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Peninim on the Torah

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Rabbi A. Leib Scheinbaum
Hebrew Academy of Cleveland


Command Aharon and his sons, saying: (6:2)

Chazal explain that the term tzav, command, which is a more emphatic term than the usual form of instruction, is used here to teach that the Torah is urging the Kohanim to be especially zealous in performing this service. The Korban Olah, Burnt-offering, is such that the entire animal is consumed, leaving nothing for the Kohanim. Since this is a korban that involves a certain monetary loss-- primarily because the Kohanim who are sustained by the korbanos receive nothing from the Korban Olah-the Kohanim must be strongly encouraged to participate in this korban. Furthermore, this exhortation must be constantly reiterated to future generations.

What is the reason to suspect future generations of greater laxity concerning this korban? Was there something different about their perspective of the Korban Olah? Horav Shimon Schwab,zl, explains that the underlying perspective concerning korbanos, as Hashem dictated it, was that when a person offers a sacrifice, he should not disregard the primary function of the korban, and focus on the secondary, subordinate function of the korban. For instance, the primary focus of korbanos, their core principal, is one's kavanas ha'lev, intention of the heart, his overwhelming desire to purify himself, and thus he comes closer to Hashem. That is the principal purpose of korbanos. Everything else is secondary. This is why Hashem did not "listen" to Kayin's sacrifice. He erred in thinking that Hashem sought the physical sacrifice, that it was the animal and not the kavanah, intention, behind the korban which counted. Likewise, Shaul Ha'Melech was admonished by Shmuel Ha'Navi for leaving over the herds of cattle and sheep belonging to Amalek. "Hashem does not seek animals - He wants us to listen to His voice."

During the tekufah, period, of the First Bais HaMikdash, this was a common error. Klal Yisrael brought sacrifices and sacrifices, but they were missing the essential prerequisite for korbanos: the kavanah behind the korban. As the period of the Second Bais HaMikdash approached and continuing on during its tenure, the people began to listen, but, regrettably, they went to the other extreme. They decided that if teshuvah, repentance, and good intentions were so important, why bother with the korban? Just repent! Once again, the Neviim exhorted them, but this time it was for their lack of offering sacrifices. Having a good heart is important, but action is also necessary. Even if a person is able to achieve the ultimate level of kavanah, it does not replace the actual korban.

In other words, one must do both: offer the sacrifice with the appropriate accompanying kavanah and teshuvah. We now understand the reason for the zeeruz l'doros, urging for future generations. The focus was on the period of the Second Temple when people said, "Why waste a good animal when the real purpose of this korban is the intention?" They made it sound like they really cared, but, in truth, their only concern was for their wallets. They did not want to spend the money.

Is it much different today? We look for ways to circumvent spending money, expending time and energy for spiritual objectives using time-hallowed excuses: "Hashem only wants our good intentions;" or "As long as I have the right kavanah, it is not important to spend that much time articulating the words clearly," or "I can daven quickly, because Hashem knows what is deep down in my heart." These are all excuses for which we need ziruz, urging.

Command Aharon and his sons, saying (6:2)

Interestingly, in the previous parshah,whenever the Torah spoke to the Kohanim, it always said, "Bnei Aharon," the sons of Aharon. Here, with regard to the Terumas HaDeshen, the taking of the Ash, it addresses Aharon and his sons. Why is Aharon underscored in the service of taking and returning the Ash from the Altar? The Midrash sheds light on this anomaly. Apparently, when Klal Yisrael sought to create the Golden Calf, Aharon denigrated their actions, telling them that the molten idol was worthless and had no powers whatsoever. This was counted against him, because had they thought that the calf had some spiritual substance to it, their actions might have been somewhat mitigated. Now that they had been told that this calf was nothing more than a worthless idol, their actions were particularly baneful. They were no longer shoggegim, acting without malice and without intention to do wrong. They were meizdim, guilty, with malice and aforethought. They sinned purposely. Thus, Hashem did not want to mention Aharon's name concerning the Kohanim. Moshe Rabbeinu complained, "Is it possible that the well is hated, but its water is loved?" he asked. In other words, Aharon's sons are a product of their father. How can they be distinguished while he is shunned? If they are honorable, it is because of him and he should, therefore, be recognized.

Moshe supplemented his claim with another question. "The wood of the Maarachah, pyre on the Altar, could be derived from any tree other than an olive vine, because these trees produce outstanding, important fruit. Thus, we see that the tree is spared because of its fruit. Should not Aharon be recognized because of his sons?" Moshe responded that Aharon's name would now precede that of his sons, which is why Parashas Tzav begins, Aharon, v'es banav, "Aharon and his sons." We revert back to our original question: What characteristic of the taking of the Ash makes the Torah choose it as the point of reference from which it emphasizes Aharon's stature as the first and most prominent Kohen?

There is no question that the taking of the Ash and its removal from the Sanctuary were important parts of the service which could only be performed by a Kohen. Nonetheless, it was only a preparatory service which preceded the actual service. Prior to offering that day's korbanos, sacrifices, the Ash from the previous day's sacrifices had to be removed. The fact that the Kohen donned fresh vestments was not a prerequisite, but rather, logistiscally necessary, so that he would not soil his regular vestments. After all is said and done, the avodas haDeshen, the service connected with the Ash, was important, but not as significant as the actual sacrificial service.

Perhaps we now understand the connection between Aharon's facilitation of Klal Yisrael's sin - an act that was more preliminary than instrinsic to this inductive service of the taking of the Ash. Just as Aharon's error was not in the actual service of the Golden Calf, but in its expediation of the sin, so too, should his atonement be in a service that assists and advances the sacrificial service.

Horav Avraham Kilav, Shlita, cites a Midrash which indicates that this service was selected by design, due to its great significance, relating the compelling lesson that is to be derived herein. Chazal tell us that Rabbi Yanai was traveling and met a man who was dressed in finery reserved for a Torah sage. He invited the gentleman to join him for dinner saying, "Rebbe, will you join us for a meal?" The man acquiesced. During the meal, Rabbi Yanai brought up a number of Torah topics to which the individual did not respond. Apparently, his choice of clothing did not represent his true essence. When it came to bentching, Rabbi Yanai honored his guest with leading the bentching. The man responded, "Let Yanai lead the bentching in his own house." His lack of respect for the Tanna once again demonstrated that this man was not what he purported to be. He certainly dressed for success, but in what area was he successful? Apparently, he was not even proficient in bentching!

Rabbi Yanai then asked him to repeat after him the following: "A dog ate the food of Yanai." The Talmud in Shabbos 155A explains this statement. Hashem knows that a dog's food is limited. He, therefore, allows his food to digest slowly for three days. In other words, Hashem takes pity on the dog and feeds him out of a special chesed. So, too, was this man fed by Rabbi Yanai out of a sense of chesed, rather than worthiness.

"How did you merit to eat in my home?" Rabbi Yanai asked. "I never responded to one who spoke inappropriately to me. Also, if I ever saw two people in dispute, I would attempt to intervene and make peace between them," the man replied.

When Rabbi Yanai heard this, he said, "Your derech eretz, respect and obedience are so exemplary, and I called you a dog! Concerning you, the pasuk in Tehillim 50:23 says, "And one who orders (his) way, I will show him the salvation of G-d." This means that one who is meticulous in the area of (his) way, derech eretz, will see Hashem's salvation. This is consistent with the comment of Rabbi Yishmael bar Rav Nachman, "Derech eretz preceded Torah by twenty-six generations."

This Midrash implies that in order for one to achieve status in Torah, he must be developed in the area of derech eretz. Derech eretz prepares the world for Torah. This is why it preceded Torah. The man that Rabbi Yanai met had an incredible z'chus, merit, one that superseded his lack of Torah knowledge. His outstanding ethical character, the respect and obedience that he manifested in his daily interaction with people, earned him the status of ben Torah, although he lacked proficiency in actual Torah knowledge.

Derech eretz prepares the world, so that it can accept the Torah. It refines a person. Every Jew has a cheilek, portion, in Torah, either by studying it or by preparing for it. To a certain degree, the former takes precedence over the latter. Aharon HaKohen prepared his sons for Kehunah, the Priesthood. It was because of him that they ascended to this position. He was, therefore, rewarded with the opportunity to prepare the Mizbayach, Altar, for the daily service. The preparation for such a lofty service makes the service. Just as the preparation for Torah through derech eretz transforms the nature of the Torah study.

Indeed, this middah, attribute, of derech eretz, was so much a part of Aharon that it guided and gave a sense of direction to all of his other wonderful character traits that played a prominent role in his selection as the Kohen. Moshe was the quintessential leader, teacher of the Jewish People. His unparalleled closeness with the Almighty elevated him to an unprecedented level of holiness. This caused him to view everything from the perspective of Middas Ha'Din, attribute of Strict Justice. Aharon HaKohen was the consummate father figure to the nation. His boundless love for-- and sensitivity to-- each and every Jew gave him the ability to view every situation through the prism of Middas Ha'Chesed, the attribute of Mercy. The Kohanim who serve in the Bais HaMikdash must act with chesed or some of the korbanos will not achieve acceptance, because, after all, if the attribute of Strict Justice were employed, some people just might not be worthy of atonement and forgiveness. This character trait of chesed was inherent in Aharon and transmitted to his descendants. He prepared them for the lofty service of administering to the spiritual needs of Hashem's People. Thus, the service of preparing the Altar for the daily avodah should naturally be his.

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

The Torah recognizes an individual's responsibility to pay gratitude to Hashem after he survives a life-threatening experience. He offers a Korban Todah, Thanksgiving offering, to express his gratitude to the Almighty. The Korban Todah must be eaten quickly for a day and a night, and it is accompanied by forty loaves which must be consumed during the allotted time frame. To facilitate this, one invites his friends and relatives to share in his good fortune, thereby increasing kavod Shomayim, the honor of Heaven. Gratitude is probably the most important character trait a person can internalize into his psyche. One who understands the significance of gratitude learns to thank Hashem for the many blessings in his life. Indeed, the Hebrew term ha'koras ha'tov means to recognize, to acknowledge the good that one receives. One who introspects and delves into his life will clearly see how Hashem has helped him in so many ways. In fact, he will even realize that he can now view those instances which seemed to have had a negative connotation from a positive perspective. This will lead to happiness and a life replete with joy.

Sharing the loaves with one's family and friends is a wonderful way to demonstrate one's gratitude to Hashem for two reasons. First, the greater the crowd, the more compelling and pronounced is the gratitude. There is a second aspect to having a crowd. A person should learn to share his good fortune. One who is truly happy, seeks to share this happiness with others. It is not just about gratitude. It is about happiness. One who is a mentch, a decent human being, seeks to share his positive moments, his good fortune, with others. This is how he achieves true happiness: with others. I recently read a story about such a man.

Years ago, there were no lotteries in America. There was a lottery, however, in Ireland. It was called the Irish Sweepstakes. The immigrant Jewish community had little or no money, having recently arrived in this country as survivors from the fires of the European Holocaust. The individual who is the hero of our story was poorer than most, but he worked hard, raised a family and adhered to Torah and mitzvos. He had one hope: one day he would win the Irish Sweepstakes and then all of his problems would be solved.

One year, this man's dream came true: He won! He took his winnings and sponsored a grand Kiddush. It was the grandest Kiddush that the mother city of Judaism - Boro Park - ever saw. Every type of cake, herring and fish was served. There was enough libation to keep people happy for quite some time. Cholent and kugel was doled out by the bowl. It was truly a simchah of epic proportion, perhaps not by today's ostentatious standards, but then the Jewish people still felt that they were in exile. In those days, everybody knew everybody, so everyone came and enjoyed. They ate and imbibed - and ate and imbibed. A jolly good time was had by all.

Now, one would think that such a lavish Kiddush represented only a small percentage of this man's winnings. Regrettably, this was not true. He had won a grand total of one hundred and twenty dollars! The Kiddush certainly cost more. Why did he do it? Why did he make a Kiddush and invite the entire Boro Park, ultimately paying much more than he had won? It was because he finally won, and he wanted everyone to know about it and share in his good fortune. He finally had something that he could share with others. After having suffered the terrible misery and depravation of the Holocaust, he came to this country and worked toward once again establishing himself, rebuilding his life and raising a family. He succeeded, and he sought the venue to thank the Almighty. The Irish Sweepstakes provided that venue. His Kiddush was his way of sharing his happiness and good fortune with others. What better way to thank Hashem than to share one's joy with other Jews? That is what ha'koras ha'tov is all about!

Moshe Rabbeinu was not to strike the water of the Nile, to initiate the plague of blood, due to a sense of gratitude that he was to maintain to the water for protecting him as an infant as he lay in the basket. Likewise, he could not strike the earth for the plagues of frogs and lice because of the earth's role in hiding the Egyptian that Moshe had killed. Ha'koras ha'tov must be extended even to inanimate objects due to the effect our actions have on our subconscious. Thus, Chazal say that one should not throw stones at a well that has supplied him with water. He must maintain his gratitude. One who is imbued with the Torah's definition of gratitude sees to it that he extends his appreciation to everything and everybody from whom he derives any form of benefit.

The following two vignettes should illuminate our perspective concerning this most important middah, character trait. A group of youngsters noticed a rat in their house. They immediately grabbed a broom and took chase after the intruder. Their grandfather noticed this and implored them emphatically to stop and leave the rat alone.

"But, Zaidy, we must get rid of the rat!" they protested.

"Children I am asking you to leave it alone," the grandfather implored.

"But Zaidy, rats are unhealthy. They carry diseases," they complained.

"Children, let me explain why I am asking you to leave the rats alone," the grandfather said.

"A number of years ago, I-- together with many of our people-- was a prisoner to the accursed Nazis in the concentration camps. We were treated in a most diabolical manner and subject to constant misery and pain. This was during the day. At night, we would return to an ice-cold barracks, starved, tired and freezing. The only way to generate heat was by lying against each other. The problem with this was that the person at the end of the row had only one person next to him to keep him warm. His back was entirely exposed to the cold. I was the one at the end of the row. I would have succumbed to the cold had it not been for the rats. They were also cold. At night, they would lie against me in order to keep themselves warm. While they warmed themselves, they also warmed me. For this I have ha'koras ha'tov. I owe them. Please do not hurt the rat."

Horav Yisrael Gustman, zl, was a giant in scholarship and spirit. His indomitable faith shined forth brilliantly, especially during the Holocaust years when he was subject to the most cruel and inhumane experiences. Indeed, he once remarked that he had recited Viddui, the confessional prayer one says as he is preparing for his final moments, one hundred times. His love of Torah study was manifest in his incredible diligence, never wasting a minute from his precious study. Yet, he would personally water the garden in his yeshivah in Rechavia. Why? Why did one whose every minute of Torah study was invaluable take the time to perform a menial act of watering a garden, a deed that could have been carried out by anyone? It was out of a sense of gratitude to the various grasses and shrubs that had sustained him during the war. On a walk in the forest prior to the outbreak of the war, his rebbe, the venerable Horav Chaim Ozer Grodzinski, zl, had pointed out to him which grasses were edible - information that saved his life. His sense of ha'koras ha'tov took precedence because, without these grasses, he would not have remained alive.

Va'ani Tefillah

Yismechu ha'Shomayim v'sagel ha'aretz.
The heavens will be glad and the earth will rejoice.

Whenever the Torah speaks of man's deliverance from sin and evil and his return to his own pure destiny with his renewed commitment to Hashem, we also find a flourishing rejuvenation of nature. As Horav S.R. Hirsch, zl, notes, nature, too, suffers when man goes astray. He cites the pasuk in Bereishis 3:17, "Accursed is the ground because of you." On the other hand, when man fulfills his destiny, everything grows and blossoms for him. He has the opportunity to elevate the physical and sublimate it to the spiritual. If man, however, exploits the gifts of nature for his material, base pursuits, to serve his selfish, corrosive desires, he drags the gifts of nature down to his degenerative and evil lifestyle. Nature will mourn, because it has become a slave to the profane and heathen. Thus, when man returns to his morally pure destiny, nature breathes a sigh of relief, for now man will employ nature for more positive purposes.

Az yeranenu atzei ha'yaar - Then all the trees of the forest shall also sing for joy. The trees, more so than any other denizen of nature, rejoice when Hashem takes action to restore justice and moral purity on earth. Unless humans intervene, the trees serve as a haven for the innocent creatures of the forest. When they are cut down by man, they can be used for the building of public and private habitations for humans, regardless whether their use is moral or not. Thus, when Hashem repairs the moral and ethical blemishes of the world community, the trees rejoice that they are being used for a noble purpose.

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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