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Peninim on the Torah

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Rabbi A. Leib Scheinbaum
Hebrew Academy of Cleveland


He (Hashem) called to Moshe, and Hashem spoke to him. (1:1)

The call came exclusively to Moshe. It was a kriah, calling, of love, by which Hashem lovingly summoned His close servant, Moshe, to speak to him. The Midrash cites the pasuk in Mishlei 20:15, "There is gold and many pearls, but lips of wisdom are a precious vessel." The Midrash explains that one who has gold, silver and fine jewelry, but does not demonstrate the ability to act appropriately with decency and humility, does not benefit from all of his wealth. If, however, he possesses knowledge and fine ethical character, he has everything. All of the Nesiim contributed gold, silver and jewels towards the Mishkan. Moshe Rabbeinu was depressed that he did not contribute to the construction of the Mishkan. Hashem told him that his dibur, speech - the words of Torah that emanate from his mouth - spoken in the Sanctuary, had greater significance than the contribution of the Nesiim. Why? What was so unique about Moshe's voice that it took precedence over the material contributions brought by the Nesiim?

Horav Baruch Mordechai Ezrachi, Shlita, explains that Moshe's voice represented Moshe. There is no greater contribution than the contribution of one's self, his atzmius, essence. Moshe was concerned that he had not done enough, that he had not contributed to the Mishkan as the others did. Hashem replied that there is no greater contributor than one who gives all of himself for a project.

This does not negate the importance of the material contributions that are needed for every undertaking. It is, however, a barometer by which activity on behalf of a project should be measured. The check is not as important as the attitude behind the check.

This attitude must prevail in our avodas Hashem, service of the Almighty. We must give all of ourselves to our work. That is the definition of commitment. A commitment in which one does not commit all of himself is not a commitment. The success of those who endeavor on behalf of Klal Yisrael is directly linked to their extreme level of commitment. We turn to examine a few instances from the lives and achievements of gedolim, Torah leaders, of the previous generation, who exemplified this total abnegation of one's self for the sake of a mitzvah.

Horav Nosson Wachtfogel, zl, the venerable Mashgiach of Beth Medrash Govoha, was one of the first American students to travel across the Atlantic to study Torah in the Lithuanian yeshivos. He studied in Yeshivas Mir for seven years, during which he developed a close bond with the giant of mussar, ethical discourse, Horav Yerucham Levovitz, zl. During this entire period, he never once saw or spoke to his parents. When Rav Yerucham passed away in 1937, Rav Nosson decided to return to America. While in New York, he met Horav Elchanan Wasserman, zl, who was there on behalf of his yeshivah. Rav Nosson presented his dilemma to Rav Elchanan. His rebbe, from whom he had imbibed so much Torah and mussar, was gone. Yet, he felt he could not yet develop spiritually in America where materialism played such a leading role in life.

Rav Elchanan perceived the young man's aspiration towards spiritual greatness, and he realized that one day he would stand at the spiritual helm of American Torah chinuch. With this in mind, the Rosh Yeshivah said, "I feel that you should immediately return to Europe and travel to Kelm to study mussar from Horav Doniel Moshowitz, zl."

Rav Nosson listened in a manner unusual for a man of his young age. His degree of emunas chachamim, trust in a Torah scholar, was so intense that he immediately purchased a ticket to return to Europe. Furthermore, what makes this decision so incredible was that he did not even stop off in Montreal to visit his parents. Instead, he headed directly to the pier to board the first available boat. His decision was made for him by a gadol, and he listened without injecting even one iota of himself into it. Moreover, I think we might add that his parents must have been extremely committed to their son's spiritual growth, for who else would not have insisted that their son "stop by" to say hello? After all, it had only been seven years! I must add that this approach, which will not be understood by everyone, might really not be for everyone.

The Ponevezer Rav, Horav Yosef Kahaneman, zl, was a man with a mission. Respected, admired, adored and idolized, he was the quintessential gadol ba'Torah who had that rare personality that endeared him to everyone with whom he came in contact. He was a living embodiment of Hashem, Klal Yisrael and the Torah. His love for all of Klal Yisrael was unparalleled. His empathy for another Jew was without peer. He built Torah in the face of indomitable challenge. He comforted orphans, gave solace to widows, and was father and mentor to thousands of students. Indeed, his incredible influence was felt by Jews all over the world. When he died he was feeding two-thousand mouths a day, and he was in the process of building seventeen yeshivos. All of this emanated from love for Klal Yisrael and the Torah which sustains it. He lived with one purpose in life, one raison d'etre: to rebuild Torah, to see it flourish again. Seven hundred rabbanim had perished in Lithuania. He was the only one that had been spared. He considered this his mandate. He bore the burden of these seven hundred rabbanim on his shoulders. He never forgot his responsibility as a Jew - and, by example, he taught us never to forget.

Horav Yosef Chaim Sonnenfeld, zl, lived his life guided by the directive of Shlomo Hamelech found in Mishlei 3:6, "Know G-d in all your ways, and He will direct your paths." "Every move he made - every turn of his hand, every blink of his eye - was purely and entirely for the sake of Heaven," according to Horav Yehudah Leib Chasman, zl, one of the great mussar thinkers of the previous generation. Every night before he went to sleep, Rav Yosef Chaim would make a complete spiritual accounting of the day. He was a person to whom reverence for the Torah was not just something he spoke about; he lived it. He was extremely fond of his children and grandchildren. Yet, he never kissed them. He felt that since he would kiss the Sefer Torah and other holy seforim with his mouth, how could he then give ordinary, mundane kisses to his children?

This demonstrates the incredible deliberation and self-discipline that distinguished Rav Yosef Chaim. I must add that I thought twice about including this episode in this paper, since it is a behavior that many of us will not accept with comfort. This might lead to cynicism or criticism. On the other hand, I feel that we do not understand the passion and fervor that Rav Yosef Chaim exhibited when he was kissing the Torah. If we would kiss the Torah, or respect it with the intensity which he demonstrated, we would begin to understand that kissing a child is much different. He was a man who lived for Hashem and dedicated all of himself to the Almighty, a spiritual plateau to which we should all aspire.

When a man among you brings an offering to Hashem… If one's offering is an elevated offering. (1:2,3)

Rashi explains that the Korban Olah, Elevation-offering, that this pasuk of the Torah addresses is an Olas Nedavah, Free-Willed offering. One wonders why the Torah employs the word adam, a name which reflects man's roots from the adamah, earth, implying the baser, earthly aspect of man. On the other hand, concerning the Korban Chatas, Sin-offering in 4:2, the Torah writes, Nefesh ki sechetah b'shegagah, "(When) a soul (person) sins inadvertently." Why does the Torah use adam, which reflects man at his nadir, when referring to a Free-Willed offering, and nefesh, soul, the spiritual component of man, when referring to his shortcoming and sinful behavior? Is not sin the outgrowth of man's earthiness?

In his Simchas Ha'Torah, Horav Simchas Hakohen Shepps, zl, explains that the Torah teaches us that sin creates a spiritual blemish, and also that man has the ability to elevate himself by purifying his base nature. The korbanos give us the opportunity to cleanse the neshamah, soul, from the effects of sin. The Torah emphasizes that the purpose of a korban is not only to cleanse the individual of sin, but it also elevates him to the point that the adam becomes a nefesh. This is the meaning of Adam ki yakriv, "When a man brings an offering." With this offering, he sacrifices the adam/base aspect of himself as he elevates himself to a spiritual position. An adam who brings a korban is no longer simply an adam.

If one's offering is an Olah (Elevation-offering)… He shall bring it to the entrance of the Ohel Moed, voluntarily before Hashem. (1:3)

Rashi explains that the words, "He shall bring it," teaches us that they compel him to bring the korban. If so, what is the meaning of "voluntarily" before Hashem? They force him until he says, "I am willing." Rashi's comment is better understood in light of the Rambam in Hilchos Geirushin 2:20, who says that a person can be "forced" to do something "willingly." He explains that every Jew intrinsically wants to do the right thing. The yetzer hora, evil-inclination, places countless obstacles before him, so that he refrains from following through on his good intentions. Thus, when Bais Din forces a Jew to do the right thing, it is really not incongruous with his true will. They are simply removing those spiritual obstacles which are part of the yetzer hora's machinations, thereby allowing the essential goodness of his neshamah, soul, to do what is proper.

The Chasam Sofer offers an alternative approach that has practical application in contemporary society. He cites the following analogy: A farmer living in a small rural area nestled far away from the Torah center of Yerushalayim commits a sin for which he is required to bring a Korban Olah. He is acutely aware that the appropriate thing to do is close the farm, pack his bags and go up to Yerushalayim to bring a korban. This is the prescribed procedure for expiating his sin. The yetzer hora has a problem with this. It cannot permit this man to follow through with his proposed course. It begins the work for which it is infamous, "True, you have sinned, but everybody makes a mistake once in a while. You do not have to be carried away with guilt. Leaving the farm to travel to Yerushalayim is ludicrous. Who is going to tend to the animals and the crops? Korbanos are expensive. Do you have the money to purchase a korban for such an insignificant sin? Do you think you are a greater tzaddik, more righteous, than your neighbor? When was the last time he traveled to Yerushalayim to bring a korban?

Finally, the farmer is able to overcome his yetzer hora, and he sets out on his journey. As he travels, he meets an old friend who questions him concerning his destination. The farmer is more than slightly embarrassed to tell the truth, so he quietly mumbles that he is on the way to Yerushalayim. "What for?" asks his friend. "Do you have a simchah, joyous occasion? Are you celebrating a milestone event?" he continues, his curiosity piqued. "No, I simply have to attend to some business," the farmer replies, thinking to himself, "What will these people think if they know the true reason for my journey? If people become aware of my indiscretion, it would tarnish my name. My children would have a difficult time getting shidduchim, finding a suitable match in marriage."

Every step of the way is an uphill battle. Between the yetzer hora's discouraging words and his own self-doubt, he almost turns back a number of times, but he trudges on to the gates of Yerushalayim. We can just imagine his mood as he passes through the gates of the city. His lack of enthusiasm and desire is taking its toll. He has no choice; he has to bring the korban if he is to receive forgiveness for his sin.

This all changes once the farmer enters the Courtyard of the Bais Hamikdash and is enveloped in its sanctity. He is awestruck with the sight of the "Kohanim performing the Divine service, the Leviim singing, and the Yisraelim at their posts supervising the sacrifices." The imposing sight of the Sanhedrin Hagadol, Great Sanhedrin, in session, impacts him. The atmosphere of absolute truth that permeates the environs of the Bais Hamikdash engenders within him a desire to come closer to Hashem. The yetzer hora's guiles and blandishments seem to lose their power in this holy place. As the farmer gravitates closer, his sense of joy and desire to please are heightened as the yetzer hora's loses his grip on him. He is appreciative of the opportunity to purify himself of the stain of sin that he has carried thus far, and he certainly is not concerned with the expense of time and money involved in offering this korban.

The Chasam Sofer interprets this analogy into the meaning of the pasuk. Veritably, for many, the trip to the Bais Hamikdash is fraught with challenge. Perhaps we might even view his offering as being brought against his will. Once he enters the sanctity of Yerushalayim, however, and is inspired by the holiness of those whose lives revolve around the city and the Bais Hamikdash, his attitude is completely metamorphosized. He now wants to bring the korban with his whole heart and soul.

Horav Avraham Pam, zl, derives from the Chasam Sofer the overriding significance of living in a Torah environment. When a person lives in a community of Torah-oriented Jews, his own avodas Hashem, Divine service, is greatly enhanced by the living role models which are present for him to emulate. His aspirations and goals are raised, as he strives to grow in Torah and middos, ethical behavior. We must look to our contemporary role models, our gedolim, Torah leadership, for the guidance and inspiration they have to offer. They are our role models - our Bais Hamikdash.

When a ruler sins, and commits one from among all the mitzvos of Hashem… that may not be done - unintentionally - and becomes guilty. (4:22)

Chazal comment, "Rabbi Yochanan ben Zakai said, 'Fortunate is the generation whose ruler brings a Korban Chatas, Sin-offering, for his unintentional sin.'" We wonder at this good fortune. Would it not have been better had the Nasi, ruler, not sinned at all? The Divrei Shmuel, Slonimer Rebbe, zl, explains that this is a reference to the Nasi who performed a mitzvah, but did not execute it with the fervor that is expected of an individual of such an elevated spiritual plateau and station in life. Yes, he performed one of the many mitzvos that Hashem has commanded us to perform, but he now realizes that he is guilty; he carries an onus of guilt for not having done better. He carries this "sin" of "inadvertent" poor mitzvah performance. He did not do enough; he, as Nasi, could and should have acted with greater enthusiasm, more passion and increased fervor. How fortunate is the generation that possesses such leadership who is so demanding of itself, who is deliberate in every action.

Horav Sholom, zl, m'Belz, once traveled to Lublin to spend Purim with his great rebbe, the Chozeh, zl. The Chozeh gave Rav Sholom the honor of reading the Megillah. The reading rendered by the Belzer, which was performed with holy emotion and a burning enthusiasm, gave the Chozeh incredible spiritual pleasure. Indeed, afterwards he said, "I have heard the Purim story as written in the Megillah many times, but never in the manner that this young man has related it." When we perform a mitzvah with hislahavus, fiery zeal, and enthusiasm, it takes on a totally new image.

We may add that one who carries out a mitzvah enthusiastically, with the proper emotion, not only gains eternal spiritual benefit, but he also derives unprecedented pleasure in this world. We often think that a mitzvah's benefits are to be enjoyed in the World to Come when we receive our eternal reward. This is not true, for, indeed, one can glean tremendous satisfaction in this world from mitzvah performance if he only applies himself correctly to carrying it out.

The Shlah Hakadosh, zl, writes that he has seen bnei Aliyah, men of great spiritual ascendancy, who love mitzvos so much that when they would grasp the Matzoh or marror in their hands, they would kiss them. They would kiss the Succah walls as they entered the Succah and do the same for each of the four species. He adds that one should kiss the Tzitzis lovingly when he looks at them. Fortunate is he who serves Hashem with such tangible love and devotion.

Va'ani Tefillah

She'meiahavascha… u'misimchascha… karasa es shemo Yisrael v'yeshurun. Because of the love… and the joy… You named him Yisrael and Yeshurun.

Due to the great love that You manifested for Yaakov Avinu, You called him Yisrael; and because of the great joy You had with him, You called him Yeshurun. Hashem reciprocates His love to those who love Him. Horav Shimon Schwab, zl, makes a noteworthy insight here. He explains that when Hashem loves a person, the person feels that love. He senses a special relationship with the Almighty. I think that this is an emotion which cannot be described; it must be felt - personally. Hearing this explanation, an individual commented to Rav Schwab, "I do not feel that Hashem loves me." The rav replied by first quoting from Shir Hashirim 6:3, Ani l'dodi v'dodi li, "I alone am to my beloved and my beloved is mine." Hashem tells man, "I love you, if you love Me." "You do not feel loved by Hashem, because you do not love Him." The greatest feeling one can have is the feeling of being loved by someone, but this is usually a mutual relationship.

The joy that is being returned here is the joy we bring to Hashem when we go beyond the call of duty. Love is for fulfilling our responsibility; joy is for doing more than is expected of us. Rav Schwab explains that one leads to another. When a child brings his parents special gifts for special occasions, the love the parents feel for their child blossoms into joy.

Hashem gave Yaakov two names: He gave him the name Yisrael, the symbol of strength in overcoming challenge and spreading Hashem's Name in the world, in response to His love; and He gave him the name Yeshurun to reflect the joy he brings to Hashem as His direct representative in this world.

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

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