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Peninim on the Torah

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Rabbi A. Leib Scheinbaum
Hebrew Academy of Cleveland


It was on the eighth day…And the entire assembly approached and stood before Hashem. (9:1,5)

The events took place on Yom Ha'Shemini, the eighth day of the Inauguration ceremony of the Mishkan, the final--and most auspicious--day of the Inauguration. After Aharon Hakohen and his sons brought their special korbanos, offerings, he and Moshe Rabbeinu blessed the nation, and the Divine Presence finally rested on the Mishkan. The Ramban notes in his commentary something unique about these sacrifices. "The people ultimately brought more sacrifices than Aharon." Why? It is because Hashem told them disapprovingly, "You have sin on your hands at the beginning and sin on your hands at the end." Thus, the people were required to bring: a male goat as a Sin-offering, in order to atone for the episode of Yosef's sale; a calf and lamb as Burnt-offerings, a cow and a ram as Peace-offerings; and a Flour-offering. Aharon, however, brought only a calf as a Sin-offering and a ram as a Burnt-offering.

The people did have to atone for the sale of Yosef. What did this have to do, however, with the inauguration of the Mishkan? Why did this atonement have to take place precisely at the time that the Mishkan was being realized? The Shem MiShmuel explains that this practice was based upon a deeper understanding of the function of the Mishkan within Klal Yisrael.

We find throughout the Torah that the Mishkan is often referred to as Ohel Moed, the Tent of Meeting. It was the one place where the entire nation assembled for the purpose of carrying out its communal spiritual duties. No longer could the Jew use the bamah, private, individual altar to offer his sacrifices. Now, everybody had to come together to the one place designated for spiritual activity, the "Jewish" center of the community, the Mishkan. This reflected a spiritual - as well as a physical - reality. The existence of the Mishkan as the single focus of the nation indicated that the people had achieved the appropriate level of theological unity. The harmony of Klal Yisrael's connection to the Divine was apparent. This was the "meeting" component of the Tent of Meeting, in which the physical and spiritual perspectives coalesced. This ideal was represented by the Ohel Moed.

In the Sifrei Kabbalah, Yosef Hatzadik is described as possessing a unique character. His specialty was an uncanny ability to gather all of the individual spiritual contributions of each member of his family and to direct them all to Hashem. This is underscored by the fact that, as viceroy in Egypt, he was the individual responsible for gathering in all of the grain from throughout Egypt and distributing it throughout the land. Yosef is referred to in mystical literature as the rosh, head. Just as the head controls the body, so, too, was Yosef the spiritual leader and controller of his brothers. In manifesting this trait, Yosef was similar to the Ohel Moed.

We now understand the spiritual blemish that was exposed as a result of the sale of Yosef. The brothers apparently counteracted the spiritual influence that Yosef was capable of bringing to the world. They did not appreciate his "gathering" ability, and, thus, they could not utilize it. This deficiency in their character was transmitted to their descendants and was still present in the national character of Klal Yisrael at the time of the construction of the Mishkan. Therefore, before the Divine Presence could repose in the Mishkan, enabling it to fulfill its intended function of communal unity with a singular purpose, the national character flaw had to be extirpated. When the people brought the male goat as atonement for the sale of Yosef, their sincerity expunged the flaw.

The Shem MiShmuel suggests that this revelation explains one of the saddest episodes in our history: the Asarah Harugei Malchus, Ten Martyrs, sages of the highest caliber, who were brutally murdered by the Romans as an atonement for the sale of Yosef. While it is understandable that in some way a collective atonement for the sale of Yosef was appropriate, why did it have to occur at the end of the Second Bais Hamikdash? Why not during the hundreds of years preceding this era?

Keeping the above principle in mind, we can understand the timetable for destruction. The Mishkan and, later on, its replacement, the Bais Hamikdash, were the symbols of Jewish unity. When they stood in position, the forces that unite Klal Yisrael into one cohesive unit functioned and linked the people one with another. Towards the end of the tenure of the Second Bais Hamikdash, the situation began to wane. There was infighting, baseless hatred and jealousy that seemed to permeate Jewish life. This loathsome behavior catalyzed the destruction of the Bais Hamikdash. This manifested a fundamental lack of unity which allowed the remaining vestiges of disharmony that were expressed in the sale of Yosef to reappear and reassert themselves. These forces were able to "demand" an atonement for the sale of Yosef. The price was very high: the execution of the ten sages.

Baseless hatred is divisive. Likewise, when a lack of unity pervades within Klal Yisrael, it generates an increase in senseless hatred. Veritably, it is a vicious cycle: Hatred engenders disunity, which, in turn, creates more baseless hatred. Our only solution is to look for ways to unify the community, to rally everyone toward a common goal. While diversity is encouraged, it should apply only as a means to achieve the end. The goal has to be consistently the same for everyone involved.

Rabbi Dov Moshe Lipman recently authored an interesting book entitled "Timeout," which considers episodes from the world of sports and applies them to everyday life, using the Torah as our guide. My son-in-law, who wrote an addendum to the book, provided me with a copy. I think it is inspirational and will serve a certain niche in the wider spectrum of Jewish observance. The following story about the 1980 Olympic hockey team succinctly expresses the idea of unity for one common goal.

The coach charged with developing the U.S. hockey team had a daunting task. It was his job to prepare a group of college-aged players to compete against more experienced, professional teams from other countries. He began by asking each player to introduce himself. The dialogue followed the same pattern with each player:

Coach: "What is your name?"

Player: "Mark Johnson"

Coach: "And where are you from?"

Player: "Madison, Wisconsin."

Coach: "For whom do you play?"

Player: "University of Wisconsin."

This went on through the entire team, as each member cited his name, hometown and the school in which he played. Five months prior to the Olympics, the team played a practice game against Norway in which the final score was 3-3. The coach felt that the members of his team had not put forth their maximum effort. They should have done better.

As the team was about to skate off the ice, he made them return to the ice to skate "suicides," which means a player skates out to one quarter of the rink - and skates back to half of the rink and then back to three quarters of the rink, and then back; to the full rink and then back. As soon as they finished, the coach repeated, "Again!" They were not going home early that night.

The drills continued, even after the attendant had turned off the arena lights. The medical trainer issued a warning, but the coach was not interested. He repeated, "Again!" Hours passed, and some of the players collapsed to the floor, coughing and spitting up. Suddenly, in the back of the collapsing players, a voice called out: "Mike Eruzione!" The player was gasping for breath, but continued, "Winthrop, Massachusetts." Immediately, the coach asked, "For whom do you play?" The player, who eventually became the team captain, struggled and loudly declared: "I play for the United States of America!" The coach softly replied, "That's all, gentlemen. You may return to the locker room."

The coach succeeded in guiding his team to identify as a unified team, with one goal and one purpose. They were no longer a group of college players assembled to play, but members of what was to become an elite, unified team, that eventually went on to beat the unbeatable Soviets and ultimately to win the gold medal.

We, as a nation, have gone through much tribulation, and every time we thought it was finally over, it started again - much like the coach calling out, "Again!" What is it going to take until the message of unity finally becomes intrinsic to our identity? When will we realize that diversity is good - as long as we are all focused on the same goal? The latest bumper sticker coming out of New York is, "I am a poshuter Yid." Exactly what does this mean? Have our orientations changed to the point that we no longer identify and characterize a person based on his individual background, his country of origin, his religious beliefs, his form of observance, modern, yeshivishe or chasidish? Does this mean that we no longer judge a person according to how he dresses, what color hat - if he wears a hat-and what color yarmulke? Are we all poshuter Yidden, or only some of us, while the rest are not so pashut? Ein lanu l'hishaeiin ela al Avinu shebaShomayim. "We have none other to rely on other than our Father in Heaven." Let us all stay focused on what is important: Hashem Yisborach. It will do wonders for our relationships.

A fire came forth from before Hashem and consumed them (Nadav and Avihu), and they died before Hashem. And Aharon was silent. (10:2,3)

It was a most auspicious day for Aharon HaKohen: the inauguration of the Mishkan; he was being invested as Kohen Gadol, High Priest; his sons, likewise, were to be elevated as Kohanim: The nachas was outstanding; the joy palpable. It was at this singular moment that Aharon HaKohen witnessed the greatest tragedy in his life, as his two sons, Nadav and Avihu, died sanctifying the Name of Hashem. One cannot begin to imagine the grief that must have overwhelmed him, catapulting him from the zenith of joy to the abyss of mourning. What must have gone through his mind during those grief- stricken moments after it became apparent that his life had just been dealt a death blow like no other? The Torah tells us that Aharon's reaction was: Va'yidom, "And he was silent." He neither expressed grief, nor did he complain. He remained passive, quiet, still as a stone. He displayed no movement, no expression; he was totally accepting of Hashem's decree.

How did he do it? Furthermore, this singular reaction is a phenomenon that has been emulated by a number of giants of the spirit, tzadikim, righteous and pious individuals, who have transcended physical pain and grief with complete equanimity, maintaining a presence of mind under the most trying circumstances, in face of the most heart-shattering challenges. What gave them such super-human strength?

It came from a genuine sense of emunah, belief in Hashem. Their trust in Him gave them the ability to rise above materialistic interests and stand before Hashem with strength and clarity of vision. This emunah engenders within them a true sense of happiness, an acceptance of all that Hashem issues forth, and an affirmation that this is what is appropriate - even if it appears overly demanding and harsh. Their emunah is unshakable; their commitment unwaverable.

Horav Aharon Kotler, zl, the architect of Torah in this country, exemplified a Jew's obligation to believe resolutely in the Almighty. His emunah was clear and unwaverable, seeing Hashem's hand in every event. The Rosh Yeshivah would reiterate in his shmuessin, ethical discourses, that all of the basic beliefs regarding Hashem and Torah are eminently clear and accessible to any honest, straight-thinking person, especially if he studies Torah. They are obvious from nature; from Klal Yisrael's miraculous history; from the fact that, thousands of years earlier, the Torah prophetically foresaw this history; and from the wondrous content and harmony of the Torah itself - both written and oral. He viewed the Torah as a symphony in which all the elements of the universe fuse together in executing Hashem's will.

Rav Aharon believed unequivocally that if the Torah "said so," if it was a maxim of Chazal, it was an unimpeachable verity - regardless of what "seemed" to be. The following episode reinforces this idea. After World War II, the primary concern of the Vaad Hatzala, Relief and Rescue Organization sponsored by Agudath Harabbonim and the Roshei Yeshivah, was to bring refugees to America. Many of them were living in Displaced Persons camps, attempting to rebuild their shattered lives. The problem was that the United States had established a quota on immigrants. The Vaad was able to convince the State Department to make a dispensation for clergy and include yeshiva students in that category.

A specific difficulty arose concerning a particular section of yeshivah students residing in one of the larger DP camps located in Germany. The Governor General of the district in which that camp was located absolutely refused to recognize those students as rabbis. After some investigation, it was discovered that a certain Rabbi Rosenberg of Hartford, Connecticut, was a friend of the general. It was imperative that he meet with and convince the governor general to release the students.

Rav Aharon did not waste a minute - Jewish lives hung in the balance. He called Rabbi Rosenberg and asked him to come to the Vaad office, which he did. After explaining the situation, Rav Aharon requested that he immediately fly to Europe. Rabbi Rosenberg agreed. He said he would go home, attend to a few things, and leave. Rav Aharon told him that he must leave immediately. Time was of the essence.

"But, Rebbe, I do not even have a ticket," Rabbi Rosenberg protested. Immediately, Rav Aharon took from his drawer a ticket for a military flight, and the rabbi left for Europe. After meeting with the general, the rabbi brought up the fact that he was detaining a group of rabbis in his DP camp. The general did not agree with his claim. In fact, when he had asked the yeshivah students if they were members of the clergy, they had responded in the negative.

When Rabbi Rosenberg investigated this claim, he discovered that the students were Novardoker yeshivah students who insist on total reliance on Hashem without any hishtadlus, personal endeavor. They also shun any trace of gaavah, haughtiness, or falsehood. They could not present themselves as rabbis if they did not have an official semichah, ordination. They were not prepared to invoke "Rabbinical status" to save themselves. The rabbi returned to the general and explained the situation. They both laughed, and the yeshivah students were free to go.

Then tragedy struck. The plane crashed into the Atlantic Ocean, leaving no survivors. The army sent a telegram to Mrs. Rosenberg, informing her of the tragedy. She immediately ran to the Rosh Yeshivah, distraught and broken-hearted, but maintaining the presence of mind to ask, "What do I do now? Do I sit shivah? Am I an agunah (wife of undetermined status concerning her husband's demise, since there was no body)?"

Rav Aharon's response demonstrates his incredible level of emunah. He emphatically said, "Es ken nit zein, It cannot be!" "But, Rebbe, I have a telegram from the army," she protested.

The Rosh Yeshivah repeated himself again. "It is impossible. Chazal teach us that sheluchei mitzvah einan nizakim, v'lo bachazirasan," "Agents of mitzvah will not be harmed, even on their return (after the mitzvah has been completed).' Go home; be calm; everything will be fine."

The woman went home "somewhat" upset. She did not know if she was coming or going. Was her husband possibly alive, as the Rosh Yeshivah had asserted? Three days later the phone rang. She answered and almost fainted. Her husband was on the line. "But the plane crashed!" she screamed. "There were no survivors. I saw your name on the list in the New York Times. What happened?"

Her husband explained that he had stopped in Gibralter to say Kaddish for his mother. It was her Yahrzeit. He missed the plane returning to the States. He took the next plane to Canada where he was now stuck with no money. "Please wire me money so that I can come home!"

The Rosh Yeshivah never for one moment believed that something could happen that was inconsistent with Chazal. This epitomizes emunah!

And he (Moshe) was wrathful with Elazar and Isamar, Aharon's remaining sons, saying, "Why did you not eat the Sin-offering?"…Moshe heard (Aharon's response) and he approved. (10:16,17,20)

We begin the parsha with a detail of the Mishkan's Inauguration, the special service that accompanied this auspicious moment and the tragic aftermath. At the very peak of joy, Aharon's two older sons, Nadav and Avihu, lost their lives after performing an unauthorized service. Shortly thereafter, a difference of opinion developed between Moshe Rabbeinu and Aharon HaKohen regarding Aharon's two surviving sons: Were they permitted to partake of kodesh, sacred meat of the Rosh Chodesh sacrifice, brought in conjunction with the Inauguration? Moshe felt that it should be eaten, while Aharon instructed his sons to burn it, since they were onenim, mourners after a relative's death, prior to the burial. When Moshe discovered that the Rosh Chodesh offering had not been eaten, he became upset with Aharon's surviving sons. Actually, it was Aharon with whom he had an issue, but out of respect for his older brother, he directed his words to his nephews. Aharon responded, explaining why he had burned, rather than eaten, the offering. Moshe realized that Aharon's decision had been correct, and he conceded to his ruling. He then admitted that Hashem had instructed him that the meat should be burned, and he had forgotten this. Moshe acknowledged that his anger had been unjustified.

In his commentary to Rashi, the Sefer Hazikaron teaches that one of three reactions is likely to occur during a dispute. First, the individual might refuse to admit that he is wrong. Defeat is a bitter pill to swallow. He will, thus, stand on ceremony and deny the truth. Second, the person might admit that he may have erred, but he does so begrudgingly and with great embarrassment. The third instance is rare. The individual might not only acknowledge his error, but he does so with a smile, without humiliation, happy in the fact that his friend has triumphed over him. What is the source of his jubilation? The opportunity to learn something new that is now availed to him catalyzes his joy. He has acquired another verity that had heretofore eluded him. Moshe was of the third perspective. He was truly overjoyed that Aharon had proven him wrong. This gave him the opportunity to learn something new.

While this might be a wonderful and enviable character trait, how does it work? How could someone of Moshe's caliber be enthusiastic about defeat? Furthermore, even if Moshe had learned something new, would this assuage his sense of defeat? He merited to learn the entire Torah from Hashem. What is the significance of one more halachah?

Horav A. Henach Leibowitz, zl, explains that it all depends on how much one values Torah. To Moshe, each drop of Torah, every Torah lesson, represented the most valuable commodity in this world. The opportunity to study Torah was immeasurable. It was his greatest source of joy. Imagine, one trips and falls on the pavement, and, while doing so, he discovers a fifty dollar bill on the concrete. Clearly, he is happy, and the joy has somewhat overshadowed his pain. If only he could have found the fifty dollars without having had to go through the pain of falling on the cement. If, however, he is fortunate enough to find the winning ticket to a ten million dollar lottery, he jumps for joy and completely disregards the pain. It is non-existent in comparison to the immense joy that envelops him. Moshe loved truth and Torah more than others love money. It might be difficult for some of us to accept, but such people do exist! He suffered no pain in acceding to Aharon. He had no shame in defeat, because all of this was insignificant in comparison to the good fortune of learning one new halachah.

Having said this, we have to move backwards and ask ourselves: How do we react when we are proven wrong? Which category defines us? What is our true love: Torah or ourselves? Do we begrudge others their success? Are we bitter when proven wrong?

Horav Avraham Pam, zl, as cited by Rabbi Sholom Smith, places the question in practical perspective. A parent admonishes a child for what he thinks was a wrong-doing. The child emphatically claims innocence. The "discussion" goes beyond "dialogue" and becomes a tearful, screaming match. Later, the parent realizes that the child had been innocent. He had made a grievous error. Now what? It takes a great deal of moral courage for the parent to approach his child and admit that he had erred, explaining that his reaction was not only misplaced, it was wrong and harmful. "Please forgive me. You were right, and I was wrong," should be the parent's reaction. Indeed, it is reactions such as these that define parenthood. Regrettably, many parents find such a concession demeaning, undermining of their parental authority. All I can say to them is that I pity their children.

The same is true concerning the rebbe/talmid relationship. It might be hard to accept, but, at times, a rebbe can make a mistake. The rebbe might accuse his student of misbehaving or of stating an untruth. The talmid vigorously denies any wrong doing. Words fly, accusations are made, and sometimes epitaphs are declared, invariably in public in front of a classroom filled with students. The rebbe discovers that he has erred and has unjustly accused and maligned a student. What he does now will determine his true success as an educator. If he apologizes to the student in the presence of those who have witnessed his disgrace, then he will succeed not only in inculcating this student with Torah; he will have a bright future as a mechanech, educator. If he refuses to admit he is wrong, because it does not "poss," it is below his dignity to concede to a student, then he neither has dignity, nor is he worthy of carrying the mantle of rebbe. The anger and resentment the student will bear towards this rebbe, and, by extension, to all people in authority, will not quickly disappear, and it will be his fault. We should learn from Moshe, the quintessential rebbe of Klal Yisrael, how to act towards our children and students.

Ahallelah Hashem b'chayay, azamrah l'Elokai b'odi
I will praise Hashem during my lifetime, I will sing to my G-d as long as I exist.

Horav Moshe Soloveitchik, zl, explains that man, in addition to being a baal chai, living creature, is also a medaber, blessed with the power of speech. Indeed, the mere fact that he is alive, that he is a baal chai, is sufficient reason for him to praise the Almighty Who created him. This is the meaning of the first part of the pasuk, "I will praise Hashem b'chayay." This form of praise does not necessarily have to be expressed orally. Vocalization is not a requirement. Any expression of praise--any action directed toward offering ovation and gratitude for granting him life--suffices.

Another feature of man must be considered: His ability to speak, to articulate his thoughts and feelings. This added feature demands that his praise be vocalized through this koach ha'dibbur, power of speech, that Hashem has granted him. Thus, the Psalmist says, "I will sing to my G-d b'odi" - with the od, added feature, of speech.

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