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  • Rabbi Mordechai Lipskier

Is your watch on time?

Parshas Naso


A group of chassidim hired a wagon driver to take them to their Rebbe, stipulating that if they didn’t arrive in time for Chanukah they wouldn’t pay him at all. Confident in his horses and his skills, he agreed to the deal. But even the skilled driver and his robust horses were no match for the harsh Russian winter and they arrived in town days after Chanukah. No payment, insisted the chassidim. The wagon driver argued that they should consult the local rov. After hearing both sides, the rov turned to the simple wagon driver and said, “Hashem gave us the holy Torah, by which we live our lives, and in which it is written that they are not obligated to pay you.” The driver challenged the rov, “If I’m not mistaken, the Torah was given in the dry desert, during the spring. Had the Torah been given during a frigid Russian winter, when the roads are icy, surely the Torah would agree that they should pay me!” In parshas Terumah[1] we learned that Hashem would communicate with Moshe from above the cover of the aron kodesh, located in the Kodesh HaKadoshim. Later, the opening pasuk in parshas Vayikra contradicts this by saying that Hashem would talk to Moshe from the Ohel Moed. Finally, at the end of our sedra, the Torah reconciles the issue by saying that Hashem’s voice would indeed emanate from the Kodesh HaKadoshim, but Moshe would hear it while standing in the Ohel Moed. Why did the Torah first list each location separately? The Kodesh HaKadoshim represents the holy source of Torah, and the Ohel Moed represents the actual playing field—practical life—where Torah is actualized.

Once we recognize the merit in each one, we can understand how they are reconciled. We all believe that Hashem communicates His holy Wisdom to us through His Torah. However, when applying Torah to our life, there are two opposite attitudes. “The Torah is true and must be followed regardless of whether I find Yiddishkeit to be relevant or useful.” This approach sees the words of Hashem as emanating from the holiest place, and doesn’t at all recognize that there’s an “Ohel Moed,” a time, place, and society that doesn’t necessarily relate to the holy Words of Hashem. They are vigilant about protecting the Torah from being tampered with. An opposing view recognizes the reality of the “Ohel Moed,” the times we are living in, and doesn’t find it important to recognize the holiness of the source. “Hashem wants us to adjust His words and adapt them to work for our modern life.” Which one is correct, reverence or relevance? On their own, neither one will stand the test of time. The first attitude can lead to a Yiddishkeit that’s habitual, dry, and disconnected from us. It may also lead to statements like, “The Torah doesn’t have solutions for today’s problems; We must seek help elsewhere.” The second approach can lead people to reconstruct Torah to a point where it’s very meaningful and relevant, but it’s no longer Torah. It’s no longer true to its source. The true approach is to recognize that precisely because the Torah is timeless is why it’s always relevant. This third approach to Hashem’s Torah, of both the Ohel Moed and the Kodesh HaKadoshim, isn’t the easiest way but it’s the truest way. It takes work on our part to dig deeper into the Torah for insight and deeper into ourselves to be open to following the insight, especially when at first it doesn’t match our personal preference. A chossid noticed that the Alter Rebbe’s clock was slightly off, and decided to do the Rebbe a favor and adjust it. When the Rebbe returned and noticed, he asked the chossid, “How do you know that your watch is correct?” “I set my watch by the great clock in the city square,” he explained. “Ah, but my clock is set according to the heavenly sefiros; the great clock in the city square is always just a little off.”[2] The secular world may try to convince us that the Torah is irrelevant—“it was given in the desert during the spring”—and that only they have the answers to modern-day issues, but we know that it’s the Torah’s clock that is always spot on. It never loses time. Or timeliness.[3] Gut Shabbos, Rabbi Mordechai Lipskier [1] Shemos 25:22. [2] Likutei Sippurim, Perlov. [3] Based on the sicha of Parshas Naso 5749 (1989).


SPONSORED BY The Flint family l’zecher nishmas Reb Avraham Michoel ben Yaakov Shimon Halevi a"h

The Moshe Group Moshe and Rivky Majeski