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Teruma: Respecting Other People’s Individuality

והיו הכרובים פורשי כנפים למעלה סובבים בכנפיהם על הכפורת ופניהם איש אל אחיו, אל הכפורת יהיו פני הכרובים.

“And the Keruvim’s wings were spread out above them, covering the Kapores with their wings, and their faces were to each other; towards the Kapores should be the faces of the Keruvim.” (Shemos 25:20)

We can learn an important lesson from this verse, which can be well understood with a story about the holy Sanzer Rav zt”l. The Sazer Rav once made a siyum upon completing the entire Shas. One of the guests who joined him for the siyum was the son of the holy Maor v’Shamash, who was known as the “Gutter Yid from Neustadt.” This hidden tzaddik tried to conceal his greatness. He was not known as a great scholar, but was often seen reciting Tehillim, much like the simple townspeople. During the siyum, he said to the Sanzer Rav that he too was celebrating a siyum, because he completed the entire Book of Psalms. The Sanzer Rav replied, “Would you like to make an exchange? I will give you all the merit I earned from studying the entire Shas, and you will give me the merit of your Tehillim.” The Gutter Yid refused the offer, and it stayed at that.

This little anecdote shows us how much our great tzaddikim valued the unique qualities of every single Jew. Every Jew has his particular mission which he must fulfill during his lifetime. While every person must fulfill his own mission in life according to the best of his ability, he must at the same time respect the individual missions of all other people. The great scholar who completes many tractates of Gemara must respect the person who serves Hashem by studying the hidden parts of the Torah. No one is entitled to think that his way of serving Hashem is the most important avodah.

This message is hinted at in the verse cited above. Tzaddikim are compared to the Aron, the Holy Ark on which the Keruvim (Cherubs) stood. The Keruvim spread their wings “l’maaleh – above them.” The word maaleh can also mean a special quality or virtue. Tzaddikim who serve Hashem must remember to look at other people’s virtues. Those who “cover with their wings” are the hidden tzaddikim who conceal their greatness. When we strive to serve Hashem, we must spread ourselves out to see the qualities in others and respect them, even if their virtues are concealed.

The verse continues: “ופניהם איש אל אחיו - and their faces were to each other.” The last letters of these words in the verse spell the word “Shalom.” When people look at each other with respect, with a desire to see each other’s virtues, they achieve true peace and lasting shalom.

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