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Peninim on the Torah

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Rabbi A. Leib Scheinbaum
Hebrew Academy of Cleveland


To bring atonement upon Bnei Yisrael for all their sins once a year. (16:34)

Yom Kippur is not the only Festival that occurs once a year. Yet, the Torah emphasizes its singular annual occurrence. Why? Horav Eliyahu Lapian, zl, the venerable Mashgiach of Kfar Chasidim, asked this question in his shmuess, ethical discourse, on Yom Kippur 1960 shortly before Neilah, the Final Prayer of the day. In his reply, he cited the Talmud in Moed Katan 28 in which Chazal explain the juxtaposition of the death of Miriam upon the Parah Adumah, Red Heifer. Just as the Parah Adumah atones, so, too, does missas tzaddikim, the passing of the righteous, achieve atonement for Klal Yisrael.

By implication, Chazal are teaching us that it is possible to have more than one Yom Kippur during the course of the year. The passing of a tzaddik atones for his immediate family. If he is a great tzaddik, the effect of the atonement will be more widespread, and even his community will achieve atonement. If the gadol hador, preeminent Torah leader of the generation, passes away, it atones for the sins of the entire generation. This is the explanation of the words, "once a year." The Torah implies to us that Yom Kippur, with its concomitant atonement effect, should only occur once a year. In other words, we should not need the additional effect of a tzaddik's passing to remove the taint caused by our sins.

It occurred that shortly after Kol Nidrei, the opening prayer of Yom Kippur, was chanted, the gadol hador, the Brisker Rav, zl, passed away in Yerushalayim. No one outside of Yerushalayim knew of his passing until after Yom Kippur. How Rav Elya Lopian knew remains a puzzle. Furthermore, the Brisker Rav's son, Horav Yosef Dov, related that shortly before his father's passing, the Brisker Rav had said, "This year we will have two Yom Kippurim; one will go, and the other will come."

You shall observe My decrees and My laws, which man shall carry out and by which he shall live. (18:5)

In his later years, The Brisker Rav, zl, was weak and infirm. Indeed, his close disciples sensed that every moment of his life was a struggle to fulfill the mitzvah of V'chai bohem, "And by which he shall live." When he took his various medicines, he would do so as if he was performing the greatest mitzvah. Every breath that he took was a mitzvah of "staying alive," simply to live as a Jew, because Hashem has given us this mitzvah. Horav Ezriel Tauber, Shlita, recollects that when his father became old, he was relegated to spending his days in a wheelchair. He could do nothing for himself. Everything was done for him. This was in stark contrast to his younger days, when - as a vibrant powerhouse of energy - he was able to raise kavod Shomayim, the honor of Heaven, by reaching out to thousands of Jews. Obviously, his present, sorry state catalyzed much depression. His children were always seeking ways to comfort and encourage him.

Once Rav Ezriel said to his father, "You know Hashem really did a great justice for you." His father looked back at him incredulously. "Let me explain," Rav Ezriel continued. "Tell me, Father, which mitzvah in the Torah have you never fulfilled lishmah, for the sake of the mitzvah?" His father's shock became even greater. Was there a mitzvah that had eluded his appropriate performance? He had tried to perform each and every mitzvah meticulously, to the fine letter of the law. To what was his son alluding?

"Yes, Father, there is one mitzvah that you did not perform for the sake of the mitzvah: the mitzvah of V'chai bohem, "And by which he shall live." The Torah admonishes us to live as Jews, just for that purpose - to live as Jews. You, Father, have always lived to fulfill mitzvos, to perform acts of loving-kindness. Every breath that you have taken was to do something to elevate kavod Shomayim. You have never lived, however, just for the purpose of living. Have you ever taken a breath and said, "I am breathing solely for the purpose of fulfilling the mitzvah of V'chai bohem, so that there will be another living Jew in the world?'

"What did Hashem do for you? He provided you with the opportunity to serve Him fully. Seeing that every minute of your day was devoted to carrying out mitzvos, He saw to it that you could no longer do anything else but live for Him."

What a beautiful and powerful thought! Whoever would think that when Hashem removes our faculties, He is simultaneously providing us with an opportunity to live for Him and not for any other reason? Unquestionably, one must be on a very elevated plateau of spiritual conviction to understand what it means to live - just for the purpose of living as a Jew.

It happened that this past week, as I was reading this thought concerning the Brisker Rav, I also came across a poignant article about another Jewish hero, one who has recently passed away. He literally inspired thousands with his awesome faith and conviction. He exemplified living for the purpose of living as a Jew, since his physical condition did not allow him to carry out many activities. His name was Mikey Butler, zl, a giant of middos and emunah who spent more than half of his twenty-four years of life in hospitals.

I never met Mikey, but when he passed away, a friend of his called me just to talk. Mikey was sick all of his life, yet he lived every minute fully, for the purpose of living. He lived on the threshold of death with a powerful belief in the meaning and value of life. His life story is a tale of courage, faith and triumph. Every minute of life that Hashem granted him was used to live as a Jew should live. He never complained. Two months before Mikey passed away - at a time when he could no longer see, hear, breathe, walk or talk - Mikey said, "G-d is good." Indeed, Mikey coined a phrase, a motto by which we should all live: "Day by glorious day." He sought every opportunity to perform acts of chesed and to inspire others, which he successfully accomplished. He wanted so badly to live one day as a healthy person, without the multitudes of medicine that had become his daily staple. He never got his wish. He did, however, live his life to its fullest potential, using every minute that was allotted to him just to continue living as a Jew. His life was a source of inspiration to thousands. His story will continue on to serve as a blessing for him and a source of encouragement and hope to the many who will look to Mikey as the symbol of V'chai bohem.

You shall not present any of your children to pass through for molech, and do not profane the Name of your G-d. (18:21)

Sforno gives a powerful explanation for the sin of giving one's child to the molech, which has practical application in our lives. One who brings animal sacrifices to Hashem - but offers his children as sacrifices to the molech - demonstrates his priorities. He indicates his true allegiance. He gives his most precious possessions, his children, to the idol, while he gives his material possessions to Hashem. He thereby demonstrates his true loyalties.

Horav Shmuel Walkin, zl, notes that this occurs in our own times. We see fine, upstanding, observant Jews who contribute large sums of money to yeshivos to support Torah study. Yet, they send their most precious possessions, their children, elsewhere. The yeshivah is not adequate for their children. One can demonstrate no greater support of a yeshivah than to send his own children to study there. Writing a check is not as great a commitment to an institution as "contributing" one's own son. Regrettably, there are no plaques for that type of contribution.


Every man, your father and mother shall you revere. (19:3)

The Torah enjoins us to accord the proper reverence to our parents. While this mitzvah is imposed upon the child, it does not give a parent license to take unnecessary advantage of his child's mitzvah. Horav Yitzchak Zilberstein, Shlita, cites numerous instances in which parents take advantage of their children, asking them to perform menial tasks and errands that for the most part can and should be done themselves. "Bring me, take for me, do for me" are common requests that parents make of their children that impose needless obligations upon a child. Surely, it does not enhance a relationship, especially if the parent does this out of laziness or an overactive ego. Rav Zilberstein writes that in the home of his father-in-law, Horav Yosef Eliyashov, Shlita, such words were not heard. Never did he ask his children to do for him something that he could do for himself. Children are not slaves. They are people who also have to rest.

One must give respect if he wants to receive respect. Parents also have to respect their children. Taking unnecessary advantage is not a way to earn respect. Some parents feel that by asking their children to serve them, they are giving them the opportunity to perform the mitzvah of Kibbud av v'em, "Honor your father and mother." The proper way to do so is for the father to ask the child to "bring a glass of water/tea for your mother." When parents direct their request to the child, so that he serves the other parent, they encourage the aspect of honor without taking personal advantage for themselves.

You shall not steal. (19:11)

Horav Chaim Soloveitzhik, zl, was wont to say that a thief is not only a rasha, a wicked man, but he is also a shoteh, fool. Hashem decrees at the beginning of each year the amount of money one will earn during the course of that year. He will not have more - or less - than what is apportioned for him. If he is going to have the same amount regardless of what he does, why should he attempt to procure that money through avenues that are illegal and dangerous, if he can have it legitimately?

In the bais hamedresh of Novordok, the following analogy was told to emphasize this point. There was a villager who lived in abject poverty all year. Every year, before Pesach, he would receive a check in the mail from a wealthy relative overseas. He waited for this envelope like a fish needs water. In fact, waiting daily for the mailman to make his delivery became an obsession with him. He would go down the road and follow the mailman from house to house until he realized that he was not stopping at his house. He would then become depressed until the next day when his hopes for mail began anew. It was becoming increasingly difficult to control his impatience. He was in dire need of funds for Pesach, as well as the rest of the year.

One day, he saw the mailman coming from afar and began his usual ritual of following him. This time, however, he noted a large manila envelope sticking out of the mailbag. Surely, this envelope contained a large sum of money, enough to sustain his family for the entire year. He could no longer contain himself, and he grabbed the envelope from the mailbag and ran away to a secluded corner in the forest. He opened the envelope and was pleasantly surprised to see that it was addressed to him. Regrettably, he could not enjoy the "stolen" money, which was rightfully his, because the constable had just caught up with him. No explaining would deter the police officer. The man was a thief and must be taken to jail to pay for his crime. Nothing the poor man said made a difference. He was a criminal.

From here the Baalei Mussar, ethicists, derive that even a thief will not "earn" more than what is decreed for him. Therefore, he might as well earn it in a legal and honorable manner.

And you shall not place a stumbling block before the blind. (19:14)

Rashi explains that the Torah is teaching us that one should not render bad advice to an unsuspecting person. The advice one gives should be appropriately suited for the individual who is asking. To give wrong advice to an unsuspecting person is like placing an obstacle before a blind man. Rashi uses the words eitzah hogenes lo, "advice that is suited for him." The Brisker Rav suggests that implicit in these words is the enjoinment that the advice be suited specifically for the one who is asking. Even if, for many reasons, the one who is being asked should render different advice, he must direct his response specifically to the needs of the individual who is asking.

Once, the director of an institution came to consult with the Brisker Rav concerning accepting a certain individual to be the principal in his institution. The Brisker Rav felt it was a good choice, and the individual should be hired. When the person in question came to the Rav to ask his opinion about the position, the Rav instructed him not to take the position. When the director of the institution returned to the Brisker Rav and sought an explanation for the apparent paradoxical advice, the Rav explained, "Indeed, it would be a very smart choice for the institution to hire that individual as a principal. For the individual himself, however, I feel that he should not take the position because of the added pressure on his limited time." The advice must coincide with the one who is asking. Hence, while it may have been good for the school, it was not a good opportunity for the principal.

You shall love your fellow as yourself. (19:18)

Rabbi Akiva refers to this mitzvah as the fundamental rule of the Torah. It is the ultimate maxim that summarizes the Jew's perspective toward social behavior, in feelings, words and actions. We are to love everything that pertains l'reiacha, to the person, but not necessarily the person himself. The Torah does not expect the impossible of us. Such complete harmony of two diverse natures is seldom found. It is the Jewish way to demand that we care for everything about the person. We are to assist in everything that furthers his well-being as if it were our own. Everyone is to seek and recognize his fellow as a reia - friend. Never should we view our friend's success as a hindrance for our own, but rather, we should rejoice in his well-being.

The Kopitchinitzer Rebbe, zl, would say that the mitzvah does not apply solely to loving the frum, observant, affiliated Jew. It is impossible not to love saintly and pious people. Hashem instructs us to love even those whom we would normally find it hard to love, those who differ from us in outlook, observance, in thought and deed. Horav Yosef Chaim Sonnenfeld, zl, loved all Jews, regardless of their lack of faith and worthiness. He worried for their welfare and did not entertain the slightest vestige of animus toward the most wicked offenders. He would often comment, "If you see a Jew who has become a sinner, do not hate him, but pity him as you would anyone who is physically challenged. Most Jews who have abandoned the religion are captives of alien cultures, victims of improper and insufficient education. It is only because of the long and bitter galus, exile, that they have not yet discovered the path to return to their faith and origins."

He never failed to censure those who profaned Hashem's Name. Yet, he would not hesitate to criticize those who referred to them in inappropriate terms. When someone added the imprecation yemach shemo, may his name be obliterated, to the mention of a certain Jew who was probably the religious community's most virulent enemy, Rav Yosef Chaim protested, saying, "I am not in the habit of saying yemach shemo about any Jew." He explained that he derived this from the laws of Yibum, levirate marriage. According to Jewish law, if such a Jew were to die childless, his widow would not be allowed to remarry unless she either underwent Yibum or Chalitzah, release from her Yibum requirement. Since the Torah's stated rationale for Yibum is that the deceased "name not be obliterated from Yisrael," regardless of his religious beliefs, how can we say yemach shemo about any Jew?

Va'ani Tefillah

Nosein haTorah - And gave us/gives us the Torah.

Horav Avraham Chaim Shur, zl, the author of the Toras Chaim, explains that during Matan Torah, a shefa, spiritual flow, emanated from Hashem onto Har Sinai, inspiring the entire Torah - both written and oral. This spiritual inspiration endures forever, inspiring every student of Torah with its spiritual influence. Thus, one who learns Torah and is mechadesh, originates novellae, participates in a form of Ruach HaKodesh, Divine Inspiration, since the ability to prepare chidushim is given to him by Hashem. These chidushei Torah, novellae, are a form of nevuah, Prophecy, in which Hashem inspires a person with His spiritual flow. This is why we sign the brachah with nosein, gives, in the present tense, because even today He gives of His shefa which permeated the entire Torah.

Horav Boruch Epstein, zl, in his Baruch SheAmar, contends that Hashem still gives us the Torah. Every time one studies Torah, he develops a deeper understanding of its profundities. What one could not fathom yesterday, he understands clearly today. Each day is an opportunity for a new nesinah, one that did not exist the day before. This is implicit in the pasuk, Maggid devarav l'Yaakov, "He relates His word to Yaakov." (Tehillim 147:19) It does not say higid, in the past tense, but rather maggid, in the present, in order to emphasize that each day presents the potential of a new connection to Hashem. Recognizing this awesome opportunity should catalyze a greater sense of enthusiasm and enjoyment for studying Torah.

in honor of
Miriam Bas Avrohom

Dr. Marijah McCain

Peninim on the Torah is in its 14th year of publication. The first nine years have been published in book form.

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