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PARASHAS SHEMINIMoshe said to Aharon: Come near to the Altar. (9:7)
Rashi teaches that, at first, Aharon HaKohen demurred from offering the sacrifice. He was ashamed to approach the Mizbayach, Altar, due to his involvement in the building of the Golden Calf. Moshe Rabbeinu said to him, "Why are you ashamed? This is why you have been chosen for the position of leadership in the area of the Priestly service." The Arizal comments that Moshe was intimating to Aharon that his embarrassment and humility were precisely the reasons for Hashem's choice that Aharon became the Kohen Gadol, High Priest. A leader must maintain a strong sense of humility, or he will become carried away by his position and lose sight of the purpose of his leadership. We have frequently noticed this pattern in the secular world. Can we say that it has not crept into the Torah camp? Does it ever happen that an individual has ascended the throne of leadership reluctantly, with a sense of fear and even shame, only to become satiated with the honor, fame, power and attention that accompanies the position? When embarrassment leads to entitlement, it is time to reevaluate his position of leadership.
A leader is a servant of the community and must always accept this role. Horav Eliyahu Baruch Finkel, zl, relates that Horav Nochum Partzovitz, zl, Rosh Yeshivah of Mir, a talmid chacham, Torah scholar without peer, once spoke in learning with the Brisker Rav, zl. As he presented his chiddushim, novellae, to the Rav, his fear was palpable. Horav Eliezer M. Shach, zl, was present at the time and perceived Rav Nochum's anxiety. Afterwards, Rav Shach asked the Brisker Rav why Rav Nochum had been so nervous. His chidushim were quite impressive. The Brisker Rav replied, "On the contrary, it is because he is so nervous that his chidushim are so sweet and clear."
We think that, once one has achieved a position of distinction, he now has license to lord over others. We see from here that it is completely the opposite. The higher one climbs, the farther he is from the ground. At this point, a fall could be devastating. The ability to achieve great heights is the result of an individual's meticulous care, outstanding humility, and true fear. One who is anxious about achieving a high position will ultimately take great care in maintaining his "balance," so that he does not slip as a result of flamboyance, arrogance or plain senselessness.
Aharon HaKohen carried the Choshen, Breast-Plate, representing Klal Yisrael, over his heart. Chazal teach that his heart was filled with joy over the appointment of his younger brother, Moshe, as Klal Yisrael's leader; such a heart was worthy of bearing the Choshen. Aharon merited the High Priesthood specifically because he did not seek it. Greatness comes to those who shun it. Those who run to get a seat on the mizrach vant, eastern wall of the shul, the place reserved for distinguished personages, do not really belong there. The mizrach vant is for those who run - the other way!
Rav Eliyahu Baruch suggests that the principle that Hashem cares most about he who out of a sense of humility subordinates himself to others - who does not seek the leadership position for personal acclaim and power - is to be derived from the pasuk in Devarim 7:7. Moshe informs Klal Yisrael, "Not because you are more numerous than all the people did Hashem desire and choose you, for you are the finest of all the peoples." Rashi interprets this to mean that Hashem chose us because we do not arrogate ourselves over others. It is specifically because of our collective humility that Hashem selected us to be His People. Avraham Avinu, Moshe and Aharon, are characterized first and foremost by their extreme humility.
Conversely, seeking fame and power, an obsessive desire to lord over others, catalyzed Korach's descent/downfall. The Mesillas Yesharim attributes Korach's downfall to pursuit of honor, his drive for power. Kehunah is a position of service; the Kohen serves Hashem as an agent of the people. In order to be an intermediary between the people and Hashem, one must be humble. If he considers himself to be higher than others, he might become unreachable to the point that he is no longer of value to the Jewish community.
And Aharon was silent. (10:3)
Aharon HaKohen sustained a Heavenly blow on what should have been the happiest day of his life. Experiencing such extreme tragedy on a day that should have engendered extreme joy would have destroyed not only a lesser person, but most people. Not Aharon, about whom the Torah writes, "And Aharon was silent." As the various commentators explain, Va'yidom is much more than silence: it is numbness; no movement; no expression; like an inanimate stone. Aharon stood there without reacting whatsoever. Aharon was mute, like an insentient object that does not react to external stimuli.
Perhaps there is a deeper meaning to va'yidom. Clearly, it goes beyond silence, which means that the rest of the body might react. The mouth, which is the seat of vocal expression, however, remains silent. Aharon went beyond this point. He was unreactive, totally unresponsive. What about within Aharon's psyche? Did he experience turmoil within? Was he about to implode, rather than explode? No - va'yidom informs us that, throughout his entire being, Aharon remained inanimate, accepting Hashem's decree with equanimity: no questions; no complaints; no expression.
While Aharon HaKohen's reaction is beyond us, as observant Jews who aspire to a greater and closer relationship with Hashem, we wonder how he did it. How does one exhibit such extraordinary self-control that it does not even appear that one is controlling himself? According to the commentators, va'yidom Aharon means that he acted as if nothing had occurred! The simple, and probably most logical, explanation is that Aharon was on a spiritual plateau so much higher than we are, that he perceived things differently. He neither saw loss, nor did he sense tragedy with the same feeling that we would experience it. Nonetheless, I have always grappled with this, until I recently came across a short vignette concerning Horav Shimon Schwab, zl, which illuminated an entirely new perspective on what we would refer to as a numbing experience.
In the beginning of the summer of 1975, Rav Shimon Schwab's brother, Reb Chaim Tzvi (Herman), was returning to the airport following an enjoyable visit with his brother in Washington Heights. As he was entering the airport, he experienced a sudden fatal heart attack. Rav Schwab was called, and he rushed to the emergency room of Jamaica hospital. He approached the body of his brother which was covered with a white sheet. Ashen faced and visibly shaken, but not uttering a sound, the Rav walked over to the lifeless corpse of his brother, uncovered his face, took one last look and said, "When Hashem Yisborach speaks, we must remain silent!"
This sentence speaks volumes as it addresses every saddening experience, every tragedy, the most unspeakable horrors - they are all expressions from Hashem. The Almighty has spoken. If we believe that what occurs is Hashem's directive - and, as frum, observant, Torah Jews, this is what we believe - then Hashem has spoken. We must remain silent in the presence of Hashem's speech. One does not reply to G-d. One does not question G-d. We stand in silence, for He has spoken. This is perhaps to what Moshe Rabbeinu was alluding when he said to Aharon, Hu asher debar Hashem, "It is as if Hashem spoke"; Va'yidom Aharon, "And Aharon was silent." The Almighty has spoken. We are to do nothing else but remain silent.
Moshe said to Aharon and to his sons Elazar and Isamar, "Do not leave your heads unshorn and do not rend your garments that you do not die, and He became wrathful with the entire assembly; and your brethren, the entire House of Yisrael, shall bewail the conflagration that Hashem ignited. (10:6)
Aharon HaKohen is instructed by Moshe Rabbeinu not to mourn the deaths of his two sons overtly. His two remaining sons, Elazar and Isamar, are likewise instructed to refrain from overt mourning. Yet Klal Yisrael, the entire nation, is adjured to mourn the deaths of these two tzaddikim, righteous persons. Why? Is it more appropriate for those who are unrelated - in fact, distant from the deceased, to mourn, while those closest to them do not? The Sefer HaChaim explains this based upon the following statement made by Chazal in the Talmud Megillah 15a: "When a righteous person dies, he is lost only to his generation, for his soul lives on. This can be analogized to a person who has lost a pearl. Wherever it is, it is still a pearl; it continues to exist. Thus, in effect, it is lost only to its owner."
A tzaddik, righteous person, remains a righteous person wherever he may be. When a tzaddik passes from this world, the loss is felt solely by the members of his generation. He is no longer there to inspire and reprove them when they are wrong. When a tzaddik dies, the members of his generation sustain an unfathomable, irreplaceable loss.
This is why, explains the Sefer HaChaim, the obligation to mourn the deaths of Aharon's two sons was placed solely on Klal Yisrael. They are the ones who suffered the loss, felt the pain, and experienced the void left by the passing of the tzaddikim. Those who are distant are the ones who mourn. Hashem sought to teach us an important verity. The aveilus, mourning period, for the tzaddik, is not for the tzaddik. It is for us. The tzaddik did nothing wrong. His death was not bad - for him. If the passing of the tzaddik would be an indication of the failure of the tzaddik, then his family would be obligated to mourn.
In actuality, the people who sustained the greatest loss are all of those who benefitted by the presence of the tzaddik. The tzaddik continues on his spiritual plateau in death as in life. It is we who suffer. Thus, it is we who should mourn. Aharon and his sons were luminaries. They did not incur a loss with the passing of Nadav and Avihu, other than the physical separation created by the passing of their family members. Klal Yisrael lost two leaders. They must mourn for themselves.
This may you eat from everything that is in the water. (11:9)
Mikol asher ba'mayim, "from all that is in the water," implies that an amphibian which has simanei taharah, signs of purity/kashrus, may be eaten. "A fish is a fish"; the question is only whether it is a kosher fish. Its status as amphibian is not relevant. The Mishnah in Meseches Keilim 17:13 appends this idea when it says anything in the water (utensils made from amphibious creatures) are tahor (utensils are considered tahor, ritually pure) except for the kelev ha'yam, sea dog (possibly the otter), since it flees to dry land." In other words, a sea dog maintains the status of a land creature, since it flees to the land when threatened with capture. No other sea creature possesses this disposition. Thus, the proclivity of the sea dog to turn to the land when imperiled renders its land-animal status. Accordingly, utensils formed from the skin or bones of a sea dog are susceptible to tumah, ritual impurity.
Horav Chaim Zaitchik, zl, derives a powerful lesson from this Mishnah (interpretation is based on the commentary of Rav Ovadiah Bartenura). A person is defined by his disposition, his inner proclivities - not by his actions. The sea dog lives in the water. It is his home, his life. He breathes his air in the water. When compelled to leave the water, he turns to the dry land for his safety net, returning later to his life source - the water. Yet, since for those moments of security, he seeks out the land, his entire "personality" is redefined from sea-creature to land animal. Why? Because, for a few moments, it deferred to its inner disposition, a disposition that defines its inner essence.
This land is not his home. To the sea dog, dry land is foreign. His home is in the water. Yet, if it can return to the land when necessary, it is no longer a water creature. Let us now apply this concept to intelligent, observant, moral and ethical man. He spends his time ensconced in the world of Torah learning and living, surrounded by Torah scholars and holy personages. One would think that such a person has "made it," has achieved the mantle of ben Torah. This Mishnah does not seem to think so. It does not matter where his body is; rather, where his impulses, tendencies, deep-rooted devices, and core disposition lie, defines him. It is where he turns when he must run, where he goes when he must escape - how he acts under the duress of changing his position when he is no longer in his comfort zone - that personifies him.
One's deeds may be enviable; his performance on behalf of Klal Yisrael and his chesed, lovingkindness activities, may earn him extraordinary accolades, but, if within him lurks a tendency to the inappropriate, a disposition toward the immoral and unethical, then this is his true self. The external is only a fa?ade - a sham - concealing his true essence. If, deep within himself, he longs for honor, is filled with envy, seeks revenge on those who disagree with him, then he is a flawed person, an individual to be characterized by his disposition - not by his overt achievements. How careful we must be of falling into the trap that has foiled the lives of those who think that positive deeds and service to Hashem will cover up and atone for a sinister mind and flawed heart.
These shall you abominate from among the birds, they may not be eaten - they are an abomination; the nesher. (11:13)
The nesher, commonly translated as the eagle, is unique among the non-kosher fowl in that its image is on the Kisei HaKavod, Hashem's Throne. Chazal teach that the image of four creatures are on the throne: man, lion, ox and eagle. In contrast is the yonah, pigeon, which is a fowl that has its share of troubles, preyed on by other fowl, was slaughtered on the Mizbayach, Altar, and used as a korban, offering. How do we reconcile the fact that a non-kosher bird achieves such a lofty status, while the kosher bird, which is "pushed around," does not?
Horav Zalmen Sorotzkin, zl, offers an insightful explanation. The Kisei HaKavod is the place for "royalty" with the monarchs of each species being represented. Man is the king of Creation, since everything was created for his purpose. The lion rules over wild beasts, the ox over the animal kingdom, and the eagle over the fowl. Above all of them is Hashem, the Melech Malchei HaMelachim, King of Kings. The pigeon receives nothing. Is this fair? Is this the way it should be?
Rav Zalmen explains that to serve as a korban, offering for Hashem, is of greater import than to have its image on the Kisei HaKavod. Why is this? I would assume that having a constant presence on the Kisei HaKavod would have greater significance than a one-time sacrifice, but this is not the case. Our first error is viewing sacrifice as a one-time experience. Yitzchak Avinu's "almost" one time sacrifice has served as atonement and inspiration for Klal Yisrael throughout the millennia. That dispels the notion of "one-time." A sacrifice serves as a constant remembrance, a continuous merit on behalf of the one who is sacrificed. This brings us to the issues of martyrdom, self-sacrifice, and even suffering as a form of sacrifice.
The Jew is intrinsically imbued with a covert spark of holiness deeply imbedded within him, which - regardless of his distance from Hashem - somehow, in some way will rise and begin to burn once again. In a small European town lived a Jewish butcher who had sadly assimilated himself into the prevailing Christian culture. He sold only non-kosher meat and had no compunction about his store being open on Shabbos. Indeed, the townspeople had no idea that this man was Jewish. He had really succeeded in concealing the identity of his birth religion.
In the outskirts of the city, the Nazis began rounding up the Jewish citizens. They commanded the Jewish prisoners to dig their graves and line up in front of them. Suddenly, the gunshots coming from the Nazis rifles were heard, and the Jews let out their last cry of Shema Yisrael. Some fell over thinking they had been shot; others stood there in shock, realizing that they were still alive.
A few seconds went by, and laughter was heard coming from the Nazis. It was all a sham. The rifles did not have bullets. The Nazis were having fun at the expense of the Jews. They did it again; once again, shots rang out - no bullets - no bodies, just Nazis laughing at the tormented Jews. While the Nazis were playing their diabolical game with the Jews, the butcher hearing the shots, asked his customer what was happening. "Oh nothing," the customer answered. "They are just shooting Jews." Hearing this, the butcher tore off his apron and ran to the door, yelling, "They are shooting Jews? I am also a Jew! Shoot me too!"
What took place here? A man lived his entire life in denial of his Jewish heritage, lived his entire life as a goy. All of a sudden, he is prepared to relinquish his life for Judaism? Does this make sense?
Yes. Every Jew, regardless of his or her religious leanings, has a spark of kedushah, holiness, within him. At any time, based upon the right stimulus, that spark will ignite and burn brightly. Thus, a Jew who for decades denied his heritage, was ashamed of his birth religion, is now prepared to die for it. It may seem illogical, but it is not. The only illogical aspect of his life was his denial of Yiddishkeit! His spark was ignited, and it began to burn brightly.
In his Eish Kodesh, the Piaszecner Rebbe, zl, presents a profound understanding of the meaning of self-sacrifice to the Jew. Unlike secular martyrdom, in which an individual who gives up his life for an ideal, a belief, has performed an honorable, saintly act of devotion which begins and ends with his death, a Jew's sacrifice has a loftier connection to the past. The Rebbe refers to the Akeidas Yitzchak, Binding of Yitzchak, which was not completely consummated. The test of Avraham and Yitzchak involved their will and intention to martyrdom, but ended just short of the final act. Therefore, writes the Rebbe, every occurrence of Jews being killed by gentiles with circumstances reversed - that is, with the actuality of death taking place, but without the intentional choice of martyrdom - is the fulfillment of Akeidas Yitzchak! It began with the Akeidah, characterized by intention and desire for martyrdom, the conclusion and actualization occurs today. Thus, the Biblical Akeidah, together with all of the subsequent cases of Jews being murdered on account of their Jewishness, all constitute one event.
By viewing the deaths of the Jews of Poland (with whom he was involved) as a fulfillment of the Akeidah, the Piaszecner was bestowing dignity and meaning upon a circumstance that "some" could (and would) otherwise view as unheroic and unwilled, a meaningless, mechanized death. In one of his homilies, the Rebbe issues a plea to people to repent, as well as an entreaty to Hashem for salvation in the merit of the martyred Jews whom he refers to as korbanos, sacrificial offerings.
The Rebbe then takes sacrifice one step further - one to which we may all relate. He writes, "It is clear that the same holds true for all sufferings which we endure, which diminish our strength." He underscores the idea that one's suffering can be granted dignity and meaning when viewed in a sacrificial context - as a personal offering presented in a posture of surrender to Hashem.
Now that personal suffering can be viewed from the perspective of quasi-sacrifice, it can serve as a vehicle to encourage the sufferer to embrace his/her suffering through a posture of active acceptance and sublimation, rather than the secular position of passivity and resignation. One who experiences suffering should not act defeated, on the verge of collapse, but rather, enraptured with vigorous upward movement of the spirit.
Thus, the Rebbe explains, the martyr feels no pain, since the individual who is about to be martyred is inflamed with a powerful yearning to surrender his life for the sake of the sanctity of Hashem. He elevates all of his senses and entire physical being by means of that fervor, connecting himself with the spiritual dimension. He becomes divested of his sense of tangible feeling and corporeality, now experiencing nothing but pleasure.
A powerful statement, which gives us a glimpse into the psyche of one who is able to withstand torture, pain, affliction - and even death. He is offering himself up to Hashem, completing the task that our Patriarch Yitzchak commenced.
To distinguish between the contaminated and the pure, and between the creature that may be eaten and the creature that may not be eaten. (11:47)
Being knowledgeable about Jewish law is not just a privilege; it is a critical obligation for every Jew to develop proficiency in halachah. This applies not only in the abstract, but in its practical application. It is at least incumbent upon us to be acutely aware of what is a shailah, halachic question. We are a nation of law; brooking no compromise to illiteracy. One must learn in order to know. Rashi explains the above pasuk as applying to making the delicate and often difficult decision, whereby we must distinguish between things that appear kosher, appear similar, but are not. Distinguishing between purity and contamination is, at times, difficult. Discerning the fraction of an inch which distinguishes between a kosher slaughter and an improper one demands meticulous, delicate insight and application of the law.
The difference between a proper slaughter, an animal whose windpipe was cut fifty-one percent, to one cut fifty percent is difficult. One percent is a miniscule measure. Yet, this one percent differentiates between kosher and non-kosher. An entire meal, an entire kitchen, can be rendered unkosher due to this "one" percent. This teaches us, explains Horav Moshe Schwab, zl, Mashgiach of Gateshead, the overriding significance of the smallest measure: a minute, a second. To the average secular mind, it is inconsequential. Not so to the cardiovascular surgeon; the neurosurgeon, who measures in digitized fractions of inches; the radiologist, whose therapy does not allow any deviation, whose laser must be perfectly aligned to the correct spot. Why should avodas Hashem, service to the Almighty, be any different?
A moment can be the difference between chol, weekday/mundane/profane, and kodesh, holy. One minute it is still Friday afternoon - the next, it is Shabbos Kodesh. One moment bread is permissible - the next it is chametz. One minute we may eat - the next, it is Yom Kippur. Likewise, there is a difference between the spiritual plateau of people. We look at two people, and we see that one is clearly righteous, while the other one is evil. If we were to be able to "split hairs," to discern "digital" spiritual variances among people, we would see much more. How often does one throw up his hands in depression, declaring, "What will be from me? What value does my service have? I am not achieving much." If, however, he could see the minute changes he has made and the incredible effect they have in the spiritual dimension, he would realize that he has truly succeeded. If we could see the effect of every Amen, Yehei Shmei rabbah mevarach, how we literally are elevated, transformed, spiritually modified to a completely new self - we would value every Amen. It is the subtle, little changes which we think are little and subtle that are neither.
V'Zocheir chasdei Avos. He remembers the kindness/merits of the Patriarchs.
Avraham Avinu exemplified the middah, attribute, of chesed, kindness. Yitzchak Avinu personified avodah, service/Tefillah/prayer, to Hashem. His middah was gevurah, strength. Yaakov Avinu devoted himself wholly to Torah study, while exemplifying the middah of emes, truth. Yet, when it comes to "remembering," Hashem seems to focus on the chassadim, meritorious acts of kindness, manifest by our Avos. Horav Shimon Schwab, zl, interprets chasdei, as z'chus, merit, of the Avos, applying to the reward earned by our Patriarchs, which Hashem applies to us. It is this reward which Hashem remembers when He blesses us as their beneficiaries.
I think that chasdei means kindness in the actual sense of the term. While each one of the Avos served Hashem in his individual manner, clearly they were all devoted to chesed - which is the pillar and foundation of all middos and mitzvos. Chesed means that the individual places himself last, thinking only of others - not himself. It is this sense of devotion to the klal, to Hashem, above and beyond themselves, that Hashem recalls. It is what they did for others which is applied as the z'chus, merit, to bless others.
Yaakov and Karen Nisenbaum
in memory of our Father and Grandfather
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