And they shall make an Aron of shittim wood (Shemot 25:10) B'nei Yisrael were enjoined to build the Aron Hakodesh prior to the Mishkan itself. Why was this? Rabbi M. Gifter suggests the following reason for this. The Aron, which held the Torah, represents the Torah as the foundation of our people. Because we have the Torah, Hashem chooses to rest the Divine Presence on our midst. Consequently, we must orient our priorities in accordance with the Torah. Rabbi Gifter notes that the Aron was built even prior to the Mizbeah, Altar. The Mizbeah denotes sacrifice and its derivative, mesirat nefesh, self-sacrifice for Hashem and His misvot . He explains that only through Torah can the parameters of mesirat nefesh be clearly defined. The clarity of vision which evolves from total Torah study and scholarship structures one's perspective concerning self-sacrifice. Without Torah's guidance, intelligence and reason give way to the irrational and absurd. Thus, self-sacrifice can become an act of murder and destruction.

This idea may be extended to all areas of endeavor. The Torah perspective must guide all of activity, even concerning misvot which are "humanitarian" in nature. Rabbi Chaim Mordechai Katz used to explain the Mishnah in Peah, which crowns Torah study above all misvot, including wonderful acts of loving-kindness. The Mishnah enumerates many noble misvot, such as honoring parents, doing acts of kindness, coming to the Bet Midrash on time, and visiting the sick. It ends with the phrase, "Vetalmud Torah keneged kulam - and Torah study is equal to all." The word "keneged" is actually translated as "opposite" rather than equal. In light of this, Rabbi Katz explains that every misvah must be "held up" opposite and performed in light of the Torah. Torah must mold the personality and total perspective of a Jew. His philosophy of life must coincide with the Torah's philosophy of life! Only then does he satisfy the mandate of "Vetalmud Torah keneged kulam." (Peninim on the Torah)

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This article is provided as part of Shema Yisrael Torah Network Permission is granted to redistribute electronically or on paper, provided that this notice is included intact.

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