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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, pressed olive oil for illumination. (27:20)

The Midrash Tanchuma questions the fact that pure, pressed olive oil is required for illumination - although it is not ingested. Yet, the oil used for the Korban Minchah, Meal-offering, which is consumed, does not require such a degree of purity. Horav Eliyahu Meir Kovner explains that there is a difference whether one is acting for himself or when one is acting on behalf of others. The Korban Minchah is a personal offering, which is eaten by the one who offers it. It is a personal "thing". When it concerns oneself, one's own comfort zone, the Torah does not demand that the oil must be of the highest quality.

The Menorah, however, shed its light outward; its designation being to illuminate the world. The oil used for the Menorah is oil that serves a purpose for others. When one seeks to brighten the hearts and lives of others - he must use the clearest, purest and finest quality "oil". Indeed, he must carefully introspect his own motives to determine their purity level. "Am I really doing this to help others; or am I just seeking an opportunity to promote my ego?" When dealing with others, there is no room for personal "sediment" (person himself must be above reproach). To be effective, one's motive must be all pure. Furthermore, when reaching out to others, not only must it be pure, it should be real. All too often, we empathize emotionally with those in need, but we do very little about bringing our heartfelt emotions to reality. The Torah states, V'lo yizach haChoshen mei'al ha'Eiphod, "And the Breastplate shall not be detached upon the Eiphod" (Ibid. 28:28). The Breastplate was worn by the Kohen Gadol over his heart. Since the Breastplate bore the names of the Tribes on it, the Kohen Gadol was inspired to pray for the Jewish People - who were always close to his heart. The Eiphod was a garment that the Kohen Gadol wore over his Tunic and Robe. It was similar to an apron, extending over his shoulders by means of straps. The Torah admonishes us not to permit the Breastplate from being disconnected from the Eiphod.

The Mishkoltzer Rebbe, Shlita, offers a homiletic reason for this. The names of the Tribes were inscribed on the Avnei Shoham, stones, which were at the top of the Eiphod straps. Likewise, the names of the Tribes were engraved on the Avnei Choshen, stones of the Breastplate. The lesson, explains the Rebbe, is that the stones representing Klal Yisrael which are over the heart, should not be separated from the stones worn over the shoulders. Why? We often feel in our hearts for our fellow Jews, but are we ready to carry him on our shoulder?

It is not enough to just empathize and feel bad. We must lift him up over our shoulder and do something about expressing our empathy.

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

Much of the Parsha is devoted to describing the Bigdei Kehunah, Holy Vestments worn by the Kohanim, their construction and materials. Clearly, great significance is attributed to the manner in which the Kohen presents himself. Veritably, it is not only the Kohen - indeed, every Jew must maintain a dress code in which his attire is modest and does not call attention to the person's body but rather to his personality and character. In order for one's personality to be noticed, he/she should not be detracting others by having them focus on his/hers clothes - or lack thereof. Jewish People also have a religious uniform: A yarmulke/kippah/head-covering, indicates our respect for Hashem. Tzitzis are the fringes that are attached to a four-cornered garment, and bespeak a Jew's affiliation with mitzvah observance. In addition, we are not permitted to wear clothing made of shatnez, a mixture of wool and linen.

Moreover, there is even a specific sequence to the manner in which one dresses, designating what one puts on first. The Kohen Gadol donned his Holy Vestments sequentially, with the clothing that covered the lower half of his body being put on first, then followed by the garments that covered his upper body. The final article of clothing that the Kohen Gadol put on was the Tzitz HaKodesh, Holy Golden Plate which bore on it the Name of Hashem. I once heard that this sequence teaches us an important lesson: One should not make use of Hashem's Name until after he has addressed the areas of physicality and the mundane, which are represented by the lower half of his body. Too many are ready to accept the mantle of G-dliness upon themselves, even though their personal "house", their private activities, are far from in order.

The Tzitz had the power to effect forgiveness for Klal Yisrael's public indiscretion. It could also return the kedushah v'taharah, holiness and purity, to the Sanctuary. Likewise, this is the function of those who represent the epitome of spiritual leadership - those who wear the spiritual Tzitz. They too, must be circumspect in keeping the ethical and moral discipline expected of a Jew. One who seeks to wear the mantle of the Tzitz must prepare himself for the personal and communal demands of this position.

While clothes certainly do not make the man, the concept of proper attire, in addition to the Jewish code of dress - attire that brings both honor and glory to the wearer and to Heaven - is central to Jewish life and values. The following "clothing" episodes each convey an important lesson, which I will leave for the readers to decide.

The first story takes place in Heathrow Airport as two Jews - one observant and one who was not - yet - observant, and who was sitting there having his donut and coffee. He was not wearing a yarmulke and made a point of informing his fellow traveler that his son in Yerushalayim was fully Torah-observant, studied in a Kollel, and had a large family all of whom were deeply committed to Hashem.

The observant Jew was obviously taken aback by this information. How did a Kollel fellow emerge from such a home, as represented by the father's unaffiliation with Torah observance? "It all happened because of clothes!" began the father. "My son was a top student in undergraduate school, where he excelled and seemed to gravitate to the study of law. He was wooed by a number of universities and in the end, settled on a prestigious school that granted him a hefty scholarship. Following graduation, he served a year of internship at the Justice Ministry.

"This was a wonderful experience. Our son excelled in all areas, and developed an impressive reputation. He seemed to have a very bright future ahead. Then Rosh Hashanah came along. You see, despite the fact that our family was unobservant, we did observe one tradition: our family got together Rosh Hashanah night for a festive meal. This event meant very much to our son. It was his family time. It was also his sole expression of a relationship with Judaism. When my son asked permission to take off from work, he was told, 'Listen, we have never had a Jew work here before. We will allow you to take the evening off, but please keep it to yourself!'

"When my son returned from his furlough, he discovered to his chagrin that his office had been moved. He was now in a small cubicle facing the alley, with no other view other than the garbage bins in the back. It was clearly a retaliation for "being" Jewish. He knew that they would never fire him because of religious reasons. They would just make his life miserable until he quit.

"Well, my son was not giving in, he would force the issue another way. He went to a store that sold Chassidic clothes and purchased the most attention-seeking garments he could find. You can imagine how his boss must have felt when he saw my son's refusal to bend and conform to his regulations. The next step was to grow a beard and payos, earlocks. Finally, at a certain point, the High Justice called him over and asked him to explain what it was that he was wearing. The response was that it was the garb of a Jew. 'What is a Jew - and why does he wear these specific garments?' was his immediate question. My son began to do research and learned the reason for, and significance of, every garment. His research led him to deeper introspection of his life, values and future aspirations. In short, he became observant, moved to the Holy Land, met a lovely girl from a similar background. Today, they are living happily ever after - all because of the Jewish clothes that he was compelled to wear."

The second story occurred at the Displaced Persons Camp where the Klausenberger Rebbe, zl, was interned following World War II. It was home to thousands of survivors of Hitler's diabolical assault on Judaism. The Klausenberger understood that even the staunchest believer would be hard-pressed to retain his heretofore unshakable belief. This was a cataclysmic destruction that not only took its toll on the physical body of the Jewish People; it had wreaked havoc with the spiritual/emotional compass of many survivors as well. Taking everything into consideration, the Klausenberger went about his business reaching out with love to all those who would listen.

One day, while walking in the camp, he chanced upon a young teenage girl who was walking barelegged. The Klausenberger made it his goal to minister to the spiritual as well as physical needs of the survivors. He looked at the girl and, in a pleasant, soothing voice, asked her why she was not wearing stockings. The girl cried out that she had none. Therefore, she was relegated to walk around barelegged. The Klausenberger was of the opinion that this was a tznius issue that required immediate resolution. He immediately took off his shoes, then removed his long black socks - the only pair that he possessed - and gave his socks to the girl! He explained to her that for a man to walk around without socks was not an infringement on tznius. For a bas Yisrael to walk barelegged was unbecoming.

She never forgot this incident with the Rebbe. Indeed, she saved those socks for years. They represented to her the message: "Someone cares about my neshamah, soul." As a result of this heartfelt act of caring, the girl remained observant, raising a beautiful family devoted to our Torah heritage. More than half a century passed before she removed those socks from their special place. The Klausenberger Rebbe had passed away in Eretz Yisrael. No longer a teenager, and beset with health issues, she made the trip to the house of the Rebbe, where his family was sitting shivah, seven-day period of mourning. With tears streaming down her face, she presented the socks to the family - and related the story to them. They did not know who she was - but, now they would never forget her.

A gold bell and a pomegranate, a gold bell and a pomegranate on the hem of the Robe, all around. (28:34)

There is a debate between Rashi and Ramban concerning how the Paamonim and Rimonim, pomegranates and bells, were placed at the hem of the Meil. There were seventy-two pomegranates and seventy-two bells, which allude to the seventy-two possible shades of white which could render someone a metzora, spiritual leper. The Baal HaTurim explains that since the Meil, Robe, atoned for the sin of speaking lashon hora, slanderous speech, the number was appropriate, in that it reminded people of the evils of, and the penalty for gossiping. Rashi posits that each bell was followed by a pomegranate next to it. Ramban contends that the bells were actually sewn into the pomegranate. The above pasuk, Paamon zahav, paamon zahav v'rimon, "A gold bell and a pomegranate, a gold bell and a pomegranate," implies that the sequence follow Rashi's position. However, in Parashas Pekudei (Shemos 39:25) the Torah writes, Va'yitnu es ha'paamonim b'soch ha'rimonim, "And they placed the bells amid the pomegranates" that seems to support Ramban's position. How do we reconcile these two descriptions of the hem of the Meil?

In his commentary to the Torah, the Chasam Sofer suggests that perhaps both Rashi and Ramban are correct in their understanding of the pesukim and the way the pomegranates and bells were stitched to the Meil. He explains that there was a paamon, bell, without a pomegranate in it, followed by a pomegranate with a bell in it, then followed by a single bell, followed by a pomegranate with a bell inside, etc. Thus, Rashi's commentary which posits that the bells followed pomegranates, and Ramban's position that the bells had within them a pomegranate, is also realistic. They are both correct; the Meil's hem had both: filled bells and empty bells. There was however, no individual pomegranate. They were either embedded with a bell, or not there. Every rimon, pomegranate, had a bell embedded within it. Accordingly, the number of pomegranates was less than the number of bells. Thus, the number seventy-two must apply to the amount of bells that were at the hem of the Robe.

The Chasam Sofer suggests a profound lesson to be implied from the bells and pomegranates. One should not think that lashon hora applies only with regard to the negative speech one speaks about another person. One who speaks positively about himself, aggrandizing and expounding his many good deeds, is also subject to the exhortation of lashon hora. By publicly lauding his good deeds, he is insinuating the faults of others - for not acting accordingly! We are being taught a new dimension to the sin of lashon hora. Unknowingly, by promulgating our own positive traits, our good deeds, our mitzvah performance, we are intimating the faults of others whose track record of performance is less than glowing. We do not realize how every action that we perform has an impact on those around us. This is especially true if one is blessed with a distinguished position. People look up to him and follow his every word. Without thinking, one can hurt others. It goes without saying that when one speaks about himself, his exploits, the successes of his children and grandchildren, he might unwittingly be hurting someone in his proximity - who is not as fortunate as he is.

Our lives are public. The Steipler Gaon, Horav Yaakov Yisrael Kanievsky, zl, went out to purchase a Lulav and esrog for Succos. He was escorted by one of his close students, who had often accompanied his revered Rebbe in the past. The various dealers were acutely aware of the students' ability to steer the Steipler in their direction. He understood the business and did not want to waste his Rebbe's time. Aware of his power, each dealer vied for him to visit their establishment. Obviously, whoever had the good fortune to sell a Lulav and Esrog to the Steipler would be besieged with customers seeking to buy his product. There was no greater endorsement than the Steipler buying his Lulav and Esrog from a specific vendor. The young man chose a certain dealer whom he knew was meticulous in selecting the finest quality Esrogim. This would shorten the time the Rav spent searching for the right esrog.

As soon as the Steipler entered the shop, everything seemed to come to a halt. All eyes were on him. The shop was filled with customers, so the Steipler was immediately ushered into a back room where he could inspect the merchandise in peace. The nervous proprietor had selected a group of Esrogim which he felt were the finest in his possession. This would hopefully hasten the Steipler's choice. Time was a very special commodity for the Steipler. The Steipler began the process of inspection, picking up the first Esrog, inspecting it, and then putting it down. It seemed that it was not up to his standards. He then went to the second Esrog and did the same thing, putting it down after inspecting it. He went through quite a number of Esrogim - the same way: picking it up; inspecting it; then placing it back in the box. He then returned to the very first esrog that he had inspected, and asked the proprietor to "wrap it up." He would purchase the first Esrog that he had inspected. This was the Esrog that he had originally, quickly dismissed. The proprietor was perplexed, but, he was not asking questions. He had made a sale - and that was all that counted to him.

The student, however, was not so dismissive: he wanted to understand what his Rebbe had just done - and why. If this Esrog was not "top drawer" he could have easily gone to another store in search of the perfect Erog. The Steipler was not one to acquiesce when it concerned mitzvah observance. Why had he seemingly settled now?

The Steipler's reply taught the young man an important lesson concerning a Jew's service to Hashem and to what limits one should go in performing a mitzvah. "You are correct," the Steipler began, "I could go to any number of shops and quite possibly find a Lulav and Esrog that will be out of this world. But, at what price? I do not mean money. Let me explain. Had I left the shop without purchasing an Esrog, word would have immediately spread throughout the street that I had left the store without purchasing an Esrog. Can you imagine how this would have affected his bottom line? Indeed, perspective buyers would have begun not to frequent this establishment. To cause another Jew to lose customers is a high price to pay for an Esrog - one that I refuse to pay. A mitzvah at the expense of someone else's livelihood is not my idea of the mitzvah of Lulav and Esrog."

The Altar shall be holy of holies. (29:37)

The Torah refers to the Mizbayach HaChitzon, Outer Altar, as Kodesh Kodoshim, "holy of holies," while the Mizbayach HaPenimi, Inner Altar, which was used for burning the Ketores, Incense, and situated within the Heichal opposite the Aron HaKodesh, is referred to as kodesh, "holy" (only). The kedushah, sanctity, of the Mizbayach HaPenimi was greater than that of the Outer Altar. Why then is it referred to only as "holy." The Mizbayach HaChitzon, Outer Altar, was also called Mizbayach Adamah, because its inside was filled with dirt; yet, it is called the "holy of holies." What is the Torah teaching us?

Horav Moshe Feinstein, zl, focuses on this anomaly and derives a number of ethical lessons from these seemingly "misplaced" designations. The Mizbayach HaChitzon was designated as holy of holies because it was outside, for all of Klal Yisrael to see. Thus, its influence on the ha'mone am, general Jewish population, was exponentially greater than its counterpart within the Heichal. Whoever beheld the Outer Altar became (or, should have become) suffused with greater potential for kedushah. The Mizbayach HaKetores was not exposed in such a manner for everyone to see. Thus, its kedushah, holiness, was restricted.

Rav Moshe analogizes this concept, connecting it to the talmid chacham, Torah scholar, Rav, Rosh Yeshivah - anyone whom people look up to with respect - listening to his words, observing his actions, interacting with him. Such individuals who are in the public arena serve as an example for others to emulate. Their influence is far-reaching; their actions worthy of emulation. Thus, they must exert greater care upon coming in contact with people. They are being watched and scrutinized. They could positively influence those on the outside. But, if they manifest insensitivity, are deficient in their ethical behavior, and too engrossed in themselves - they will make a negative impression, thereby creating an adverse influence which impugns the very underpinnings of their Torah study.

Rav Moshe adds that parents are also included in the designation Mizbayach HaChitzon, because their actions have a direct impact upon their children's behavior and ethical/moral development. Children absorb what they see - and emulate this behavior as well, figuring if its good enough for my parents, it is good enough for me. Since a parent's responsibility is so great, it makes sense that the slightest deviation from what is appropriate, will be misconstrued, extrapolated and developed out of proportion. A slight error on the part of the parents can grow and have a negatively compelling effect on their child. We derive another important lesson from the Mizbayach HaKetores, on which the Incense was burned within the Heichal, concealed from the public eye. Nonetheless, its odor wafted throughout, far away from the environs of the Sanctuary. Furthermore, this odor endured for centuries! The Talmud relates (Yoma 39b), that centuries later, one could smell the odor of the Ketores from within the walls of the Sanctuary.

We see that a davar sheh'b'kedushah, holy endeavor, even if it is executed in a concealed, covert environment, will exert its influence far beyond its place of endeavor. Kedushah, holiness, spreads; it is far-reaching, enduring and comprehensive. It is not bound by its restrictive location.

Early impressions are long-lasting. Yosef HaTzaddik was saved from committing a sin with Potifar's wife, as a result of the early education he experienced in Yaakov Avinu's home. At the very last moment, he perceived his father's image - a vision which emboldened him to reject her allurements. The foolish experiences of childhood are forgotten. However, as Horav Moshe Stern, zl, remarks, when a child sees kiyum ha'mitzvos, the proper observance of mitzvos, it leaves a lasting impression. When children grow up in a home where Torah and mitzvos are a sincere priority, the impression will endure and accompany them throughout life. Rav Stern once gave a

shmuess, ethical discourse, to the sons of gedolei Yisrael, distinguished roshei yeshivah and rabbanim, and he asked them if they could recall their childhood. These young men were now all talmidei chachamim, Torah scholars, of note. They replied that what remained in their mind from their youth, was, that upon waking up in the middle of the night, they would always observe their fathers studying Torah by a small lamp. They saw the pleasantness of their fathers' learning and it penetrated their bones. They absorbed this scene and then returned to bed.

The Chafetz Chaim, zl, once remarked that a person is what he hears and what he sees. With this in mind, Rav Stern relates that Horav Yisrael Salanter, zl, was once in the city of Zembrow, where he stayed at the home of the town's Rav. Once people heard that the gadol ha'dor, preeminent Torah leader of the generation, was in town, all the mothers - literally hundreds of women - waited outside the Rav's home with their children, so that they could have their children blessed by Rav Yisrael. The Rav was acutely aware that Rav Yisrael was not the type of Rabbi for whom people wait in line to obtain a brachah, blessing. Rather, he was a private, modest person who did not care for attention. Therefore, the Rav did not permit these women to enter his home.

They remained outside his home. One can imagine that hundreds of women and many more children milling around in one place will create a loud cacophony, which can be disturbing. Upon hearing the noise, Rav Yisrael inquired of the Rav, "What is happening outside?" The Rav explained that the women wanted to have their children blessed by Rav Yisrael, and he did not allow them to enter. Rav Yisrael said, "Let them in. let the children leave with the impression that an old man once gave them a blessing. They will remember that he put his hands on their head and said a few words. Though they do not understand what is being said, the impression will remain with them."

Rav Yisrael understood that the impression absorbed by a young child can last a lifetime.

Va'ani Tefillah

U'mesukan u'mekubal - and well-ordered and acceptable.

Horav Avigdor Miller, zl, translates mesukan as being derived from the term tikkun, which denotes an act of intentional benefit. "This matter," the Torah, has been fashioned in such a perfect manner that its every intricate detail is intended for our greatest benefit - both in this world and in Olam Habba, the World to Come. But, as with even the best arrangement that is intended for man's optimum benefit, if man is not interested - if there arises within him an emotion of opposition or revolt, because he may resent the imposition placed upon him through the burdens and limitations of a life of Torah - it will become unacceptable. In this case, however, not only is "this matter" well-ordered, it is also highly acceptable. Something that is perfectly arranged will be accepted - since there is nothing wrong with it. It is perfect. This is how we view the Torah. Not only is it sweet, but also very reasonable, as it appeals to the human mind (by its rationale and well-founded principles and attitudes) and heart. Therefore, Klal Yisrael, throughout the millennia, have loved the Torah, upholding it with joy and enthusiasm. Hashem knew the psyche of the nation to whom He was giving the Torah. Thus, He modeled it for a perfect fit - its modus vivendi coinciding with the Creation, human nature and psyche of the Jewish heart and mind.

In loving memory of
by her family

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