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Peninim on the Torah

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Rabbi A. Leib Scheinbaum
Hebrew Academy of Cleveland


With this shall Aharon come into the Sanctuary. (16:3)

The pasuk continues, asserting that Aharon is to enter the Sanctuary with two animals as offerings. Why, then, does the Torah write the word b'zos, "with this," rather than b'eilah, "with these?" Rashi explains that the gimatria, numerical equivalent, of b'zos, is 410. This alludes to the first Bais Hamikdash which reigned in Klal Yisrael for 410 years. This does not imply that the prohibition against entering the Holy of Holies at any other time other than Yom Kippur was in effect only during the period of the first Bais Hamikdash. Rather, the pasuk implies that the eighteen Kohanim Gedolim, High Priests, who succeeded Aharon during the first Bais Hamikdash, were all devout and righteous, following the standard set forth by their ancestor Aharon. Thus, in this respect, Aharon is considered as if he had come into the Sanctuary during that time.

The Chida, zl, cites his grandfather who offers an alternative exposition, focusing on the word zos, this. We are aware that a gezeirah raah, negative decree, can be abrogated through the media of teshuvah, repentance, tefillah, prayer, and tzedakah, charity. Each of these virtues has a synonym: Teshuvah is tzom, fasting; tefillah is kol, voice (of prayer); and tzedakah is mamon, money. Each of these Hebrew terms has a gimatriya of 136. When they are added up, the total is 408, which implies that Aharon is successful on Yom Kippur when he enters the Holy of Holies, if he is accompanied with zos, 408, the equivalent of fasting, the sound of prayer, and the disbursement of money for charity.

In a public declaration, the Shach, zl, writes concerning the gimatriya of zos, 408, that in the year 1648, which in Hebrew is (5)648 or Tach, the Jewish People were waiting desperately. They were hoping with all their hearts that "Aharon," a reference to our long-awaited Moshiach, would arrive and redeem them from the terrible galus, exile. Lamentably, that year did not become one of celebration, but rather one of persecution, tribulation and brutal death, as hundreds of thousands of Polish Jews fell prey to the pogroms of Tach v'Tat. The cruel Chemelnicki, a Polish despot, and his hoards of sub humans ran over Poland taking the lives of so many of our brethren. The Shach writes that actually, Mei eis Hashem haysah zos, "This is Hashem's doing," hee niflaas b'eineinu, "It is marvelous in our own eyes." It was a time designated by the Almighty as one during which great wonders would occur for the Jewish People.

This concept is consistent with the episode in the Talmud Sanhedrin which relates how Rabbi Yehoshua ben Levi asked Moshiach, Eimasai asi mar? "When will the Master (Moshiach) come?" Moshiach replied, Hayom, "Today." When the day had passed and the advent of Moshiach had not occurred, Rabbi Yehoshua asked, "But you said, hayom, today. What happened?" Moshiach answered, Hayom im b'koli tishme'un, "Today, (only) if you listen to My voice." The Shach concludes his letter with the statement, Zeh hayom asah Hashem, "Hashem has made this day." If we listen to His voice - then - nagilah v'nismecha bo, "We will rejoice in Him with our voices and in our hearts." We can transform the zos into a day of joy, if we follow the prescription for success which Hashem has given to us.

Aharon shall place lots upon the two he-goats: one lot "for Hashem" and one lot "for Azazel." (16:8)

Chazal teach us that the two he-goats were to be like one another, with each similar in appearance, height and value. I once heard someone compare these two he-goats to our attitude concerning tzedakah, charity. We have to act with equal parity between what we do for that little Azazel within us and what we do for Hashem. To spend a fortune on luxuries and frivolities, but to penny-pinch when it comes to our relationship with Hashem, is not living a balanced life. While I am not criticizing those who spend on themselves, I am asking for equal time to fulfill Hashem's requests. Jewish education should not run a distant second behind our personal needs. Our children's education is our personal need! There is nothing wrong with having a nice home, car, etc. and living a lifestyle of affluence, as long as one recognizes the responsibility to do at least the same to meet Hashem's needs. When the two he-goats are not equal, when we do more for Azazel than we do for Hashem, we create a monster.

Perhaps we can take this idea a bit further. The areas in which the similarity between the two he-goats plays a role are appearance and value. Translating this concern to our lifestyle demands that the appearance and value of our sacred commitments be on an equal keel with our personal commitments. Our shuls and schools, the places where we and our children receive spiritual sustenance, should be no less proportionate in appearance and value than the areas of life that provide us with physical sustenance. At a minimum, we have to create parity.

And Aharon shall lean his two hands upon the head of the living he-goat and confess upon it all the iniquities of Bnei Yisrael, and all their rebellious sins among all their sins. (16:21)

Horav Levi Yitzchak zl, m'Berditchev, the legendary advocate for the Jewish People, was wont to interpret this pasuk homiletically - but very practically - in light of what has occurred to our People throughout our tumultuous history. Aharon placed all of the sins on the head of the se'ir, he-goat, which alludes to another sair, Eisav, who is referred to as sair, for the land which was his home - Har Se'ir. All of the Jewish sins are blamed on Eisav. The anti-Semitism, the cruelty, the pogroms and different types of persecutions that Eisav and his minions have initiated against us have catalyzed Jewish sin. When a person is broken; when he is constantly facing nothing but affliction; when fear is his interminable companion; and endless pain a part of his life; when humiliation and depravation are heaped upon him by those whose only excuse for living is hatred and evil, it is no wonder that it leads to yiush, despondency, hopelessness and eventual rejection of the focus of all this hatred: Judaism. Yes, the Jewish People have thrown in the towel; they cannot take anymore, and they have rebelled. The se'ir, Eisav haRasha, the wicked, engendered this reaction. The Berditchever entreated Hashem that all of the sins should rebound to the one that created the scenario for our capitulation.

A perusal of Jewish history supports this claim. We have only to go back two centuries to western Europe, specifically Germany and France, prior to - and especially following - the French Revolution, to observe this reality in action. The Enlightenment and its Jewish spin, the Haskalah movement, had begun to take hold of the hapless Jews. As the fortunes of the Jews in the larger cities changed, so did their attitude towards religion in general and Orthodoxy in particular. The small town and village Jew continued to maintain his faith and commitment, because he was not exposed to the degradation that was rampant in the larger communities. Suddenly, a nation that had suffered for so long at the hands of their enemies was now turning to embrace the religion of its oppressors.

Many Jews felt that they had been scorned long enough. Their hope was that the innovations which the Revolution set into motion would remove some of the walls of separation that existed between the Jew and the gentile. Perhaps, now they could become equals. How quickly they had forgotten the lessons of the past, all of the suffering and misery that had been so much a part of their lives. It was all forgotten, as they sacrificed their Judaism and their traditional way of life to the ideals of the Revolution. Instead of taking pride in the Torah, they were envious of their neighbors. After so many years of persecution, they sought acceptance. What the Christians had not succeeded in accomplishing via the fires of the auto-de-fe` and the sword, the French Revolution achieved with its granting of equal rights.

After living for years under conditions that were, at best, miserable, the Jew was now breaking out. Is it any wonder that to the poor, depressed Jew, the cultured, intelligent gentile was the apex of his aspirations? Torah education was limited, and centers were uncommon. Without the centers to teach and imbue the youth with Torah knowledge and pride, the Jew was relegated to live a life of hopeless depression. Torah infuses one with national pride, helping to override the contempt and scorn the Jew felt whenever he came in contact with the gentile. When parents feel the disdain of others and are unable to develop a healthy sense of self, how can they possibly transmit a positive feeling about their heritage to their children?

The Baalei Mussar, Ethicists, explain that life is a challenge, a constant test of our ability to cope with- and triumph over- adversity. When one sees his co-religionist fall under the influence of Eisav ha'rasha, assimilating and joining forces with- and becoming part of -his society, he is puzzled. "Where is the punishment?" he asks. "Where is my reward for remaining committed and maintaining my devotion to our traditions?" he wonders. One who studies Torah, to whom Torah perspective is a way of life, has no questions. He is acutely aware that assimilation leads to spiritual extinction. True, there might be temporary benefits, but, in the long run, Eisav never accepts the Jew. He has now lost both worlds: estranged from his Jewish brethren; and reviled by his Eisavian friends.

Eisav has created nothing but trouble for the Jewish People. He attempts to pull us away from our source of holiness with promises of success and acceptance, and then persecutes us in the cruelest manner to remind us that Yaakov and Eisav can never coalesce. Regrettably, by then it is often too late.

Parshas Kedoshim

You shall be holy for holy am I, Hashem, your G-d. (19:2)

It is not enough for a Jew to be good or virtuous. He must be holy. Holiness should be our goal. Exactly what holiness means, what activity or virtue defines this state of being, is a dispute among the Rishonim. Rashi feels that kedushah means to be parush, removed from arayos, sins of sexual immorality as defined by the Torah, as well as any sin that is related to such breaches in morality. Ramban contends that kedushah is a reference to the lack of excess even in those areas in which one may indulge. A glutton is not a kadosh. His excess undermines the very principles of kedushah.

We may understand kedushah from the perspective of the second part of the pasuk: ki kadosh ani, "For holy am I." We are to maintain a level of holiness, because it is G-d-like to be holy. We are to emulate Hashem. Clearly, we cannot fathom such a level of kedushah, but we can and should use Hashem as the barometer for everything that we do. In other words, when we act with integrity, it should be because that is what Hashem instructs us to do. When we are kind, it is because it is Hashem's way. Whatever we do, it is because of Hashem. The following episode elucidates this idea.

Horav Moshe Aharon Stern, zl, relates that his father was a student in the university, majoring in accounting. The degree was issued after one passed a final test, which was given only at a specific time and lasted a maximum of four hours. When Mr. Stern saw that the test was being given on the second day of Shavuous, he went to the dean and explained that, as an observant Jew, he was forbidden to take the test at that time. The dean listened and passed the buck to his assistant, whom he asserted might be more understanding, since he was also Jewish. The assistant dean was understanding, but weak. He claimed that if he would provide him with a deferral, it would be alleged that he favored Jews. No "respectable" educator could take such a chance. Mr. Stern returned to the dean and thanked him for his time. He was not taking the test. The dean asked him to reconsider. After all, "no one" was going to see him taking the test on the festival. Mr. Stern explained that he was not concerned with "no one;" it was G-d who concerned him. G-d sees and records everything.

The dean saw that the young Jewish student was uncompromising in his conviction, which, of course, is the way one should be. "What will you do now that you cannot take the test?" the dean asked. Mr. Stern replied, "I will take the course over again." "What if it is given next year on a Saturday or a Festival?" the dean asked. "Then, I will take the course over again," Mr. Stern replied.

"This kid is for real," the dean thought. He would try to help him. "Young man, sit down," the dean said. "There are two weeks left before the test. Come to my office the day before the holiday. We will talk."

Erev Shavuous found Mr. Stern waiting in front of the dean's office. "Come in, young man," the dean motioned, as he locked the door with three locks. "I am going to do something for you that I have never done in my entire life," the dean began. "If I am discovered, I will be ruined. My reputation in the academic community will be besmirched, and all of my honor will be lost, but I feel I must help a young man who is so sincere in his convictions and so committed to his religion."

The dean went over to the safe and removed a copy of the test, placed it in an envelope and sealed it. "Young man, here is the test that will be given in two days' time. I trust that you will not open this envelope until that time, and you will not talk to anyone concerning the contents of the test. It is to be concealed in your house until the night after the holiday when you are permitted to write. You will then open the envelope and take the test. After exactly four hours, you will stop and place the test in another envelope, seal it, and bring it to me the next day. No one is to know a word of this entire episode."

When the young man came home with the test and related to his father what had occurred, his father responded, "Give me the test. The dean trusted you. I do not." Rav Moshe Aharon interjected that his grandfather was a student of the saintly Chafetz Chaim, and this is how he would have reacted. He understood human nature and the guile of the yetzer hora, evil inclination.

On Motzei Yom Tov, following Havdalah, his father sat him down, gave him the test and started the clock. He was the inspector. When four hours were up, he asked for the papers. "But, Daddy, I am in the middle of an answer. It will only take two more minutes."

"No," his father said, "you gave your word. It is already four hours."

This is kedushah. They answered to a Higher Authority.

Perhaps we may add a higher dimension to the concept of kedushah. The kadosh, one who has achieved sanctity status, is an individual who no longer lives on the same plane as ordinary man. He has the unique ability to transcend the physical, to surpass the mundane and connect with his Higher Source. A kadosh establishes a bond with Hashem which eclipses the prosaic existence for which many of us settle in this world. The following classic conveys this idea.

On one particular Chanukah in the dread death camp in Bergen-Belsen, the Nazi beasts were into their own diabolical perception of sport: taking Jews at random and shooting them. While the Jewish inmates of the camp were acutely aware that they were part of Hashem's plan, this cruel activity was focused on dehumanizing whatever pride the Jew had left. One group of Jews somehow found within themselves the strength and the power, under such extreme circumstances, to continue living as Jews. They still performed mitzvos with a resolute devotion that goes beyond description. They were able to locate some shoe polish, and they removed a thread from one of their prison uniforms. They assembled that night together to light Chanukah candles.

Their leader, spiritual mentor, was the venerable Blushover Rebbe, Horav Yisrael Spiro, zl. He arose to light the "candle" and make the brachah, blessing. He recited the first brachah, L'hadlik ner shel Chanukah. Then he recited the second blessing, She'asah nissim l'avoseinu bayamim ha'heim b'zman ha'zeh, "Who wrought miracles for our forefathers in those days at this season." He then paused and looked around. The group waited quietly, anxiously. After a few moments, the Rebbe concluded with the third blessing of: Shehechiyanu v'kiyamanu v'higianu l'zman hazeh, "Who has kept us alive, sustained us, and brought us to this season."

As soon as the Rebbe completed the emotional lighting of the "menorah," one of the inmates approached him and asked, "Rebbe, I can understand why you recited the first two brachos, blessings, but why did you recite the last blessing, the brachah of Shehechiyanu? How could you make such a brachah after all that we have endured? Is this life?"

The Rebbe looked into the inmate's face and replied, "You know, I, too, pondered this difficulty. How could I make this blessing? Then I looked around the room at the faces of those assembled. I wondered, where are we? We are in Bergen Belsen, surrounded by death. We do not know if we will even be here tomorrow. There can be no more adverse conditions, no worse situation than this. Yet, even under such deplorable circumstances, Yidden can gather together to light Chanukah candles. I said to myself, 'If this is what Yidden are, and if this is the power of the Jews, then for that reason alone I could and should say that Hakodesh Baruch Hu brought us to this season.'"

This is kedushah: the ability to transcend the most calamitous circumstances, to confront misery and continue on the path of service to Hashem, because one has established an inextricable link with the Almighty.

You shall not cheat your fellow and you shall not rob; you shall not withhold a worker's wage with you until morning. You shall not curse the deaf. (19:13,14)

In his commentary to this pasuk, the Baal HaTurim notes the juxtaposition of the Torah's admonition not to curse a deaf person upon the admonition against withholding a worker's wages. He explains that the Torah is teaching us a valuable and practical lesson. One who has been wronged by his employer has no right to curse him. Rather, he should take him to court to have the matter adjudicated. Horav Chaim Zaitchik, zl, explains that the Torah is establishing for us defined set of parameters with regard to what is justifiable and what is not, how far one can go when he has been wronged, what he may do when he has been hurt and what is prohibited.

It happens all of the time. One has been cheated and seeks to retrieve his loss. There is a rabbinical court of law where this issue should be settled. Cursing, name calling, humiliation, are not part of what is permissible. We often get carried away in our reaction to those who have taken advantage of us. Imagine the worker in the Torah's context. He put in his honest effort, and he labored in accordance with his employer's demands. Times are difficult, and money is scarce. His family is in need. The paycheck is crucial to their survival, their dignity, their hope. By withholding the paycheck, his employer has dealt a severe blow to him and his family. Bearing this in mind, the employee feels justified in doing almost anything to retrieve his pay and to inflict damage on his employer. The Torah tells him: There are things you may do and things you may not do. Certain actions are not permissible. There are defined boundaries, and cursing one's employer is out of bounds. We think that once there is an area of approval, it extends to whatever we want. It is not like that. We are observant Jews who are guided and disciplined by the Torah. We do not do what we want - regardless of how justified it might "seem."

A similar exposition is to be found in Devarim 19:11, "If there will be a man who hates his fellow, and ambushes him…and strikes him mortally…and he flees to one of these cities (of refuge)…Then the elders of his city shall take him from there and place him in the hand of the redeemer of the blood, and he shall die. Your eye shall not pity him…You shall not move a boundary of your fellow." Once again the Baal HaTurim makes note of the juxtaposition of the intentional murderer, who attempts to save himself by fleeing to the city of refuge and is handed over to the relative of the victim who is permitted to kill him, upon the admonition against moving someone's boundary marker. It is a form of theft. The Baal HaTurim explains that one might think that since he is allowed to avenge his relative's blood, he might also take some of the murderer's land. The Torah has set up boundaries. The murderer pays with his life. His land is not to be touched - regardless of the heinous nature of his crime. This is where the yetzer hora, evil inclination, rears its ugly head, by convincing the person that "all" is permissible. We are Torah-observant Jews. Rioting , looting, and other perverted forms of revenge and self-expression are not part of our way of life. We ascribe to a higher form of discipline - the Torah. Everything has its measure, its time, its place, its boundary.

Al tivtechu b'nedivim b'ven Adam she'ein lo teshuah.
Do not rely on nobles, nor on a human being for he holds no salvation.

In his Be'er Shmuel, Horav Shmuel Rosenberg, zl approaches this pasuk practically. We all make the mistake of trusting in human beings. Our error is compounded when we take into account that even the individuals in whom we have placed our hopes and trust are "also" dysfunctional without Hashem. Why bother with nedivim altogether, if in the long run, they too cannot succeed without Hashem's blessing? David HaMelech says in Sefer Tehillim 118:9, Tov lachasos b'Hashem m'betoach b'nedivim, "It is better to take refuge in Hashem than to rely on nobles." The Psalmist is telling us not to bother placing our trust in nobles-or any human being for that matter, but rather to place our total reliance on Hashem, Who is the source of all salvation. David HaMelech was a great and powerful king - as long as Hashem showered him with His blessing. Without this Divine Providence, he was nothing. He acknowledges this as he encourages others to place their trust only in Hashem.

Horav Shimon Schwab, zl, notes the use of the word yeshuah, salvation. He explains that this word is used to describe something which endures. A human being, regardless of how well-intentioned he may be, cannot possibly possess the ability to carry out his promise, because he will eventually leave this world. Only Hashem is infinite.

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