Mr. Roth's Treasure

Rabbi Yaacov Haber

Parshas Pekudei

We read for the last few weeks about the building of the Mishkan in the desert. The Mishkan was beautiful. It was full of art and craftsmanship. Our sages have already explained how we found gold, silver, and acacia wood in the desert but they did not explain how we found artists to shape that gold. The work that we did in Egypt was crude masonry work. Our hands were blistered and our experience was coarse and artless. When, during the previous two hundred years in Egypt , did we get a chance to develop artists, fine jewelers, goldsmiths and weavers of tapestry?

The answer is written in the Torah. “Kol asher nesao Leebo”. Moshe called upon all those whose hearts elevated them to rise to the call. “I know you have never done anything like this”, Moshe might have said, “but rise to the challenge and the call.”

I had a special relationship with a certain older Jew in Buffalo . Mr. Roth was an electrician who survived the concentration camps. One morning after Shacharis he told me the following story. Before the war he had some money. When he knew that he was going to be forced into a labor camp he took his money to a certain park and buried it there. After he was liberated, in his emaciated state, he went back to that park and found the money he had hid. At that time even if one was lucky enough to be alive and obtain an exit visa from Europe , it was absolutely forbidden to take German Marks out of the country. So he took the money and went to an antique shop. His eye caught a beautiful silver wine cup. He thought to himself that he would buy the cup with the money and if, with G-d’s help, he manages to settle down and reestablish himself, he will give that cup to his Rabbi as his thanks to Hashem for saving his life. He told me that he held onto the cup for almost 40 years but today he would like to give me that cup. He handed me a crumpled brown paper bag filled with love, tears and the neshama of a Jew.

I once shared with Mr. Roth my understanding of how the Jews built the beautiful Mishkan in the desert as under qualified as they were. I told him that I felt that if we rise to the call we would find strength and talents that would otherwise lie dormant. Mr. Roth told me the following story. During the years of hell he was in a death camp. After surviving numerous selections he was chosen for death. He stood in line to be killed with tens of his campmates and repeated over and over any chapters of Tehilim he could remember by heart. The line progressed and his turn came closer. Suddenly a Nazi officer walked over to the line and screamed, “Is there an electrician here? We need an electrician!” Mr. Roth stepped out of the line with his hand raised. “I am an electrician.” Mr. Roth didn’t know a wire from a pipe. He figured out that the worst that can happen is that he would blow up the camp. At that moment he became an electrician. He survived and remained an electrician for the remainder of his career.

Mr. Roth rose to the call of the moment. The slaves that came out of Egypt rose to the call of the hour. We must rise to our call.

The call of the hour is dire. We in the Orthodox community have to build a Mishkan. Not just a building or an organization, but a place for the Shechina, a place for the presence of Hashem, to dwell. The Malbim explains that the Mishkan was called “Mishkan HaEdus’ the testimonial. Says the Malbim that if even one crooked dollar would have gone into that Mishkan the Shechina would not have come down. It wouldn’t have worked! The fact that it worked was testimony to the honesty and integrity of the Jewish people.

The NY Times reports that we are committing record-breaking crimes. Yet, the headlines just don’t shock us the way they used to. We’ve outdone Al Capone. How does this behavior or any fraction thereof effect our children? If children grow up learning that money is the most important thing in life and it must be gotten at any cost what will that do to their heads? What does it do to our schools and Shuls if they are built with cash from unethical and illegal earnings? The answer is, it destroys them. We need to bring the Shechina back into Klal Yisroel. Holiness has to permeate the walls of our homes and our institutions. Clarity and a spiritual cleanliness have to be the message of our teachers and leaders.

I think that if there is any one message that goes through the chapters of Torah that teach us how to build a Mishkan it is, at all costs do it right. If because of the world we live in our hands are callous and our taste is sometimes unrefined – than lift up your heart and rise to the call. Kol asher nesao libo.

We can create a world in which the verse of the Torah is fulfilled. Build a Mishkan and I will dwell within them”. Them means us and our children. May we all be privileged to be hosts for the Shechina.

© Copyright 2005