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Peninim on the Torah

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Rabbi A. Leib Scheinbaum
Hebrew Academy of Cleveland


Speak to the entire congregation of Bnei Yisrael. (19:2)

Rashi derives from the communal reference in the above pasuk that Parashas Kedoshim was recited b'Hakhel, at a public gathering of the entire nation, because, as Rashi explains, "Most of the Torah precepts are derived from it." Ramban explains that the foundations of all the Aseres HaDibros, Ten Commandments, are represented in this parsha. Horav Yisrael Belsky, Shlita, opines that the communal element of mitzvah observance is addressed in this parsha. While acknowledging that the Torah begins as a private, individual obligation between man and Hashem, we also embrace a communal aspect, a public obligation to Torah and mitzvos that extends beyond the individual. Rav Belsky suggests that the mitzvos addressed in this parsha relate in some way to the rules governing the conduct of a tzibbur, community.

I would like to focus on the mitzvah prohibiting cheating with weights and measures. The Torah writes, Lo saasu avel b'mishpat, "Do not carry out a miscarriage of justice with measures, weights and volume." We are enjoined to maintain accurate scales for measuring the various items we sell. From the perspective of the individual: each individual is prohibited from possessing faulty weights and measures. At the same time, the wider community is admonished to provide a suitable environment which not only disdains dishonesty, but underscores and encourages honesty and fair play.

It seems like a simple, sensible commandment, which should be accepted wholeheartedly by the community. Sadly, this does not seem to be the case. Can we really hold up our collective heads and declare that we hold financial integrity as a standard to which all members of our communities aspire? Can we say that not one member of our community ever acts in a financially reprehensible way- yet, in every other aspect is a well-known, highly-respected, religious, fully active and, even, influential member of our community? Can we honestly say that we regard theft as a sin which disqualifies an individual from being considered a full-fledged member of our community? Regrettably, we view financial mendacity-- and other forms of larceny associated with financial manipulation at the expense of the na?ve and unsuspecting-- as nothing more than a character flaw due to one's moral weakness. Certainly, this is not a shortcoming which would warrant ostracizing the individual from the community.

Why are we so accepting? Rav Belsky explains that certain activities become acceptable only because, as we say in Yiddish, Alle tuen azoi, "Everybody does it." This really means that this type of behavior has become unobjectionable precisely because the community at large turns a blind eye to it. Thus, one can get away with it. This neither makes it right, nor renders the person "acceptable."

Yet, until the collective community takes a stand and rejects any form of dishonest interaction, the behavior will continue, and the perpetrators will continue to receive honoraria, while those who struggle to eke out an honest living will fall by the financial wayside. Shortly before the parsha of Amalek (Devarim, Ki Seitzei 25:13), the Torah repeats the laws of just measurements. Chazal derive from here that when one acts dishonestly with weights and measures, he will be visited by the likes of Amalek. Likewise, a society in which such behavior is tolerated - even considered passible - will be subject to the ravages of Amalek. We no longer may tolerate what has become termed as "acceptable aveiros."

You shall be holy, for I, G-d, your G-d, are holy. (19:2)

A Jew must achieve a spiritual plateau that towers above pious, virtuous, good, saintly and other such wonderful adjectives. A Jew must strive for kedushah, sanctity, holiness. In Parashas Kedoshim, the Torah outlines a small number of laws which define the character of Jewish life. These are the fundamentals for the social ordinances that govern a communal Jewish life under Hashem: morality; justice; selflessness; and brotherly love.

In the previous parsha, Acharei Mos, the Torah detailed the negatives, the immoral behavior that was a way of life for the Canaanites, a way of life that is strictly forbidden to the Holy Nation. The present parsha calls attention to a number of the positives, behavior to which a Jew should adhere. We may note that the "positives" follow the moral "negatives," to teach us that only a society established and maintained upon the foundation of a morally-pure life can function as virtuous and just. One who is bereft of the moral posture of purity will be neither virtuous nor just.

Moral purity begins at home in the way in which a child is raised. The moral values imparted to a child become his or her foundation for life. Indeed, Horav S. R. Hirsch, zl, observes that the present parsha, Kedoshim tiheyu, begins with the commandment to honor one's father and mother, which happens to be the cornerstone of all society and all human civilization. Interestingly, with regard to reverence, the mother is mentioned before the father. Rav Hirsch explains that, only when a man has taken for himself the proper wife in a Divinely-sanctioned marriage, will the children have a true mother, which is the first prerequisite for moral and spiritual humanness. When parents "have it together," there is hope that such conditions can produce Jewish relationships between children and parents, which is the basis of Jewish life. In such a situation, children will flourish before G-d, and the social virtues required for a Torah society will be effectively nurtured from the cradle on.

The commentators grapple with the exact definition of kedushah. The consensus of opinion to which they all agree is that kedushah results when a morally-conforming human being maintains complete dominion over all of his energies and inclinations and over the various enticements that the yetzer hora, evil-inclination, throws at him. Furthermore, he does not simply stunt, neglect, or suppress these energies and inclinations, but rather, he harnesses them to serve Hashem. No impulse, potential or inclination, from the most spiritual to the most sensual, is in and of itself inherently good or bad. Each is given to us for the purpose of serving Hashem. Each can be employed for a positive purpose. The kadosh has the ability to conquer, prevail and dominate over these tendencies and mobilize them for positive, spiritual growth.

How does man gain mastery over his inclinations? Surely, moral resolve is not to be tested in the sphere of the forbidden - where any slip will result in disaster. It is in the area of permissibility that one must initiate and exercise his powers of self-restraint, in conduct that is morally permitted, but if overdone, can have serious consequences. This is how one achieves personal sanctity.

While most of the laws in this parsha fit into the framework of social ordinances, some - like Shabbos, idol worship, and the laws concerning korbanos, sacrifices - might be included as a result of their identification with kedushah. It is for this reason that the prohibitions concerning crossbreeding and wearing mixtures of wool and linen, which are essentially chukim, mitzvos whose rationale eludes us, seem out of place. How are shatnez, mixture of wool and linen, crossbreeding animals, and planting mixed species linked with Kedoshim tiheyu?

I was fortunate to discover a profound exposition from the Orzover Rebbe, zl, Horav Yechiel HaLevi Epstein, which sheds light on our query. In his commentary to Devarim 22:9, on the pasuk Lo sizra kilayim, "You shall not sow your fields with a mixture," the Ozrover cites the Tikunei Zohar that says: "We only sow the same specie, because the vineyard of Hashem is the Jewish People. This is why our sages devised the text of Havdalah, the prayer recited when Shabbos ends and the work week is about to begin. We address the various sorts of separation between the entities, such as: mikodesh l'chol from holy to profane/mundane; ohr l'choshech, light to darkness; Yisrael l'amim, Jew to gentile. These mixtures cannot integrate with one another."

The above teaches us that kilayim, prohibited admixtures, are not limited to seeds and fabrics. They allude to the inexorable separation that exists between holy and profane; Jew and gentile. Klal Yisrael is considered Kerem Hashem, the Almighty's vineyard, and one who mingles the non-Jew with the Jew sows kilayim in Hashem's vineyard.

Furthermore, light and darkness are two entities that are clearly distinguishable from one another; the dissimilarity between the two is blatant and unquestionable. We must remember, declares the Ozrover, that the disparity between Jew and gentile is no different. We just are unable to perceive it with our eyes of flesh and blood. The discrepancy between kodesh and chol is similar; just because we do not see the difference with our human eyes does not mean it does not exist. One does not have to perceive the actual contrast. It is enough to know that it exists. We now understand why the Torah includes the laws concerning admixture in the parsha which addresses kedushas Yisrael, the sanctity of the Jew. It is not only relevant concerning the significance of maintaining social justice and adhering to a strong moral compass. It is important to the acknowledgement and preservation of the sanctity which we as Jews harbor within us. This can only be realized by maintaining a strict sense of self-sufficiency, recognizing our self-worth and our distinctiveness. We cannot run from the world. We do not live in a ghetto. If we view ourselves in the proper light, however, we will not gravitate to what is out there, because we recognize that we function above and beyond whatever "they" have to offer us.

The inherent kedushah which exists within the essence of each and every Jew is real and is manifest during instances in his life when one would least expect it. Some individuals view the Jewish people through the eyes of history as its victims. We have suffered daily for over a thousand years. Nary a day has gone by that a Jew in some area of the world has not been persecuted, and even killed. To call us victims would be condescending. We should view ourselves as a nation of survivors, having outlived and out-achieved all of our persecutors.

After citing the Tikunei Zohar that distinguishes between Jew and gentile with regard to the very essence of each, it is important and necessary to underscore that, when a gentile commits to Judaism, he becomes a full-fledged Yehudi with the inherent kedushas Yisrael that accompanies it. This is one of the many beautiful aspects of our religion. We are not quick to accept everyone, but one who sincerely commits and is accepted, becomes one of us. Let me share the following vignette, related by Horav Yissachar Shlomo Teichtel.

A certain ger, convert, from the town of Topol, insisted on accompanying his fellow Jews when they were sent off to the death camps in Poland. He was imprisoned in Zholina's detention camp to await the arrival of the deportation train. A few Slovakian collaborators snuck into camp and sought him out. "We are offering you a chance to escape," they said to him. "Come back home with us. You are not a Jew as far as we are concerned. You are one of us. Take your family and leave. We will protect you."

Avraham Klein shouted into the faces of his "rescuers," "I am a Jew! I am just like all of the other Jews. I am going with them to Poland, and I will share the same fate as my brothers. Neither you nor anyone else like you will send me home. Only G-d Himself can do that." This was his powerful reply.

Avraham Klein was born in Piestany, and he converted to Judaism in Munkacs. Indeed, the Munkacer Rebbe himself was his mohel, circumcised him. He eventually married a wonderful, righteous woman, and together they raised several pious sons who studied Torah in yeshivos. Now that he was about to embark on the expulsion train, he turned to his fellow Jews and said, "You think it is good to be a Jew only when things are going well for the Jews. This is not so. Someone who is prepared to suffer together with suffering Jews - he is someone who is called a Jew. I am going with you happily to Poland, for this is the will of the Heilige Bashefer, Holy Creator."

He continued his little speech by comparing Jewish suffering to the complications that often arise following surgery: "Even if the actual procedure has gone well, at times, complications set in afterwards. One must have a strong heart, filled with faith in the Almighty, to survive the aftermath of surgery. If an individual is not resolute in his faith in Hashem, if his heart is not strongly aligned with G-d, he will go under, Heaven forbid, in times of trouble."

You shall not stand aside while your fellow's blood is being shed. (19:16)

Then I shall concentrate My attention upon that man and upon his family. (20:5)

There are two pesukim, seemingly unrelated to one another, that both impart the theme of collective responsibility for all Jews. In other words, just because one does not see something happen, he is not relieved of responsibility if he has been aware of it. Likewise, when we cover up the malevolent activities of those close to us, we will answer for it. The Torah first teaches that one must not stand idly by as Jewish blood is spilled. Rashi adds, "To see his death, and you are able to save him." Rashi is teaching us that, if we are able to save someone and we do not, we transgress Lo saamod al dam reiecha. Horav Yeruchem Levovitz, zl, adds that we may imply from Rashi that it is not relevant whether one was there and executed the act of saving a fellow Jew, or if he was farther away. As long as he could have prevented his fellow Jew's blood from being spilled and he did not, he will one day answer to Hashem for his lack of caring. If one is simply aware of his fellow's plight - be it life- threatening or a financial breakdown - he must come to his assistance. He cannot cover his face and say, "I was not there." If one knows about it - it is as if he were there!

The second pasuk relates the punishment for one who gives his child to the molech, idol. Hashem will punish the individual - and his family. Why is the family being held responsible for the sin of one of its members? They shielded the sinner, covering up his miscreancy, saving him from the court's punishment. Rashi adds, if a family has one of its own who is a moches, tax collector, they are all considered mochsim, because they covered up for him. Thus, they become as contemptible as he.

Rav Yeruchem observes that this type of covering up for relatives, children, even friends, does them no benefit. In fact, it transforms us into like-minded sinners. Offering excuses for a child's behavior is commonplace. "My child would never do that!" is a common form of reneging of parental responsibility. Veritably, some children suffer because their family situation is, at best, tragic. This takes its toll on the child's mindset, causing him to act out his "issues." It is understandable that, in certain extenuating circumstances, we turn a blind eye to a child's guilt. Chazal are teaching that when we cover up, give excuses, rationalize a child's egregious behavior - we become no different.

The Torah teaches us to confront issues head-on and assume responsibility. Ignorance might be bliss - but not for long. It is especially serious when parents are sucked into their child's behavior. Not only does the child lose out, because no one is willing to concede that there is a serious problem, but the parent has become labeled an accomplice.

You shall not hate your brother in your heart; you shall reprove your fellow and do not bear a sin because of him. (19:17)

Maase avos siman labanim, "The actions of the fathers are a sign/portent for their sons." Chazal teach that, when the Patriarchs acted, the manner in which they acted, the consequences of their actions, the situations which they encountered, the challenges which they experienced, are all simanim, signs, for us, their children, to follow, to emulate, to study and remember. We must derive a lesson from their responses, so that we are prepared when a similar situation confronts us.

Yaakov Avinu had issues with three of his sons, whom he rebuked shortly before his death: Reuven, Shimon and Levi. Likewise, Moshe Rabbeinu endured tribulations from the descendants of these Shevatim, Tribes. Dassan and Aviram, who were Moshe's constant nemeses, were descendants of Reuven, while Korach, who impugned the integrity of Moshe's leadership, was a scion of Levi. The apple falls not far from the tree, and, while their sins were relative to the period in Jewish history in which they lived, they nonetheless are recorded in history as despots who sought to derail Moshe's leadership.

Rebuke is a requisite in a relationship. If one really cares, he will point out his friend's failing in a respectful, diplomatic and caring fashion. One who overlooks his friend's shortcomings may one day be haunted by his regret over not calling to attention an action that could have been circumvented. The first place in the Torah in which we observe a case of rebuke is when Yosef related to his father, Yaakov Avinu, what he felt were his brothers' misdeeds. Yosef thought that, when he brought this information to his father's attention, Yaakov would immediately react and rebuke his sons - thereby preventing any further misconduct. He was wrong. Our Patriarch did not recoil the way Yosef wanted him to react. Yaakov understood his sons' behavior far better than Yosef did.

Actually, when one peruses the Biblical narrative, we note that there is historical precedent for --and pathology behind-- Yaakov and Yosef's reactions.

Horav Aryeh Leib Heyman, zl, observes that, when Yaakov was growing up in the home of his parents, Yitzchak Avinu and Rivkah Imeinu, he too, encountered a sibling whose activities left much to be desired. Yaakov lived with Eisav for sixty-three years before he was compelled to leave due to his intervention concerning the blessings. During this period, Eisav acted like Eisav, an uncouth personality coupled with unbridled evil. He put on a show of sham piety when he presented himself to his father. His mother and brother were not fooled by his actions. They were acutely aware of his two-faced behavior. Why did Yaakov not share his knowledge of Eisav's profligate behavior with his father?

Rav Heyman attributes Yaakov's reluctance to none other than his mother. Apparently, Rivkah was fully aware that Eisav was evil, yet, she chose to remain silent. Why? She conjectured that, if it were to be necessary for Yitzchak to be made aware of his son's miscreancy, Hashem would have informed him. If the Almighty was silent, what right did she have to speak? Indeed, a similar reaction was had by Yitzchak after Yosef's sale. He was aware of the entire debacle, but she did not inform his son, Yaakov. Why? He said, "If Hashem did not tell him (Yaakov), should I?" Nonetheless, being a Matriarch, Rivkah was aware of what it meant to raise children. She understood that it was not Yaakov's place either to rebuke Eisav, or to inform on him to their father.

Rachel Imeinu was an entirely different story. She died when her older son was but eight years old. As a result, this young orphan lost out on two fronts. First, he had no mother with whom he could share his fears, doubts, goals in life. She was gone, and, while Yosef had a loving father in Yaakov, he did not have Rachel, his mother. Second, his father loved him so much that he probably spoiled him because he was a yasom, orphan. Yaakov had a multi-colored coat made for Yosef. This, too, demonstrated to the young boy that the door to his father's heart was open for him. Thus, Yosef, who had originally sought to reprove his brothers himself, went instead to his father. It was downhill after that.

This is a powerful explanation of the events that occurred in the Chumash. It also gives an insight into parenting. There is no question that Yaakov had known what he was doing when he gave Yosef the kesones pasim, multi-colored coat. Yosef deserved it for a number of reasons. Until now, we thought that this garment had been the proverbial last straw on the camel's back. We now have a different angle for viewing the relationships among Yosef and Yaakov and the brothers. Yosef was a young orphan who had no one in whom to confide. Naturally, he turned to his father. It was not that Yosef was a "tattletale"; rather, he was deeply concerned about his brothers' behavior, and, left bereft of his mother, he had no one else. He went to his father - and this appears to be the "rest of the story."

You shall love your fellow as yourself - I am Hashem. (19:18)

The principal middah, character trait, on which one must work the most is loving our fellowman. If one truly manifests love, care and sensitivity, he has no place for any of the other character deficiencies. If we always think first of our fellow Jew, we cannot harbor anger, arrogance, lack of sensitivity. If we care for all Jews, then we have resolved our bein adam l'chaveiro, relationship between man and his fellowman; this will also resolve our bein adam laMakom, relationship with Hashem. Horav Yaakov Moshe Charlop, zl, derives this from the above pasuk and the manner in which it is explained in Toras Kohanim and the Talmud Shabbos 31a.

According to Rabbi Akiva, Chazal teach: Zeh Klal gadol baTorah, "This is a great principle of Torah." Additionally, Chazal teach, Man d'alach sani, l'chaverchecha lo saavid, "What one does not want for himself, he should not do to his friend. The rest of the Torah is its explanation. Go learn and you will see how everything fits in." Chazal are informing us that the yesod, origin, of all sin is one's lack of middos, his character trait deficiencies. One who is a baal middos, maintains refined character traits, will not sin - even behind closed doors. We sin because we are deficient, our middos lack refinement. Thus, we are subject to the inner evil-inclination which is never satisfied.

It all begins with the love we should manifest for our fellow Jew. One does not harm a brother, or, at least, it is uncommon and unusual. If one manifests true love, one cannot hurt, be jealous, arrogate over, manipulate, cheat. These issues occur when one does not embody love. All Jews are brothers. Thus, one who has failed in his interpersonal relationship is invariably unable to serve Hashem properly.

"Furthermore," says Rav Charlop, "since Kudsha Brich Hu, v'Oraisa chad hu, 'Hashem and the Torah are one unified unit,' it is impossible to achieve dveikus b'Hashem, to cling to the Almighty, like we are enjoined to do unless - one fulfills the mitzvah of ahavas Yisrael, love for all Jews. This is the essence, the underlying motif of the Torah. Without it, one does not fulfill the Torah." No Torah - no Hashem. They are one unit. It is as simple as that.

Va'ani Tefillah

V'Samtem es devarai eileh al levavchem. And you shall place My words upon your hearts.

Who knows when that powerful inspiration will "come along" and transform one's way of thinking, literally catalyzing a major change in his life? It happens more often than we care to think -- and certainly more often than we are willing to admit. It does, however, happen. What can we do to prepare ourselves, to be in complete readiness, so that, if it does happen, we will be prepared to say a resounding, "Yes! We want to change!"?

This idea is what the various commentators feel is the underlying meaning of V'samtem es devarai eilah al levavchem, "And place My words upon your heart(s)." Why should one place Hashem's words on his heart? Should they not be immediately placed within his heart? The commentators explain that if one places Hashem's words into a heart that is not "ready," that is not psyched up to accept Hashem's words, they will simply dissipate. If, however, they are placed on top of his heart, then, he can only hope that, when his heart "opens up," Hashem's words will "fall in."

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