by Daneal Weiner
May the merit from disseminating this Torah be towards a refua shelaima for terrorist victims b’soch she’ar cholei Yisrael.
With the Mishkan- Sanctuary having just been completed,
opens with Hashem teaching Israel, through Moshe, the laws of the various sacrifices to be brought. Amongst them are the instructions for the sin offerings of the individual, the community, and the leader. For the individual and for the community the Torah uses words we would expect to find, ki and eem which both mean if. For the leader, however, the Torah uses the word asher. Contextually it also means if but it literally means when. This means the Torah has hidden another lesson behind the words.
Rashi says asher is at the root of ashray- happy. The message, he continues is, “Happy is the generation whose leader seeks out atonement for his accidental sins. And how much more so were he to regret his intentional sins.”
The Ibn Ezra writes that this paragraph is connect to prior. There it said, “If the community sins…” and it continues here saying “and if when the leader sins…”
The Ramban writes that asher, as in ka’asher, is a reference to time. The leader may sin and he may not sin. At a time when he sins, this is what he’s to do.
Rav Moshe Wolfson offers an explanation for asher beginning with the writings of the students of the Baal Shem Tov. Devarim 32:9 says, “Yaakov chevel nachalaso”- Yaakov is the measure of His [Hashem’s] inheritance. Chevel also means a rope. The students of the Baal Shem Tov draw an analogy from this verse. A long rope descends from under the Throne of Glory of Hashem. Every member of Israel holds on to the rope according to their spiritual level. The higher one’s level, the higher up the rope. But the rope is not attached to the throne in a physical way. The Throne of Hashem sits where it sits. But as the actions of the leaders bring merit to Israel, they don’t move up the rope but rather raise the rope and everyone holding on to it. So all the lowest members of Israel, holding on to the bottom of the rope, they get a spiritual boost due to their leaders. The opposite is also true. If the actions of lowest members bring disgrace to Israel, they drag the rope down and everyone with it, including their leaders at the upper end of the rope.
The Toldos Yaakov Yosef uses this same concept to explain a verse in Psalms (12:2), “For the devout one is no more, for truthful people have vanished from mankind.” Since the people at the lower end of the rope have corrupted themselves to the extinction of all honesty, this dragged down the devout down with so much negativity it destroyed their spiritual state! In a dream the Toldos Yaakov Yosef was shown that maybe the exact opposite was true. Maybe the devout had so corrupted themselves that their dragging down the rope cause the extinction of all honesty from man?!
Both explanations are true. And we know one more thing to be true. Everything that Hashem does is for our good, individually and collectively. So having been given this insight into the spiritually cohesive body of all Israel, what benefit can we draw from it?
One direction we can answer easily. A Torah Scholar who errs, does tshuva- repents. In the laws of judging favorably, someone who sees a Torah scholar doing something they can’t explain away, this person is obligated to assume that by morning the scholar will have already done tshuva. So if and when a leader of Israel errs, dragging the chevel down, of course he’ll bring it back up. But what about the other direction? Someone who’s actions are established as inappropriate, we are allowed to see them as suspect!? We don’t expect them to do tshuva so quickly. But when they sin, and they pull down the chevel, that will pull down the leader and he will be quick to repent and bring back up the spiritual level of the people!
This is what the Torah is telling us. If the community sins, it’s inevitably going to cause the leader to sin. So the community sin offering is introduced with an if and the leader’s offering gets a when. And when the leader sins, this is how he, and all Israel, finds atonement. Happy is the generation whose leader seeks atonement for his sins.
These past weeks, Rav Wolfson often brought in the idea of the correlation between time, space and soul. An idea found in the Sefer Yetsirah. A community is called a tsibur. The word is also the acronym for the people who make up a tsibur, the tsadikim- righteous, beinonim- average and rasha’im- wicked. Just as there is a tsibur in soul, so is there a tsibur in time.
The righteous times are like Nissan and Tishrei. Times during which Israel is very close to Hashem. The wicked times are the times of sin, times of churban- destruction of the Temple and the deaths of tremendous numbers of Israel. The prophets tell us that the wickedest of times, the 9th of Av, will become the best of times, filled with untold celebration. The 9th of Av will be a Ba’al Tshuva- a returnee, a wicked day, gone righteous. And the Gemorah tells us, so great is the ba’al tshuva that no life-long tsadik may stand in his shoes. The festivities of the 9th of Av will surpass all previous holiday festivities.
Nissan is the first of the months and Pesach is the first of the holidays. The head of the holidays. In Judaism, the head contains all that follows. Remarkably, Pesach does contain all other holidays. Whatever day of the week the first day of Pesach is, that is when the 9th of Av will be. We already know the 9th will be on a Sunday. The weekday of the 2nd day of Pesach is when Shavuos will be. 3rd day = Rosh Hashanah. And it goes on.
The first of Pesach, the head of the head days correlates directly to the most tail end, the wickedest of the wicked days. As we just learned, our Pesach Seder has the ability to elevate the whole chevel of the year, including that most tail end. Furthermore, the laws of the Pesach Seder revolve around the actions of a king. Leaning while drinking and eating, roasting the Pascal Lamb whole, not breaking any bones while eating, these are all the ways of royalty. Of leaders. The actions of the leader atones and elevates the wicked. Happy is the generation whose leader seeks atonement for his sins.
These days of Pesach are tshuva days. Days for seeking atonement for our days and for days of churban. On the first 12 days of Nissan the 12 leaders of the tribes of Israel brought their inaugural offerings to the dedication of the Mishkan. The Mishkan was an atonement for the churban of that time, the golden calf. We need to seek atonement for the churban of our time, the destruction of the Temples. The Second one, the more serious churban, came to us because of baseless hatred. The atonement is baseless love. Our Rabbis say, however, that no retribution comes to the world that doesn’t have in it a portion of the sin of the golden calf. So if in our churban was their churban, then in their atonement is our atonement.
First it can be pointed out that all 12 leaders brought identical offerings for entirely different reason. When the individuals of Israel act according to Torah and for Torah sake, then all of Israel is united in the end.
Along with their offerings, the 12 leaders of Israel also brought gifts. Each brought an ox and 6 wagons between them. Each wagon was drawn by two oxen of two leaders. Even though there were 12 tribes and each one had their own path through the split sea, for the Mishkan, for atonement, they joined together. The atonement was to come through unity, not segregation. Baseless love, not baseless hatred.
Perhaps this is why almost every year Nissan is welcomed in by the double parsha of Vayakhel-Pikudai, as it was last week. Every letter of Torah corresponds to a soul of Israel. Every word represents a family. Every line a neighborhood. And every parsha is a great assembly of Jews. Nissan, the time of the past redemption, is the most fitting time for the future redemption. So Nissan is introduced by a double parsha, by the union of two great assemblies of Israel. Baseless love.
Three more Shabboses in the next 7 weeks will have double parshas. A manifestation of the power of atonement at this time. Before the 9th of Av will be another double parsha. A lesson in atonement just before the churban. Before Rosh Hashanah, another double parsha. A last chance of atonement prior to judgment.
The Chassidic community sees the 6th aliyah to the Torah as the most honored aliyah. It correlates to the 6th of Hashem’s attributes, Righteousness, so they give that aliyah to their leader. The Ashkenazic community sees the 3rd aliyah to the Torah as the most honored aliyah. It correlates to the 3rd of Hashem’s attributes, Glory, which is Torah. So they give that aliyah to their leader. When we read a double parsha, the 3rrd and 6th overlap. When the individuals of Israel act according to Torah and for Torah sake, then all of Israel is united in the end.
The groom and bride, on their wedding day are considered as a king and queen. Rightfully so since it is the time of their nissuin- marriage which comes from the root, nasi- leader. The Shabbos of the groom’s aliyah to the Torah, some have the custom to sit him at the head of the shul, with the leaders. And they give him the aliyah of the leader. Holy writings say that on their wedding day the couple is joined by all the generations that will descend from them. The king and queen and all their troops. Just as the ‘head’ in soul, the father and mother, contain all who will follow, so too their ‘head’ in time, their wedding day, contains all who will follow.
These days are a great time for tshuva, for unity, for baseless love. No one has it in their power to remedy every dispute amongst Israel. Especially since the greatest conflicts are not caused by Torah observant, according to Torah and for Torah sake. But all Israel is one chevel. Anyone who can do anything to elevate his/her section of the rope, they elevate the entire rope with them.
Baseless hatred does not mean there is no cause to hate at all. It means that the reaction is greater than the cause. It means we’ve let our emotion of anger and vengeance overcome our sensibilities. The added expression of hate is baseless! Likewise, baseless love doesn’t mean drumming up false emotions and walking around like christian missionaries with glossed over eyes and plastered expressions, “I love you. I love you. I love you.” It means when dealing with a loved one, family, friend or neighbor let your emotion of love overcome your sensibilities! Go the extra mile. In most of the world you only have to go an extra kilometer. That’s already ˝ as difficult.
The Ba’al Shomrei Emunim, whose yahrtseit is at this time, wrote that when a friend has a special occasion, when he makes a simcha, everyone should join him in his celebration! What a concept! Atonement and fun! Judaism is to live by. Atonement can come the same way!
Don’t wait till you meet someone on the street to give a mazel tov and a hand shake. Go the extra mile. Baseless love! A friend asks you for a favor, do it. You were going to do it anyway? Do it bigger and better! Just an extra expression of love you would not have done otherwise. It doesn’t have to be immense and overwhelming. Just more. And small things done for people can mean so much more than the big things.
Of course, someone who can look at any Jew and find something in them to love from which to base their baseless love on, haray ze mishubach! That is praiseworthy, indeed.
We have been blessed with tremendous miracles. 8 bombing attempts, most foiled. Two fatalities, may G-d avenge their blood. The gates of mercy are open. The opportunity is at hand. As we say with every blessing of the new moon, “He Who performed miracles for our forefathers and redeemed them from slavery to freedom, may He redeem us soon and gather in our dispersed from the four corners of the earth. Chaveirim kol Yisrael!” All Israel are friends! All Israel is connected! With our efforts, this Pesach all Israel will be united.
Shabbat Shalom and (just in case, next week will be hectic,) Chag Kasher v’Somayach!