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Peninim on the Torah

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Rabbi A. Leib Scheinbaum
Hebrew Academy of Cleveland


This is the decree of the Torah… and they shall take to you a completely red cow. (19:2)

Chazal describe the laws concerning the Parah Adumah, Red Cow, as the quintessential chukas haTorah, decree of the Torah. A chok is a mitzvah whose rationale defies human logic. This does not mean that it is beyond reason; rather, its reason is beyond our human grasp, due to our limited intellect. What makes this law the paradigmatic chok? Chazal say that it is specifically concerning the law of Parah Adumah that Satan and the nations of the world taunt us, asking, "What is the purpose of this commandment?" Our reply, of course, is, "It is a chok. Its reason is beyond us." To this, they will certainly counter, "Are you people insane? How do you accept to perform a law which you do not understand?"

Let us explain this dialogue further. After all, in the eyes of the gentile world and even among many secular co-religionists, we do come across as slightly unbalanced. Horav Naftali Tzvi, zl, m'Ropshitz, explains that performing mitzvos that are rational appeals to the majority of people. They may neither have faith in a Supreme Being, nor believe in the concept of schar v'onesh, reward and punishment, but mitzvah performance on a tit-for-tat rational basis, is something to which they can relate. After all, it does make sense. These mitzvos are either morally righteous or based on historical tradition commemorating a miraculous event. Even if the individual believes that the event may not have taken place and is nothing more than a figment of the religious observer's overactive imagination, he can still respect the reasoning for the observance. To perform a mitzvah that does not makes sense, however, simply because it is the will of a Higher Being, whom they neither have even seen nor do they believe exists, is carrying it a bit too far. The people who perform these mitzvos must be insane.

Alternatively, there is another reason for their overwhelming commitment: love. They have a deep, powerful, loving bond with G-d. When we carry out the Parah Adumah ritual, Satan and the gentiles think that we are off the wall. It just does not make sense. It provokes them to anger. How dare we believe that there is a Hashem Who commanded us to do this? How dare we claim that our love for Hashem is boundless and that we will do whatever He asks of us?

Well, this love has been carrying our People for thousands of years. To rationalize chukim would be to minimize the love that we have for Hashem. We need no answers or excuses to serve Hashem. It is all in the love that He has for us - and that we reciprocate to Him.

Horav Yaakov Kaminetzky, zl, explains that this is why Hashem gave us the mitzvah of Parah Adumah in Marah prior to our receiving the Torah. It is as if Parah Adumah is a primer for the entire Torah, a preface to Jewish life from a Torah perspective. The relevance of the Parah Adumah is to tumah v'taharaah, the complexities of ritual purity and contamination, which did not go into effect until after the Mishkan was built. Why did the Torah mention these laws now?

The Rosh Yeshivah explains that Hashem was teaching us a fundamental lesson concerning His commandments: they do not have to be reconciled with human logic. The Torah is Divinely authored; the mitzvos are Divinely-given. They are Hashem's decree. This is all we have to know. To receive the Torah is to accept it on these terms. This, of course, does not preclude one from developing a profound understanding of Torah and seeking to analyze its aspects and plumb its profundities. We must only understand that even when what the Torah says "makes sense" to us, it does not mean that the Torah requires our stamp of approval. It is Hashem's decree, His will, and that is all we have to know - and accept.

In his Sefer HaMitzvos Asei 3, the Rambam writes that Jewish outreach to the unaffiliated is part of the mitzvah of Ahavas Hashem. To love Hashem is to bring more Jews into the fold, to bring them beneath kanfei haShechinah, the wings of the Divine Presence. "V'ahavta es Hashem Elokecha, "And you shall love Hashem, Your G-d" (Devarim 6:5). How does one express his love for Hashem? Among his answers, Rambam writes: "Reach out to as many people as possible and draw them closer to G-d, to inspire them to serve Him, and have faith in Him."

This idea is pure common sense. If one has a friend whom he admires greatly, he wants to share this knowledge with as many people as possible. By publicly singing his friend's praises, he garners support for him. Indeed, he does not rest as long as others do not recognize his friend's worth. A true friend does not isolate his friend from others. Otherwise, this indicates that the only one whom he really cares for is himself. Furthermore, one who loves Hashem is deeply hurt and upset that others do not see it the way he does, that an unknowing Jewish world does not appreciate Hashem's eminence and boundless kindness.

In his volume, With Hearts full of Faith, Horav Matisyahu Solomon, Shlita, observes that when a person embarks on the journey of Jewish outreach in its various forms, motivated by his deep love for Hashem, a sincere desire to elevate His glory, and an innate and profound compassion for His children, the Jewish People, there is no limit to what he might achieve. In addition, there is no ceiling to the zechuyos, merits, he can amass.

The Mashgiach relates an incredible story concerning a Rosh Yeshivah in Eretz Yisrael, who is himself a well-known baal teshuvah, penitent. He is a respected talmid chacham, Torah scholar, whose family is a model for a Torah home, and whose children are exemplary standards of bnei and bnos Torah, refined and learned, who possess superior character traits and moral demeanor. This Rosh Yeshivah has himself mentored many disciples, many of whom have themselves successfully reached out to others. This individual is, indeed, the paradigm of the heights that Torah life can help a person to attain.

This Rosh Yeshiva had not, however, always been on this elevated spiritual perch. He grew up on an anti-religious kibbutz. Indeed, anything Torah oriented was an anathema to him. He lived a life engrossed in pleasure, having tasted and satiated himself with every forbidden pleasure. Life was for enjoying - and he was doing his royal part in seeing his goals achieve fruition. At the age of eighteen, he decided that he would leave no pleasure ignored. He would try it all! One day, he heard that in Haifa a certain establishment catered to pleasure seekers. It was a place where one's wildest dreams could be sadly realized. He was going there! After all, what was to prevent him from self-indulging in the physical gratification that was being offered?

For all intents and purposes, he should have plummeted down the spiral of depression to which so many teenagers whose alienation from Torah prevents their development of a meaningful, inspirational Jewish life. He did not. Indeed, his life made a 180-degree turn, setting in motion the upward climb from the depths to the peak of the mountain. What happened?

As he was about to enter the house of illicit pleasure, with its neon sign beckoning to those in need of satisfying their prurient desires, he noticed a religious Jew walking by the establishment. As the fellow caught sight of the immodest sign signaling the debased nature of this edifice, he instantly turned his head away, raising his hand to shield his eyes.

The young kibbutznik was shocked. How could someone in his "right" mind ignore the pleasures being offered? Was this religious Jew normal? Must be, he conjectured, that this fellow was privy to an even greater pleasure than that being offered at this place. If so - I want it too! This is the pleasure that I seek. At that moment, without much fanfare, he turned around and enrolled in a yeshivah. He never left, because he had discovered the greatest pleasure on earth: Torah! The rest is history.

Rav Matisyahu observes that, while the episode is quite interesting and inspiring, there is an aspect that we tend to overlook: the religious Jew who walked by and shielded his eyes. One day, this fellow would pass on to his eternal reward. He would be standing before the Heavenly Tribunal waiting to be "processed." His sins will be placed on one side of the scale, while his merits will go on the opposite side of the scales of Justice. As he watches the merits being piled on, truckloads and truckloads of merits will be dropped off, and he will become confused: "Who are all of these children that are my merit? I never met a single one of them. Where did all of these mitzvos come from?"

"Do you remember that day in Haifa, when you turned your head away in order to avoid seeing an advertisement describing the forbidden pleasures to be had within the building?"

"Vaguely" will be the reply.

"Well, at that moment, a secular Jew walked by and was inspired by your action. He changed his life and, in turn, inspired others to go the Torah way. 'They' are all considered 'yours.' You are being rewarded for their spiritual success." This is a case in which "a little bit of love" generated a love of love, such that many hundreds of Jews and countless mitzvos are the result of that single Jew expressing his love for Hashem by shielding his eyes from sin.

This is the teaching regarding a man who will die in a tent. (19:14)

Chazal's exegesis on the pasuk, "This is the teaching regarding a man who will die in a tent," is well-known. The "tent" is a reference to the ohalah, tent, of Torah. We are being taught that Torah is retained only in a person who is willing to die for it. Torah study is not a course which one passes or fails. It is our lifeline to Judaism; thus, only an individual who understands its intrinsic value and is willing to give everything up for it, can acquire it. He realizes that everything which he has is really of no value without Torah.

When one analyzes Chazal's interpretation of the pasuk we wonder how the pshat, simple translation, and the d'rash, homiletic interpretation of the pshat, can be so far apart. The pasuk addresses a person who becomes tamei, ritually unclean, to a corpse, which is the avi avos ha'tumah, the primary source of all ritual impurity; yet, Chazal "ignore" this and interpret the pasuk as addressing the zenith of Torah learning and the individual who reaches this apex. How do we reconcile the pshat with the drash?

Horav Aviezer Piltz, Shlita, Rosh Yeshivas Tifrach, explains that, actually, the two complement one another quite well. The Rosh Yeshivah first addresses the reason that tumaas adam, the ritual impurity of man, exceeds that of all other creations. Even within the category of human, we find that halachah distinguishes between the tumah of a ben Yisrael and that of an akum, gentile. Atem keruyin adam v'ein umos ha'olam kruyin adam, "Only you (Klal Yisrael) are considered (under the purview) adam, man, and not the nations of the world." Why does a Jewish corpse have greater ritual impurity than that of a gentile?

The Rosh Yeshivah explains that when Hashem created man, He gathered adamah, earth, from all corners of the world. From this conglomerate of earth, man was formed. Horav Elchanan Wasserman, zl, quotes Chazal who say that man has within him all of the innate qualities of the forces of evil that comprise the DNA of all of the world's creatures. Therefore, man is a composite of all of the creatures that were formed before him. Man's purpose is to purify himself, thereby harnessing all of these forces within him, transforming them from bad to good, from impure to holy. Man is able to do this as long as he lives, allowing for his holy neshamah, soul, to guide this process. When the neshamah leaves a person, leaving only his mortal remains, immediately the kochos ha'tumah, forces of impurity, prevail. Thus, man - the composite of all that preceded him - becomes the greatest source of tumah, because he has every tumah within him.

We now understand the relationship between Chazal's exegesis and the pshat of the pasuk. The purpose of adam, man, is to sanctify his chumrios, physicality, earthliness, by yamus b'ohel, "killing" himself in the tent of Torah. This compelling purpose and concomitant responsibility give rise to the fact that man's tumah is greater than that of any other creature. Furthermore, since a Jew's tumah is the result of his overriding kedushah, holiness, his tumah is greater than that of a gentile, whose tumah is not the result of kedushah.

This, suggests Rav Piltz, explains why Rav Chaim Kohen, quoted by Tosfos in Kesubos 103b, declared that had he been in attendance when the saintly Rabbeinu Tam, leader of the French Tosafists, died, he would have had no qualms concerning becoming tamei to him. The great tzaddikim have succeeded in eradicating whatever physicality was within them. Thus, their mortal remains are not a source of tumah. The ritual impurities must gravitate and cling to something. The tzaddik has been expunged of all physicality.

This is the teaching regarding a man who will die in a tent. (19:14)

The Talmud Yevamos 60b teaches that one who is exposed to the human remains of a gentile does not become tamei, ritually unclean, through tumas ohel, exposure by being in an enclosure or under the same roof as human remains. A gentile only renders one tamei through tumaas maga, actual physical contact, with the corpse. In explanation, Chazal offer that the Torah emphasizes the word, "adam," man. Only a Jew has the distinction of being called an adam. Tosfos add that, while a gentile is referred to as ha'adam, the man, with the hay ha'yediah, the letter hay which denotes distinction, he is still not referred to as adam. This causes one to wonder. Adding the prefix hay singles out the subject, adding deference to it. Thus, ha'adam means the man, the special man. If so, why are non-Jews referred to by a title which is seemingly more laudatory than that given to the Jew?

Horav Avigdor HaLevi Nebentzhal, Shlita, quotes Horav Shlomo Zalmen Auerbach, zl, who explains that the word adam, which is used to describe all human beings, has a dual connotation. Adam can be derived from adamah, earth, alluding to man's earthly roots. Another connotation is that man is adameh l'Elyon, "I will liken myself to the most high" (Yeshayah 14:14), which is reference to man's creation b'tzelem Elokim, in the image of G-d. We now have two aspects to man: his relationship to the earth; his aspiration for G-dliness, his ability to liken himself in some way to the Divine by following in His ways.

Rav Nebentzhal explains that the adam which relates to the Heavenly aspect of man, the adameh l'Elyon, his creation in G-d's image, cannot have the prefix hay before it, since it is a verb, describing man's ability to elevate himself. The hay ha'yediah does not apply a conjunction into a verb - only with a noun. It is only concerning that aspect of man's connection with the physical earth that the prefix hay may be used.

Thus, only Klal Yisrael may be called (plain) adam, which signifies our connection to Hashem and aspirations to achieve spiritual eminence. The umos ha'olam, nations of the world, are called ha'adam with the added prefix. This designates their earthly origin. Only Klal Yisrael is called adam, for only they have been created with a Heavenly focus imbued in their DNA.

And Miriam died there. (20:1)

Rashi notes the juxtaposition of Miriam's passing upon the parshah of Parah Adumah, the Red Cow. He explains that, just as the Parah Adumah ritual atones, so does missas tzaddikim, the death of the righteous, atone. In his commentary to the Talmud Moed Kattan 28a, Rabbeinu Chananel writes: "Just as Parah Adumah purifies sins and is thus called a Chatas (Poras Chatas), and every Korban Chatas, sin-offering, cleanses one's sins, likewise, the passing of nashim tzidkaniyos, righteous women, purifies and atones for Klal Yisrael's sins." This is an amazing statement ascribing Chatas status to the passing of righteous women. If the point of emphasis is to underscore the Chatas aspect of Parah Adumah, why did the Torah not position Miriam's passing next to the laws of Korban Chatas? Why juxtapose it upon Parah Adumah, which is only referred to as a Chatas? Why not designate it next to the source - the parshah of korbanos?

In his Bad Kodesh, Horav Baruch Dov Povarsky, Shlita, explains the nature of the avodas ha'parah, Parah Adumah ritual, distinguishing it from avodas ha'korbanos, the ritual of offering sacrifices on the Mizbayach. The preparation, slaughter and ensuing offering of a korban is carried out bifnim, within the confines of the Sanctuary. This is unlike the Parah Adumah protocol which is executed bachutz, outside the Bais Hamikdash, on Har HaMishchah. Nonetheless, the Parah Adumah is called a Chatas. Why?

The Rosh Yeshivah explains that the Parah Adumah is prepared in the eastern end of Yerushalayim on Har HaMishchah opposite the Heichal, which is in the eastern portion of the Bais Hamikdash. Despite the fact that the entire process is carried out outside of the Sanctuary, since it is performed facing the Ohel Moed, it develops the kedushah, sanctity, of a Korban Chatas.

In other words, the only commonality between the Parah Adumah and a Chatas is the fact that the Parah Adumah is prepared facing the Ohel Moed where the Chatas is prepared. We derive from here that kedushah, holiness, extends beyond the parameters of the Bais Hamikdash - as long as the ritual being performed faces and is focused on the Mikdash.

Avodas ha'korbanos, the sacrificial service, is male-oriented, performed by zichrei Kehunah, male Kohanim. Furthermore, the substitute services, such as tefillah, prayer, and Torah study which are today's replacement for the Temple service, are also primarily male-oriented. There is no public women's service as there is for men. Women study Torah, but it is not of the same genre as men. Women have never been included in the sacrificial service or in its modern-day, post Bais Hamikdash replacement. What, then, is their segulah, merit? On what is the term nashim tzidkaniyos based?

It is in the merit of acting in support of their husbands and sons, as they learn Torah. A wife and mother's assistance, support, sustenance - their facing towards the male-oriented Torah learning - is what grants them the distinction and earns them a right to share in their merit.

This is the lesson imparted by the juxtaposition of Miriam's passing upon the laws of Parah Adumah. The Parah Adumah atoned like a Korban Chatas, because it was prepared facing and concentrating on the place where the Chatas was prepared. Likewise, women whose lives are riveted on their husband's and sons' Torah advancement earn their merit. After all, was it not Rabbi Akiva who said, concerning his wife, Torasi v'Torashchen shelah hee, "My Torah and your Torah is (actually) hers"?

They wept for Aharon for thirty days, the entire House of Yisrael. (20:29)

Aharon HaKohen merited an unprecedented outpouring of grief. Rashi explains that this is attributed to Aharon's relationship with the entire nation - men and women alike. He was a man who pursued peace and attempted to heal any fissure that erupted between friends, family, husband and wife. This contrasts the mourning for Moshe Rabbeinu concerning whom the Torah writes, "And Bnei Yisrael wept for Moshe" (Devarim 34:8). It does not say, "The entire House of Yisrael," as it says concerning Aharon. Moshe was the nation's leader and, as such, had to mete out justice and discipline when necessary. This does not usually win friends and supporters - especially among the simple-minded.

The principle upon which shalom bayis, peace and harmony, within a household is founded, is in the koach ha'nesinah, power of giving. In his Michtav Mei'Eliyahu, Horav Eliyahu Eliezer Dessler, zl, distinguishes between two types of people: the nosein, giver; and the noteil, taker. The faculty of giving is a sublime power. Indeed, it is one of the attributes of the Creator, Who is the consummate giver. He takes nothing in return for all that He gives, for He lacks nothing. Having been created in Hashem's image, man possesses this middah, attribute, which enables him to be merciful, to bestow happiness and to give of himself.

Regrettably, the flip side should not be ignored: The trait of taking, through which a person aspires to draw to himself everything that comes his way. We call it selfish or egotistical when a person thinks only of himself. Rav Dessler considers this to be the root of all evil. Furthermore, there is no middle road. One is either a nosein or a noteil. Every person is devoted, at the deepest level of his personality, to one or the other of the two positions; in the innermost longings of his heart, he can brook no compromise.

Love flows in the direction of giving. Rav Dessler cites Chazal in Meseches Derech Eretz Zuta: "If you want to keep close to the love of your friend, make it your concern to seek his welfare." This takes us to the relationship between husband and wife. Husband and wife together complement one another, filling in for any flaw which might exist in one's spouse. By giving each other this sheleimus, completion, they come to love one another. This affection will, in turn, generate more giving - with each one seeking to bestow happiness and pleasure on the other.

Rav Dessler would say to a young couple on their yom chasunah, wedding day, "Filling your hearts at this moment is a wondrous desire to give pleasure and happiness to each other. Take care, my dear ones, that you strive to always maintain this desire as fresh and strong as it is at the present time. You should know that the moment you find yourselves beginning, instead, to make demands upon each other, your happiness is at an end."

In summation: the optimal relationship between husband and wife will be realized when both achieve and practice the virtue of giving. Then their affection will never cease, and their lives will be filled with happiness and contentment for as long as they live.

Rav Dessler was a naeh doreish v'naeh mekayeim, practiced what he preached. He was the consummate husband and father. The following episode is related by Horav Yitzchak Zilberstein, Shlita. It is well-known that there are two shiurim, measurements, for the kos shel yayin, wine cup, used for Kiddush. There is the large size, which is in accordance with the Chazon Ish, and a smaller size. During his entire marriage to Rebbetzin Dessler, Rav Dessler used the smaller cup. On the Shabbos following her passing, he asked to make Kiddush on a cup in accordance with the shiur of the Chazon Ish. When asked to explain his new practice, he said, "During my wife's lifetime, I made Kiddush on the cup she brought from her father's home - despite the fact that it was of the lesser size. It was my way of according her respect. Now, I am certain she will not take offense." Rav Dessler was willing to yield on his personal observance out of respect for his wife. Is there a more propitious way to ensure marital harmony?

Va'ani Tefillah

Ohr chadash al tzion tair. May You shine a new light on Tzion.

Horav Shimon Schwab, zl, explains that this "new" light is in fact the original light of Vayehi or, "And there was light," the light of Maasei Bereishis, Creation. Hashem saw that this light was "good"; He separated this light from darkness. Chazal explain that this separation was catalyzed because Hashem felt that the light was too precious to be used by evil people. Thus, he put it aside for the use of tzaddikim, the righteous, in Olam Habba, the World to Come. We now ask that this original light be returned to this world with the advent of the geulah, redemption, and the coming of Moshiach Tzidkeinu.

Each month, as we recite Kiddush Levanah, blessing over the new moon, we note that the constant renewal of the moon-cycle is an allusion to Hashem's renewing our relationship with Him, thereby returning the Or HaShechinah to this world. The moon has been the Jewish People's symbol of hope ever since the mitzvah of Kiddush Ha'Chodesh was given to us as we left Egypt. It is the first mitzvah of the Torah. I think this teaches us something. This is a mitzvah given specifically to generate hope within our hearts. We have survived the vicissitudes of history due to our emunah, faith in Hashem, and hope that the day of our ultimate redemption will soon come. We look forward to this daily, as we express our yearning for an end to our misery and the return of the Or HaShechinah. Now, if we would only think about this as we articulate the words…

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