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Peninim on the Torah

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Rabbi A. Leib Scheinbaum
Hebrew Academy of Cleveland


You shall make vestments of sanctity for Aharon your brother, for glory/honor and splendor/beauty. (28:2)

Our parsha addresses: the preparation of the Kohanim to serve in the Mishkan; their vestments; the initiation process they would have to undergo prior to serving; and the unique sacrifices they were to offer. The artisans that crafted the vestments of the Kohanim were commanded to prepare garments that would lend both honor and beauty to its wearers. Indeed, honor and beauty seem to be extremely valued ingredients as far as the Divine service is concerned. One wonders about this. It is almost incongruous with the spirit of the Torah. The duality of honor and glory are qualities which can, and often do, catalyze one's downfall. Does the Tanna in Pirkei Avos 4:21 not declare, "Jealousy, desire and honor, remove a person from the world"? Torah achievement requires humility. One who thinks of his own significance leaves no room for the Torah. Indeed, when the Torah lauds Moshe Rabbeinu - Klal Yisrael's quintessential leader - the one through whom Hashem gave the Torah, the individual whose wisdom was beyond our ken to describe, it focuses on his humility. He is praised not for all of his other remarkable qualities, but, rather, for his humility. "And the man, Moshe, was exceedingly humble among all other men on the face of the earth" (Bamidbar 12:3).

Beauty is also a quality which seems alien to Torah. After all, Torah concerns itself with content, while beauty venerates form. Torah focuses on the penimius, internal, essence of a subject, while beauty is external. This does not preclude the positive significance of form or external beauty, but it clearly is not a priority in prioritizing Jewish values.

Horav Aharon Soloveitchik, zl, explains that by emphasizing that the Priestly vestments feature the two qualities of honor and beauty, the Torah is teaching us that they do, in fact, have a place in our lives. It all depends on their source and how they are used. Honor is a destructive force if its source is selfishness, if it prevents one from giving honor and recognition to others. On the other hand, honor which is derived because one is created in Hashem's image is not only good - it is vital. Indeed, a life replete in dignity is dependent upon the principle that we are all created in the image of G-d. This form of honor engenders self-esteem. When a person has self-respect, dignity and pride, he responds to others in the same manner. Mutual respect is the mortar that keeps relationships going. This is especially true among husband and wife and extremely important in the parent-child relationship.

Beauty plays an equally significant role in Jewish life. The Bais Hamikdash was an edifice in which beauty was manifest in its every aspect and detail. The Torah was well aware that eye appeal has a dominant role in generating heart appeal. In addition, as the Gaon, zl, m'Vilna notes, the Torah sees fit to relate that the Imahos, Matriarchs, were physically attractive. When Shlomo Hamelech writes in Sefer Mishlei (31:30) that hevel ha'yofi, "beauty is vain," he is referring to beauty devoid of morality, something which contemporary society has blatantly ignored.

The Torah's attitude toward beauty is expressed in the Shirah (Shemos 15:2): Zeh Keili v'anveihu, "This is my G-d and I will beautify Him." Chazal have broken the word v'anveihu in two and derived ani v'Hu, I and He. This means that we are enjoined to emulate Hashem; just as He is merciful and compassionate, so must I be likewise merciful and compassionate. Real beauty is comprised of following in Hashem's ways and, thus, goes hand in hand with sanctity.

The Bigdei Kehunah incorporated both honor and beauty. They inspired both their wearer and their spectator with a harmonious blend of honor and beauty, representing the intrinsic and extrinsic values integral toward a life of sanctity, a life dedicated to the spirit.

It must be on Aharon in order to minister. Its sound should be heard when he enters the Sanctuary before Hashem and when he leaves. (28:35)

Each of the Bigdei Kehunah, Priestly vestments, atoned for sin. The Talmud Yerushalmi Yoma 87:3 tells us that the Paamonim, Bells, of the Me'il, Robe, atoned for rotzeach b'shogeig, unintentional murderer. What do bells have in common with murder that they would grant them atonement power?

Horav Mordechai Gifter, zl, explains that it all depends upon one's perspective on life and the various situations he confronts on a regular basis. Whereas man is given to rationalize, to justify and validate every occurrence as falling under the realm of "coincidence," " chance," "luck," or in modern-day vernacular - "it just happens." Thus, the Torah's perspective on inadvertent murder-- or inadvertent "anything," for that matter-- differs from the prevailing perception adopted by society.

An inadvertent killing-- although clearly unintentional and with no malice aforethought-- in the Torah's perspective still reflects a lack of concern for a fellow man. There is some form of taint, a deficiency in some miniscule manner, which is evident to Hashem. It must be corrected. It must be purged. Regrettably, the lesson has severe consequences for everybody involved. Man was created b'tzelem Elokim, "in the image of G-d," and, thus, justly demands a certain element of respect and consideration for no other reason than the fact that he respects the image of Hashem. Any act that indicates a lack of concern for another human is the result of our own deficiency in recognizing what man represents.

In atoning for this absence of concern, one must increase his own concern for his fellow man. The bells gave forth a sound that heralded the coming and going of the Kohen Gadol. This was an expression of respect for a fellow being. By wearing the Me'il during the service, the Kohen Gadol was reminding the people of the importance of respecting a fellow tzelem Elokim. Through this, he added recognition and achieved atonement.

The Rosh Yeshivah exhorts us to delve into what each human being represents. Apparently, Hashem felt him worthy of being created. Who are we to ignore Hashem's representative, especially when our own claim to fame is also based on the fact that we are created b'tzelem Elokim? While murder of any sort is the farthest thing from the minds of most people, respect and concern for our fellow man regrettably may also be an alien idea. How often does our lack of concern impinge upon someone else's self-image? When we realize what every member of the human race represents, our respect for them and, consequently, ourselves, will increase to no end.

For Bnei Aharon you shall make Tunics…make them for glory and splendor. (28:40)

Chazal speak of the spiritual symbolism of the individual vestments of both the Kohen Gadol, High Priest, and the ordinary Kohanim. In addition, in the Talmud Arachin 16A, Chazal explain the juxtaposition of the Bigdei Kehunah, Priestly Vestments, on the korbanos, animal offerings. This teaches us that just as the Korbanos atoned for the sins of Klal Yisrael, so, too, do the vestments achieve atonement. How do the vestments achieve atonement? What about the vestments carries the power of atonement?

Horav Tuvia Lisitzen, zl, puts it very simply: They increase kavod Shomayim, the honor of Heaven. Therefore, they have the power to atone. When one creates or increases kavod Shomayim, he merits great things. Eglon, the king of Moav, was a pagan. Yet, when Ahud told him, "Hashem spoke to me concerning you," Eglon rose from his throne out of respect for Hashem's Name. As a result, he merited to be the progenitor of Rus and, consequently, the Davidic dynasty. Nevuchadnezer, who was far from being a saint, jumped four steps out of respect for Hashem.. Because of this display of kavod Shomayim, he merited to become King of Bavel and the most powerful ruler in the world at the time.

Through the wearing of the Bigdei Kehunah, people will be inspired and kavod Shomayim will be increased. Thus, the vestments are vehicles for kavod Shomayim. Therefore, they are like korbanos and have the power to atone. This should serve as a powerful lesson for us. We look for segulos, remedies, and z'chusim, merits. Why not try increasing kavod Shomayim? Surely, creating a decline in kavod Shomayim will not earn us any positive remuneration.

This is the thing which you shall do for them to sanctify them to minister for Me. (29:1)

Regarding the various offerings that were brought to inaugurate the Kohanim and the Mishkan, the Torah writes, "This is the thing which you shall do for them." The Midrash cites a pasuk from Tehillim 119:89, L'Olam Hashem devarcha nitzav baShomayim, "Forever, G-d, Your words stand in the Heavens." This is interpreted as: Just as You are the truth, so is Your word. Just as Hashem originally "spoke" and, as a result, the Heavens were created, likewise the "word" which He spoke to sanctify Aharon and his sons remains everlasting. This is the meaning of, "This is the thing," indicating permanence. What is the Midrash attempting to explain? It seems to be going to great lengths to explain what appears to be an innocuous phrase, V'zeh ha'davar, "This is the thing."

The Shem MiShmuel cites the pasuk at the beginning of Parashas Mattos concerning nedarim, vows. The Torah uses a similar phrase as it does here. "Moshe spoke to the heads of the tribes of Bnei Yisrael, saying, Zeh ha'davar, "This is the thing which Hashem has commanded" (Bamidbar 30:2). Rashi explains the use of the phrase, "This is the thing." Moshe Rabbeinu prophesied with the introductory phrase, Koh amar Hashem, "Thus says G-d," as did the other prophets. Moshe, however, added to the prophecy, "This is the thing." In other words, Moshe's use of the phrase, "This is the thing," adds something to his prophecy which distinguishes it from the prophecy of other Neviim, prophets. What is it?

The Maharal m'Prague explains that Moshe's level of prophecy was unlike that of other Neviim, in that he experienced the ultimate level of prophecy which enabled him to be the medium through which the Torah was given to Klal Yisrael. Qualitatively, Moshe's prophecy was perpetual; the laws of the Torah are permanent and unalterable, whereas the other prophets saw visions pertaining to the moment at hand or to a specific time frame. This contrast is reflected in the phrase, "This is the thing," unlike, "Thus says G-d," which denotes something essential, but impermanent, it refers to something that is immutable and enduring.

With the Maharal's exposition in mind, the Shem MiShmuel explains the difficulty experienced by our original Midrash. The instructions regarding the Kohanim's investiture is introduced with the phrase, "This is the thing," which indicates permanence. The Kohanim's inauguration, however, was a one-time event never to be repeated by future generations. Why is this phrase used? Therefore, the Midrash teaches us that while the actual investiture was a one time deal, the phrase, "this is the thing," is a reference instead to the kedushah of Aharon and his descendants. The kedushah of the Kehunah, Priesthood, is something permanent which continues on today. It is part of the fiber of Klal Yisrael.

In what seems to be an unrelated Midrash, Chazal once again expound on the pasuk, "This is the thing." The Navi Hoshea (14:3) says, Kechu imachem devarim, v'shuvu el Hashem, "Take with you words and return to G-d." This seminal pasuk serves as the paradigm for teshuvah, repentance/return to Hashem. The Midrash explains: What is it that Hashem really wants? "Words" - the pasuk replies. And what are the "words," if not Torah? Klal Yisrael responds to Hashem, "But we do not know how to learn the Torah." Hashem says to them, "Cry and pray before Me, and I will accept you."

Here again there is apparently no connection between the Midrash with the pasuk it is supposed to elucidate. The Midrash is addressing teshuvah, while the pasuk is directed towards the Kohanim's investiture. Once again, the Shem MiShmuel feels that the connection between teshuvah and the Kohanim's inauguration revolves around the phrase, "This is the thing," in Parashas Mattos which we mentioned earlier. This time, however, the Midrash asserts a totally different type of answer. It suggests that while the Kohanim's investiture was a one-time event, the underlying concept which permitted it to occur is everlasting. In order to take Aharon and his sons whom heretofore had been "ordinary" Jews and transform them into Kohanaim, investing them with the holiness inherent in serving in the Bais Hamikdash, it was necessary that they begin anew, with a fresh, untrodden focus and aim to their lives. Their past was abrogated; it no longer existed. This was new, unspoiled ground.

This underscores the idea of teshuvah: a person, however distant from where he should be, can at anytime review his lifestyle and make a new commitment to begin afresh on the correct road to spiritual achievement. This is the meaning of, "This is the thing," in the pasuk - that a new start is always possible, just as it was for the Kohanim in the wilderness.

Teshuvah is an experience in which the individual is transformed into a new person - with no ties to his past. The Shem MiShmuel cites Horav Bunim, zl, m'Peshischa who describes teshuvah as not being a patch that seals or conceals his spiritual defect, but rather, as a person who falls off a roof smashing all of his bones. When a person makes a tear in his garment, which he subsequently patches, the garment continues to retain its original identity, except that now it has a patch. With teshuvah one does not just patch over the problems, gloss over the issues and error of his ways. One actually confronts his inconsistencies in observance, his lack of faith, his deficiency in commitment and decides to make a fresh start. The word "you" is gone. It is a time for a fresh start, an opportunity for rebirth and rejuvenation, after which we disregard our past experiences. This is like a man who has fallen off a roof, shattered his entire body, and has nothing useful remaining. Given that teshuvah functions as a regeneration, similar to the experience sustained by Aharon and his sons, who, in midlife, began anew a life of Divine service. This denovo experience carries with it the same properties that give function to teshuvah.

This is the meaning of the Navi Hoshea's enjoinment to, "Take with you words and return to G-d." "These words" refer to the words of Torah, because Torah has the capacity to empower its students with renewed energy and vigor and the possibility of rebirth. Torah is a constant gift which keeps on giving as it helps the individual renew his spiritual self. Now that this has been established - that teshuvah has the power to transform a person, to sever his relationship with the past, we wonder why it functions this way. What is there about teshuvah that catalyzes such a transformation?

Apparently, this is the unique power of teshuvah. Unlike any other concept, it maintains the power of change. It wipes clean the slate of the past. Veritably, it really has to be this way. If a person were relegated to worrying constantly about his past, his errors and sins, both inadvertent and intentional, teshuvah would be a difficult step to take. He would never really feel cleansed.

Perhaps another aspect to this transformation eludes us. Each and every person is created with enormous potential. Regrettably, most of us never realize the enormity of our potential and, thus, live a life which, in comparison to the reality of what we could have been, is mediocre and, in some cases, radically inferior. Therefore, when we take advantage of the medium of teshuvah, we are actually returning to our real selves, realizing our G-d given capacity. It is not as if we are being transformed to a new person. We are becoming ourselves - the real creation that Hashem intends us to be.

Hashem has an image of what He expects each of us to be. Our goal must be to strive to attain that goal. While we probably will not achieve it, we certainly will not if we do not even try. At every juncture, we must ask ourselves a serious question: Are we going in the direction that Hashem has ordained for us, or are we just trying to satisfy ourselves, our parents, our spouses? In his youth, the great gaon and Rosh Yeshivah of Volozhin, Horav Naftali Tzvi Yehuda Berlin, zl, the venerable Netziv, was anything but a gaon. He related the remarkable transformation that took place in his life at a seudah, festive meal, in honor of the completion of his magnum opus, his commentary on the Sheiltos V'Rav Achai Gaon, the Haamek Shaalah. He explained the reason for his universal display of joy: "When I was a young boy of nine years, I overheard my father and mother speaking about me. 'What will be with our Naftali?' my father asked. 'We have provided him with a number of the finest rebbeim, truly skilled Torah scholars, to no avail. He just does not seem to be interested. I think the time has come to teach him a trade. We should apprentice him either to the shoemaker or the tailor!'"

"When I heard this," the Netziv continued, "I was heartbroken. My father was giving up on me. How could this happen to me? I began to cry bitterly. I then made up my mind that nothing - absolutely nothing - would stand in my way of achieving my maximum. I was prepared to study diligently with the goal of becoming a talmid chacham, Torah scholar. This sefer is the fruit of my labor, the realization of my goal."

"Imagine," continued the Netziv, "had I not reacted promptly and positively, had I not wept, what would have become of me? I would have become a frum baal ha'bayis, an observant layman. So, what is wrong with that? I would go to shul, earn an honest living, and study Torah at night. I would remain true to my heritage. What could be so bad?"

"Veritably, there is nothing wrong with such a scenario. When I would stand before the Heavenly Tribunal, however, they would say to me, 'Naftali, Naftali, you were a good Jew. But, what about your purpose in life? Were you sent down to become a craftsman? Do you realize that you could have authored the Haamek Shaalah? Yes, you lived a fine, decent life, but did you realize your potential?'

"Now you understand why this siyum means so much to me."

Each of us is judged accordingly: according to what we are - and according to what we should and could have become. The Alter, zl, m'Slabodka was once standing by his study window looking out at the street. He motioned his student, Horav Yitzchak Aizik Sher, zl, to come over and look out of the window. "Look outside and see the large cemetery before your eyes," the Alter said. "You might think that the cemetery is situated on the outskirts of town. What can a public thoroughfare have to do with a cemetery? There are people moving back and forth, people with incredible potential for distinction in Torah. Alas, they were "inspired" to choose another field of endeavor. As a result, do you know what is written above this person? 'Here lies the great saint and scholar; here lies the great rosh yeshivah; the great rav!' His epitaph accompanies him through the street, throughout his life! There is, however, one difference between the cemetery on the outskirts of the city and the one in front of our eyes. There, they bury only dead people. Here, they bury live ones!" The above story is powerful. I know that there might be those who might feel that perhaps I went too far, that I am expecting too much. If it will enable one parent to make a more cogent decision concerning his son's future - it will have been well worth it.

Va'ani Tefillah

Tehillas Hashem yedaber pi, v'yevarech kol basar shem Kadsho
May my mouth declare the praise of Hashem, and may all flesh bless His Name.

The Jew's purpose in life is to increase kavod Shomayim, the honor of Heaven. The gentile world's level of virtue and the depth of their perception of Hashem's guidance of this world are commensurate with the Jew's fulfillment of his global purpose in life. The Sefas Emes, thus, explains the pasuk. According to the level of Tehillas Hashem yedaber pi, commensurate with how much we declare the praise of Hashem will be the v'yavereich kol basar shem kadsho; all other people of the world bless His name. In other words, it is up to us to engender Hashem's praise in the world.

The Sefas Emes interprets this idea into the pasuk in Yirmiyahu 10:25, "Pour out Your wrath upon the nations that know You not, and upon the families that do not call out in Your Name, for they have consumed Yaakov - they have consumed and annihilated him - and have devastated his abode." As long as we had a Bais Hamikdash, even the gentile nations understood the concept of calling out in Hashem's Name. The Revelation of His glory was evident and palpable. Now, that they have destroyed everything that Klal Yisrael once had, they no longer understand Who Hashem is. Due to their own actions in destroying our Bais Hamikdash, they no longer merit to acknowledge Hashem. Therefore, they deserve Hashem's wrath.

l'zechar nishmas ha'isha ha'chashuva Glicka bas R' Avraham Alter a"h
nifteres 8 Adar II 5760
In loving memory of
by her family

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