was anxious before the surgery. I have successfully performed this procedure many times – but that was on regular patients – not the pedigreed son-in-law of the Gerrer Rebbe. My anxiety level rises when I must work on a celebrity.”
The Rebbe explained Moshe’s predicament as opposed to that of Betzalel. Moshe was acutely aware of the profound esoteric meaning and hidden secrets surrounding the Menorah. Thus, due to his elevated spiritual plateau, he was anxious concerning the creation of the Menorah – realizing the spiritual void that would be created by the slightest error on his part. Betzalel was not on Moshe’s madreigah, plateau. Therefore, he did not find it as difficult to make the Menorah.
Bearing the above in mind, I remind myself of an important lesson that Horav Nochum Zev Dessler, zl, shared with me almost four decades ago. I believe he related it in the name of the Lomza Mashgiach, Horav Yehudah Leib Chasman, zl (the Ohr Yahal). The Mashgiach observed that every professional works with various materials endemic to his profession. A plumber works with metal and steel pipe; a carpenter works with varied types of wood; a glazier works with glass. In the course of their work, shavings, splinters, sawdust and pieces of metal fall to the ground under the feet of the professional. Thus, he stands and treads on them. The carpenter has particles of wood under his shoes, and it is these shavings upon which he steps all day. This idea, likewise, applies to every profession. One who enters the field of Torah chinuch, who assumes upon himself the lofty mission of educating the next generation of Torah Jews, works with Yiddishe neshamos, Jewish souls. As can happen sometimes (hopefully rarely – but it does happen), a neshamah falls to the side. Hopefully, it is a temporary condition, but, during the interim, the rebbe must be acutely aware that he is treading upon a Yiddishe neshamah. Frightening – but true. Therefore, one must approach the mission of Torah chinuch with enormous trepidation. The satisfaction is awesome, only as long as one does not forget the meaning and ramification of failure.
We have no dearth of stories extolling the incredible devotion that rebbeim throughout the ages have manifested towards their talmidim. Moshe Rabbeinu is given this title because he was – and continues to be – Rabban shel Kol Yisrael, the quintessential Rebbe of all the Jewish People. While rebbeim often go out of their way to impart knowledge and skills to their students, how many empathize with the various issues that their students must face? Furthermore, how many of these rebbeim are gedolei hador, leaders of their generation, individuals who keep a close eye on the pulse of the generation, whose every collective Jewish challenge is their personal challenge? The Ponovezher Rav, zl, was such a leader and such a rebbe, not only to the senior students of his yeshivah, but also to the young boys, the children of the Batei Avos Orphanage which he established following the European Holocaust.
One day, Rav Yehoshua Zelig Diskind, the Rav of Pardes Chana, received an urgent call from the Rav, asserting that he needed to borrow a significant sum of money for the Yeshivah. This was during the formative days of the Yeshivah, when money was scarce and expenses were many. The money was to be placed in his office, since he would be unavailable all day. He needed to go to Yerushalayim for a meeting with some of the gedolei Yisrael, the Brisker Rav among them.
Rav Diskind secured the funds and quickly went to the Rav’s office. Knowing that the Rav was away, he knocked and immediately opened the door. How surprised he was to see the Ponovezher Rav in his office talking to a young student who was crying bitterly. The Rav was attempting to console the boy. Rav Diskind apologized profusely for disturbing the Rav, claiming that he was under the impression that he had gone to Yerushalayim to attend a meeting.
The Rav explained, “Whenever I leave for Yerushalayim, I make a point to stop at the orphanage located on the outskirts of the city (Bnei Brak). This time, when I entered, I noticed a young boy crying bitterly in the corner. When I inquired about him, I was informed that this boy, who had lost both parents in Auschwitz, had just been informed that his best friend had also been murdered there. It was simply too much for the child to absorb.”
The Ponovezher Rav’s eyes were as red and swollen as that of the boy. He, too, had been crying along with him. He said, “I approached this young boy and asked what was wrong. He attempted to tell me, but was too overwhelmed by his tears. He just could not stop crying. The boy’s words came out slowly, his speech slurred, as he sobbed his way through the story. I have tried to console him, but I am having difficulty in succeeding to do so. My meeting? The gedolim will have to wait. This child needs me now! I cannot leave.” With these parting words, the Rav held the boy tightly as they continued to cry together.