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Peninim on the Torah

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Rabbi A. Leib Scheinbaum
Hebrew Academy of Cleveland


Moshe said, "This it the thing that Hashem has commanded you to do; then the glory of Hashem will appear to you." (9:6)

What was the davar, "thing," that Moshe Rabbeinu commanded them to do? The Toras Kohanim writes: "Moshe told Klal Yisrael 'that' yetzer hora, evil-inclination, you shall remove from your hearts; then all of you will be (bound) together with one fear (of Hashem) and one counsel: to serve the Almighty, and that His service should be exclusive to you. If you will achieve this, then the glory of Hashem will appear to you." We still do not have clarity concerning the identity of "that" yetzer hora. From which of the yetzer hora's advocacies were they cautioned to distance themselves? Exactly what were they to remove from their hearts?

The Brisker Rav, zl, explains that when Moshe revealed to Aharon and his sons that they were to be privileged to perceive the Revelation of Hashem during the Inauguration of the Mishkan, the possibility existed that this experience could be self-deceiving. They might end up executing the service just for the purpose of perceiving the Shechinah, not in a manner l'shem Shomayim, for the sake of Heaven. Yes - one can delude himself even with the proper intentions. We serve Hashem for one purpose: to carry out His will. To serve Hashem for the spiritual ecstasy associated with experiencing the Divine detracts from the proper motive inherent in carrying out His command. This is the yetzer hora to which Moshe is alluding. One must be totally sincere when serving Hashem. His intentions should be for one purpose only: to carry out Hashem's will - nothing else.

Horav Chaim Kamil, zl, applies the Brisker Rav's exposition to explain the necessity for such perfection during the Inauguration of the Mishkan. Specifically because this was the initial offering, the dawn of the holy service in the Mishkan, it was absolutely essential that everything be perfectly aligned, that the intentions and motives be only oriented towards carrying out the will of the Almighty. The Chanukas HaMishkan, Inauguration of the Mishkan, was a seminal event in the formation of Klal Yisrael as a Torah nation under Hashem. The term chinuch, which is the root of chanukas, means an individual's commencement on the journey/road which he will be traveling for quite some time. Chinuch is a reference to a beginning.

As Klal Yisrael stood at the threshold of a new service to Hashem, it was important that this chinuch be accomplished in a manner free of any vestiges of personal consideration, regardless of how sublime they may be. The influence of this beginning would be far-reaching.

This idea applies equally to chinuch ha'banim, educating our children. If we hope to see Torah nachas, satisfaction and pleasure, from our offspring, we must see to it that from "day one" the goals and objectives of the child's education are focused l'shem Shomayim, for no objective other than sanctifying Hashem's Name. We can then aspire to see true greatness from our children.

The idea of acting solely because this is the tzivui, commandment, of Hashem is underscored by the Chidushei HaRim as he addresses the sin of Nadav and Avihu. Chazal offer a number of infractions associated with the behavior of Nadav and Avihu. One important note must be emphasized: Nadav and Avihu were tzaddikim, righteous men, of the highest order. Any allusion to sin on their part is relative to their exalted level of sanctity. When a garment is bright white, any taint, the slightest speck, stands out. The Torah does state a "sin" in connection with their service on that fateful day: "And they brought before Hashem an alien fire that He had not commanded them," asher lo tzivah osome - "that He (Hashem) had not commanded them" (Vayikra 10:1). According to the Ramban, this is a reference to their offering of the daily incense upon the Mizbayach HaPenimi, Inner Altar, even though Hashem had not commanded them to do so.

Was their sin that egregious? We derive from here that everything depends on the command. In every area of Torah and mitzvos, our behavior has to be in accordance with Hashem's command. Initiative is a wonderful thing - as long as it is consistent with Hashem's command. They acted on their own, setting a dangerous precedent. The Chidushei HaRim notes that, if this is the punishment for acting without first being commanded by Hashem, can we begin to imagine the incredible reward in store for one who acts solely because Hashem has commanded him to do so? The individual who does not question, who acts unequivocally, with total equanimity, because Hashem has commanded him to do so is truly worthy of boundless reward. This is what is meant by the term asher kideshanu b'mitzvosav, "Who has sanctified us with His commandments. By executing our duties purely because they are Hashem's command, we become consecrated to Him.

ו And Aharon was silent. (10:3)

In order to understand completely the spiritual level of Aharon HaKohen to have reached a response of "non-response," as he demonstrated to the tragic deaths of his sons, one must acknowledge the depth of devotion to Hashem that is personified by his middah, attribute of bitachon, trust. A true adam ha'shaleim, spiritually complete/refined individual, senses no other factors controlling his life other than Hashem and the Torah. Such an individual fears nothing and no one, other than Hashem. If the Torah instructs him to act - he acts, regardless of the personal consequences. If the Torah instructs him to desist - he desists, without considering the ramifications. His trust is total and unequivocal. He understands that no creature - man or animal - can do him harm, unless it has been mandated by Hashem.

In Tehillim 4:9, David Hamelech says, "In peace, in harmony, I lie down and sleep; for You, Hashem, will make me dwell safe and secure." The commentators explain that David Hamelech's sleep is unlike that of other men. When a warrior goes to battle, he sleeps out of exhaustion and always with fear - with one eye open. His sleep is often restless, as he is constantly waking up to the slightest sound. He is always vigilant. David Hamelech acted in the battlefield in a manner not unlike the way he acted at home, in his palace. He does not sense any unusual fear, other than his constant fear of Heaven. There was only one controlling entity in his life: Hashem. Thus, he slept in harmony and peace, because his trust allowed him to feel secure and safe.

Moshe Rabbeinu and Aharon HaKohen certainly had reason to fear for their lives when they were commanded to approach Pharaoh with a demand that he release the Jews. Imagine, going to the most powerful despot in the world, a man responsible for the brutal persecution of an entire nation, a tyrant who feared no one: Should they not have feared for their lives? Pharaoh was playing for "keeps." He was not taking any prisoners. Yet, Moshe and Aharon confronted him with total equanimity, without any fear whatsoever. Their trust in Hashem was consummate and irrevocable. They feared no man - only Hashem.

Horav Moshe Reis, zl, a distinguished disciple of Novardok, derives from here that, given the right opportunity and the proper commitment, an individual is capable of transforming his natural tendencies. The individual who is prone to fear and who, under normal circumstances, has reason to be afraid can overcome that sense of fear as if it were non-existent. One who truly fears Hashem fears no man. One who fears man is lacking in his fear of Hashem. To fear Hashem means to fear only Hashem.

Rav Reis continues by applying this thought to Aharon HaKohen's reaction to the deaths of Nadav and Avihu. The Torah tells us, Vayidom Aharon, "And Aharon was silent." Aharon is lauded for his silence. Why? What else could he have done? All of the screaming and chest-beating was not going to bring them back. If anything, Aharon was challenged to declare, "All that Hashem does is for good." He could also have said, Gam zu l'tovah, "This is also for the (good)." Chazal teach us that just as one blesses over the good, so, too, must he bless over what is (or seems to be) bad. These are guidelines that are considered to be the appropriate Jewish response to tragedy and adversity. If these rules concerning attitude apply to the common Jew, how much more so are they incumbent upon Aharon!

Rav Reis explains that Va'yidom Aharon, complete silence, no reaction whatsoever, is the optimum level of response. It indicates total acceptance - complete silence. One who declares: Kol man d'avid Rachmana l'tav avid, demonstrates by his words that - yes - he has every reason to complain, to weep, to react, but he does not, because Hashem's decisions are for good. The desire to cry out exists, but he controls himself, due to his belief in Hashem. After all is said and done, he is definitely bothered, but, as a sign of respect, he is accepting. Va'yidom Aharon is even greater, because essentially he has no response. Total silence; complete acceptance. He seeks no justification for Hashem's actions. He seeks no response, because he has no questions.

One who accepts the Din, Judgment, is truly a laudable person. One who is completely silent is even greater. He has no reason to attest to Hashem's goodness, because, as far as he is concerned, he has not experienced anything problematic. Aharon accepted the decree of the Almighty with joy. He had no questions; he needed no answers. He did not have to justify Hashem's actions precisely because he had no questions.

How does one achieve such distinction? How does one reach such a spiritual plateau? Anivus, humility/modesty. One who thinks highly of himself does not allow Hashem to be part a of his life. His arrogance takes up too much space within him . Aharon always viewed himself as being unworthy of his noble position. He always felt a searing sense of blame for the sin of the Golden Calf. Could he have prevented it? Could he have somehow lessened its effect? These are questions with which he lived throughout his life. He did not run to the mizrach vant, eastern wall, set aside for distinguished leadership. The rear of the shul was fine with him. He was the eastern wall. Wherever he sat, whatever position he assumed, became the eastern wall. When Aharon was instructed to approach the Mizbayach, Altar, to initiate the services in the Sanctuary, he was reluctant. He was ashamed. After all, did he not play a role in catalyzing the Golden Calf? Moshe told him, "Do not be ashamed, for this is why you were chosen for the position of Kohen Gadol."

Aharon taught us a lesson: Do not cop out. Do not be reluctant to confront your errors. Do not gloss over your indiscretions by justifying your actions, seeking excuses, or blaming someone else. That might be human nature, but it was not Aharon HaKohen. We possess an almost uncanny ability to produce a number of plausible reasons to justify our actions. We can transform the most heinous sin into a positive command, an act of kindness. The commentators present a number of possible justifications of Aharon's actions concerning the Golden Calf. He could have used these excuses, but, he did not. He took full responsibility, understanding that for an individual of his spiritual standing, the bar is raised, a higher level of moral and spiritual rectitude is expected. Aharon was willing to accept the consequences.

This was the greatness of Aharon, and this is why he was able to react as he did to the tragic deaths of his sons. We now understand why Hashem chose him to be the Kohen Gadol. Taking responsibility and acting with total commitment to Hashem are tall orders for the average individual, but-- to the Kohen Gadol, this is what defines him; this is the only way he is able to live.

This may you eat from everything that is in the water. (11:9)

The Torah details two physical signs that distinguish a kosher fish. The fish must have fins and scales. Once a fish possesses these two signs, it needs no further preparation to render it kosher. When Yaakov Avinu blessed Yosef's two sons, Menashe and Ephraim, he said, "And may they proliferate abundantly like fish within the land" (Bereishis 48:16). Simply explained, fish are not subject to the evil eye, since they live calmly beneath the surface of the water, unseen by man. Horav Yitzchak Zilberstein, Shlita, quotes a fascinating explanation.

The various "challenges" that a kosher animal, wild beast, or fowl must undergo until it is prepared appropriately for the table of an observant Jew are well-known. Many prohibitions prevent these kosher creatures from entering the mouth of a Jew. First, the animal must undergo a kosher shechitah, ritual slaughtering. There is no room for error. The knife must be inspected; the animal must be whole-- with no parts missing. The slightest puncture in a vital organ disqualifies the animal. Once an animal has been slaughtered and its vital organs checked, its fat and organs that are not permitted to be eaten must be removed.

We now have before us a ritually-slaughtered kosher carcass. It is not yet ready for the table. One must remove the blood by washing and then salting the flesh. Once that process has been completed, the next step is preparation. We must be careful not to mix it with milk or any milk derivative. We take this all for granted, but it is a demanding process.

Unlike the animal, beast or fowl, a fish does not have to fulfill such demanding criteria before it can be eaten. A fish needs scales and fins in order to be accepted on a Jew's table. That is all. A fish that is born with simanei taharah, kosher signs, remains in its state of kashrus forever. No more demands; no shechitah; no issues concerning milk; its blood is acceptable. A fish is taken from the water and can immediately be placed on the kosher table. It has fulfilled its requirements by virtue of its birth.

This is why our Patriarch Yaakov chose to bless Yosef's children to be like fish. Just as they were born into holiness, to a righteous father and mother, so should they remain on this exalted spiritual level throughout their entire lives - just like fish, who at birth have already fulfilled the requirements of kashrus. Yaakov prayed that his grandsons and all future progeny should remain pure and holy throughout their lives. Challenges to their spiritual integrity should simply disappear as if they were non-existent. The yetzer hora, with his many deceptions, should not succeed in turning them away from Hashem.

That you shall not make yourself impure through them. (11:43)

The laws of tumah v'taharah, ritual contamination and purity, impress upon us that the basic pre-requisite for our ability to execute Hashem's mitzvos-- and to fulfill our moral and spiritual obligations-- is that we maintain our physical bodies on an elevated level of ritual purity. Only then can we hope to remain receptive, obedient and efficient instruments, imbued with our Heavenly mission to carry out the will of Hashem. Ritual impurity taints the body, as well as the soul. It is something which is not observed by the naked eye, but rather, perceived by the knowing soul.

In a thesis on the laws of tumah v'taharah, Horav S.R. Hirsch, zl, underscores this idea time and again. The present chapter of the Torah addresses the tumos which fall under the category of tumas maga, impurity resulting from coming into physical contact with an unclean thing. We specifically address the laws of tumas neveilah and sheretz, impurity resulting from contact with the carcasses of all large mammals and eight small animal species. First, what is tumah? The dead body of a human being creates a scenario which fosters the pernicious state known as tumah. When we see the body of a recently deceased person, we see what appears to be a human being who has succumbed completely to the power of physical forces. The dead person seems to illustrate the power of the physical and its domination of the human being.

This cannot be further from the truth. It would be true, if this body that lays before was indeed the human being that until recently was vibrant and alive. This is, however, not true. We know that the corpse which we see before us is not the real human being, because man's true being cannot be affected by physical forces. Hashem nosan; Hashem lokach, "The Almighty gives; the Almighty takes." The soul of life that breathes vibrancy into the earthly shell that lays before us departed before the physical body became subject to the laws of earth's natural forces. Once the soul of life has been removed from the body, "nature" takes over. Otherwise, nature cannot reign over the handiwork of the Divine. Furthermore, during the soul's "tenure" in the body, while the life-giving force of what is the essence of the human being was a part of the body/shell, the person was a vibrant, free-willed, self-determining, G-dly individual. Now that the body has succumbed to the forces of "nature" that body/person has been liberated from subservience to mere physical forces. The body has been elevated -- with all of its capacities for action and also for pleasure-- into the realm of true freedom, where it can perform the moral task of its life of its own free will. In other words, the essential person is now granted the opportunity to serve Hashem, unencumbered by the demands of physicality.

Life allows man to dominate and reign over the physical aspects of his body. He is endowed with emotions, intelligence, and the ability to execute his plans of action and to employ the physical aspects of his body, with all of its inherent powers, drives and faculties, to the free-willed discharge of Hashem's commandments and duties. This is the meaning of life. While we live, we use the physical components of our body to carry out Hashem's mitzvos. One might think, and regrettably this is what the secular world would have us believe, that, in the face of the phenomenon of death, all of this comes to an abrupt end. The individual who has until now lived - dies. He no longer is capable of anything. With death comes an end to all of his functioning.

If so, why bother? It is almost like the old clich?, "Life is tough, and then you die." One has nothing to which to look forward. In the face of the phenomenon of death, the secular world preaches the frailty of man, his submission to the physical forces that exert their control over him. It cannot be further from the truth. One must always be aware of his constant freedom to choose life and service to Hashem, in complete dominance over the physical. With this proud awareness of his physical freedom, he remains forearmed against the materialistic notions that prey on the unknowing, the timid, the weak, the ones who believe, "Let us live it up, for tomorrow we will die." They are "dead" wrong. True, death brings with it an end to the physical, but only to the extent that the source of life, the neshamah, soul, is transferred, elevated to a new sphere of activity, a world where materialism and physicality play no role whatsoever.

Tumah sets in with the advent of death, because it is at this time that the delusion concerning the meaning of life and death is fostered in one's mind. At the moment of death, the living allow themselves to think that the human being that lays before them has succumbed to the power of physical forces. We, therefore, reiterate that the corpse before us is not that human being. What lies before us is an empty shell. The human being has been uplifted to live on in a higher world, the eternal World of Truth.

Having said this, Rav Hirsch elaborates on the fact that susceptibility to tumah is limited to articles actually used by people for specific purposes, and, even then, only to certain type of articles. Tumah is not a physical condition which attaches itself to the physical properties of the articles involved. Rather, tumah is an abstract concept which is negated from all phases of human life, represented by utensils. Keilim, utensils, have specific uses; thus, they represent human life and endeavor. For instance, a chest is an object in which one stores his possessions; a tool is used for creative work; a pot is used for preparing food to nourish and satiate a person. Thus, vessels appear as symbols of specific aspects of human endeavor. Inasmuch as Judaism encompasses much symbolism, tumah is no different. Therefore, the concept of tumah does not apply to all vessels indiscriminately, but only to those that represent the most significant phases of human life, which the laws relating to tumah seek to convey in symbolic terms.

When symbolizing an abstract concept, it is essential that one be specific in his definition of the symbol and its connotation. By doing this, the symbolic and conceptual significance of the concept is preserved. Rav Hirsch shares a number of examples with us. Tzitzis serve as a reminder of the moral sanctity inherent in human clothing. Therefore, the garments specified as requiring Tzitzis are those made of wool or linen, since these materials are most commonly used for clothing. The Mezuzah denotes the sanctity of the Jewish home. Consistent with this idea, the Mezuzah is placed only in specific rooms, which by their spaciousness and arrangement symbolize the concept of a home. In the case of prohibited creative labor on Shabbos, the activities which are singled out are those which best reflect man's constructive power over matter. In the same spirit, the laws prohibiting the mixture of milk and meat, eating, cooking and partaking pleasure are stated only concerning those mixtures consisting of the meat and milk of kosher/clean animals, as they are man's principal source of nourishment. Undomesticated animals and fowl are excluded. All of the above choices ensure us that the symbolic character which conveys the abstract idea is concise, clean and clearly defined.

Likewise, in the laws of tumah, we are deliberate in the choice of articles. Tumah susceptibility is limited to those articles which best characterize the human personality. Accordingly, these laws specify three distinct categories of utensils. First, are those utensils made of wood, or any animal or vegetable material. Typically, this is a reference to articles used to store man's possessions or to make his clothing. This category of utensils identifies man as part of society and as an active user of his possessions.

The second category is comprised of metal utensils, whose outstanding feature is that they are used as tools. Earthenware utensils comprise the third category. These are, for the most part, vessels intended for the preservation and preparation of foods. These represent man in his food-procuring activities.

In summation: the ideas conveyed by the laws relating to unclean vessels and utensils admonish us to create boudaries to define our relationship with the society that surrounds us. The manner in which we handle our possessions and our activities, both at work and during pleasure activities, must always be on a pristine level of moral and ethical rectitude. Moral purity should highlight our determination to carry out the objectives set for us by the Mishkan and its holy appurtenances.

Va'ani Tefillah

Mi kamocha ba'eilim Hashem. Who is like You among the Heavenly powers, Hashem!

In the Talmud Gittin 56b, Chazal interpret this pasuk in a somewhat unusual manner. They see in the word eilim which is spelled missing a yud, an allusion to the word eeleim, mute. Thus, they explain the pasuk to mean: Who is like You among the mutes? You hear the cries of suffering from Your people, yet You remain silent as if You were mute. This interpretation begs elucidation. Are we lauding Hashem for ignoring our suffering? Surely, there is a reason for His non-response to our pleas, but is this what we want to emphasize?

Horav Shimon Schwab, zl, quotes Horav S.R. Hirsch, zl, who interprets eilim as a reference to the powerful forces of nature. The forces of nature are powerless to respond to the suffering of man. They are mute to his cries. Indeed, while the Jews suffered in Auschwitz, the birds continued their usual chirping, the sun still shone, and the flowers still blossomed. Nature took no notice of the indescribable suffering to which we were subjected.

In Egypt, we suffered greatly. Yet, Hashem seemed to ignore our plight. We cried, and we begged; but He did not seem to hear us. The forces of nature are mute, but what about Hashem? Does He not hear our cries? This went through the minds of the Jewish slaves in Egypt. As they stood at the banks of the Red Sea, when their redemption from Egypt was finally realized, they perceived with greater clarity. Then they saw things through the spectacles of emunah. Their level of faith had risen, and they could now interpret "silence" in a different light. What they had not been able to understand previously, they now were able to exalt. One day, we will also achieve "closure" to our tzaros, and we will then "see" how it has all been truly beneficial.

לזכר נשמת
our husband, father, grandfather
הרב דניאל בן הרב אברהם ארי' ליב שור ז"ל
Horav Doniel Schur Z"L
נלב"ע כ"א אדר תשס"ו
הונצח על ידי
אשתו, בניו, בנותיו
וכל משפחתו

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