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Peninim on the Torah

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Rabbi A. Leib Scheinbaum
Hebrew Academy of Cleveland


They shall take for you pure oil…to kindle the lamp continually. (27:2)

Chazal teach that Hashem gave us the mitzvah of lighting the Menorah in the Bais Hamikdash, "not because I need the light." After all, Hashem is the light of the world. "Rather, I command you to light for Me just as I provided illumination for you in the wilderness. This will give you the opportunity to return the favor." Horav Yeruchem Levovitz, zl, derives an important lesson from Chazal: A beneficiary may somehow want to return the favor - let him do it. Chazal teach us a lesson in Torah etiquette. When someone does a favor for another person, the beneficiary may want to repay the kindness. The benefactor has it all. He needs absolutely nothing. What should he do?

The Mashgiach notes that most of us would say, "Forget about it. No problem; Don't worry about it. I'm actually good." Chazal are teaching us that this is wrong. We must permit the beneficiary to repay the favor. Someone who is truly sensitive to the feelings of the beneficiary will say, "Yes, I will be happy to receive a favor in return." He will not want his friend to feel indebted to him.

A relationship between two people should be one of unity and harmony. Allow the fellow to maintain his dignity by paying back the favor. The main objective is that his dignity will have been preserved.

Rav Yeruchem cites the Rosh in Sefer Orchos Chaim L'Ha'Rosh, who asserts that the ramifications of sensitivity apply even under such circumstances in which someone offends us. He now stands before us with pleading eyes, asking forgiveness. What should we do? The Rosh writes: "Do not consider it a sin if a person wishes to excuse himself in front of you." The Rosh is addressing a situation whereby Reuven offended Shimon. Reuven now wants to explain his behavior and somehow achieve forgiveness. Most of us would simply say, "Forget about it. It is over, don't worry. I am not upset." What, however, if he wants to explain? The Rosh says that a baal middos, one who possesses refined character traits, will listen to what the individual has to say.

This is probably against our basic instinctive reaction. No one wants to hear someone's excuse concerning why he insulted him, why he hurt him, why he caused him a monetary loss. The usual reaction is: "Forget about it. I will not weep over spilled milk. What is done is done!" In truth, the reason the victim does not want to listen to the offender's excuse is that he wants him to suffer. Thus, whenever he meets him, he will be able to subtly rub it in. "You hurt me, and I never really forgave you. I never listened to your justification."

The Rosh is teaching us lo let a person have his say - even if, as an excuse, it is not worth much. At least, he has the satisfaction that he was allowed to have his say, and, in his mind, this means that he was forgiven.

The Mashgiach cites the episode with Yosef and his brothers as an indication of how a Torah Jew should act. The ten brothers felt terrible. They had gone through life justifying their hatred, and eventual sale, of Yosef. While this was a step up from their original intention to kill him, they still acted badly toward him. Now they were confronting him after all these years. They are without words. Indeed, words cannot soothe Yosef's pain or their share of the blame. They did what they did, and he suffered terribly. What excuse could they render to gloss over two decades of suffering? Apologies are insufficient at a time such as this.

Yosef gave them the excuse: "It was not your fault. Hashem wanted this to occur. Thus, He manipulated the events. You were mere pawns in Hashem's hands." By saying this, Yosef was removing from them the burden of guilt, allowing them to preserve their dignity and face him after all these years.

Aharon and his sons shall arrange it… an eternal decree for their generations, from the Bnei Yisrael. (27:21)

There is an inspiring Midrash whose commentary on the pasuk "illuminates" for us the significance of and proper attitude toward the middah, character trait, of hakoras hatov, gratitude. Hashem says, "I ask you to light the Menorah for Me not because I need the light. I want you to light it for Me as I illuminated for you (in the wilderness). Thus, I will elevate your esteem in the eyes of the nations of the world, for they will then say, 'Yisrael is lighting for the One Who lights for all.'" The Midrash continues by offering an analogy to a blind man who was walking together with a pikeach, healthy man, whose vision is unimpaired. The pikeach said to the blind man, "Come, and I will support you and lead the way." When they arrived at their destination and were about to enter the house, the pikeach said to the blind man, "Go and light for me a candle, so that you should not remain in my debt." In other words, the healthy person, sensing that the blind man would feel indebted to him, realized that there was a way to allow him his independence. A blind man's ability to move around in a dark house is greater than one who can see. Thus, the pikeach came up with an idea to preserve the blind man's esteem.

Horav Moshe Shternbuch, Shlita, observes the incredible foresight and mentchlichkeit, human decency, of this pikeach. Not only did he make a point of caring for the physical needs of his blind friend, he went out of his way to look out for the man's self-esteem, allowing him the opportunity to feel "needed," to be a benefactor to someone, rather than a constant beneficiary. This parallels Hashem's Divine ways. Does Hashem have needs? Does he require anything of us? No! Indeed, everything that we possess, everything that we do, is from Him. Hashem illuminates the world, bringing light to each and every individual member of the world community. Yet, Hashem moves into the background by allowing the Jewish People to light for Him, thereby raising their value in the world.

Rav Shternbuch cites the Baal Shem Tov who offers an insightful interpretation to David HaMelech's statement in Tehillim 62:13, "And Yours, my Lord, is kindness, for You reward each man in accordance with his needs." What does the Psalmist mean with this statement? The fact that Hashem rewards one for his positive actions is not an act of kindness; it is just; it is the correct thing to do. The Besht explains that we forget that the ability to carry out the most simple activity originates from Hashem. We do nothing on our own. It is all Him. Without Hashem we are unable to act - period. Therefore, the fact that we receive reward for the actions that we execute, by employing the power and ability that He grants us, is a chesed, kindness, from Hashem. We are not really acting. He is acting. Yet, He grants us reward. This is His kindness to us. Veritably, when one makes the first effort to give some thought to how the world runs, he realizes that, indeed, every aspect of human life is much like the pikeach and the blind man. Hashem sustains the entire world. Those who toil relentlessly to earn that elusive "buck" do not grasp the fact that their effort neither plays a role, nor is it necessary in order to enable one's particular portion of the proverbial "pie." Does he not understand that what he gathers in his specific field of endeavor is due to Hashem's altruism? This is how the intelligent, observant Jew should think and perceive life. Regrettably, this form of intelligence eludes many.

Rav Shternbuch quotes Horav Moshe Yitzchak, zl, the Kelmer Maggid, who said that people think that by adding the often quoted, and not as often contemplated, b'ezras Hashem, with Hashem's help, one has fulfilled his obligation to Hashem. On the contrary, attributing one's success to Hashem's "assistance," is basically saying, "I did it, and Hashem helped." It is nothing more than kochi v'otzem yadi asah li es ha'chayil ha'zeh, "My strength and the might of my hand wrought for me all this wealth." The b'ezras Hashem is a little tidbit in which he includes Hashem together with his kochi v'otzem yadi. One must never forget that Hashem does not "assist", He is everything - He does it all!

V'zocharta es Hashem Elokecha ki Hu Ha'nosein lecha koach laasos chayil, "Then you shall remember Hashem, Your G-d, for it is He Who gave you strength to make wealth" (Devarim 8:18). Targum Onkelos interprets this pasuk in an intriguing manner. Arei Hu yaheiv lecha eitzah l'miknei nichsin, "For it is He Who gave you the advice to purchase property." In other words, not only is Hashem responsible for your success in business, but even the original idea of what to buy and when to buy it came from Hashem. We are not much more than innocent bystanders.

Bring near to yourself Aharon your brother…from amongst Bnei Yisrael to minister to Me. (28:1)

We wonder why the position of Kohen Gadol, High Priest, went to Aharon, as opposed to Moshe Rabbeinu, who was clearly the greatest Jew at the time. The Maggid, zl, m'Dubno gives a practical reason for this selection. The purpose of the Kohen Gadol is kaparah. He is the one who atones for the sins of the people and who must execute that service. Such a person must be from among the people, someone who understands them, whose appreciation of the average Jew is profound. One who understands their many foibles and misgivings is able to make sense of their errant behavior and shortcomings. Moshe was a great man, a Himmel mentch, a man whose head was in the clouds. He was not as close with the ha'mon am, average Jew, like his brother, Aharon. The Kohen Gadol was the one who personified oheiv shalom v'rodef shalom, "loves peace and pursues peace," loves people and brings them closer to Torah.

Not all peace is good! The Tanna in Pirkei Avos 1:12 emphasizes Hillel's dictum, "Be like the disciples of Aharon, love peace and pursue peace, love people and bring them closer to Torah." The Slonimer Rebbe, zl, Horav Avraham, commented, "Only such peace that ultimately brings Jews closer to Torah may be considered the shalom of Aharon. A peace that does not serve as a catalyst for bringing one closer to Torah is a false peace."

Bringing a Jew closer to a Torah way of life often requires an astute mind, while at other times, a practical, common sense approach will do the trick. Deep down within every Jew's psyche there exists a gravitational pull toward Torah. The problem is that it is covered with layers and layers of fear, indifference, and even resentment. If we can succeed in penetrating this covering, we can draw the individual to his origins, to the Torah.

Horav Shlomo Zalman Auerbach, zl, was the posek ha'dor, Halachic decisor, of his generation. He was Rosh Hayeshivah of Kol Torah, where his lectures throughout the years molded and shaped the minds of thousands of students. He was also paradigmatic of Aharon HaKohen, soft and sensitive, caring and loving, empathizing with each and every Jew, always looking for a way to bring Jews closer to Torah.

The Rosh Yeshivah would arrive daily at the Yeshivah via taxi. A number of times, the taxi would pull up to the curb, but Rav Shlomo Zalman would not alight. He remained in the cab, conversing with the driver for a few minutes, often for as long as ten minutes. What could they be talking about? Rav Shlomo Zalman was an individual who valued every moment. This was totally out of character.

One of the students was overcome by curiosity, to the point that after the Rosh Yeshivah went inside, he flagged over the taxi and asked the driver, "What gives? What were you talking about with the Rosh Yeshivah?"

"What?" asked the driver. "What did you call that elderly man? Are you saying that wonderful old man is your Rosh Yeshivah? He is learned? I never knew!" After some prodding, the driver shared his story, "We were once traveling to the yeshivah, and the gentleman asked me concerning my background. I replied that I was born near Yerushalayim, and I even remember attending an Orthodox school. The gentleman asked me what I had learned in school. I told him that I did not remember much, but I would share with him what I remember from my Chumash class. It began with Bereishis, Adam and Chavah. Next, I covered Avraham and Sarah, and I continued on. It was clear that the older man was deriving much pleasure from the stories. Regrettably, I remembered just so much. In order to keep up our conversation and make the man feel good, I would 'prepare' on Shabbos by taking my son's stories of the Torah and reading them. What can I say? He was actually enjoying these stories!"

What a brilliant way to bring a Jew closer to Torah. This could only have been achieved by an individual who felt another Jew's pain as his own, who loved each and every Jew as family.

Since the Kohen Gadol is to spread good will, reaching out to all Jews with love and care, he must be respected by the people. One listens to whom one respects. This is why the Kohen Gadol's vestments were outstanding in their beauty. When the Kohen Gadol stepped out bedecked in his Priestly vestments, he represented spiritual monarchy. He oozed royalty which, by its very nature, demanded respect. For this reason, the people readily accepted his word, allowing for him to atone for them.

Clothes do not necessarily make the person, but they do give one an idea about the nature of the individual. When a person dresses royally, he catches the eye of people. They look up to him and are willing to accept his guidance. This is especially true of an inner sanctity that glows within, as his countenance illuminates without.

It is related that once one of the premier Lithuanian Torah scholars came with a complaint to the Netziv, zl, at the time the Volozhiner Rosh HaYeshivah and that generation's pre-eminent Torah leader, with a complaint. Why is it that a number of the Admorim, Rebbes, who had large chassidic courts, lived a life of affluence, wearing beautiful, rich garments that reflected glory and royalty, while so many Roshei Yeshivah lived in squalor, suffering from abject poverty? The Netziv explained that this has been going on for quite some time. One can say that it dated back to the days of Moshe and Aharon's leadership of the Jewish People. There are two pursuits, missions or purposes in life. There are two ways to serve Hashem. Each and every generation has those who are better suited for one, while others seem to gravitate and revel in the other. Indeed, there are two ways/approaches toward reaching out to the Jewish People.

One derech, approach, is Aharon's way, whereby one reaches out with love, caring and sensitivity. This approach is best suited if one seeks to reach the common man, the one who is neither necessarily erudite, nor looking for scholarship. He seeks warmth, love, a shoulder to lean on, and a heart that will open up to him. To reach out to the ha'mon am, greater community, one must be impressive in dress, speech, and manner. This was Aharon's way.

Moshe's approach was the one that required pure Torah dissemination without embellishment: pristine Torah, lomdus, logical analysis, brilliant lecture and dialog. This approach does not hinge on impressive externals. One has only to look at the photographs of some of our greatest Torah scholars to notice that clothes did not play a role in their lives. Whether it was a simple hat, or a hat, which served its owner for years in all sorts of climates, or it was a kapote that was more mirror than cloth; to them it was all the same.

On the other hand, when Horav Chaim Soloveitchik, zl, who did not normally dress in specific rabbinic attire, travelled to Germany to meet with its rabbinic leadership, he was very particular in selecting his wardrobe. He commissioned a tailor to prepare for him a new kapote, carefully selecting the material himself. It had to be "stylish" and fit properly. Rav Chaim explained that his fastidiousness was due to the German Jews' discriminatory nature and demand concerning resplendent attire. Their idea of how a Rabbiner should present himself was quite different than what was the perspective in Eastern Europe. If, in their eyes, a Rav should dress a certain way, it would be a chillul kavod haTorah, desecration of the honor due the Torah, to act adversely.

Bring near to yourself Aharon, your brother…to minister to Me. (28:1)

The Yalkut (Shemos 247) makes the following somewhat cryptic statement: "Bring near to yourself Aharon, your brother." This is to what the pasuk in Tehillim 65:5, "Praises to the one whom You choose and draw near," is alluding. Praised is one whom Hashem selects, even though He has not brought him near; and fortunate is he whom Hashem has brought near, even though He has not chosen him. Who was chosen? Avraham Avinu, as it is written in Nechemiah 9:7, "You selected Avraham." Hashem did not bring Avraham near. The Patriarch did so on his own. Yaakov Avinu was chosen by Hashem, as it is written in Yeshayah 44: "And Yisrael, whom I have chosen." Yaakov was not brought close by Hashem. He did so on his own through his consummate devotion to Torah study, as it says, "But Yaakov was a wholesome man abiding in tents." Moshe Rabbeinu was selected by Hashem, as it says in Tehillim 106:23, "Had not Moshe, His chosen one." Moshe brought himself near. David HaMelech was chosen by Hashem, as it is written in Tehillim 78:70, "And He chose David, His servant." David brought himself near, as he says in Tehillim 119:63, "I am a friend to all who fear You." The Midrash concludes: "Fortunate are those whom were chosen by Hashem, although He did not bring them near." There were also those whom He brought near, although He did not choose them. They are Yisro and Rachav. Aharon HaKohen is doubly praised, for he was chosen, as it says in Shmuel I 2:28, "And choose him (Aharon) from among all the tribes of Yisrael to be a Kohen to Me," and he was brought near. This is why David HaMelech praises those who have achieved closeness and selection.

The question which presents itself after reading the above Yalkut is: What is the meaning of Hashem's not bringing Avraham, Yaakov, Moshe and David close to Him? If He did not bring them near, how were they worthy of being chosen? Horav Eliezer Kohn, zl, explains that all four underwent great trials administered by Hashem. They emerged triumphant, thereby earning their closeness with Hashem. It is due to these nisyonos that they were chosen by Hashem. The lesson to be derived from here is powerful. One who is not prepared to undergo nisyonos, trials for Hashem, cannot expect to be selected by Hashem. This is demonstrated by the fact that, although Yisro and Rachav were brought close - they were not among the "chosen" ones, the select few, with whom Hashem has a unique relationship.

One might think that this exalted status is contingent upon pedigree, special Divine intervention, or the execution of some special mitzvah. Chazal teach us that it is all up to the individual. Is he prepared to undergo nisyonos, trials for Hashem, or does his commitment have limitations? We ask Hashem for siyata d'Shmaya, Heavenly assistance, to grow in Torah, to earn a livelihood, and for a host of other spiritual and not so spiritual benefits. Are we prepared to forego some of the benefits and luxuries to serve Hashem amid nisayon? Are we willing to live a life of nisayon? True, we pray to Hashem that He remove nisyonos from our life, but that is because we fear failure. We are afraid that we will not emerge triumphant. If Hashem does test us, however, it is because He knows that we are capable of succeeding.

What about Aharon? He did not come forward on his own. Moshe was instructed to bring Aharon close. The Rosh Yeshivah explains that some people are different. Aharon HaKohen possessed the ability to overcome his natural character traits, so that he was capable of totally changing them. Our natural tendency is toward envy. Yet, Aharon expunged any sort of envy from himself and deferred his leadership position over the Jewish People; he not only accepted his younger brother, Moshe, but he did so with joy.

Last, Rav Kohn observes the methods employed by Yaakov Avinu and David HaMelech, to bring themselves closer to Hashem. Yaakov did it through diligent Torah study - with no interruption whatsoever. He lived in the tents of Torah. They were his home. David used the vehicle of yiraas Shomayim, fear of Heaven. He sought friendship only with those who were G-d-fearing, for whom nary a moment elapsed in which they did not think of Hashem. These were individuals who lived the maxim of shivisi Hashem l'negdi tamid, "I place Hashem before me always." Torah study and relationships with G-d-fearing Jews- those are the keys. I would add sincerity, but I think that is a given.

Upon it shall Aharon bring the spice incense up in smoke. (30:7)

v The Mizbayach HaZahav, Golden Altar, or Mizbayach HaPenimi, Inner Altar, was not used for the offering of flesh sacrifices, but for burning incense. Nonetheless, it was called a mizbayach, which is formed from its root word, zevach, sacrifice. The concept of sacrifice is the reducing of something to nothingness. The burning of incense has such beneficial impact that it can defeat plagues, calamities, even death. The mysterious power of the incense burning serves as reason for the privileged place within the Mishkan reserved for the Mizbayach upon which the incense was burnt. Hence, its name - Mizbayach HaPenimi, Inner Altar.

Reiach Nichochi, "My satisfying aroma" (Bamidbar 28:2), is the term used by the Torah to describe Hashem's "appreciation" of the Ketores, incense. It was, thus, burned on the Inner Altar, while the flesh sacrifices were burnt on the Mizbayach HaChitzon, Outer Altar. Horav Elie Munk, zl, cites Midrash Tadshei 11 that views the relationship between the Inner Altar vis-?-vis the Outer Altar to be very much like the neshamah, soul, is to the guf, body. The soul becomes elevated to the higher spheres, while the body is purified and sanctified for serving the Almighty.

This idea has its parallel in the existence of two Altars, each consecrated to a specific service. The animal flesh is burnt on one altar, while the incense ascends Heavenward from the Second Altar. It is only when the Inner Altar transforms the flesh offering into a pure, ethereal flame of incense that Hashem perceives the reiach nichoach. Rav Munk explains this as a two-part process. The sacrificial service expresses man's will to tame animal life by spilling its blood in honor of Hashem and having its flesh ascend in a sacred flame. The act of burning incense represents the disembodiment of the outer covering of flesh. What has up until now been physical is presently transformed when it comes in contact with the Altar erected before G-d. It is transformed into a fragrant flame which burns in tribute to Hashem, a flame like the spirit freed from earthly contingencies, drawn by an invisible force upward towards the celestial heights. The hot coals which were used for burning the incense came from the residue of the sacrifice taken from the Outer Altar.

The sense of smell, explains Rav Munk, is the purest of all five senses, since it was the only one not affected in the first sin. It is the least material sensation. Fragrance, thus, becomes synonymous with purity and spiritual delight. Hashem feels satisfaction from man's behavior, due to the reiach nichoach, satisfying aroma, which he sends up to him. Rav Munk observes that the terms reiach, smell, and ruach, spirit, are related, as are neshimah, breath, and neshamah, soul.

The incense on the Altar represents the triumph of spirit over matter, for the flesh corresponding with man's base nature succumbed, but the breath of life rose from its ashes as an ethereal flame which continues to give of its fragrance. Through these properties the incense has the power to triumph over destruction and ruin. It restrained harmful forces and was powerful enough to stop even the hand of death.

Va'ani Tefillah

B'raash gadol misnasim… v'omrim: Baruch kavod Hashem mimkomo.
With great noise raise themselves saying, Blessed is the glory of Hashem from His place.

The subjects revolving around the Heavenly spheres, as revealed to the Neviim, remain in an area far beyond human conception. Horav Shimon Schwab, zl, comments that such a discussion is analogous to a man born sightless, discussing the workings of a traffic light - red meaning stop; and green meaning go. Since he has never seen colors, the entire subject is theoretical. We do have some idea of the meaning of the pesukim. The first kadosh, kadosh, which comprises Kiddushah d'yeshivah, the Kedushah recited sitting, is followed by the pasuk, Baruch kavod Hashem mimkomo. As a precursor to this Heavenly response to Kedushah, we describe that uttering this pasuk initiates a "loud noise," almost a shattering of the senses. Why?

Kadosh, Kadosh, Kadosh intimates that Hashem's level of kedushah is so totally removed even from the fiery, Heavenly angels and creatures, that He remains in complete separation from all. The message of Baruch kavod Hashem mimkomo teaches the very opposite. L'umasam - means that Hashem is as close as possible to His creatures. This causes a great Heavenly furor. The message of Baruch teaches that, despite Hashem's awesome separation and His distance beyond our comprehension, the angels sense that He is coming closer and closer to them. This catalyzes their excited response, "Baruch kavod Hashem mimkomo."

In honor of
Ilana Ratner

The Jacobs Family

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