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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… (that stays) on the flame, on the Altar, all night. (6:2)'

There are individuals who serve Hashem, observe Torah and mitzvos, yet their actions are not oleh l'ratzon, received by Hashem in good will. Something is missing in their service to the Almighty. That something is "heart," passion, enthusiasm. Such a person, even when he finally decides to go the route and serve Hashem with heartfelt passion, does so periodically. It is not one long constant avodas haBorei, service to the Creator. Dispassionate service goes nowhere; it certainly does not rise up to Hashem.

The story is told that the Baal Shem Tov, zl, was once asked to speak to a group of worshippers in a certain shul. He arrived at the shul, walked in, and stopped, saying, "It is difficult for me to sit down in this shul, because of the excess prayers that are accumulated here." The worshippers thought that the holy Baal Shem was praising the manner in which they prayed. The Baal Shem quickly shook them out of their reverie, "If you would daven l'shem Shomayim, for the sake of Heaven, then your prayers would rise up to Heaven. Sadly, your prayers are self-serving, praying with fervor only when your situation puts you up against a wall. Thus, the prayers have nowhere to go but down or to remain floating around within the four walls and ceiling of the shul. The building is replete with empty prayers. I have nowhere to sit down."

The Ben Ish Chai interprets this idea into the pasuk, Hee ha'olah al mokdah, "A person should serve Hashem b'chol nafsho, with his entire being, with a fiery passion Al ha'Mizbayach, on the Altar." This alludes to the heart. The total measurements of the Mizbayach equaled thirty- two amos, which happens to be the gematria, numerical equivalent, of lev, heart. The heart is the seat of passion. It is specifically from the heart that one's passion should be focused upward to serve Hashem. Kol ha'laylah, 'The entire night." Serving Hashem is not a part-time endeavor. It must continue ceaselessly day and night. There are no vacations when one serves Hashem.

Fiery passion serves another purpose: it becomes the extreme which has purging power to cleanse and purify a fiery passion which is focused away from Hashem. The Sidduro Shel Shabbos cites the pasuk in Bamidbar 31:23, where the Torah teaches us the laws of kashering utensils that have become not kosher: "Everything that comes in contact with fire should be cleansed with fire and, thus, purified." One who feels a fire of lust burning within him, a passion for sin - or that his heart is being consumed by the fires of rage - should extinguish it; overwhelming fire with fire. He should kindle a different fire in his heart - a fire of kedushah, holiness. If he does so, he will succeed in quashing the fire of wrongdoing. He will fight fire with fire.

The story is told that the Yismach Moshe once traveled to visit his Rebbe, the holy Chozeh m'Lublin. At that time there was no mikveh in Lublin, so the Yismach Moshe went to immerse himself in a nearby river. When he came into the "office" of his Rebbe, the Chozeh looked at his wet payos and asked, "Where did you immerse yourself? There is no proper mikveh in Lublin." The Yismach Moshe replied that he had gone to the river. The Chozeh responded, "Our tradition is that, if there is no mikveh, one should immerse himself in fire." He was not saying that one should enter a fiery furnace; rather, he implied that if one confronts an internal passion which is pulling him the wrong way, he should immerse himself in an internal fire - by filling himself with a fiery passion to serve Hashem.

In order to serve Hashem with all one's heart, he must first possess a heart. One should develop an intellectual appreciation, which in itself indicates that he is aware of what is taking place in his life. A deeper and more profound level of appreciation is found within the heart, whereby a person has passionate cognition of a given situation and expresses his appreciation effusively. Perhaps, this might be one way (one of many ways) of describing Horav Yekusiel Yehudah Halberstam, zl, the Klausenberger Rebbe.

The Rebbe lost everything to the Nazis: a wife and eleven children; a life of holiness and purity; a community of followers and students. Indeed, when the Rebbe arrived in New York on Erev Shabbos, people expected to see the broken shard of an individual who exemplified malchus haTorah, the monarchy of Torah. This is not what they saw. Throngs of Jews, themselves survivors of the Holocaust, many who, like the Rebbe, had lost just about everything, walked through the streets of Williamsburg to somehow catch a glimpse, greet, daven with, this holy tzaddik, righteous person. They were shocked at what they saw.

Entering the bais hamedrash, one immediately heard the Rebbe's powerful voice rising above the din. In his book Warmed by a Fire, Rabbi Yisrael Besser describes the scene. The Rebbe was the Shliach Tzibur, leading the service, and reciting the prayer of Modim anachnu Lach, "We thank You," which is read towards the end of Shemoneh Esrai. The exuberance and passion that accompanied his tears of gratitude were palpable. As the Rebbe repeated the words of gratitude, his mood swept the crowd, as they too, all joined in by reflecting upon their personal gratitude to Hashem. Here was a man plucked from the edge of pain and despair by Hashem, and he was expressing his gratitude. He did not focus on the negativity felt by many after losing so much. They had all suffered, but they were here, having been granted a chance at rebuilding what they once had. Every moment of life was for him a gift of infinite kindness. Regardless of how much he had lost, one must remember the alternative, the flip-side - and look at the positive.

Indeed, this was the Rebbe's message that Shabbos morning. He related the story of a Jew who had lost his entire farmeigin, worldly possessions, in a fire. This now-destitute Jew approached a close friend and asked for a small loan - enough money to purchase a small bottle of whiskey. After purchasing the bottle, he proceeded to the shul, and, together with his friends, finished off the contents of the bottle. He then broke out into a spirited dance, singing the words, Shelo asani goy, "For He has not made me a gentile." While everyone was happy to see that he was approaching forced retirement with a smile, he appeared to be taking his joy to an unprecedented level.

He explained what seemed to be his strange behavior, "If I would be a gentile, not only would I have lost my home, my money and all my possessions, I would have also lost my god. I am, however, a Yid, whose G-d is indestructible. I may no longer have a home, money, or material possessions, but I still have Hashem Who will never leave me. This is why I dance."

Here was a man who had every reason to be negative. Yet, he chose to seek out that positive ember beneath the pile of smoldering ruin. This was the Rebbe's message. Veritably, I have lost everything but I still have Hashem. With this attitude, he succeeded in rebuilding his life and the lives of so many others.

And the Kohen shall kindle wood upon it. (6:5)

The Baal HaTurim notes that the word u'bieir is mentioned twice in the Torah. It is mentioned earlier, in Parashas Mishpatim (Shemos 22:4), u'beier b'sdei acheir, "or he grazed in another's field." The Torah addresses the owner who allows his animal to graze in someone else's field. Second, is the above reference to the Kohen who kindles wood on the Mizbayach every morning. Obviously, some connection must exist between the two pesukim.

In Sefer Devarim 1:13, Moshe Rabbeinu is instructed to appoint judges to work under him in judging the nation. The pasuk says, Havi lachem anashim… va'asimeim b'rosheichem, "Provide for yourselves distinguished men… and I shall appoint them as your heads." In his commentary to the pasuk, Rashi observes that the yud of va'asimeim is noticeably missing. Va'asimeim without a yud is translated not as, "I shall appoint them," but rather as, "And I shall hold them guilty," deriving the meaning from asham, guilty. Rashi explains that the Torah is alluding to an important principle. If the nation suffers collective spiritual shortcomings, Hashem holds the leaders responsible. The dayanim, rabbinic leaders of the nation - in whose power the spiritual guidelines of the Torah nation are placed - have a moral, ethical and spiritual obligation to see to it that the Torah's laws are executed correctly. If there is laxity in Torah observance, the guilt is on their heads.

Applying Rashi's exposition, Yalkut HaGershuni explains the relationship between the two pesukim in which u'bieir is used. When the nation transgresses its spiritual boundaries, seeking to emulate the way of life and culture of those b'sdei achier, in another's field, in the fields of the gentile society, when our people copy their styles of dress, their morals, ethics and lack of spirituality, then the Kohanim - who represent the Jewish's nation's spiritual elite, its judges who should teach, guide and set the standard for the nation - are held in contempt. They have abused their power of leadership; thus, they will be - u'bieir alehah ha'Kohen - they themselves have to answer for their selfish manipulation of halachah. This applies to rabbinic "figures" (note "figures" rather than "leaders") who take advantage of a woman whose husband refuses to give a get unless she either gives up her children or pays an exorbitant sum of which the rabbinic figure takes a percentage. Concomitantly, it applies equally to the flip-side when a woman holds her children hostage, to lord over her husband while he pays through the nose for the rest of his life. In either case, the dayanim should mediate - not intimidate; preach calm - not incite; encourage - not extort; seek a peaceful resolution - not u'bieir b'sdei achier, follow the standards set by the gentile world.

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

Chazal list four instances in which a person should bring a Korban Todah: when he has traveled overseas; when he has traveled through the desert; when he has been released from prison; when he has been cured of an illness. Rabbeinu Bachya supplements this, saying that all instances of joy - such as simchas chassan v'kallah, wedding - are reason for bringing a Korban Todah. The Korban Todah is comprised of forty loaves, thirty of which are matzoh and ten which are chametz. All this must be eaten in the span of a night and a day. For instance, if one brought the korban today at eleven o'clock in the morning, it must all be consumed by midnight of that day. The Netziv explains the rationale for this restricted eating. When a person has much to eat and so very little time, he is compelled to invite his family and friends to join him. This will increase their appreciation of Hashem's bestowal of His favor on man, thereby increasing kavod Shomayim, the glory of Heaven.

Likutei Basar Likutei adds that, in merit of one's recognition of Hashem's miracles, he will merit to continue seeing nissim, miracles, in his life. This is alluded to by the pasuk, V'zos Toras HaShelamim asher yakriv: What is the reward for one who brings Shalmei Todah, Thanksgiving offerings? Asher yakriv - he will in the future continue to bring offerings. The greatest reward for the performance of a mitzvah is the opportunity to continue performing other mitzvos.

We no longer have the opportunity to pay gratitude to Hashem via the vehicle of korbanos. U'neshalamah parim sefaseinu, "Our lips take the place of actual korbanos." The power of prayer is awesome; prayer takes the place of a korban. An example is when we recite daily from Sefer Tehillim (100:1), Mizmor l'sodah, hariu l'Hashem kol ha'aretz, "A song of thanksgiving; call out to Hashem, everyone on earth." In accordance with its name, this psalm was sung by the Leviim as an accompaniment to a Korban Todah. Since this mizmor is associated with a korban, it has become our custom to stand while reciting it.

In his commentary to the Siddur, Horav Shimon Schwab, zl, addresses the forty loaves which comprise the Korban Todah. He breaks them up into two categories: Matzoh and chametz. Matzoh symbolizes salvation from grave danger, as Klal Yisrael experienced during the exodus from Egypt. Matzoh commemorates yetzias Mitzrayim, the Exodus. The chametz, unleavened bread, however, is symbolic of the daily nissim, miracles, which we enjoy, including the many miracles of which we are yet unaware. This is a reminder to thank Hashem, Al nissim she'b'chol yom imanu, 'For the miracles which are with us every day.'

Horav Chaim Kanievsky, Shlita, was asked why the mizmor begins with one's personal gratitude, then goes on to say hariu kol haaretz, "Call out to Hashem, everyone on earth." Why do all of earth's inhabitants have to join in gratitude? Should it not be a personal thing, since, after all, the korban's owner was the one who experienced the miracle?

Rav Kanievsky explained this with an incident that had occurred at one of the shuls in Bnei Brak. After davening one day, one of the worshippers took out a tablecloth from a bag and spread it on the table. He then placed cake and whiskey on the table and invited everyone in shul to share in his good fortune. Apparently, the day before he had been crossing the k'vish, highway, and was hit by a car. He was thrown up into the air and landed on his side, but, other than a few slight bruises and a soiled suit, he was fine. He provided cake and whiskey, so that the participants would all have a l'chaim, good wishes, "to life," in honor of the miracle.

The next day, following the morning prayers, another member of the shul took out a small tablecloth, placed it on a table, and proceeded to place cake and whiskey on the table. He invited everyone to share in his Kiddush. "What happened to you?" they asked. "Perhaps you were also hit by a car?" "No," he answered. "Nothing of the sort. It is just that yesterday when I heard that fellow relate how he miraculously escaped serious injury, it dawned on me that I have been crossing that k'vish for the last twenty years, at the exact same place - and nothing has ever happened to me! Is that not a neis? I, therefore, want to thank Hashem publicly for all of His graciousness to me!"

Rav Kanievsky continued, "Mizmor l'sodah refers to one's personal deliverance from 'what might have been.' Hariu l'Hashem kol ha'aretz, seeing another person pay gratitude to the Almighty should spur one to introspect and realize how much he too owes Hashem. True, he may not have experienced any misfortune, but that in itself is a miracle!" We must stop taking our good fortune for granted. It is all a gift from Hashem.

There is another way to offer our gratitude to Hashem. Horav Shmuel Kaidanover, zl, was originally a Rav in Poland, and, after suffering brutally at the hands of Chemelnicki's barbarians during the gezeiros, decrees, of Tach v'Tat, 1648/1649, he escaped to Moravia, an impoverished, broken fugitive. He served as Rav in a number of kehillos, communities, in Ashkenaz, later returning in 1671 to Poland to assume the position of Rav of Cracow. In his hakdamah, preface, to his Bircas HaZevach, treatise on Kodoshim, he writes that this sefer is his hodaah, Thanksgiving-offering to Hashem, "I was left alone, broken, beaten, unable to walk. When Hashem decreed an upheaval of the many Jewish communities in Poland and Lithuania, I was then in Lublin. There the Cossacks plundered my valuable library and personal manuscripts, and there were plucked from me the lights of my life, my two young daughters, who were brutally murdered by the accursed barbarians. I was thrown into the street, rolling in the blood of many Jewish martyrs whose lives were sacrificed Al Kiddush Hashem, to sanctify Hashem's Name. Hungry and thirsty, with nothing but my shirt, I was left in the cold to die, but Hashem did not desert me in my moment of dire need. With His miraculous intervention, I was able to reach the city of Nikolsburg." Out of a sense of profound gratitude to Hashem, he decided to delve into Seder Kodoshim, with the Bircas HaZevach representing the fruits of his study.

No complaints, no condemning, just gratitude at its apex. This is how a Jew lives and accepts life.

Take Aharon and his sons with him. (8:2)

Rashi teaches us how Aharon HaKohen was taken/convinced to perform the avodah, service. Mashcheihu bi'devarim, "draw him with words." We are being taught an important principle. One should not be pulled to do something against his will. Compelling someone to perform a service which he either is not interested in executing or for which he feels completely incompetent will not produce fruits of success. Whatever inhibitions one has concerning a position must be assuaged via a positive manner if his work is to produce positive results. Aharon HaKohen had serious concerns regarding his own suitability to perform the sacrificial service. He felt that the role he was forced to play in the sin of the Golden Calf would inhibit his acceptability to serve as the nation's agent in the Mishkan. Moshe Rabbeinu convinced him with "words" that, specifically because he had these concerns, he was most suitable for this position.

In the world of chinuch, education, kacheinu bidevarim, "draw him (the student) with words," is a primary staple. A teacher who is unable to speak with the student for whatever reason has very little chance of establishing a trusting relationship with the student - which, in and of itself, is a recipe for disaster. Horav Yitzchak Hershkowitz, Shlita, writes about Rav Alexander Zissel Chinsky, zl, a preeminent educator, who, over the decades in which he served as a mechanech in Yerushalayim, merited to produce generations of bnei Torah who benefited from his Torah teachings, ethical behavior and by the unique example that he set for them to emulate. His students were not always perfect, and he did not have the good fortune of never having a discipline issue. He dealt with each and every student on an individual basis, and, after analyzing the problem, he set upon achieving an amicable resolution. He did not just react to a problem. He studied it, and after mulling over it in his mind, he planned out an approach that would satisfy rebbe and student. The following vignette is an example of his insightful brilliance as a mechanech.

Hershel was a gifted seventh grader with a serious discipline problem. If there was an avenue for trouble, he found it. It was not as if he did not like learning - he was simply too preoccupied with everything else. Now, if a student does not learn, but also does not disrupt the classroom environment, it is tolerable. The rebbe will seek different ways to turn the student on to learning. If his lack of desire takes its toll on the classroom decorum, this is a totally different problem. The rebbe may not ignore the student at the expense of the rest of the class. Rav Alexander had tried a variety of methods to encourage Hershel's involvement in a positive manner, all to no avail. Hershel was not buying it. He had no interest in learning. When Hershel was undermining the rebbe's control of the class, however, the rebbe lost patience. What was he to do? Hershel had such incredible potential.

The day on which it all came to a head began with Hershel prancing into the classroom and, in front of the rebbe, mouthing a loud Boker tov, "Good morning!" to everyone. The rebbe knew then and there that the day was going downhill from that moment. Hershel either refused to, or could not, stop. He kept going on, starting up with this one, calling that one a name, on and on, until the rebbe said, "Hershel, this must stop immediately, or I will have to send you out." It was as if the rebbe was talking to a stone wall - no reaction.

Finally, the day ended, and the students went home. The rebbe thought to himself, "Perhaps tomorrow will be better." No such luck. Hershel arrived on time, made a bow when he entered the classroom, greeting everyone with a resounding, "Good morning!" and proceeded to do what he pleased, regardless of the disturbance it caused everyone who was trying to learn. The rebbe warned Hershel one more time concerning the consequences if he did not calm down. It was a waste of time. For a few moments, Hershel seemed to calm down, and then he would return to his usual behavior.

This went on for a few days, until one day the situation became unbearable. Rav Alexander told him in a quiet, but stern voice, "Hershel, remove your glasses." The boy removed his glasses and raised his hand to shield his face. The rebbe meant business. He was going to receive a patch, a good thrashing. The rebbe raised his hand as if to slap Hershel, but stopped in midair. "Hershel, what is going to be with you?" the rebbe asked. "Do you realize that you have finally gone too far? You deserve to be punished for each and every time you promised to be 'good' and broke your word. I want to punish you, but I cannot. Do you know why?"

Now, the rebbe's voice became a soft whisper, "Because one day you will become a great talmid chacham, Torah scholar. With your mind, you will illuminate Klal Yisrael with your knowledge. What do you think people will say about me then? They will say that I was the rebbe who slapped a Torah leader, a gadol b'Yisrael! Can you imagine how humiliated I will be? I will not be able to leave my home because of the shame."

At this point, Hershel broke into tears, "Oy, rebbe," he cried. "You are so right. I want so much to do the right thing, to learn, to be a good student, but it is so difficult for me to maintain my attention span. Please, give me one more chance. I will not let the rebbe down."

"Hershel,' the rebbe said, "put your glasses back on and take your seat. I will hold you to your word."

So ends the story of Hershel - or rather, so begins the story of one of the most prolific Roshei Yeshivah in the Holy Land. Hershel could have gone the route of the many others who did not have the good fortune of having such an understanding, insightful rebbe, who knew exactly what the student needed. He cared.

Hershel related this story to a group of educators, closing with, "The slap that I did not receive turned me around. Mashcheihu bidevarim, 'coax him with (the right) words.'" The rebbe's words had a much more beneficial effect than any slap. The words reach the student's heart; the slap only causes pain and hurt.

Va'ani Tefillah

Hishmaru lachem pen yifteh - levavchem, v'sartem vaavadetem elohim acheirim.

Beware for yourselves, lest your heart be seduced and you will turn astray and you will serve other gods.

Rashi explains v'sartem, "And you will turn astray." As a result of this "parting," you will ultimately end up serving other gods. Once a person separates from the Torah, he ends up worshipping idols. Is this not a bit extreme? Do we not find Chazal who say that the yetzer hora, evil-inclination, takes a very subtle approach to seducing a person. One day it is "do this"; the next day it is "do that." Only after some time, once the person has fallen into its clutches, has more or less become putty in the hands of the yetzer hora, that it says: "Now - worship idols." Rashi seems to imply that it is an immediate reaction to one's separation from Torah.

Horav Elchanan Wasserman, zl, quotes his Rebbe, the Chafetz Chaim, zl, who explains this practically. When two people or nations battle one another, neither is assured a lasting victory until the victor has relieved the vanquished of his weapons. Only then is/are he/they assured that the defeated will not regroup and rise up again when least expected. Likewise, when the yetzer hora convinces a person to succumb to its blandishments, it is not yet assured of an enduring victory. If it has succeeded in distancing him from Torah - it is like money in the bank. The person has lost the only weapon, antidote, against the yetzer hora. No Torah - no ability to mount an offensive. The yetzer hora has won. This is what is intimated by the pasuk. Once the person has been turned away from Torah - idol worship is a done deal.

Rav Elchanan adds that this is why the sin of bitul Torah, wasting one's time from learning Torah, is so serious. Without Torah, there is no ability to fight back. The war is virtually over. He has been defeated!

In loving memory of
by her family

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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