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Peninim on the Torah

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Rabbi A. Leib Scheinbaum
Hebrew Academy of Cleveland


Now you should command Bnei Yisrael. (27:20)

The name of Moshe Rabbeinu is glaringly absent from this parshah. When Moshe interceded on behalf of the Jewish people following their egregious debacle with the Golden Calf, he said, "And now if You would but forgive their sin! But, if not, erase me now from this book that You have written!" (Shemos 32:32) Hashem forgave Klal Yisrael, but Moshe's utterance had to be fulfilled. His name had to be omitted somewhere in the Torah. Since Parashas Tetzaveh always occurs in the week of the seventh of Adar, Moshe's birth date and yahrzeit, it was the logical place to omit his name. Horav Zalman Sorotzkin, zl, explains that Chazal are stressing the essential purity of the Jewish faith by emphasizing the fact that Moshe did not become an object of their worship.

In other religions, it is common practice to transform the anniversaries of their founder's birth and death into holidays. The birthday of their founder is the most important holiday, followed by the anniversary of his death, with fast days added on days when he reportedly suffered. This creates the impression that everything was created in his honor, such that all of their faith focuses on him alone. He even glorifies himself by claiming that whoever touches the corner of his garment will have a share in Paradise, as if he has something to say about that. And when he is no longer, his priests make a business out of selling absolution from sin and heavenly portions to the highest bidder.

This is in direct contrast to the ways of our Patriarchs and the Torah. In the Jewish tradition, the lawgiver remains in the background. He is humble, seeking no acclaim. While it is true that Chazal have taught that Moshe was born on the seventh of Adar and died on that day, one hundred and twenty years later, this was not common knowledge, not printed in any Jewish calendars and, certainly, not celebrated.

Our lawgiver was the quintessence of modesty. His greatest appellation was his humility. He sacrificed his life for the nation that he shepherded, and not once did he request gratitude in exchange for his toil. In order to receive the Torah, he ascended Har Sinai amid the fire. He could have died. Thus, the Torah is called Toras Moshe. Moshe was prepared to give up everything for the Torah. When the Jewish people sinned with the Golden Calf, he once again put his life on the line and interceded on their behalf. Hashem was inclined to destroy the nation and rebuild it from Moshe. Our leader refused to hear of it. Time and again, he relinquished his glory for the people. He made no demands. He had no airs about him. Furthermore, he "cursed" himself by asking Hashem to erase his name from the Torah.

Therefore, during the week of Moshe's birth and death, when we read Parashas Tetzaveh, the parshah from which his name has been "erased," we are compelled to acknowledge that Hashem is the true Lawgiver, and that the Torah is not man-made, but Divinely authored. Concomitantly, we are filled with esteem and awe for the man through whom the Torah was given and for his boundless love of the Jewish People.

Now you should command Bnei Yisrael that they should take for you pure, pressed olive oil. (27:20)

The Midrash cites the pasuk in Yirmiyahu 11:16, where the Navi compares Klal Yisrael to the olive. "A leafy olive tree, beautiful with shapely fruit, Hashem has called your name." The Midrash questions the comparison, ultimately arriving at three explanations. First, as the olive does not produce its oil until it has been crushed and pressed, likewise, Klal Yisrael repents and does teshuvah, returning to Hashem only after it has been persecuted by its gentile oppressors. Second, as oil does not mingle with other liquids, so, too, is the Jewish nation distinct, unable to blend with other nations. Third, just as when oil is mixed with other liquids it invariably rises to the top of the mixture. When Klal Yisrael adheres to Hashem's dictates, it distinguishes itself among the nations, rises to the top, and achieves distinction.

Horav Zev Weinberg, Shlita, offers a homiletic rendering of this Midrash. The three areas in which the Jewish People do not coalesce with the outside world may be likened to three types of Jews. There are those Jews who lamentably have alienated themselves, or -- as a result of their backgrounds -- grew up in a totally assimilated environment. These Jews are Jews by birth, but otherwise have no clue about their heritage. They have no idea concerning the significance of being Jewish. They acknowledge their heritage and align themselves with their people once they have become the victims of anti-Semitism. When the goy reminds such a Jew that he is Jewish, "something" within him awakens, his Jewish soul begins to stir, and he begins to identify with his "long lost" brethren. The Jewish soul within him has arisen from its self-imposed slumber.

A second group of Jews are those who do not seek assimilation as a way of life. The thought of one of their descendants marrying out of the faith is a terrible anathema which they refuse to countenance. Yet, they still mix with the outside world, but "carefully." This Jew is like the oil that does not mix at all with other liquids. Last, are those Jews who, regardless of the circumstances, always rise to the top and maintain a marked separation from the outside world. It is these Jews to whom we look to represent the future of our nation.

And they should take for you pure, pressed olives for illumination. (27:20)

Rashi comments that the requirement of kassis, crushed, applies only la'maor, for lighting. For Menachos, the pan-offering, a component in the offering, there is no stipulation which requires that the oil be kassis. To succeed in serving Hashem, one must be kassis, crushed, broken, maintain feelings of inadequacy. Otherwise, arrogance takes hold of him. There is no place for arrogance in serving Hashem. One must view himself as puny, begging Hashem for mercy. Indeed, one who is kassis always feels that he has not yet fulfilled what is demanded of him. This motivates him to move on, continue forward. He is not "there" yet.

There is one drawback with being kassis: one might lose control, reject himself and refuse to go on. Crushed is not depressed. Crushed is a feeling of inadequacy - not despondency. Horav Aharon, zl, m'Karlin remarks, "Merirus, bitterness, acrimony is acceptable," because one feels that he has so much further to go. In fact, his inadequacy serves as a motivating force, "Atzvus, depression, however, is the worst middah, character trait, that there is." The gap between bitterness and depression is the width of a hairbreadth. Yes, the one who feels inadequate in mitzvah performance can grow from his feelings. The one who is depressed has regrettably lost all potential for growth. The one who is bitter feels, "I have yet done nothing. I have so much more to do." In contrast, the one who is depressed has given up hope. He feels, "I am lost, I can do no more." How careful should one be not to permit his humility and feelings of incompetence from spreading and becoming the illness of depression.

The Chidushei Ha'Rim, thus, explains kassis la'maor, crushed for light. One should apply the feelings of "crushed" as motivation for illuminating the world, for acting positively, for "doing." V'lo kassis l'menachos, kassis should not serve as an excuse to rest, to give up. Menachos and menuchah have a commonality between them. One should not allow his kassis feeling to prevent him from surging forward in his service to Hashem.

We live in a generation in which depression is regrettably not that uncommon. Feelings of inadequacy, spurred on by a declining economy, is taking its toll on many a household. Added to this is the tension that people experience when they are not in control, when success or failure does not depend on their input, hard work, or acumen. (Not that it ever does, but people tend to make that mistake.) There are those who, as mentioned before, take the "kassis" experience too far. Horav S.R. Hirsch, zl, writes, "Judaism never considered pain, sorrow, self-affliction or sadness to be valid goals. In fact, the opposite is true. One should pursue happiness, cheer, joy and delight. For the Shechinah does not dwell in a place of sadness; it dwells only in a place where happiness reigns." The Zohar in Parashas Yisro posits that sadness has within it elements of idol worship, since one's depression indicates that he prioritizes his own desires over those of Hashem. Last, is the famous dictum of Horav Nachman, zl, m'Breslov, "It is a great mitzvah to be perpetually happy, and to overcome and reject feelings of sorrow and melancholy."

How does one succeed in addressing his feelings of inadequacy and depression? The Baal Shem Tov, zl, suggests that we address the source of our sorrow by changing the way that we think. In fact, he feels this is alluded to by the fact that rearranging the letters of the word "thought," machshavah, results in the word, b'simchah, with happiness.

The source of much depression is unachieved goals, which results in low self-esteem. This can be countered by setting realistic goals, or, if that is too late, by setting short-term goals that are easier to achieve and by empowering the individual to develop longer, more significant goals. Economic depression, resulting from feelings that one does not have everything he desires, can be checked by learning to be content with what Hashem determines he should have. Last, is the sadness that envelops us when bad things happen in our lives. One way to mitigate this problem is by contemplating the good within the bad, until we realize that it really is not as bad as we think. Everything that takes place in our lives is from Hashem, Who determines what, when, and how we should be affected. When we cogently accept that He makes the decision, then living within these decisions becomes much more palatable.

In the Likutei Moharon, Horav Nachman Breslover, zl, who expended much energy promoting joy and fighting sadness in the world, has a prayer of a personal nature which is both poignant and inspirational. I have taken the liberty of excerpting and translating parts of it. "Ribono shel olam, loving G-d, Master of happiness and joy: in Your Presence there is only joy and no sorrow. Kind and loving G-d, help me to be happy at all times…A Jew comes to holiness through joy, and the primary reason that people become distant from You, and thus succumb to material cravings, is sadness that leads to depression.

"But You know how far I am from true joy after everything that has occurred in my life. Therefore, I come before You, to appeal to You to help me find happiness…Do not permit depression to take hold of me at all. If at anytime in my life I begin to become depressed over the wrong that I have done, let me rejoice over the fact that You still love me. You have kept me alive… You made me a Jew. I have the privilege of carrying out numerous mitzvos every day: Tzitzis, Tefillin, Shema, Shabbos, Yom Tov, Kashrus…You have shown Your People such goodness and kindness… Despite our deep exile and separation caused by our sins, Your love is still bound to us. No matter how persistently the voice within me attempts to depress me with negative thoughts about my sins, I tell myself that, on the contrary, this is precisely why I should be happy, considering that someone as distant as I am has the privilege of touching such holiness…but a spirit of vitality within me, to guard and protect me from my kind of pain and illness, physical or spiritual, because the root cause of all affliction is sadness and depression."

The bottom line is that as bad as life might appear, we do not realize how good we really have it.

And they shall take for you pure, pressed olive for illumination, to kindle the lamp continually. (27:20)

In a number of places, Chazal reveal to us that the Menorah and its oil are symbolic of the Torah. The Kohanim represent the keepers of the flame who are to see to it that even the darkest crevices within the spiritual world of the Jewish People are illuminated. With regard to the kindling of the Menorah, the halachah is clear: the Kohen must light the wick until, shalheves oleh mei'elehah, "the wick continues burning on its own." Horav S. R. Hirsch, zl, derives from here that the holy mission of a Torah educator is such that, if he is successful, he will have rendered his future services unnecessary. In other words, he is to establish students who become independent in their thinking, in their ability to study Torah, to go at it on their own. Understandably, while this may be the teacher's responsibility, the student's obligation is to maintain a lasting relationship with his rebbe, turning to him for counsel and guidance.

Moshe Rabbeinu, the nation's quintessential teacher, appears to have had a contrasting approach to education. The Torah (Shemos 21:1) teaches: "And these are the ordinances that you shall place before them." In explaining the words, asher tasim lifneihem, "that you shall place before them," Chazal relate a dialogue which took place between Moshe and Hashem. "Hashem said, 'It should not enter your mind that I simply teach them a halachah or two until they are able to repeat it; but I will not trouble myself to explain every reason, delve into the underlying logic, and the hidden esoteric implications of each halachah.' Therefore, it is written, 'that You shall place before them,' like a table set and prepared for the individual who comes to eat." Just as one does not invite someone for dinner, put the raw ingredients before him and tell him to go at it alone, so, too, must Moshe teach the Torah in its entirety, explaining every aspect of it, so that the nation will properly digest it."

Clearly, Moshe comes across in disagreement with shalheves oleh mei'eilehah. Was he really not willing to give Klal Yisrael a full Torah education? Horav Chaim Kamil, zl, explains that it might have entered Moshe's mind not to explain the underlying reasons for the Torah's laws. Why? Because the Torah is not given to explanation through conventional methods. The Torah is not like other bodies of knowledge. In order to understand the Torah, one must work at it, studying it diligently, with toil. Only then will he be blessed with understanding. Torah is Divinely authored and, thus, is not given to standard educational procedures. Moshe was to teach the Torah to the best of his ability. This is the manner in which a rebbe transmits Torah to his student. He explains it according to his derech, approach, thereby imparting to the student the skills needed to understand and, eventually, go approach it by himself.

Horav Simchah Wasserman, zl, adds that a rebbe does not explain the Torah, because Torah cannot be given over in the usual manner like any other discipline. A rebbe's function is to catalyze the student's understanding, to light the fire that will burn on its own.

Spoon-feeding the students will ill-prepare them for later on in life. A rebbe should motivate, inspire, encourage the student to delve deeper, to think, to ruminate over the lesson until he is fluent and fully understands the material. This applies to mussar, the study of ethical character development, as well as halachah. The student who does not stimulate his own quest for perfection will be availed very little from lectures and ethical discourses. While these words of inspiration do inspire, they are, regrettably, short-lived. Their significance is primarily to motivate the listener to think about his life, where he is going, and what he should do to right his course. We are given the tools and the skills. We have to utilize them to develop our lives.

In the Ohel Moed…Aharon and his sons shall arrange it from evening until morning, before Hashem. (27:21)

The whole idea of lighting a menorah before Hashem seems superfluous. Does Hashem need the light? He is the Source of all illumination. The Midrash addresses this question and explains that, indeed, Hashem does not need the light of the Menorah. Rather, He commands us to light for Him, just as He provided illumination for us in the wilderness. Sort of a "tit for tat." He is giving us the opportunity to repay the favor. It is a well-known Midrash, but it takes someone of the caliber of Horav Yeruchem Levovitz, zl, to view the Midrash as teaching us a lesson in etiquette. When we receive a favor from someone, the usual reaction is to want to repay our benefactor. What if he shrugs off the favor: "It was nothing," "Don't bother," "Anytime." "I do not want anything in return." It does not always happen this way, because some of us thrive on recognition, but is refusing payback appropriate?

Chazal teach us that, in fact, it is proper that the benefactor allow the beneficiary to pay him back, to return the favor. Someone who is truly sensitive to his friend's feelings will not want him feeling beholden to him. He will not want him to feel he is indebted to him. This is not mentchlech. He should give him the opportunity to return the favor, regardless of its significance or lack thereof.

In his Orchos Chaim, the Rosh states that this idea applies as well when someone offends us and wants to excuse himself. Allow him to explain. Do not say, "Forget about it." If he acted horribly and has a reason for his ignoble behavior, let him clear his chest and wipe the slate clean. By forgiving him and ignoring his reason, one is only adding to his heavy heart. Hear him out, even if his excuse is nonsensical. Allow him the satisfaction of thinking that he settled his debt, that he has made amends.

Some of us thrive when others are in our debt - regardless of its negative impact on the debtor. It is all part of the game of manipulating people to satisfy an intemperate ego, the result of insecurity activated by low-self esteem. Chazal are teaching us a way of life that ultimately leads to personal contentment that is not at the expense of another person.

And you shall speak to all the wise-hearted people whom I have invested with a spirit of wisdom. (28:3)

Ramban explains that Moshe Rabbeinu specifically had to be the one to speak to the artisans, because only he was capable of evaluating who had been endowed by Hashem with Divine wisdom. The Chasam Sofer, zl, cites the Chovas Halevavos who remarks that wisdom is planted within the hearts of men. The individual who can inspire them by awakening their potential will succeed in catalyzing their wisdom to see light. If not, it will lay dormant within the person, like a seed that is placed in the ground, but is left unfertilized, untilled and uncared for. It will not properly germinate. This is what Hashem intimated to Moshe. The individuals who are to become the artisans have been imbued with incredible wisdom, but someone must activate this wisdom by stimulating the individual, making him aware of his G-d-given gift. V'atah tedaber - "and you shall speak" - what should you say? Asher mileisiv ruach chochmah, "that I have invested them with a spirit of wisdom." Let them know what they possess. Make them aware of their potential. Stimulate their creativity and motivate their minds, so that their latent talent will sprout forth and bear fruit.

This concept applies to young people - as students and as children- as well. Once he has undergone self-evaluation, his self-esteem determines his eventual success. One who feels good about himself, who likes what he sees, will invariably work at succeeding in life by cultivating the talents which he feels he possesses. One who has low self-esteem will flounder, rarely seeking the opportunity to grow. Hashem was instructing Moshe to encourage the artisans by informing them about -- and praising -- their Heavenly-endowed wisdom.

Horav Yisrael Salanter, zl, says that a student who is unaware of his talent, acumen, and ability to succeed is much like the craftsman who does not recognize the tools of his profession. Without tools, one cannot succeed. What makes it more lamentable is that the tools are in plain sight, but the craftsman cannot identify them.

Praise and positive reinforcement are critical parts of child-rearing and education. They reinforce self-esteem and encourage positive growth and development. It would be a grave error, however, to generalize that success and failure are determined by praise and criticism. Inappropriate praise can be as harmful to a child (or an adult) as inappropriate criticism. Psychologists and educators have categorized four forms of ineffective praise.

First, is generalized praise whereby the specific deed or endeavor is not singled out. A simple "well done" leaves the child wondering what was actually praised. In contrast, is the overblown praise of, "You did the best job in the world! You are absolutely the most incredible worker!" While this may sound good, it may actually be counter-productive, because the child knows that he is not really that great. A child becomes so used to receiving acclaim, he actually can become addicted to accolades, feeling rejected when they do not come. Obviously, the best form of praise is specific, factual and descriptive. This allows room for the child to think and comprehend what the praise really means. This form of praise promotes independence and allows for free-thinking.

The opposite of praise is criticism. A child who is frequently criticized soon learns to have self-doubt. This leads to the ultimate destroyers of young lives: lack of self-esteem; lack of self-confidence, lack of self- worth.

Some children who receive a minimum of praise often learn to reject or minimize any praise they receive. One who is constantly rejecting praise may indicate an unconscious belief that he is not a worthy or important person. A child should be taught to accept the praise he receives, not to minimize or over blow it. Not all praise is equal, but neither are people. Different people react differently to praise. This is an idea about which an astute parent or teacher should be cognizant. While receiving praise is not common in adults, it is necessary. The beneficiary should learn to make the most of it.

Zeh Keili v'anveihu
This is my G-d, and I will beautify Him.

Beauty seems alien to the spirit of the Torah. Beauty is tzurah, form, while the Torah stands for chomer, content; beauty seems to emphasize the external, while Torah stresses the internal, the intrinsic. On the other hand, we find beauty playing a significant role in the Mishkan and, especially, in the Priestly vestments. Additionally, the Gaon, zl, m'Vilna points out that the fact that the Torah sees fit to relate that the Imahos, Matriarchs, were physically attractive, as well as spiritually admirable, indicates that beauty is an asset that should not be ignored. Shlomo Hamelech's expression: Hevel ha'yofi, "Beauty is vain," (Mishlei 31:30) refers to beauty alone - without its integration with ethics and morality.

Horav Aharon Soloveitchik, zl, explains that the Torah's attitude toward beauty is poignantly expressed in the above pasuk: "This is my G-d, and I will beautify Him." In the Talmud Shabbos 133b, Chazal dissect the word, v'anveihu into two words: ani, v'Hu, "I and Him," meaning that one should emulate the Almighty. Hence, the meaning of real beauty is to follow Hashem's ways; "As He is merciful and compassionate, so should we be merciful and compassionate." Beauty goes hand in hand with sanctity. Beauty embodies morality, sanctity with honor and beauty, the extrinsic with the intrinsic. It forms a harmonious synthesis of all good qualities blended to perfection - almost G-d-like."

L'zechar nishmas ha'isha ha'chasuva
Glicka bas R' Avraham Alter a"h
niftara b'shem tov 8 Adar II 5760

In loving memory of
by her family

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