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Peninim on the Torah

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Rabbi A. Leib Scheinbaum
Hebrew Academy of Cleveland


You shall sanctify him, for he offers the food of your G-d. (21:8)

Simply, the pasuk is teaching us to treat the Kohanim with the esteem befitting the Almighty's Divine servants whose function it is to offer Hashem's sacrifices. The Kesav Sofer takes a penetrating look into the meaning of this pasuk. If we look at the status of the Kohen, we note a paradox. On the one hand, he is the spiritual elite of the Jewish People. He has been selected to stand in Divine service before Hashem and also to act as a spiritual mentor of Klal Yisrael.

On the other hand, the Torah gives him no way to sustain himself. He does not receive a portion in Eretz Yisrael. Indeed, he subsists on the good will of the rest of the nation, who are enjoined to sustain him. Let us face it, we live in a society where a person's checkbook balance and the size of his paycheck determine his status in the eyes of many people. While we know that such ephemeral success has little value in the ultimate scheme of life, that is human nature. Therefore, the Kohen is really at a disadvantage. How do we correct society's failing?

The Kesav Sofer explains that there are two approaches, both of which are alluded to in this pasuk. First, we should understand that we are not paying the Kohen from our own pockets. The Kohen receives payment for his service in the Bais HaMikdash from Hashem. It just so happens that Hashem uses us as his paymasters. This is the meaning of "You shall sanctify him, for he offers the food of your G-d." We have to pay for the service that the Kohen provides for us. In reality, Hashem reimburses the Kohen through us.

We tend to overlook another aspect of our relationship with the Kohen. We think that we give the Kohen, that we are the ones that support him. That is our first mistake. He sustains us. He mentors us. He is our spiritual guide. Furthermore, when we give the Kohen, his acceptance is - in reality - an act of giving! Yes, by taking from us, he is actually giving to us. A gift is a gift only when the individual on the receiving end is in need of the gift. If his acceptance is really a favor for us, then by accepting, he is giving. The Kohen does not need us - we need him! V'kidashto - "You shall sanctify him." We should appreciate the Kohen's sanctity and his value to us.

Regrettably, we view our Kohanim, spiritual leadership, with a lack of proper respect. Some of us think they owe us; we forget who is sustaining whom. The Kohen owes us nothing. We owe him everything.

You shall not desecrate My holy Name, rather I should be sanctified among Bnei Yisrael. (22:32)

The entire chapter preceding the commandment regarding sanctifying Hashem's name deals completely with the Festivals, the sacrifices that are offered during the Festivals and the halachos that pertain to the sacrifices as a result of the Festivals. It is, therefore, puzzling that the chapter closes with the Torah's enjoinment not to desecrate Hashem's Name and to be sure to sanctify His Name. Is there a connection between chillul Hashem and the Festivals?

The Netziv, zl, gives a response that is both compelling and timely. For the most part, the mitzvos of the Torah are not similar to religious practice and observance of other religions. One who dons Tzitzis will not be mistaken for an individual who is observing another religion's commandment. Tzitzis is inherently a Jewish symbol. The Festivals are different. There are non-Jewish festivals. Consequently, the fear prevails that those whose observance of Judaism is not steeped in tradition, who do not have the "backing" of thousands of years of Mesorah, might infuse an "enlightened" non-Jewish perspective into the festival. This is why the Torah admonishes us against chillul Hashem in regard to the way we celebrate our Yamim Tovim. This means that Chanukah, the Rabbinic Festival commemorating our victory over the forces of evil and impurity, should not become the festival of lights. Purim, which we celebrate in remembrance of the foiled attempt by Haman, archenemy of the Jewish People, is not to be transformed into a carnival and a masquerade ball. This constitutes chillul Hashem at its nadir.

You shall not desecrate My holy Name, rather I should be sanctified among the Bnei Yisrael. (22:32)

The sanctification of Hashem's Name is a Jew's primary privilege and responsibility. This obligation is all encompassing. To desecrate Hashem's Name is a transgression of epic proportion. It is a sin that, regrettably, can occur with very little "effort" on our part. Indeed, if one sins merely because Hashem's will has very little bearing on his actions, then he has desecrated Hashem's Name. If this is done in public, in the presence of ten Jews, the sin is magnified. The fundamental principles are one's fear of Hashem and his respect for the Divine word. Sefer Yereim says that chillul Hashem is a grave sin. He goes as far as to posit that one who degrades any mitzvah - reflecting a sense of leniency and indifference on his part regarding kavod Shomayim, the honor of Heaven - is guilty of chillul Hashem.

It is related that when the Chafetz Chaim, zl, would review the words of the Yereim, he would weep. He would emphasize the responsibility of a ben Torah towards the "outside" world. As a soldier in Hashem's legion, he represents one who is close to the Almighty. People view him in a different light, and his demeanor and dress code should reflect his position and function. If they do not, then he defames the dignity and esteem of his position and that of the Divine Monarchy that he represents. Once the Chafetz Chaim was in a hurry to catch the train to Vilna. The Chafetz Chaim was not a traveler. If he went anywhere, it was for a significant and compelling reason. As he was rushing to the train, he was stopped along one of the side streets and asked to be the "tenth" man to complete a minyan, quorum, for Minchah in a bais avel, house of a mourner. Although the trip was extremely important, and the stop would cause him to miss the train, the Chafetz Chaim decided that he should join the minyan, so that the mourner could recite Kaddish. Why did he do it? Because the mourner who had to say Kaddish - or the people who were attempting to put together a minyan - might not understand the significance of his trip. They would in turn, regrettably, have some choice words to intimate about him in particular and rabbanim in general. This would engender a chillul Hashem. His trip to Vilna was not more important than chillul Hashem.

In his sefer Chaim Sheyeish Bahem, Horav Yitzchak Shraga Gross, Shlita, relates a story that occurred concerning Horav Michoel Ber Weissmandel, zl, the Nitra Rosh HaYeshivah, who was known for his tireless efforts on behalf of Klal Yisrael during and after World War II. Two business partners came and shared with him an all too common tragedy. Each had a son who was prepared to marry out of the faith. The fathers, although no longer observant, maintained a "strict" outlook on assimilation. Shabbos and kashrus represent one thing, but to marry a gentile - that was the bitter end. Needless to say, they were beside themselves with grief.

Rav Weissmandel inquired about the Jewish education their sons had received and how much time the fathers had spent learning with their sons. Regrettably, the story was similar to what had happened to many of those who either settled in communities where there was no Jewish education, or who exhibited apathy and, at times, anger after the war which caused them to sever their relationship with Judaism as a religion. Rav Weissmandel listened to their story and told them he would like to share a story with them.

After World War I, new territorial borders were set up between communities. In some instances, many regions that had originally been part of one country, suddenly were transformed into two countries. In one city where there was a large Jewish population, the Jewish cemetery was separated from the rest of the community. Hence, the cemetery was in one country, while the "living" lived in another country.

This caused a problem for the Chevra Kaddisha, members of the Jewish Sacred Burial Society. While they waited for all the red tape to be cleared between the two countries, the deceased would remain unburied, which is a violation of Jewish law. Finally, a special dispensation was made for the members of the Chevra Kaddisha whereby they could go right through without being subject to needless time-consuming inspections.

Once word got out regarding the special leniency enjoyed by the Chevra Kaddisha, a group of gentile smugglers decided to take advantage of the "burial" laws. They filled a coffin with contraband, posed as members of the Jewish Chevra Kaddisha, and smuggled goods into the next country, all under the watchful eye of the inspectors. This ruse went on for months, as the gentile smugglers made a thriving business out of their "burial society".

One day a young inspector became suspicious, because the pallbearers just did not give the impression that they were really sad. "Where are you going?" he asked. "We are about to bury a fellow Jew in the cemetery," they responded.

"You do not look very sad to me. You have been joking and laughing the entire time that I have been looking at you. I do not think you are going to bury any body," the inspector told them. "Open the casket, so that I can see the body," he challenged.

"No, no, we cannot do that. It would be against Jewish law to open the casket," they countered. The young officer did not believe them, and he decided to seek out his superior. The smugglers became disconcerted and started to beg and plead with him not to make them open the casket. Now, the young inspector was convinced that they were lying. He called the lieutenant who had very little patience for this band of crooks.

"Open the casket now!" he said. The casket was opened, and the deceased turned out to be expensive contraband. The culprits began to cry and plead for mercy, "We made a mistake. It was the first time. We have to feed our starving families." They promised that they would never do it again. All of the usual excuses were rendered to cover up their lies - to no avail.

The lieutenant turned towards them and said, "You are right that you will never do it again, because by the time you get out of jail, you will be too old to do anything. It is a shame that you cried too late. Had you cried before when you were carrying the casket, then you would not have had to cry now."

Rav Weissmandel completed the story and looked at the two men, saying, "I wish with all my heart that I could help you. Your tears are very moving, and I am sure they are from the heart. Regrettably, they are too late. Had you cried years earlier, when your sons were growing up, and had you been concerned for their Jewish education, then you would not have to cry now."

What a sad, but true, response. This story repeats itself constantly. Whether it is the wrong focus on education or on our children's friends - or simply misconstrued priorities on our part - we end up crying too late. While it is true that the Shaarei Demaos, Gates of Tears, never close, one must cry before the fact. Afterwards, it is too late.

You shall count for yourselves - from the morrow of the rest day. (23:15)

Shavuos is not identified by the Torah with a specific day on the calendar, but as the fiftieth day after the Omer Offering. Each individual is to count every one of the days separately and clearly. Horav Chaim, zl, m'Volozhin, was wont to say that there is one mussar sefer, book of ethical discourse, that is not "counted" among the many volumes that are available for character development and introspection. It is a simple "sefer," with a compelling message and readily available - the clock. If a person were to stare at the clock on the wall and watch the seconds tick away into minutes, the minutes tick away into hours, and the hours tick away into days, he will come to realize the value of time and how it is just ticking away - while he sits and watches. This will, hopefully, spur him to wake up and do something about the time that is quickly ticking by.

Horav Zalmen Sorotzkin, zl, interprets rav Chaim's analogy into the pasuk in Tehillim 90:12, "Teach us to count our days, that we shall acquire a heart of wisdom." If we will learn to count our days, to make sure that they do not go to waste, we will then increase wisdom into our hearts.

The mitzvah of counting days between Pesach and Shavuos as a preparation for receiving the Torah is related to this idea. When one counts a day, he thinks to himself, "Another day has passed on the calendar, another day during which I should have prepared myself for receiving the Torah. Did I do what I was supposed to do - or did I waste another day? What will I now do with the remaining days till Shavuos?" These thoughts will engender a feeling of introspection and sanctity within him, feelings that will bring him closer to being ready to receive the Torah.


Say to the Kohanimů and tell them. (21:1)

Rashi explains the apparent redundancy of the pasuk - emor; v'omarta, say/and tell as a message L'hazhir gedolim al haketanim, the adult Kohanim were cautioned regarding the children. How do they do this? Be'airos Hamayim explains that l'hazhir is derived from zohar, light, to illuminate. The actions of the adults/spiritual leadership should illuminate the way for the common Jew. When actions shine, they illuminate the way for others.


He shall marry a woman who is a besulah. (21:18)

The Baal Haturim notes that the word v'hu has a gematria, numerical equivalent, of eighteen, consistent with the Mishnah in Pirkei Avos, 5:21, Ben shemonah esrai lechupah. One should marry by the age of eighteen. Sefer Yuchsin notes that Lag B'omer always occurs on the eighteenth of Iyar. Interestingly, more weddings take place on this date than on any other date.


Rather, I should be sanctified among Bnei Yisrael. (22:32)

To give up one's life as a Jew, because he is a Jew, in order to sanctify Hashem's Name is a privilege and a responsibility. Six million of our brethren died Al Kiddush Hashem during the European Holocaust. When the Satmar Rebbe, zl, decided to leave Eretz Yisrael and settle in America, one of his chassidim asked him, "Rebbe, who will I go to when I need a berachah, blessing?" The Rebbe responded, "Go into the shul in the morning and look at the men as they put on their Tefillin. If you see someone who has a number from the concentration camp tattooed on his arm - ask him for a berachah."


And the seventh day is a day of complete rest. (23:3)

An American rabbi was once giving a sermon on the importance of observance of Shabbos. He related an incident that took place in the Radin yeshivah. A student was suspected of desecrating the Shabbos. This rumor was brought to the venerable Chafetz Chaim, who immediately called the student to his home. After a short while, the young man left the Chafetz Chaim's house a changed person. His entire appearance seemed to have transformed. From that Shabbos on he observed Shabbos - meticulously. "What did the Chafetz Chaim tell him that changed his life," the rabbi was asked. "I do not know," he responded. Years afterwards, an older gentleman approached the rabbi and said, "I was the errant student." "What did the Chafetz Chaim tell you?" the rabbi asked.

"He took my hands in his hands and began to cry. As he was crying, he kept repeating the words 'Shabbos Kodesh, holy Shabbos.' His tears flowed down onto my hands and burnt them. I immediately regretted my actions and accepted upon myself to observe Shabbos."

When one cries for chillul Shabbos as the Chafetz Chaim cried, the tears leave a "burning" and lasting impression.

in honor of
Miriam Bas Avrohom
Dr. Marijah McCain


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