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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, "These are the laws of the burnt-offering." (6:2)

The Torah uses the word, tzav, command, in an atypical manner in this pasuk. The pasuk should have begun with the word, dabeir, speak, or, emor, say, to Aharon. Why did it begin with the word, "command"? Rashi explains that these laws require greater emphasis, so the Torah expresses them in stronger language, because they involve the loss of money. The Ramban questions this statement, since the Kohanim were permitted to keep the skin of the animal used from a Korban Olah. If they did not lose money, why did the Torah require such strong terminology? The Taz responds that the Kohanim were generally able to partake of the meat of the offerings, which does not apply to the Olah. Therefore, to keep only the skin meant a considerable loss for them.

It is important that we digest this statement. Neither Aharon HaKohen nor his sons were ordinary people. As Kohen Gadol and brother of Moshe Rabbeinu, Aharon was imbued with a profound love of mitzvos. Did he really need an extra warning to remind him to execute this mitzvah properly? A deeply spiritual person, he certainly transmitted to his offspring the idea that wealth is not measured by a few dollars, but rather by spiritual achievement. Is there a remote possibility that they would have been reluctant to perform the mitzvah of offering a burnt-offering simply because it did not bring in as much cash flow as other korbanos?

Horav Henoch Leibowitz, Shlita, feels that Rashi is underscoring the powerful impact that money has on all of us. Clearly, Aharon would not have refused to bring a burnt-offering just because it incurred less profit. There is a distinct possibility, however, that he would have been less zealous than he might have been for another, more "lucrative," korban. Perhaps, his enthusiasm might have waned because deep inside his subconscious he felt a monetary loss. Aharon's zerizus, sense of alacrity, in carrying out the mitzvah might have been hindered as a result of the monetary loss. It would not have been a major hindrance, but a hindrance nonetheless. In order to forewarn Aharon and prevent him from falling into the trap that money presents, the Torah emphasized the mitzvah.

The Rosh Yeshivah quotes the Kli Yakar, who cites an incident from the Talmud Yerushalmi which supports this idea. A group of thieves robbed Rabbi Yochanan of his money. He went to the bais ha'medrash where Reish Lakish asked him a question pertaining to halachah. Rabbi Yochanan did not respond. Reish Lakish repeated the question only to invoke a similar response. Finally, Reish Lakish asked, "Why do you not answer?" Rabbi Yochanan replied, "All of the limbs depend on the heart, and the heart depends on the wallet." In other words, the great sage was implying that, since his money had been stolen, his mind would be preoccupied with his loss. Thus, he was not able to respond properly to the query.

We see from this episode that the venerable Rabbi Yochanan, the great tzaddik and gaon, distinguished in piety and scholarship, was so profoundly impacted by the loss of his money that he was temporarily not in control and unable to render a clear perspective of the halachah. It seems mind-boggling! Apparently, every person, regardless of his stature and virtue, has a natural attachment to money. Thus, when he loses it, it makes a mark on his psyche.

As much as we work on ourselves to develop a sense of priority regarding the significance of the spiritual over the material, we are still affected. The powerful pull of money, the grasp of the almighty dollar, does not leave us. We have to battle constantly to transcend that gravitational pull or succumb to its effect.

Chazal teach us in the Talmud Bava Basra 165A: "Most people stumble into some form of theft." The Mesillas Yesharim explains that while it does not mean actual grabbing money from people, it refers to rationalizing the "use" of other people's money either through questionable financial practices or through other inappropriate methods of lining our pockets. Anything that is not above board is tainted with thievery. Chazal are talking about "most" Jews, which is a reference to all of "us." The powerful attachment to money is an irresistible and universal desire which affects the high and mighty, as well as the simple and small. When it takes hold of one's jugular, it does not let go. It is only satisfied when it sees "green."

The Rosh Yeshivah concludes with an exhortation for our generation. Certainly, if Chazal made this statement, then how much more so is it true today when we measure a man by his material success. We live in a world in which the dollar reigns supreme, in which a person's house, car, and clothes and where he vacations greatly determine his status in a community. With these pressures constantly on our minds, it is all the more important that we are extremely vigilant in each and every one of our financial dealings - not only with our co-religionists, but even with those who are not. Have we forgotten the meaning of -- and punishment for -- causing a chillul Hashem, desecration of Hashem's Name? There used to be a time when people took pride in their honesty and when integrity was a character trait that was cherished and held in high esteem. Today, we brag about what we can get away with, how we pulled the wool over someone's eyes and how we "saved" some money. We worry about the kashrus of our food, but neglect to be concerned about the kashrus of our money. The Torah goes out of its way to emphasize the need for vigilance. We should take this message to heart.

The Kohen shall put on his fitted linen tunic, and he shall put on linen breeches on his flesh…he shall separate the ash. (6:3)

The daily avodah, service, in the Bais HaMikdash began with terumas ha'deshen, the separation of the ashes, of the previous day. The Kohen would don his priestly vestments, scoop up a shovelful of the ashes that had been left over from the previous day and place them on the floor of the courtyard, on the eastern side of the Mizbayach, Altar. The Mishnah in Yoma 22 maintains that while the privilege of performing most of the priestly services in the Bais HaMikdash was decided by a goral, lottery, the terumas ha'deshen was not. It was basically done on a first come, first served basis. In the event that there were a number of Kohanim "competing" for the privilege, they would use an interesting method. All of those who vied for the opportunity to serve would race up the thirty-two amah ramp (Kevesh) of the Altar. Whoever reached the four amos on the top of the ramp first won the privilege to serve.

This was all fine until one incident in which two Kohanim raced up the ramp. As both lurched forward to the top, one deliberately pushed the other, who proceeded to fall off the ramp, breaking his leg. When the Bais Din realized that the system was inherently dangerous for the Kohanim, they decreed that the goral process of selection would now be applicable to the terumas ha'deshen.

In a shmuess anthologized by Rabbi Sholom Smith in his new collection of shmuessen entitled, Horav Avraham Pam, zl, he addresses this problem. I am always amazed how a Rosh Yeshivah of Rav Pam's stature can focus on the areas of human endeavor that are often ignored. That sensitivity, however, distinguishes between the individual who is a mentch and the individual who is not. The tragic incident that occurred between the two Kohanim underscores a serious problem. A person is obsessed with a serious desire to perform a mitzvah. The problem is that in his overwhelming desire to do good, he does not care on whom or on what he steps. The Kohen wanted to grab the mitzvah of terumas ha'deshen - at any expense - even if it meant breaking the other Kohen's leg. His motivation was pure mitzvah, since no money was to be gained and no honor was to be derived from his action. It surely was not the most glorious of mitzvos. Yet, in his haste to do a mitzvah, he caused pain for another Jew.

Now, we have to ask ourselves: Is this what Hashem wants of us? Did Hashem give us mitzvos to refine our character or to soothe our egos while we step on others? When we do not carefully weigh our attitude toward a mitzvah, we can inadvertently perform an aveirah, sin. If our actions cause someone else harm, then our actions manifest a negative connotation.

The Rosh Yeshivah would often relate an incident that occurred concerning the Chafetz Chaim which illustrates this idea. The Chafetz Chaim was an individual who went out of his way to perform kindness for anyone. His love of chesed, loving-kindness, was boundless - except when it was at the expense of others. The popular expression, "give a shirt off someone else's back," did not apply to him. Yes, he helped others, but only at his own expense.

Once the distinguished Lubliner Rav, Horav Meir Shapiro, zl, had occasion to spend Shabbos in Radin. He sent a message to the Chafetz Chaim asking if he could eat the Friday night seudah, meal, at his home. The Chafetz Chaim replied that he would be honored to have the distinguished rav and rosh yeshivah share a meal with him. The messenger returned to the Chafetz Chaim with another request: Would it be too much to ask that at the seudah, Shabbos meal, the women would eat either at a separate table or perhaps in another room (a practice not uncommon in some chassidic homes when there are guests present who are not family members). Could the Chafetz Chaim accommodate him? The Chafetz Chaim replied that, regrettably, he could not comply with his request, and, as such, he would be compelled to withdraw the invitation. He said, "I gave my wife a Kesubah, marriage contract, in which I agreed to fulfill the Shulchan Aruch's obligations of every husband: to eat his Friday night meal with his wife (Even HaEzer 70:2). How can I ask her to relinquish her right to have this?"

An incredible story! While I know that a story such as this will touch upon people's sensitivities - both pro and con, left and right - it teaches a number of lessons. First, the Lubliner Rav had a strong chassidic upbringing. Therefore, despite the opportunity for him to share a meal with the saintly gadol ha'dor, the Chafetz Chaim, he had demurred, refusing to change his tradition. Likewise, the Chafetz Chaim felt that, despite the great mitzvah of hachnosas orchim, welcoming guests, and the opportunity to accord kavod ha'Torah, pay respect to one of Klal Yisrael's pre-eminent Torah luminaries, he could not deprive his wife her due. In fact, he even refused to ask her permission to do so, knowing fully well that she would probably have agreed wholeheartedly to do so. Chesed is wonderful, but not at the expense of one's wife - or anyone else.

We cannot emphasize enough the importance of weighing one's actions to determine if they conform to mitzvah criteria or not. In fact, Rav Pam posits that there is halachic basis for this. The Rema in Orach Chaim 581:1 rules that a baal tefillah, chazzan, who leads the services for Selichos or the Yamim Noraim, High Holy Days, should ideally be a talmid chacham, Torah scholar of high moral standing, who is married and at least thirty years old. The baal tefillah has a formidable task to inspire the congregation and to entreat Hashem for mercy and forgiveness on their behalf. Therefore, he should meet these requirements. Nonetheless, the Mishnah Berurah writes that if selecting this person (who has all the necessary requirements) will cause a machlokes, controversy, in the shul, whereby there will be those who will not be "enthusiastic" about him, then the talmid chacham should decline from davening - even if it means that the other choice is someone of lesser spiritual stature. It is no mitzvah to have a proper chazzan at the expense of some people's feelings.

Stories are told of great talmidei chachamim who would curtail the divrei Torah delivered at their Shabbos meal in order to allow the poor guests that they had invited to eat as quickly as possible. These people had not eaten all day and were hungry. To stretch out the meal with Torah comments might enhance its spirituality, but would not be fair to the hungry man who was waiting all day to eat. Life constantly presents situations in which we must decide if what we are about to do is really a mitzvah. Stopping to think before we act is always advisable. It can make the difference in defining whether our actions are really worthy of being considered a mitzvah.

This is the law of the feast Peace-offering. (7:11)

The Zohar HaKadosh writes that no sacrifice is as dear to Hashem as the Korban Shelamim, Peace-offering, because it "makes peace" between Above and below. This is a well-known statement describing what is achieved by the Korban Shelamim and, thus, the reason for its name: Peace-offering. It brings about peace. It still, however, begs for greater explanation.

Horav Yaakov Yisrael Lugasi, Shlita cites the Toras HaAvos, who posits that if a Jew is "pleased" and accepts everything that Hashem does with him, however the Almighty acts toward him, he is fulfilling the criteria expected of a Jew. We are to be pleased with our lot, because it represents Hashem's decision. The avodah, service, of a Jew is to accept and acquiesce with whatever Hashem determines is right for him.

This is the underlying motif of a Korban Shelamim. A Jew offers this sacrifice out of a sense of voluntary acceptance of Hashem's actions toward him. He is grateful to Hashem. The Almighty, in turn, is pleased with this Jew, because he is reaching the zenith of service to Him. They are both at peace with one another.

We do not comprehend Hashem's ways, but then, it is not for us to understand. There are so many factors -- past and present - that are components in Hashem's decision. Our function is not to understand, but to accept-- with grace and equanimity-- His decision concerning us. When we are pleased with Him, He is pleased with us. Regrettably, such an attitude evades many of us. We accept what we feel is positive and we kvetch, groan, and-- even at times-- express our displeasure with what we have determined to have negative connotations.

Let me add some food for thought. If we learn to be pleased with Hashem's actions concerning our welfare - even when we do not understand them-- Hashem might act accordingly regarding our less rational actions. How often do we act on the spur of the moment, without aforethought, and the results leave something to be desired? If we want Hashem to consider us in a positive light, we might begin by doing the same concerning what He decrees for us. We cannot act with a double standard.

Take Aharon and sons with him, and the garments and the oil of anointing. (8:2)

The vestments worn by the Kohanim served to set them apart from others when they performed the holy service. Anyone who viewed them bedecked in these princely vestments understood that the nature of their service was sublime. The clothes they wore sent a message to the people indicating that the one who was wearing these garments was on a high spiritual level. The fact that the Kohanim wore special vestments when they performed the Avodah, service, in the Sanctuary bespeaks the nature of the service and implies to us that the clothes we wear when we serve Hashem should reflect the solemnity and sanctity of our service. If we may be so bold as to suggest that as Torah Jews we are on call 24/7 in the service of Hashem. This mission should be reflected in the manner in which we dress and conduct ourselves. Dignity for the One Whom we serve and self-respect for ourselves should be the proper criteria for determining the style we choose. One who does not dress for the occasion demeans himself and casts aspersion on the quality of his service.

Perhaps the fact that these vestments are worn during a holy service in the Bais HaMikdash generates sanctity within them. This idea may be understood with an episode that occurred concerning the K'sav Sofer, which is cited by Horav Yitzchak Zilberstein, Shlita. A Jew in the city of Pressburg became gravely ill and was hovering at death's door. The most prominent physicians were consulted, to no avail. Various drugs were administered, and his condition did not change. It was always the same response. A doctor would visit, check the patient, peruse the chart, and shake his head negatively. He could do nothing.

The members of the family were G-d-fearing Jews who understood that one does not give up hope. One places his trust in the Almighty, the Rofeh kol basar, He Who heals all flesh. They went to the rav of the city, the venerable K'sav Sofer. After relating the patient's history and the present situation, they implored him for a brachah, blessing, that would intercede in the Heavenly Tribunal, so that their father would live.

The K'sav Sofer listened and suddenly took off the scarf that was wrapped around his neck, handing it to the family members. "Here, take this scarf and place it on the forehead of the patient, and with the help of Hashem, he will arise from his illness," said the K'sav Sofer. The rav promised. Hashem listened to his entreaty, and the patient was cured.

The students who were permanent fixtures in the K'sav Sofer's home questioned him concerning the "holy" scarf. Did he "treat" it with the holy Names of Hashem? Was it immersed in Kabbalah, mysticism? The K'sav Sofer shook his head and said, "I have been wearing this scarf for some time. It rests on my shoulders, as I constantly study Torah. It is a part of my ritual of Torah study, and Torah is the greatest healer of all ills. I feel that this scarf contains within it the medicinal and therapeutic qualities necessary to heal the patient. It has soaked up and absorbed so much Torah that it can heal."

If a simple garment that was worn by one of the gedolei ha'dor, Torah luminaries of the generation, while he studied Torah lishmah, for its own sake, had these qualities, certainly the Priestly vestments which were "designed" by Hashem and made by dedicated Jews l'shem Shomayim, for the sake of Heaven, retain a high element of Kedushah, sanctity.

Va'ani Tefillah

Mimizrach shemesh ad mevo'o mehullal Shem Hashem.
From the rising of the sun to its setting, Hashem's Name is praised.

The Yalkut on Sefer Yehoshua says that from the moment the sun rises until the moment it sets, it is constantly praising Hashem. This is why when Yehoshua wanted to halt the sun's movement, he said, Shemesh b'Givon dom; "The sun in Givon be silent." He did not say that the sun should stop; he said it should be silent. This is because the moment the sun ceases to praise Hashem; it no longer has any power to continue its movement. Its movement is generated by its constant praise of the Almighty. This teaches us, explains Horav Shimshon Pincus, zl, that the power of the sun is the result of its saying shirah, song of praise, to Hashem. Likewise, the angels in Heaven continue their existence as a result of their shirah to Hashem. The shirah is their connection to the spiritual wellspring that sustains them. Once they cease to praise Hashem, they cease to exist.

The Midrash on Perek Shirah notes how each creature has its own unique shirah, endemic to its individual characteristics. Shirah is the foundation of its existence and, hence, must coincide with its DNA. People sing shirah to Hashem, and their shirah is different from that of creatures. Even among people, we can distinguish between the righteous and those who do not exemplify piety and virtue. Indeed, the righteous seek out every available opportunity to praise Hashem. Chazal tell us that David Hamelech spent his entire night occupied in song and praise to the Almighty until he authored Sefer Tehillim, which is the ultimate inspirational opus of praise to Hashem.

Rav Pincus concludes with an exhortation to every ben Torah who is fortunate and privileged to serve Hashem through his Torah, to make every effort to connect with Hashem amid praise and song. One who sings shirah demonstrates how fortunate he feels. This is especially significant in today's generation, in which the moral value system of contemporary society is bankrupt. How privileged are those who can spend their time in the hallowed halls of Torah study. Their every action should bespeak a symphony of praise to Hashem.

l'zechar nishmas
Henoch Reuven ben Dovid Meir HaCohen

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