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Peninim on the Torah

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Rabbi A. Leib Scheinbaum
Hebrew Academy of Cleveland


This is the Torah which has Hashem has commanded. (19:2)

The mitzvah of Parah Adumah, Red Heifer, is considered the paradigm of chok, a mitzvah not explainable by human rationale. While there are certainly spiritual reasons for every mitzvah, some defy human understanding. These are chukim. In the Midrash, Chazal point out the aspect of Parah Adumah which determines its status as a chok. Although the ashes of the Parah Adumah render a tamei, spiritually contaminated person, tahor, clean/purified, they impart tumah to the Kohen who is engaged in preparing them. How is it that a substance which purifies one person contaminates another?

While any observant Jew understands the essence of chukim - both in mitzvos and in practical life - the average person has great difficulty grappling with the concept of a Divine decree that defies human rationale. Horav Mordechai Gifter, zl, gives a lucid explanation which allows us a window into the mind of the secular-oriented individual who is solely guided by science and the "laws of nature."

Man has achieved the understanding that much of what takes place in our world occurs through the medium of cause and effect. He views Creation as the starting point for his understanding of the guidelines by which life seems to function. He refers to these parameters as the laws of nature. Life is logical, with science, medicine and various other disciplines coming into play. He feels that, with time, will come new exploration, new innovation, and new discovery that will enhance his depth of understanding. The bottom line is that everything has to make sense in order for it to function. Despite all of man's research and scientific theory, his incredible in-roads into the various realms of knowledge and discipline, he has yet failed to discover the ultimate Source of all matter: Hashem. Everything that man has succeeded in learning has only distanced him further from the truth, since it glosses over the "G-d-factor" in life.

As a result of man's superficial perspective on life and living, he is baffled when incidents in life seem to shatter the myths that have been the basis of his concept of the natural order of Creation. He is confronted with contradiction, ambiguity and situations whose complexity defies the basis of his rationale. He is perplexed because he is missing the one belief, without which he is rendered clueless: He has not yet uncovered the role of Hashem in Creation. The realization that Hashem lies behind everything that occurs in life and that He guides and directs every event with Heavenly acuity, presents newfound clarification in man's quest for understanding. One begins to acknowledge that the set of rules which he refers to as the laws of nature are actually Hashem's Divine hand manifesting itself in controlling Creation. The laws of nature are Hashem's way of concealing Himself. These laws are subject to Hashem's final say and can be altered at His will. Yet, this idea has "somehow" eluded man for quite some time. As a result, he continues to grope blindly for answers, when, in fact, they are staring him right in the face.

With this in mind, the Rosh Yeshivah explains the chok, irrational basis of Parah Adumah. Man has deciphered a set of rules in which, according to his limited understanding of "nature," that which purifies cannot cause impurity; this which cleans does not soil. Hashem does not abide by man's set of rules. If man were to open up his closed mind, he would realize this. Then, man would have to concede that Hashem is in charge, and that man serves the Almighty. He is not willing to give up his self-proclaimed freedom.

Man must realize that all matter is limited to the will of Hashem. He makes the rules, and, thus, changes them at will. Just as He desired that the ashes of the Parah Adumah should cleanse, so did He proclaim that whoever participates in the preparation of the ashes becomes unclean. While, essentially, this is not a chok, due to man's limited perception it remains above his level of understanding.

The Rosh Yeshivah distinguishes between questioning Hashem's ways - which is prohibited - and investigating His decrees - which is encouraged. Rashi quotes Midrash Tanchuma concerning Parah Adumah: "The Satan and the nations of the world taunt the Jewish People, asking, 'What is the purpose of this mitzvah?' The Torah states that this is a decree of the One Who gave the Torah, and it is not for anyone to question it." Questioning occurs when, as a result of one's inability to comprehend the reasons behind Hashem's decree, an individual refuses to execute the decree. Investigating Hashem's commands, in contrast, is a reference to striving to understand with his available knowledge, that the answers are beyond human comprehension. While questioning and investigating are both processes of search and discovery, the one who merely investigates realizes that, with his limited mind, he can only go so far. He accepts this and performs the decree like an obedient servant. This approach applies equally to all mitzvos, since there is an element of chok in every mitzvah. The true student of Torah, indeed, the truly committed Jew, acknowledges that the fulfillment of Hashem's commands is not to be contingent on his ability to understand.

As I mentioned earlier, this idea applies to life itself. Yes, we confront chukim in life. Not everything happens according to our plans. The righteous do not always have it "good," and the wicked do not always "suffer." We believe that each and every individual, each and every action, both good and bad, will be compensated. Hashem pays His debts. We have questions in life for which the only answer is to believe in Hashem. We claim that it does not make sense. Well, it does not have to! We cry that it is not fair. We do not realize what is and what is not fair. We complain that we deserve better. Do we really know what we deserve, and are we so sure that what we are receiving is not "better"?

Our approach to a life of Torah must be one in which we recognize from the onset that, while we must investigate, we are able neither to penetrate the profundities nor to understand the true, ultimate rationale behind the Torah's commands and life's circumstances. Once man thinks that he has the ability to comprehend Hashem's intent, he has breached the parameters of Torah commitment. His study is nothing more than the product of human rationalization. Without yiraas Shomayim, fear of Heaven, one can neither fully appreciate the wisdom of the Torah, nor can he confront the chukim of life. Torah without yiraas Shomayim is simply not Torah. It is Bible and, thus, reduced to the level of worldly wisdom.

And (someone) shall slaughter it in his presence. (19:3)

Targum Yonasan ben Uziel writes that the Parah Adumah must be checked for its suitability for shechitah. In other words, the same blemishes and deficiencies which invalidate a regular animal from shechitah apply equally to the Parah Adumah. This statement seems to contrast a passage in the Talmud Chullin 11a. In discussing the source for the law of rov, following a majority that is not presently in front of us, Chazal derive this halachah from Parah Adumah, concerning which the Torah writes: Vshachat v'saraf, "And he shall slaughter… and he shall burn." Just as the shechitah occurs when the cow is whole, so, too, does the burning take place when the cow is whole. The Talmud asks: "Since we may not cut the animal open to check for fatal defects, let us be concerned lest it was a treifah and, thus, unfit to be a Parah Adumah. Obviously, we follow the majority, and since most animals are not treifos, we may presume that this one is not either." The Talmud clearly seems to contradict the commentary of Targum Yonasan.

Horav Reuven Karlinstein, Shlita, cites Horav Chaim Berlin, zl, who distinguishes between the first Parah Adumah which was slaughtered in the wilderness and the eight paros which followed. In Tosfos' commentary to the Talmud Shabbos, they say that the Pillar of Cloud illuminated objects in such a manner that they could see through them, much like an x-ray machine. Thus, the first cow was "scanned" for blemish in accordance with Targum Yonasan's position. The ensuing eight were subject to the rule of majority, since they no longer had the convenience of the Cloud.

The Rama cites Teshuvos Tashbeitz, who notes a principle expounded by Rabbeinu Yehudah HaChasid. The Chasid states that if one seeks to acquire an unblemished kosher animal, he can employ a simple test by running his hand over the animal's spine. If the spine bends down, it is an indication of the animal's kashrus. If, however, the spine is straight and erect, it indicates that the animal is treifah. Therefore, Targum Yonasan opines that the animal was superficially checked using this procedure. While it is not something that we may absolutely rely on, we may, in conjunction with the halachah of rov, assume that the animal is kosher.

Rav Karlinstein views the Chasid's dictum from an ethical perspective. Resolving the kashrus, spiritual acceptability of something, is ascertained by determining its ability to bend, to bow down. In other words, what role does arrogance play in their lives? An arrogant person, one who does not bend, is missing a primary ingredient for determining his spiritual legitimacy. A Jew must bend; he must be flexible in responding to the needs of others. One the other hand, concerning upholding the Torah's mitzvos, withstanding the winds of change that seem to topple so many, he must maintain himself erect and stalwart, demonstrating fortitude and stubborn tenacity, regardless of the nature of his struggle.

Zivchei Elokim ruach nishbarah, lev nisbar v'nidkeh Elokim lo sivzeh, "The sacrifices G-d desires are a broken spirit; a heart broken and humbled, O G-d, You will not despise" (Tehillim 51:19). This pasuk says it all. Arrogance is a moral failing. It is a human deficiency which Hashem despises. The individual who blows himself out is essentially pushing Hashem away, since His Presence encompasses every space. The more one constricts himself, the greater his humility, the more "space" he gives to Hashem. This is an idea well-worth considering.

Take the staff and gather together the assembly… and speak to the rock… that it shall give its waters. (20:8)

We often realize too late how that "extra mile" that we could, or should have gone would have made a world of difference. Horav Yaakov Galinsky, Shlita, cites a fascinating Chazal which underscores this idea. The Talmud Bava Metzia 86b states: "Whatever Avraham Avinu personally did for the Ministering Angels, Hashem likewise 'personally' did for Avraham's children." The following examples are cited. "And Avraham took the cream and milk" (Bereishis 18:8), "Behold - I shall rain down for you food from Heaven" (Shemos 16:4). (This is a reference to the manna which descended daily from Heaven). "And (Avraham) (he) stood over them beneath the tree." Behold - I shall stand before you by the rock" (Shemos 17:6). (Hashem stood by Moshe Rabbeinu as he obtained water from the rock.) "Avraham walked with them to escort them" (Shemos 13:2). (Hashem went before them by day." Hashem led the nation in the wilderness.) There is one instance in which Avraham deviated from his practice. "Let some water be taken." The reaction to this was, "and you, Moshe, shall strike the rock and water will come from it and the people will drink" (Shemos 17:6).

Uncharacteristically, one time Avraham asked that the water be brought to him. He did not go for it himself. Certainly, he had a good reason. Nonetheless, this catalyzed a similar reaction in which Hashem gave the people water through a medium. This is a powerful condemnation, for, as we all know, in both cases of water gushing forth from the rock it was Moshe - not Hashem - who served as the medium for obtaining the water. As a result of this slight deviation in delivering the water, Moshe was in a position to err. He did, and, as a result, he was not permitted to enter Eretz Yisrael. Chazal teach us that had Moshe entered the Holy Land: we would have merited the geulah sheleimah, final complete Redemption; the Bais Hamikdash would not have been destroyed; Klal Yisrael would not have gone into exile - with its ensuing misery and pain. All of this occurred because Hashem was not directly involved. What catalyzed this? It was the fact that Avraham did not go that extra mile.

Since man's perspective is limited to time and place, he cannot possibly even begin to fathom the far-reaching effect of his actions - or non actions. There is no such thing as "little things," "unimportant things." Everything is significant when placed under the microscope of time and place. Imagine, if Avraham were to be asked if he gave the water to the angels, he would respond in the affirmative. After all, what difference is there if he carries the pitcher of water himself, or if he asks his son to fetch it? Apparently, there is a gaping difference, because, if Avraham would have brought the water, Moshe Rabbeinu would have entered the Holy Land, and we would not be suffering in exile!

They look at things differently in Heaven. The scale is different; thus, the perspective varies. Chazal teach us that one who gives a penny to a poor man is himself blessed with six blessings. One who helps him, however - such as by talking to him, encouraging him, making him feel good - merits eleven blessings. Rav Galinsky explains that a penny, after all, is worth only a penny. A good word, however, can have far-reaching long term effects. This is how they measure in Heaven. The Gaon, zl, m'Vilna's wife had a pact with her friend that, if she preceded her in death, she would visit her in a dream and convey the Heavenly opinion of her to her. The friend died first. Shortly thereafter, she appeared in a dream to the Gaon's wife. "What are they saying about me?" the Gaon's wife asked. "Let me give you an example of how they view human action in Heaven. Do you remember that, a while ago, we took it upon ourselves to raise a considerable amount of money for an important function? During one of our trips through town, I noticed a wealthy woman and pointed her out to you as a woman who quite possibly would be of great assistance. I want you to know that because I raised up my finger to point her out, I was rewarded with a higher "berth" in Heaven.

Rav Galinsky adds that one only has to delve into the episode of Kamtza and Bar Kamtza, whose dispute with one another led to the destruction of the Bais Hamikdash, to realize that there is no "small thing." It was nothing - actually. One of them became angry upon noticing his enemy seated in his house at his party. The other fellow, wanting to avoid the humiliation of being publicly evicted, offered to pay for the entire party. "Please do not embarrass me," he begged. Bar Kamtza was stubborn. He did not care, and he threw Kamtza out of the party. As far as Kamtza was concerned, all he did was humiliate his enemy - an action for which he felt justified. If someone were to have told him otherwise, that his obstinacy led to the destruction of the Bais Hamikdash - he would have laughed in his face. Well, thousands of years later, nobody is laughing. There are no small things in Heaven.

What could be more insignificant than a paper clip? It is nothing more than a little piece of metal whose value is based on its ability to bind documents together. Anyone who has heard of The Paper Clip Project or One Clip at a Time has surely changed his perspective of this seemingly insignificant piece of hardware. Something amazing occurred in the small town of Whitwell, a tiny rural community of 2000 in the mountains of Tennessee. In 1998, the principal of Whitwell Middle School asked the fifth grade language arts teacher and the assistant principal to begin a Holocaust education class, as a way of teaching their students about tolerance and diversity. These were not Jewish students. They were white Christian children who were struggling with the concept and enormity of the killing of 6 million Jews. The Jews' only offense was being Jewish. This meant that they were different. Hitler and his fellow anti-Semites throughout the world - both active and indifferent - could not tolerate this diversity. Thus, they all agreed to destroy the Jewish People - some proactively, while others just stood by and watched. How do you teach such a foreign idea to sheltered young kids living in the mountains of Tennessee?

The students' research taught them that the Norwegian citizens wore paper clips as a symbol of resistance against the Nazi occupation during World War II. The Jews were relegated to wearing yellow patches with the Jewish star emblazoned on it. The Norwegian showed their solidarity by wearing paper clips. It was not much, but it was a heroic act of defiance that conveyed a message: We care.

The students of Whitwell decided to collect six million paper clips. The idea gathered momentum and, before long, drew international media attention. Letters of support poured in from all over the world. They augmented the project, adding another five million clips for a total of eleven million, coinciding with all the people who were killed as a result of Hitler's diabolical plan. In 2001, the school dedicated a children's Holocaust Memorial which includes an authentic German rail car used to transport the Jews to concentration camps, filled with a portion of the more than thirty million paper clips that the children collected over a period of ten years.

A lesson had been taught. It all started with the one clip, an idea, a sense of dedication to see the idea achieve fruition. It all goes to show the power of one. There are no small things.

Because you did not believe in Me to sanctify Me in the eyes of the Bnei Yisrael. (20:12)

It seems as if every commentator grapples with understanding the sin of Moshe Rabbeinu. It is truly as Ramban says, "A great secret of the mysteries of the Torah." The question is compounded when we take into consideration the identity of the sinners: Moshe Rabbeinu and Aharon HaKohen. Ramban addresses the words lo he'emantenu be, "You did not believe in Me." How are we to understand this statement? Earlier, in Parashas Beha'alosecha (ibid 12:7), the Torah writes about Moshe b'chol beisi neeman hu, "In My entire house he is the trusted one." This is Hashem speaking about Moshe. We would be hard-pressed to find a stronger form of acclaim about Moshe. Yet, here he is guilty of a lack of faith.

This causes the Ramban to define he'emantem as a reference to Moshe's lack of strengthening the faith of the people. Had Moshe acted differently, had he spoken to the stone, he would have engendered a greater sense of faith in the Almighty. It is not enough for a leader to have faith; he must also generate faith, raising the level of faith among the people. Incidentally, this teaches us a deeper insight into a Jew's responsibility. If I am a maamin, I have faith in Hashem. If I do not increase the level of faith within the Jewish community, however, I have failed in my own faith. I have a moral obligation to my brethren and an even stronger obligation to my G-d. Man does not live for himself.

While this might give us some insight into the sin of mei merivah, it does not address the middah k'neged middah, measure for measure, of the punishment. Why were they not allowed to enter the land? The Sefas Emes offers an illuminating perspective concerning why Moshe was not suited to lead the nascent Jewish People into the Holy Land. He does not view this as punishment, but rather, as a sort of "failing." He explains that clearly Moshe and Aharon were consummate believers in Hashem. In fact, it was specifically due to their unusually high level of emunah, faith, that they could not lead the Jews into Eretz Yisrael. Moshe and Aharon had reached a level of faith that was so intense, that had such extreme clarity, that they could not fathom someone not fully believing in Hashem. The mere fact that they could have catalyzed greater emunah in Hashem - and they did not - was an indication that they could not grasp anyone possessing any sort of emunah deficiency.

This presented an issue to a leadership that was to guide a young nation into a land where emunah would be a daily challenge. No longer would they be sustained by the manna, their thirst miraculously quenched by water from the Well; and be under the constant protection of the Pillar of Cloud. They would now have to resort to living as "regular" people with everyday challenges. Emunah in Hashem would be their only mainstay, their anchor in a world of challenge and ambiguity. The spiritual gap that existed between the people and their leadership was glaring. The two would not complement one another in Eretz Yisrael. One of them could not enter.

The Torah states the reason for Moshe's "punishment": The act of striking the rock diminished in some sense kavod Shomayim, the glory of Heaven. L'hakdisheini, "to sanctify Me": Rashi explains that they would have been sanctified before the eyes of the assembly. They would have conjectured, "Now, if a rock, which neither speaks nor hears and does not need subsistence, fulfills the word of Hashem, how much more so should we fulfill His word." This kal v'chomer, a priori argument, is questionable, since how can one derive a lesson from an inanimate, unthinking object which has no ability to choose freely, and compare it to a human being whose cognitive skills allow him the ability to think, choose, and decide of his own free-will?

Horav Moshe Reis, Shlita, explains that man's purpose is to develop within himself the positive attitude that whatever Hashem commands should become his desire to fulfill. This is almost like removing man's ability to choose. One should feel compelled from within to carry out Hashem's decrees. He should gravitate positively towards anything that Hashem asks of him. Selection should not be an option for a Jew.

This is actually man's innate essence. He wants to follow, act appropriately, perform as expected of him. Unfortunately, challenges arise, confronting him in a manner which undermines his ability to select cogently. The great Jews, beginning from the Patriarchs, were able to rise above the challenge, to believe with wholehearted simplicity - just as an inanimate object. There was no thinking process; they just acted appropriately. What Hashem wanted was what they wanted. It was as "simple" as that.

This is the point of departure which distinguishes between speaking to the rock and striking it. Striking the rock and releasing water from it is an incredible kiddush, sanctification, of Hashem's Name. The nation learned an important principle: Nature is beholden to G-d. When Hashem decrees, nature responds affirmatively. It bends to Hashem's command. If, however, Moshe had spoken to the rock, the lesson would have been: This is teva, nature. The rock did not "give in;" it did not bend or agree. Nature means listening to Hashem's command. Hashem's decree is nature's will. From this, the nation would have derived the "selection" process in which decision-making is not a procedural step. Hashem commands; we perform.

Va'ani Tefillah

HaMelech HaGadol v'Hakadosh ba'Shomayim uba'aretz.

Two concepts: gedulah, greatness; and kedushah, sanctity. We assume that kedushah is a term that applies to Heaven, the realm of the spiritual. Gedulah, however, is a term to which we can relate in the sphere of the physical earth. Horav Reuven Melamed feels that this phrase teaches otherwise. The kedushah that exists in Heaven exists on earth, as well. The greatness that we see on earth - the process of growth whereby a tiny grain is able to sprout into a large tree over time - is a wonder that is reserved not only for earth. Indeed, earth and Heaven are connected in such a manner that the greatness on earth teaches us that this very same greatness exists in Heaven, as well. Likewise, the earth is permeated with the same element of kedushah that prevails in Heaven. What is Above exists in tandem with below and vice versa. All of this indicates the achdus HaBorei, unity of the Creator.

In loving memory of my mother

Rochel bas Baruch a"h
niftar 19 Iyar 5771

Dr. Jacob Massouda

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