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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 Elevation- offering. (6:2)

Rashi explains that "This is the law of the Olah-offering," is an inclusionary phrase. The Torah teaches us that one "law" includes all offerings that have been alu, placed on the Mizbayach, Altar. Even if they had been pesullin, disqualified, and, thus, should not have been placed on the Mizbayach in the first place, we say, Im alu lo yeirdu, "If they ascend, they should not descend." This is derived from Zos haTorah, "Every instance that the Torah writes, 'This is the law,' it comes to include something." In this case, all disqualified korbanos, which must be allowed to remain on the Mizbayach until they burn out, are included.

Horav Moshe, zl, m'Kubrin, renders this pasuk homiletically. Zos HaTorah - "This is the benefit/advantage of studying Torah." Even those who, for some reason, later deviated and became pasul, disqualified, lo yeirdu, they will not descend. Any person who has studied Torah has been infused with a spiritual antibody that protects him forever. He is never lost. There is a GPS homing device imbedded deeply within him. He picked up this device when he studied Torah. It allows him to always find his way back home - to Torah, to observance, to Hashem. One who has once learned is never lost. The light of the Torah serves as a beacon to guide him back.

Command Aharon and his sons, saying: This is the law of the Olah Elevation-offering. (6:2)

In previous exhortations concerning the korbanos, offerings, the word used to introduce the mitzvah was either daber, speak, or amarta, say. Why does the Torah use the more emphatic term, tzav, command, concerning the Korban Olah, Elevation/Burnt offering? Chazal explain that the more emphatic term is used here: to urge the Kohanim to be especially zealous in performing this service; and to assure that this enjoinment be repeated and emphasized constantly throughout future generations. Rabbi Shimon adds that this exhortation is especially relevant to those commandments that involve a monetary loss, such as the Korban Olah from which the Kohanim receive nothing. The entire animal is burnt, leaving nothing for the owner or the Kohen. Maharal explains that for the Kohen this was especially taxing, since the meat he received from the korbanos was his livelihood. While it is true that he retained the hide of the Korban Olah, this was hardly sufficient to compensate for his loss. Other commentators suggest that the financial loss applies to other offerings and aspects of the Temple Service.

We will focus not on the actual emphasis, but on the need to place this emphasis - almost ritualistically - for the future generations. Once it was mentioned that emphasis be placed on the Kohen's alacrity to serve, it goes without saying that this exhortation is not a one-time command, but part of the future process of offering the Korban Olah. The commentators explain that everything novel inspires one to go out of his way in carrying out the command diligently, with vigor and alacrity. After all, it is the first time, and he is excited. This is especially true if he derives personal pleasure as a fringe benefit. Satisfaction, pleasure, and financial remuneration are all powerful motivators. As time goes on and the activity loses much of its allure, the fringe benefits diminish and he becomes accustomed to it. Thus, the inspiration he has received from the activity slowly dissipates and, finally, becomes non-existent. The Korban Olah presents a special challenge to the Kohen. It is a mitzvah that is l'doros, for all generations. It involves chisaron kis, monetary loss. There are no fringe benefits that might encourage a more favorable attitude toward the service. In other words, this mitzvah needs special encouragement.

One might think that the enjoinment to have the fire burn on the Mizbayach applies to the korban. No, the Torah is speaking to the Kohen, exhorting him to maintain his fervor, his passion, his fire, so that the original hislahavus, enthusiasm/passion with which he began his service, continues on throughout the generations. His religious fervor should not wane. The joy inherent in serving the Almighty should accompany him throughout his lifetime of service. Indeed, the joy inherent in serving Hashem is an intrinsic component of the mitzvah. It is not an add-on, but a vital and critical part of the mitzvah - without which the mitzvah is nothing more than a tepid, sterile act of observance. The Kohanim are reminded of this, so that the joy continues on and on.

The Chafetz Chaim, zl, had occasion to be in Lida. The entire Jewish community turned out to hear words of Torah and mussar, admonition, from the venerable sage. The Chafetz Chaim related the following incident, with its accompanying lesson. "Once, I went to the mikveh in my city, Radin, and noticed, to my chagrin, that the water was quite cold. I turned to the attendant in charge of the mikveh and asked, 'Why is the water cold?' He explained that he had no clue: 'I did what I always do. I took the water from the large cooking pot and poured all of it into the mikveh.'" The Chafetz Chaim went over to the pot to check the temperature of the water. When he saw that the water from the pot was, at best, lukewarm, he said, "Now I understand why the water from the pot was unable to heat the mikveh! In order to heat the cold water of the mikveh, the water from the pot must be burning hot."

The Chafetz Chaim stopped for a moment and gazed into the faces of those assembled before him. Eis tzarah hee l'Yaakov, "It is a time of trouble for (the people of) Yaakov. Many of our brethren have alienated themselves from the heritage of their fathers. They have distanced themselves from the Torah and have become cold to its mitzvos. It is our responsibility to bring them back, to warm their hearts and souls, so that they return to the warmth of Torah. There is, however, one problem: One cannot heat up a cold heart with a dispassionate soul. It is only when our hearts are aflame with religious fervor, with a burning passion for Torah and mitzvos, that we will be able to transfer our flame to them and ignite their dormant feelings for Yiddishkeit."

As long as the Jewish heart beats, it is never too late. The embers have cooled; some have even turned into ashes, but there is an inner spark. The neshamah, soul, which is a chelek Elokai mi'Maal, a part of the Divine Above, continues to burn, regardless of its surroundings. That flame is eternal and can always be stoked into a powerful blaze. One may never give up on any Jew - regardless of his/her background or previous deeds.

Command Aharon and his sons, saying, "This is the law of the Olah/Elevation offering. It is the Olah (that stays) on the flame. (6:2)

The Midrash Rabbah makes an intriguing statement: Any nation or people which "elevates" itself over Hashem or His nation will be judged with fire. Chazal are teaching us the terrible punishment in store for the person or people who arrogate, who views himself or themselves as greater than Hashem. While this maxim is addressed primarily to the gentile oppressors who feel they can take on Hashem and His people, it serves also as a blanket statement decrying the ill effects of arrogance. Let us face it: Whoever acts haughtily is, in effect, against G-d, in Whose eyes we are all the same. One question remains to be addressed: Why of all places in which the Torah could have renounced the turpitude of arrogance, does it choose to do so while speaking to the Kohanim? What do Kohanim have to do with gaavah, haughtiness? They are the symbol of the ovdei Hashem, those who serve Hashem, with extreme devotion. They should be the last ones to whom the effects of this disgusting character trait should be addressed.

The Chasam Sofer, zl, explains that it is specifically concerning Kohanim that this character failing is so reprehensible. The Kohen has nothing about which to arrogate himself. He has no land, no property, no major possessions. He is supported by the nation, while he is devoting his life to serving Hashem. It is not unusual for the fellow who is with means to allow his material abundance to go to his head. The Kohen has no material abundance. He serves the people. Why is his head up in the clouds?

Thus, the Kohen who is arrogant is especially detestable. In the Talmud Pesachim 103, Chazal say that the mind cannot tolerate a pretentious, poor man. His pomposity is especially abominable because he has nothing. He is no different than anyone else. Let him act that way.

It is the olah (that stays) on the flame…The flame on the Mizbayach should be kept aflame on it. (6:2)

In the Talmud Succah 28a, Chazal relate an incident in order to express the idea which is reflected in both of the above pesukim, by two different commentators. Chazal relate that Hillel HaZakein had eighty students, thirty of whom were worthy that the Shechinah rest on them, as it did on Moshe Rabbeinu. Thirty more of them were worthy that the sun stand still for them, as it did for Yehoshua bin Nun. The other twenty ranked in between. This means that they were on a greater spiritual plane than those disciples who were compared to Yehoshua, but were not quite as spiritually developed as those who had achieved a status likened to Moshe. The greatest of the disciples was Yonasan ben Uziel, and the least of them all was Rabban Yochanan ben Zakai.

Anyone aware of that Chazal should be amazed by the "spread" between the top student and the one on the lowest rung - Rabban Yochanan ben Zakai. Chazal proceed to explain the disparity between these two Torah giants. Rabban Yochanan ben Zakai had mastered every aspect of Torah study: its expositions; Scriptural and Rabbinic exactitudes; the speech of the Ministering Angels; the language of the demons (thereby knowing how to control them), the medicinal properties of plants and herbs; and the various parables which are used to rebuke the Jewish nation. He was a veritable encyclopedia of every erudition concerning Judaism. This was the individual who was on the lowest rung of the spiritual ladder of ascendancy achieved by Hillel HaZakein's eighty students. What about Yonasan ben Uziel, the greatest of his students? Chazal teach that when he sat and studied Torah, the spiritual fire that emanated from him would burn any bird that flew above him.

We now have some idea of the spiritual distinction achieved by the students of Hillel HaZakein. The question is raised: If these are the achievements of the students, clearly Hillel was greater. How do we describe his Torah eminence in contrast to that of his students? The Kotzker Rebbe, zl, uses the words, Hee ha'Olah al mokdah, "It is the Olah (that stays) on the flame." He notes that the mem of mokdah appears in a diminutive form, sort of "depressing" the flame. He says this alludes to the fire of religious fervor within a person. The flame that is ignited to serve Hashem does not need to be apparent, pushing itself forward for everyone to see. The passion should remain within, embedded deep in his heart, emanating outward. This describes Hillel HaZakein's level of spirituality. He studied Torah with tremendous hislahavus, fiery passion. Yet, no birds were burnt as they flew over his house. He was able to control his fiery fervor and keep it within.

Likewise, the Sefas Emes derives the same idea for the words, V'eish ha'Mizbayach tukad bo, "And the fire of the Mizbayach, Altar, shall be kept aflame bo, on it (within it) (ibid 6:2)." The greatness of Hillel HaZakein was manifest in that the birds that flew over him when he studied Torah did not burn. His flame burned brightly and passionately from within. Externally, to the observing eye, nothing could be observed.

Passion for serving Hashem is the way an observant Jew is to live, but it may not be at the expense of another Jew. The idea of being frum oif yenem's cheshbon, being observant on another person's account, or executing religious authority at the expense of another Jew without consideration for his feelings, is the antithesis of religious observance.

Horav Shalom Schwadron, zl, decries the absurdity of such an expression of religious activity, citing the following example. Some people make a point of publicizing themselves as devoted, G-d-fearing Jews, who will stop at nothing in carrying out Hashem's mitzvos with every stringency, to the highest level of exactitude. They take great pains to be meticulous in their observance of mitzvos. At times, however, this passion for perfection takes its toll on the sorry shoulders of others, as these "G-d-fearing" individuals in their pursuit of perfection in one mitzvah forget and even trample on the rest of the Torah.

Rav Sholom cites an instance in which a young boy slightly past the age of bar mitzvah, but clearly not displaying any outward physical signs of maturity, was reading the Torah in the shul. It was Parashas Zachor, in which the reading of Amalek's attack is d'Oraysa, a Biblical obligation. This is a point when one is very careful to read the words and trop, cantillation notes, perfectly. The boy was about to begin Parashas Zachor, when a "G-d-fearing" Jew had the nerve to ascend to the bimah, lecturn, where the boy stood and yanked him off, declaring that, since he was not "sure" that the boy was halachically a gadol, adult, he could not read Parashas Zachor. Needless to say, the boy was humiliated by this spiritual extremist. While he might have been halachically correct in his legal debate, it should not have taken place at the expense of the boy. This was an individual who was empowering his own detestable character failings by using the Torah as an ally. While this is certainly not the meaning of "burning birds that were flying overhead," it does demonstrate the significance of seeing to it that one not be carried away with his religious observance at another Jew's expense.

There is another issue to be addressed: Accepting stringencies when one is not on the proper spiritual plane of observance can be disastrous. One might suggest that the word "disastrous" is perhaps a bit strong. It is not. Ish l'reieihu quotes Horav Moshe Shmuel Shapiro, zl, who posits a number of sakanos, dangers, for he who is machmir, assumes certain stringencies, at a point in his spiritual development when he is not yet "there,' not spiritually and emotionally ready for this leap in observance. The Rosh Yeshivah focuses on the koach ha'havchanah, ability to discern between right and wrong, between halachah and chumrah.

In the famous Vidduy of Rabbeinu Nissim, which is recited at various intervals during the year, we confess the following misdeeds: Eis asher tiharta timeisi, va'asher timeisa tiharti, that which You deemed ritually pure, we deemed impure; and eis asher hitarta asarti, va'asher asarta hitarti, that which You permitted, we prohibited, and that which You prohibited, we deemed permissible. These confessions are enigmatic. It is understandable that we may neither permit nor render ritually pure that which the Torah has seen otherwise, but what is wrong with adding a chumrah and prohibiting that which is permissible, or rendering impure that which is actually pure? Are these activities considered sinful?

The Rosh Yeshivah explains that one's perception of right and wrong becomes misconstrued. His understanding of mutar/assur, permissible/prohibited, and tahor/tamei, ritually pure/contaminated becomes deviated. This can lead to his permitting or rendering pure that which is otherwise prohibited or impure. Thus, one should be proficient in areas of halachah, knowing with clarity: what is a Biblical prohibition; what is Rabbinic; what is a stringency; what is a custom; and what is merely a chashash, an unease concerning how a person might act under certain conditions.

There is another danger to premature chumrah acceptance. The Rosh Yeshivah explains that to the unenlightened, someone else who has not decided to countenance such a stringent attitude appears to be a sinner. Immediately, the fellow who does not see it my way, whose perspective of the halachah might quite possibly be much more rational than mine, is now guilty of imperfect observance. This egregious attitude goes so far that one begins to condemn gedolei Yisrael, Torah leaders, who see the halachah from a completely different vantage point and who, thus, do not choose to adopt the various chumros.

Horav Moshe Feinstein, zl, was a gadol baTorah and middos. His exceptional character refinement was one of a plateau equivalent with his encyclopedic knowledge of Torah. He was especially sensitive to the needs of others. Rav Moshe was accustomed to baking Pesach matzos at a certain matzoh bakery. This had been his custom for years, despite this bakery's lack of state-of-the-art equipment and space. After a while a new matzoh bakery opened, providing new equipment and enough space to carry out all of the hiddurim, honorings. When Rav Moshe heard of this new bakery, he thought of switching his baking to the state-of-the-art facility. When it came time to execute his decision, he changed his mind and stayed with the former bakery. He said, "If I switch to the new bakery many others will follow my example, causing a monetary loss to the owner of the old bakery. I will not bake my matzos at the expense of this man's livelihood."

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

The Midrash teaches that l'asid lavoh, after the advent of Moshiach Tzikeinu, all the korbanos, offerings, which effect atonement will be eliminated except for the Korban Todah, Thanksgiving-offering, which will continue. In a perfect world, sin will no longer exist. Yet, gratitude and thanksgiving will never be cancelled. While this statement is a powerful commentary on the significance of expressing gratitude, what purpose will there be for this declaration once Moshiach arrives and the "good times" begin? Hodaah, gratitude, is expressed by the recipient of a personal miracle, who has been saved from a near-death experience, survived a humiliating experience, or for personal and collective family success. All of these situations will cease to exist in the times following the arrival of Moshiach. No longer will there be hunger and thirst, poverty and wealth, sickness and health. The world will be filled with peace. In other words, it will be physical and spiritual utopia. If so, the basic premise upon which hodaah is established will be abrogated. For what will we offer our thanks? Indeed, one would suggest that the Korban Todah would be the first offering to be eliminated.

Horav Chaim Zaitchik, zl, explains that once we enter the period of our existence when the blinders of this world will be lifted, when we will have clarity of vision, comprehensibility of perspective, when it will all make sense, our sense of hodaah, gratitude, will be for the past - not for the present. We will see a world turned upside down, when what used to appear as irrational and adverse will, under our newly-gained perspective, be presented as prudent, necessary and beneficial. We will see that which we saw as deficient was the result of myopia induced by our physical limitations. The money we lost actually spared our lives; the sickness we experienced was the precursor of greater spiritual development; the adversity we sustained was for our ultimate good fortune.

There is a flip-side. Rav Zaitchik explains that there are also instances in which we think that we have experienced good fortune, we have acquired something which we thought we needed, landed that special position which is going to change our life. We then see that these occurrences were not really that fortuitous. After all, if someone lands a position for which he is hardly qualified, it could spell disaster for him. Likewise, if one is deserving of a reward which could manifest itself in a variety of ways; if he receives it the "wrong" way, it could mean the end of his good fortune.

Yes, one day we will see how Hashem provided for us; how the "thank you" which was not forthcoming in this world will reverberate from every part of our soul. In the Talmud Pesachim 50a, Chazal teach that le'asid lavo, in the future, all those who made the brachah of Dayan ha'Emes, the True Judge, the blessing one makes upon experiencing a death, will change their blessing to Ha'Tov u'meitiv, "He is good and He does good." We will see that what we, at the time, thought was tragic, was fundamentally good. As we build our homes, often experiencing life's vicissitudes, its ups and downs, it is important not to forget this concept. How easy it is to fall prey to the convincing effects of life's trials. It is so easy to lay blame, to question, to complain, to cast aspersion, but do we really know the truth? Who are we blaming - Hashem? If we put the same effort into seeking the positive as we do in formulating the negative, our entire attitude would change. After Klal Yisrael walked through the Red Sea after Hashem performed a miracle, allowing them to walk through dry land, they sang Shirah to Hashem. The Torah writes, Az yashir Moshe, "Then Moshe (and Bnei Yisrael) sang." Rashi teaches that the word, az, then, is an allusion from the text of the Torah to Techias HaMeisim, Resurrection of the Dead. We suggest the following explanation for Rashi's statement.

In his Shemen HaTov, Horav Zev Weinberger, Shlita, suggests that the root word of shirah, song, is yashar, straight. This provides us with a fascinating homiletic rendering of the pasuk. A song is a symphony of sound which is comprised of various notes - some high, some low. Each one individually does not seem to "fit." When they are all blended together into a perfect score, the high and low notes seem to straighten out. There is yashrus, straightness, perfection: the highs blending with the lows to create a perfect sound.

Life is filled with high and low points. Viewed at the time that these moments occur, they seem difficult to fathom. When one has the ability to view this conglomerate of "moments" from the perspective of hindsight; when he looks back on life, he sees how straight life really was, how everything worked out. This is when one sings shirah, declaring the straightness of life. Az yashir, when the time of az, then, arrives - and we are provided with a clear perspective of life, we will sing shirah, praising Hashem for life's straightness. May the advent of Moshiach Tzidkeinu arrive soon in our days.

Aharon and his sons carried out all the matters. (8:36)

Rashi states that the Torah is teaching us about the level of Aharon HaKohen's commitment. He did not deviate "right or left" from all that he was commanded, despite the voluminous details and minutae involved in these laws. Sifra comment that this alludes not only to his execution of the mitzvah, but also to the joy inherent in his performance. Although he did not hear the command directly from Hashem, Aharon jumped into it with enthusiasm and zest. There was no volunteering someone else, shrugging his shoulders, exhibiting false modesty. He was told - he immediately accepted without fanfare.

The Chasam Sofer, zl, asked one of his congregants to lead the tefillah, services. The congregant responded atypically, presenting a side of humility heretofore unknown to anyone. He shrugged his shoulders, as if to say that he was unworthy of such distinguished honor. The Chasam Sofer countered, "The Torah teaches that, 'Aharon and his sons carried out all the matters.' Rashi explains that Aharon and his sons listened without deviating to the right or left. This means that they did not shrug their shoulders in 'humility.' They did not present themselves as being unworthy. They were told to do something, and they did it!" Excessive humility is a subtle form of arrogance.

Va'ani Tefillah

Matzmiach yeshuos. He makes salvation grow.

This is different than oseh yeshuos, "He makes salvation," or "He creates salvation." In this instance, Hashem is allowing for the fruits of salvation to germinate and continue growing until they produce more salvation - even hundreds of years later. Imagine, one helps another Jew either physically, materially, emotionally, or spiritually. This catalyzes a transformation within the individual which can, over time, create other opportunities of salvation. One authors a volume of Torah thought. Years later, this sefer is still in use, creating greater, increased reward and merit for the author. Hashem does not just make a one-time salvation, but sees to it that it grows into greater benefit for others. When we do something "good," its effect and ramifications might continue for generations. The flip-side, of course, is that the "bad" that we do also stays around for some time. .

Peninim on the Torah is in its 20th year of publication. The first fifteen years have been published in book form.

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