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Peninim on the Torah

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Rabbi A. Leib Scheinbaum
Hebrew Academy of Cleveland


The fire on the Altar shall be kept burning on it. (6:5)

What is the meaning of the word, bo, on it? It should simply have said, "The fire should be kept burning." It is obvious that this is a reference to the Altar. This question was asked by the Gerer Rebbe, zl, the Imrei Emes, as a young boy, of his grandfather, the Sefas Emes. The Sefas Emes' response was a challenge to his brilliant grandson to answer the question himself. The Imrei Emes replied that, quite possibly, the Torah was telling us that the Kohen himself has to be filled with a fiery passion. The fire representing the korban should burn fiercely within him to the point that, as the flame rises, so should the flame burn concurrently bo, within him.

Horav Yitzchak Zilberstein, Shlita, relates that a Yerushalmi Jew, Reb Shimon Kohen, was such a person. In fact, as he lay mortally wounded, a victim of an Arab suicide bomber in the Machane Yehudah market, he recounted with a fiery passion how Hashem brought him to the fire that consumed his life.

He explained that, typically, he had no reason whatsoever to frequent the Machane Yehuda Shuk. For a number of years he had owned a fruit stand in the Shuk. Five years earlier, he had closed down the stand and decided to spend his newly-found time studying Torah in a nearby Kollel. He maintained a ritual to visit the market every Erev Shabbos to wish Gut Shabbos to the other vendors. On that fateful Thursday - not Friday - he said to his wife, "I want to go to the market today to wish my friends Gut Shabbos."

"Why are you going to the market today?" asked his wife. "It is only Thursday. You never go on Thursday."

He had no answer for her. He just went because he felt compelled to go that day. Under normal circumstances, he would have to wait between twenty and thirty minutes for the bus to arrive. This had gone on for thirty years! The bus had never come on time. For some "strange" reason, today, the bus arrived moments after he came to the bus stop. For thirty years, it had taken forty-five minutes for the bus to travel the distance from Reb Shimon's apartment to the market. Today, it took only seventeen minutes. For thirty years, whenever Reb Shimon came to the market, he had gone to his right, because that was where all the fruit vendors were situated. Today, he was thirsty, and he went to the left, so that he could first quench his thirst. Moments after he purchased his drink, the bomb exploded right near the place he should never have visited - under usual circumstances.

Apparently, today was not a typical day. Reb Shimon lay there in the emergency room, mere moments before he was to take leave of this world, recounting to his wife how everything that had transpired that day was for one purpose - so that he should become a sacrifice to Hashem. He lay there in bed and accepted Hashem's decree, realizing that His reasoning was beyond his ability to grasp. This was a person in whom Hashem's fire burnt brightly.

A repeatedly baked meal offering, broken into pieces, you shall offer it as a satisfying aroma to Hashem. (6:14)

A Korban Minchah is a simple sacrifice which, due to the simplicity of its contents - flour, oil and frankincense - is usually brought by people that are on the lowest rung of the financial ladder. The Korban Minchah is broken into pieces, so that the pieces will be small enough for the Kohen to perform the Kemitzah. Horav Aharon Bakst, zl, adds that the pittim, small pieces, were to create an image of more than was really there, so that the pan appears to be fuller than it is. The purpose: to show compassion for the poor man. The same idea applies with a korban ha'of, fowl-offering. The Kohen is instructed to split the bird with his bare hands. One does not remove the feathers prior to burning the entire bird. Why are the feathers left on the bird? Rashi explains that if the feathers were removed, the poor man, who is usually the individual bringing a fowl-offering, would be humiliated by its puny size. After all, once the feathers are removed, very little bird is left. It is better to endure the foul smell of burning feathers than to hurt the feelings of a poor Jew.

A powerful lesson can be derived from here. The mitzvah of chesed demands that one not only perform kindly to others, but also sees to it that he finds a way to do so in such a manner that he retains the individual's self-esteem. Even if the benefactor is subject to humiliation and adversity, it is better that he suffers than hurts the feelings of another Jew - even if it is during an act of chesed. If we do not perform the act correctly, it is not chesed. To help someone in such a manner that he consequently experiences a humiliating incident is to distort the entire concept of chesed. Unquestionably, while the poor man's fowl is burning on the Altar, the stench that permeates the entire area is overpowering - but that is what chesed is all about. No one ever asserted that an act of loving-kindness has to be tailor-made to fit the mood and personality of the benefactor. It is supposed to help the beneficiary. He is the only one for whom we are obligated to show concern.

There is a powerful story that occurred concerning a gabbai tzedakah, charity collector, and the Sanzer Rav, Horav Chaim Halberstam, zl, that should be related. Rav Chaim once came to a small town. As he was walking through the community, he felt himself gravitating to one of the homes. "The scent of Gan Eden emanates from this house," Rav Chaim declared. "I must enter to discover what is producing this unique fragrance."

This happened to be the home of Reb Pesach, the town's tzedakah collector. Rav Chaim knocked. He was welcomed in with the greatest look of shock and reverence. "I must find the source of the unique aroma that permeates your home," Rav Chaim said, as he walked around the small home. "I have found it," he exclaimed, as he pointed to a large box. They immediately opened the box to discover nothing but some old clothes, most of them unusable. On the bottom of the box, beneath the rags, they discovered a priest's garb.

"What is this?" Rav Chaim queried. "What did you do with this priest's vestments that earned it the aroma of Gan Eden?"

Reb Pesach sighed and related the following story: "As a tzedakah collector, my day never ends. As soon as I finish raising funds for one person in need, another situation arises that needs my attention. Awhile ago, I came home after an unusually difficult day to find a poor man at my door, crying bitterly that he had no money for food. He was deeply in debt, and his lenders had lost patience with him. I told him that I commiserated with his pain, but what could I do? I had already made my rounds for the day. I could not return to the same people again.

"Woe is to me," the poor man cried. "I have no good fortune at all. Is it my lot to see my wife and children starve to death before my eyes? Please help me!" What could I do? I went out again and begged the local community to open up their hearts to this destitute Jew. No sooner had I returned, then another man came to my house with a similar request. How could I turn a deaf ear on his pleas? On the other hand, how could I return a third time to my supporters? That would be the height of chutzpah. These people had been kind and benevolent, but I could not take advantage of them. Then I thought of an idea, a strange idea. If it were to work, it would be worth everything.

"I went to the town bar to which I usually went to ask its owner for a contribution. I had already been there twice that day. Now, I returned for a different purpose. I was going to solicit the patrons, people who were far from caring, people who were frivolous and had no respect for anyone. They did, however, have money, and I would ask them for it. With the help of Hashem, I would succeed. It was my last hope."

"I went inside with feelings of trepidation. The spokesman for the rowdy group was a spoiled, young, rich boy. He called me over and began ridiculing me, "You're back again, old man? Why waste your time?" "I do not think it is a waste of time. I have come to solicit you on behalf of a man who is poverty-stricken and has no way of extricating himself from his overwhelming debts. In order to ease his life and give him some piece of mind, I am asking you to contribute to this most worthy cause. I am prepared to do almost anything to obtain your donation."

"I have an idea," the man replied. "We used to have a priest in town, who recently passed away. I have his vestments. I want you to put them on and walk through town dressed like the priest. If you do that, I will give you the necessary funds that you seek."

"I said to myself," Reb Pesach continued, "'The worst that people will say is that Reb Pesach has lost his mind. It is worth it, if it will generate the funds that I seek for this poor man.' I did it. I donned the priest's vestments and walked all over town, hounded by laughter and shame. When I returned, the man took out his wallet and gave me the money I needed.

"When I removed the vestments, I thought to myself, 'These garments were used to perform a mitzvah; I am going to save them.' That is why they have been laying at the bottom of this box."

Tears began to streak down Rav Chaim's face as he heard the end of the story, "Take these vestments and put them away in place of your tachrichim, burial shrouds. They will accompany you to Gan Eden. No prosecuting angel will be able to harm you while you are wearing these vestments. They exemplify the zenith of loving-kindness."

So it came to pass, many years later, when the Polish government sought to make a road through the Jewish cemetery, they disinterred a number of graves. Reb Pesach's was one of them. The Chevra Kadisha, Jewish sacred burial society, noticed that when they moved his remains from his grave, his entire body - with the exception of one leg - was completely whole. Nothing had decomposed, except for part of one leg - which was not covered by the priest's vestments, because it had been torn.

Chesed means a willingness to suffer abuse and humiliation to help another Jew. Reb Pesach did, and he was rewarded in kind.

If he shall offer it for a thanksgiving offering. (7:12)

Ibn Ezra explains that one must bring a thanksgiving offering when he has been saved from a tzarah, anguishing ordeal. Horav Elazar M. Shach, zl, gives a penetrating insight into the concept of todah, gratitude, from which we should all learn. A young man whose wife had just given birth to a baby girl a year after their chasunah, wedding, came to the Rosh Hayeshivah and asked if he should make a kiddush, festive reception, in honor and appreciation of the event. Rav Shach replied, "If your little girl had been born after eight years of marriage, would you still feel compelled to ask this question? Certainly not! You would have realized the importance of showing gratitude and giving praise to the Almighty. Now that Hashem has been benevolent and spared you the anguish of running to doctors to pursue every opportunity to have a child, should the display of gratitude be decreased?"

What a powerful statement! How many of us thank Hashem only when something or someone we value is almost taken from us, but fail to recognize His sustaining powers and His every day, every moment benefits? We say every day in the Tefillah of Modim, "For our lives, which are committed to Your power, and for our souls that are entrusted to You; for Your miracles that are with us every day; and for Your wonders and favors in every season - evening, morning and afternoon." Many of us say this Tefillah by rote, without concentrating on its meaning, until Hashem subtly gives us reason to understand its message.

If he offers it for thanksgiving, he shall offer it with the thanksgiving sacrifice. (7:12)

In Parashas Vayikra, Moshe Rabbeinu was instructed regarding the various korbanos, with the specific purpose to convey the laws to Klal Yisrael, so that they would know what sacrifices to offer on various occasions. In Parashas Tzav, the Torah addresses the Kohanim, instructing them in the intricacies of these korbanos. The question that confronts us is: Why is the Korban Todah, Thanksgiving-offering, placed in Parashas Tzav and totally omitted from Parashas Vayikra? It seems from its placement that the Korban Todah is focused with greater intensity on the Kohanim than on the rest of Klal Yisrael. Why?

The Korban Todah was brought by an individual, "in recognition of a miraculous deliverance from harm, such as: those who travel at sea, or through the desert; who are released from prison, or who recover from illness. Horav Yosef Chaim Sonnenfeld, zl, explains that these conditions are occasions in one's life when he becomes acutely aware of Hashem's guiding hand, directing events in his life. These occurrences convey a profound message to a person: miracles occur. Hashem directs the universe in such a manner that, for the most part, the miracles remain subtle and covert. Every once in a while, however, a person recognizes that the miracles that have happened in his life are a sampling of the larger picture of miraculous events. The average person is not privy to overt miracles.

The Kohanim however, were witness to Hashem's Divine intervention into what we are used to referring to as "nature," on a daily basis. They felt Hashem's Imminent Presence in this world - constantly. In Pirkei Avos 5:5, Chazal tell us that there were regularly ten visible miracles in the Bais HaMikdash. Thus, the idea of expressing our gratitude to Hashem for His beneficence has greater application to the Kohanim who routinely experienced Divine intervention through visible miracles. The Torah, therefore, places the Korban Todah in Parashas Tzav.

We might add another reason for placing the Korban Todah in the parsha that addresses the Kohanim. Using Rav Yosef Chaim's thesis that the Kohanim experienced miracles on a regular basis, rendering them more attuned to miracles, we may suggest another reason for impressing upon them the significance of the Korban Todah. One who experiences miracles on a regular basis not only develops a profound awareness of Hashem's Divine intervention, but also the fear that he might become accustomed to miracles, almost to the point that he expects them, forgetting that they are an incredible gift. Sometimes we need reminders to "motivate" our sense of appreciation, to realize that it is all a gift.

This is likewise true of anyone who has been the beneficiary of Hashem's special favor. We become accustomed to it. We forget that it was a gift that can be abrogated at any time. While we certainly appreciate Hashem's gifts, all too often our gratitude is short-lived. We must remember that the actual gift might be limited in time.

It is appropriate to cite a compelling statement from the Kav Hayashar. Taking note of the fact that we no longer have the Bais HaMikdash and the ability to offer a Korban Todah, we must do something to demonstrate our hakoras hatov, appreciation, to Hashem. Therefore, "one who has been the beneficiary of Hashem's compassion and kindness; if he was saved from thieves, from a fire, or from the clutches of death; if he was gravely ill and healed, it is incumbent upon him to do something good or perform an act of kindness, where it will be noticeable that this is in lieu of a korban to Hashem." The Kav Hayashar adds that this applies to everyone, because which Jew can say he has never been saved from something terrible? Perhaps it might serve us all well to analyze our life's occurrences and pay tribute to the Almighty for shielding us in the past, as well as, hopefully, safeguarding us in the future.

Va'ani Tefillah

V'Haarev Na - The Abudraham translates V'Haarev na as being related to the word arvus/areiv, responsibility. We ask Hashem to be our areiv, guarantor, in return for our Torah study. He cites a statement of Chazal in the Talmud Bava Metzia 85a, "Anyone who is himself a talmid chacham, Torah scholar, and his son is a talmid chacham, and his son's son is also a talmid chacham, the Torah will never cease from his offspring, as it says in Sefer Yeshaya 59:21, 'My words that I have placed in your mouth will not be withdrawn from your mouth, nor from the mouth of your offspring, nor from the mouth of your offspring's offspring.' - I am the guarantor for this. David Hamelech asks Hashem in Sefer Tehillim 119:121, A'rove avdecha l'tov, "Be Your servant's guarantor for good." Our Torah catalyzes a sense of security which is Hashem's compensation for our learning.

V'niheyeh anachnu v'tze'etzaeinu, "May we and our offspring…" We express our responsibility for the Torah learning not only of ourselves, but also of our children, and, indeed, of all of the Jewish People. Ateres Zekeinim on the Orach Chaim comments, "A father's and mother's prayer should constantly be for their children, that they: study Torah; be proficient in and observe its laws; and grow into righteous, virtuous and pious Jews. One should emphasize this when he concentrates on the Birchos HaTorah and during the Tefillah of U'va l'tzion goel, when he recites the phrase L'maan lo niga larik, v'lo neileid labehalah, "So that we do not struggle in vain nor produce in futility."

In loving memory of FRANK ALTMAN
by his family

Peninim on the Torah is in its 14th year of publication. The first nine years have been published in book form.

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