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Rabbi A. Leib Scheinbaum
Hebrew Academy of Cleveland

PARASHAS ACHREI MOS

He shall not come at all times into the sanctuary. (16:2)

The parsha begins by reiterating the tragic deaths of Aharon HaKohen's two sons, Nadav and Avihu; then it continues with its explanation of the Yom Kippur service. Yom Kippur was the only day of the year that the Kohen Gadol was permitted to enter the Kodesh HaKodoshim, Holy of Holies. Chazal point out that two instances of misas tzaddikim, deaths of the righteous, are juxtaposed on issues that deal with kapparah, atonement: Parah Adumah and Yom Kippur. The death of Miriam HaNeviyah is juxtaposed upon the laws of Parah Adumah, the Red Heifer; and the laws of Yom Kippur are juxtaposed upon the Torah's mention of the deaths of Nadav and Avihu. Chazal derive from here that the deaths of tzaddikim have the same power of atonement as the Parah Adumah and Yom Kippur. The question is obvious: Why is it necessary to cite two proofs for the power of atonement associated with the deaths of tzaddikim? Does anything have greater power of atonement than Yom Kippur? It is the one day that is replete with the power of atonement. What is added to this by citing the atonement power of the Parah Adumah?

Horav Eliyahu Baruch Finkel, zl, quotes one of the gedolei Yisrael who explains that there are two forms of atonement: Parah Adumah; and Yom Kippur. The primary purpose of the Parah Adumah is taharah, to purify the spiritual defilement contracted by those who have come in contact with a deceased person. It also atones. Korabanos and Yom Kippur are for one singular purpose - atonement.

Likewise, there are two types of righteous people: The first is the individual who has lived a long, full life, who has passed from this world so that he now may receive his due reward in the World to Come. Chazal reveal to us that he, too, is mechaper, atones, with his death. There is also the individual who, in addition to his high level of piety, sadly leaves this world in the prime of his life, when the world could have gained so much more from him. His passing is for one reason: atonement. The world required an immediate reprieve - one that was affected by his early demise.

He shall not enter at all times into the sanctuary. (16:2)

The only time that the Kohen Gadol was permitted to enter the Holy of Holies was on Yom Kippur - the holiest day of the year - the day set aside for spiritual atonement. Our parsha begins with the mention of the deaths of the two righteous sons of Aharon HaKohen and follows with the laws concerning the Yom Kippur service in the Temple. Chazal derive from this juxtaposition that the deaths of the righteous have an atoning effect similar to that of Yom Kippur. Likewise, we find a similar statement made by Chazal, noting that the mention of the death of Miriam HaNeviyah is juxtaposed upon the laws of Parah Adumah. This teaches that misas tzaddikim, the deaths of the righteous, have an atoning effect similar to the Parah Adumah. We can understand the relationship between the deaths of the righteous and Yom Kippur. Parah Adumah, however, is not a korban, ritual sacrifice. Why not compare missas tzaddikim to korbanos, all sacrifices? They serve as an atonement - unlike Parah Adumah, whose sanctity only maintains kedushas damim, monetary value.

Horav Yitzchak Yaakov Rabinowitz, zl, Rav of Ponevez, quotes the Mishnah in Mesechas Parah 3:11 that teaches that the eifar Parah, ash of the Parah Adumah, was divided into three parts: one part was placed in the chail; a second portion was placed on Har HaMishchah; the third portion was divided up between the mishmaros, watches, of the Kohanim. The part that went to the chail was set aside to purify the Kohen who prepared the Parah Adumah. The part that was placed upon the mountain was used for the Kohanim. The third portion was used for the people when it was necessary to purify them from spiritual defilement.

This process provides a strong similarity between the Parah Adumah and the deaths of tzaddikim. When a righteous person takes leave of his earthly abode, his spiritual persona is, likewise, divided into three parts. His holy neshamah, which retained its pristine purity throughout the tzaddik's earthly sojourn, returns to its rightful place beneath the Kisei HaKavod, Holy Throne. The second part is reserved for the Kohanim, which is a metaphor for the chiddushei Torah, novellae, which the scholar innovated. These writings are reserved for the scholars who will delve through them, thereby increasing their knowledge and allowing for the "lips" of the tzaddik to speak from the grave. The third portion is reserved for Klal Yisrael, the Jewish community, who should derive important life-altering lessons from the life of a tzaddik. The way he lived should illuminate for us the path we should follow and the manner in which we should live.

This is why missas tzaddikim is compared solely to the Parah Adumah - not to the general family of korbanos. The various sacrifices do not demand the owner's participation. The Kohanim perform the service, and the owner receives atonement. The Parah Adumah, however, demands owner participation, whereby the subject of the purification must take some of the ashes in order to purify himself. Likewise, when a tzaddik dies, the community must actually participate in "taking" a lesson from his life. Otherwise, the positive effect dissipates. It does not "just happen." The person makes it happen.

A great tzaddik leaves this world. We read the obituary and biography - even the book which soon appears. The stories are inspirational; the anecdotes are meaningful. Sadly, the inspiration and meaning dissipate with time - unless we make the effort to study the life of the tzaddik, to take from his life and incorporate it in ours - just like the ashes of the Parah Adumah.

For in a Cloud I will appear upon the Ark-cover. (16:2)

The Aron HaKodesh was situated within the confines of the Kodesh HaKodoshim, Holy of Holies, a place where only the Kohen Gadol could enter on the holiest day of the year, Yom Kippur. Otherwise it was off limits, even to the Kohen Gadol. Ki be'anan eiraeh, "For in a cloud will I appear": Simply, this means that no one may enter the inner sanctuary because Hashem's Glory is manifested in the Cloud of Glory that hovers over the Ark. Entering such a place should inspire one with extraordinary fear and awe, for he stands in the Presence of the Divine. Familiarity might lead to complacency considering that, while in the wilderness, Klal Yisrael was privileged to be exposed to constant Revelation of the Shechinah. Apparently, this exceptional relationship with Hashem did not seem to be an issue. Why was the Kodesh HaKedoshim singled out more than anything else?

Horav Aharon Leib Shteinman, Shlita, explains that the revelation of the Shechinah emanated from the Kodesh HaKodoshim. It was the makom HaShechinah, place where the Shechinah reposed, thus granting it the greatest level of kedushah, holiness. It is for this reason that one is forbidden to gaze upon the Kohanim during Bircas Kohanim, Blessing of the Kohanim. The Shechinah rests upon the fingers of the Kohanim during the blessing.

We take kedushah for granted. It is related that Horav Zaidel Epstein, zl, could not fathom how people could visit the Kosel daily. He felt that this last remnant of the Bais Hamikdash deserved extra special treatment, and, by regularly visiting the site, one was diminishing his awe of the holy place. He would visit the Kosel upon occasion. When going to the Kosel, he would not engage in conversation, his mind would be deep in thought. Indeed, he once commented to someone who was accompanying him that he could not understand how people were not shaken by the experience. This was a remnant of the place in which: the korbanos were sacrificed; the Yom Kippur service took place; the Akeidas Yitzchak was carried out; Avraham Avinu transmitted to all of his future progeny the requirement to be devoted to mitzvos to the point of self-sacrifice. As he stood in awe, he pointed toward the other side of the Kosel in the direction of the place where the Kodesh HaKodoshim was situated and remarked, "We wait daily for the time when we will be there."

Once, the legendary philanthropist Reb Moshe Reichman, zl, offered his private plane to Horav Elazar M. Shach, zl, so that he could fly to Lithuania to pray at the grave of the Gaon, zl, m'Vilna. The Rosh Yeshivah looked at him and said, "Do you think that this is the only mitzvah that I am missing? I am afraid to approach his grave. It is adamas kodesh, holy ground!" He added that, when he lived in Vilna prior to moving to Eretz Yisrael, he never once went to the grave of the Gaon, in deference to awe of this holy site.

How far we have strayed from such a sublime attitude to -- and appreciation of -- kedushah. Today, this holy site (Kosel Maaravi) is subject to the abuse of secular groups, who, although estranged from everything religious, are determined to defile the Kosel with mixed prayer services led and accompanied by women wearing Tallis and Tefillin. I wonder if Shabbos and kashrus have equal meaning. They are so determined to make a statement that they do not care if they denigrate and profane this holy site. This is why I refer to them as secular.

Aharon shall lean his two hands upon the head of the living he-goat, and confess upon itů and send it with a designated man to the desert. (16:21)

The ish iti, designated man, who accompanied the seh l'azazel, he-goat, to the desert did not go alone. In fact, Chazal teach (Yoma 66b) Mi'yakirei Yerushalayim hayu melavin oso ad succah ha'rishonah, "Some of the eminent men of Yerushalayim would accompany him to the first booth." There were altogether ten booths from Yerushalayim to the cliff where the seh l'azazel met its death. The first booth was two thousand amos, cubits, from the city, which is the techum Shabbos, the distance one may walk on Shabbos beyond the city limits. Horav Mordechai Leib Saks, zl, makes a noteworthy observation. Let us analyze what these eminent men of Yerushalayim were doing and when they were doing it.

It was Yom Kippur, the holiest day of the year. Can one even begin to imagine the spectacle, the awesome exhibition, that was occurring in the Bais Hamikdash? The experience of witnessing the Kohen Gadol perform the avodas Yom Kippurim, service of Yom Kippur, was unparalleled in grandeur and reverence. It took place once a year, and the outcome for the entire year depended upon it! Yet, despite the opportunity of joining and participating in this unprecedented experience, these eminent men instead chose to accompany a lone Jew who was to walk with the goat to the desert. They did not want him to be alone. Is this not incredible? It is not as if the ish iti did not himself volunteer for the job. He wanted it, so let him do it alone. No - that is why these people were yakirei Yerushalayim, the eminent men of Yerushalayim. No Jew is left alone - even if it means that they would miss the most sublime, most spectacular religious experience of the year. It takes someone special to be so selfless.

Horav Chaim Zaitchik, zl, cites a precedence for this practice from the parsha of Pesach Sheni. A group of men were tamei, ritually contaminated, having been unable to celebrate the first public Korban Pesach offering due to their ritually-defiled status. They requested a second chance - which they subsequently received. These were special men, who were the coffin bearers for Yosef HaTzaddik, or (as some commentators suggest) they took care of the remains of Nadav and Avihu. They were so special that the parsha of Pesach Sheni is taught to Klal Yisrael as a result of their personal request for a second chance. Moshe Rabbeinu did not teach the mitzvah of Pesach Sheni. It was taught as a result of the request of these men. What made them so special? It was their selflessness. They were willing to forgo the great public offering of the Korban Pesach because someone had to attend to the deceased. They gave up the experience of a lifetime, so that they could instead do the "right thing".

This Torah thought brings back a poignant memory, and, truthfully, a somewhat sense of envy that I have harbored for almost twenty-two years. A dear friend of mine, Yosef Feigenbaum, zl, became gravely ill with the malignant disease that would snuff out his life at the young age of forty-seven. It was my privilege to visit him for eight and half months, literally from his diagnosis to his passing from this world. One day, however - one special day - I missed. It was Yom Kippur, a few months before his passing, and he was in the hospital. I had never missed a day - even a Shabbos - or a Yom Tov. Yom Kippur was difficult, because I davened for the Amud. I had to lead the Neilah service, and fasting and walking do not work well for me.

It bothered me that he would be alone all day on what would probably be the last Yom Kippur of his life. His cousin, Meshullem Feigenbaum, came forward and volunteered to walk down after Mussaf. He would miss reciting Neilah with a minyan. Instead, he would say it together with his cousin - my friend.

After the fast, I quickly drove down to the hospital. Meshullem was still there. I would give him a ride home. I looked at his face, and I knew that he had just been privy to the spiritual experience of his life. He was enraptured, on a spiritual high like none I had ever seen before. He intimated that, at first, he was concerned about missing Neilah with a minyan, but reciting Neilah together with a person who knew that this was it was an indescribably and unforgettable experience. They sat together, the tears flowing down their faces, drenching their kittelach, knowing that this Yom Kippur they were closer to Hashem than ever before.

Hashem presents us with opportunities. May they all be positive. The decision we make-- in accepting to do what we might rather not do-- can ultimately change our lives.

It shall be considered as bloodshed for that man, he has shed blood, and that man shall be cut off from the midst of his people. (17:4)

After Noach saved the animals during the Flood, Hashem permitted man to partake of animals for food. If a man slaughters a consecrated animal outside of the Bais Hamikdash, the process is referred to as shchutei chutz, slaughtering "outside." This act of slaughtering reverts back to pre-Noach days and is deemed tantamount to committing bloodshed. There is no death penalty, because the individual did not take a human life; on a cosmic level, however, he did spill blood - which is an offense punishable by Heaven. Horav Ezra Barzal, zl, quotes Rashi who compares this spilling of blood to human killing. Why? Veritably, the slaughterer has caused undue pain to the animal, but can this be likened to murder in any way?

Rav Ezra derives from here that every creation has a specific purpose, a designated mission in life which it is designed to achieve. An animal that has been consecrated has been elevated to a status whereby now, by virtue of its ritual slaughter, will provide pleasure for Hashem. When its owner is spiritually elevated via the korban, sacrifice, that he offers in honor of Hashem, the Almighty derives great nachas, pleasure. Depriving Hashem of this nachas ruach, pleasure, by cutting the animal off, preventing it from attaining its role and purpose in life, is an act that is tantamount to murder.

Now, if this is the attitude vis-?-vis an animal, how much more so are we held responsible for depriving a human being from achieving his potential, from accomplishing his mission and purpose in life? A friend is studying in yeshivah; a girl is doing well in her studies at the Bais Yaakov, and someone - either inadvertently, because he/she needs company, or acutely, with malice aforethought -- prevents this friend from attaining his/her goal in life. This is murder, perhaps not punishable by a court of law, but Heaven will not countenance such negative action. The individual who is responsible for the spiritual detriment of this person -- the one whose actions have catalyzed his stunted spiritual growth-- is considered to be a murderer.

Horav Zaidel Epstein, zl, Mashgiach in Yeshivas Torah Ohr, had previously served in Yeshivas RJJ for four decades. He was known for his individualized spiritual treatment of every student, each of whom he viewed as a bachur chashuv, distinguished student. Even when a student was suspected of committing a spiritual offense of the degree of Shabbos desecration, the Mashgiach continued to treat him as before. He explained that each individual views himself positively. He concedes that he has certain failings, but that these failings are merely superficial, extraneous blemishes which do not impact on his true essence. In other words, no one is willing to concede guilt; he always has an excuse. Thus, the Mashgiach felt that each student should be treated accordingly, acknowledging the premise that he was "unaware" of his personal shortcomings. Every student had a neshamah that could be reached with patience and love.

The Mashgiach understood what motivates the American student. Baseball is America's favorite pastime, and he was well aware that the yeshivah students were into the game and its players. He did not denigrate the sport, because he was cognizant of their attachment to it. He had no aversion to their playing ball, but not to have baseball take over their lives. Play for sport, play for fun, but do not play as if your life depends on it. The yeshivah students were part of a league with students of other schools. While the Mashgiach frowned on this, and he reiterated in ethical discourses that one does not grow great in Torah by wallowing in baseball, he nonetheless supported them. When they lost the last game of the season, thus plummeting down to last place, he consoled them. On the one hand, they knew his feelings concerning baseball; on the other hand, they appreciated his concern and encouragement.

One of the distinguished American Roshei Yeshiva remembers that, as a teenager, he was a prolific basketball player. Indeed, he was so good that his reputation within and without the yeshivah spread as his fame as a player grew. Many students looked up to him with respect and even awe due to his physical prowess on the basketball court. Understandably, Rav Zaidel did not approve, and he even subtly hinted at his disdain, but he never denigrated the student or the game. In fact, the day after a big game (which was held at night following night seder), Rav Zaidel would question his student concerning the game: how did he play, what kind of shots did he make; how many three-pointers, etc.? He understood how much it meant to the student. His personal feelings aside, his students' emotions were more important. In due time, he would get his message across. He did.

Many of us have dreams, visions, aspirations for the future. While everyone has a mission and purpose in life, he often does not discover that purpose until he gravitates towards it and achieves distinction in it. He then realizes that this is what he was destined to do. What if: he had a dream; he had hope; he made plans; and someone - due to his immaturity, obtuseness, pure envy - belittled him, maligned his plans, shattered his hopes? Such a person -- knowingly or unknowingly -- is guilty of an unpardonable sin. This is the Torah's message. Perhaps the following vignette, which I might have once previously written, illustrates this idea.

Horav Meir Shapiro, zl, was a unique gadol, Torah leader. He was an individual who encompassed the very apex of Torah scholarship. An accomplished Rosh Yeshivah, he was founder of Chachmei Lublin, which was one of the premier yeshivos in pre-World War II Europe. A Rav of a distinguished Torah community, a strong political advocate who championed Torah causes in Polish Parliament, he carried much influence in both the secular and Torah worlds. He radiated pride in Torah and served as a model exemplar for yeshivah students to emulate. Nonetheless, it was none of these achievements that established his preeminence within the Torah world; rather, it was his innovative plan to have the entire Torah - camp study one blatt of Gemorah daily. His Daf HaYomi garnered for him the position of Torah mentor for generations to come. As long as Daf Yomi is studied, his celebrated name lives on.

It almost did not happen. Yes, we might have lost this great treasure; the dream of a lifetime was almost shattered by the innocent taunting of children. Now for the story, which is related by Rabbi Yisrael Besser in Warmed by the Fire.

Rav Meir Shapiro was once traveling by train. As the train pulled into a town for a brief rest stop, the Lubliner Rav alighted. Word spread that the distinguished sage was in town, and, within no time, throngs of people came to the station to greet and pay homage to this great man. Among the people was an upcoming young rav, son-in-law of the Shotzer Rav, who waited to shake hands with the Lubliner Rav.

He introduced himself as the Shotzer Rav's son-in-law, a name which carried much weight with Rav Meir Shapiro, himself having grown up in Shotz. Rav Meir asked the young rav if his rebbetzin was also in attendance. When he replied in the affirmative, Rav Meir asked if he could meet her. The young rebbetzin came over, and, after greeting her, Rav Meir asked, "Do you remember that, as a young child, I would learn with your father in your home?" The woman replied that, indeed, she remembered. "Do you recall how I would play with your siblings and with yourself?" Once again, the woman replied that she remembered.

Then suddenly, Rav Meir's voice changed. It became deeper and slightly louder. "Do you remember how I would share my dream of one day having a limud, program of study, to which all the world would be able to adhere - together, as one? I was going to connect the entire Torah world through Torah study. Do you also remember how all of the children made fun of me?"

The rebbetzin did not reply.

"Do you know how close I came to losing confidence in my plan - dropping it altogether - because of all the taunting? This is why I asked to meet you. I just wanted to share a lesson with you: Never laugh at the dreams of a child!"

Va'ani Tefillah

Gomeil chassadim tovim v'koneih hakol.

Upon reading the above phrase we note the vav ha'chibur, connecting vav, preceding v'koneih ha'kol. This would indicate that v'koneih ha'kol is one of Hashem's chassadim, kindnesses. One would think that v'koneih hakol is one of Hashem's awesome powers - not one of Hashem's acts of kindness. Meged Yosef explains that koneih ha'kol does not necessarily refer to Hashem as Master and Creator of the world; rather, it means that Hashem values everything. The definition of the word kinyan, acquisition, is based upon the fact that a person who acquires an object does so because he values it. Thus, the value of an object is based upon the demand for it. The more buyers want a certain object, the greater its value. Thus, the tefillah implies that one of Hashem's many kindnesses is the fact that He is machshiv, appreciates and values, each and every thing that we do. Even if we are not acting for the purpose of carrying out a mitzvah, but it is a mitzvah no less, Hashem values it and rewards us. Furthermore, even if it was a good intention that did not achieve fruition, Hashem counts it in our favor. V'koneih hakol - everything that we do is appreciated by Hashem. Is there a greater indication of His love for us?


Dedicated
Sponsored by
Mr. and Mrs. Kenny Fixler
in memory of his father


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