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Peninim on the Torah

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Rabbi A. Leib Scheinbaum
Hebrew Academy of Cleveland


The Kohen shall don his fitted linen Tunic…he shall separate the ash of what the fire consumed of the elevation-offering on the Altar. (6:3)

Separating the deshen, ash, is the first service of the day. The Kohen takes a shovelful from the innermost ashes on the Altar, placing it on the floor of the Courtyard. These ashes must be from the burnt flesh of the offerings of the previous day. This service was called the Terumas HaDeshen, separating the ash. On Yom Kippur, this service was the first service performed by the Kohen Gadol. Prior to this service, he changed out of his gold vestments, donned linen vestments, and, after performing the rite of Terumas HaDeshen, continued on to the Kodesh HaKedoshim, Holy of Holies, to perform the Yom Kippur service. Why is the Terumas HaDeshen the first service that the Kohen Gadol performed on Yom Kippur?

Horav Simchah Bunim, zl, m'Peshischa explains that when the Kohen Gadol, the individual who represents the apotheosis of holiness within the Jewish people, enters the holiest place, on the holiest day, he might lose sight of the "simple" things, the devarim gashmiim, material/physical needs, of the Jewish people. He is soaring the Heavens; his mind is in a completely different dimension, one in which material needs play no vital role. The Kohen Gadol might forget to pray for the peoples' parnassah, livelihood. Therefore, the Torah mandates that he change into simple linen vestments - sort of "weekday" clothes - and involve himself in a mundane type of activity, such as cleaning the ashes, so that he will remember Klal Yisrael's daily needs.

It is all determined by perspective, what is considered important in the eyes of the individual, and what remains insignificant. The Kohen Gadol is involved in the most sublime levels of sanctity. Thus, he might get carried away, such that he ignores the everyday needs of the Jewish People. The Torah issues a subtle reminder, to keep him on track. In certain instances, thinking lofty thoughts - focusing on the bigger picture - is critical. Chazal teach us that when the manna descended from Heaven, its arrival was accompanied by precious stones and diamonds. The gedolim she'b'am, greatest people of the nation, took those precious stones and put them away. The masses, however, collected only the manna, ignoring the stones. Why? One would think that the masses, the simple Jews, would be the first ones to dig in and fill up their sacks with diamonds. Clearly, he would not ignore them.

Horav Yissachar Frand, Shlita, quotes an interesting observation from Horav Michel Twerski, Shlita, of Milwaukee: The economic conditions that prevailed in the wilderness were unique. No one was in need of funds. The people had everything. It was probably the only time in our history that money did not play a critical role in our lives. The society that embraced the Jewish nation was such that all of the physical needs of the people were met. They received water to their heart's content, compliments of the Well. Manna was visited on them daily from Heaven. Their clothing did not wear out, so there was no reason to purchase new garments. "Styles" probably did not exist. Health was not a factor. They either lived or died, but they did not get sick.

When a society has no physical needs, then what use are precious stones? There is no need to buy, so why would one need money? Thus, when the people noticed the precious stones, they lacked interest in them. Since they had no purpose for them, why should they bother? The precious stones were deemed worthless by most of the nation. Not the gedolim! The great people among them were well aware that one day an occasion would occur in which there would be a mandate for a Mishkan and Bigdei Kehunah, Priestly Vestments, which would require these precious stones. The gedolim had foresight. They saw beyond the "here" and the "now." They saw the big picture. In that scene, precious stones were to become a necessity.

Chazal are teaching us what distinguishes the great Jew from his simple counterpart. Leadership has a perspective unlike that of common people. The hamon am, ordinary Jew, sees with his eyes. Thus, he is able to grasp only what his eyes can currently visualize. The leader also sees with his eyes, but his eyesight is directed by his brain, which tells him that there is more than meets the eye.

Yaakov Avinu taught us this lesson. As he and his family descended to Egypt en route to the Egyptian exile, he took trees with him that he later replanted in Egypt. Why? He knew that as difficult as life would be in Egypt, it would one day come to an end. The Jewish People would be redeemed from their slavery. One day their destiny as Hashem's chosen people would be recognized with the Giving of the Torah. This would be followed with Hashem's repose within the Mishkan, which would be built in the wilderness. Trees do not grow in barren desert. Hence, our Patriarch had the foresight to pave the way, to prepare the acacia wood for the Mishkan. He was not merely caught up with the issues affecting him in the present. His perspective was the future. A Jew looks to the future, because he realizes that "today" has significance only if there is a "Jewish tomorrow." Without a future, the present really has little significance.

Veritably, there is no real present tense in classical Hebrew. Grammarians have taken the verb and converted it into a present tense. Thus, hu ochel - he is eating or he eats - is not the literal translation of the word, since ochel means food. Hu shomer - he watches - is likewise incorrect, since shomer is a watchman. Why is this language bereft of a present tense? It is because there really is intrinsically no present in Judaism. All of our actions are tied both to the past and future, unable to stand alone in the present.

For a Jew, having a sense of time is all-inclusive, encompassing past, present and future. A free man is one who can anticipate the future, hope for the future, and play an active role in achieving his own destiny. A slave has no sense of the dynamic of time. For him, every day is the same. He has nothing to look forward to in the future. A great man plants a tree, even though he knows that he will probably not live long enough to enjoy its fruit. As his grandfather planted for him, so, too, does he plant for his grandson. It is all about tomorrow. If the present is rooted in yesterday, tomorrow is hopeful.

This is the law of the meal-offering…It is most holy, like the sin-offering and like the guilt-offering. (6:10)

The Kli Yakar notes that the standard for kedushah, holiness, is the Korban Chatas, Sin-offering, since the Torah compares the Korban Minchah, Meal-Offering, to a Chatas as its way of underscoring its degree of holiness. With this idea in mind, the Kli Yakar explains Chazal's statement that Makom she baalei teshuvah omdin ein tzadik gamur yachol la'amod, "In the place where a penitent stands, a perfect, righteous person cannot stand." Chazal imply that a perfectly righteous person, who has never sinned, cannot achieve the spiritual superiority that the individual who has sinned and repented is able to attain. The usual explanation is that the penitent has had to overcome difficult challenges in his journey of return. He has reneged his previous lifestyle of sin, eschewing pleasure for commitment; freedom and abandon for responsibility and devotion; overcoming the sinful practices that had been a part of his life, to devote himself to a life of service to Hashem. Once he has arrived at his journey's end, he certainly realizes that it has all been worth the effort, but the road is a challenging one that demands extreme strength of character, resolution and fortitude all the way.

In contrast, the individual who has never sinned has led a life filled with meaning and purpose, a life of pride, a life of sanctity, a life of true beauty. Clearly, he has encountered challenges in maintaining his level of spirituality, but they are unlike the battles that the baal teshuvah must wage. This line of reasoning explains why the baal teshuvah should be recognized, but does not adequately explain why one who has never sinned is subordinate to the baal teshuvah. Is this not extreme? Furthermore, is there really such a being as a tzaddik gamur, one who has never sinned? Everybody sins - for some it is big sins, for others it is minor infractions - but everyone has a need to repent. Who is the tzaddik gamur?

Shlomo Hamelech says in Koheles (7:15): Al tehi tzaddik harbei, "Do not be too much of a tzaddik." Shlomo Hamelech is surely not advocating laxity in religious observance. He is cautioning the individual not to get carried away. What does this mean? How does one become too much of a tzaddik? Rabbi Dr. Abraham Twerski explains this from the simultaneous perspectives of a rav and an orthodox clinical psychiatrist. I feel it is important for us to digest and incorporate this perspective into our lives and into the lives of our loved ones.

Torah observance should be a Jew's way of life. Better yet - it is life. It should be joyous and beautiful, meaningful and pride-engendering. While one should practice great vigilance not to transgress any prohibitive commands, he should not permit Torah observance to become a sort of neurosis. We have thousands of sefarim, volumes of Torah literature, to guide us along the proper derech, path, to achieve spiritual fulfillment and to be a nachas, source of pleasure, to Hashem. A clear difference exists, however, between healthy observance and neurotic compulsion. The latter can destroy one's spiritual and physical life, the former will enhance it.

Rabbi Twerski cites an example of the woman who was so concerned with her inability to properly rid her home of chametz prior to Pesach that she refused to allow any chametz into the house for the month before Pesach. Each year her neurosis strangled her more until it reached a point that she did not allow chametz in her home - all year around! This is clearly not the Torah's intention.

Unquestionably, one must practice vigilance and care concerning mitzvah performance, but there is a point at which this can become a compulsive neurosis that destroys the meaning and beauty of the mitzvah as well as the person who is carrying it out. In an excellent essay, Dr. Benzion Sorotzkin defines the pursuit of perfection according to the Torah perspective: Is it truly a virtue, or can it be destructive? This paper cannot do justice to an excellent, annotated article that addresses one of the core issues concerning the failure, rejection and utter disappointment of so many young people who crave acceptance and seek recognition, but do not receive it, due to the "perfection-demanding" society in which they live. He distinguishes between the healthy pursuit and striving for excellence - which is motivated primarily by a desire for success - and the pervasive feelings of shame - which induce a compensatory drive for perfection that highlights the individual's feelings of inadequacy and defectiveness. The bottom line is that one form of "service" is unhealthy and can lead to serious spiritual, emotional and physical issues, while the other promotes satisfaction, pride and a feeling of spiritual achievement.

The issue that we most often shy away from is the religious component. "What does the Torah require of me?" Dr. Sorotzkin posits that the religious activities of the perfectionist are motivated by a sense of fear. Thus, these people tend to be anxious, inflexible, lacking in perspective in their religious observances and overly concerned with the opinions of others. In most cases, they have been imbued with a distorted image of Hashem. Instead of a loving, compassionate and caring Father, they perceive Him to be demanding, unforgiving and vengeful. We do not appease G-d; we pay homage to Him out of love. Hashem is not punitive; He is benevolent and wishes us well. Regrettably, a child who grows up in a home where the primary authority figure is harsh, capricious, unfairly punitive and often vengeful will think that G-d is no different. After all, He is the ultimate authority.

There is so much more to write, but I must return to the dvar Torah. My purpose above was to raise the reader's awareness of a gross distortion of religious perspective, which renders our children the casualties. When Shlomo HaMelech cautioned against being overly righteous, he was discouraging the compulsive tzaddik, the obsessive perfectionist who acts out of fear. He might "snap" and give in to temptation and desire. The individual who enjoys serving Hashem, whose love for Him is boundless, will retain his conviction. Chazal assert that the baal teshuva has superiority over this "perfect tzaddik." While it is true that no person is without sin, the baal teshuva has proven to us that one can rectify his past indiscretions with teshuvah and attain a high spiritual status, while still remaining a functioning, normal member of society. The perfectionist will be hard-pressed to stand in his shoes. His fear and compulsiveness leave him open to impure spiritual infiltration that can impugn and ultimately destroy all that he has worked so diligently to attain.

And the flesh of his feast thanksgiving peace-offering must be eaten on the day of its offering; he shall not leave any of it until morning. (7:15)

One who has survived a life-threatening experience brings a Korban Todah, Thanksgiving-offering, as an expression of his gratitude to the Almighty, Who is responsible for his survival. The Korban Todah is basically a Shelamim, Peace-offering - with two distinctions: the Todah is eaten only for one day and night, while the Shelamim is eaten for two days and one night; the Todah is accompanied by the Lachmei Todah, forty loaves of bread of which thirty are matzoh and ten are chametz. Otherwise, these korbanos are very much alike. Horav Zev Weinberger, Shlita, suggests a rationale for including chametz/leavened breads, in this korban, unlike any other korban, and for explaining why the Todah must be eaten in one day.

The Korban Todah is a thanksgiving-offering in which one acknowledges Hashem's role in his continued existence. He understands that his presence here today is the result of a miraculous intervention. When a person acknowledges an overt miracle, his mind comes to the realization that the phenomenon to which we refer as teva, nature, is really a miracle. There are overt miracles and covert miracles. The term which we commonly apply in reference to a covert miracle is - nature. Yes, nature is miracle. It is concealed under a cloak of nature, but a miracle no less. This is the lesson that one should derive as a result of his offering a Korban Todah.

The chametz bread encouraged this line of thinking. We think that when flour and water mix together, it is only natural for the dough to rise after a certain amount of time. This is inaccurate. The dough rises because Hashem has made it rise. It is an overt miracle. One whose cognitive abilities serve him well during his korban experience will recognize this significance and continue thinking, to the point that it finally dawns on him that all of nature is, in effect, a miracle.

This is why the Shtei HaLechem, Two Breads, brought in honor of Shavuos, the festival celebrating the Giving of the Torah, are also made of leavened dough. It is through Torah study that one's eyes open up, so that he is finally able to perceive the truths: Nature is miracle.

We experience neis, miracle, every day. In fact, we acknowledge this reality in our Shemoneh Esrai. In the Modim prayer, we say, V'al nisecha she'b'chol yom imanu, "And For Your miracles which are with us everyday." This refers to neis nistar, covert miracles, such that we are not even aware of them. Chazal state, Ein baal ha'neis maker b'niso, "The one who has sustained a miracle is (often) unaware of it." Our daily lives are filled with hidden miracles. One could have contracted a serious illness had he gone to a physician to have it diagnosed. Often, the illness just dissipates, and the individual is none the worse for it. What has happened? A miracle has taken place, and he has been cured. The greatness is that he never knew that he was sick or that he had been healed. He just went along his natural way, unaware that he had just been spared by Hashem. This is what should course through our minds when we recite modim. We could have had a car accident; we could have fallen ill; we could have been in the wrong place at the wrong time - but we were not, and we did not - because Hashem has spared us.

Daily miracles occur which we acknowledge and for which we pay gratitude to Hashem. We now understand the significance of she'b'chol yom, everyday, and why the Korban Todah must be consumed in one day. It is the one day - each day - everyday, that is to be underscored. It is not a one-time Korban Todah; it is a constant daily expression of gratitude.

What is left over from the flesh of the feast-offering shall be burned in fire on the third day. (7:17)

The Sefer HaChinuch considers the imperative to burn nosar, left-over flesh from a Korban, as the Torah's allusion to the significance of having bitachon, trust in Hashem. The Torah disapproves of a person refraining from finishing his portion of the korban for fear that he might not have what to eat tomorrow. Such behavior shows a lack of trust in the Almighty. Hashem will provide him with food for the next day as well. He need not worry. The baal bitachon, one who trusts in Hashem, does not worry about tomorrow's portion. Furthermore, the individual should not concern himself by wasting time and effort searching for other means of support. One should turn only to Hashem, Who is the Source of all sustenance. This does not mean that one should not be mishtadel, endeavor, to provide for himself and his family. He should, however, not make this an obsession. Remembering that Hashem is the only One to Whom we can turn - and the only One Who can bring his hishtadlus to successful fruition - is perhaps the only tool to assure that his endeavors will successfully bear fruit. How often do we go out of our way by begging, cajoling, even selling ourselves, figuratively, so that we can get the "in" on a deal in order to place ourselves in a better position for success? All of these avenues are wasteful; it is only to Hashem that we should turn and to no one else.

Horav Yitzchak Zilberstein, Shlita, underscores this idea with a powerful analogy. A benevolent king who had an intense love for his citizens would look for opportunities to shower them with his generosity. He was a sagacious ruler, creative in devising somewhat unconventional projects for them to earn his many gifts. His latest gambit was truly brilliant, but otherwise quite simple. A brook flowed in the palace garden. Its waters were clear, but quite deep. The king called his community together and showed them that at the bottom of the brook lay a large chest filled with diamonds and precious jewels. "Whoever succeeds in descending to the bottom of the brook and brings up the chest may keep its contents."

The entire town was buzzing with excitement. They knew their king. If he gave them the opportunity to retrieve the chest, then it certainly was feasible. They knew his penchant for the dramatic and uncommon. There was probably a simple solution to this challenge. Everybody made an attempt to salvage the valuable chest, but to no avail. The citizens were certain that somehow it could be done, because they knew that the king was a kind-hearted person who truly wanted to enhance their lives with his largesse. Thousands tried their luck, but none succeeded in their attempt. The king was disconcerted over the feeble attempts of his citizens. The project was just not moving forward in the manner in which he had anticipated.

One wise member of the community, a laid-back fellow, waited until everyone else had made his attempt. It bothered him that no one had succeeded. The king would never present an impossible challenge. He visited the brook, saw the chest at the bottom, and began to ponder the situation. He looked around the brook at the surrounding area for some clue, until finally he thought he had a way of unraveling the mystery of the submerged treasure chest.

He approached the king and asked, "My lord, is one of the conditions for retrieving the chest that the person becomes soaking wet, or is it possible to salvage the chest and still remain bone-dry?" When the king heard the question, he understood that the wise man had solved the mystery. He replied, "No, he does not have to get wet."

When the person heard this, he quickly obtained a ladder and climbed the tree whose branches overshadowed the brook, and, from in between the branches, he retrieved the chest! He had determined that the king was seeking ingenuity, someone who could figure out that the chest was not in the water but, rather, up in the tree directly above the water. What they were seeing was nothing more than a reflection of the real thing. The wise man knew to look up. He knew where the diamonds were really located.

The lesson to be derived from this analogy is clear: The answer to all of our questions is up Above, Hashem, the compassionate Father Who never forsakes His children. In order to catalyze this abundance one must look up, to the true location of the chest of diamonds. When Jews look up to Heaven and obligate their hearts to their Father in Heaven, they succeed in accessing Hashem's beneficence.

Va'ani Tefillah

U'berov ge'onecha taharos kamecha.
In Your abundant grandeur You shatter Your opponents.

Horav Avigdor Miller, zl, makes note of the Torah's use of the word kamecha, Your opponents. The Egyptians were battling the Jews - not Hashem. Why are they referred to as His opponents? We derive from here that the enemies of the Jewish people are actually Hashem's enemies. Those who rise up against the people of G-d rise up against G-d. He takes it "personally." They are His opponents; they challenge His monarchy; they impugn His glory. The Mechilta in Shemos 15:7 says, "All who rise up against Yisrael are, in effect, rising up against Hashem."

Perhaps, it is actually the other way around. Those who rise up against Klal Yisrael do so specifically in response to our allegiance to Hashem. They are, in essence, fighting Hashem, but, since this is impossible, they take out their frustration on us - His children. Our archenemy, Amalek, acted in this manner. He wanted to battle with the Almighty; instead, he settled for us. As long as we maintain our fidelity to Hashem, we stand as a testimonial that their varied collection of godheads are nothing but false idols. If our secular brethren would only stop to think about this, it might encourage them to stop fawning over the nations of the world. They do not really hate us; they are just plain jealous that we have a religion that is genuine and has endured the test of time. We have it; they do not. This reality disturbs them.

In Memory of our Uncle
Lou Feig
R' Chaim Eliezer ben Yaakov Shimon z"l
Whose devotion to his family and to klal yisrael
set the standard of caring and compassion for others.

Jackie and Ingrid Smilovitz and Family

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