Back to This Week's Parsha

Peninim on the Torah

subscribe.gif (2332 bytes)

Previous issues

Rabbi A. Leib Scheinbaum
Hebrew Academy of Cleveland


Moshe and Aharon came to the Ohel Moed. (9:23)

Horav David Shneur, Shlita, distinguishes between the way Jewish leadership reacts to responsibility and the way contemporary society responds to the challenge of failure. There is a popular maxim with which we are acquainted: "There are many fathers and guardians to success, but failure is always an orphan." However it is expressed, it has the same meaning: Everybody wants to take credit for success, but no one is willing to come forward and take responsibility for failure. We always attempt to place the blame of defeat at someone else's doorstep - never at our own.

We are taught that Moshe Rabbeinu and Aharon together entered the Ohel Moed. Offering an alternative reason, Rashi explains that when Aharon HaKohen saw that, despite the long inauguration service, the Shechinah had not yet rested on the Mishkan, he became distraught and blamed himself. He said, "I know that Hashem is angry with me for my role in the sin of the Golden Calf. It is because of me that the Shechinah has not rested upon Yisrael." He turned to Moshe Rabbeinu and asked him not to "humiliate him" by allowing him to enter the Sanctuary alone. Immediately, Moshe entered the Ohel Moed, praying for mercy, so that the Shechinah would rest on Klal Yisrael. This is Aharon HaKohen! Imagine such a reaction from today's secular leadership. These individuals thrive on finding someone to blame other than themselves. A Torah leader not only accepts responsibility, but he first blames himself and, only after he has-- to the best of his knowledge-- purged himself of any semblance of guilt, does he rest calmly.

Aharon had every reason to rationalize whatever taint of guilt there might have been, but he did not. He saw his nephew, Chur, killed before his own eyes, because he attempted to reprove the people amidst their frenzy. Was there any doubt in his mind concerning their reaction, in their immoral fervor, to their request that he create an intermediary to replace Moshe? As Rashi adds, Aharon felt that "it is better that I be blamed than them." The Torah leader lays the onus of guilt at his own doorstep, whereas he attributes the success and triumph to others. This is slightly different from what we are accustomed to expecting from our secular leadership.

This idea does not apply only to the spiritual leadership. The Jewish People have learned the lesson of responsibility. When the Mishkan did not remain standing after it had been raised seven times, the people suspected that-- despite all of their dedication and the difficulty involved in constructing the Mishkan as prescribed by Hashem-- they had not yet atoned for the sin of the Golden Calf. Ashamed, disgraced and miserable, they felt that all of their work had been for naught. They were not deserving of Hashem's Presence in their midst. Refusing to rationalize and project blame onto others, they accepted responsibility for their failure to bring Hashem's Presence to the Mishkan.

The situation was now all in Moshe's hands; he could easily have claimed triumph. It would have been his prayer, his endeavor, his entreating that would have brought down the Shechinah. He would have been able to revel in his incredible success, but this was not characteristic of Moshe, the quintessential leader of the Jewish People. He did not take credit for catalyzing the descent of the Shechinah to the Mishkan. "It was all because of Aharon," he said. "My brother is more distinguished than I," Moshe told them. "It is all because of his towering piety and virtue." Moshe demonstrated the nobility of spirit essential to a Jewish leader. A leader shares credit and takes all of the blame. That is true achrayos, responsibility.

Bilaam exhibited the exact opposite attribute, taking credit for the work of others, thereby modeling his legacy of leadership to the future despots of the world. He understood that in order to appease the Shechinah, he would have to offer korbanos, sacrifices. He instructed Balak to erect seven altars and to offer sacrifices on them. Balak readily complied with Bilaam's instructions. Nonetheless, when Hashem appeared to Bilaam, he took personal credit for the altars that Balak had built! Hashem knew the truth and, as cited in the Midrash Tanchuma, reproved Bilaam for this.

The list goes on, with the critical criteria for leadership being: the ability to take responsibility; to accept blame; and to defer success to others. A leader must be willing to sacrifice himself for his people, just as a rebbe should sacrifice himself for his talmidim, students. It is intrinsic to true love: Is the sacrifice for himself or for his people?

A fire came forth from before Hashem and consumed them and they died before Hashem. (10:2)

Clearly, when we refer to the "sin" of Nadav and Avihu, it is a term that we use judiciously, based upon the lofty level of closeness to Hashem which these two tzaddikim, righteous persons, had attained. In no way can the terminology of sin, so common in our vernacular, be used concerning them. Having said this, we must endeavor to understand what the "sin" was which they committed that warranted such serious punishment. The Sifra cites three reasons for their punishment: Rabbi Yishmael opines that they used fire from the Altar, but it was considered alien, since they had not received instructions to offer it. Rabbi Akiva holds that the fire did not come from the Altar and, thus, was thoroughly alien. Rabbi Eliezer contends that, whereas the fire was not holy, they felt that it was permissible to offer this fire; thus, they were guilty of moreh halachah bifnei rabbo, rendering a halachic decision on a matter about which they should have asked their teacher, who-- in this case-- was Moshe Rabbeinu.

Nonetheless, after reviewing the differences of opinion regarding their sin, at worst, one might consider them toim bidvar mitzvah, making an error concerning the performance of a mitzvah. Certainly, they should not be considered sinners to the extent that they had to receive such a drastic and final punishment. On the most auspicious day of their lives, they became carried away with their extreme love for the Almighty. They erred. Is that such a grievous sin?

Horav Moshe Mordechai Epstein, zl, explains that an incident took place when Moshe erred concerning the water from the rock. Hashem instructed him to speak to the rock, and Moshe hit the rock. Certainly, Moshe was not intending to undermine Hashem's command. He thought it would be more appropriate to hit the rock. It was all l'shem mitzvah, for the purpose of carrying out a mitzvah. He erred and was punished by not being allowed to enter Eretz Yisrael. Why? Was his transgression so bad that he had to lose the one reward for which he had been waiting so long?

The Rosh Yeshivah explains that there is a common thread that connects these two "errors:" Teshuvah alone cannot atone for an infraction as serious as chillul Hashem, the desecration of Hashem's Name. The only way to counteract the wrong is by Kiddush Hashem, sanctifying Hashem's Name. Moshe spent his entire life sanctifying Hashem's Name. Why could that not have atoned for his one inadvertent act of chillul Hashem?

Kiddush Hashem can serve as atonement only when it is an individual, personal, incident. When it involves many others, when a community witnesses a chillul Hashem, the punishment cannot be ameliorated. The entire community must witness an immediate response to the desecration of Hashem's Name - even if it had been inadvertent. Nonetheless, the scenario occurred, so it must be repaired. This is why Moshe lost his opportunity to enter the Holy Land: Klal Yisrael witnessed his error, and this reality raised the chillul to a higher, more grievous, status.

Nadav and Avihu could not escape the public effect of their actions. Thus, Hashem punished them with Middas Ha'Din, the attribute of Strict Justice. They surely had no intentions of desecrating Hashem's Name. Their error, however, reduced Hashem's glory ever so slightly in the eyes of the nation. That was sufficient to seal their fate.

This is a powerful statement which presents a very demanding lesson for us. We might do something that, for some reason, we might rationalize as laudable or, at least, necessary. What we often do not take into consideration is the deleterious effect our actions will have on others who notice what we do, but are not privy either to our rationalization or to our motivation. They will derive from our actions that what we are doing is proper, correct and even commendable. They are wrong, because we are wrong. When our actions affect others, then we are exhibiting public chillul Hashem for which the punishment is very serious. After all, the punishment must coincide with the damage which our actions cause.

Do not drink intoxicating wine, you and your sons with you, when you come to the Ohel Moed. (10:9)

The Torah commanded Aharon HaKohen not to perform the service or render halachic decisions while intoxicated. This pasuk is in the Torah immediately following the description of Aharon losing his two sons. Chazal teach us that wine soothes the emotions. Thus, it is used to comfort a mourner. Aharon might think that since he was commanded not to express his pain over the loss of his sons publicly, it might be permissible to imbibe a little in order to forget the pain. The Torah pre-empted this with the command not to drink intoxicants. The Chasam Sofer explains that Torah study gladdens the heart and assuages the pain. One whose mind is absorbed in Torah does not need artificial stimuli to relieve his pain. The Torah will soothe and comfort him. Indeed, just as the Kohen who enters the Sanctuary is deficient if he fails to find gladness in his service, so, too, does he who studies Torah-- but does not discover the joy and gladness that is inherent in this endeavor-- have an imperfect relationship with the Torah.

One individual who stands out for his overwhelming love was Horav Yisrael Gustman, zl. Indeed, this remarkable rosh yeshivah once said about himself, "The only thing I ever wanted to be was a gadol ba'Torah." Nothing deterred him from achieving his goal, not even the brutal Nazis or the cruel Russians. Horav Shlomo Wolbe, zl, referred to him as the Iyov of roshei yeshivah, so appalling was his suffering. Yet, he was able to emerge from the purgatory of World War II with his Torah intact, despite his not having access to a sefer for over four years and having witnessed the cruelest murders of Jewish babies imaginable. He was a person who breathed Torah, loved Torah and was totally sustained through Torah.

A prodigious masmid, his diligence in Torah study was legendary. He never missed a shiur given by his rebbe, the venerable rosh yeshivah of Grodno, Horav Shimon Shkop, zl. Regardless of his state of health, the shiur took precedence. Once, as a student in Grodno, he became ill and was burning up with a fever of over 104 degrees, so he hired a driver to take him to shiur. As soon as Rav Shimon began to speak, Rav Yisrael felt his fever break. By the time the rosh yeshivah had concluded the shiur, Rav Yisrael's fever was completely gone. He had received the necessary therapy.

All of this was a prelude to the incomparable suffering he would undergo during the Holocaust years. Once again, it was his beloved Torah that sustained him. He was witness to a level of brutality which the human mind cannot even fathom, as he was forced to watch babies that had been grabbed from their mother's arms to be used by the Nazi beasts for target practice. When he begged the monsters to at least have mercy and send the mothers away, he was beaten senseless with iron bars. He recited Viduy, the Confessional prayer, over one hundred times, certain that he was facing his final moments. He, his wife and his daughter crouched under the pigsty of a Polish farmer for six months, subsisting on nothing but potato peels.

The incredible thing was not only that he survived, but that he did so with his humanity untouched. Indeed, after the war, he refused an Allied soldier's offer of an extra portion of food for fear that it meant depriving another Jew of his portion. Moreover, throughout his terrible ordeal, he attested later, that he never once questioned Divine justice.

How did he do it? He loved Torah because he appreciated the value of Torah to the Jew. As one of his students recalled, "He loved Jews, and he loved Torah. The love he had for Jews reflected his determination to bring others to this deep appreciation of Torah." While he was sitting shiva, the seven day mourning period, for his wife, he cited a Yerushalmi that permits Torah study during the shiva period. Rav Gustman explained, "Even when all physical desires have ceased due to grief, the desire for Torah continues on. Learning Torah is a matter of pikuach nefesh, life preservation." When Torah is perceived in such a manner, it induces an entirely new relationship between rebbe and talmid. No longer is there room for strict discipline on the part of the rebbe or shyness on the part of the student.

This does not mean that his love of Torah transcended his emotions. He hurt, and he loved; he had compassion and sensitivity to others and for himself. He just endured and continued to plow forward, because he was on a mission - for Hashem. He once visited the father of an Israeli soldier who was sitting shiva for his son. He said, "I, too, had a son who died Al Kiddush Hashem, sanctifying the Name of Hashem, but, unlike your son, he did not have the merit of choosing his fate of his own free will." The grieving father stood up, responding, "Rebbe, nichamtani, you have comforted me." He understood the pain of the other, as well as his own pain. He took refuge in the Torah, because it is our lifeblood.

In order to distinguish between the sacred and the profane. (10:10)

A Jew's purpose in this world is to serve Hashem and to live a life of service to Hashem. In order to achieve this, he must avail himself of every opportunity for spiritual growth and to eschew anything that comes along that might divert him from this way of life. Regrettably, there are those who pass through this world wasting every G-d-given opportunity. Time has no value. That which is eternal and thereby significant takes a far second place to the ephemeral. Running in circles without any sense of direction, they look for what is "fun," even though it has no meaning and for what calms them, although it has no intrinsic value. Horav Yitzchak Zilberstein, Shlita, relates an inspiring story that took place concerning Henry Ford, inventor of the automobile and patriarch of one of America's wealthiest families.

Once, Mr. Ford was vacationing in a resort hotel. Taking a walk one afternoon, he chanced upon a man who sitting near the banks of the river - fishing. He just sat, calm and relaxed, his pole in the water - fishing. As Mr. Ford walked by, he asked the man, "What are you doing?" "What do you think I am doing?" was the immediate response. "I am fishing."

"Is that what you do all day - just fish?" Ford asked.

"Yes, that is what I do all day. Do you have a problem with that?" was the fisherman's reply, and, in an about-face, the fisherman looked Ford squarely in the eye and asked, "What do you do?"

One of the world's wealthiest men took a deep breath, as he prepared to relate to the fisherman his exploits and successes, his incredible wealth and power. He took his time and savored every moment, describing his invention, his many assembly plants, the way they worked and their productivity. He went on to give the fisherman a hint of what his financial portfolio looked like. After describing all of this, Ford exhaled, sat back and gloated. He was doing something.

The fisherman listened intently as if he was waiting for the punch line. It did not come. So, he asked Mr. Ford, "Tell me, what is the purpose of all of this? Why are you doing this?" Henry Ford thought that this man was demented. "What do you mean? Are you totally unbalanced? What kind of question is that?" Ford asked incredulously. "I am making money. I have amassed a fortune," he replied.

The fisherman was not fazed. "What will you do with the money?" he asked. Ford could not believe what he was hearing. He knew that fishermen were not very astute, but this was too much. "I do not understand your question," Ford replied. "I have purchased a mansion. I have a number of villas throughout the world. I travel all over. I have many cars and yachts. I have a garden that is one of the most beautiful agricultural displays in the world. What more would you like to know?"

"What will you do now that you have acquired all of this wealth?" the fisherman pressed on. "I will sit back and relax without a care in the world, because I already have everything," Ford said.

"Are you going to sit around all day doing nothing?" the fisherman asked. "I do not believe that someone of your temperament will just do nothing. Surely you will engage yourself in some activity."

Ford thought for a moment, not realizing that this entire time the fisherman had been toying with him, as he pushed himself into a corner. "If I was calm and relaxed without a care in the world, I would probably fish all day!" he blurted out.

The fisherman chuckled as he said, "Let your ears listen to what your mouth is saying. Your entire life, your every endeavor has been for one purpose: so that you can sit back and fish! Why are you so surprised that I fish all day? I have just skipped the entire process and have gone right to the objective!"

Henry Ford and so many like him are the living embodiments of Shlomo Hamelech's sagacious words, "Futility of futilities! All is futile!" (Koheles 1:2) An entire life filled with great accomplishments - for what? Just to go fishing! That is the meaning of the words, "to distinguish between the sacred and the profane."

Were I to eat this day's sin-offering, would Hashem approve? (10:19)

Aharon HaKohen questions Moshe Rabbeinu: If I had eaten a sin-offering on this day, referring to the day of death prior to the burial, would He (Hashem) have approved? Rashi adds that the prohibition of eating Kodoshim, sacrificial meat, applies only during the period of aninus, prior to the burial of the deceased. On the night following the burial, the status changes to aveilus, mourning period, during which eating sacrificial meat is permitted. In referring to the mourning for the Bais HaMikdash, the Navi Yeshayah says, V'anu, v'avlu pesachehah bah, "Her doorways will mourn and lament." (Yeshaya 3:21) Here he uses both the terms aninus and aveilus. How are both reconciled as one expression of emotion? The Yalkut Shimoni explains that the aninus, deeper mourning, is bifnim, internal, while the aveilus, lament, is external. In other words, although the external expression is one of aveilus, intrinsically the individual still mourns as an onein. How are we to understand this new perception of mourning for the Bais HaMikdash?

Horav Naftoli Tropp, zl, explains this phenomenon with an analogy. When a tree is uprooted, it still possesses much of its original life. Its bark is moist; its branches and leaves still retain much of their color and life. True, it no longer is nourished by the earth, but, it has not yet had the opportunity to dry up. It is in a state of flux, appearing alive, although it actually is not. The churban, destruction of the Temple, took place thousands of years ago, but to righteous Jews who understand its place in our lives, it is considered as if it just happened yesterday. The tree is uprooted, but the branches still retain the color of life. The righteous feel that the "deceased," the Bais Hamikdash, is still lying in front of them, prior to its burial. The pain is so intense; the void created by its loss is so immense, that their external expression of aveilus conceals an inner, more profound and more intense sense of loss - a loss for which they mourn as if the tragedy had just occurred.

Va'ani Tefillah

From the rising of the sun to its setting, Hashem's Name is praised.
Ram al kol goyim, Hashem al haShomayim Kevodo.
High above all nations is Hashem, over the Heavens is His glory.

Horav Ezra Attiyah, zl, interprets this pasuk as distinguishing between Klal Yisrael's concept of Hashem and that of the nations of the world. While many nations are included in the category of idol worshippers, they still believe that there is a Supreme Being Who created it all and who is the original cause of what we have in the world. They feel, however, that this Supreme Being is so great and so high and mighty above the world that He does not involve Himself directly with life "down here." Thus, this Supreme Being uses the services of an intermediary, such as the various godheads that today's religions employ as their form of divinity. This is implied by, "From the rising sun to its setting, Hashem's Name is praised." Everyone praises Hashem as the original Source of creation. Only the nations feel that "over the heavens is His glory." It is below Hashem's dignity to occupy Himself with this petty world. He is "high above all nations." We believe however, that Hashem is the Source and continues to control and guide every aspect of this world's existence.

Horav Avigdor Miller, zl, notes three aspects in this prayer: 1.) Hashem wields power and rules over all nations and the entire universe. 2.) He should occupy our minds and be given more attention than all nations and the entire universe. In other words, there should be no place in our minds for interest in the affairs of nations or in matters of the world. 3.) Hashem is high, meaning that He is conspicuous and can, thus, be recognized by the way He deals with nations, referring to the phenomenon of history. If we study world events throughout history, we see how Hashem has controlled the fate of nations. Our only consideration of the affairs of nations is to recognize the hand of G-d throughout history.

l'zechus u'lerefua sheleima
Moshe Leib ben Toyba

Peninim on the Torah is in its 14th year of publication. The first nine years have been published in book form.

The Ninth volume is available at your local book seller or directly from Rabbi Scheinbaum.

He can be contacted at 216-321-5838 ext. 165 or by fax at 216-321-0588

Discounts are available for bulk orders or Chinuch/Kiruv organizations.


This article is provided as part of Shema Yisrael Torah Network
Permission is granted to redistribute electronically or on paper,
provided that this notice is included intact.
For information on subscriptions, archives, and
other Shema Yisrael Classes,
send mail to
Jerusalem, Israel