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Peninim on the Torah

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Rabbi A. Leib Scheinbaum
Hebrew Academy of Cleveland


The men came with the women. (35:22)

Rashi translates the phrase, al ha'nashim, on the women, as with the women. Targum Onkelos, however, translates it as al neshaya, on the women. This implies that the men brought the donations on the women, suggesting that the men accompanied their wives to the collection center, after which the women removed their jewelry and contributed it to the Mishkan. Why did they follow this procedure? Could the men not just have brought the jewelry on their own?

Horav Moshe Feinstein, zl, derives an important insight from here. The women wanted to show that they were wearing the jewelry, that it had great value to them. They were not taking jewelry from a box that no one was using, about which no one cared. On the contrary, the gold and silver jewelry which they gave was quite dear to them. The Mishkan, however, was more precious. Therefore, they were removing their jewelry and readily contributing it to the Mishkan. They showed that, as much as they cared for their jewelry, the Mishkan had greater significance. It gave them greater pleasure to give to the Mishkan than to wear the jewelry.

The Rosh Yeshivah adds that this is the manner in which one should give tzedakah, charity; indeed, this is how he should perform all mitzvos, especially limud ha'Torah, Torah study. Despite the fact that one may have other things to do, other opportunities for easing his life; nonetheless, Torah and mitzvah performance take precedence.

As I am writing this, I am reminded of a story I wrote a while back, which underscores this idea.

It was Yom Kippur night, and a huge crowd had assembled in the Berditchever Shul where the saintly Horav Levi Yitzchak, zl was preparing to usher in the holiest day of the Jewish calendar year. The Berditchever motioned to the chazzan to wait a while; he was not quite ready to begin the Kol Nidre prayer. The minutes passed by as the packed congregation began to whisper silently, "What could be holding up the Rebbe?" Soon, Rav Levi Yitzchak turned to his shammes, attendant, and asked, "Is Reb Mottel from Zhitomia here?" The shammes looked around and, after noticing Reb Mottel, he told the Rebbe that he was in attendance. "Please ask him to come here," said Rav Levi Yitzchak.

When Mottel came over, Rav Levi Yitzchak began to question him. "Tell me, do you not live on land owned by a certain gentile landowner?" "Yes," responded the surprised Mottel. "Does he not own a dog?" asked the Rebbe. "Yes, Rebbe, he owns a very fine dog," answered Mottel, not having any idea why Rav Levi Yitzchak would be asking such questions prior to Kol Nidre. "Do you know how much he paid for the dog?" the Rebbe asked. "I surely do," answered Mottel proudly. "He said it was a special dog with a distinguished pedigree and that he had paid four hundred rubles for it." This was a huge sum to pay for anything in those days, let alone for a dog. Hearing the amount, Rav Levi Yitzchak was thrilled, exclaiming, "Four hundred rubles! That is fantastic!" He quickly summoned the chazzan to begin the Kol Nidre prayer to usher in Yom Kippur.

It was not surprising that everyone who was privy to this entire episode was bewildered. First, why would the saintly Rebbe care about a gentile's dog? And what difference did it make how much the dog had cost? After Maariv, a close group of the Rebbe's disciples gathered around him and worked up the courage to ask him to explain to them what had occurred.

The Rebbe related to them the following incident: "A melamed, tutor, came to our town this past year to earn enough money tutoring to repay the many debts that he had accumulated in his hometown. After a while, he had earned enough money to repay his debts and still have sufficient funds to support his family for the coming year. On his way home, he stopped overnight at an inn. You can imagine what happened. He was careless with his money bag, and it was stolen. He woke up the next morning to discover the terrible thing that had occurred, and he became hysterical. He screamed and cried. He was crushed: months and months of his work were lost, gone forever.

"Mottel's gentile landowner was staying at the same inn. Upon hearing the melamed's wailing, he inquired about the commotion. He listened to the melamed broken-heartedly relate the entire story: how he had worked hard for months to pay off his debts and support his family, and now it was all gone. The landowner was moved by the story. After hearing how much the melamed had lost, he took out four hundred rubles - the amount that had been stolen - and gave it to the melamed."

The Rebbe continued, "As we were about to begin Kol Nidre, I became concerned about the episode and its far-reaching effect on us as we stand in judgment before Hashem. Do we deserve that Hashem should look at us favorably? Let us ask ourselves: 'Are we deserving of His favor? Did any of us do an unusual act of chesed, kindness, that would stand in our behalf?' If a gentile could perform such an exemplary act of kindness, Hashem's nation should do no less. Can we say that we did?

"I then remembered the dog - the dog for which the gentile had spent so much money. When I discovered that he had spent four hundred rubles for a dog, an ordinary pet, it indicated to me that this gentile does not place a premium on his money. Thus, while the act of giving the melamed four hundred rubles was clearly a remarkable act of chesed, it surely did not represent an act of sacrifice on the gentile's part. A man who can spend so much money on a dog does not truly appreciate the value of money."

Many of us give tzedakah with an open hand, responding to a multitude of charities both private and communal. Are we aware of the theory of "relativity," whereby our tzedakah's value is "relative" to how much we actually spend on ourselves? Spending money for mitzvah performance is wonderful and the appropriate manner of observance, but when the funds that we spend are a far cry from what we spend on our personal lives, the merit is diminished. Our spiritual dimension should maintain center stage in our lives.

Every wise-hearted woman spun with her hands…all the women whose hearts inspired them with wisdom spun the goats. (35:25,26)

This was extraordinary craftsmanship, for they would spin the fibers from the fleece on the backs of the goats before it was shorn from them. Sforno explains that, after it is shorn from the animal, goat's hair loses more and more of its luster each time that it is handled. Thus, by combing and spinning the fleece while it was still growing, they were able to preserve much of the luster that would otherwise have been lost. How much luster is diminished after a few hours of spinning? Probably a minimal amount, which is unnoticeable. Yet, the women made the effort to enhance their work, so that it would retain that slight bit of extra luster. Horav Boruch Shimon Solomon, zl, Rav of Petach Tikveh, observes that the Torah made a point to emphasize the wisdom of these women. How demanding we should be of ourselves to see to it that nothing is spared in our effort to enhance the glory of the Mishkan.

This idea applies to every aspect of Jewish life. We should never settle when it involves kavod Shomayim, honor/glory of Heaven. Kavod haTorah, the esteem reserved for the Torah, is commensurate with the value one places on Torah study. An individual is as great as the knowledge he embodies. I use the word "embodies," because Torah knowledge is unlike any other form of erudition. A mathematician does not have to epitomize math, nor does a scientist have to actualize his scientific specialty. A Torah scholar, however, must personify the Torah which he studies in every aspect of his total demeanor. Otherwise, it is no different than studying math or science.

How one feels about himself, how he views his merit of being able to devote himself to Torah study, is largely based upon his rebbeim's appreciation of him and the extent to which they imbue this sentiment in their students. In other words, when a student sees how much his rebbe values his Torah, his learning, his potential, it obviously will leave a lasting impression on the student.

While this concept is virtually true of all successful rebbeim, Horav Eliezer Yehudah Finkel, zl, Rosh Yeshivas Mir, exemplifies kavod haTorah with the respect that he gave each and every talmid, student. He made a point to cogitate over each talmid's chiddush, innovative Torah thought, remembering every dvar Torah, storing it in his brilliant mind, and, often, years later, laud the student for his wonderful work. Certainly, having a Rosh Yeshivah of his stature remember a student's chiddush can be most ennobling. Indeed, for some, it could spark the difference between a life in which Torah reigns paramount and one in which it does not.

Another aspect of kavod haTorah is in the manner a ben Torah carries himself. There is a certain shtoltz, dignity, to the bearing of a ben Torah which should be the result of a profound understanding of his mission in life. When I recorded the history of the yahudus of Ashkenaz, I gained a glimpse into the world of the rabbanim of Germany. Theirs was not a profession, but a calling, representing Jewish spiritual leadership at its apex. Indeed, it was crucial that they maintain this dominance, as their flock was being slowly blinded by the dazzling rays of seemingly permanent economic security, which catalyzed their distancing themselves from Hashem and His Torah. These leaders navigated through the stormy seas created by the secularists who were bent on assimilating into German society and who were prepared to outdo the gentile with their German fervor. The rabbanim were armed with Torah scholarship which gave their minds access to a deeper understanding of life and its challenges to the Torah-oriented Jew. They preached the importance of adhering to tradition, because the Torah is immutable, an eternal truth which rises above the falsehoods of contemporary society. These men, their Torah dignity intact, spearheaded the revolution of Torah which saved generations of Jews from spiritual extinction. They demonstrated to the charlatans who painted Judaism and its leaders as parasites that Judaism was very much alive and that tradition was the mainstay and anchor of our people.

This idea is exemplified in the life story of Horav Yosef Carlebach, zl, the last Orthodox Rav in Germany, Chief Rabbi of Altona/Hamburg, an individual who exuded kavod haTorah. A giant of the spirit, he was friend and mentor to Jews of all stripes, from the most powerful who sought his counsel, to the orphans and the destitute for whom he was a loving father and sympathetic friend. I take the liberty of quoting excerpts from his installation sermon upon assuming the pulpit of the chief rabbinate of Hamburg.

"As I try to read what is in all your eyes, your hearts, what is it that you are expecting from the rabbi you have chosen?... I believe that this distinguished congregation is wishing for a man in whom all the infirm can find a source of strength; a man to whom they can say, 'We want to go with you because we know that G-d is with you'…

"What do I bring to you that I can regard myself strong enough for that task? When I was just a child, the rabbinical personality of my father, zl, became my life's model. In him I saw the ideal of a man who was modest, pure and noble, whose heart was open to the needs of all, without distinction between the high and the low-- one to whom the welfare of the criminal behind prison walls was just as important as the honors and celebrations of the mighty of his congregation. His benevolent eyes unlocked every heart to trust and to a willingness to be educated."

In describing the common denominator which wove its thread through all of the great Torah luminaries whom he met in Germany, Lithuania, and Poland, the Rav says, "The outstanding character traits of these great men were the maalos enoshios, that simple, selfless humanity that heals and redeems all human frailty. In their presence, one thought neither of their genius in Torah and other fields of knowledge, nor of their far-reaching activities for the benefit of the Jewish community. One felt only, zos Toras ha'adam, "so shall a true human being look," (Shmuel II:7).

In closing, the Rav intoned, "I will cry and laugh with you and bear all the anguish of your soul with you; I will regard the honor of having been called to this rabbinical position only as an obligation to relate to everyone with simple mentchlichkeit, humanity."

True dignity is defined by its integrity. True kavod haTorah is applied to one who personifies Torah without embellishment, whose values are simple, but whose actions on behalf of all men speak volumes about the Torah which guides him. The unembellished Jew is the Jew who is kulo Torah, his Torah is all encompassing, reigning in full force throughout every aspect of his life.

All the women whose hearts inspired them with wisdom. (35:26)

The Baal HaTurim notes the Mesorah, Masoretic tradition, of the phrase, V'chol ha'nashim, "And all the women," is used again in Megillas Esther, V'chol hanashim yitnu yikar l'baaleihen, "And all wives should show respect to their husbands" (Megillas Esther 1:20). This refers to Haman's advice in which he instructs Achashveirosh to issue a decree, emphasizing the significance of women appreciating and valuing their husbands. This is undoubtedly one of the primary tenets that provide the framework for a successful marriage relationship. A woman who does not value her husband (and reminds him of his second-class status) will ultimately cause the matrimonial structure of their home to implode, creating an abnormal home, dysfunctional children, and a relationship that holds little hope for the future. It goes without saying that the husband must, likewise, acknowledge and appreciate his wife's input into the relationship and the home.

Horav Meshullam Igra, zl, was one of Europe's dominant Torah scholars. A brilliant mind, he was profoundly versed in all areas of Torah erudition. Even as a young child, his fame as a genius spread throughout the country. Many a young boy, upon reaching the age of twelve, if he had the reputation of which successful futures in Torah scholarship were made, was sought after by prospective fathers-in-law. Wealthy men were prepared to disperse large amounts of money to secure the right young man for their "perfect" daughters. This allowed these young men to sit and learn for years, unencumbered by the fiscal responsibilities of providing for their families. Obtaining a brilliant son-in-law who would one day become an erudite Torah leader was, indeed, a worthy investment.

When Rav Meshullam was a mere lad of eight, the lines for this extraordinary young boy began to form. In four more years, his parents would finally listen to shidduchim. The city's wealthiest man, an individual who valued Torah, as well as the good deeds for which he was famous, was able to procure the opportunity for his daughter to meet with the budding young scholar.

It was at this time that the coffee beverage was introduced. Being very expensive, this beverage was enjoyed only by the very wealthy. The Igra family, especially their son, had yet to be introduced to this latest rage. When the young Meshullam came to the man's home to meet his daughter, he saw coffee for the first time in his life. It was not Starbucks, nor even instant. It was coffee, sugar, and milk, in three different containers.

Rav Meshullam was clueless as to how to drink/eat the three items set before him. Thinking for a few moments, he turned to Chazal and halachah for guidance. First, our sages teach that eating precedes drinking, so he ate the contents of the plate of sugar cubes. Next, he saw before him two liquids: one dark in color; and one white. He decided that dark precedes light; so, he drank the coffee followed by the milk.

Watching in "horror," the cultured girl could not believe her eyes. Demonstrating her level of maturity, she ran from the table right to her mother, and, after relating to her the boy's lack of culture, declared that she was not interested in pursuing a relationship with him. The subject was closed. She would not marry Meshullam, because he did not know how to drink coffee! (For those who think such foolish reasoning is ludicrous and certainly not a reason to break a shidduch, such ridiculous absurdities, albeit "state-of-the-art," continue to plague families to this very day, as the finest opportunities for a wonderful, lasting relationship are irrationally disregarded.)

When the father entered the kitchen and was confronted by the scene of mother and daughter weeping incessantly, he asked what had happened. After being informed of his daughter's debacle with the brilliant boy her father had hoped she would marry, the father raised his voice in disgust and said, "You are willing to renege the opportunity to be married to a living Sefer Torah?!" Her response was sadly typical of young people raised in comfort and contemporary values, "A Sefer Torah belongs in an Aron HaKodesh. I am not prepared to spend the rest of my life with a Sefer Torah!" End of shidduch. The distraught father had to live with the products of his childrearing. He had lost the future Rav Meshullam Igra.

Fast forward seventeen years, and that wealthy man had occasion to be in the city of Breslau on business. While he was there, he felt he should visit the Rav of the city, Horav Yeshayah Pik, zl, who was one of Europe's preeminent gaonim, brilliant scholars. He knocked on the Rav's office and went in to see the Rav who was pacing back and forth, while staring at a letter that he held in his hands. The man figured that the Rav's anxiety over the letter was due to the nature of its contents. Perhaps a Jewish community was undergoing a major crisis that required the Rav's counsel or intervention. What else could it be? Being a man of means, well-connected throughout the world of commerce, he asked the Rav, "Perhaps I can help?"

The Rav replied, "I received this letter from a young man whose identity is unbeknownst to me. In it, he poses a halachic question with such incredible brilliance that I have literally spent hours in an attempt to grasp the profundity of his words. He must be an outstanding Torah scholar. Perhaps you might know who he is? He signs the letter, Meshullam Igra."

When the man heard mention of the name of the young man who, if not for an absurdity, would now have been his son-in-law, he passed out. The Rav immediately revived him.

"What happened? What does this name mean to you?" he asked.

The man related the entire story of his daughter's "on/off/almost" shidduch with the author of the letter. When the Rav heard this, he exclaimed, "If this is the case, then I regret having revived you. You have every reason to pass out - again!"

The Nesiim/Princes brought the Shoham stones and the stones from the settings for the Eiphod and the Breastplate. (35:27)

Rashi quotes the Midrash in which Rabbi Nosson notes that the word Nesiim, Princes, is spelled without the two yuds that would normally be there. The defective spelling is sort of a subtle rebuke of the Princes for not bringing their gifts immediately when the call for contributions was made; rather, they waited until everything else had been donated. They had calculated that they would complete whatever would end up lacking. How surprised they were to discover that the nation had given overwhelmingly, leaving almost nothing for the Princes to give. Our sages indicate that their lack of an immediate response was due to indolence on their part. Apparently, their own dearth of fervor to the level which was manifest by the rest of the nation was also held against them. For them not to be like everyone else - or better - was a slight indication of laziness on their part.

Taking the above in perspective, we wonder why a defective spelling of their position would impact them. It is not as if the word nesiim is never spelled without the yuds. Furthermore, even if the misspelling is noticed, how does it connote punishment? It is almost as if we were to ask: So what if they are missing the yuds?

Horav Yosef Yehudah Leib Bloch, zl, attributes such a query to a misconception concerning the definition of a punishment. We are led to think that punishment is defined by what we feel or experience in this world. Veritably, the bodies of the Nesiim may be on their earthly sojourn; their minds, however, were traversing the pathways of Heaven. In Heaven, in the world of eternity, there is a great divide between a word spelled with an extra letter and one that is not. In Heaven, every letter counts significantly.

Our entire outlook must be focused on what Heaven thinks, how we appear on the Heavenly screen, on what our eternal image is. To concern oneself with his earthly image, while ignoring his Heavenly imprint, indicates misplaced priorities on his part.

I have always been bothered why both yuds were removed. One would have served sufficiently to make a statement of rebuke. Perhaps, we might suggest that a leader's missteps has a commensurate impact on those who look up to him. The lack of fervor on the part of the Nesiim might have had a cooling effect on the people's enthusiastic giving. A leader must remember that he does not live solely for himself. Everybody else is looking. His very action - or inaction - can either inspire or deflate. Thus, they lost two yuds: one is a personal rebuke; the other for the collective impact of their inaction.

Va'ani Tefillah

HaGadol, HaGibor, v'HaNora. Great, Powerful and Awesome

Hashem manifests three attributes by His actions. To attribute definitive characteristics to Hashem is impossible. Who are we to define Hashem's greatness? We have no idea how great Hashem is; thus, we are unable to apply the parameters of a definition. He is beyond the parameters of our limited mind with its limited cognition. Therefore, when we say that Hashem is great, we refer to His boundless kindness which we are unable to explain, other than that it is beyond the limits of our mind. Greatness in chesed is symbolized by Avraham Avinu who emulated Hashem's attribute of chesed.

Gibor, Powerful. We serve Hashem in fear of His indescribable power, a power which we cannot fathom, let alone describe. Yitzchak Avinu represented the middah, attribute, of Gevurah, strength, power, serving Hashem in favor of His power.

Yaakov Avinu synthesized Gadol and Gibor, great and powerful, to create the concept of Nora, Awesome. He served Hashem with a combination of love/gadol and fear/gibor. Thus, when he came to the place upon which one day would be built the Bais Hamikdash, he said, Mah nora ha'Makom hazeh, "How awesome is this place" (Bereishis 28:17). He understood that the sanctity of "this" place represented love synthesized with fear. When two such powers meld together, it is awesome.

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