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Rabbi A. Leib Scheinbaum
Hebrew Academy of Cleveland


He said to Aharon, "Take for yourself a yearling calf as a sin-offering." (9:2)

Aharon HaKohen brought a Korban Chatas, Sin-offering, comprised of a yearling calf to atone for his part in the chet ha'eigal, sin of the Golden Calf. Klal Yisrael also brought a calf to atone for their role in making the Golden Calf. Their calf, however, was not a Korban Chatas, but, rather, a Korban Olah, Elevation/Burnt-offering. Why is there a distinction between their korbanos? Horav Yisrael Belsky, Shlita, explains this, based upon the distinction between the varied functions of the Olah and Chatas.

A Korban Chatas atones for the maaseh aveirah, actual deed of performing the sin. The sinful act concerning the Golden Calf was making the molten calf and being involved in the revelry that accompanied its worship. A person who acts b'shogeg, mistakenly, performs a sinful deed which, b'meizid, under such circumstances that his action would have been premeditated - he would have received kareis, Heavenly excision - he will now bring a Korban Chatas. While he may not have planned to sin, after all is said and done, he did commit a sinful act. He must atone for his actions. The Korban Chatas allows him to atone for his sinful act.

The Korban Olah, however, serves to atone for one's improper thoughts, one's machashavos raos. Perhaps we may suggest that this is why it is completely burnt - nothing is left over. Thoughts do no endure. Without action, they dissipate; the Korban Olah is sacrificed - burnt - end of story. The thoughts have been atoned for. We may now go on with life.

Klal Yisrael's role in the sin of the Golden Calf was primarily a sin of thought. They harbored doubts about Hashem's sovereignty. They actually thought that this molten idol would possess a power of its own to lead them. Furthermore, anyone who actually worshipped the Golden Calf was killed by members of Shevet Levi. The remainder of Klal Yisrael had entertained the idea, had fostered thoughts of worshipping the idol - but did not carry out their thoughts. Thus, their sin was b'machashavah, remained in their minds. The Korban Olah expunged the sin, and, with teshuvah, repentance, they were able to effect atonement.

Never for one moment did Aharon HaKohen consider the Golden Calf to be a god. He knew unequivocally that this was a molten calf with no power of divinity - whatsoever. His dilemma was how to respond to the people who were clamoring for action; they needed leadership - now. Moshe Rabbeinu was gone. Someone else had to fill in for him. In order to prevent this crisis from getting out of hand, Aharon made the eigal - which catalyzed other problems. Aharon HaKohen's sin was in his incorrect action, an action which in no way reflected any question in his mind regarding Hashem's Divinity. Aharon made a maaseh aveirah; he, therefore, brought a Korban Chatas.

On the other hand, one's machashavah, thoughts, determine the turpitude of his actions. One might act inappropriately, but, deep in his heart, his thoughts are far from evil. Let me cite an example. In the previous parsha (Tzav), the Torah begins with a command to Aharon and his sons concerning the Korban Olah. The Korban Chatas is not mentioned until later. Why is this? Since an Olah atones for thoughts, it should follow after the Korban Chatas, which atones for sins of action. Clearly, harmful action is more egregious than bad thoughts.

In his Ben Ish Chai, Horav Yosef Chaim, zl, m'Bagdad, employs the following analogy to explain why Olah is the first Korban to which Aharon should relate. The leitzanei ha'dor, cynics of every generation, concentrate their malignant prattle against whomever they please. It makes no difference to them if it is Avraham Avinu - whose paternity of Yitzchak Avinu they impugn - or Aharon HaKohen - whom they feel was spiritually unsuitable to offer their korbanos. After all, was he not the one who participated in the creation of the Golden Calf? You might rush to his defense, saying that he was compelled to support their cause - or die. Why, then, did he make an altar? No one forced him to construct an altar in support of the Golden Calf.

Rav Yosef Chaim compares this to a band of robbers who chanced upon the royal prince who was traveling with his royal retinue. Their joy was boundless. Imagine how much money and jewels such a heist would bring them. Their chieftain was a reasonable man who only sought money. He had no desire to kill anyone. If his men were to seize the prince, the man would certainly be left to die. They could ill afford witnesses. He suggested that he alone attack the prince. He would bring them all of the booty. They could hide in a nearby cave and wait for him. The men had great trust in their leader.

The prince came by and was attacked solely by the leader of the robber band. "Quick, give me all of your money and run for your life," the chief told the prince. "My men would have your money and your head. I will relieve you of your wealth and tell them that I killed you." So it was: the prince escaped; the robbers were satisfied with their newfound wealth.

The prince returned home safe and sound. He related to his father, the king, what had transpired. The king immediately sent out a search party to find the chief of the band of robbers. He was brought before the king, who, after a few moments, determined that he should be executed. Prior to the hanging, they placed the robber into the sand in which he could not move around, and the officers began to beat him mercilessly. "Oy my heart! Oy my heart!" he cried out.

"What is wrong with your heart?" the king asked. "We are hitting your legs - not your heart!" "No, your honor, my heart hurts me, since it is the reason that I am here." Having caught the king's attention, he began to explain his predicament: "When the prince came along, my heart was filled with compassion for the young man. Why should he die? I then came up with an idea to satisfy both my band of robbers and the prince. I would take his wealth and share it all with my friends. The prince would be allowed to escape, and no one but myself would be any the wiser. I figured that for saving the prince's life, I would be freed. I guess I was wrong."

When the king heard the rest of the story, he realized that he was wrong in executing the robber. Indeed, he deserved a medal. Out of gratitude, the king appointed him to a ministerial position.

A similar idea applies to Aharon HaKohen. He knew that if he alone built the Mizbayach, Altar, for the Golden Calf, it would take an extra day, thereby delaying its worship. The eirav rav, mixed multitude, rose early in the morning to worship their idol, but the remainder of the Jewish People did not. In the meantime, Moshe Rabbeinu returned.

Hashem knew all of this. Therefore, He first commanded Aharon and his sons concerning the laws of the Korban Olah, which atones for one's thoughts. Hashem knew that Aharon's thoughts were positive; he only wanted to save the Jewish People from sin. Thus, his positive thoughts actually transformed his actions from infamous to laudatory.

Aharon raised his hands towards the people and blessed them; then he descended from having performed the sin-offering. (9:22)

Negativity can destroy the most auspicious objective. It can undermine the most hopeful prayers. It can impugn the integrity of the most promising career. Some people thrive on negativity, because they cannot handle success. They know that as long as they are negative, they are safe. This is, of course, not the Torah way. Indeed, this is the method employed by the yetzer hora, evil-inclination, to undermine the individual's efforts at prayer. One should not ignore his own shortcomings, but, when he is speaking with Hashem, he should focus on the positive.

Concerning the above pasuk, the Tiferes Shlomo says that when Aharon HaKohen blessed the nation, he no longer remembered their sins. This is the meaning of, "He descended from having prepared the sin-offering." The blessing did not expunge the sins of the people; it transcended them. When Klal Yisrael stood before Aharon, they had no recollection of their past faults. Likewise, when we supplicate Hashem, we should not allow our shortcomings to deter us from voicing our heartfelt prayer. The yetzer hora very clearly degrades us, "Who are you, to daven to Hashem? With your long list of sins, you have the gall to stand before the King of Kings and pray? How dare you?" We must ignore his malignant inferences and move on with a positive outlook, knowing that our compassionate Father in Heaven listens to our prayers - regardless of our past shortcomings.

Horav Shlomo Levinstein, Shlita, demonstrates how the prayer of a simple Jew can penetrate the Heavens and reach the Heavenly Tribunal. Horav Nachman, zl, m'Horodanka, was a tzaddik, righteous person, and one of the preeminent disciples of the Baal Shem Tov. Soon after his marriage, he left his young wife as he went to live in seclusion in another city. This was strange behavior and extremely unsettling for his new wife. While she was fully aware that she was marrying a holy person, this was clearly much more than she had bargained for. She went to visit her husband's rebbe to elicit his help in resolving the issue threatening her marriage. The Baal Shem listened to her story and promised to take care of things.

The rebbe summoned Rav Nachman and asked him to explain his strange behavior. Rav Nachman explained, "Rebbe, I had a Heavenly vision which told me my wife will die soon after giving birth. Not wanting her to die in the bloom of life, I left home. This was so that she would continue living unimpeded. The Baal Shem agreed that while it was definitely an issue, he was compelled to share the contents of his vision with his wife. They quickly summoned the young woman and related to her the sad news. Her response was unequivocal, "I want to have a child - even if it means that I will die!" The consequences of her decision were of no concern to her. "But what about me?" Rav Nachman asked. "I am unable to raise a child alone." The Baal Shem countered, "Do not worry. I will raise the child."

Rav Nachman returned home to his wife and, later that year, they were blessed with a healthy son. As soon as the young mother held her son in her tender embrace, she cried out to Hashem, "Please Almighty G-d, let me be around, at least until the child has teeth and is ready to eat on his own." Hashem listened to her plea, and she lived until the infant's second birthday. The Baal Shem Tov was true to his word and raised the child, who was called Simchah, until he became a young man, after which he entered into matrimony to the Baal Shem's granddaughter. The young couple soon became parents to a little boy, whom they named Nachman, after his grandfather. This child grew up to become the saintly Rav Nachman Breslover.

When Rav Nachman Horodanka heard that his wife had only asked for two more years of life, he lamented, "When she prayed, it was an eis ratzon, a moment of good will. She could have asked for seventy years. Had she asked, Hashem would have listened!"

Horav Moshe Shochet, Shlita, quotes the Talmud Berachos 10b, where Chazal list six things which Chizkiyahu Hamelech had done. Among those for which he was praised was the genizah of the Sefer HaRefuos, concealing the Book of Remedies for all time. Rashi explains that people were no longer turning to Hashem in prayer when someone became ill. They would consult the Sefer HaRefuos and follow "directions." Hashem was not part of the equation.

Now, let us imagine the following scenario: A young child becomes ill with a dread disease. The doctors say that medical science can do nothing for the child. He will soon die. The parents, grandparents and siblings are all at a loss. What can they do? Suddenly, one of the family members recalls that King Chizkiyahu has in his possession a book that contains the remedy to every illness. The family wastes no time in running to the King's palace and throwing themselves at his feet, "Please, please save our child! It is a matter of life and death!"

Chizkiyahu listens to them and says, "I am truly sorry. I would like to help, but the Book has been concealed. It is no longer accessible." The family looks at the king incredulously. "How can you say that? Our child will die! Please give us the Book!"

The king refuses to budge. "This is specifically the reason why I concealed it. People no longer pray to Hashem." End of the story. The family leaves, heartbroken. They have no other "recourse" but to pray to Hashem.

This entire story is difficult to accept. Chizkiyahu Hamelech has the ability to save a child's life - and he refuses to give over the Book of Remedies? Is this the proper thing to do? Horav Mordechai Druk, zl, derives from here an important principle. Prayer has exactly the same effect as the Sefer HaRefuos. Davening is not taking a chance. It is a certainty. If we would only daven as if our lives depended on it - we would be successful.

Perhaps the following vignette, quoted from Impact by Rabbi Dovid Kaplan, will give us added perspective. A young intern came on the night shift in a large metropolitan hospital. The resident in charge told him that, since it was the night shift, the staff had been reduced. "If you ever feel overwhelmed, call, and we will send in reinforcements. There are various patient conditions which you must address: injections, medicine, painkillers, and x-rays. There is much to do. We are only a phone call away. Do not try to be a hero."

All young people want to show their independence. They can do it on their own. This young doctor was no different. He was not going to call anyone unless it was absolutely necessary. He ran from one patient to another, doing everything that was necessary. When one accepts too much upon himself - more than he can handle - something has to give. One of the elderly patients died that night. The intern had done nothing wrong - other than refusing to call for help when it was very hectic. The family sued him for malpractice.

Towards the conclusion of the court case, the judge asked the young doctor if he had anything to say in his own defense. He responded, "Yes, I do. I did everything humanly possible that night. I ran from patient to patient addressing their medical issues. I exerted myself to the fullest. Yet, rather than gratitude, I receive abuse and a court case!"

The judge began to chuckle. "Young man," he said, "you are a fool. Who told you to run around? You were told that as soon as you needed assistance to call for it, and reinforcements would arrive. All you had to do was pick up the phone and call. You did not. You are a fool. All of this is your own doing."

Hashem looks down at us in much the same way. Someone becomes ill; we need salvation, be it financial, physical, or emotional. We run around, foolishly taking life's challenges into our own hands, upon our own shoulders - when all we should do is pick up the "phone," take out our Tehillim and daven to Hashem. He can, and will, help. Yet, we turn to Him last - often after the situation has deteriorated to the miracle stage. Then, it quite possibly might be too late.

And Moshe listened, and it was good in his eyes. (10:20)

Having just tragically lost his two sons, Aharon HaKohen was an onein, one who had just lost a close relative and, thus, could not partake of the sacrificial offerings. Hashem told Moshe Rabbeinu that, despite Aharon's aninus, he was permitted to eat of those sacrifices that had been offered exclusively for the Mishkan's consecration. Moshe erred by extending this Heavenly dispensation to all korbanos. Aharon was, therefore, correct in not eating from the other sacrifices. Moshe chastised him for not listening to his instructions to eat from all the korbanos. Aharon was very proper, respectfully replying to his brother, "If you heard from Hashem regarding one-time offerings, that does not permit you to sanction eating all of the offerings." Moshe's reaction to his brother's rebuke is recorded for posterity in the Torah: "Moshe listened, and it was good in his eyes." Rashi explains that Moshe accepted his error, conceded his mistake, and was not embarrassed to intimate that, indeed, he had not heard the Almighty permit the other korbanos.

Horav A. Henoch Leibovitz, zl, quotes the Sefer HaZikaron, which teaches that there are three types of reaction to a dispute. First is the individual who cannot or will not accede his error. He will not admit that he was wrong, and he knowingly and blatantly denies the truth. Next is the one who begrudgingly admits his error, and, with embarrassment, is forced to act against his will. Third is the one who is personified by Moshe Rabbeinu, one who jubilantly acknowledges his error, and, without any embarrassment, is delighted in seeing his disputant emerge victorious from their debate. Moshe was neither upset nor hurt by Aharon's victory over him. He was truly elated by his brother's proving him incorrect.

The Rosh Yeshivah wonders how Moshe could actually be happy in defeat. While it is true that he had learned a new verity, it surely must have been painful for him to be proven wrong. If the point was for Moshe to learn a new law, it could have been done without his suffering humiliation. Furthermore, since he was the one who was Hashem's medium for giving the Torah to Klal Yisrael, did one more law make that much of a difference?

The Rosh Yeshivah offers a simple analogy to illuminate this query. A person falls on the ground, hurts himself, but, as he gets up, he notices a fifty dollar bill. The pain of the fall still smarts, but the fifty dollar bill goes a long way to soothe it. He certainly wishes that he could have discovered the bill without having to fall down and hurt himself. If, however, he falls down and finds the winning ticket to the power ball lottery for one hundred million dollars - well, in this case, he feels no pain, jumping for joy at his "good fortune" in falling down! The fall changed his life. He cannot thank Hashem enough for "allowing" him to fall.

Moshe loved the truth and Torah more than people love money. He was absolutely ecstatic at the opportunity to learn more Torah - even though he was already proficient in every area of Torah erudition. Since his joy was so overwhelming, there was no shame, no pain in losing out to Aharon. His loss was insignificant in contrast to the incredible benefit of learning the truth and discovering a new Torah law. Indeed, his loss was his source of joy. There is a personal lesson to be derived from the three levels of reaction to the truth which the Sefer Hazikaron's presents. Which category defines us - and why? Are we being honest with ourselves?

The bas ha'yaanah, the tachmos… and the netz according to its kind. (11:16)

The economic situation in Europe between the two world wars was severe. The Jews, who during good times lived from hand to mouth, found this period to be especially disastrous. People worked from dawn until late at night to earn enough to barely support their family. These were the lucky ones who had jobs. The others suffered the pangs of hunger and deprivation. The Chafetz Chaim, zl, was visiting the Polish manufacturing city of Lodz. A large Jewish population made their home there. Understandably, when a person of such distinction visited, lines of people came to greet him, seek his counsel, elicit his blessing. A father and his young bar-mitzvah son came to the Rav from Radin. The boy was a metzuyan, excellent student, who possessed a wonderful personality and was G-d-fearing. He presented the entire "package." The issue was that the boy could not stand idly by while his father worked himself to an early grave. He wanted permission to leave the yeshivah and go to work - like so many others. His father was emphatic: His son was to remain in the yeshivah. The world out there was spiritually bankrupt. A young boy could fall prey to the enticements of the many "isms" that were flaunting their benefits to the unknown. The father was adamant; the son felt that, with his strong background, he would withstand whatever the yetzer hora threw at him.

The Chafetz Chaim was visibly moved by father and son, each passionately thinking of the other. Indeed, the son added, "With such a father, who is so devoted, how could I go wrong? My education at home has been meticulous, watched over by my dear father. I am strong. I can make it."

The holy Chafetz Chaim replied, "My son, let me share with you a pasuk from the Torah. The Torah lists the various species of fowl which are forbidden to be eaten. Among them is ha'yaanah, which, according to some, is the ostrich. The Torah mentions a number of birds which are deemed unkosher. Why is it that only concerning the yaanah that the Torah specifies that only the bas, daughter, of the adult yaanah is prohibited? The commentators explain that the yaanah has a strong constitution. Its stomach is strong as steel; its skin hard as the sole of a shoe. It eats stone and glass shards. Therefore, the Torah does not deem it necessary to prohibit it. It is basically inedible because of its physical composition. The infant, however, having not yet developed, still has soft skin and is edible.

"Yirmiyahu HaNavi laments, Bas Ami l'achzar, kayaainim bamidbar, 'The daughter of my people has become cruel, like ostriches in the desert' (Eichah 4:3). How does the ostrich manifest cruelty to its young?" asked the Chafetz Chaim. "The ostrich chicks come to their mother begging for food, and she gives them what she thinks are delicacies, stones and broken pieces of glass. True, for the mother whose food pipe is like steel, these might be considered delicacies, but the chick will die as a result of a compassionate mother. Its food pipe will be torn, its stomach destroyed. The mother will be guilty of killing its child, when all she wanted to do was feed her a delicacy.

"You probably understand, my son, what I am teaching you. Your father is an adult who has become accustomed to the secular environment that permeates and infects the streets. He is strong, having spent years battling successfully to transcend its deleterious influence. He can handle the 'broken glass and stones.' You are young and delicate. You cannot and will not survive such an onslaught on your spirituality."

What was true then increases in intensity in contemporary times. Parents think their young, delicate children can handle the street. They even bring it into their homes via the various virtual and not so virtual media available today. Perhaps the parents have a stronger constitution; their children, certainly, do not. Why should we be guilty of the cruelty of the ostrich?

Va'ani Tefillah

Horav Yitzchak Zilberstein, Shlita, writes about an incident which took place in a hospital lobby, and the powerful lesson he derived from it. He was at the Tel HaShomer hospital intending to visit one of the members of his shul. Suddenly, two young men dressed in uniform walked in. They had stern looks on their faces, and each was holding a gun in his hand. They approached the Rav and a group of people in his vicinity and asked them "politely" to move into a different area. There was no arguing with the men. They seemed quite serious; no one seemed to object, as people moved aside. There is something about a drawn gun that makes people perk up and take notice. Rav Zilberstein soon saw that these men were actually wearing Brinks uniforms. They were at the hospital to deposit money in the bank's ATM machine.

Suddenly, out of the blue, a young man approached one of the guards, patted him on the back and said, "Aharon, how are you?" The Brinks guard did not respond. It was as if he had never met the person. He ignored him - totally. Later on, after the money was placed in the ATM machine, the guard turned to his friend and greeted him.

Rav Zilberstein derives a powerful lesson from here. A guard has a function to perform and, when he is involved in executing his job, nothing - absolutely nothing - stands in the way. Should it be any different when we are carrying out our mission for Hashem Yisborach? We stand before Him in prayer, and suddenly a good friend saunters over and asks what might even be an important question. Do we have the right to take our "eyes off the money," to intimate to Hashem that we presently have something of greater importance to address? If we consider tefillah, prayer, exactly what it is - a conversation with Hashem - this question would be superfluous.

l'zechar nishmas
our husband, father, grandfather
Harav Daniel ben Harav Avraham Aryeh Leib Schur z"l
Horav Doniel Schur Z"L
niftar 21 Adar 5766
sponsored by his wife, sons, daugthers and the whole family

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