Traditional sources in sefarim talk of judging something by three criteria: tov, moh’il, and areiv — if it is inherently good (correct, proper, appropriate); if it is set up to accomplish what it set out to accomplish and to produce the desired result; and if it is pleasurable.
Last week, if you recall (and if you don’t, just take last week’s column out of your files [the paper writes please wrap before discarding which I consider a personal insult; how about please gild before archiving?]), I brought up the subject of the dire need of a new mikveh (more on the basic math im yirtzeh Hashem in the coming weeks), and started discussing the idea that besides the sheer numerical necessity, there should be a mikveh of high-quality “Western” standards, in terms of privacy, service, aesthetics, speed, cleanliness, convenience, comfort and being sympathetic to consumers’ needs. Since part of the game plan is to raise money in order to build it (but that itself is only a portion of the true cost: the land was granted by the town, back in the days of Mayor Vaknin, and the appropriate government agencies which grant money for neighborhood improvements are being approached), I feel it is important to take the time to explain the hashkafic appropriateness of such high-end specs, especially as they are not free nor inexpensive (though it will be a bargain). And so we move from tov and moh’il (which we will bli neder revisit) to areiv.
I will not be approaching this merely from the perspective of “lamah ne’egarah — why should we be diminished, why should we be second-class?” which is to say that we show respect to the mitzvah and its executors (those who undertake it) by expecting for it the standards that we want for our stores, our apartments, our homes, our appliances, our furnishings, our services, our medical care, and so on. I want to discuss the halachic and hashkafic appropriateness, for everyone (especially when asked for money) wants to know: aren’t there greater needs?
There is a conceptual contradiction in what the appropriate attitude should be in the operation and managment of the Beis Hamikdash. Sometimes we find that the governing rule is “ein aniyus b’makom ashirus,” which means, literally, that there be no (exhibition of) poverty, or meagerness, or small-mindedness, or monetary pettiness in a place of wealth, grandeur, affluence, and generosity of spirit. And sometimes we find Chazal insisting that “HaTorah chasah al mamonam shel Yisroel (the Torah has pity on, sympathizes with, the expenditures of Klal Yisroel), and even in the Beis Hamikdash we are to minimize, economize, try to “make do,” and cut expenditures.
(Some examples of going to the max: Shabbos 102B, where the stoves made for the boiling of certain ingredients needed in the Mishkan were not to be makeshift, fly-by-night vessels, although such stoves would have been otherwise sufficient; Kesubos 106B, where it is frowned upon for hekdesh to have sort of a garage sale, turning a profit by selling off some excess items they may have; or Zevachim 88B, where if a Kohanic garment becomes a bit too soiled, we don’t launder it — we toss it and buy a new one! We don’t fix broken keilim, we get rid of them and buy new ones! Tamid 29A, where we give the animal which will be the korban tamid to drink out of a cup made of gold — why gold? For this we need a golden kli? Yes! is the answer, in all of these cases (and more, enumerated throughout Shas) ein aniyus b’makom ashirus! You are in the Beis Hamikdash now, this is not a time for penny-pinching, parsimoniousness, frugality. It bespeaks a lack of kavod, respect, and dignity for the nobility, the eminence, the stateliness and worthiness of the Palace of Hashem, His House, so to speak.
And yet… and yet… The mouthpieces of the trumpets in the Beis Hamikdash were made out of silver, not gold. Explains the Gemara (Rosh Hashana 27), they get worn away quickly, and thus we apply Hatorah chasah al mamonam shel Yisroel, so they are silver, not gold. The lots of Yom Kippur, used exclusively in the Bais Hamikdash on Yom Kippur was made out of wood. Gold? Silver? What an unnecessary expenditure, says the Gemara, we sympathize with Bnei Yisroel’s finances! A shovel to scoop up burning coals to burn ketorres — the constant contact with heat wears away at the metal, it would have to be replaced quite often, and have you seen the price of gold lately? And even more amazing: Gemaros in Menachos 76B and 86B seem to apply this rule on a Torah-level (not mid’rabanan): what we can purchase for the grain of most menachos, and what we can use for the oil of menachos — these dinim relevant to a mid’Oraysa– level requirement are governed by a rule to save money wherever we can.
What gives? Are we that schizophrenic?
And isn’t this the exact conflict we feel when we see a beautiful, classy, magnificent structure used by and for the tzibbur? On one hand, is this a second-class need? Should it be treated as second class? Shouldn’t we treat this mitzvah with the deference, the dignity, the esteem that it deserves? We have no qualms when we look at our own structures and various playthings.
On the oher hand, is this really necessary? I mean, isn’t this a bit over-the-top? Can’t we do something better with the money? I mean, my money is my money, and I have the right to do with it as I please, but here you are collecting public monies for the Beis Hamikdash — or the mikveh — and you want affluence, abundance, and only-the-highest-quality? You want ME to give money to YOU so that if a Kohanic garment gets a stain, you’re going to go buy a whole new one?
(The truth is that a person’s money is NOT theirs to do with as they wish, and the truth is that when collecting for the Bais Hamikdash, or a public need, there IS no ME and YOU, because we are collecting for US. But leaving all that aside, the fact remains that the conceptual contradiction exists in the Bais Hamikdash itself!)
What are we supposed to learn from this?
To be continued…