“To Serve and to Protect” Parashat Vayakhel – Pekudei 5777

All of the systems and subsystems of the Mishkan have been assembled and now everything must be put in its proper place. This week we’re going to take a closer look at the parochet, a curtain that hung inside the walls of the Mishkan [Shemot 26:33]: “You shall place the parochet beneath the clasps. You shall bring there on the inner side of the parochet the Ark of the Testimony, and the parochet shall separate for you between the Holy and the Holy of Holies.” The Mishkan was divided into two sections: the Holy of Holies, a ten-by-ten cubit inner sanctum that housed the ark, and the rest of the Mishkan, which measured twenty by ten cubits. The Holy of Holies could be entered only once a year, on Yom Kippur, and only by the High Priest. The parochet was a dividing wall that separated the Holy of Holies from the rest of the Mishkan. It was a border that was not to be crossed.

Rashi notes that when the parochet is finally hung in the Mishkan, the Torah uses slightly different wording [Shemot 40:3]: “You shall place the Ark of the Testimony [in the Mishkan] and you shall spread the parochet toward the ark”. He interprets the spreading of the parochet “towards the ark” to mean that it was to protect the ark. Rav J.B. Soloveichik is troubled by this seemingly contradictory use for the parochet: The parochet is not meant merely to delineate between two areas, as first stated, it is meant to physically protect the ark. Rav Soloveichik answers that there is no contradiction. I remember watching Daffy Duck, who was doing battle with someone who wanted to turn him into “Duck Thoop”. Daffy is standing opposite his opponent. He draws a line in the sand and says “I dare you to cross this line!” and his opponent just jumps over the line. So Daffy takes a step back and draws another line, and says “I dare you to cross this line!” The scene repeats itself until Daffy turns and runs away. A line drawn in the sand is of little use. A border that can be easily crossed is not really a border. The parochet was never meant to serve as a mathematical line of separation. It was always meant to function as a physical shield. It shielded the High Priest from the Holy of Holies and it shielded the Holy of Holies from the outside world. Indeed, continues Rav Soloveichik, the parochet was hung in a way that made its shielding function obvious. The Talmud in Tractate Yoma [53a] teaches that the handles of the ark protruded from the Holy of Holies and they could be seen as two projections pushing out the parochet. It looked as if the ark were hiding behind the parochet, similar to the way a child hides behind his parent when he sees something frightening.

The parochet’s protection of the ark was more than metaphorical. Certain sacrifices require the sprinkling of the sacrifice’s blood on the parochet. The Sage Rabbi Elazar the son of Rabbi Yosi says in the Midrash Tanhuma that he saw the parochet in Rome and it was covered in blood. The parochet was no shmatteh. It was woven from the finest gold, wool, and linen. And yet the parochet “sacrificed” its own beauty in order to shield the ark.

Rav Soloveichik is teaching a critical lesson: Separation without protection is meaningless. The first thing that came to mind when I read this explanation was the wedding ceremony. A Jewish wedding takes place ins two phases: Kiddushin, when the groom puts the ring on the bride’s finger, and Nissuin, when the Sheva Brachot are read under the chuppah. When I officiate at a wedding, I explain to the couple that Kiddushin is not the same as “engagement”[1]. The word “Kiddushin” comes from the word “Kodesh”, and means “sanctification”. Holiness always involves boundaries. It is axiomatic that holiness cannot exist without “unholiness”, or “profanity”. An object is made holy only if a boundary is placed between it and the unholy[2]. And so I tell the groom that the way he “sanctifies” his wife is  by telling her that of all the women in the world, he desires only her. He cherishes only her. He wants to spend eternity only with her. He has separated her from the set of female humans and by doing so, he has sanctified her. The next step is Nissuin, which comes from the word “elevation”. The bride enters the chuppah, which forms a metaphorical home for the new couple. Only after the bride has been separated and sanctified can she be elevated and placed into a new domain, a domain where her groom can protect and care for her, a domain in which the new couple can begin the lifelong task of raising a family.

That is what I usually say, but from now on something else will be added. A woman who has become sanctified not only can be elevated, she must be elevated. If she is not elevated, then her sanctification is worthless. If the couple is not prepared to expend the continual physical and emotional effort required in making a marriage work, then the marriage will be doomed. While the benefits are huge, marriage requires sacrifice. While this concept is alien to many in the twenty-first century, it is a critical requirement.

And now on to something completely different. Last week my brother-in-law and his family, who live in the Jordan Valley, were rudely awakened at three in the morning by an alarm, signalling them to enter their bomb shelters. The alarm was quickly followed by a number of loud explosions and then quiet. In the morning, if you can believe the papers, a story began to coalesce. Apparently Israeli aircraft were fired upon by Syrian anti-aircraft missiles. While the aircraft were never in danger, one of the errant missiles, along with its five hundred pound warhead, appeared to be headed for an Israeli town. The order was given and it was engaged and successfully intercepted by an Israeli missile defence system. The other missiles fell in unpopulated areas. Just another day in Israel. What interested me was television footage from Jordan, which showed people gathered around debris that looked a lot like an Israeli interceptor. So let’s summarise: A missile was fired from Syria at Israel. It was engaged by an interceptor fired from Israel and the debris fell in Jordan. Fortunately no one on the ground was injured but it raises a question: What would have happened had the Syrians fired not an anti-aircraft missile but a so-called “dirty missile”, a surface-to-surface missile filled to the brim with chemicals[3]? What if this missile were headed for Haifa, a city with nearly one million inhabitants? Would the Israeli Air Force intercept that missile, cognizant that potentially harmful debris might fall on a third country?

Were the decision mine to make, I would be guided by Rav Soloveichik. Israeli missile defence is a technological and operational wonder. It has changed the equation of war and it has restored a feeling of security to the home front. As it is a purely defensive system, it is easy to parade in front of the world as the pinnacle of Israeli prowess. But at the end of the day, the raison d’être of the missile defence system is to offer physical protection to the citizens of Israel. Like the parochet, there are times that our missile defence system might be required to sacrifice from its sheen in order to perform its mission. If it is a question of saving lives, then the first lives that must be saved are the lives of the people that the system was created to protect, even if this comes at the expense of putting other lives in danger. To put a fine point on it, the Israelis did not fire that dirty missile, the Syrians did. It is the Syrians who must bear the brunt of the responsibility for any damage incurred.

I am fearful that the day will come in which the above paragraph transpires and I am convinced that when this happens, Israel will be dragged before the International Court of Justice in the Hague. If this happens, come what may, I will stand proud, as an Israeli and as a Jew. The Torah commands us [Vayikra 19:1] “Be holy”. We will sanctify ourselves, and we will protect ourselves, whatever the cost.

Shabbat Shalom,

Ari Sacher, Moreshet, 5777

Please daven for a Refu’a Shelema for Moshe Dov ben Malka and Yechiel ben Shprintza.

[1] I also explain why the fact that a groom “acquires” his wife with something of monetary value, usually a ring, does not mean that the bride is being bought and sold, like chattel. While this is somewhat connected with the topic at hand, it deserves a shiur of its own.

[2] Purity, unlike holiness, writes Rav Mosheh Liechtenstein, lives only where there are no boundaries. I am writing this shiur whilst sitting on top of a snow-capped mountain in the middle of the California desert. I am surrounded by purity but there is no holiness here. Believe you me.

[3] We assume that the Syrians still retain some chemical warheads, despite the valiant efforts of the Americans and the Russians to rid them of these pernicious weapons.

About the Author
Ari Sacher is a Rocket Scientist, and has worked in the design and development of missiles for over twenty-five years. He has briefed hundreds of US Congressmen on Israeli Missile Defense, including three briefings on Capitol Hill at the invitation of House Majority Leader. Ari is a highly requested speaker, enabling even the layman to understand the "rocket science", and his speaking events are regularly sold-out. Ari has also been a scholar in residence in numerous synagogues in the USA and Canada. He is a riveting speaker, using his experience in the defense industry to explain the Torah in a way that is simultaneously enlightening and entertaining. Ari came on aliya from the USA in 1982. He studied at Yeshivat Kerem B’Yavneh, and then spent seven years studying at the Technion. Since 2001 he has published a weekly parasha shiur that is read around the world. Ari lives in Moreshet in the Western Galil along with his wife and eight children.
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