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Peninim on the Torah

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Rabbi A. Leib Scheinbaum
Hebrew Academy of Cleveland


Aharon was silent. (10:3)

Aharon accepted Hashem's decree. Thus, he became the standard bearer of he whose faith in Hashem dominates personal emotion. In Avos D'Rabbi Nassan 14:6, it is recorded that when the venerable sage Rabbi Yochanan ben Zakai lost a son, his students all came to comfort him. Each one cited another great individual who had lost a child. To each he responded, "You are not comforting me. You are, instead, giving me more to cry about." In the end, Rabbi Eliezer ben Azaryah was the one who comforted him. He presented the following analogy: A king once deposited a very special object with a trusted subject. Every day, the man would anticipate the moment when he could return the precious object. He was apprehensive that he might not return it to the king in perfect condition. How happy was he when the awaited day arrived, and he was able to return a perfect item to the king. "So, too," Rabbi Eliezer told Rabbi Yochanan, "Hashem gave you a precious deposit. You nurtured it. You taught him Torah, and he left this world sinless, a pious scholar who took leave of his earthly abode much in the manner that he arrived - perfect. You should feel good that you returned the 'King's' deposit in such exceptional condition."

What a remarkable thought! No one should ever be tested in such a tragic manner, but this is a profound understanding of tragedy. The Chafetz Chaim manifest a similar approach when his son, Rav Avraham, passed away in his prime. At the time, the Chafetz Chaim was in Warsaw attending to the publication of one of his seforim. The Shabbos of his son's death, the Chafetz Chaim begged his host to excuse him from the meal, since he did not feel well. He remained in his room for the duration of the Shabbos, explaining that he should really fast for a bad dream which he had in which a Sefer Torah fell out of his hands.

On Motzoei Shabbos, he received a telegram to rush home. He arrived in Radin, his home, as the people were returning from the cemetery, mourning and grieving the tragic loss of the Chafetz Chaim's son. The Chafetz Chaim did not utter a word. He entered his home and sat shivah for the next seven days. He did not cry; he did not wail. He expressed the profound loss of a brilliant Torah scholar. He did not reflect upon his personal loss - only that of Klal Yisrael's.

When he arose from shivah, he cited the story of the Jewish mother whose two beautiful, precious young sons were slaughtered before her eyes by the heinous murderers of the accursed Inquisition. After the tragedy took place, this righteous woman raised her eyes heavenward and declared, "Hashem! Until now, I have always loved You, but I shared my love for You with the love I had for my two sons. Now that my children have been taken from me, my entire love is devoted only to You! I can now fulfill the mitzvah of loving Hashem 'with all your heart and with all your soul'"

"Ribono Shel Olam," passionately proclaimed the Chafetz Chaim, "the overwhelming love I heretofore had for my son, I now give to You!" Aharon HaKohen set the standard. In every generation, special people have demonstrated their love for the Almighty in the manner in which they accepted His decrees. May Hashem no longer find reason to test us.

And your brethren the entire House of Yisrael shall bewail the conflagration that Hashem ignited. (10:6)

Horav Yaakov Neiman, zl, explains why the Torah enjoins the entire House of Yisrael to grieve for this tragedy. True, the death of a Torah scholar has a far-reaching effect, and every Jew should feel a personal loss in the void left by his demise. Yet, the pasuk seems to imply that the grief is more than theoretical; it is real, as if each Jew personally sustained a particular loss. How are we to understand this? Horav Neiman cites the pasuk in Devarim 32:4, "The Rock! Perfect in His work, for all His paths are justice; a G-d of faith without iniquity, Righteous and fair is He." This pasuk both introduces and summarizes the theme of the poignant prayer we recite when we bring the departed to burial. Basically, the prayer expresses the acceptance of the belief that all of Hashem's ways are just. In the totality of His work, at the "end of the day," -- when the infinite contribution of good fortune and failure, success and disappointment, happiness and sadness, are all tallied up, -- there is a harmonious aggregate, a balanced whole. Every piece fits together, even though the whole picture is beyond human comprehension. What is the meaning of "a G-d of faith without iniquity"? Does the fact that Hashem is without iniquity constitute praise of Him?

Hashem's Heavenly Justice is different from the justice meted out in man's judicial system. In the human system, if one is found guilty of a crime, he is punished. We do not take into consideration the fact that his family might suffer during his period of incarceration. If the guilty verdict is accompanied by the death penalty, then he is executed. The widow and fatherless children that he will leave behind do not affect the court's decision. Heavenly Justice, on the other hand, weighs every factor. No one will be affected unless they themselves warrant some part of the decree. In other words, if Hashem decrees that one must leave this world as a result of his actions, everything is taken into account - even the pain that will be sustained by his friends! The decision is activated only after everything and every person has been considered.

This is the meaning of the pasuk. Every Jew must grieve the deaths of Nadav and Avihu, because if even one individual Jew did not in some way warrant this grief, then Nadav and Avihu would not have died! Consequently, we are all somehow responsible for this premature demise. Accordingly, we should repent our sins which contributed to catalyzing this tragedy. Perhaps we should reiterate that this statement does not apply only to the deaths of Nadav and Avihu; it applies equally to every event that occurs in our lives.

Everything among the animals that has a split hoof, which is completely separated into double hooves, and brings up its cud - that you may eat. (11:3)

A woman who was unhappy with the financial situation at home frequently quarreled with her husband about it. Eventually, the couple came to Horav Moshe Aharon Stern, zl, for advice. He gave them Chazal's time-proven advice that the key to happiness is to be satisfied with one's lot in life and not chase after luxuries. He cited the Chafetz Chaim in his Mishnah Brurah, who writes that the curse of the generation (this was written decades ago) is that when people spend beyond their means, it leads to theft, robbery, shame and disgrace. We read in the Toras Kohanim (Parashas Acharei Mos) in which Rebbe says, "The Torah teaches us how to live properly: A person should not partake of meat on a regular basis, so that he will not become poor. One should, instead, accustom himself to act like a hunter who eats only when he comes across game." The Tur (Orach Chaim 223) writes, "The joy of a poor person who is content with his circumstance is much greater than the satisfaction a rich man feels from his possessions."

This same idea may be gleaned from our parsha. In his Even Shlomo, the Gaon M'Vilna observes that one of the signs of a kosher animal is that it chews its cud. He explains that the fact that the animal regurgitates and re-chews the food already in its stomach demonstrates that it is satisfied and does not seek more. In contrast, the non-kosher animal immediately seeks more as soon as it has digested its food. The continual desire for more is an inherent sign of a non-kosher animal. As a result, the Torah deems it unkosher, so that we will not assimilate this characteristic into our beings.

If we think about it with an open mind, we will note that man's penchant for material excess is at the root of endless problems and misfortunes. An individual's insecurity and low self-esteem take their toll on him. The constant drive to fulfill one's passions, to satisfy one's "supposed" needs, destroys lives - individuals and families.

These shall you abominate from among the birds, they may not be eaten…the chasidah. (11:13, 19)

Rashi translates chasidah as the stork. "Why is it called chasidah?" Rashi asks. He answers his own question, "Because it displays chesed, kindness towards others of its species by sharing food with them." One wonders why such a compassionate bird would be stigmatized as a non-kosher fowl? The commentators explain that the chasidah is selective in its chesed, singling out only its own species and refusing to act kindly to "strangers," thereby earning the distinction of a non-kosher fowl. The lesson is clear: there are no parameters to chesed. It must be performed for everyone, not just for our friends.

There is another aspect of chesed to which I feel Rashi is alluding when he says the stork displays kindness by sharing food with them. What is the significance of sharing food? Perhaps it is the type of chesed with which we should be concerned, rather than with whom the chesed is performed. An old anecdote tells about a poor man who comes to a wealthy man's home on a Monday morning, begging for alms. The wealthy man looks at him and says regretfully, "It is such a shame that you did not come to me yesterday, because Sunday is my charitable day. Monday is my day for bikur cholim, visiting the sick. I devote myself to a specific chesed on each of the various days of the week. I am sorry I cannot be of assistance to you today." It is a cute story which defines a form of hypocrisy that exists among some self-centered "chesed-givers." They decide for whom to do chesed and when to do chesed, and what type of chesed to do. This is not Torah-oriented chesed. The care-giver is only interested in placating his own conscious. He is not really concerned about his fellow man.

Ibn Ezra alludes to another self-centered aspect of the stork's perverted chesed perspective, when he says that the chasidah performs chesed "l'moadim," at specific times. There are people who love to perform acts of kindness - on their own terms, at their own convenience. Shabbos and Yom Tov are wonderful times to be altruistic. Visit the sick and elderly on Shabbos, stop by on Yom Tov, dress up like a clown on Purim and sail through the hospital corridors bringing joy to a sad heart. These are wonderful acts of kindness - if they are not exclusive to the specific times. Shabbos and Yom Tov are times when people have plenty of free time, and the lonely are especially in need during these festive periods. If we allow our "Shabbos chesed" to justify our neglect of those in need during the rest of the week, however, then we are not being kind to them. We are only placating our own emotions. The chasidah teaches us that a "baal chesed" is truly a "baal", in control of his chesed. He does not act kindly because he has to - he performs chesed because he wants to. It is Hashem's way.

Chesed is for all people, regardless of their age, background or religious affiliation. While it is not my place to lecture about chesed, I have recently been moved by the need to reach out to the elderly. Many people are alone. This does not mean that they have no family. It is possible to be surrounded by people and still feel alone - if one does not feel needed or important. It is up to us to reach out to those who are alone, to perceive who might be in need and give them the opportunity to feel needed.

I had occasion recently to spend a few weekends in a large hospital which is under Jewish auspices. I was impressed by the overwhelming chesed performed, both by well-meaning individuals and through the local bikur cholim society. I was inspired by the many observant physicians and their Torah-oriented approach to patient care. I was stirred by the care that some family members are giving their parents. Interestingly, I saw many middle-aged children tending to the needs of their parents. I was surprised, however, at the dearth of grandchildren who were there for their grandparents. Then I was reminded of a comment made to me by a friend after one of my many trips to visit my mother a"h when she was ill, I mentioned that I was exhausted. He said, "Remember, your children are watching you." He was right. Our children will learn by example - the example that we show them.

Speaking about chesed to the elderly, we might take note of a wise statement made by General George S. Patton, "A lot of people die at forty, but they aren't buried until thirty years later." This is a sad, but true, statement. I recently read about a woman in Yerushalayim who was a firm believer that one is obliged to act kindly to everyone -even/especially the elderly. It was 1983, and this highly respected teacher was outraged at all the elderly beggars on the streets of Yerushalayim. She would then go to school and hear her students wonder, "Why does my grandmother just sit around all day?" She understood that both the children and adults had a misconstrued perception of what it meant to get old. The misconception was leading to tragic confrontations between the generations. The old people felt worthless, robbed of their self-esteem. Rather than feeling a sense of pride in a life of accomplishment, a life of experience and success, they felt unwanted, unloved and unrespected. Was it any wonder that they sat on the streets begging for their daily sustenance?

This energetic and enterprising teacher was determined to change the status-quo. She set up a small workshop. After some prodding and cajoling, she was able to convince some of the beggars to work for her. Her next stop was the nursing homes where some of the patients would sit by the window staring out all day. She started a bookbinding workshop, getting books from schools throughout the city and repairing them at prices far below what the schools were paying. She taught the elderly to feel a sense of self-esteem, self-worth. Her "Lifeline" project, as it became known, spread to ceramics, leathercraft, metal and woodworking. She opened a store called The Elder Craftsman, where she sold Lifeline products. They did well. By 1988, Lifeline employed over 500 elderly people from all nationalities and walks of life. Many were Holocaust survivors who had given up on life and were just waiting for the summons of the Malach ha'Maves, Angel of Death. She had taken elderly, depressed people, who had felt dejection and despair, and given them a new lease on life. They were now happy, energetic, productive and enthusiastic about life, looking forward to the future with hope and excitement. She had a dream - a dream to do chesed with all people. It is easy to perform chesed with the exotic cases - disease, severe illness, broken homes. But what about the old man or woman around the corner for whom their children do not have the time? What about the lonely man or woman whose daily interaction with the outside world is to stare blankly out of the window? What about the "grouchy" old man or woman with whom no one can seem to get along? Does anybody wonder why he is grouchy; What was his past? The chasidah is not a kosher fowl for a reason. Hashem does not want us to develop its evil character traits. For once, we should learn from the birds!

Questions & Answers

1) What do all non-kosher fowl have in common - except for one?

2) The snake, a reptile which represents the root of all evil and impurity, is surprisingly not mentioned as one of the shemonah sheratzim, eight reptiles, that cause tumah after death. Why is this?

3) What proof regarding the Torah's Divine origin may be inferred from the chapter detailing the non-kosher animals?

4) Which type of vessel may either become tamei or transmit tumah to food or drink, even when it does not come in actual contact with the food or drink?


1) They are birds of prey, who capture their victim and kill it with their talons before eating it. The cruelty of the one species that does not fit this pattern is demonstrated in the food that it eats, and its choice of habitat designate it as being cruel (Ramban).

2) A snake is very dangerous to society. Hence, it should be killed on contact. Fearing that people would refrain from killing it in order to avoid becoming tamei, the Torah deliberately did not include it among the eight reptiles (Rabbeinu Bachya).

3) The Torah singles out the camel, rabbit and hare as being the only cud-chewing animals in the world that do not have split hooves, while the pig is the only split hooved animal that chews its cud. This, say Chazal, indicates that only the One Who created these animals gave the Torah (Chullin 59A).

4) An earthenware vessel may be rendered tamei, or may transmit tumah to the contents contained within its walls, even though no actual contact is made between the food and drink and the vessel itself (Chullin 24a).

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