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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. (6:2)

Rashi quotes Toras Kohanim that comments, "Tzav, the word, 'command,' can only be meant to express urging on, miyad u'le'doros, for the immediate moment and for future generations. (Furthermore) The Torah must especially urge in a situation where there is a loss of money." The Kohanim sustain a financial loss because they are not paid for their service. In order to perform it, they must be readily available, thus precluding any other form of livelihood. The Torah makes this point within the context of the Olah - Elevation/Burnt Offering, because the loss of income in this case is especially significant. With other offerings, the Kohen receives both the meat and the hide. With the Olah, they receive only the hide. The Ohr HaChaim HaKadosh adds that the concept of ziruz, urging, connected with zerizus, alacrity, applies not only when a loss of money is incurred, but, indeed, under any circumstances which entail extreme distress. That extra nudge is necessary, or there is a possibility that one will slack off and look for an excuse to justify his lack of participation.

Zerizus, alacrity, that extra push inherent in mitzvah observance, is applicable to all mitzvos. Hashem commands us to love Him, "with all of your heart, with all of your soul, and with all of your material abundance" (Devarim 6:5). Some individuals go all out for mitzvah performance, their commitment overwhelming, until it involves their checkbook. Once the mitzvah impinges upon their material wealth, they suddenly must "think twice," or "things are not the way they used to be"; they say anything to circumvent spending their hard-earned money. The Torah teaches us that absolutely nothing should stand in the way of serving Hashem - especially money. One who understands that zerizus is not an added aspect to mitzvah observance, but the actual mitzvah, will slowly, over time, evolve into a person to whom zerizus is a natural component of his psyche.

Horav Yehudah Tzadkah, zl, applies this idea in his interpretation of a well-known Mishnah in Pirkei Avos 5:23. Chazal say, "Be bold as a leopard, light as an eagle, swift as a deer, and strong as a lion, to carry out the will of your Father in Heaven." Why does the Tanna require an example from the animal kingdom to affirm the various qualities which he proposes a Jew should reflect? Why must one be bold as a leopard or swift as a deer? What is wrong with simply writing, "Be bold, light and strong?" He explains that the Tanna is teaching us an important lesson. It is not enough simply to act swiftly, be strong, etc. One must incorporate these qualities into his being to the point that they define him. His swiftness must be natural, his strength and boldness a part of his nature - just as these qualities define the deer, the lion and the leopard. These animals do not require an extra push to be swift, strong, or bold. It is intrinsic to their makeup. They act this way naturally.

The problem is that we confuse the qualities and apply them at the wrong time, such as being in the right place at the wrong time or the wrong place at the right time. Iturei Torah, quoted by Ish L'Reieihu, offers a meaningful analogy. A businessman was once sitting in the bais ha'medrash studying Torah. During this time, a buyer from out of town came to his house with a proposition which would have earned him a considerable profit. When the buyer knocked on the door and discovered that the businessman was unavailable, he decided to go elsewhere, to another source. When the businessman returned from his study period in the bais ha'medrash, his family informed him of his missed opportunity. Naturally, he was quite upset with them for not having informed him of the visitor. "But you were in the bais hamedrash," they countered. "You do not worry about that," he said. "If someone comes looking for me - call me!"

Ten weeks later, the IRS came visiting to discuss a number of tax issues with the businessman. Apparently, a few of his accounts were delinquent. As per their father's instructions, they immediately sent him to the bais hamedrash. Well, we can imagine the businessman's reaction. "An opportunity for profit materializes and you do not call me, but when the tax collector shows up, you send him to the bais hamedrash. Where is your common sense?"

There are mitzvos asei, positive mitzvos, and lo saasei, prohibitive mitzvos. We require contrasting attitudes towards the varied mitzvos. Concerning mitzvos asei, the positive mitzvos, one must employ zerizus, alacrity, while regarding the prohibitive mitzvos, one should act with indolence. Regrettably, we turn the tables, applying alacrity when we are in a rush to perform an aveirah, sin; and suddenly we become lazy when a mitzvas asei beckons our attention.

A primary component of alacrity is the recognition of the value of every passing moment. One who is slothful does not value the Heavenly gift of "the moment." "If not today - tomorrow" is the attitude of one who has no sense of time and no realization of how much can be achieved in even the smallest amount of time. It was towards the end of 1943, when the blueprint for the opening of Yeshivas Ponevez was still on paper. While it was a reality in the brilliant mind of its visionary founder, Horav Yosef Kahaneman, zl, the Ponevezer Rav, it had not yet reached fruition. The Rav became seriously ill and his health had reached the critical stage. The doctors were concerned about an infection in his throat, and they absolutely forbade him from speaking.

The Ponezvezer Rav was noted for an uncanny ability to do what needed to be done whenever the need arose. The time to open the yeshivah was now. The fact that he was critically ill and unable to speak should not detract from the focus on what needed to be done - immediately. Indeed, if it did not happen now - it might never open. He quickly wrote a note to his son, Rav Avraham, to immediately summon Horav Shmuel Rozovsky, zl, and the yeshivah should open - now - with whatever students he had been able to assemble at that point. The matter was of the greatest urgency. "Who knows," he said, "if the yeshivah does not open at this critical juncture, whether it will ever open."

His vision proved correct. The Ponovezer Rav had learned the value of time from his revered Rebbe, the Chafetz Chaim, zl, to whom every moment was infinitely precious. He was wont to say that the Chafetz Chaim merited longevity, not only because the Heavenly Scribe had written him into the Book of Life for a life to exceed ninety years. It was because he valued every moment allotted to him, using it for tzarchei Shomayim, Heavenly endeavors. The Chafetz Chaim was extremely frugal, spending only on what he absolutely needed. He viewed money as a product of the time expended in earning it. Thus, something would have to have great significance before he purchased it. It represented time that he deferred from his Torah study. Therefore, it had better be worth the effort.

Probably the greatest lesson concerning the significance of time is derived from a comment often reiterated by the Alter, zl, m'Slabodka, Horav Nosson Tzvi Finkel, zl, to his son, Horav Eliezer Yehudah Finkel, zl, when he was a very young student in yeshivah. In every correspondence to his son, the Alter would write, "My dear son! Every endeavor that presents itself; every situation which you confront; every ordeal with which you must contend, think to yourself, 'How would I respond to this issue, if it was the last day of my life, and this was my last decision?'"

We feel that if we do not do it right the first time, we can always return and redo it. It does not always work that way. At best, one will have succeeded - the second time around. If we would know that it is the last day of our life, and everything, all our hopes and aspirations are hinging on what we are about to do, we would act differently. This is how we should live our entire lives.

And the fire of the Altar should be kept aflame on it. (6:2)

The commentators interpret this pasuk homiletically. "And the fire of the Altar shall be kept aflame on it." One in whom the fire/passion to serve the Almighty burns within him should be careful to see to it that it remains bo, "within him" - not externally, to hurt others. In other words, one should go to great strides to see to it that his religious observance does not impinge on others. An observant Jew should be especially sensitive to the feelings of those around him. They quote the passage in the Talmud Succah 28a, which notes that Yonasan ben Uziel, the student of Hillel HaZakein, the Elder, was so passionate and fervent about his Torah study, that when he studied Torah, a bird that would fly over him would immediately be emolliated.

The question is asked: If this is the great devotion to Torah study evinced by Yonasan ben Uziel - the student - what was the level of his revered Rebbe - Hillel HaZakein? Certainly, it was even more elevated, and perhaps more extreme. The Sefas Emes explains that Hillel HaZakein's level of Torah study was so exalted, that if a bird flew over him, it would not become burned! Hillel HaZakein's fire burnt bo, "internally, within him."

The greatness of a person is determined by his ability not to cause any pain or discomfort - either physical or emotional - to anyone who comes within his proximity. If one's frumkeit negatively affects others, his religious observance is sorely lacking. In the apartment of Horav Eliyahu Eliezer Dessler, zl, author of the Michtav M'Eliyahu, there was a container of air freshener displayed prominently on the kitchen counter. It created a stir, since the students who had occasion to visit the Mashgiach could not fathom the need for such a utensil in their Rebbe's home. Once, on Purim, when everyone was in an alcoholic-induced stupor, such that their courage was emboldened, one of the students sprayed some freshener and asked, "What brachah, blessing, does one recite on this?" Rav Dessler immediately countered, "I think that it states explicitly in halachah that one does not recite a blessing over something which does not belong to him." The subject was closed, and it remained that way.

Sometime later, after the passing of the Rebbetzin, the mystery was solved. Only then was it discovered that, every two weeks, a man came to pick up the couple's laundry to be washed. Being a true scion of the famous Kelmer mussar movement, of character refinement, the Rebbetzin would not allow another Jew to be compelled to smell the unseemly odor of dirty laundry. She would spray the soiled laundry with air freshener to spare the man this indignity. This was a prime example of internalized frumkeit.

And (he) shall take up the ashes… upon the Altar, and shall put them down at the side of the Altar. (6:3)

There are people who live in the past, resting on the laurels of eras gone by, the achievements of yesterday, the successes that have been long over. One lives in the past when he does not have much of a present to speak of, and even less of a future to which to look forward. This does not mean that one should forget the past. Absolutely not. The past is a critical component in establishing the present and preparing for the future, but one must live in the present.

The mitzvah of Terumas HaDeshen which was carried out by the Kohen was the first service of the day. It was comprised of removing a portion of the previous day's ashes from the Mizbayach, Altar, and shortly afterwards, placing logs of wood on the main Altar fire. The ashes were scooped up with a shovel and placed on the floor of the Chatzeir, Courtyard. These ashes were from the burnt flesh of the korbanos of the previous day. Horav S.R. Hirsch, zl, sees a theological pattern of lessons to be derived from the symbolism surrounding the Terumas HaDeshen service. He suggests that by taking a portion of "yesterday's" service and placing it on the side of the Altar prior to the commencement of "today's" service, the Kohen publicly affirms that today we will continue to serve the Almighty as we did yesterday, in accordance with the dictates of His will.

The lesson goes further and deeper. The removal of the ashes is meant to introduce the new day's service in terms of what had been accomplished on the previous day. As a permanent reminder of these past achievements, the removal of these ashes from the camp conveys the important message that, at the same time, the Jewish nation must begin its task anew each day. The start of every day summons us to set upon our task with full, renewed devotion, as if we had never accomplished anything before. The memory of yesterday's achievements must not detract from - or subdue the energy which we expend in carrying out today's service. Emphasis on what has already been accomplished can spell demise to what has yet to be done. The one who rests upon his past laurels often does so in smug complacency. He does not begin the service of today with renewed vigor, fresh devotion, completely committed to the task at hand, as if it were the very first day of his life's work.

The ashes were removed from the camp, so that every trace of yesterday's devotion was gone. Today's service was to begin on untouched ground. Rav Hirsch, thus, views the law that demands the Kohen to wear humble, worn garb upon handling the products of yesterday's functions as significant and endemic to the idea that we have stated. The past must recede into the background. It must not clothe us in pride, as we set out upon the new task to which we are summoned every new day. A certain aspect of the past, however, must not be ignored. Memories of the past are a vital link to bygone eras, experiences that have influenced and inspired our lives, and, for some, as we will see, make a difference in the quality of our lives. Indeed, we must acknowledge the fact that after all is said and done, all that we really leave over for the next generation is memories. A person lives - and dies - and all that is left of him are the memories of his life. We had better see to it that our children are left with good memories of a life filled with positive achievement.

I had occasion to read a chapter in Rabbi Dr. Abraham J. Twerski's, "Generation to Generation." He relates the story of Morris, a Jewish patient who was suffering from advanced cancer, and how the memories of the past were therapeutic for his present. Morris had undergone surgery and was suffering a great deal of pain. What made things worse was the fact that this pain was destined to accompany him in the months that followed until what would probably be his untimely death. Pain medication did alleviate some of the discomfort, but he paid the price by having a clouded mind.

Rabbi Twerski attempted to take Morris's mind off of his debilitating pain. He tried a form of light hypnosis which would allow his patient to go back in time and recall some pleasant experiences. It worked. Morris recalled himself at age thirteen riding a bike in the countryside. He remembered scenery, the solitude, the breeze on his face, and, above all, the fun and peace and quiet. After a few of these relaxing memory sessions, Morris declared, "I am hungry." This was truly a breakthrough, since he had not had much of an appetite for weeks.

The technique was continued. Morris began acting like a new person, especially after Rabbi Twerski taught him how to hypnotize himself. He related his memories, episodes of life that had long been forgotten, or stored away in the back of his mind. This went on for a short time until Morris succumbed to his disease. The memories did not prolong his life, but somehow they eased his pain and raised the quality of his life. He died peacefully - which in and of itself is a blessing.

Our minds are obsessed with the future. The future is our symbol of hope, our analgesic for coping with life. If the present becomes too difficult, we look forward to the future as an escape, as a source of enjoyment, as a pleasant repast from the pressures of the present. Rabbi Twerski writes that, when a person is suddenly confronted with the realization that his present is going to change drastically - as a result of disease, financial/family upheaval - he will become increasingly despondent. Why? Because, all of a sudden, he has no future for which to look forward to. Sadly, he feels that, for him, there is no future - period. This results in depression, complete loss of motivation and a withdrawal from the daily activities that keep many of us going. Additionally, when a person falls victim to this form of helplessness, the pain which he experiences becomes much more aggravated. Everything simply hurts more.

As Rabbi Twerski observes, however, there is a solution to this very real and all-too-common problem. Filed away within the countless brain cells of our mind are the many memories of our life's experiences. Via the medium of a relaxation technique, he is able to penetrate the barriers that time put into place.

One does not have to, chas v'shalom, Heaven forbid, be seriously ill to experience the gift of the "past," memories of days gone by and experiences heretofore consigned to oblivion. Open a diary, a photo album, get together with old friends and rediscover the past. It can enrich our lives by recapturing and reliving the enjoyable moments of our lives. The trick, however, is to "relive the past," not to "live in the past."

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

The Midrash teaches that le'asid lavo, in the future End of Days, all korbanos, sacrifices, will be bateil, nullified; all prayers will also be nullified, with the exception of the Korban Todah, Thanksgiving offering. The sound of todah, gratitude, will continue to resonate - even when all others have been halted. We wonder what purpose gratitude will serve in the End of Days: What need will there be for requiring gratitude? There will no longer be any pain or sorrow, hunger or thirst, illness or personal trauma. There will be no questions, no accidents, no issues that need resolving. Everything will be good. People will be good. Indeed, the opposite of what Chazal are saying should be true: The very first korban to be nullified with the advent of the End of Days should be the Korban Todah. After all, we will have no reason for it.

Horav Chaim Zaitchik, zl, explains that, while veritably we will have no reason for offering a Todah for present miracles, we will have more reason to offer a korban for the past experiences which we now realize had actually been beneficial. We will now see with an unimpeded clarity of vision how those circumstances, which we once had thought were hurtful, painful, shameful were, in fact, the best things that have happened to us. In many instances, they changed our lives for the better. We will also discover that we had been wrong concerning situations that presented themselves as good. Perhaps, to the casual observer, they had appeared favorable, but, at the time, we had been privy to only part of the picture. Had we known more then, we would not have been that overjoyed.

We have all experienced episodes in our lives which we judged superficially according to the course of prior events, with our limited subjective vision. One day, we will see that we interpreted these events inaccurately. Would it not be best if we would just place our trust in the Almighty, Who has been here from the beginning and will be here until the very end? Clearly, His perspective is far better than ours.

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

Life is wonderful. This is especially true when one considers the alternative. In any event, the fact that the Torah has us bringing a Korban Todah, Thanksgiving-offering, upon being saved from serious illness, released from prison, or having survived a dangerous journey indicates that staying alive is a good thing. It is definitely something which we should make the most of. It is, therefore, perplexing that Bais Shammai and Bais Hillel debated one another for two and one-half years concerning the very same issue: Would it have been better not to have been created, or is creation beneficial? Clearly, there are reasons pro and con. The conclusion is more or less an impasse: We would have been better off had we not been created, but now that the option has been taken from us and we are here, we should be introspective and refine our actions. In other words: Make the most of it.

In his wonderful volume of insights from Horav Yaakov Weinberg, zl, "Forever His Students," Rabbi Baruch Leff ponders the obvious question. What do Chazal mean when they question the benefit of man's creation? Are they questioning Hashem? As the ultimate Source of all good, He created us. Is there any other conclusion for our existence other than Hashem's act of altruism? Are we to think for one moment that Hashem created us to be miserable, to fail in life? What else could Ben Shammai and Bais Hillel be debating? There must be some deeper interpretation of this Chazal, because, after all is said and done, it seems that the dispute revolves around Hashem.

The Rosh Yeshivah explains that the debate between Bais Hillel and Bais Shammai in no way concerns Hashem's decision to create mankind. That decision was a pure act of altruism with a goal to provide an opportunity for mankind to benefit and receive reward. The debate focuses on us. From our perspective, should we have second thoughts? Should we feel that we would have been better off not being created, not letting Hashem down (so to speak)?

The foibles of mankind are many and complex. Every person is destined to sin. We are not perfect - even though some of us have personal visions of grandeur. Thus, Bais Hillel and Bais Shammai wonder about all of the benefits of being created our way - from our vantage point, the disadvantages. Imagine, the "disappointment" and "pain" that our Heavenly Father "experiences" when we - the fruits of His labor - sin egregiously. So, is it really worth it?

Rav Weinberg explains that as Hashem's "children," our relationship with Him is unique. If an infant were to be acutely aware of the enormous pain his mother experiences during childbirth, he would probably declare that the benefits of being born do not outweigh his mother's pain. Why should she suffer so much for him? Even if the mother would argue and claim that she was willing to endure the pain if it meant having a child, the child, on the other hand, should contend that he would never want to be the cause of his mother's suffering. While he understands his mother's yearning for a child, he is concerned with the hurt and pain - not the ensuing benefits.

This is how we should feel vis-à-vis our relationship with the Almighty. True, Hashem's creation of the world was an incredible act of kindness, and we certainly appreciate everything that He has done. It is the "us" about which we are concerned. We are unsure whether we should feel awkward, even remorseful and filled with regret, concerning the "pain" through which we are putting Hashem. Chazal conclude that, indeed, there is merit to the way we feel. From the human perspective, we should have eschewed existence, since it involves sin and disappointment. We know that we are not going to make Hashem happy - all of the time. So, why would we want to be created? The choice, however, was never given to us. In His infinite wisdom, Hashem decided that it was "worth it." With this in mind, we are able to develop an altogether different - and perhaps frightening - perspective on the concept of sin.

When we act inappropriately by breaching the code of discipline as prescribed in the Torah, we are sinning against Hashem, Who is our Creator and also our loving Father in Heaven. While Hashem is certainly above the human concept of emotion, we nonetheless, on some level, have "hurt" Him with our actions. Children should want to please their parents - not hurt them. When we sin, we cause our Parent in Heaven "distress." It is not something that courses through our minds when we transgress, but maybe it should. It will certainly change our attitude.

Va'ani Tefillah

Ha'Bocheir b'amo Yisrael b'ahavah. Who chooses His people Yisrael with love.

The blessing declaring Hashem's love for us immediately precedes Shema Yisrael. Why are these two juxtaposed upon one another? What connection is there between Hashem's love for us and Shema Yisrael? In his Kavanas HaLev, Horav Hillel Lichtenstein explains that Chazal are conveying a powerful, practical message . A major part of Klal Yisrael gropes around in spiritual darkness, oblivious to Hashem's love for them. Indeed, they claim that the Almighty does not love them. Otherwise, how could He allows us to remain in exile amidst persecution and misery? Clearly, this is not an expression of love. Apparently, this attitude demonstrates the blindness that has enveloped them. Our response to those who refuse to see is: Shema Yisrael! Hear O' Yisrael! Open up your ears and listen - Hashem is our G-d, Hashem is One! Once a person becomes attuned to this verity, he will begin to see Hashem everywhere in his life. He will sense the Almighty's Presence in every aspect of his endeavors, and he will begin to realize and acknowledge Hashem's love for His People. He will proclaim Ha'Bocheir b'amo Yisrael b'ahavah.

In loving memory of
Mrs. Fanny Brunner Feldman
by her family

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