This past Thursday night, I stood in the middle of a crowd of over ten-thousand people; giving support, paying respects and sharing the pain of loosing 17 innocent people to a senseless act of murder and violence.
And as the sun set and the stars appeared, it dawned upon me that it was Chodesh Adar. The first night of the month of Adar, about which Halacha commands, we should increase our simcha. I thought about that line in Shulchan Aruch as I heard a father question whether he had said "I love you" to his daughter on Wednesday morning, the last time he saw her.
Ten thousand people held their breath as the senior class president of Stoneman Douglas high school read the names of the 17 people murdered.
I looked around me, as I was standing amongst the friends, classmates and students of the victims. With each name she read, more and more of the people around me, students, parents, and community members melted in tears, as the sound of sobbing overwhelmed the crowd.
This Thursday, February 15th, was also our daughter, Ayelet's 6th birthday.
Living in a world of contradictions
There's a feeling of sadness that is only matched by the feeling of helplessness. For me, this is compounded with the confusion of wanting to mourn on the hand, and wanting to celebrate on the other. Am I supposed to be happy today? It's Adar, it's Shabbos, my daughter turned six. And yet the horror of Wednesday seems to permeate the air.
One of my friends and colleagues related that saying Hallel this Rosh Chodesh Adar was more challenging than they could manage.
The Strength to Build a Mishkan, and a World
There is a famous machlokes, an argument, with regards to the building of the Mishkan. Rashi is of the opinion that the Torah portions are intentioned recorded out of their historical sequence. Meaning, that after the Torah was given, the Jewish people sinned by worshipping the Egel HaZahav. Only afterwards did Hashem command the building of the Mishkan.
The Ramban disagrees. He argues that the command to build the Mishkan came before the Golden Calf.
Both agree that the Mishkan was build after the Egel. They disagree on when the command was issued. But one wonders, what is this argument really about? What's the nekudas hamachlokes?
To understand this, we must understand, that the Mishkan was, of course, not an ordinary building. And thus the command to build it was asking a tremendous amount from Jewish people.
The Pasuk describes what the Mishkan was to be:
וְעָ֥שׂוּ לִ֖י מִקְדָּ֑שׁ וְשָׁכַנְתִּ֖י בְּתוֹכָֽם׃ - And let them make Me a sanctuary, that I may dwell among them.
The Mishkan was a place, a space, in which Hashem's presence could be felt in the world. And through that experience, a person could bring Hashem into their lives, into their world. The Mishkan, and the Mikdash after it, epitomized the tefillah of לתקן עולם במלכות ש׳די - To fix the world with the Kingship of Hashem.
To accomplish such a feat, the Jewish nation would need nothing less than a Herculean devotion to realize this dream. Indeed, when Hashem instructs Moshe on the building, the Torah relates:
דַּבֵּר֙ אֶל־בְּנֵ֣י יִשְׂרָאֵ֔ל וְיִקְחוּ־לִ֖י תְּרוּמָ֑ה מֵאֵ֤ת כָל־אִישׁ֙ אֲשֶׁ֣ר יִדְּבֶ֣נּוּ לִבּ֔וֹ תִּקְח֖וּ אֶת־תְּרוּמָתִֽי׃ - Speak to the children of Israel, that they take for Me an offering; of every man whose heart makes him willing you shall take My offering.
Rashi explains that this נדיבות לב - this selfless generosity is defined as רצון טוב - a will to do good. Such a powerful will for good that it has the capacity to bring Hashem into the world.
From Where is this Power Derived?
The Shem Mishmuel, Rav Shmuel Borenstein of Socatchov, explains (Terumah 5672) that there are two places from whence such a powerful will can be derived.
Either it comes from the great heights of Sinai, or the great tragedy of the Egel Hazahav.
One can draw immense strength from Matan Torah, from Chodesh Adar, from the milestones of our children's lives. We can build a Mishkan from the great moments of our history, as individuals and as a nation.
But there is another source of strength. One that is drawn from staring at the abyss of pain, and loneliness and failure, and terror. There's a Mishkan that we build from that place as well; when standing amongst thousands of people, and committing to building a better and safer world.
The Sfas Emes notes that the Mitzvah of happiness in Adar is conveyed in the strangest of ways in Shulchan Aruch:
כשם שמשנכנס אב ממעטין בשמחה,כך משנכנס אדר מרבין בשמחה. - Just like when Av enters, we decrease our happiness, when Adar enters, we increase our happiness.
He explains that real growth, connection to Hashem and living a fulfilled life, can be achieved through both simcha and pain. In Adar, we find Hashem in Simcha - we make the choice to live passionately, with gratitude and grace. But sometimes, we find Hashem in the pain of loss; in the recognition that the world is not perfect; that people are suffering and that we still have a long way to go.
Ultimately, we are building the same Mishkan. Just like we are obligated to find Hashem in joy, we find Him in tears.
Regardless of the Place
These two notions are so beautifully describes by David HaMelech in two of our best known Tehillim, 121 and 130:
שִׁ֗יר לַֽמַּ֫עֲל֥וֹת אֶשָּׂ֣א עֵ֭ינַי אֶל־הֶהָרִ֑ים מֵ֝אַ֗יִן יָבֹ֥א עֶזְרִֽי׃ - A Song of Ascents. I will lift up my eyes to the mountains: From where will my help come?
And, of course:
שִׁ֥יר הַֽמַּעֲל֑וֹת מִמַּעֲמַקִּ֖ים קְרָאתִ֣יךָ י״יֽ׃ - A Song of Ascents. Out of the depths call to You, Hashem.
Both of these, looking to the great mountains, and calling from the depths, are called שִׁ֥יר הַֽמַּעֲל֑וֹת - a song of Ascents.
Rav Hirsch (תהילים קכ א) explains that, of course, this refers to the singing of the Levi'im on steps of the Beis HaMikdash, but beyond that, these songs raise us to higher and higher heights.
מדרגות עליית בני ישראל אל הקדושה, ישראל מגלים את האמת האלקית בדבריהם ועוד יותר בקיומם ובחייו
These are the steps of the ascent of the Jewish nation to holiness. The Jewish people reveals the truth of God in the world through these words, but moreover by the way that we live our lives.
May Hashem give us the strength to combine and channel the love, compassion and concern for the victims, with the simcha, passion and zeal that we have for Yiddishkeit. Perhaps, by drawing strength from both high and low, we will merit to rebuild the Mikdash, and see the fulfillment of the words of Yeshayahu (Perek 2):
וְהָיָה בְּאַחֲרִית הַיָּמִים נָכוֹן יִהְיֶה הַר בֵּית י"י בְּרֹאשׁ הֶהָרִים וְנִשָּׂא מִגְּבָעוֹת וְנָהֲרוּ אֵלָיו כָּל הַגּוֹיִם... וְכִתְּתוּ חַרְבוֹתָם לְאִתִּים וַחֲנִיתוֹתֵיהֶם לְמַזְמֵרוֹת לֹא יִשָּׂא גוֹי אֶל גּוֹי חֶרֶב וְלֹא יִלְמְדוּ עוֹד מִלְחָמָה.
And it shall come to pass in the end of days, That the mountain of the Hashem's house shall be established as the top of the mountains, And shall be praised above the hills; And all nations shall flow unto it... And they shall beat their swords into plowshares, And their spears into pruninghooks; Nation shall not lift up sword against nation, Neither shall they learn war any more.