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Peninim on the Torah

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Rabbi A. Leib Scheinbaum
Hebrew Academy of Cleveland


This is the law of the Sin-offering… An earthenware vessel in which it was cooked shall be broken; but if it was cooked in a copper vessel, that should be purged and rinsed in water. (6:18,21)

The taam k'ikar, taste particles, of the Sin-offering remain forever embedded in the earthenware vessel, rendering the vessel forbidden after one day and night, after which the korban becomes nosar, leftover. Just as the korban must now be burnt, the taste-permeated earthenware vessel must also be destroyed. This occurs when the vessel is broken. Since this rule applies to all korbanos, we wonder why the Torah chose to write about it in connection with the Korban Chatas, Sin-offering?

The Kli Yakar suggests a parallel between the purification process of a contaminated vessel and the purification ritual of one who has sinned. Certain vessels absorb the forbidden food in such a manner that they cannot be purged through intense rinsing. These keilim, vessels, must be broken. There are also such vessels that can be purified through vigorous rinsing. Likewise, there are sinners whose sin has permeated him, so that it is ingrained in him. The sinful behavior has become a matter of habit, a lifestyle that is accepted and validated. Such a sin must be purged through shivron lev, a broken heart, with complete regret for the past and a resolute, positive commitment for the future. There is also the individual who has sinned by performing a simple indiscretion. While no sin is to be viewed as "simple" or light, if it has not become ingrained, it is much easier to purge. Indeed, we find that one who has spoken lashon hora, evil speech, should study Torah. If he is not able to study, he should lower himself and work on developing his humility.

Now that we no longer have a Bais Hamikdash to atone for our sins, a clear distinction exists between the Torah scholar who can effect his atonement through Torah study and the common person who must reflect on his behavior, employing the medium of shivron lev to bring about his atonement. It is not that Torah study is the panacea for all sin. It is just that by studying Torah properly one will ultimately neutralize his negative character traits which comprise the root of all sins.

This is why the Torah writes the laws concerning vessels that are ritually contaminated near the laws of the Korban Chatas. This conveys to us that when there will no longer be a Bais Hamikdash with its korbanos, an individual's path towards atoning his sins will be similar to that of a vessel that needs to be purified. One who is proficient in Torah study, who is willing and prepared to devote himself to learning, parallels the copper vessel which only needs intense rinsing, inside and out. This is accomplished by his total immersion in the sea of Torah, which is compared to water which is clear. Thus, tocho k'baro, its external image reflects its inner essence. Torah study does that to a person, cleansing and purifying him from within and from without. The individual to whom Torah study is a distant and unfamiliar venture will have to resort to shivron lev, a broken heart, and a renewed sense of humility. When he realizes his lowliness, his sinful behavior becomes more apparent, and his repentance and atonement will necessarily follow.

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

One who has survived a life-threatening crisis brings a Korban Todah, Thanksgiving-offering, out of gratitude to Hashem for His beneficence. Regrettably, many of us wait for that crisis to occur before we realize that our obligation to offer gratitude to the Almighty is an ongoing one. One who is not cognizant of this obligation ignores one of the primary character traits that a human being must develop. How does one offer gratitude to the Almighty? What can we give to Him? Let me cite a famous story that occurred concerning the saintly Horav Moshe Leib Sassover, zl, which will shed light on this question.

It was revealed to Rav Moshe Leib from Heaven that in a small village in Hungary there was to be found a young neshamah, soul, who was of an exemplary character, both morally and spiritually. He needed to go there to retrieve this soul and give it the opportunity to develop spiritually in a proper environment. The Rebbe immediately prepared for the journey. He traveled through towns and forests, finally arriving at a meadow. In the middle of this meadow was a hill upon which geese were roaming. A young boy, who was not more than ten years old, was watching over the geese. The boy beheld these geese, the lush, green meadow; the calm, blue sky; and he became enraptured. He lifted his eyes Heavenward and proclaimed, "Ribono Shel Olam! I love You so much! Thank You for everything! Thank you for the shining sun, for the flowing breeze. Thank you for granting me life and health. Thank you for giving me the ability to see all of the beauty that You created."

The young boy continued, and Rav Moshe Leib just sat there in pleasant shock, listening attentively: "Ribono Shel Olam! How can I repay You for all of Your kindness? How can I thank You for inspiring the people of this community to select me to watch their geese? Now I have a means of supporting my widowed mother. Hashem, if You would have geese - I would watch them for nothing!"

Rav Moshe Leib sensed that this boy was truly at a loss to express his full gratitude to Hashem. He wanted to do so much - but he was limited. Then he said, "Ribono Shel Olam, You certainly are aware that if I knew how to daven, I would pray my heart out to You in gratitude, but, alas, I cannot. If I knew how to study Torah, I would gratefully do so incessantly. Regrettably, I can neither daven, nor can I learn." A few moments went by, during which the young boy seemed to be lost in thought. Then, suddenly, he jumped up and exclaimed, "I know something that I can do to show my appreciation. There is something in which I am more proficient than anyone my age in the village. I can somersault! I will somersault in Your honor. This will be my gratitude."

The young boy began a series of acrobatic moves, somersaulting all over the meadow, ultimately landing at Rav Moshe Leib's feet. The Rebbe warmly embraced the boy. With tears rolling down his face, he implored the boy to gather the geese and come with him. They went together to the boy's home, where Rav Moshe Leib asked the mother to allow her son to come with him. "I will pay all of your expenses for the following year, but please permit me to teach your son Torah," entreated the Rebbe.

The mother agreed, and the young boy went with the Sassover Rebbe. He was as bright and diligent as he was sweet and innocent. In a short while, he became proficient in his Torah studies. It was not long before the young boy became a young man with a following. People flocked to him from all over, as his fame as a tzaddik v'kadosh, righteous and holy person, spread. Yes, this was the genesis of the holy Horav Yitzchak Aizik, zl, the Kaliver Rebbe.

It all began with a young boy's desire to express his gratitude to Hashem. He understood the need, because he was cognizant of all of the ways in which he benefited from Hashem. He was overwhelmed with a love and desire to express his feelings of indebtedness to Hashem in some way, to acknowledge and demonstrate how thankful he was. He lacked, however, the medium for conveying this feeling. He could not daven; he could not learn. So, he did what he did best: he somersaulted. Gratitude borne from innocence - that is what he manifest.

We do not have to do this. We can daven; we can learn. What would it take? An hour per day of dedicated learning to Hashem or davening with the proper kavanah, devotion and concentration, or just davening with meaning and feeling. We know that we cannot possibly repay Hashem for all that we receive, but it would be nice if we would try to do so with all of our hearts.

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

It is at a time when a person is spared from a life-threatening situation that he perceives and realizes that Hashem watches over him at all times. Under ordinary conditions, however, we tend to forget the Hashem factor in our lives. Therefore, if things just happen to go right, we lose sight of our obligation to pay gratitude to the Almighty for our continued existence. In truth, our life should be replete with an overwhelming urge to thank Hashem, for we know not how our life might have been shortened at every juncture in time. The Gaon, zl, m'Vilna interprets this idea into the words of the Baal Haggadah,; Tzei u'l'mad mah bikeish Lavan, "Go out and study that which Lavan sought to do against our ancestor, Yaakov." When we take a cursory view of Lavan and his behavior towards Yaakov, we do not really discover anything so drastic or evil. We see a tough, unscrupulous businessman who would do anything to gain a dollar. Cheating and underhandedness were ways of life for him, but we do not see Lavan trying to destroy Yaakov, as claimed by the Baal Haggadah. This threat does not surface throughout the narrative.

The answer is that we do not look with "both eyes," perceiving with depth and clarity, in an attempt to realize all of Hashem's hidden favors. The simple act of our daily endeavor may be fraught with danger - if we think about it. This is the message concerning Yaakov and Lavan: Yes, superficially it does not appear that there was anything sinister about Lavan's behavior. When one is tzei u'l'mad, "go out, and study," however, when we delve deeply into the story, we realize that all of Lavan's machinations and trickery were not merely corrupt business practice - he was actually out to destroy Yaakov. Hashem shielded Yaakov and smoothed out the bumps in the road, making it appear as if everything was fine. He allowed Yaakov to live in relative peace and tranquility. This does not mean that there is nothing for which to be thankful. On the contrary, having health, peace and tranquility is the greatest indication of Divine supervision. We just have to "go out and study."

Many of us go through life with our eyes closed. We do not take notice until something hits us squarely in the face. There are those that read and study ethical works, but have no clue that it might be addressing them. Then, there are those who look, see, study and learn from every experience. The following story portrays how a great man perceives even the most mundane occurrence, deriving a valuable lesson from it.

Horav Yosef Dov Soloveitchik, zl, the Bais HaLevi, was once walking with a group of his students on the road, when they passed a procession of three horse-drawn wagons of hay one behind the other. The Bais HaLevi turned to his students and said, "If you will note, the horse pulling the third wagon is eating hay from the wagon in front of him. The lead horse has nothing to eat from, but benefits from the fact that the second horse eats from his wagon, thereby lightening his load. The middle horse benefits the most, since his load is being diminished by the third horse, and he gets to eat from the wagon of the first horse.

"This scene supports the idea that either extreme of anything is rarely beneficial. The Rambam lauds the mean of virtue, choosing the middle road, pointing out that in most instances moderation is superior to extremism."

While this forum is not the place to discuss the issue of moderation versus extremism, we do observe how one can view an everyday experience and learn a meaningful lesson from it.

This is the law of the Elevation-offering, the Meal-offering, the Sin-offering, and the Guilt-offering; and the inauguration-offerings, and the Peace-offering. (7:37)

In the Talmud Menachos 110a, Reish Lakish asks why does the Torah say: "This is the Torah, law, of the Elevation-offering…" Why is the word "Torah" used to describe the halachos applying to the various korbanos? This teaches us that if someone studies the laws pertaining to a korban, it is viewed as if he had actually offered that korban. Horav Yosef Shalom Elyashiv, Shlita, cites a Midrash from which he infers that there are three types of attitudes which prevail when one offers a korban. Likewise, there are three coinciding attitudes which manifest themselves in one's approach to Torah study.

The Midrash relates that King Aggripas once wanted to sacrifice 1000 Korbanos Olah. He instructed the Kohen Gadol that on that day no other korbanos were to be accepted from anyone. A poor man approached the Kohen. In his hands he had two turtledoves, the fowl that is usually used by a poor man. "Please sacrifice these for me," he asked. "I am sorry," replied the Kohen, "I have been ordered by the king not to accept any other korbanos today." "Please, my master, Kohen Gadol, you must listen to me," the poor man countered. "Everyday, I capture four turtledoves; two I sacrifice, and two I sell. If you do not sacrifice them for me, you will be cutting into my livelihood."

The Kohen Gadol took the two birds and sacrificed them. That night King Aggripas had a dream in which a Heavenly message was conveyed to him. "A poor man's sacrifice preceded your sacrifices today." When the king heard this, he went to the Kohan Gadol and asked for an explanation. "Did I not instruct you not to offer any other korbanos?" the king asked the Kohen Gadol.

"Yes, my king, you did, but this poor man came and begged me, saying that I was impeding his livelihood. I had no other recourse but to offer his birds," explained the Kohen Gadol.

King Aggripas replied, "Yafeh asissa, you did the right thing." Regarding the korban of that poor man, David Hamelech says in Tehillim 22:25, "For He has neither despised or loathed the supplication of the poor."

We find another type of korban which Kayin offered, "And Kayin brought an offering to Hashem of the fruit of the ground" (Bereishis 4:3). From the contrast between the simple description of Kayin's offering and the more specific description of Hevel's offering, "And as for Hevel, he also brought of the firstlings of his flock and from their choicest" (Bereishis 4:4), Chazal derive that Kayin's offering was from the inferior portions of his crop, from the surplus - not from the choicest, as his brother saw fit to offer.

We have before us three divergent attitudes: the korban of Aggripas, the korban of the poor man, and the korban of Kayin. Apparently, Aggripas' korban was one of choice. He offered his best in quality, and quantity was not an issue. On the other hand, it was not much of a challenge for Aggripas to make this commitment. Certainly, he did not have to undertake any major financial responsibility to afford this korban. It did not entail borrowing money from anyone. Surely, he must have had thousands of animals left over after this korban was offered. Then there was the korban of the poor man who believed be'emunah sheleimah, total trust, that if his korban was not accepted, it would hinder his livelihood. Then there was Kayin's korban, from his leftovers, from his inferior crops.

We find a distinct parallel in our commitment to Torah study. There are those who are kovea itim, establish and set aside time every day to study Torah, with the belief that their well-being and the well-being of their families are dependent upon this devotion. Their livelihood hinges upon their Torah study. The merit that they accrue will be their advocate for receiving Hashem's favor. It takes overcoming challenge; it involves incredible commitment, but he understands the score: Torah study gains him access to success, both material and spiritual.

There are also those individuals who devote a set amount of time to Torah study, but not if it means overcoming obstacles and challenges to their time and lifestyle. They set up Torah study around their schedules; they do not fit it into their schedules. The commitment is there, but it has to work in harmony with their "comfort level."

The third form of commitment is the one manifest by Kayin. After everything has been done: he has returned from work; he has eaten a filling supper; he has read the paper or engaged in any other form of media communication; after he has satisfied all of his personal physical and mundane diversions, he reminds himself that he has to attend a shiur, lecture, which lasts for an hour. He, of course, shows up for the last fifteen minutes, because he mimics Kayin by offering his surplus. To that type of korban, the reaction is, "But to Kayin and his offering He did not turn" (Bereishis 4:5).

An individual who, with regard to appeasing his spiritual dimension, is assuaged with a minimum achievement is what Rav Elyashiv calls a Yehudi dayeinu, a dayeinu Jew. He is the kind of person who views the Baal Haggadah's statement, "If He would have brought us close to Har Sinai, and not given us the Torah - Dayeinu - it would have been enough," as a relief or a form of "Why did He have to do it?" We would have been just as happy without the Torah - without the Shabbos - without the Bais Hamikdash. Dayeinu - the bare minimum would have sufficed our needs.

A person should take the attitude that if he does not fulfill his part of the commitment, he is endangering his livelihood. One who is satisfied with the minimum in one area of the Torah, will, over time, become increasingly satisfied with a minimalist approach to the rest of the Torah. When he realizes that his life, both physical and spiritual, is contingent on carrying out his commitment, he will see success in all of his endeavors.

Va'ani Tefillah

Hashem he'elisa min she'ol nafshi - Hashem, You have raised up my soul from the Lower World.

The Radak explains she'ol as the Lower World, a reference to Gehinom, Purgatory. David Hamelech's terminology is questionable. David was still alive when he made this statement. Surely, he had not already descended to Gehinom, a place reserved for punishing sinners. Horav Yerucham Levovitz, zl, derives from here that suffering in Gehinom is possible even during one's lifetime. How?

In the Talmud Nedarim 22a, Chazal say, "Whoever becomes angry is subject to all forms of Gehinom." What do Chazal mean? Rav Yerucham explains that the flames of frustration, anguish and despair which fester within the heart of he who is depressed are the equivalent of the fires of Gehinom. Throughout Sefer Tehillim, most references to the Lower World refer to this form of conflagration. David pays gratitude to Hashem for lifting his spirits from the raging purgatory that consumes one who is depressed. By instilling his heart with joy, he was enjoying the equivalent of Gan Eden.

Gehinom is self-inflicted. Whether it is the result of a lack of emunah, faith in Hashem, which leads to an all-encompassing depression or it is sinful behavior, resulting also from a lack of recognizing that there is a Supreme Being to Whom we must answer, we do it to ourselves. Likewise, the joy inherent in Paradise is something that we can attempt to experience even in This World. It just takes adopting the proper attitude.

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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