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Peninim on the Torah

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Rabbi A. Leib Scheinbaum
Hebrew Academy of Cleveland


These are the offspring of Aharon and Moshe. (3:1)

Interestingly, the Torah begins the pasuk stating that the following are the sons of Aharon and Moshe, but mentions only the sons of Aharon HaKohen. Rashi explains that whoever teaches the son of his friend Torah, it is considered as if he gave birth to him. A rebbe is a child's spiritual mentor -- and much more. As his spiritual mentor, he has the opportunity to mold his student's life, inspire his goals and aspirations, essentially to change him. He becomes the child's spiritual progenitor, granting him spiritual life, which is of infinitely greater value than his physical life.

Playing a role in a child's spiritual development is no small contribution. Everything that one does to initiate and enhance a child's spiritual development is critical and deserving of the appellation "progenitor." Chazal (Pirkei Avos 2:11) quote Rabbi Yochanan ben Zakai, who was detailing the praise of his students. He was blessed with Torah scholars of unusual calibre, (they merited a rebbe who was without peer) each one possessing unique qualities which played a crucial role in his unique development. Concerning Rabbi Yehoshua ben Chananya, he said, Ashrei yoladito, "Fortunate is the one who gave birth to him!" He intimated that the greatness of his talmid, student, should be attributed to his mother. Chazal explain what it was that his mother did to ensure her son's devotion to Torah. She would bring his bassinet inside to the bais hamedrash, so that the first sounds that he heard would be the sounds of Torah study.

Such action demonstrates a mother's extreme love for -- and devotion to -- Torah. Why do Chazal refer to her as yoladito, the one who gave birth to him? Why not simply imo, his mother? Chazal should praise his mother for her devotion to Torah and to her son. Horav Zaidel Epstein, zl, comments that Chazal use the word yoladito, who gave birth to him, as opposed to imo, his mother, by design. They seek to underscore the notion that, by bringing his bassinet to the bais hamedrash on a constant basis, she became his spiritual progenitor. Not only was she his physical birth mother, she was also his spiritual mother.

Horav Shmuel Berenbaum, zl, understands this Chazal as a directive to the Rebbe, spiritual mentor, of our children to maintain a sense of love toward his young charge. Success for a Torah mentor is contingent upon his loving relationship with the student. He must view the student on the same plateau as he would his own child. He can harbor no distinction. This inherent love must be manifest in the manner that he conveys the lesson. Teaching Torah is unlike teaching any other discipline. One who teaches math must be proficient in the subject matter and be well-versed in the pedagogical process of conveying the curriculum to the student.

Torah teaching is different. It goes without saying that the rebbe must be well-versed in the material he teaches, for one can only convey clearly what he has himself mastered. A rebbe who is not lucid in every aspect of his curriculum has no right to teach. Torah teaching has an added aspect. Chazal teach that, following the forty days that Moshe studied Torah from Hashem, our quintessential Rebbe and leader had not yet mastered the Torah. It had to be given to him by Hashem as a gift. Moshe was an unparalleled student; yet, under the best conditions, learning from the Rebbe that "wrote the Book," he was unable to retain the lesson! This teaches us that the Torah is unlike any other form of erudition. It is sacrosanct, Divinely authored, and thus beyond the ken of the human mind. Indeed, the Heavenly Angels could not fathom how a yelud/ishah, someone born from a woman, a flesh and blood mortal, could penetrate the Torah's depth. Thus, it was necessary that Torah be given over b'mesorah, transmitted, not just taught. Hashem gave the Torah to Moshe, who, in turn, gave it to Yehoshua, thereby establishing a specific learning process. The method of studying Torah from a rebbe is to receive it via mesorah.

When Moshe received the Torah as a gift from Hashem, it became his, to the point that he could now give it to someone else. Without receipt of the Torah through the vehicle of matanah, gift, it could never have penetrated Moshe's being, making the Torah a part of his essence. Thus, when Moshe gave the Torah he had imparted into himself from Hashem to Yehoshua, he was transmitting a part of himself! This is exactly like a father to a son; whatever the father has within himself - his personality, character, DNA, etc. - is transmitted to his son. When a rebbe teaches Torah to his student, it should be father/son like, because the rebbe is giving himself to the student. Obviously, this relationship works only when it consists of a special rebbe and a consummate student.

A student who develops a pleasant relationship with his rebbe will obviously have a much easier time accepting his rebbe's teachings. A man who had been chairman of the history department in a large, prestigious university for fifty years came into Horav Simchah Wasserman's yeshivah one day to recite Kaddish. He had yahrtzeit and the yeshivah was near his hotel. After Minchah, he started up a conversation with the Rosh Yeshivah. "Rabbi," he began, "I am a lonely man at this point in my life."

The Rosh Yeshivah was visibly surprised. He said, "That seems odd considering the many students whose lives you have touched throughout the years. Tell me - how many students did you teach in your life?"

They made a general accounting and arrived at a figure of 30,000. The Rosh Yeshivah asked, "With such an incredible number of students whose lives you have touched, tell me - how many of them invited you to their wedding?" The professor gave a stunning response, "Not a sing

le one."

I used the word "stunning," but "frightening" might be more appropriate. Imagine teaching 30,000 students and not one cared enough to invite him to his/her wedding.

Rav Simchah observed that a yeshivah student would never, ever, consider not inviting his rebbe to his wedding. It is unheard of. This is because Torah is taught b'ahavah, with love, and it creates a strong bond between the rebbe and his student. The rebbe views his student as his child. Who would not invite his "father" to his wedding?

And the Leviim shall be Mine. (3:12)

Chazal (Midrash Rabbah 1:10) refer to Shevet Levi as neemanei aretz, trusted ones of the land. Their stalwartness in not flinching when they had to take a position that was far from favorable earned them the approval and trust of Hashem. Klal Yisrael, however, did not make the correct choice when Moshe Rabbeinu called out Mi l'Hashem elai, "Who is for Hashem - to me!" This occurred during the chet ha'eigel, sin of the Golden Calf, when the erev rav, members of the mixed multitude, rebelled against Hashem. Moshe quelled the mutiny, and it became time to take decisive action against the mutineers. Ignoring what this would do to their popularity among the people, Shevet Levi took swords in hand and carried out Moshe's edict. Klal Yisrael shied away from responsibility. True, it was a very difficult task, but Moshe asked, and, when the need arises and the leader of the Jewish People asks, there is no room for indifference.

Let us now see how this indifference played itself out over time. Shevet Levi was selected to serve in the Sanctuary; Klal Yisrael was not. Horav Yeruchem Levovitz, zl, points out that it was this lack of neemanus, trusted devotion, to Hashem that deprived them of the lofty opportunity to serve Hashem in the Bais Hamikdash. Serving in the Sanctuary demands ultimate dedication, trust beyond question. There is no room for apathy, no place for indifference. While these deficiencies are indicative of an individual's character weaknesses, with regard to everyday endeavor and social interaction, they are especially demeaning with regard to avodas HaKodesh, service to Hashem, and all spiritual endeavors. The individual who acts with indifference demonstrates that he does not really care. He is dispassionate with regard to serving Hashem, indicating by his very inaction that serving Hashem has no significant role in his life. It is not that he is against it; he just does not care. Lack of feeling is worse than a negative feeling. One who has an active emotion is still alive. Hope exists that one day he might turn around and return to his spiritual roots. The one who is indifferent is dead - no pulse, no life. For him, little hope exists. He requires the gift of emotion, in order for him to be spiritually resuscitated.

As I write this a few days before Pesach, my thoughts go to the missing son, the one who does not even bother to show up at the Seder; or, perhaps, the one who is compelled by family and friends to attend, but has no feeling whatsoever concerning our nation's affliction or liberation. He simply does not care.

Two reasons might explain why one is missing from the Seder. He is so assimilated that he is clueless to our heritage, our history, and, of course, our destiny. For this son, we still hold a glimmer of hope. One day, he might meet someone who will reach out to him and bring him back. The pulse is there; it is his spiritual GPS that is deficient. It is the other son, however, who is estranged due to indifference, that presents the greatest danger to himself and to our people. When one has lost feeling concerning his heritage, he is on the road to spiritual extinction. He might quite possibly be a wonderful person, a man of integrity, an individual who is kind and virtuous, but he simply has no feelings toward Judaism. He is spiritually numb. He is not outraged by the anti-Semitism around him; spiritual apathy has become a way of life for him. He feels no special kinship with his Jewish brothers and sisters. What happens to them has no bearing on his life.

One has only to peruse the titles of the books authored by responsible historians who depict the indifference and apathy of the western countries toward the European Jews during the Holocaust: The Abandonment of the Jews; While Six Million Died; A Chronicle of American Apathy; The Terrible Secret, and more. To quote a distinguished secular historian: "Americans were not cruel or evil or monstrous in the sense that Hitler was. They simply did not care. They abandoned their characteristic motivation, will, and creativity and failed to respond to history's most tragic episode in a human manner." Following the Warsaw Ghetto uprising, a writer for a small secular Jewish periodical (Jewish Frontier) wrote: "The Warsaw Ghetto had been liquidated; leaders of Polish Jewry are dead (many by their own hand), and the whole world-- which looks on passively-- in its own way, is dead, too."

Yes, one Shevet rose above indifference and took a stand during the tragic sin of the Golden Calf. U'b'yom pakdi u'pakaditi Aleiheim chatasam, "On the day that I make My account, I shall bring theirs in to account against them" (Shemos 32:34). Hashem will always take into account the sin of the Golden Calf, because it has not dissipated. Three thousand members of the mixed multitude sinned, but the rest of the nation stood by apathetic, indifferent to the chillul Hashem, desecration of Hashem's Name. We maintain a similar attitude today. Only it is called "politically correctness." We fear expressing our revulsion with the manner of observance, or lack thereof, which is evinced by some of our coreligionists. We are afraid of turning them off or losing their support. So, we continue in our "time-honored" tradition of acting indifferently to the moral and ethical turpitude that is rearing its ugly head. U'byom pakdi u'pokadeti.

A well-known dialogue took place between the saintly Chafetz Chaim, zl, and Horav Shimon Schwab, zl, when the latter had occasion to spend Shabbos in Radin, Poland. While discussing a passage in the Talmud concerning the position of Kohanim vis-?-vis the rest the nation (Shluchei d'Rachamana o'shluchei didan - are the Kohanim agents of Hashem, or agents of the people?), the Chafetz Chaim digressed momentarily and asked the young rav, "Are you a Kohen?" "No," Rav Schwab replied. "Perhaps you have heard that I am a Kohen," the Chafetz Chaim inquired. "Yes, I have heard," Rav Schwab whispered. "Perhaps you are a Levi?" "No."

"What a pity! Moshiach is coming, and the Bais Hamikdash will be rebuilt. If you are not a Kohen, you cannot enter the Sanctuary to perform the avodah, service.

"Do you know why? Because 3,000 years ago, at the incident of the Golden Calf, dein zayde is nisht gelloeffen, "Your grandfather did not run; when Moshe Rabbeinu called out, Mi l'Hashem elai! 'Whoever is with Hashem should come to me!' Now, take heart, when you hear the call, Mi l'Hashem eilai - come running!"

The call is constant. Every time evil rears its head, Hashem calls out to us, Mi l'Hashem eilai! Are we prepared to heed His call?

But they shall not come and look as the holy is inserted, lest they die. (4:20)

Bnei Kehas were blessed to be participants in a very auspicious service: transporting the holy vessels which include the Aron Hakodesh, Holy Ark. One who works with nitroglycerine cannot take any chance. His every movement must be precise and organized. Thus, great care was exerted to see to it that Bnei Kehas approached their service in the Mishkan in the most orderly manner. It is forbidden for anyone other than a Kohen to gaze upon the holiest vessels in their uncovered state. Thus, the Kohanim were given the sole responsibility of inserting these items into their wrapping prior to their transport. Furthermore, the Holy Ark was not to be touched even in its wrapping, but carried by means of its staves, which were inserted along its sides.

As a result of this stringency concerning the vessels, Bnei Kehas were taking a chance whenever they entered into the Mishkan to perform their duty. One error could spell death. Yet, according to one opinion in the Midrash, the danger neither frightened them nor held them back from vying for this service. They were eager to chance the danger as long as they had the opportunity to carry the Ark. The Midrash says: "Hashem says, 'As I did for Bnei Kehas (protected them), because they feared Me, and (as a result) I appointed distinction to them, and I warned them to take heed not to do anything that would precipitate their untimely demise, likewise, anyone who fears Me I will honor and not excise his name from the world!'" In other words, those who devote themselves to Torah, who embrace the Torah with their very beings, despite the challenges that might come their way, Hashem promises to protect them.

This applies to anyone who pays respect to the Torah - even a gentile. He may not be from the Abrahamic seed, but, if he respects the Torah and its disseminations, Hashem will shine His countenance upon him. The following story gleaned, from a biography of a great tzaddik, saintly Torah scholar of Tunisia, supports this idea.

The entire Jewish community of Tunis was asleep; yet, in one house, despite the lateness of the evening and the exhaustion of the individual, one person, Chacham Tzemach Tzarfati, zl, Chief Rabbi of Tunis, scholar par excellence, was preparing to recite Tikkun Chatzos, the prayer mourning the destruction of the Bais Hamikdash, which preceded the beginning of his daily learning schedule. Suddenly, the candle which had been burning so brightly went out, throwing the room into pitch darkness. There were no matches to be found in the Rav's house. It was one of those nights where nothing seemed to be going right.

The thought of wasting the rest of the night without learning was too much to bear. The Rav was going to look for a match, a candle, anything to light up his house. We have become so accustomed to modern day conveniences that we lose sensitivity to what it must have meant to learn, work, by the light of a candle. The Rav walked all over town looking for a light, to no avail. Finally, he saw a light coming from a bakery. He immediately ran over; perhaps he could obtain a light from the bakery that would allow him to learn until the sun rose.

A Muslim guard stood watch over the bakery. When he saw the city's Chief Rabbi standing by the door, he lifted the heavy wooden beam which served as the door's lock and allowed the Rav to enter. The Rav thanked him profusely for letting him in, and then proceeded to ask for a light. The guard gave the Rav a burning candle, bid him good night, and returned the heavy wooden beam to its place.

Ten minutes later, the Rav was back. The light of the candle had blown out. The guard lifted off the beam and gave the Rav a light, only to have the Rav return again. The wind was reaching the flame, despite everything he did to protect it. The Muslim guard was not so quick to lift off the heavy beam again. After all, he wanted to sleep, and the Rav was returning for the third time. Seeing that the guard was not overly excited to open the door again, the Rav cried out, "Yehi Ratzon, it should be the will of Almighty G-d, that you should merit to become wealthy commensurate with the weight of this beam!" (This is how much gold he should amass.)

The guard understood that before him stood a holy man who was revered and admired by not only the entire Jewish community, but the entire general community as well. He moved with alacrity to lift the beam, lit the candle, and personally carried the lit candle to the home of the Rav!

The next day, as the guard was reviewing an accounting of the number of bread and rolls sold in the bakery, he was approached by a stranger, who inquired how much he earned per day. "Five coins," the guard replied. I have a job for you which requires great discretion. I am willing to pay you twenty-five coins a day if you will work for me. Remember, discretion is a must. Can you do it?" "Yes! Yes!" The guard replied. "Then let us go," the man said.

A blindfold was placed over the guard's eyes, as the man led the guard on a path for about three-quarters of an hour, when they arrived at their destination: a small non-descript house. The guard's blindfold was removed, as he was led down to a small room which had various paintings covering most of its walls. The man quickly removed a large painting which had been concealing a small, hidden doorway. The man opened the door, and the guard almost passed out when he saw sacks and sacks filled with gold coins. There was a king's ransom in this room, an unimaginable amount of money. His job was to take the gold coins from the sacks and place them into treasure chests. At the end of the day, the guard was paid, blindfolded and taken back to the bakery. Not bad for a day's work. End of story? No!

A few weeks later, as the guard was going to work at the bakery, he saw the signs for a real estate auction. Apparently, a man had died, leaving over a small house, which no one seemed to want. There were no inheritors, so the property was put up for sale. When the guard saw the address of the house, he became curious, and lo and behold, it was the home belonging to the elusive rich man from whom he had not heard again.

Suddenly, everything came back to him: the Rav's blessing; the wealthy man's sudden appearance; all of that money. He decided to bid on the house. Since no one else cared about a small house situated almost nowhere, he was able to purchase the house for practically nothing. He obtained the keys, opened the door, ran to the painting that covered the concealed entrance to the "vault," and there he found the Rav's blessing in all of its glory: thousands and thousands of gold coins; a heavy beam's weight in gold! End of story? Not yet.

When Rav Tzemach became old, he decided to move to the Holy Land. His travels took him through Turkey, where he spent a few days resting in Istanbul. One day, as he walked through the cultural district, an Arabian Sheikh, sitting in a beautifully appointed carriage, pulled up alongside him. The Sheikh descended from the carriage and bowed to the Rav. "Will the Rav please join me at my palace? I would like to repay my debt of gratitude to him." the Sheikh said.

Rav Tzemach did not recognize the Sheikh, but, nonetheless, agreed to join him. As soon as they arrived in the privacy of the Sheikh's palace, the Sheikh closed the door, and, in the privacy of his home, prostrated himself before the Rav. He kissed the feet of the Rav, as he reminded him of the events that took place on that fateful night years earlier: "I am that watchman whom the Rav blessed with great wealth. Please take this small token of my appreciation." He then handed the Rav a leather moneybag containing a wealth of gold coins - sufficient to live out his days in splendor, studying Torah without any financial worries.

This was the reward garnered by Rav Tzemach for his unparalleled devotion to Torah study, and the incredible reward warranted by a non-Jew for the tremendous respect he accorded to the Rav and Torah.

Va'ani Tefillah

U'Maivi Goeil livnei v'neihem.
l'maan shemo b'ahavah.

He brings the Redeemer to their children's children for His own sake, out of love.

The conclusion of the above phrase b'ahavah, out of love, has two connotations in its connection with the beginning of the phrase. Horav Reuven Melamed comments that "out of love" is a reference to the u'maivi Goeil, He brings the Redeemer. Hashem loves Klal Yisrael so much that, as a result (of His love), he dispatches Moshiach Tzidkeinu to redeem them. Alternatively, it might suggest that Hashem dispatches the Goeil when: b'ahavah reigns between v'nei v'neihem; when the Jewish People act towards one another with love; when they care for each other; when bein adam l'chaveiro, relationships between man and his fellow man, are in accordance with Hashem's wishes, ie, love and harmony are reflected throughout: At that time, Hashem will send Moshiach. Regardless of whether the advent of Moshiach is based upon Hashem's love for us, or our love for one another, we have our work cut out for us.

R' Alter Chaim Dovid ben R' Menachem Shmuel z"l
niftar 25 Iyar 5767
Menachem Shmuel and Roiza Devora Salamon
In memory of Mr. David Salamon

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