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Peninim on the Torah

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Rabbi A. Leib Scheinbaum
Hebrew Academy of Cleveland


And you shall command Bnei Yisrael and they shall take pure olive oil, crushed, for illumination, to light the eternal light. (27:20)

Yirmiyahu HaNavi says: Zayis raanan yifei pri toar kara Hashem shemeich. "A flourishing olive tree, a beautiful and shapely fruit Hashem has called Your Name" (Yirmiyahu 11:16). What did Yirmiyahu see that catalyzed his comparison of our ancestors to an olive tree? All types of liquids mix with one another, but oil stands by itself. So, too, Klal Yisrael does not mix with the non-Jews. As it says, V'lo sischatein - "You shall not be married to them." The Sfas Emes explains that oil's nature prevents it from mixing with water. Hashem has made the unique nature of the Jewish People similar to that of oil. Even when we sully ourselves with sin, we remain distinct from our non-Jewish neighbors. This is supported by the prohibition against intermarriage. The Torah does not just prohibit the act of intermarriage. The prohibition is written in the reflexive form, implying that one cannot bring himself into a union created by the marriage of a Jew and non-Jew. It is not simply forbidden; it cannot work. One will always remain separate. When oil is mixed with water, it will eventually rise to the top. So, too, the Jewish People cannot intermingle with the nations. Pure oil - even when crushed and mixed with its dregs - retains its separate nature.

To put the above into simple perspective, the following will have to suffice. The institution of marriage is a secular term used to describe what is supposed to be a lasting relationship between a man and a woman, in much the same way that the secular world terms it, "tying the knot." Then there is the Torah perspective of Kiddushin, a holy relationship, a bond based upon kedushah, a consecration. Jewish marriage is more than a relationship - it is a spiritual union between man, woman and G-d. If the couple brings Hashem into the equation, it becomes a sanctified relationship. The marriage functions not only on a physical level, but it also includes a spiritual component.

In his highly acclaimed manual for marriage, "The River, the Kettle and the Bird," the Rosh Yeshivah of Yeshivas Ner Israel, Horav Aharon Feldman, Shlita, teaches us the three stages of marriage. The initial stage is much like a river which connects two cities, serving as a channel by which merchandise can be shipped from one city to another. It is the bridge that connects the two communities. A couple/ man and woman, begin their marriage with good relations between one another. They remain two separate entities with a bridge/river that allows them to fulfill one another's needs. In the secular world, this bridge is called love. Perhaps it is love of oneself, because, in truth, this is no more than a business relationship. The two people do not even have a common goal, similar to a business relationship in which each member is out to take care of himself.

The second stage of marriage is like a kettle of water resting on the stove. The fire on the stove and the water in the kettle work together to create boiling water or steam. Each one needs the other. The fire on the stove without the water is static, much like the water in the kettle without the fire. Water and fire, however, cannot coexist. Thus, the kettle separates them, allowing them to coexist and function in such a manner in which they can achieve the mutual goal of creating boiling water. Likewise, a couple, over time, work together towards achieving a mutual goal. They each have a distinct task; they remain individuals; their goal, however, is mutual and can be realized only when they work together. The kettle has "one over" the river in that the two principals work toward a common goal.

The third stage of marriage - and perhaps the rarest - is likened to a bird. The bird has two ways of propelling itself forward: its legs and its wings. There is a time and place for each to function. At times, the bird needs to walk; then it uses its legs. Other circumstances require the use of its wings. The legs and wings have disparate functions and different goals, but they are both organs of the same body. The wings and legs are always together as part of the same body. Indeed, a bird that is missing either one of these vital organs is blemished. Likewise, in the marriage relationship, husband and wife have varied functions and individual goals, but they are united through matrimony and love as one body. Perfect unity is the goal of a Jewish marriage. This can only be achieved when the spiritual component of marriage is realized.

In his book, "Perfect Strangers," Rabbi Avraham Jacobovitz observes that such marriages are rare. I am not sure that they are rare, but they are certainly unique and clearly ideal. While there are couples who live out their lives in complete harmony - no fights - peace and tranquility reign in their home, they are still not yet wed in the spiritual sense. They are compatible with one another, like the river or the kettle that serve as conduits between two separate communities/entities. Thus, they provide emotional and physical support for one another. Nonetheless, they are not one unit. Their souls are not united. Unless the "Hashem component" is entered into the relationship, the souls will never unite; the marriage will never achieve kedushah.

This paper is not a manual for marriage, but rather, it is an exploration of why the matrimonial relationship of a Jew and gentile can never achieve the level of unity required in a Torah-sanctioned marriage. When the foundations of the religions are as different as night and day, when one is compared to oil and the other to water, it just becomes quite impossible to create a symbiotic fusion between the two components.

The Menorah is lit from the purest and finest oil, which is derived from the first drops after the olive has been broken open. A second oil is derived after the olive has been crushed and ground. While this second oil is not used for the Menorah, it is used for the Menachos, Meal-offering. The Midrash comments, "Just like the olive… that is harvested and pounded, and then ground and afterwards surrounded with ropes and pressed by rocks, and, after all of this, it gives its oil, so, too, the Jewish People. The gentiles come and pound and drive them from place to place, imprison and place them in chains, surround them with soldiers and afterward, they (the Jews) repent, and Hashem answers them." A fascinating Medrash which is explained by the Sfas Emes. The two types of oil are a reference to the Jewish People during two periods in their nascency. The "first drops" - the extra-pure oil, free of dregs and impurities, came when, at Har Sinai, Klal Yisrael declared, Naase v'Nishmah, "We will hear and we will listen." It was then that they revealed their total commitment to Hashem, their desire to carry out His will. The secondary oil, with its impurities and dregs, symbolizes the Jews, but at a later time - a few weeks later when they descended to the depths of turpitude following the sin of the Golden Calf. Their pure beginning was tainted by sin, just as their pure hearts were blemished by the introduction of the yetzer hora into their lives. Yet, Yirmiyahu HaNavi called the nation a thriving olive tree - even at their time of sin, at their point of degradation. To find favor in Hashem's eyes, explains the Sfas Emes, we must squeeze out the oil from dregs. This can only be executed through teshuvah, the process of repentance and return.

The secondary oil was not used in the Sanctuary for the Menorah. It lacked sufficient purity. Outside, however, in the Temple Courtyard, it was used as part of the Menachos. The Flour-offering was unique in that it was the Korban offered by the ani, Jew stricken by poverty. An animal or fowl was beyond his meager budget. A flour-offering mixed with the specific quota of oil would suffice. This offering symbolizes a Jew who has lost his way, who has fallen from his initial lofty spiritual perch. Nonetheless, through our connection with the pure oil inherent within the dregs, we retain a ceaseless capacity to raise an eternal light l'haalos ner tamid - always. Even during those times that we are lowly, the Jew still has within him a drop of pure oil.

They shall take for you pure, pressed olive oil for illumination. (27:20)

There were two forms of olive oil. First was the oil which was used for the Menorah. This was pure without sediments, derived from the first pressing. The olives were picked from the top of the tree, where they received the most sunshine. They were then pressed with a mortar - rather than ground in a mill. The second oil, which was the product of grinding and included within it tiny pieces of sediment, was appropriate only for the Menachos, Meal-offerings. Kassis la'ma'or, pressed for illumination; v'lo kassis la'Menachos, not pressed for the Menachos, say Chazal. The oil used for the Menachos did not require the quality inherent in oil processed through kassis, pressing with a mortar.

In the Talmud Megillah 6b, Chazal make a fascinating statement concerning limud ha'Torah, Torah study. If one states, Lo yagati u'matzasi, "(Despite the fact that) I did not toil in learning, yet I achieved success", Al taamin, "Do not believe him." The reason for this, explains the K'sav Sofer, is that Torah can only be acquired through exertion. If one toils in pursuit of Torah knowledge, he will succeed. Without toil, there is no success. The K'sav Sofer applies Chazal's exposition regarding the oil, kassis la'maor, v'lo kassis l'Menachos, in order to explain the distinction between Torah study and other academic disciplines.

Kassis la'maor; one must press himself and toil in order to achieve the light of Torah. This illumination does not come easy. One must expend effort. V'lo kassis la'Menachos; for a livelihood (minchah is a meal-offering - meal symbolizes parnassah, livelihood), he does not have to exert himself. Whatever hishtadlus, endeavoring, he applies will be sufficient. The rest is derived from Hashem's blessing. One can work minimally, yet amass great wealth. Others may work day and night and barely eke out a living. His toil is not the key to success.

And make holy garments for your brother, Aharon, for honor and distinction. (28:2)

Seeing the Kohanim resplendent in their Bigdei Kehunah, Priestly vestments, must have been a glorious sight. These garments were similar to those worn by monarchs. Indeed, in the Yom Kippur Musaf, a prayer describes the appearance of the Kohen Gadol. Emes mah nehedar hayah Kohen Gadol, "True! How majestic was the Kohen Gadol." I have always wondered how it was that this wondrous sight did not impact all of Klal Yisrael. Some Jews, albeit a minority, did not buy into the program. After seeing such majesty and splendor, one should be enthusiastically filled with exceptional pride. Yet, we see that this was not always the case. Why?

Perhaps it is because, in order to be impressed, in order to be impacted, one must take note; one must see. One who does not perceive the greatness of the image before him is either sightless or refuses to look. One who refuses to look, to delve into the spectacle before him, will not be moved by its wonder. With the power of cognitive perception one is able to envision the beauty of an experience even though all that stands before his eyes are simple, mundane allusions to the greater experience. Please bear with me as I explain with a captivating story, which was related by my Rav, Rabbi Aharon Dovid Lebovics, in his Shabbos morning drashah.

The story was actually relayed on a tape by Rabbi Fishel Schachter. Rabbi Schachter related his family's experience with a baalas teshuvah, a young woman who had embraced Torah observance. Sadly, as the yetzer hora, evil inclination, would have it, as soon as she became frum, observant, everything started going downhill. She sustained a serious brain injury in an accident. Her health began to deteriorate. To add insult to injury, her mother vehemently opposed her decision to adopt the Orthodox way of life. Rather than giving her support in her time of need, her mother would rub it in that all of this had happened because she had become observant. This is neither the forum nor the venue for critiquing the mother's parenting skills, but let it suffice to say that the young woman was in the hospital alone and scared.

Somehow, the mother contacted Rabbi Schachter and the Rav and his family became regular visitors in the hospital, encouraging the girl and empathizing with her ordeal. Then the dread news came: she required life-sustaining surgery, which might have a serious effect on her vision. The surgery to save her life could drastically impact her optic nerve. Confronting sightlessness is a tall order for anyone, especially a young baalas teshuvah who had already been through so much. One would have expected a number of horrible reactions, but what Rabbi Schachter heard from this girl was startling.

Rabbi Schachter visited her that day, and she told him about her crisis. She was frightened about the surgery and, for lack of something to say, he injudiciously asked her, "Why?" Her reply is what this story is all about: "Being cooped up in the hospital, sedated with pain killers, unable to move about freely, not knowing what tomorrow will bring, I have one thing to which I look forward every week. The Bikur Cholim girls visit every Friday and set up a little table with grape juice and challah. They provide me with an electric candelabra, so that I may experience Shabbos. This is my only moment of joy and reflection. If I lose my eyesight - how will I see Shabbos?"

Imagine, this young baalas teshuvah saw Shabbos! When the candelabra was lit and her little hospital table was bedecked with challah and grape juice, her perception of the holy day was beyond - indeed, way beyond - what the average frum Jew experiences. Her ability to see transcended the physical. An addendum to the story occurs six months later when, upon eating her Shabbos meal at Rabbi Schachter's house, she spilled horseradish on her dress. She saw the stain!

And make holy garments for your brother Aharon, for honor and distinction… They shall cover Aharon and his sons when they enter into the Ohel Moed… to serve in the Sanctuary…It shall be a statute forever for him and for his descendants after him. (28:2,43)

The idea of clothing making the man is a Madison Avenue stratagem. In truth, as we see from the Bigdei Kehunah, Priestly vestments, clothing is actually a reflection of the man. They do not make a person, but they do convey a message and allow us a window into the wearer's personality and character. The Bigdei Kehunah were an essential part of the character of the Kehunah, Priesthood. Their significance is evident from the instructions concerning their construction. The validity of the sacrificial service is dependent upon the priestly garments. Indeed, they are a chukas olam, statute forever, such that, without these garments, the Kohen is viewed as a zar, stranger, and may not serve in the Sanctuary.

Horav S.R. Hirsch, zl, observes that the Priestly garments must be supplied and owned by the nation. This explains why only a Kohen dressed in these garments may be called a Kohen altogether. Only in this attire does he come forward to represent the nation as its noble servant. Only in this manner does the ritual he performs become that service which the nation was commanded to render to the Sanctuary. Only thus can the ideas - both esoteric and ritualistic - attain the character of a duty commanded by Hashem. Only then does the service which begins as an act of obedience transform into devotion symbolizing the nation's commitment to Torah.

Rav Hirsch explains that, without the Priestly vestments, the Kohen is merely an ordinary individual, with his ritual taking on the character of personal predilection - not the representative of the nation. Thus, he produces the very antithesis of the attitude which the Sanctuary is intended to foster. Rav Hirsch goes as far as to posit that without his Priestly garments, the individual personality of the officiating Kohen stands lacking, with all the human failings and shortcomings that can afflict even the finest and best among us. Without his garb, the Kohen might well present a defective version of the ideal which the sacrifices should symbolize.

When the Kohen stands before Hashem, radiant in his Priestly attire, he presents himself not in terms of the personality he might be, but rather, as the character he should have in accordance with the requirements as dictated by the Torah. By the very act of donning the garments for the express purpose of carrying out the service in the Sanctuary, he makes both himself and those whom he represents aware that, as a person, he is still inadequate regarding the demands symbolized by the Sanctuary.

Rav Hirsch posits that clothing per se is a reminder of man's moral calling. Indeed, it is the most conspicuous feature that characterizes a creature as a human being. Clothing was first given to Man when Hashem sent His children out of Gan Eden into the world, in which toil and renunciation were a way of life. The external mundane world, with its physicality and attendant moral dangers, presents constant obstacles which might lead man astray, thus causing him to descend to the level of beast. Clothing is his reminder.

In the Talmud Sanhedrin 94a, Chazal relate that Rabbi Yochanan Kari lei l'mani mechubadosai, the Tanna Rabbi Yochanan referred to his clothes as his honor guards. Indeed, the appropriate garments imbue a person with dignity and respectability, often signifying his station in life. Horav Yisrael Belsky, Shlita, adds that the manner in which a person dresses reveals the inner truth about himself. One who feels that he is an eved Hashem, a servant of the Almighty, dresses the part - with a clean , pressed shirt, tucked in, thereby presenting himself in a respectable manner which brings honor to the Torah world which he represents.

In contrast, is the person who wants to feel free and unencumbered - unrestrained by convention and tradition. He may choose a hairstyle that fits in best in a bar or casino, and wear clothing that is provocative, which sends a foolish message or makes a negative statement. Some go so far as to mutilate their bodies. These practices are designed to shock spectators and project an image of living beyond normal human convention. These styles reflect the baseness of the human condition, the sad state of affairs and insecurity that the wearer presents about him/herself. Their lack of self-respect is evident. The only question is what prompted this tragic response.

The Rosh Yeshivah explains that every style of garment conveys a message. When a person wears clothing that identifies him as a ben Torah, he is heralding to those with whom he comes in contact that he belongs to a unique club. He is a member of a group of people who are dedicated to spiritual growth, whose relationship vis-a-vis the physical world in which they live coincides with the will of Hashem. Wearing clothes that are proper and modest in nature manifests respect for oneself and respect for others.

There are people who, by the clothing they wear, convey a false message. They present themselves as G-d-fearing, righteous individuals when, in fact, this could not be further from the truth. Their clothing and public demeanor are designed to fool the world, such as when an unsavory and immoral character dresses up like a holy person and portrays himself as such, while concealed behind closed doors he commits the most vicious acts of moral degradation. Indeed, there are even those who make use of their rabbinic garb to pass as distinguished scholars, thereby granting themselves license to commit acts of indiscretion, and to slander and malign those who have the nerve not to respect their "public" image.

Yes, clothes tell us something about a person. I have, over the years, come across a number of "wardrobe" stories, many of which I have used. I have two new such stories which convey a penetrating message. In "The Life and Times of Reb Rephoel Soloveitchik," the reader garners a glimpse into the lifestyle of the Brisker Rav, zl, his devotion to Torah, Klal Yisrael and family. The Brisker derech, way, in ehrlichkeit, integrity, is characterized by a lifestyle of pashtus, simplicity. They were mistapek b'muat, subsisted on the bare necessities, avoiding the luxuries and financial pursuits which undermine the struggle to achieve emes, truth. Rav Rephoel remembers that, as small children, he and his siblings were inculcated with instructions from their father regarding what is significant in life and what is not, what to place on the scale of values and what not. Rav Rephoel was wont to say, "I lack nothing." His wife and daughter attested: "We never craved luxuries, and we were neither attracted to nor influenced by the latest styles and merchandise in the display cases. Everything in our home was the most basic and simple in nature."

Shortly after their marriage, Rav Rephoel and his Rebbetzin moved into their new apartment. It was not large; it was not lavish; it was simple, equipped with the very basics they needed to live. Rav Rephoel asked his father if he should make a Chanukas HaBayis, consecration of a new dwelling. The Brisker Rav replied that for the first meal which they eat in the new apartment, they should invite a poor man to share their meal. This would be their Chanukas HaBayis. We now have an idea of the type of individual Rav Rephoel was and his perspective on life.

Rav Rephoel never owned a new suit until he married. Everything that he wore until that point was a hand-me-down from his older brothers. During the War of 1948, he had one suit which he wore both for Shabbos and during the week. When the suit needed cleaning for Pesach, he was informed by the dry cleaner that it could be cleaned easily at home by brushing it down with kerosene. He cleaned his suit with kerosene, but could not bring it indoors because of the odor. He stayed indoors all day, while the suit aired out on the balcony.

Rav Rephoel once received a suit from his brother that was made of strong, good quality cloth. It had become too frayed to wear. Rav Rephoel took it to the tailor who turned the material inside out and cut it down to size. When Rav Rephoel brought the suit home to show his father, the Brisker Rav said, Es iz tsu shain far dir, "It is too nice for you (to wear now). Put it away in the closet." He put it away until he became a choson. He wore this suit to his wedding.

The next story concerns Horav Michoel Forschlager, zl, a talmid chacham, Torah scholar of repute, who lived in Baltimore, circa early twentieth century. He was a true Torah genius as attested to by such distinguished Roshei Yeshivah as Horav Eliyahu Meir Bloch, zl, Horav Yitzchak Yaakov Ruderman, zl, Horav Mordechai Gifter, zl, Horav Yisrael Gustman, zl, and the Satmar Rav, zl. His Rebbe, the Avner Nezer offered him semichah, ordination, at the age of eighteen. Rav Forshlager demurred, claiming that he did not want to practice rabbinics. Well before the age of thirty, he was considered to be among the most brilliant Talmudists in Europe. He spent his life engrossed in Torah study, writing brilliant novella. He shunned the limelight. His greatest enjoyment in life was speaking in learning with those who came to visit him. Our story, which was related by Rabbi Yechiel Spero in "Touched by a Story," is about one such incident and the lifelong impression it left on two yeshivah students.

The Rosh Yeshivah of Ner Israel, Horav Yitzchak Yaakov Ruderman, would send older students to Rav Forshlager's home on Erev Shabbos to speak in learning with him. One Friday afternoon, two bochurim, students of the Yeshivah, knocked on the apartment door of Rav Forshlager. When they entered the apartment, they felt they had walked into a different world. The apartment - if one could call it that - was sparsely furnished. Whatever furniture was there was old and chipped, the couch was thread bare, the floor covering was worn and cracked. This was, however, not the most striking aspect of the visit. It was the sweater which Rav Michoel wore. The fabric was tattered, discolored and worn out. The mere fact that the sweater did not simply fall apart was incredible. They had never seen anyone wearing such a deteriorated garment.

Apparently, from the appearance of the small apartment, Rav Michoel cared about only one thing: Torah. Seforim lined the shelves from floor to ceiling. The dining room table served as a place to eat, but, even more so, as a place to study. It was overflowing with seforim - some opened, others still closed, but about to be opened. Rav Michoel made room at the table, so that the students could sit, but, before they began learning, he had to do one more thing. He left the room and, a few moments later, returned sporting another sweater - one that was slightly less torn, less discolored, and perhaps slightly more presentable. Rav Michoel noticed the students sort of staring at him, so he took the time to explain his behavior.

"Let me explain why I changed sweaters. I own two sweaters: one for Shabbos and one for the weekday. Prior to your arrival, I was wearing my weekday sweater. After all, I am home alone. When I saw that I would be speaking with two bnei Torah, students of the Yeshivah, it was such a kavod, honor, I felt it important to change into my Shabbos sweater. After all, where would be my kavod haTorah?" This is how a gadol, Torah giant, understands kavod haTorah: to change sweaters in honor of two yeshivah students who came to speak in learning. Nothing but Shabbos "finery" could be sufficient for such distinguished guests.

Va'ani Tefillah

V'Solicheinu komemius l'artzeinu. And lead us upright to our land.

In his commentary to Parashas Bechukosai (Vayikra 26:13), Rashi interprets komemius (v'oleich eschem komemius, "and I will lead you upright") as b'komah zekufah, "an upright and erect posture." Clearly, there must be a deeper meaning to this. Perhaps it is true that our moral posture is significant, but, concerning our physical posture, is it necessarily a blessing to be able to stand straight? In his Baruch She'amar, commentary to the siddur, Horav Baruch HaLevi Epstein, zl, explains that one's physical posture can be a reflection of a much deeper issue. It all depends on why one's posture is "failing." He cites Tosfos in the Talmud Kiddushin 36B, who comment that "one who eats from his friend's charitable hand is naturally ashamed to look in his face." When we enjoy the benefits graciously rendered to us from others, we have a slight feeling of embarrassment; - thus, we feel awkward in facing up to them.

We, therefore, ask Hashem to lead us upright into the land. We want to be deserving and our reward warranted. We do not want to be perceived as beggars who have accepted a gift. We want to be worthy to stand erect and upright, proud of our service and commitment to the Almighty. It might be a "tall" order, but the alternative is standing stooped over, announcing that we are undeserving of Hashem's graciousness.

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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