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Peninim on the Torah

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Rabbi A. Leib Scheinbaum
Hebrew Academy of Cleveland


And they shall take for you pure, pressed oil. (27:20)

When Hashem instructed the people to contribute towards the Mishkan, the Torah uses similar wording: V'yikchu li Terumah, "They shall take for Me a portion." In truth, the word v'yikchu, "they shall take," teaches us the Torah perspective towards mitzvos in general. One is not giving to Hashem. He is, instead, being availed of the opportunity to "take for himself."

Chazal tell us that as soon as Klal Yisrael declared, Naase V'Nishma, "We will do and we will listen," Hashem immediately responded, "They shall take for Me a portion." We should address a number of questions. First, what is the relationship between Naase v'Nishma and taking a Terumah for Hashem? Second, what is the meaning of V'yikchu, "they shall take?" Should the Torah not have said, "they shall give" or "they shall bring"?

The Bais HaLevi explains that a person's true fortune is what he gives to tzedakah, charity. An individual can amass a large sum of money, but he cannot take it with him. He only takes with him that which he has given away. It is similar to a fly that is trapped in a box with a cube of sugar. He may feel ecstatic about his good fortune, but what is he going to do with the sugar cube? He cannot get out of the box. The money we have stored away in the bank is not accessible, since we cannot take it with us when we leave our earthly abode. Therefore, the Torah uses the word "take" to teach us that by giving to the Mishkan or the Menorah, we are actually taking for ourselves.

Horav Yaakov Beifus, Shlita, comments that this is the idea behind the performance of all mitzvos. One might view the time, energy, and money that he expends for a mitzvah as his act of giving; when he thinks about it, however, he is not giving - he is taking. This time, money, or energy is a value that he brings before the Almighty as his achievement, as his accomplishment. Is it any different from a person who invests his wealth into his own business? Is he considered "giving," or is he taking? After all, it is his business in which he is investing.

The yetzer hora, evil inclination, however, does not give up. It is constantly painting for us a picture that a life of dedication to Torah is one of constant giving, continuous demands on our time, a life in which we have nothing for ourselves. We must constantly live for others. What we do not realize is that living for others is actually living for ourselves. Furthermore, this is the definition of living. We are investing in our own business.

You shall make the Robe of the Eiphod entirely of turquoise wool. (28:31)

The Priestly Vestments were not simply royal garb. They were infused with holiness and purity; they had the power to atone for many serious transgressions. Everything about them alluded to lofty, esoteric secrets. They consisted of a physical fabric that was imbued with a profound degree of mystical powers. Rabbeinu Bachya writes that the Kohen Gadol would wear on his head the Tzitz, which was a holy crown that contained the Name of Hashem. He wore the Meil, a long robe, that had seventy-two bells, corresponding and referring to the numerical equivalent of Yud, Kay, Vav, Kay, in its complete spelling. In other words, the Kohen Gadol was bedecked in the Holy Names from head to foot!

Chazal teach us that each of the eight vestments atoned for a specific sin. The Meil atoned for the sin of lashon hora, slanderous speech. The relationship between the Meil and its ability to atone for sins of the mouth is actualized through the paamonim, bells, which give off sound: "Let something that transmits sound atone for an act of sound." While this idea explains why the Meil was Divinely selected to be mechaper, atone, for the sin of speaking slanderously, it does not explain how a sin which is so grave that the Almighty instructs the angel appointed over Gehinnom, Purgatory, "I will be over him (the one who speaks lashon hora) from above, and you will be over him from below," can be atoned for by the Kohen Gadol's robe?

Horav Shneuer Kotler, zl, gives the following profound thought. In the Talmud Berachos 61a, Chazal compare the yetzer hora, evil-inclination, to a fly. A fly gravitates towards filth and anything that is decaying. The yetzer hora does likewise. A fly finds its home in a wound, or in an area of pus and disease. The yetzer hora also seeks out weakness and frailty, making its home there. This does not mean that the fly does not notice a healthy, clean place. He sees it, but he is just not interested in health and cleanliness. He is attracted to dirt and impurity.

The slanderer has much in common with the fly and the yetzer hora. He also gravitates to, and seeks failing. He sees only shortcomings, not the whole person. The fly sees the wound, ignoring the person. The baal lashon hora also ignores the person. He focuses on the wound, on the shortcoming. If his perspective were broader, he would see the failing in the context of an entire human being. Perhaps the frailty might now be ameliorated or even justified, surely not something upon which to expound and denigrate a person. Yes, a wound can and will heal with proper intervention. Likewise, a shortcoming can be addressed, and the person will return and repent. Just as a fly does not see the whole picture, neither does the slanderer. They see what they expect to see.

It is for this reason that the Kohen Gadol wears a long Meil. Bedecked from head to foot in techeilas, turquoise wool, he presents himself as an imposing figure. Chazal teach us that the color techeilas brings the heavens to mind. Heaven signifies an area that is vast, enveloping and covering the world. The robe teaches us the concept of an all-inclusive, all-embracing perspective. It teaches us to have a penetrating insight and a comprehensive, sweeping outlook. This way we perceive the whole picture, the entire person, not just his failing. Thus, the Meil atoned for the sin of lashon hora by addressing the origin of the sin and taking appropriate measures to correct it. The distorted perspective engenders such malignant behavior.

Its opening shall have a border all around. (28:32)

The neck of the Meil was required to be very sturdy, so that it would not tear. Therefore, the material at its neck was to be folded inward to provide a double layer of material at the neckline. Indeed, the halachah is clear that one who tears the Bigdei Kehunah is punished with malkos, lashes. We wonder at the need for so many warnings concerning the vestments. Certainly, the Jewish People are not suspected of willingly tearing the vestments. Therefore, why the various admonishments? The Sefer HaChinuch explains that the purpose of these prohibitions is to imbue the wearer with a sense of fear and trepidation when he puts them on, so that he will accord these vestments the appropriate respect that they deserve.

Let us now think about the underlying message of this statement. The Kohen must exert care when he puts on the Bigdei Kehunah, because of the function that they play in the Priestly service. Now, what about the actual service? That certainly must be carried out with the greatest sense of fear and reverence, so that it does not "tear." We derive the lofty level of the avodah, service, from the care manifest in putting on the garments that the Kohen wears when he performs the service. Let us go forward in time to the present when, regrettably, there is no Bais HaMikdash and the substitute for the avodah is our tefillos. How much care do we manifest concerning our tefillos? How do we dress when entering a shul to daven? What is our decorum in shul? What is our davening like? The Torah goes to great lengths to protect the vestments worn by the Kohanim when they serve. This indicates in no small manner the awesome significance of the service. Today, we are all compared to Kohanim in that our tefillos take the place of the service. Need we say more?

For the sons of Aharon you shall make Tunics. (28:40)

In the Talmud Arachin 16a, Chazal note the juxtaposition of the Bigdei Kehunah, Priestly Vestments, on the Korbanos. This teaches us that just as Korbanos serve as a medium for atonement, so, too, do the various vestments also serve as an atonement for certain sinful behavior. We wonder at this connection between vestments and sacrifices. A sacrifice is exactly that - a sacrifice, and thus, it effects atonement. What is the connection between wearing a specific set of vestments and atoning for unacceptable behavior?

Horav Tuvia Lisitzin, zl, explains that the secret lies in the fact that the Bigdei Kehunah, with their profound beauty, inspired kavod Shomayim, reverence for Heaven. When a person saw the Kohen bedecked in his regal vestments, he felt elevated. It inspired him to think of Heaven in lofty terms. Kavod Shomayim does that. The Midrash notes that when Eglon, the king of Moav, was told by Ehud, "Hashem has spoken to me concerning you," he stood up out of respect for Hashem's Name. Because of this reverential gesture, he merited to father Rus, the progenitor of Moshiach Tzidkeinu. Likewise, when Nevuchadnezzar skipped four steps in honor of Hashem, he merited to reign over a kingdom unparalleled in size and power. All of this occurred because they had kavod Shomayim.

When the Kohen walked among the people wearing his Priestly Vestments, it engendered among the common Jew a sense of pride, a sense of belonging, a sense of making it all worthwhile. This is kavod Shomayim. Anything that creates or enhances kavod Shomayim has unlimited possibilities connected with it.

The problem that many of us have is defining kavod Shomayim. Some might suggest that it is how much one spends or how ostentatious one is in his mitzvah performance. Get as much attention as possible, so that people will notice. That is kavod Shomayim. This is not true. Kavod is true honor, not any different than the honor one gives to his parents or rebbeim. Would honor be defined as the one who makes an elaborate public display of his reverence, but behind closed doors is a different person with a different personality, so that a different set of rules emerges? It has to be real, and, in order for honor to be real it must be sincere and true. Note the following episode.

Horav Mordechai, zl, m'Neschiz was far from being a man of means. Yet, mitzvos meant the world to him. The mitzvah of having a pri eitz hadar, beautiful Esrog, played a prominent role in his service to Hashem. Alas, purchasing an Esrog on his meager financial portfolio was but a dream. Thus, he put away a few pennies every single day for an entire year, in order to purchase a beautiful Esrog. Several days prior to the Festival, he joyously made his way to the Esrog kiosk to purchase his coveted Esrog, for which he had saved an entire year.

On the way, he chanced upon a man sitting at the side of the road weeping. Rav Mordechai immediately sat down next to the man and inquired as to the reason for his grief. The man replied, "I make a living by going from place to place, peddling or hauling goods with my horse and wagon. Today, my horse died. I have no way of earning a living. I cannot purchase another horse, and I have a large family to feed."

When Rav Mordechai heard this tale of woe, he realized what a great mitzvah was involved in helping this man. He asked him how much money he needed to purchase another horse. Surprisingly, the sum equaled exactly the amount of money he had brought with him to buy an Esrog. Without a second thought, and, with all the enthusiasm he had reserved for his precious Esrog, he handed the man the bag of money he had saved, saying, "Here, buy yourself a horse." The man was stunned. He could hardly believe his ears, but after heaping blessing upon blessing upon Rav Mordechai, he ran off excitedly to the horse dealer.

Rav Mordechai looked at the man and mused as he took off, "Well, tomorrow all Jews will rejoice over an Esrog. As for myself, I will rejoice over a horse!"

What a powerful story. What an incredible attitude to manifest towards mitzvah observance. Rav Mordechai had put away pennies every day for almost an entire year, so that he could have a beautiful Esrog, an Esrog that would certainly increase kavod Shomayim. Yet, when necessary, he was able to part with the Esrog, so that a Jew would have parnassah, a livelihood. Why? Because that was the real definition of kavod Shomayim. To be there for a Jew in need means that you are prepared to give up your "plans," both mundane and spiritual. Helping another Jew is how we give true honor to Hashem.

And I shall be their G-d. (29:45)

We say it all the time. Indeed, we claim that we believe that Hashem's Presence is among us and that He guides and controls everything around us. In the final analysis, is our belief real, or is it merely lip service? Let us think about the following incident and consider whether we are any different.

One of the close chassidim of Horav Moshe, zl, m'Kubrin, was inundated with troubles. If it was not one thing, it was another. He just could not seem to extricate himself from his misery. Finally, he decided to travel to his Rebbe for a blessing. He arrived at his Rebbe's home just as Rav Moshe was about to have dinner.

The Rebbe noticed his chasid standing by the side, but did not interrupt to give him shalom. The Rebbe made a loud blessing of Shehakol Niheyeh bidvaro, "Everything is in accordance with His word." The man responded and watched the Rebbe begin to eat. Since the chasid just stood immovable, Rav Moshe called him over and said, "I thought you were like your father, but I guess I was mistaken." When the Rebbe saw the incredulous look on the chasid's face, he explained the following:

"Your father came to me once with a load of troubles and misery. He also walked in as I was reciting the blessing of Shehakol Niheyeh bidvaro. After I completed the blessing, I asked your father if he had anything to say. He responded that he did not, and he turned around and left.

"Do you know why he did not reply to my question? Because as soon as he heard the brachah and its meaning registered in his mind, he no longer had any questions. If a person truly believes that everything comes from Hashem, then he has nothing to worry about! All of his prior questions now have one answer: Hashem."

Rav Mordechai bid the chasid a good day, and the man returned home, secure that Hashem would see to his salvation.

Va'ani Tefillah

Al tigu b'meshichai u'binviai al taraiu.
Do not touch My "anointed ones," and to My prophets do no harm.

Usually, the word Moshiach is translated as anointed, a reference to a king or to a Kohen Gadol, who was anointed as part of his induction into service. As Horav Shimon Schwab, zl, explains, however, the actual meaning of the word is "distinguished." Anointing someone who had recently been elevated to a position of distinction, such as a king or Kohen Gadol, was a symbolic gesture that bespoke his new position. Moshiach is used a number of times in the sense of lending distinction, such as by the Matnos Kehunah, gifts given to the Kohen (Bamidbar 18:8). Thus, the phrase, Al tigu bimshichai, means, "Do not touch those whom I have distinguished." This is a reference to the Avos, Patriarchs, who were also Neviim, Prophets, and to their children who were also protected under Hashem's Divine shelter.

In the Talmud Shabbos 119b, Chazal give an additional meaning to this phrase. They say it refers to tinokos shel bais rabbon, "children who study Torah." This is the purest form of Talmud Torah, study of Torah, for children, who have never sinned, study Torah with a pristine, pure, unadulterated approach. Even those who might have erred and committed acts that are inappropriate for a Jew, these acts are not considered aveiros, sins, since children under age are not held responsible for their actions. Indeed, as Chazal continue, "The world exists only because of the merit of the breath of children who are studying Torah." These little children are the meshichai of Hashem, His distinguished ones. The next time we pass a Torah school, it should engender within us a new perception of its inestimable value.

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

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