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Rabbi A. Leib Scheinbaum
Hebrew Academy of Cleveland


If the daughter of a Kohen desecrates herself through adultery. (21:9)

Ki seichal liznos can also be translated as, "when she will begin to stray immorally." One must realize, and it should be emphasized, that once one has begun to fall - even slightly - the descent to the depths of evil is quick. Indeed, it is a rapid deterioration, with limited space to stop in the middle. Once the plunge has started, one can do little to prevent the sad ending.

Horav Shabsai Yudelevitz, zl, relates that he once met a policeman. The two men struck up a conversation concerning the sad plight of Israeli youth. The policeman bemoaned the lack of discipline and structure, which was obviously one of the primary issues concerning Israeli youth. While it is true that once the state decided to become secular some people were acutely aware of the spiritual toll it would take on the future generations, no one ever dreamt that the situation would reach such a deplorable nadir, in which teenagers would be guilty of drunk-driving on the highways and other senseless acts of negligence. "Who would have thought it would become so bad?" asked the policeman.

The Maggid gave him a powerful reply, "I was once on the thirty-second story of an office building. On the balcony stood a man with one leg over the ledge. Suddenly, as he began to ease his second foot over the ledge, I screamed out to him, 'What are you doing?' He replied, 'I am going to jump.' I looked at him and asked, 'Have you lost your mind? You will be killed! You will hit the ground with such velocity that your remains will have to be scraped off the pavement.'

"My words did not seem to deter the man from doing the deed. He told me, 'Rabbi, you are mistaken. I am not going all of the way down. I will only jump two floors - and stop!'"

Rav Shabsai looked at the police officer and said, "No, my friend, once the plunge has commenced, one cannot stop the fall. It is impossible. When one starts out on a spiritual descent, it is almost impossible to break the fall."

This is what is happening to our youth. A young person begins with a slight parting of the ways, which is indicative of placing the second leg over the ledge. Once the fall commences, it does not end until he has hit the ground of spiritual oblivion. While many claim to have ideological differences which are irreconcilable with Torah dictate, this is nothing more than words which these individuals use to ease their conscience. Very few ideologues are out there - just apathetic, depressed individuals, who are not willing to overcome the imaginable challenges presented to them by their yetzer hora, evil-inclination. Some seriously think that they can stop falling after two floors. They are in for a fall!

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

What is the most egregious sin that one can transgress? Perhaps we should step back a little in order to clarify the meaning of "egregious." Sin might be relative, but every sin is an infraction against Hashem. So, they are all bad! In the Talmud Yoma 86a, Chazal address this question. They posit that the nefariousness of a sin is based on the contingency of performing teshuvah, repentance. When one transgresses a prohibitive commandment and later repents, his teshuvah is in limbo until Yom Kippur, when the sanctity of the day atones for his sin. When one transgresses a sin which carries the punishment of death of Heavenly excision, his teshuvah will be accepted following the atonement of Yom Kippur. In addition, he will experience yissurim, troubles, that will cleanse his soul. Last is the sin of chillul Hashem, desecrating Hashem's Name. Rashi defines chillul Hashem as choteh u'machati acheirim, "one who himself sins and (by his actions) induces others to sin." For him, teshuvah, Yom Kippur and yissurim do not suffice. He must die, and then his teshuvah will be accepted.

The Talmud continues with a discussion of various instances of chillul Hashem. Rav said, "If I purchase meat on credit, it is a chillul Hashem." Rashi explains that if he is late in paying his bill, people will talk, a process which will lead to the minimization of the sin of theft. Rabbi Yochanan said, "If I were to walk four amos without reciting words of Torah and not wearing Tefillin." Rashi explains, that for Rabbi Yochanan to act in this manner, it could only mean one thing: he had become weak in his studies, either due to illness or worse. Since people would be unaware of his condition, they would begin to think that wasting time from Torah study was acceptable.

We have before us two cases which appear to present innocuous behavior based upon which the less than astute, the unthinking, might err and think the unthinkable: that such behavior is acceptable. This is chillul Hashem! This is the type of sin for which there is no atonement other than death. This seems a bit severe. Let us visualize the scenario the way the master maggid Horav Yaakov Galinsky, zl, presents it.

Two sinners stand before us. One is guilty of all three capitol sins: murder, immorality and idol worship. This is in addition to every sin imaginable, to which his insatiable inclination successfully steered him into committing. He has demurred from only one sin: chillul Hashem. He would never lead anyone astray. The life he has chosen for himself is his doing, his life, his sin. He has no interest in becoming an icon of sinful behavior for others to emulate. Furthermore, he has such a profligate reputation that no one in his right mind would care to follow his sordid path of life. He stands before us today in complete contrition over a life of sin, a life of bad choices, of following his heart's desires.

Next to him stands a distinguished rav, an elderly Torah scholar who has devoted his entire life to poring over the tomes of Talmud, Shulchan Aruch and the commentaries. His life is the picture of spiritual health. From his service to Hashem, to his service to his fellow man, he has no gaps. Perfection - except for one instant. He was running late for shiur, his Torah lecture to the entire yeshivah. They were all waiting for him. So, he surreptitiously stole someone's place in line. Now, these two sinners stand before us, requesting to repent for their past behavior. Whose teshuvah will be effective?

The repeat offender who has broken every law in the book will have to repent heartfully, followed by Yom Kippur and a heavy dose of yissurim - then his teshuvah will be accepted. The rav/rosh yeshivah will, regrettably, have to suffer through terrible pain associated with death. Does this make sense? The teshuvah of the great rav, whose life was one long unbroken chain of Torah and avodah, will not be accepted. He must suffer the anguish of death, while the fellow who excelled in carving out for himself a reputation as the one who profaned the entire Torah - his teshuvah will be accepted. Why?

Rav Galinsky explains that it is actually quite simple. The world was created for one purpose: kavod Shomayim, the Glory of Heaven. Anyone who commits a chillul Hashem which undermines and impugns the very foundation of the Creation of the world, impugns its purpose and sustainability; such a person has lost his right to live in this world.

While, veritably, we might argue that we are far from the status of Rav and Rabbi Yochanan, no one is really going to judge Heaven based upon our actions. Rav Galinsky explains that, unfortunately, this is far from true. Each and every ben Torah represents Torah Judaism. Thus, when a member of the Orthodox Torah camp acts in a manner which someone on the "outside" deems unseemly, inappropriate, it is immediately blown out of proportion, and every Jew that remotely resembles the one who is responsible for this infraction is equally culpable. This is the full extent of chillul Hashem. Thus, if one permits himself to execute any activity which he feels is "all right," he should think twice concerning how it will appear in the eyes of others - especially those who harbor little love for the Torah Jew.

Rav Galinsky relates a telling incident which underscores this idea. The Rav would take the same bus daily from Chadera to Bnei Brak. The driver was a young man who was proper and respectful. One day, shortly after Rav Galinsky had ascended the bus and taken his seat, the driver called out, "Rav Galinsky, look at how your rabbanim act!" The Rav looked around to see the rav to whom he was referring. Apparently, the bus driver had caught an eleven-year-old boy sneaking onto the rear-entrance of the bus. This was the "terrible" act that one of Rav Galinsky's "rabbanim" had committed. The only crime was the overzealous outrage of the driver and his subtle form of religious anti-Semitism.

The Rav replied, "I am sending all of the young students in Bnei Brak to you."

"Why?" the driver asked.

"I figure, why should they spend years of study in order to receive a k'sav semicha, ordination? I will have them all come to you, and you could ordain them! After all, I see that even a young child is referred by you as 'one of my rabbanim.'"

Everybody understood the joke and laughed. After all is said and done, however, the stark reality of his subtle message was clear. One Jew represents us all - whether he is a rav, rosh yeshivah, or layman. We live in an age of stereotypes, when we conjure up in our mind the image of a frum Jew, a yeshivah student, a rebbe, a Jewish mother - and the list goes on. We must remember that stereotyping is our failing - not the fault of the person or group who is the subject of our typecasting.

The Chafetz Chaim was once in Vilna rushing to catch a train. He had an important meeting to attend. His presence at the meeting was critical to its successful conclusion. Obviously, he was not going to waste a moment in arriving on time. Arriving late at the train station was not an option. Just as he was about there, he met a man standing outside of a bais avel, mourner's home, pleading, "A tzenter? We need a tenth man for Minchah." The Chafetz Chaim had already davened Minchah, and to go inside would mean missing the train. Yet, the sage went into the house and completed the minyan, quorum. Why? He could not permit anyone even to think that he was insensitive to the needs of the mourners, that he did not care if they had no minyan. They would be wrong, but, regardless of the lack of veracity concerning the alleged critique against the Chafetz Chaim, a chillul Hashem would be made. This was more important than any meeting that he had to attend.

Hashem's appointed Festivals that you are to designate as holy convocations - these are My appointed festivals. (23:2)

The term moed is commonly translated as "festival." When we peruse halachah, we come across a law which seems to contradict this translation. The Tur (Orach Chaim 559) rules that, on Tishah B'Av, we do not recite the Tachanun prayer. This is a prayer of supplication, and, since the Navi (Yirmiyahu in Megillas Eichah 1:15) refers to Tishah B'Av as a moed, kara alai moed lishbor bachurai, "He proclaimed a set time against me to crush my young men," we do not recite Tachanun on a moed. We wonder why the saddest day of the Jewish calendar year, the day designated as our national day of mourning, should be called a moed - a festival? What aspect of a day upon which countless tragedies occurred could be considered festive?

In his Pirkei Torah, Horav Mordechai Gifter, zl, quotes the Telshe Rav, Horav Avraham Yitzchak Bloch, zl, who explains that moed has its root in the word vaad, meeting. We are now introduced to a new dimension concerning the meaning of moed. It is not merely a festival, but rather, a time in which the Jew can achieve a clear recognition of Hashem, as if he is having a meeting - one on one - with the Almighty!

Various vehicles can help us to achieve this profound recognition of Hashem. By recalling the miracles relating to the exodus from Egypt, we encounter Hashgachah Pratis, Divine Providence, through the medium of joy and happiness. We remember how we suffered, and how Hashem set us free amidst miracles and wonders unparalleled in the history of mankind. What greater joy can there be than the knowledge that it was all for "us." Succos and Shavuous also fall under this category. Their celebration also brings to mind glorious and seminal events which engender within us an enormous sense of joy and inspiration.

Yet another conduit provides a vehicle through which we may arrive at a clear recognition of Hashem: destruction, sorrow, pain and anguish. It is dependent upon our worthiness. When we are worthy, Hashem appears to us amidst joy and happiness. When we lack the necessary merit, the revelation of Hashem comes through gloom and doom. A child recognizes his father through reward and punishment. Through the pain of Tishah B'Av, we must recognize Hashem with such clarity that the day becomes a moed, a "meeting" with the Almighty. The power of this meeting, if realized, is incredible, because it catapults the Jew out of his pain and sorrow, for how can one be anguished when he is in the presence of Hashem? This is why Tachanun is not recited on Tishah B'Av. It is a moed!

The Rosh Yeshivah employs this exposition to explain a cryptic statement which Chazal made in the Talmud Taanis 29a, "Just as when (the month of) Av enters, we decrease in joy, so, too, when (the month of) Adar enters, we increase in joy." The word k'shem, just as, connotes compassion between two similar subjects. How do we compare the joy of Adar with the sorrow of Av?

We mentioned earlier that joy and sorrow are both channels for recognizing the Almighty. Two varied approaches, which, if employed properly, created the same encounter. As when Av enters, we decrease in joy so that we may meet with Hashem; likewise, in Adar we increase our joy so that we may encounter Him through another venue. Av and Adar are two disparate means for achieving one goal: meeting with Hashem!

You shall eat matzos for a seven-day period. (23:6)

Every once in a while, I come across a story which is more dvar Torah than story. The episode is merely the medium for imparting an important Torah principle. The following story fits into this category. The surplus of matzah, which has become a way of life for us, is a modern-day wonder. One hundred years ago, when Europe was in midst of a world war, whole communities went without matzah for Pesach. Food was at a premium, and the Jewish community was always at the bottom of the totem pole for receiving aid. As a result, ehrliche Yidden, observant Jews, often made do with alternative foods for Pesach to replace the precious matzah, which was unobtainable.

One year, the community leaders were able to obtain a small amount of matzah shemurah. What, today, would supply a small family for the seder night, was to provide an entire community with matzah for Pesach. The community leaders were in a quandary concerning how to divide the pieces. Who would be included, and who would be excluded? As in all venues, each individual had his "people." Finally, after some discussion, they arrived at a consensus of opinion: those Jews who, sadly, had waned in their observance would be left out. The reasoning was simple: They were going to eat chametz, leavened products, regardless of the few morsels of matzah that they would receive. So, why bother? Why go to bat for someone who was not even playing?

Nonetheless, they decided to "share" their decision with the saintly Chafetz Chaim, zl. How shocked they were to discover that, after the venerable sage had listened to their question/decision, he totally blew away their resolution. He said that specifically those unfortunate Jews who were not yet observant - they should be given the precious morsels of matzah! It was expressly their lack of religious observance that made them prime candidates for the matzah. The reason he gave was quite practical: Every kazayis, olive measurement, of matzah which they ate would prevent them from eating a kazayis of chametz! Thus, the more matzah available to them meant that these Jews would eat less chametz on Pesach. The observant Jew, however, would never touch chametz - even if he did not have any matzah. So, they will not have matzah! - nu! Chametz for sure they would not eat.

A number of lessons can be derived from here. First, one does not go to the gadol last. If one has an issue, he should present it to the rav/rosh yeshivah first, so that he can hear what daas Torah has to say. The mere fact that the Chafetz Chaim's solution was totally diametrically opposed to theirs is indicative of their faulty approach to the issue.

Second, we see how a true gadol, Torah leader, thinks. His thoughts, and, thus, his decisions are always about Klal Yisrael, the entire nation - not just the Torah world. Every Jew, regardless of his affiliation - or rejection thereof - is precious. No one may be rejected. No one may be left out.

You shall take for yourself on the first day the fruit of a citron tree. (23:40)

Pri eitz hadar, "the fruit of a beautiful tree," is commonly accepted as referring to the esrog tree. In Sefer Likutim, the Arizal says that the letters of the word esrog: aleph, taf, reish, gimmel form an acronym for the pasuk in Tehillim 36:12, Al tevoeini regel gaavah, "Let not the foot of arrogance come to me." Horav Yaakov Galinsky, zl, explains this pragmatically. The pasuk in which David Hamelech deplores arrogance and prays that it not affect him in any way, is truly a pasuk fitting for the esrog. This could be termed the "esrog's prayer," for the esrog is the one fruit that has a right to be arrogant. It is a beautiful fruit, completely unblemished, with nary a spot and bumps out of place, perfectly symmetrical, and very expensive. It is the specie of the "four species" that symbolizes the Torah Jew who observes mitzvos, studies Torah and performs acts of lovingkindness. It is the fruit replete with laudatory qualities, the fruit that all other fruits "envy." Thus, it prays to Hashem not to allow it to become arrogant, to elevate itself above others.

In Shaar Avodas Elokim 4, the Chovas Halevavos relates a dialogue between a chasid and his students. The chasid said, "If you would not have sins, I would fear something even greater than sin [He was thankful that his students had not achieved spiritual perfection.] "What is greater (more egregious) than sin?" they asked. "Arrogance," the chasid replied. Clearly, the chasid could not fathom that a sinner would have the audacity to arrogate himself over others. What does he have to lord over others: his sins?

Rav Galinsky relates a well-known episode concerning a middle-aged couple who came to Horav Aharon Leib Shteinman, Shlita, to seek his sage advice concerning an "issue" which was causing tension in their relationship. Apparently, the husband was quite well-to-do. Yet, despite his enormous wealth, he drove a ten-year-old car, which his wife felt was demeaning. She had decided that the time had come for them to purchase a new car. Indeed, she had already selected the color!

Rav Shteinman looked at the husband and asked, "Nu, so what is the problem? [As if he had nothing else with which to occupy his time.] Why do you not buy a new car?" "Rebbe, I fear an ayin hora, becoming the victim of an evil eye." (If someone will notice the new vehicle and become envious of its owner, it could create an evil eye, which is a sort of spiritual curse).

Rav Shteinman heard this and was impressed. Apparently, this individual did not want to bring attention to himself. He must be a person replete with qualities which people envy. "Tell me," Rav Shteinman asked, "can I test you on Shas?" "What - am I a Kollel fellow; that I study all day, so that I can master the entire Talmud?"

"I understand," countered Rav Shteinman, "Perhaps you have mastered one or two sedarim of the Talmud?" "Rebbe, I said that I am not a Kollel fellow; I have not mastered an entire Seder." "Perhaps you are proficient in one meseches, tractate?" "No, not even one tractate. I am a simple layman," the man replied, somewhat agitated.

"Let me see," replied Rav Shteinman, "You have neither mastered Shas, nor are you proficient in even one Seder. Worse, you claim not to have completed even one tractate! Yet, you fear someone's envy? Why would anyone be envious of you?" (The sage was intimating that if his only quality was wealth, it was not worthy of envy. Thus, he had nothing to worry about concerning ayin hora.)

Rav Galinsky concludes with a powerful statement from the Ohaiv Yisrael, the Apter Rav, zl, who said, "There is no reason to have a discussion concerning arrogance. All one has to remember is, 'Nine Apter Ravs (individuals of such distinction) do not comprise a minyan, quorum. Ten baalei agalah, wagon drivers (representative of the simple, usually illiterate Jew), create a minyan, which is a setting for kedushah and Kaddish. It becomes, a place to which the Shechinah, Divine Presence, comes and goes."

It is not who one is, with whom he is affiliated, from whom he descends, or how much money he is worth: it is before Whom he stands - Hashem Yisborach; and, before Him, we are all the same. Even the esrog, by itself, without the support of the other three species, each representing another aspect of Klal Yisrael, does not effect the mitzvah. It requires all four minim, species. Moshe Rabbeinu clearly represented the esrog of Klal Yisrael. Yet, when the nation sinned with the Golden-Calf, Hashem told him Lech reid, "Go down," from your high position (Shemos 32:7). A leader is only as exalted as his flock. When the flock fails, he fails.

I will add that, when one is endowed with a special gift, be it exceptional acumen, illustrious lineage, material abundance, all of which he uses properly for the betterment of others - while it is no reason to arrogate oneself - he is certainly worthy of kinaas sofrim, the envy of scribes, which spurs one to greater growth. One who truly cares about achievement is spurred on by the desire to emulate, and even surpass others. This form of jealousy may not be the ideal, but, if it serves as an incentive, it cannot really be that bad.

Va'ani Tefillah

And you turn astray and serve gods of others.

Rashi explains that once one distances himself from Torah, he will gravitate - and ultimately cling - to avodah zarah, idols. Chazal teach us that one thing - abandoning the Torah - leads to another - becoming an idolater. Horav Chaim Mordechai Katz, zl, derives from Chazal that the environment in which one finds himself has the power to lead him to the greatest stumbling block - avodah zarah, a sin which is one of the three capitol sins for which one must relinquish his life.

The Rosh Yeshivah quotes the Midrash Rabba's commentary to Yaakov Avinu's request of Hashem, Im yiheyeh Elokim imadi u'shemorani b'derech hazeh, "If Hashem will be with me, and guard me on this path" (Bereishis 28:8). Derech alludes to the three cardinal sins and the sin of lashon hora, slanderous speech. "Yaakov feared transgressing four of the most egregious sins prohibited by the Torah. Why? What did he fear? At this point, Yaakov was on such an elevated spiritual plateau that he was comfortable with - and visited by - angels. He had just been promised Eretz Yisrael. Yet, he feared transgression. Not simple transgression, but the most nefarious sins. What made him fear so much, when, in fact, he was so spiritually exalted.

The rosh yeshivah explains that when he leaves the bais ha'medrash, when he is no longer under the constant influence of righteous and pious individuals, he is in danger of falling so deep into the abyss of sinful behavior that there is no stopping him until he hits rock bottom - the nadir of depravity. So important is a pure environment. It is not who you are - but where you are.

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