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Rabbi A. Leib Scheinbaum
Hebrew Academy of Cleveland


Say to the Kohanim, the sons of Aharon, and you shall say to them. (21:1)

Rashi notes the redundancy in the words, emor v'amarta, "Say (to the Kohanim) and you shall say (to them)." He explains that this is to enjoin the adults with regard to minors. It is consistent with the Talmud Yevamos 114a, in which Chazal explain that the word, "say" indicates that adult Kohanim are prohibited to make themselves impure through contact with the dead. "And you shall say" implies that the Kohanim are commanded to see to it that Kohanim who are minors must also not defile themselves. L'hazhir gedolim al ha'ketanim, "To caution adults with regard to the children" has become a Torah chinuch, education catchphrase. It is an important rule, but how is it derived from the redundancy of the words? Just that the Torah says twice to "tell them" does not provide clear proof that it is addressing the educational aspect of reaching out to the next generation.

Horav Moshe Shmuel Shapiro, zl, quotes the Maggid m'Dubno who once asked his Rebbe, the Gaon, zl, m'Vilna, to identify the most effective way of influencing children. The Gaon answered with a mashal, parable. The Gaon asked the Maggid to bring a large cup and to surround it with smaller cups. Then he asked the Maggid to pour liquid into the large cup and continue pouring until the liquid overflows into the smaller cups. In order to have children absorb the lessons, so that they retain them, the rebbe/teacher/mentor must first himself be permeated with an overdose of whatever character traits he seeks to impart to his students. They, in turn, will be suffused with the overflow.

The Rosh Yeshivah comments that the Kohanim were instructed twice in order to give them a double-measure of kedushas Kohen, the sanctity of the Kohen. Thus, it will "spill over" to their children.

The lesson is simple: students learn from the rebbe. As the rebbe becomes saturated with Torah and middos tovos, character traits, so do the students imbibe from his overflow of good. This presents a new concept in what today's educational experts term "continuing education." It is not sufficient for the teacher merely to be aware of new studies and methods; he must also be able to teach - period. A rebbe who is not constantly growing spiritually will soon "run out" - become depleted - of that overflow, leaving him little to communicate to his students.

The other perspective is that of the student. In order to be inspired by one's mentor, the student must view himself as the "small" cup at the side of the much larger cup. When a student considers himself to be on the level of his rebbe, when arrogance has reached such a nadir that he no longer sees his mentor as being greater than he, there is no overflow; he cannot learn anything. It is a two-way street. The rebbe successfully inspires his students only after he has himself been infused with Torah wisdom and ethics. The student then receives this infusion only after he has lowered himself sufficiently to the point at which the rebbe's overflow will stream down to him.

The "overflow factor" was a primary educational principle embodied by one of the past generation's premier Torah educators, the Mashgiach of Chevron/Slabodka and, later, Ateres Yisrael, Horav Meir Chodosh, zl. He would say, "One must fill himself until he brims over with wisdom and knowledge, filling the adjacent vessels - his students - with the overflow that he himself cannot contain. One must pour into the cup, pour and pour, with the pouring for himself, but everything that overflows for the students and for anyone else who wishes to learn." This was the song of his life. Everything he developed - everything that he thought about and originated - he did for himself, pouring into his own cup. His entire life was one long service of Hashem. He embodied the essence of Mussar, ethical/moral conduct, reflected by his spiritual discipline and demeanor. He served as a perfect role model for others to emulate, as the "liquid" poured over the sides with an overflow that inspired those close to him.

Rav Meir would say, "Nurture yourself, so that you may nurture others." Horav Shlomo Wolbe, zl, commented, "When Rav Meir spoke with his students, every word was a result of his work on himself. This idea goes to the very core of the Mashigach's principles and the method of education he imbibed from his great Rebbe, Horav Nosson Tzvi Finkel, zl, reverently known as the Alter m'Slabodka.

The Mashgiach was once queried concerning what he was preparing for his upcoming Mussar shmuess, ethical discourse. His response is classic and bespeaks his Mussar personality. He replied, "I am not preparing a specific lecture. I am going to speak from what is in my heart." In his shmuessen, the Mashgiach did not transmit ideas and statements from Chazal in a vacuum. When he spoke, he transmitted himself. He shared with his listeners whatever it was that he was engaged in at that specific moment, the subject in which he was presently absorbed, in which he desired to plumb its depths in order to grasp its concepts and internalize them. When these topics penetrated his mind, when they pervaded his heart and animated his spirit, he would share them with his students. Whatever it was; a chiddush, novel idea; a new perspective; an emotion which he now felt. It was as though an inner light illuminated the depths of these ideas, compelling him to share it with his students.

In order for a rebbe/mentor to succeed with the overflow effect, the material he studies must become a part of himself - his essence. His learning and middos are not external, but an intrinsic part of his being. The traits that one values do not float somewhere in the upper reaches of his intellect or in profound depths of philosophy. One's middos are not simply a "good vort," a nice thought. They become life itself. One becomes a living, breathing Mussar sefer, volume of ethical refinement. Only then can he successfully impart "himself" to his students.

And they shall not marry a woman who has been divorced by her husband; for each one is holy to his G-d. (21:7)

The circle of permitted marriages diminishes as one rises higher in the social/spiritual hierarchy. The Torah places restrictions upon the Levi and Yisrael concerning certain marriages. The Kohen has even greater limitations, while the Kohen Gadol, High Priest, is in a very tight circle with regard to marriage. These provisions concerning marriage are governed primarily by the principle of yichus, pedigree, and the nobility of untainted family descent. The preservation of the blood lines is one of the principles of Jewish family life. In its purest form, yichus is conveyed through the male line from generation to generation by marriages to woman who are halachically suitable for this union. Why certain women are considered unsuitable may be rationalized, but when all is said and done, it his Hashem, Who, for reasons known only to him, determines suitability. We can only obey.

A Kohen may not marry a divorcee, regardless of who her former spouse was, the catalyst for the divorce, or the circumstances leading up to the ultimate separation. The Torah is clear in its prohibition. We must accept its edicts. I recently came across a poignant story, quoted by Horav Yitzchak Zilberstein, Shlita, which should inspire our emunas chachamim, faith in our sages.

A couple had a wonderful, loving marriage for fifteen years. One thing, however, kept gnawing at this relationship: they had no children. After much deliberation and despite the harmony that reigned in their home, they decided to divorce. Perhaps they would each be blessed the second time around. They said their "goodbyes," and the get, divorce, was processed. Shortly after the get had been completed, the woman discovered that, lo and behold, she was pregnant. This was wonderful news and should have generated much joy. Indeed, it would have - had the husband not been a Kohen. His ex-wife was pregnant, but he could not remarry her, since she was a divorcee. Talk about misfortune. Their pain and heartbreak were off the charts.

The husband turned to Horav Chaim Kanievsky, Shlita, who told him that there was no way to override the halachah. He could not remarry his former wife. He suggested that he should consult with his father-in-law, Horav Yosef Shalom Elyashiv, Shlita. The man listened and turned to Rav Elyashiv and poured out his heart. The Rav shared his pain, but, regrettably, the halachah is very clear: as a Kohen, he may not marry his former wife. "The only thing I can tell you," he said, "is to go to the Kosel Maaravi and daven, pray to Hashem to save you."

When Rav Elyashiv speaks - one listens, and he immediately left for the Kosel to pour out his heart without restraint. Fifteen years of yearning; fifteen years of prayer, hope and rejection: finally their prayers were answered, but now the obstacle to their shared joy was immutable. One cannot get around Biblical law. He cried and cried, his hands scraping the stone wall. After davening for a lengthy period of time, he felt someone's hand on his shoulder. He turned around and saw a young, distinguished talmid chacham, Torah scholar of note, who inquired what had happened to him. Anyone observing the Kohen's heartfelt prayer, would have raised that question. This was no ordinary davening. The Kohen repeated his story, and the scholar asked him, "Do you have a father?" The man did not really make sense to the Kohen. "Of course I have a father," he replied. "He is very old and lives in a nursing home in America. He is quite ill and barely communicates with those around him."

The scholar turned to the depressed Kohen and said, "In my opinion, you should fly to America and speak with your father. Tell him what has taken place and ask his advice." The Kohen looked at the man as if he had just landed from outer space: "I told you that my father's physical and mental condition has deteriorated considerably. He neither talks, nor does he seem to understand what people say to him. Anyway, about what could I talk to him which would change my situation?" The stranger listened to the Kohen and looked at him in such a manner as if to say, "Listen, I am telling you to go. Your excuses are no reason not to go. Who knows? The visit might even pay off."

The Kohen ruminated over the events of the past few days. First, Rav Kanievesky told him to speak with Rav Eliayshiv. The venerable gadol hador, preeminent Torah leader of the generation, told him to pray at the Kosel. At the Kosel, he met a stranger who insisited that his problem would be solved if he were to fly to America and speak with his incommunicable father. What should he do? The entire story seemed like a mystery, but, to believing Jews, every mystery has an underlying meaning. Somehow, all of these events fit together. In some way, they had to all make sense. All he had to lose was a plane ticket. What could hurt if he paid a visit to his father? Twenty four hours later, the Kohen was walking up the steps of the nursing home entrance.

When the Kohen entered the home and said that he had come to visit with his father, the nurses said that it was a waste of time. His father had not communicated with anyone in the last four months. Nothing - period. Not even eye contact. He should not expect a reaction. This did not prevent the Kohen from relating the entire story to his father, who just sat there staring out in space, seemingly oblivious to all that was taking place. The son spoke; the father stared blankly, and then the son burst out in bitter weeping. It was just too much. The trauma of years of yearning - followed by divorce and the pregnancy - was overwhelming. Suddenly, the unbelievable happened. The father began to speak! "You are wrong. It is all a mistake. You are not my biological son! After the Holocaust, your mother and I realized that we could no longer have children, so we adopted you as an infant and raised you as our child - which you are, but you are not a Kohen! Thus, there is no reason that you cannot marry your former wife."

A powerful story with an even more powerful lesson. One must have faith in our chachamim. They are blessed with an extraordinary intuition called daas Torah, the thought process that is the result of a lifetime of Torah study. They see things that we do not see; they hear things that we do not hear. They are aware of things that elude us. It is about trust.

The Kohen who is exalted above his brothers… He shall not come near any dead person… he shall not leave the Sanctuary… for a crown - the oil of his G-d's anointment is upon him. (21:10-12)

There is a hierarchy within the Jewish nation. The Kohanim who serve in the Bais Hamikdash are enjoined with specific laws regarding their spiritual defilement caused by coming in contact with the dead. The Kohen Hedyot, regular Kohen, may come in contact with seven close relatives: father, mother, sister brother, wife, son and daughter. Otherwise, all other Jewish corpses are off-limit. The Kohen Gadol, High Priest, has further restrictions. He may not become tamei, defiled, to anyone - not even his closest relatives. Furthermore, he may not leave the Sanctuary to follow the funeral procession. In short, the Kohen Gadol must maintain his level of spiritual sanctity and purity, regardless of the trauma, the grief, the emotional toll.

Let us view this halachah in perspective. The Kohen Gadol is serving in the Sanctuary and receives a call that his father/mother has suddenly passed away. The shock is overpowering; the immediate grief is overwhelming. He may not leave. He may not halt what he is doing. His mind must continue concentrating on the avodah, service, at hand. His siblings are all involved in planning and preparing for the funeral - which he may not even attend! Even when they return from the gravesite and begin to sit shivah, seven-day mourning period, the Kohen Gadol does not sit in the same manner as they do. He does not sit on the ground. He is the spiritual leader of the Jewish people. He is different.

When we take into consideration concerning to whom this halachah is addressed, the incredulity increases. The Kohen Gadol is the standard bearer of ahavas Yisrael, love for all Jews. Aharon HaKohen, the first Kohen Gadol, was known as the ohaiv shalom, lover of peace, between man and his fellow man. Clearly, his grandson personifies this attribute. His love for all Jews is certainly greater than what one would expect of the average Jew. Yet, this great man is not permitted to perform - or even be a part of - the final honor given to the man who brought him into this world. His father's light has been suddenly and perhaps tragically distinguished, yet he must remain within the confines of the Sanctuary, resplendent in his gold brocaded Priestly vestments and continue his spiritual work - as if nothing had happened. How can so much be expected of a human being?

Horav Aryeh Leib Heyman, zl, explains that the answer lies in the question. It is clearly too much to expect from a mere human being, but, Aharon HaKohen was not a mere human being. Due to his incredible desire to cling to Hashem, he was able to transcend the physical boundaries and limitations that are intrinsic to the human nature. He strived, without let up, to achieve what is normally impossible for a human being to accomplish.

Chazal teach that three partners join in the creation of man: Hashem; his father; and his mother. The parents share in contributing to his human dimension, his body with its various components. The portion that Hashem contributes is the neshamah, soul. Aharon endeavored his entire life, leaving no stone unturned, to make his spiritual dimension dominant over his physical component. He was, thus, closer to his spiritual side than to his physical. He lived in this world, but his mind was in Heaven.

The Torah intimates to us that in every generation one of Aharon's descendants will achieve his grandfather's plateau of spiritual transcendence. The Kohen Gadol of every generation will be an individual whose bond with Hashem will be unlike that of other people. Through him, Hashem's spiritual flow will descend, bringing spiritual life and sustenance to the generation. This flow may not be halted - even momentarily. Thus, the Kohen Gadol may not even for a moment pause in his relationship. He remains within the confines of the Sanctuary, replete in his sanctity and strong in his unbreakable bond with Hashem. The nation relies on him. A regular mortal cannot overcome his human nature, but the Kohen Gadol was no longer a regular mortal. He had achieved a spiritual ascendency like no other man.

Rav Heyman writes that he discovered this idea, to which the Sefer HaChinuch Mitzvah 270 alludes, "The soul of the Kohen Gadol, who is separated to be holy of holy despite being a mortal in a human body, resides in the upper echelons of the spiritual realm. Due to his increased clinging to Above, he becomes divorced from the nature of men. Thus, his heart forgets any involvement with this temporal world."

A flipside to this unique sanctity emerges: How does an individual so holy, so far-removed from human society, continue to remain connected with people? Aharon's disciples loved and pursued peace, loved people and brought them closer to Torah. Can a person removed from human endeavor succeed at human interaction?

Rav Heyman explains that Aharon's love for people originates from his total clinging to Hashem. His consummate bond with Hashem catalyzed within him a feeling through which he did not view himself as having a brother or a friend. All Jews were the same to him. His love for them was somewhat similar to the love Hashem has for us: total, unequivocal, balanced, everyone is the same in His eyes. As Hashem looks at us with compassion, sensitivity, and overwhelming mercy, so did Aharon. This is why he sought every avenue to promote peace and welfare among Jews. They were all the same to him. He saw no evil in anyone - only love for each one. Hashem's will was Aharon's will. Thus, when his younger brother, Moshe, was selected to lead the Jewish people from Egypt, Aharon rejoiced for him. This is what Hashem wants; therefore, it is what Aharon wants. Aharon did not have a personal will. His will was subjugated to that of Hashem.

Aharon sustained a mind-numbing tragedy on what should have been the most auspicious day of his life. The day of Chanukas HaMishkan, the Inauguration of the Sanctuary, was to be Aharon's crowning moment. He was to be invested in Kehunah Gedolah, the High Priesthood, while his two older sons, Nadav and Avihu, would begin to serve in the Mishkan as the first Kohanim. His joy, however, was marred by indescribable tragedy, as his two saintly sons died before his very eyes. Chazal teach that actually the decree concerning their deaths was that they were to have taken place earlier, during the Giving of the Torah. A number of reasons are stated for the "delay" in executing this decree. Rav Heyman suggests a novel rationale, based upon his understanding of kedushas Aharon, the sanctity of Aharon.

Hashem sought to impart to the nation the exemplary status of Aharon, to explain to them that the nation's first High Priest had not been selected for this position as a result of his familial relationship with Moshe Rabbeinu. No, Aharon warranted this position of his own unique accord. Furthermore, Hashem was demonstrating to the nation why and how Aharon's service had the capacity for achieving atonement for the people. The people had to see with their very own eyes, without embellishment, that Aharon was like no other man. When the terrible tragedy occurred before a stunned crowd, everyone had the opportunity to see how this shocked father did not react, did not complain, did not mutter, did not fall apart in grief. He continued the service as if nothing extraordinary had taken place. When the people saw how Aharon continued his work without fanfare, without pause to regain his emotions, they understood why Hashem had selected him to represent them in achieving atonement. Aharon was like no other man. He was the Kohen Gadol - gadol mei echav, "exalted above his brothers."

But an ox or a sheep or a goat, you may not slaughter it and its off-spring on the same day. (22:28)

While the Torah does use the masculine pronoun oso, "his," as opposed to "its" (offspring), this prohibition applies only to the mother and child. In his Moreh Nevuchim, the Rambam posits that the reason for prohibiting oso v'es beno, the slaughter of a female cow or sheep and its young, is to prevent the mother's suffering in seeing her child killed. This halachah holds true even if the mother does not actually see its young being slaughtered.

The Rambam explains that a mother's compassion for her child is instinctive - not cognitive. Otherwise, animals would not have this sensitivity, as they lack the necessary cognition. This explains why some humans who have lost their sensitivity to their young feel no compassion. They have lost the innate characteristic that is found even in animals. The sense that a mother loves her child is applicable only when a mother feels that she is a mother. When a mother loses her complete sense of direction, her focus in life, she exists purely as a creature, not as a mother.

Why are the cow and sheep singled out from among all other animals? Does compassion not apply to them as well? The Rambam distinguishes between animals that separate from their young when the nursing period is over, and cows and sheep, which are domesticated, thus remaining with their young on the owner's estate. For this reason, their filial bond continues unabated.

Perhaps domestication allows for a greater sense of motherhood to develop. A mother that has a child for a short span of time does not develop the usual sense of love that accompanies motherhood. She feels used rather than loved, which precludes the development of any extended sense of compassion.

I will be sanctified among Bnei Yisrael. (22:32)

If one peruses history, he notes that the mitzvah of Kiddush Hashem, Sanctifying Hashem's Name, has applied to children as well. In other words, parents who were prepared to sacrifice themselves to sanctify Hashem's Name were, likewise, prepared to do the same for their children. During the Crusades, it was not unusual for parents to take the lives of their children prior to killing themselves, just so that the murderers would not defile their bodies. Why are children not exempt from the mitzvah of Kiddush Hashem? The only reason that mitzvos apply to children is chinuch, educating them in the Torah's way in order to prepare them for a life of commitment. Does chinuch apply to Kiddush Hashem as well?

In his Emes L'Yaakov, Horav Yaakov Kaminetzky, zl, derives from the lashon ha'Rambam, the vernacular of the Rambam, that, indeed, he is of the opinion that Kiddush Hashem applies to children. In Hilchos Yesodei HaTorah 5:1, the Rambam writes: Kol Bais Yisrael metzuvim al Kiddush Hashem. "The entire House of Yisrael is commanded in the mitzvah of sanctifying Hashem's Name." Rambam uses a term, Bais Yisrael, which implies the entire house - men, woman and children. Bnei Yisrael is the term that would apply only to adults.

Rav Yaakov suggests that by by using the word, V'nikdashti, "I will be sanctified," in lashon nifaal, the passive conjugation of the verb, rather than speaking directly to the people and exhorting them to sanctify Hashem, the Torah is teaching us that the primary goal is for Hashem's Name to be sanctified - regardless of who is doing the sanctification. Thus, ketanim, young children, can also sanctify Hashem, because it is not who does the act, but rather, the very fact that the act of Kiddush Hashem takes place that causes Hashem's Name to be glorified.

In the Talmud Sanhedrin, we learn that "the grandchildren of Cicero studied Torah in Yerushalayim; the grandchildren of Sancheirev taught Torah in public; the grandchildren of Haman taught Torah in Bnei Brak." In his Netzach Yisrael, the Maharal, zl, m'Prague, explains that the mere fact that the grandchildren of these supremely evil men converted and taught Torah publicly is an incredible thing. We must understand that the three evil individuals mentioned - and so many others like them - have enormous power, which is derived from the super power of Hashem. In these men, however, the power was defiled. When their descendants converted, they harnessed this innate power and purified it. The fact that the power has its origins in G-d gives it a grain of sanctity which generations later can ultimately be purified. Yet, we wonder in what merit did their descendants convert? Descending from such impurity should preclude their conversion.

Rav Yaakov explains that since the ultimate goal of v'nikdashti is that Hashem's Name be glorified, it is no matter why or how this sanctification occurs. Haman and the others were the catalysts that spearheaded a tremendous kiddush Shem Shomayim. Thus, they merited that their grandchildren became devout, committed disseminators of Torah.

Va'ani Tefillah

Borei refuos - He creates cures.

Chazal teach that, prior to striking Klal Yisrael with a punishment, Hashem already has the refuah, cure, prepared. Concerning the nations of the world, however, He first strikes and later prepares the cure. Horav Reuven Melamed distinguishes between the foci of punishment between the Jewish people and that of their enemies. When Hashem punishes Klal Yisrael, the purpose is to cure them of their spiritual deficiency. Thus, He first prepares the cure, then sends the punishment. The cure is the focus of the punishment. Without the makah, potch, slap, there is no reason for the cure. This is supported by Chazal's statement in the Talmud Megillah 14 concerning Achashveirosh's removal of his ring: "Greater (more consequential) was the removal of (Achashveirosh's) ring than the dire prophecies of forty-eight Neviim, Prophets." The admonishments of the prophets did not inspire the people as much as the threat of destruction. A good potch achieves more and faster than the most inspiring Mussar shmuess, ethical discourse.

This is unlike the punishment meted out to those who oppress the Jew. Hashem's punishment to them is His initial goal. The cure comes later so that they are "around" for the next "round." This is the underlying meaning of the pasuk in Devarim 7:10, "And He repays His enemies in his lifetime to make him perish." Hashem punishes His enemies for what they do to His children. He is not interested in curing their spiritual deficiencies, but in exacting punishment. Thus, he cures them, so that they will be around for more of the same.

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