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Peninim on the Torah

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Rabbi A. Leib Scheinbaum
Hebrew Academy of Cleveland


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

It seems that the Torah is twice instructing Moshe Rabbeinu to speak to the Kohanim. Chazal explain the apparent redundancy to imply that the Kohanim were to convey this teaching to others who would otherwise not be enjoined in this command. This is a reference to young children. The adults are not permitted to cause their children to become tamei, spiritually contaminated, from exposure to the dead. This is a noteworthy response which begs elucidation. The pasuk implies that the adults were commanded twice. There is no mention, however, of any communication to the children. From where do Chazal derive that this is a message for adults concerning their children?

Horav Moshe Shapiro, Shlita, explains that the way to influence the children is by strengthening the resolve and commitment of the adults. A direct reprovement to the children will not be as effective as one that the parents teach by example. Ask any educator: the best and most effective way to reach the students is by working with - and on - the parents.

In his commentary to Parashas Tazria, the Maggid, zl, m'Dubno writes that he queried his great rebbe, the Gaon, zl, m'Vilna concerning the most effective approach towards inspiring and influencing others. The Gaon replied with an analogy. One should take a large cup and surround it with a number of smaller cups. He should pour the liquid into the large cup, and it will overflow into the smaller cups. That is how one is mashpia, influences, others. The more he refines his own character traits, the more he enhances and embellishes his own knowledge, the greater will be his impact on others. It influences those he seeks to inspire.

Horav Yaakov Kamenetsky, zl, says that this idea is especially focused on parents. In fact, he suggests that the term chinuch habanim, education of children, which is applied to the process of parents guiding their children, is actually a misnomer. Parents are primarily not mechanchim, educators. They are mashpiim, individuals who influence. The word mashpia, explains Rav Yaakov, is related to the word shipua, something inclined or on a slant. Parents are like a slanted roof with regard to their children. What they do, what they think, what they profess, all trickles down to their children, leaving a lasting effect. We must see to it that the effect is a positive one.

Our children learn to appreciate and value what we, as parents, seem to appreciate and value. The pasuk in Mishlei 27:21 reads, "The refining pot is for silver, and the furnace is for gold. And a man is tested by his praise." Simply, this phrase means that we can judge a person by his reputation, by the praises (or lack thereof) with which others describe him. Rabbeinu Yonah explains that Shlomo Hamelech is teaching us that a man is judged by that which he praises. Horav Yitzchak Hutner, zl, cited by Rabbi Issachar Frand, gives a compelling example of the meaning of this pasuk.

Rav Hutner contends that a businessman who spends only two hours a night studying Torah can be on a higher spiritual plane than a kollel fellow who studies Torah all day. For instance, if the kollel fellow spends his time at home talking about the business successes of his neighbor or about someone's incredible success in the stock market, he indicates that he is a businessman at heart. He praises money. He worships money. He envies and extols those who have money. He conveys a profound message to his children: money counts; money is everything.

The lay person, on the other hand, whose greatest pleasure is to give honor to a talmid chacham, Torah scholar, and who makes it clear that the most important part of his day is the hour or two that he spends at a shiur or learning b'chavrusa, with a study partner, is teaching his children that the most important business is Torah business. It is the most important thing in his life. What we say trickles down to our children, leaving a lasting effect.

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

Chazal expound on the apparent redundancy in our pasuk of, "Say (to the Kohanim) and tell (them)." This implies that they were to convey this teaching to others who would otherwise not be commanded in this mitzvah. This is a reference to the children about whom the parents are cautioned to make sure that they do not become contaminated by being in the presence of the dead. Emor v'amarta has become the catchphrase which alludes to parents' responsibility to arrange the education of their children. There is no dearth of stories which demonstrate parents' responsibility and commitment to their children's educational development. Veritably, children learn best by example. Who can better convey the values and goals of a Torah Jew than parents!

In order for parents to inculcate their children with an appreciation for Torah and a sense of yiraas Shomayim, fear of Heaven, it is crucial that they imbue them with ahavas Torah, a love of Torah. Ahavas Torah breeds yiraas Shomayim, an enthusiasm for proficiency in Torah knowledge and a longing for success in mitzvah performance. The following inspiring story, related by Horav Yitzchak Zilberstein, Shlita, portrays this idea.

Two kollel fellows in Eretz Yisrael, both young talmidei chachamim, Torah scholars, had decided among themselves to have a chavrusa, be study partners, in the limud, study, of Mishnayos. Seven days each week, without fail, these two young men would spend half an hour together learning Mishnayos. This went on for quite some time. After two years, one of the young men was asked, at the behest of a number of distinguished Torah leaders, to relocate and assume a rabbinic position in France. He accepted the position, but refused to end his chavrusa relationship for the study of Mishnayos, planning to continue by telephone. Every night they would learn together by long distance, making use of the gift of technology. In order to capitalize on the most economical long distance rates and the difference in times between Eretz Yisrael and France, they would speak every night between eleven-thirty and midnight.

One day, while sitting with her three-year old son, the wife of the kollel fellow in Eretz Yisrael, asked him to draw a picture of the first thing that came to his mind. "I would like to see how well you draw," she said.

The young lad drew an interesting picture, which he explained was his father studying Mishnayos. In the corner of the paper was a clock with both hands pointing to the twelve. Outside, through the window, they saw darkness. This is the first thing that came to his mind! This is what he saw at home, and this is what he was growing up to value, to appreciate and to love. A child learns to appreciate what his father values. How awesome is our responsibility to convey the correct values by virtue of our example.

If the daughter of a Kohen will be desecrated through adultery, she desecrates her father. (21:9)

Rashi explains that this rebellious young lady besmirches her father's name, because people will say, "Accursed is the one who gave birth to her; accursed is the one who raised her." Perhaps we can offer another explanation for this term. We are taught that the sin of chillul Hashem, profaning the Name of Hashem, is the most serious offense a Jew can commit. Regarding the pasuk in Shemos 31:14, Mechallelehah mos yumas, "Its desecrator shall be put to death," the Zohar Hakadosh explains the word, mechallelehah, its desecrator, as a derivative of the word, challal, which means a vacuum, a hole, an open space. The Nefesh Hachaim explains the pasuk in Vayikra 22:32, V'lo sechallelu es shem kodshi, "You shall not desecrate My Holy Name," that one who profanes Hashem's Name is intimating that the place where he stands is void of Hashem. Thus, the individual can do whatever he desires, because Hashem is not there.

This is also the meaning of "she desecrates her father." A girl who acts in such an immoral manner indicates by her actions that there was a parental void in her home. She is mechallel her father; she makes it appear as if there had been no father to raise her. For otherwise, how could she have acted this way?

I must add that this indication is not necessarily true. We observe that some of the finest homes have regrettably produced children that are a great challenge, children who need that extra dose of love and care, children who are at risk. There definitely are both a father and a mother who work overtime to provide for all of their children's needs, but, at times, they are simply not successful. This does not mean that they were not present. It is a nisayon, a challenge from Hashem, that they have to surmount and over which they must triumph. Hashem Yerachem.

He shall not leave the sanctuary. (21:12)

The Kohen Gadol is forbidden even to follow the funeral procession of a relative. Homiletically, we may derive from here that the Kohen Gadol and, for that matter, anyone who makes the Sanctuary/bais ha'medrash his home, his place of study, should see to it that when he leaves it should be only for a matter of great urgency or necessity. His spiritual sustenance is provided in the Sanctuary, and every interruption diminishes the spiritual flow. Hence, the Kohen Gadol, as well as the ben Torah who dedicates himself to the Sanctuary, should ensconce himself in this holy environment and let its kedushah, holiness, permeate him.

Horav Michel Yehudah Lefkowitz, Shlita, was once asked if he ever had the privilege of meeting the Chofetz Chaim. He responded, to everyone's surprise, in the negative. He then looked at the questioner, "You seem surprised. It is true that I studied in a yeshivah which was certainly in the proximity of the Chafetz Chaim, and once the Chafetz Chaim even visited the town where I studied. Indeed, all of the yeshivah students, together with the town's citizens, went out to greet the gadol ha'dor, preeminent Torah leader of the generation. Unfortunately, I was lazy."

When the questioner heard these words from the venerable gaon, he was doubly surprised. He wondered how someone could be so lazy. Sensing the man's quandary, Rav Michel Yehudah said, "It is not that I did not want to see the Chafetz Chaim. It was just that I had a greater desire to learn another blatt, folio, of Gemara." We now have an idea how he became such a distinguished gaon.

Horav Shlomo Zalman Auerbach, zl, once met a yeshivah student, a relative, on the street. This took place during the zman, yeshivah session, when the young man should have been studying in the yeshivah. "What brings you here?" Rav Shlomo Zalman asked. "Why are you not in the yeshivah?" The young man replied, "I have to attend the wedding of a close friend."

Rav Shlomo Zalman countered, "I also studied in yeshivah, and my friends also invited me to their weddings. I benefited much more, however, from the extra time that I spent studying and reviewing the Gemara. I had priorities, and Torah study was highest on my list. Now, some sixty years later, there is a difference between those who attended every wedding and me. When they go to a wedding, they must remain there for a few hours for anyone to notice that they had been there. I, however, walk in to a wedding for a few minutes, and everyone knows that I attended."

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

Giving up one's life in sanctification of Hashem's Name is a primary responsibility and obligation for every Jew. Throughout the millennia, our brethren have sacrificed their lives Al Kiddush Hashem, under the most cruel and inhumane conditions. Just over sixty years ago, millions of our people were killed in the European Holocaust, just because they were Jews. There are also those who are prepared and willing to sacrifice themselves without fanfare, because of their complete devotion to Hashem and His mitzvos. I recently heard a powerful story concerning the Manchester Rosh Hayeshivah, Horav Yehudah Zev Segal, zl, that portrays Kiddush Hashem at its zenith. The story was related by Reb Boruch Leib Sassoon, a talmid of the Mir in Poland and contemporary of Rav Segal.

As a student in the Mirrer Yeshivah, Rav Segal exemplified diligence in Torah study and commitment to mitzvah observance. He cared not only about himself; he also saw to it that there would not be any incursion into the nature of the holy fabric of the yeshivah's spiritual environment. Europe was regrettably infested with a dangerous spiritual "disease" called the Enlightenment. It consisted of apostate Jews whose sole objective was to impugn the integrity of Torah and mitzvos. These self-loathing heretics seized every opportunity to undermine Torah Judaism. To further their nefarious goals, they would plant their cohorts in various Torah centers in order to spread their ideology subtly to unsuspecting students. One day, Rav Segal noticed a book of secular philosophy on the chair of one of the students who was suspected of being a free-thinker. He grabbed the book and hid it. When the owner of the book returned and noticed that his book was gone, he investigated and discovered that Rav Segal had taken it. He accosted Rav Segal and demanded that he return his book. Rav Segal, of course, did not acquiesce to his demands. This incurred a fit of rage from the young man, who was not used to getting "no" for an answer. He began to threaten Rav Segal with bodily harm. "If you do not return my book immediately, I will kill you!" he screamed.

"I will not return a book filled with heresy to you," countered Rav Segal.

Suddenly, the apostate placed his hands on Rav Segal's throat and began to squeeze. "I am serious," he said, "if you do not give me the book, I will kill you."

He began to choke Rav Segal who, in a loud voice filled with emotion, recited the brachah, blessing, one makes as he is about to die Al Kiddush Hashem. Just as Rav Segal was about to pass out, he was saved by someone.

When Reb Baruch Leib was queried regarding his knowledge of the incident, his reply was, "I was there. I was the one who saved the Manchester Rosh Hayeshivah."

This is an incident in which a person was prepared to give up his life, so that others would not be exposed to spiritual filth. How far are we from such a plateau in avodas Hashem, service to the Almighty?

Va'ani Tefillah

How fortunate are we that we lovingly begin and end each and every day by proclaiming: Shema Yisrael.

As mentioned above, Kiddush Hashem means that if a person sacrifices his life, he affirms his absolute belief in Hashem. If there had been any vestige of doubt concerning his conviction, he would have reneged at the very last moment. To act in such a manner in the presence of ten Jews, to sacrifice one's life b'rabim, is referred to as Kiddush Hashem b'rabim. Thus, when we recite this blessing, we do so with great pride and dignity in being part of the nation that has "lived" with this supreme sacrifice, with our ancestors who truly demonstrated this conviction as they were led to their deaths with the words of Shema Yisrael on their lips. Now, as Horav Shimon Schwab, zl, observes, if we live like this, if we can recite this blessing daily with meaning and feeling, then all of the excuses we conjure up not to come to davening, not to study Torah, not to give tzedakah - vanish. All of these mitzvos pale by comparison to our willingness and readiness to offer up the supreme sacrifice - ourselves.

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