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Rabbi A. Leib Scheinbaum
Hebrew Academy of Cleveland


A man's holies shall be his. (5:10)

This pasuk is teaching us the importance of sharing our material abundance with the Kohen and Levi, suggesting that when we play games with charity, the only one who loses is the one who is playing. Once, a wealthy miser in Baghdad absolutely refused to give charity to the needy. He had a heart of stone concerning the plight of others. He contended that he had worked very hard to earn his wealth: "I am not willing to share the fruits of my blood, sweat and tears."

One day, as he was sitting in his beautiful garden, enjoying the scenery and taking pleasure in the wonderful fragrance, his butler served him a delicious steak lunch. As the butler was walking down the walk, he slipped on the concrete and dropped the plate of meat into the dirt. Clearly the miser was not pleased with his butler's clumsiness. The butler picked up the dirt- covered piece of meat. As he was about to throw it away, he noticed a poor man standing on the other side of the fence, his mouth watering from just looking at the food. The miser saw the poor man as well, and he immediately told the waiter to give the dirty piece of meat to the poor man.

That night, the miser had a dream. He was in Gan Eden, and everybody was sitting at a long table waiting to be served. Shortly thereafter, the waiters came by and served the assemblage. They served everybody to the right and left of the miser - but skipped the miser. This upset the miser, who turned to the waiter to ask for his portion. The waiter returned with a meager piece of meat that was all dirty. Obviously, the miser was dissatisfied and complained to the waiter, "Why are you complaining?" the waiter asked. "This is the world of reward where one is treated commensurate to his actions in the other world. You receive reward in accordance with what and how you gave."

The author of Imrei Keil, who also lived in Baghdad, writes that is the meaning of V'ish es kadashav lo teyehu, that which a person gives to the needy is what will be his in the Eternal World. "A man's holies" - which which he shares with holiness, is exactly what he will receive in return. This might be an idea to consider the next time we are asked to give charity. What and how we give is what we will eventually receive.

A man or woman who shall disassociate himself by taking a Nazirite vow of abstinence for the sake of Hashem… and he shall provide him atonement for having sinned regarding the person. (6:2, 11)

Judaism takes a dim view of extremism of any sort. The Torah instructs us V'chai bahem, "And he shall live by them" (Vayikra 18:5). The mitzvos have a purpose: to refine the Jew; to give him the opportunity to elevate his life; to live with a higher goal. We are certainly not required to die. Thus, for the average person, afflicting himself by depriving his body of its essential nutrients and by abstaining from living as a normal human being does not coincide with the Torah's idea of an ideal lifestyle. Indeed, one of the great Chassidic masters claimed that fasting and other forms of discretionary physical deprivations are the result of the counsel of the yetzer hora, evil inclination. This is its way of weakening our stamina, undermining our resolve and commitment to serve Hashem properly.

The Torah demands that the nazir who has completed his days of abstinence must bring a korban, sacrifice, to atone "for having sinned regarding the person." Chazal say that he sinned by depriving himself of the pleasure of drinking wine. They continue to say that we may derive from here that one who "sits" in fasting is called a sinner. This is substantiated by the Rambam who decries the individual who goes to the extreme by dispossessing himself of the gifts of this world. While one clearly may not indulge himself to the point of gluttony, deprivation is just as destructive.

Horav Meir Yechiel zl, m'Ostrovtze was known to fast quite regularly. He was asked how he allowed himself to act counter what Chazal have deemed normal Jewish behavior. Why was he behaving in such an extreme manner? He explained that Chazal emphasized that Hayoshev b'taanis, "One who sits in fasting" is a sinner. This refers to one who, even after having fasted, continues to "sit" on the same spiritual plane. He has not moved forward. He is just sitting there, maintaining his original status-quo. Such a person is a sinner, because he is depriving himself for no reason, gaining absolutely nothing from his abstinence from food. "I" said the Ostrovtzer, "sense that through my fasting, I am purifying and refining myself. "Such abstinence from food is certainly laudable."

The Talmud in Sotah 2b questions the Torah's reason for juxtaposing the laws of nazir upon the laws of the sotah, the wayward wife. They derive from here that one who sees a sotah in her degradation should prohibit himself the consumption of wine by becoming a nazir. The sotah was a woman who allowed her sensual passions and desires for a life of frivolous and amorous behavior to control her mind, to permit her pursuit of pleasure to prevail over her responsibility to serve Hashem. Once the yetzer hora, evil inclination, takes hold of a person's senses, even adultery becomes acceptable behavior. We have only to look around us in contemporary society to note how what used to be an anathema has become in vogue and suitable behavior.

The individual who sees the sotah in her degradation can easily fall prey to the fantasy of temptation. She was caught. I will be more careful. It is exciting, exhilarating. I can be free to live. This is the way the yetzer hora works on a person, slowly convincing him that not only is such behavior not sinful, but it is liberating. It will help him shake off the fetters of an archaic society that deprives him of life. In order to escape this deception, the Torah alludes that one should abstain from wine, which dulls his senses and deactivates his inhibitions. Emboldening him to take a nazirite vow sends home the powerful message that by espousing a spiritual life, he will circumvent the allure and put a stop to the blandishments that ensnared the sotah. Her priority was physical gratification, which she achieved, only to discover that it does not last. Once one has tasted the forbidden fruits, there is no way to satiate the desire for more. It becomes stronger and stronger until it overpowers the individual. A life in which the spirit reigns is a life of true satisfaction, something the person will come to realize during his period of nazirus.

Having said this, we offer an alternative approach to understanding the juxtaposition of nazir upon the tragedy of the sotah. It does not necessarily have to represent a response to a negative view; it can also be viewed from a positive perspective. The world of Chassidus revolves around and preaches the importance of simchah, joy, in one's life. Joy brings one closer to the Creator, as it elevates him spiritually. Once a group of chassidim were gathered in joyful expression to the Almighty. Wine flowed amid fervent and enthusiastic song and dance. A spectator passing by wondered how they could possibly celebrate so joyfully when Klal Yisrael was suffering so much in bitter exile. What right did this small group of chassidim have to engage in festivity when the Jewish people was suffering constant persecution?

Horav David Farkas, zl, one of the distinguished talmidei Baal Shem, disciples of the founder of Chassidus, the saintly Baal Shem Tov, answered by applying a positive twist to the pasuk of ki yafli lindor, "one who shall disassociate himself by taking a nazirite vow." "The Torah seems to be encouraging nazirus, indicating that it is correct and proper to abstain from wine. A few pesukim later, however, the Torah considers him a choteh, sinner. Rashi explains that the Nazir is wrong in depriving himself of the pleasure of wine. There seems to be a contradiction between the pesukim. Is he virtuous, or is he a sinner?

"The answer is, Haroeh sotah b'kilkulah, 'One who sees a sotah in her degradation,' should take a nazirite vow and abstain from drinking wine." Here, Rav David added a homiletic spin: "One who sees the degradation of others, an individual who views people with a jaundiced eye, who has a malignant outlook on the actions of those around him, should take a nazirite vow. Wine is dangerous for such a person. Imbibing will only raise his ire and infuriate him more."

The individual who views others in a positive light, seeing the best in a person, truly sins by abstaining himself from wine. On the contrary, does not David HaMelech say, "Wine gladdens the heart of a person" (Tehillim 104:15) It is up to us to serve Hashem joyfully, for the Shechinah only reposes amid joy.

I feel that those who are intolerant of others, who are always disapproving and resentful, are really expressing their own self-loathing. They are unhappy people - especially concerning themselves- so they take it out on others. It gives them sort of a reprieve from dwelling on their own miserable lives. One should first work on refining his own character, to work on being satisfied with himself and with his lot in life. Then, he will begin to see others more positively.

Some people view life as an adventure, with their role in the play called "life" their unique mission. Others, regrettably, look at life as a drag, a painful experience that must be endured. The Baalei Mussar, Ethicists, explain that one can change his negative attitude to positive by simply thinking along positive lines. The mere realization that perspective is his personal choice gives him a sense of control and helps him to improve his attitude. While at times a person does undergo a painful situation and has reason to kvetch, he should stop and think: it could have been worse. While no one wants to hear that from someone else, if it is a personal consideration, it will have a greater and more positive impact.

"The best way to gain a proper perspective about life is to visit a cemetery," so say the Baalei Mussar. It sounds morbid, but think about it - it makes sense. For those who feel a cemetery is going a bit far, try the hospital. It will help you develop a "healthy" perspective on life. Horav Nochum, zl, m'Huradna, was an individual who suffered greatly in his life. Yet, he was wont to say, "If I had already died, and the Almighty told me I could return and come back to life again, imagine how happy I would be. Now that I am alive, I should feel the same sense of joy."

One of the greatest sources of joy is to be found in mitzvah performance. The Alter, zl, m'Slabodka says that Hashem gave us mitzvos for our ultimate happiness and pleasure. The goal of the Torah's laws is to provide a person with a way of living that will greatly enhance his life. So, why do we not always derive that designated pleasure? Why does mitzvah performance not necessarily make us happy? The Chafetz Chaim, zl, explains that because we have become so involved in worldly matters, the mundane has overshadowed the spiritual. We have lost our sensitivity to the incredible amount of joy that we can potentially experience upon performing a mitzvah. Simply stated, it just does not mean the same to us as it once did to our forebears. This lack of sensitivity is the root of all transgression. When we lack joy and enthusiasm in what we are doing, this deficit pulls us down into the muck of sin.

As much as happiness is critical to spiritual development, sadness, which is its counterpart, is equally serious. Essentially, the two go together. One who takes a dim view of life does not allow himself to be happy. Sadness is a disease which goes unseen by many - especially the victim. It is probably more of a silent killer than some of the physical ailments that physicians have popularized. We notice wealthy people who seem to be happy. The Ahavas Meisharim feels that many wealthy people are so blinded by their wealth that they do not realize how unhappy they really are. This is a powerful thought for all of us to think about.

All too often, we spend our precious time feeling sorry for ourselves, rather than doing anything about it. It is much more destructive than simply wasting time and energy. It might actually be an act of selfishness. A lumber dealer, who was one of the followers of Horav Mordechai zl, m'Lekhivitz, shipped a load of lumber to Danzig, and the load was lost, causing him a considerable financial loss. When he expressed his grief to Rav Mordechai, the Rebbe told him, "Chazal teach us that Hashem participates in our sorrow. Is it considerate of you to bring sorrow to the Almighty for the loss of some lumber?" This might be something to consider the next time we overreact to something which we feel is discouraging. Is it something that we feel comfortable imposing on the Almighty?

All the days of his abstinence for the sake of Hashem he shall not come near a dead person. (6:6)

The Baal HaTurim gives an intriguing reason for the prohibition against a nazir coming in contact with the dead. There is a fear that if the Shechinah reposes on him as a result of his nezirus, people might conjecture that this is because he doreish el ha'meisim, consults with the dead, which is prohibited by the Torah. In other words, there is a possibility that people will attribute his kedushah, holiness, to negative sources. The question that arises is how does abstaining from wine for a period of thirty days and letting one's hair grow catalyze kedushah? We fear what people are going to think. Obviously, something about this nazir makes him stand out. How did he become the recipient of such kedushah literally overnight?

Horav Sholom Levin, zl, derives from here that it is not how long or great one's actions are that define their distinctions. It all depends upon one's machashavah, purity of one's intentions. When one acts solely l'shem Shomayim, for the sake of Heaven, he can achieve incredible heights. He does not have to undertake to save the world or to create some phenomenal transformation. It takes even the smallest steps in a positive direction, but with a pure heart. It is the little things that one does that make a difference. Thirty days of pure devotion, sincere emotion from the depths of one's heart, catalyze kedushah - as long as the focus is Shomayim, Heaven.

Moshe Rabbeinu was walking in the wilderness when he noticed a burning bush. Chazal tell us that all Moshe did was to take three steps towards the bush; in an alternative exposition, they say that all he did was to turn his head slightly in the direction of the bush. Yet, Hashem told him, "You took pains to turn aside to glimpse. I swear to you that I shall reveal Myself to you." What great deed did Moshe perform? What did he do that merited such incredible reward?

Horav Eliyahu Eliezer Dessler, zl, explains that it was Moshe's slight endeavor, his initial reaction, his hishtadlus, which was performed with sensitivity and caring, that made the difference. He did not have to stop. He could easily have kept on walking and ignored the sight. He did not, however, because he cared. That small initiative defined his greatness. It is not the great things that we do which define us. It is the little things, the caring for those who will not necessarily earn us a plaque, the little kindnesses, the small acts of thoughtfulness: these define a person.

May Hashem bless you and guard you. (6:24)

The commentators offer a number of explanations in interpretation of this pasuk. In his Haamek Davar, The Netziv, zl, observes that v'yishmirecha, "and (He will) guard you," is inextricably tied to yivarechicha, "(may Hashem) bless you." Every blessing can, without the proper direction, be transformed into a curse. Therefore, when we pray for rain, we conclude, livrachah v'lo liklallah, "for a blessing and not for a curse." We are acutely aware that every blessing, if it is not guarded, can become the source of curse. It can become its beneficiary's worst nightmare.

This idea applies to every individual, regardless of his vocation. The ben Torah who is truly blessed must see to it that this blessing does not go to his head, and that he is extremely careful not to cause a chillul Hashem, desecration of Hashem's Name. This is a distinct possibility, especially in light of the fact that his actions are meticulously scrutinized by a world society that is not necessarily sympathetic to his way of life. The one who is blessed with material abundance must also take extreme care not to allow the power generated by his wealth to go to his head. The classic case in the Torah is Korach, whose wealth played a critical role in his downfall.

Horav Yitzchak Zilberstein, Shlita, relates that a young boy once approached him during the Tashlich prayer on Rosh Hashanah and pointed to the Machzor which contained the prayer written by the Chida, l'hamtik dinim takifin, "May this sweeten the harsh judgment." What is the meaning of "sweetening the harsh judgment"? If it is sweet, it is not harsh; and if it is harsh, it is not sweet. Rav Zilberstein explained that the Chida, who was a holy mystic, clearly had some profound kavanos, intentions, in mind when he authored this prayer. Nonetheless, he gave a practical explanation based upon the following story. The Avnei Nezer, who was the rav of Sochatechav, was succeeded by his son, the Shem MiShmuel. Both were great tzaddikim, righteous persons, whose knowledge of the length and breadth of the Torah was phenomenal. The Avnei Nezer had a chasid who was very devout and dedicated to his Rebbe. Sadly, he and his wife had not been blessed with children. Every time he went to the Rebbe, he entreated him for a blessing to have children. For reasons unbeknownst to the chasid, the Rebbe demurred from granting a blessing. Regardless of how often the chasid asked for a blessing, the answer was always no.

The chasid looked for a moment in which the Avnei Nezer would be in a moment of spiritual elevation, when his sense of joy would be intense. He felt that at such a time he might be able to convince the Rebbe to grant him a blessing. It was Simchas Torah, and the Rebbe had danced fervently, his face was aglow with a sense of profound dveikus, clinging to Hashem. The joy in the room was palpable. This was clearly a propitious time to petition the Rebbe for a blessing. The chasid approached the Rebbe and said, "Rebbe, I am not leaving this place until the Rebbe grants my wish. I need a blessing to have children."

The Rebbe looked deep into the chasid's eyes and said, "Do you want me to bless you with a son who will become a priest?" When the chasid heard this, his face became ashen. The Rebbe had perceived with Ruach HaKodesh, Divine Inspiration, that the child he was destined to have would apostatize himself and eventually become a priest. This is why he had refused to bless him. He no longer asked the Avnei Nezer for a blessing to have children.

A while later, after the Avnei Nezer's passing from this world, his son became Rebbe. The Shem MiShmuel was acutely aware of the chasid's overwhelming pain. He knew how much it meant to him to be blessed with a child. That year on Simchas Torah, after the Rebbe had finished dancing and effusing great joy, he motioned to the chasid to approach. "I would like to bless you that this year will be the year that you will become a father!" the Rebbe enthusiastically declared.

The chasid stood there speechless. He not only refrained from responding with a resounding Amen, but to avoid affirming the blessing, he actually turned ashen and appeared ready to faint. The Shem MiShmuel noticed this reaction-- or lack thereof-- and asked why he did not answer Amen to the blessing. Furthermore, why did he look like he was about to pass out?

The chasid was not about to conceal from the Shem MiShmuel the nevuah his father had divulged to him. He explained that once the Avnei Nezer had told him that his son to be born would end up as a priest, the subject of children was closed. This was not why he had wanted a child.

The Shem MiShmuel listened, thought for a moment, nodded his head, and said, "Nonetheless, I want you to be blessed." The chasid responded, "Amen." Five children were born to the chasid and his wife. Four tragically perished in the infernos of the Holocaust. One survived, to establish a beautiful family of talmidei chachamim, Torah scholars, G-d-fearing children and grandchildren, who continue to serve as a nachas to Klal Yisrael. How did he survive? Apparently, he was fluent in a number of languages, and he disguised himself as an Italian priest. Using his disguise, he was able to elude detection and survived the Holocaust.

Clearly, Heaven had issued a harsh judgment against the chasid, but the Shem MiShmuel was able to "sweeten it." The son appeared to be a priest - but he was not.

Va'ani Tefillah

Ashrei she'Keil Yaakov b'ezro - happy is one whose help is Yaakov's G-d.

The ability to recognize from whence comes one's salvation is a powerful attribute. Yes, we all pay lip service to the fact that Hashem is the Source of our salvation, but how many truly mean what they say? How many feel what they so casually assert? Throughout all of his adversity, Yaakov Avinu never once deviated from his belief in Hashem. Never did his trust wane. How fortunate is he who can affirm such belief as our Patriarch did.

The word sivro, can also be related to the Aramaic savar, which denotes thought. This, explains Horav Avigdor Miller, zl, indicates a higher level of cognition: one whose hope is on Hashem. His constant thought is on Hashem as his sole salvation. This individual does not simply place his trust in Hashem; rather, he has established a personal relationship with the Almighty. Whereas others are included in the promises made to Klal Yisrael, he is constantly aware of Hashem's supervision and guidance. Hashem is always with him. It is not a question of trust. It is a relationship, a bond, the connection is personal.

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