Vayakhel/Pekudei – Righteous Collateral

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Why is the Tabernacle called the Mishkan in Hebrew? In this week’s double portion of Vayakhel and Pikudei it discusses the actual building of the Mishkan, it’s vessels and the priestly garments, whereas the portions of Teruma and Tetzave described the blueprints. In aShemos Rabba (50:2) it alludes to the fact that Mishkan means “the dwelling place of Hashem;” Shachen in Hebrew means dwell. However, the Medrish Tanchuma (9) based on the pasuk “He made the planks for the Mishkan of acacia wood, standing erect,” (Shemos 36:20) it says that mishkan means collateral from the Hebrew word mashkon. The Medrish asks, “What does the pasuk mean when it says, ‘for the Mishkan?’ For if the sinners amongst the Jews are liable then the Mishkan can be used as their own collateral to [atone] for them. Moshe said, ‘Master of the World, when they will have no Mishkan or Beis Hamikdash what will be with them?’ He said back to him, ‘I will take the righteous from amongst them, and they will act as collateral for [their sins]. And so, it says ‘And He killed those that were pleasing to His eye’ (Eichah 2:4). This refers to the righteous, that is why it writes, ‘He made the planks for the Mishkan’.” (Click here for Hebrew text.)

The Mishkan and Beis Mikdash were factories for those who sinned and needed an atonement to fix their sins through repentance. The sacrificial offerings were like a collateral for the sinner to ensure they do teshuva (repent), for they themselves really deserve to die for rebelling against the king. Now that the Mishkan and Beis Hamikdash are gone, why is the slaying of righteous people in its place?
The Avraham Ezkor on this medrish, by Rav Avraham Palagi, gives an answer: “It is possible to say that they called the righteous ‘pleasing to the eyes’ just as it is said by Achav with the King of Aram ‘And it was all that was pleasing in your eyes’ which referred to a Sefer Torah (Torah scroll). This could be understood based on what I (Rav Palagi) wrote in the kuntress, ‘Barech es Avraham,’ Sidra Masei, that a talmid chacham, a sage is the same as a sefer Torah; so how is it permissible to take it as part of the debt of the Jews? And see there the answer that I had written. Which is that it hints here that there were amongst them completely righteous and great scholars because their sins had increased in such great proportions that He took a sefer Torah in order to get paid back for their debts, that is what taking collateral from amongst them means, not all of them but taking their choicest.” (Click here for Hebrew text.)
The Avraham Ezkor compares the sages and the righteous to a sefer Torah. Because the Jews sinned, and they were in need of atonement, Hashem took from them a walking living Sefer Torah as a message that they must change and repent.

But why does Hashem kill His most precious and beloved people? Why not burn a sefer Torah instead? In fact, the Navi writes in Yechezkel, “but for the wicked to repent of his way so that he may live” (Yechekel 33:11). Certainly, if Hashem desires the wicked to live, assuming they repent, all the more so Hashem should desire the life of the righteous?

This, Chaza”l seems to be a clear proof to the concept of hiskatnus hadoros,  the diminishing of the generations. Back in the day, in the times of the Mishkan and even afterwards by the Beis Hamikdash, with all the miracles and wonders that took place, when someone sinned which was much less back then, all they needed to help them repent was to bring a sacrifice on the alter. That shocked them into realizing this should be me on the alter but Hashem in His great mercy allowed me to bring an animal offering instead therefore I should fully repent and fix my wayward ways. As time went on, and the generations spiritually dwindled, their relationship with Hashem and their Fear of Heaven diminished to the point that both Batei Hamikdash were destroyed centuries after the Mishkan was dismantled and buried. The impression needed to charge them to repent is now much greater, and therefore it would seem that simply the destruction of a sefer Torah, as horrifying as it is, would not be enough to instill fear into them and arouse them to repent. Rather, the death of a beloved leader and role model to the Jewish people, a Holy Neshama, the loss of a righteous soul, is the impact needed to hopefully stir us to repent and change our ways.

This is how far gone we have travelled from Hashem and what Hashem must do to bring us back. May we be inspired to complete teshuva (repentance) which will lead to our Final Redemption speedily in our days.