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Peninim on the Torah

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Rabbi A. Leib Scheinbaum
Hebrew Academy of Cleveland


The sons of Aharon the Kohen shall place fire. (1:7)

Upon perusal of the text, one will observe that the Torah refers to the Kohanim in three different ways: first is HaKohen, the Kohen, used regarding Olas ha'of, the burnt offering of the fowl; second, the Torah calls them Bnei Aharon haKohanim, the sons of Aharon, the Kohanim; finally, we find regarding placing the fire, the Torah refers to Bnei Aharon, HaKohen, the sons of Aharon, the Kohen. Can we derive a message from these distinct usages?

Horav Moshe Feinstein, z.l., explains that the Torah defines three levels of Kehunah, each one specified for a different function. Once the wood and fire are already prepared the korban may be offered by anyone whom the Torah qualifies as a Kohen. The source of his qualification is irrelevant. When the sacrifice requires additional preparation, then the Kohanim must remember that they are the sons of Aharon, a position that demands exemplary behavior. Their behavior serves as a standard for others to emulate. Last, we note that the Kohanim who place the fire on the Mizbayach, Altar, in order to engender fire to descend from Heaven, are synonomous with Aharon HaKohen. They must learn to perform this sacred act in the same manner as Aharon, their grandfather, did.

Rav Moshe applies this idea to contemporary life. When the generation is observant and everyone is prepared to -- and does -- study Torah, we may learn from anyone and also teach anyone. The fear of inauthentic views of Judaism, which influence people who are ill prepared and not spiritually fortified, does not exist during such a utopian circumstance. During times when the winds of apostasy shake the very underpinnings of our religion, we need leadership that is inspired, adept and scholarly. One who teaches Torah is akin to the Kohen, and he must accordingly be suitable for this function. When the times demand that someone breathe a spirit of kedushah, holiness, into the people, that they be infused with a burning passion for Torah and mitzvos -- symbolized by the fire on the Mizbayach -- it is essential that the teacher be on an even more lofty level of kedushah. He must be like Aharon, who never wavered, who rejected any thought of change, whose thoughts and intentions conformed totally with Hashem's views as expounded by the Torah.

If one's offering to Hashem is an elevation offering of fowl, he shall bring his offering from turtledoves or from young doves. (1:14)

Hashem chose domestic animals, which are usually harassed by others, as sacrifices. Likewise, He declared fit among the birds those species which are helpless and attacked by birds of prey. Turtledoves may be offered if they are at least one year old. Regarding doves, the halachah changes. Only a young dove is eligible for sacrifice. Rabbeinu Bachya explains the reason for this. Hashem designated grown turtledoves fit for sacrifice due to their unique trait. When the female's mate dies, she remains loyal to it and never associates with another bird. The fidelity of this bird to its mate teaches us a powerful lesson. Indeed, we are compared to the turtledove in that we remain faithful to Hashem, never turning away from the true G-d for another. Grown doves, on the other hand, are not kosher, since they are overprotective of their mates, and -- out of jealously-- stir up needless strife.

Chazal want us to take note of these birds and derive a necessary lesson regarding our own character development. Fidelity to a relationship is a requisite for maintaining it. This idea applies to marriage, to friendship, to a rebbe/talmid, teacher/student, relationship, as well as to all areas where a commitment of two parties is intrinsic to the relationship. There is yet another area where fidelity is not only necessary, it is crucial. I refer to the mitzvah of chesed, performing kindness to others. Quite often, when we do the right thing and reach out to those in need, we forget that they begin to rely on us. We might be the first or only person that has shown an interest in them, that has really cared about them. They have yearned for this moment, and now we must follow through. Chesed is a wonderful activity, but, we must remember, it is a commitment and, in many situations, it is a compelling one.

People begin to rely on this commitment, on the fidelity of their benefactor, to the point that it is almost inconceivable to them that their benefactor will not follow through. Whether it is an Erev Shabbos phone call, a Shabbos visit, delivering a supper, or just a constant social gesture of good-will, we must follow through. The following story demonstrates the consequences of this type of dependence.

In 1989, a severe earthquake shook -- and almost flattened -- Armenia, snuffing out the lives of over 30,000 people in the span of four minutes.

In the midst of the utter devastation and chaos, a father rushed to the school where he had brought his son that morning, only to discover that it had been totally demolished. He was in terrible shock. All he could think of was the promise he made each night to his son as he tucked him into bed, "No matter what the circumstances, I will always be there for you." He looked at the utter devastation, and tears welled up in his eyes. What about his promise?

He felt paralyzed, unable to move, as he watched broken-hearted, shell-shocked parents walking around, screaming, crying out, "My son," daughter; my baby!" He looked around. All he saw was despair and hopelessness.

What about his promise? He could not let his son down. All of a sudden, he began to act. He remembered that his son's classroom was in the rear right corner of the building. He rushed there and began to dig. Other parents attempted to pull him away. "They are dead. It is useless. You cannot save them anymore. Face reality - it is over!" they told him.

He responded to each parent, "I made a promise to my son. I will keep my commitment. Will you help me find my child?" People ignored him, thinking that out of despair he had lost his mind. He did not care. He had to keep his promise. So, he began to dig - by himself - one stone at a time - one shovel of dirt at a time.

The fire chief arrived and told him, "Go home. We will take care of it. It is dangerous for you." He ignored him and kept digging. The police came and entreated him to leave: "You are outraged and heartbroken. You are not being rational. You are risking your own life. Let us handle it." He did not listen. He had a promise to keep. "Do you want to help me?" he called out. "Or else, let me be. I must search for my son. I promised him," he said.

He kept on digging. Six hours became ten hours. He was determined, as he dug throughout the night. Eighteen hours… twenty fours hours - a full day of digging, and he would not stop. His promise gave him hope. He was a man on a mission - to save his son, to keep his promise. Thirty-six hours - and suddenly, in the beginning of the thirty-eighth hour, he pulled back a large boulder and heard his son's voice. He screamed his son's name, "Armand!" He heard back, "Daddy? It is me. I told the other children not to worry. I told them that if you were alive, you would come to save me, and when you saved me, they would also be saved. You promised me that 'no matter what happened, I will always be there for you.' You kept your word."

"What is going on in there?" he asked. "There are only fourteen of us left from a group of thirty-three. We are scared, hungry, thirsty and thankful to be alive. When the building collapsed, it made a wedge, like a triangle. That saved us."

"Come on out, my son," the father called to Armand. "No Daddy! Let the other children go out first, because I know that no matter what, you will be there for me!"

An incredible story of determination, resolve and commitment. The persistence of a father in the face of crisis, chaos, suffering and tragedy underscores the depths of chesed and serves as a paradigm. It may not be a Jewish story. It may only be a story. The lesson, however, is explicit: a major component of chesed is fidelity, keeping a promise, maintaining a commitment, being consistent and always being there for those who depend on us.

He shall tear it apart - with its feathers - he need not divide it; the Kohen shall cause it to go up in smoke on the Mizbayach (1:17)

When a soul will bring a meal-offering to Hashem. (2:1)

These two pesukim clearly demonstrate Hashem's empathy and love for the poor and under-privileged. Rashi questions the fact that the feathers of the sacrificed bird is burnt on the Mizbayach. After all, no odor is more harsh than the smell of burning feathers. He explains that since this is the sacrifice offered by a poor man, it is of utmost beauty and sanctity. The smell in no way diminishes the spiritual value of the Korban Minchah, meal-offering, Rashi notes that the word nefesh, soul, is not used in regard to any of the korbanos nedavah, voluntary offerings, except for the Minchah. He explains that it is usually the poor man, not able to afford much more, who can only bring a meal-offering. Hashem says, "Although the poor man's offering is modest, I consider it in his behalf as if he had offered his soul. Hashem cares for those who are weak, deprived and alone. He knows that their sacrifice is truly a sacrifice, that they offer up a part of themselves with their sacrifice.

I think that there is a deeper insight into the poor man's gift, the poor man's sacrifice. I recently saw a story, told by a Holocaust survivor, that elucidates the concept of the poor man's sacrifice. The man related that one day, when he was in the concentration camp, another inmate's bread ration was stolen. This was a terrible thing. To have one's ration stolen was literally a death sentence, as the simple crust of bread which he received daily kept him from going over the edge of starvation. What was this poor wretched soul to do?

The man was terrified and heart-broken. How could he survive with nothing to eat? The solution came from his peers. The narrator of the episode and two of his friends broke off a piece of their own meager portion of bread and shared it with the hapless inmate. They saved him, but, as the narrator continued, "We accomplished more than saving a life; we developed a penetrating insight into the essence of what it means to help someone in need.

"Hashem has blessed me, and I have become a wealthy man. I have shown my appreciation through my support of various Torah institutions. Indeed, I have given away hundreds of thousands of dollars over the past fifty years since I was liberated from Auschwitz. Yet, I must make it clear that nothing comes remotely close to that little crust of bread that I gave to the inmate. This is because all the money that I have given away over the years was money I could spare. I always had more money, but could not spare that piece of bread. It was all I had!"

What a powerful lesson. What an incredible insight. While giving tzedakah is praiseworthy and fulfills an obligation, there is no comparison between he who has what to give and he who does not have - but gives anyway. Such a person gives more than money - he gives his soul! We take tzedakah for granted, assuming that what we receive from an individual is derived from a source from which he is free to give. Do we really know someone else's financial situation? Do we know what moves one to give to a specific tzedakah, despite his lack of "extra" funds? I would go so far as to say that it is none of our business. Everyone has his own specific priority and tzedakah for which he has an affinity. We should stop judging people by what and to whom they give. Perhaps, we should stop judging people - period.

Every Minchah sacrifice of yours you must salt with salt; you must never annul the salt of your G-d's Covenant. (2:13)

What is the meaning of the "covenant of salt?" Rashi explains that a covenant was forged with salt going back to the Six Days of Creation, a reference to the "waters below," the oceans, whose water is salty. Hashem promised the oceans that they would be offered on the Mizbayach, Altar, either in the form of salt or as the water for the Nisuch Hamayim, water libation, during the Festival of Succos. During Creation, the "waters above the firmament" were granted the unique privilege of becoming a part of the Heavenly region. They would always be in close proximity to the Divine Presence. The waters "below the firmament," the oceans that are so much a part of our lives, were relegated to the material world. Clearly, this division lacked equitability. By way of compensation, the "waters below" received a promise: twenty five hundred years later, salt and water would be taken from them and used in the sacrificial service and for the water libation on Succos.

Let us analyze this division of function between the two waters. Hashem offered the oceans a compensation for the privilege He did not grant them, namely that of serving together with the "upper waters" as matting under the Kisei Hakavod, Heavenly Throne. The degree of Divine closeness -- the relationship accorded to the "upper waters" --which would not be theirs was balanced by another form of closeness: they would one day be granted to be offered up to Hashem on the Mizbayach.

While the separation of functions may be equitable, there is one primary difference between the two. The "upper waters" were able to come close to Hashem immediately after their creation, while the "lower waters" were compelled to wait many centuries before their time would come. Where is the "yoisher," justness? Horav Meir Bergman, Shlita, explains that the lower waters were ready and waiting, eagerly prepared to serve Hashem whenever their call would come. Yearning to perform a mitzvah, eagerly longing to fulfill the Divine will, brings us close to Him. We may suggest that longing to perform a mitzvah, being in a constant state of desire to serve Hashem, demands an incredible amount of fortitude and conviction. One who is a mevakesh, who seeks every opportunity to come closer to the Divine, manifests incredible love and devotion. We might even argue that waiting twenty five centuries for an opportunity to serve Hashem is a greater distinction than to receive it immediately, without expending effort. Indeed, if we think about it, waiting for something, yearning for a specific gift from Hashem, whether it is a child or the suitable shidduch, designated mate, increases one's appreciation of the gift when it finally arrives.

When the anointed Kohen shall sin for the guilt of the people. (4:3)

The pasuk addresses the Korban Chatas brought by the Kohen Gadol when he sins unintentionally, in a situation in which that, had his action been intentional, the punishment would have been kareis, Heavenly excision, premature death. We may question the Torah's text. If the sin is the Kohen's, why does the Torah describe it as being l'ashmas haam, the guilt of the people? This wording would seem to preclude any sin committed by the Kohen Gadol.

Horav David Feinstein, Shlita, derives from here that a leader is a reflection of his followers. When the people observe their leader acting inappropriately, it gives them an opportunity to justify their own improper behavior. After all, they can say, "He is so much more powerful and exalted than we are. If he cannot control his base desires, if he can fall prey to his yetzer hora, evil inclination, are we expected to do better?" Likewise, when the people sin, it becomes difficult for the leader to rise above them and perfect his behavior. He needs their support and encouragement.

This is what the Torah is alluding to with the phrase, "for the guilt of the people." If the Kohen has sinned, it is likely because the people have sinned and influenced him. In turn, his sin will leave a negative impression on his followers, making it difficult for them to control their own urges. Hence, the guilt of the people is indivisible from his own guilt. It either has begun with the people, or it has begun with the Kohen Gadol. In any event now, regrettably, they are in the same place - for the wrong reasons.

Questions & Answers

1) Which mitzvah associated with the offering of a korban may be performed only by the owner of the korban?

2) Which type of korban mentioned in the parsha is never brought as a free-willed public sacrifice?

3) Which is the first avodah, service, associated with the Korban Minchah which must be performed by a Kohen?

4) Must a Kohen be the one to salt the korban?


1) The semichah, resting of the hands, performed immediately prior to shechitah, slaughter, of the Korban olah must be performed by the owner (Menachos 93b).

2) No fowl offering is brought as a public sacrifice. Also, a Korban Asham, guilt-offering, never occurs as an obligatory public service. It must be brought as a voluntary public sacrifice.

3) The Kemitzah, scooping a handful of flour, was performed by the Kohen (Rashi). Ramban notes that the Kohen was to accept the Korban Minchah from the owner and bring it to the Mizbayach, prior to performing the Kemitzah.

4) The salting of the Korban may be performed by the owner (Ramban). While the Talmud Menachos 20a, states that salting was not performed by one who is not a Kohen, this is only because the area is not accessible to the owner (Chasam Sofer).

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