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Peninim on the Torah

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Rabbi A. Leib Scheinbaum
Hebrew Academy of Cleveland


After the death of Aharon's two sons. (16:1)

The Midrash states four reasons for the untimely, tragic deaths of Nadav and Avihu. Among these is the idea that, Lo natlu eitzah, zeh mi'zeh, "They did not take counsel one from another." Ish machtaso, "Each man his firepan" (Vayikra 10:1) intimates that each one acted on his own without consulting the other. It was as if each one were to say, "I know what to do; I have no reason to mull it over with anyone else." Horav Arye Leib Bakst, zl, posits that this is how we should understand the failing of Rabbi Akiva's disciples, who also died untimely deaths. Those were the greatest scholars of their generation, twenty-four thousand devoted students of the generation's pre-eminent Torah sage. Yet, there was something about their behavior that was left wanting. Clearly, whatever sin is attributed to them is only on a relative basis, consistent with their sublime level of Torah erudition and spirituality.

Chazal say, Lo nohagu kavod zeh ba'zeh, "They did not practice/they were not accustomed to giving honor one to another." Perhaps each one held himself in such esteem that he did not feel beholden to anyone else. After all, who could advise him? Who could teach him? In Pirkei Avos 4:15, Chazal say, Yehi kavod chaveircha k'mora rabbach, "The honor of your friend should be tantamount to the fear that you have for your rebbe." It should not be beneath you to consult your contemporary.

The Rosh Yeshivah explains that this is not the correct approach. From the very beginning of Creation, Hashem established a guideline of, Lo tov hayos ha'adam levado, "It is not good for man to be alone." While Judaism views this as the imperative for marriage, Rashi adds a penetrating insight into levado, "alone," explaining why it is so vital: "That they should not claim shtei reshuyos b'olam, there are two authorities; Hashem is unique in the higher realms, and (He) has no mate; and this one (Adam) is unique in the lower realms, and he (also) has no mate." Indeed, even when He created primordial Man, Hashem "consulted" with His Holy Tribunal. Rashi explains that the Torah is teaching us proper conduct and the enviable trait of humility. Thus, the Greater One (in this case, Hashem) should consult and receive permission from the lesser one. This is Hashem's middah, and one must try to emulate the Almighty, because this is Divine Will. Chazal teach (Berachos 27b) that when the sages requested Rabbi Elazar ben Azariah to accept the Nesius, governing position, he replied, "I will consult the members of my household." He consulted his wife. One who is "alone", in the sense that he does not seek advice and deliberate with another individual, whom he respects, cannot achieve true success.

Rav Bakst feels this is the underlying reason that chassan domeh l'melech, "a groom is compared to a king." The word melech/maloch means to rule, to govern, with the noun translated as king. The word melech may also be derived from mamlich, to consult. A king consults his inner circle of advisors, his cabinet. One who marries is no longer alone. He is like a king who is always conferring with his advisors. As a married man, he now has a life's companion with whom he takes counsel. Those who take action, who move forward without deliberating with others, will not achieve enduring success. One must act like a monarch, who has a circle of confidants with whom he deliberates. There is one catch: One must be astute in selecting an advisor who will be his friend, who will tell him the truth, regardless of how "brutal" it might seem at first. One who tells us what we want to hear is a poor advisor and even worse friend.

From the assembly of Bnei Yisrael he shall take two he-goats for a sin-offering. (16:5)

The Torah goes into great detail in describing the ritual of the two he-goats. One goat is "fortunate" to be selected as a korban, offering to Hashem. It is slaughtered by the Kohen Gadol, its blood sprinkled between the Badei HaAron, Poles of the Aron HaKodesh, on the Paroches, Curtain, and the Mizbayach HaZahav, Golden Altar. This represents a fairly impressive "end" to the life of an animal. The other he-goat does not seem to fare as well. It serves as the offering sent into the wilderness, bearing the nation's sins. It is later flung off a cliff, falling to its painful death, a broken heap of skin and bones. Ramban writes that the seh l'azazel represents a sort of shochad l'Satan, bribe for Satan, to tone down his prosecuting endeavor, so that the Jewish People can achieve atonement without Satan advocating for their extinction. Indeed, after Satan has been satisfied, he himself discovers reasons to find merit for the Jewish People. It is incredible how far a little shochad will go to sway one's subjectivity.

These two he-goats were similar in every way. Purchased together, their appearance was the same. They were of equal value. Indeed, everything about them screamed, "There is absolutely no difference between the two of us, other than the fact that one is used l'Hashem and one is sent l'azazel." What lesson may be derived from this? Horav Michael Peretz, Shlita, suggests that the Torah is teaching us a crucial lesson to be implemented in our strategy to overcome the yetzer hora successfully. The most important point which we must acknowledge is to know the awesome power of our enemy. Make no mistake - the yetzer hora is crafty, filled with guile, unscrupulous, has no compassion, and takes no prisoners. The yetzer hora is bent on destroying us and has been given every possible means to do so. His arsenal is replete with every weapon for ensnaring us to do his bidding, thereby distancing us from our Maker. If we belittle the yetzer hora, if we think, "What can he do to me? He cannot sway me," then we have already lost the battle. The yetzer hora is a formidable enemy, and the sooner that we accept this reality, the better our chances are for success against him.

By comparing the two he-goats - one representing the side of Hashem and the other symbolic of Satan/yetzer hora/Malach Ha'Maves - we are forced to acknowledge that the forces of evil are not pushovers. Indeed, on this holy day of Yom Kippur, we are relegated to offer a bribe to Satan. We must recognize that we are up against an indomitable opponent, whose powers are frightening: "Know thine enemy!" The two goats are equal, because we must learn to "respect" the powers of the yetzer hora. Only then will we fight in earnest and - with the help of the Almighty - triumph over evil.


You shall reprove your fellow. (19:17)

The redundancy of the words, ho'cheach tochiach, gives us something to ponder. Clearly, the Torah is placing emphasis on the mitzvah of tochachah, rebuke, but is it necessary to repeat the words to prove a point - or, is the Torah conveying another message? In his Drushim, the Ben Ish Chai explains this idea with an incident that occurred concerning a clever thief. A fellow was caught stealing in a country in which there was a zero tolerance law regarding theft. Anyone who was caught stealing was sentenced to death. There was no reprieve, no commutation. The form of punishment served, for the most part, as a powerful deterrent. This thief either thought he could beat the system or was in such dire need that he was willing to chance it.

When the sentence was passed by the king, the thief made a special request: Since he was a first-time offender, he was wondering if, perhaps, the king would grant him an audience for a few moments. The king was basically a decent human being who just had a low tolerance level for theft. He granted the thief his request. He would meet privately with him.

"What is it that you want?" the King asked the thief. "I have been blessed with a unique ability. I can prepare a potion that has incredible powers. It would be a sin to die and take this secret with me to my grave. I will be happy to share this exceptional wisdom with the king."

The king acquiesced to the doomed man's request. The prisoner asked for a number of ingredients which he mixed together. After his potion was completed, the prisoner asked the king for a package of seeds. Regardless of their type, if they were to be soaked in his preparation, he guaranteed that the very same day that these seeds were planted in the ground, they would sprout fruit! This was an astonishing claim, and, if true, it would be one of mankind's greatest discoveries. The king brought the seeds and waited with baited breath for the planting to begin. Then the prisoner threw a fast one at the king.

"In order for this potion to work, one vital criterion must still be filled: the individual who plants the seeds in the ground must be one of impeccable integrity. Anyone who even misappropriated something which was not his cannot plant the seeds. The technique works only for a person who has never stolen a thing in his life. Now, we all know that I am ineligible to perform this process, so, therefore, I humbly ask the prime minister to plant the seeds."

The prime minister suddenly became "unavailable." He begged off from participating in this process. He just happened to remember that as a child he had stolen some money from his father's wallet. "Well, that excludes the Prime Minister," he said. "Let us ask the Treasury Minister. Surely, someone who is in charge of the country's finances must have a spotless record." The Treasury Minister demurred, claiming that when one works with so much money he might err in his accounting. Apparently, the prisoner was not surprised to hear this. He relentlessly kept on trying to locate that one elusive person who was worthy of planting the seeds. Alas, there was no one. Even the self-righteous King conceded that, as a youth, he had purloined a valuable wristwatch from his younger brother.

At that moment, the prisoner fell on the ground before the King and began to cry bitterly. "My lord, behold what I have demonstrated before your very own eyes. There is absolutely no one in this country - not even his royal highness, who is not in some way tainted by the scourge of theft. Why is it that among all the thieves of this country, I was unfortunate enough to get caught? Furthermore, I stole to feed my family. Others have stolen to satisfy their illicit desires."

Listening to this clever thief, the king, who was no fool, realized that the special potion was nothing more than a ploy devised to arouse his attention to a verity which he had ignored. Indeed, the thief had a legitimate claim: Was he any different than anyone else? After being warned that he would not be so fortunate the "next time," the thief was released.

The episode teaches us a powerful lesson concerning our interpersonal relationships. No one is perfect. When our anger is aroused at someone whom we feel has harmed us - physically, financially, or emotionally - we should immediately question ourselves: Are we any better? Are we all that perfect? Do we feel all that self-righteous that we can find guilt in others and nothing but innocence concerning ourselves? Additionally, how often do we anger Hashem, and He simply ignores our impudence? We criticize others, yet, we expect Hashem to overlook our faults.

Hocheach Tochiach - before we confront others, let us first examine ourselves. Let us undergo some serious self-rebuke before we take it upon ourselves to find fault in others. Rebuke is repeated because the rebuke should be offered twice: once to himself; followed by the rebuke he intended to give to the other fellow.

You shall not take revenge, and you shall not bear a grudge against members of Your people. (19:18)

The Torah forbids us from taking revenge in any shape or form. Is revenge really that bad? For one individual, it might give him closure to an ordeal which he wants to forget. Another just might desire the fellow who harmed him to feel some of the emotional and physical pain which he had experienced. Some might even consider revenge to be sweet. What they do not realize is that revenge is obsessive and destructive, taking its toll on both parties. The old proverb which states, "He who seeks revenge should prepare two graves," is very true. Yet, should revenge be prohibited?

In his sefer, Devarim Achadim, the Chida, zl, quotes the Kli Yakar who explains this concept with a parable. A young child was busy building a large castle out of sand. The edifice he created was outstanding. The child was quite adept and creative. The many hours he had spent laboring in the heat had produced a result that filled him with great pride. We can, therefore, imagine the pain and anger he felt when his older brother walked by and, with the sweep of his hand, destroyed his younger brother's lavish creation.

The little boy went crying to his father, complaining bitterly concerning his older brother's act of "treachery." How could he do this to him? The child demanded that his father punish the older boy to the fullest measure of discipline. No compassion - he demanded the worst.

The father was no fool. He was acutely aware that the massive piece of architecture which was destroyed by his older son was nothing more than a sand castle. In a materialistic world, sand does not play a major role. Sand is plentiful, and anything made from it has zero permanence. The younger son was playing, not building. His edifice was no more than the product of a deft hand and an active imagination. There was nothing real to this castle - but sand. The father could hardly accede to his younger son's wishes for punishment and revenge.

The lesson to be derived from this parable is probably already clear to everyone. Life in this world is much like sand castles. We endeavor and build; we think that we have achieved, that we are actually in control. We are, however, very wrong. Our accomplishments, our successes, our institutions and establishments are all sand castles. Nothing in this world is of lasting value, except, of course, Torah and mitzvos, and those endeavors that promote Torah and mitzvos. In our material/physical dimension, nothing really counts, because nothing is real. If someone infringes on what we view to be our "turf," they have only encroached themselves on our sand castles. They have not hurt us, because we have nothing. Taking revenge bespeaks an attitude that is antithetical to Torah. Nothing has been gained: thus, nothing has been lost.

Sadly, many of us have stigmatized vision, seeing only what we want to see, mistaking imagination for reality. Our creations are not much more than a dream; our endeavors, unless anchored in spiritual achievement, are meaningless. Everything falls under the category of sand castles.

The Kli Yakar applies this parable to explain why, when we see someone who was, in some manner, offended by his fellow man crying out to Hashem with a taaneh, complaint. "Hashem! Punish him for what he did to me," Hashem does not respond. It is almost as if Hashem is ignoring him. True, he might be justified, and his complaint valid. Yet, Hashem still does not answer. Why? Hashem is like the father who listens to his young child complain about the actions of his older brother. The father understands that there really was no sustainable damage. It was only sand castles.

We often meet individuals who have reneged religious observance with the excuse: "I have issues with religion; I have questions concerning G-d; I cannot reconcile some of the occurrences that have taken place throughout history." Who do they think they are to have questions of G-d, complaints and issues with religion? They are no different than the child who built a sand castle and whose world came crashing down when his castle was destroyed by his older brother.

I recently came across a story printed in a popular weekly periodical. The story was adapted from an Israeli Torah publication. While this is certainly not the only story of its nature, I am using it because in some way it involves the Chida. The episode took place last fall when a young couple, who direct a Jewish outreach center in Yerushalayim, were returning to the Holy Land. Upon landing and retrieving their luggage, they approached the dispatcher for a sheirut, a company which provides shared rides from Ben Gurion airport to Yerushalayim. It was early in the morning, with minimal crowds, and the dispatcher directed the couple to a waiting mini-van that was slowly filling up with passengers. When they approached the driver, he said that he would not be going to the section of Yerushalayim where they lived. They should wait for the next sheirut. Rather than get into an argument with the driver, the couple returned to the dispatcher and asked for the next van. The dispatcher would not hear of it. He had told them to go with that certain driver. He had no choice but to take them to their apartment.

They returned to the van, loaded their luggage and took their seats. The driver was not going to be very happy. The very next passenger to board the van was a young Israeli named Yoav, who had just returned from Barcelona. He was in Eretz Yisrael for a four day visit with his parents. His father had fallen ill, and he felt it prudent to come home.

The young man sat down next to the rabbi and almost immediately requested, "Rabbi, tell me a dvar Torah, Torah thought." Rabbis love sharing Torah thoughts, and what better way can there be to strike up a conversation? Since they had both just landed in the Holy Land, it made sense to focus on the unique Hashgachah Pratis, Divine Providence, which the Almighty exercises in Eretz Yisrael. This does not negate in any way from Hashem's Divine Providence vis--vis the rest of the world; it is just that Eretz Yisrael is, after all, unique and special. The Torah describes the Holy Land as Eretz asher einei Hashem Elokecha bah meireishis ha'shanah ad acharis shanah, "The land over which Hashem's eyes are watching from the beginning of the year until its end" (Devarim). "This means," explained the rabbi, "that the Almighty watches over the Holy Land far more directly than He does over the cities from which we have just arrived (New York and Barcelona)."

While the young man listened intently, he was quick to disagree. Apparently his disagreement seemed to be spurred on by personal issues which he had with the Holy Land and with G-d. "Statistics show that at least as many people are hurt or killed in Eretz Yisrael as the result of terror attacks as we note in other countries. Despite its miniscule size and limited population, the numbers are probably greater than in other countries. I would not call that Divine Providence," the young man countered, almost with anger. "In fact, my best friend was killed in a terrorist attack."

The rabbi explained that all is not what it seems. Events occur before our eyes that are definitely inexplicable - to us. This does not mean that there is no rationale. There certainly is. We are just not privy to it due to our limited ability to grasp. Everything that occurs is part of Hashem's Divine Plan. As the rabbi was giving a discourse on our inability to grasp Hashem's ways, he reminded himself of a story that had taken place ten years earlier.

"My wife and two of her friends went to visit a woman who had lost a son during the terror attack on the Number 14 bus in Yerushalayim. During their visit, they also met Moshe, a younger brother of the victim who related the following incredible story.

"On the fateful day that his brother had been killed, Moshe had been on a bus traveling to the north, as part of a school trip. As the bus moved smoothly along, Moshe dozed off and began to dream. Shlomo, the brother who had been killed, appeared to him in a dream clothed completely in white. He told him that he would soon be leaving this world and that he expected him to be there for their mother and grandmother, who would be heartbroken over the tragedy. Shlomo directed his brother to various places in their house where he had hidden certain valuable items. He concluded by saying that he would visit the family during the shiva, seven-day mourning period, appearing in the form of a butterfly.

"The bus stopped moving along, and Moshe woke up from his sleep. The dream that he had just experienced had left him in a state of confusion. Just then, one of the students asked the driver to put on the radio so that they could listen to some music. Exactly at that moment, the newscaster broke into the regular programming with a news alert. A terrorist attack had occurred in Yerushalayim. By the time Moshe reached his mother, she was on the way to the hospital, following a call from the police.

"Shortly after the funeral and the family began to sit shiva, a butterfly flew into the house and parked itself on a family portrait, staying there the entire week. At the end of the shiva, the butterfly flew upstairs to Shlomo's bedroom, landed momentarily on his bed and then flew off, never to return.

"Obviously, the entire occurrence had shaken the family. When Moshe shared his dream with his mother, they all decided to visit a famous Kabbalist in Tzefas. Perhaps he could unravel the mystery. The Kabbalist told the family, who happen to be descendants of the Chida, that Shlomo was a gilgul, reincarnation, of the neshamah, soul, of the Chida's father. Therefore, his life was short, since the soul of the Chida's father required very few corrections to achieve perfection."

The rabbi concluded his story to the young traveler from Barcelona by underscoring the notion that, if we take a penetrating look at life experiences, we will see Hashem's Divine Hand manipulating events. Even at a time of grave tragedy, Hashem's guiding hand is present. The young man had entered the sheirut a doubter, but left a faithful believer in Hashem. He kept repeating over and over that he was in shock. Finally, the rabbi asked him why he was shocked. Did everything not make sense?

"You do not seem to understand. This story which you related struck home. Shlomo was my best friend. I have been doubting Hashem ever since that tragic day when his life was snuffed out. His untimely death undermined my belief."

Looking back, they both saw Hashem's Divine Providence. The rabbi was forced to return to the sheirut, where he met the young man, who requested a dvar Torah, which all started with Hashem's watchful eye on Eretz Yisrael. We must remember: Life is filled with what appears to be questions; serious questions. For the believer there are no questions; for the non-believer, there are no answers.

The Russian infantry was notified of the Czar's upcoming visit. An inspection of this sort was an honor, but could lead to serious problems for anyone who did not pass with flying colors. Understandably, everyone was determined to present a barracks and camp that was pristine, prepared for anything. The soldiers cleaned their armor and weapons. Everything was in tip-top shape. The day arrived, and the Czar's retinue was seen from afar. Everyone stood at attention - each soldier in accordance with rank and seniority. The tallest soldier stood in front, with the more vertically challenged finding their place toward the rear. The Czar began his inspection, walking up and down the rows of soldiers until he abruptly stopped in front of one soldier standing at the rear of the line. The Czar embraced the young man and exclaimed, "I love you, my dear soldier!"

What should be the normal reaction of this soldier? "I love you, my King. May the Czar live forever!" That is what he should declare in a loud voice. If, however, the soldier were to mumble a few words of gratitude, as he attempted to remain awake in the Czar's presence, it would have been absolutely ludicrous-- and shameful!

This, explains Horav Yaakov Neiman, zl, is how many of us appear before Hashem when we recite Shema Yisrael. We have just completed the Birchos Krias Shema which describes the glory in Heaven as the Heavenly Angels prepare to greet the Creator. In the tefillah of Ahavah Rabbah, we express Hashem's great love for us. Then, comes Shema Yisrael which we mumble quickly - half asleep. Perhaps, the next time we recite Krias Shema we might think of the analogy concerning the Russian soldier.

In memory of my dear wife,


Rochel bas Avraham a"h
niftar 13 Iyar 5771

Dr. Jacob Massouda

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