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Peninim on the Torah

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Rabbi A. Leib Scheinbaum
Hebrew Academy of Cleveland


And He called to Moshe, and G-d spoke to him. (1:1)

The more one peruses the commentaries to the Torah, the deeper his understanding and realization of its Divine authorship. In fact, I am amazed at the obtuseness of those who seek to undermine and distort the Torah's authority and significance in the life of a Jew. It is almost as if they distort the simple meaning in order to present their perverted elucidation of the Torah's meaning. Let us take the first few words of Sefer Vayikra as an example. We will follow Horav S. R. Hirsch, zl, a Torah leader whose mission in life was to expose these falsifiers, as he takes us step-by-step, demonstrating the Torah's own exegesis of its Divine origin.

Vayikra el Moshe - va'yedaber Hashem eilav. "And He/There called to Moshe, and G-d said to him." Had the Hebrew text been Vayikra Hashem el Moshe vayedaber eilav, in the usual syntax whereby the subject - in this case, Hashem - is placed between the two predicates, vayikra and vayedaber, the call to Moshe Rabbeinu would have appeared as an act independent of Hashem speaking to him. It would then have been a simple, straight-forward statement meaning that Hashem called to Moshe with the desire to speak with him. The "calling" and the "speaking" would have the same goal, the same purpose: to speak with Moshe. The structure of the sentence, however, indicates something entirely different. Our pasuk does not have "Hashem" separating the two predicates Vayikra/vayedaber, but, rather, following them. This implies a more profound meaning. There is something unique and special about this "calling."

Hashem's "call" is described as an act that was an integral part of His speaking with Moshe. It was not simply a prelude to speech, but an intrinsic component of that speech. In fact, the calling to Moshe defined the manner in which the speech was executed. The word to be conveyed to Moshe was prefaced by a call to Moshe.

Thus, the syntax of the pasuk was formulated for the express purpose of emphasizing that when Hashem spoke to Moshe, it was indeed the word of G-d addressed to Moshe by G-d Himself. Rav Hirsch contends that the Torah's intention was probably to confound those deliberate misinterpretations sought to transform the Divine Revelation to Moshe into something emanating from within Moshe himself, thereby equating the Revelation with the delusion of such euphoria as arising from within man himself. By doing this, the falsifiers succeed in reducing Judaism to the nadir of other religious phenomena in the history of mankind, whereby Judaism is presented as merely another phase in the development of the human spirit. They refuse to recognize the Divine aspect of Judaism, the Divine nature of the revelation, and the Divine authorship of the Torah.

Rav Hirsch quotes the famous pasuk in Shemos 33:11, in which the Torah attests to Moshe's relationship with Hashem. Vdiber Hashem el Moshe panim el panim ka'asher yedaber ish el reieihu, "Hashem spoke to Moshe face to face, as a man would speak to his companion." This is inaccurately interpreted as the word of one man to another, the speech passing from one to another. The speaker/Hashem is speaking to the subject/Moshe. Thus, the word of the speaker from whose spirit and will is expressed His articulated word can in no way be the product of the one to whom the speech was addressed. Yet, the falsifiers would have us believe that it was Moshe speaking to himself, with the word emanating from within him.

Hashem's word came to Moshe from without - calling him away as it were - from his very own thought process to attune himself and listen attentively to Hashem's word. The mere fact that the "call" came directly, preceding G-d's words, refutes the notion that these words were preceded by some mysterious process within Moshe himself. The word of G-d to Moshe was in no way a phenomenon precipitated, initiated, or evoked by Moshe; it was not even a development which he could have surmised beforehand. It came to him as a historic event from without.

One would think that the above is accepted without question, wondering why Rav Hirsch must reiterate the idea time and again. Yet, the falsifiers have proven that if one prevaricates long enough, it will become dogma - which it has, by those who choose to deny Divine authority. It is so much easier to say that "it" never took place than to accept the reality, and all the responsibility and obligation, that ensues as a result of this conviction.

That is what a Torah way of life is all about: Accepting with obedience, not rejecting with impunity. When one closes his eyes, he does not see, but this does not mean that nothing is there. One who stuffs his ears does not hear, but this does not mean that the sound was not audible. It all depends on how far we want to go in deceiving ourselves.

And He called to Moshe, and G-d spoke to him. (1:1)

The first word of Sefer Vayikra seems to be misspelled. From afar, what should be read as Vayikra with an aleph at the end of the word appears more like vayikar, with a diminutive aleph at the end. Why is there a miniature aleph? This question has provided ample material for the commentators to suggest their homiletic insights. Chazal put it simply, distinguishing between the way Hashem spoke to the pagan prophets, such as Bilaam, and the manner in which He addressed Moshe Rabbeinu. Hashem's prophecy to Bilaam is introduced with vayikar, related to the word mikreh, chance or spiritual contamination, neither connotation very complimentary. Vayikar implies that Hashem's relationship with Bilaam was one of necessity. If the need arose to convey a message, Hashem would speak with him. Moshe, on the other hand, had attained the apex of nevuah, prophetic spirituality. When Hashem addressed him, it was out of love; it was Vayikra, calling, a wholehearted, complete communication. Moshe did not want to call attention to himself. He, therefore, downplayed his unique relationship with Hashem, writing about himself Vayikra, but apparently spelling it vayikar, with a less noticeable aleph. Moshe spelled vayikar, reflecting his deep sense of humility.

This would all be good and fine if this were the first instance that the Vayikra, He called, to Moshe, took place. We find in Parashas Yisro that Hashem called to Moshe from the mountain (Shemos 19:3), and Hashem called Moshe to the top of the mountain (Ibid 19:20). Those scenarios presented opportunities for Moshe to manifest his consummate humility. Why is our instance the first and only time that Moshe demonstrated his humility?

Horav Yitzchak, zl, m'Vorka explains that humility is expressed in private. Public humility is subtle arrogance! When one calls attention to his humility, making a point of acting with extreme modesty when he is in the public view, he is not being modest at all. He is arrogant. When Moshe Rabbeinu diminished the size of the aleph, it was a covert act. Hashem's summons was between Moshe and the Almighty, unlike the Revelation which took place in the presence of the entire Jewish nation. Moshe thought he could "get away" with diminishing the "size" of his encounter with Hashem. Like all of those who are truly humble, he did not succeed in his self-effacement.

Speak to Bnei Yisrael and say to them: when a man among you brings an offering to Hashem. (1:2)

The word mikem, "From you," prompts Chazal to derive the halachic injunction mikem v'lo min umos ha'olam, "From you and not from the nations of the world." This halachah is applicable primarily to the spiritual dimensions of the korban, since we do accept korbanos from gentiles. Chazal are basically teaching that Hashem does not desire a gentile's sacrifice, and this sacrifice does not have the same spiritual standing as the korban of a Jew. Why?

Horav Yechiel Yaakov Weinberg, zl, poses this question as a basis for a thesis distinguishing between the concepts underlying Jewish worship and sacrifice and that of other religions. He first traces the historical outward similarities between worship and sacrifice among the nations of the world and the Jewish religion. Veritably, Judaism and sacrifice are synonymous. Avraham Avinu was asked to prove his commitment by indicating his willingness to sacrifice his only son. As he stood prepared to sacrifice, so, too, have his descendants, Jews throughout the generations, stood prepared to relinquish their lives in devotion to the Almighty. The parsha that initiates a young boy into his Torah-study is Parashas Vayikra, the parsha of korbanos. Clearly, sacrifice and Judaism are intrinsically bound together.

We do find similarities with the gentile religions. They, too, understand the value of sacrifice. Balak was prepared to sacrifice his firstborn son to Hashem. The Almighty, of course, despises human sacrifice. Indeed, Chazal (Midrash Vayikra 27) states Hashem's reply to Balak, "I want no sacrifice from you - not your sons, nor your daughters. I ask nothing of you. It is only of My sons that I ask." This is what is meant by the lesson of Chazal - mikem v'lo mei'umos ha'olom.

Rav Weinberg continues with the notion that life in general - be it Jewish or gentile - is fraught with sacrifice. Life is filled with one long chain of sacrifice. We sacrifice "today" for "tomorrow," our youth for the years that follow. We are always giving something up for something else which we are convinced is better, more important, more valuable. Indeed, the ability and aforethought to sacrifice define humanity. Animals worry about the "here and now", eating whatever they find to satiate their immediate hunger. An animal neither provides for others, nor does it "leave over" for other animals. It lives for itself. Man is willing to sacrifice for tomorrow - for others.

The great inventions, innovations that changed the world, ideas that sparked progress and transformation, were all the products of various forms of sacrifice. Those who live off the dole, who live for themselves, are not willing to give anything up; they take by force and refuse to sacrifice. Ethical man understands that in order to live a proper life, to be part of a community, to be a member of a progressive society, he must be willing to sacrifice. We now return to our original question: What is the difference between Jewish sacrifice and gentile sacrifice? How is Jewish sacrifice so distinct that Hashem desires it, while gentile sacrifice is missing the ingredient that makes it worthy of Hashem's desire?

The Rosh Yeshivah explains that the distinction between the two is simple. It is the difference between emes, truth, and sheker, falsehood - between ohr, light, and choshech, darkness. The emes of Hashem and His Torah transforms Jewish sacrifice into the symbol of truth. The false nature of paganism and its contemporary religions transforms any sacrifice in its name into something fraudulent, bogus and wrong. Nonetheless, while the objectives of the respective sacrifices distinguish one from another in regard to essential content, is there a difference in the material form of the act of sacrifice? Does a Jew sacrifice to serve the Almighty differently than the manner in which a gentile sacrifices to serve his god?

Rav Weinberg posits that there is a distinction between the manner in which a Jew worships Hashem and that in which a gentile serves his god. When a gentile reaches the high point of his service, when his sacrifice is going through the process of "acceptance," the gentile has a sense of ecstasy, a sort of euphoria which intoxicates him. The Jew, on the other hand, has achieved a moment of dveikus, "clinging," during which he bonds with Hashem, having achieved a moment of closeness unlike any other that he had experienced before. Ecstasy creates an experience whereby one divorces himself from reality, an almost hypnotic state very much like that achieved through an addictive drug. Dveikus, however, brings one closer to reality, as he experiences truth in a palpable form. His eyes open up to a world in which true light is envisioned. The Jew who dies al Kiddush Hashem, sanctifying Hashem's Name, experiences a moment of reality during which he becomes one with G-d.

Judaism is not external to our essence. On the contrary, Judaism is part and parcel of our essential character. It is intrinsic to who we are. When a Jew is moser nefesh, sacrifices himself, he is proclaiming his allegiance to Hashem. He is declaring to the world, Hashem Hu HaElokim, "The Almighty is G-d!" When a gentile sacrifices himself, he is doing it to earn a special place, an inscription on the plaque in his church. He is acting for himself, out of service to his god. A Jew, in contrast, acts for G-d.

To explain this further from a practical point of view, let us take mitzvos - Shabbos, for instance. A Jew who observes Shabbos for Hashem, or as a sacrifice he must make for his religion has it all wrong! One who observes mitzvos despite their economic toll on his wallet is doing Hashem no favor. If he feels that he is giving something up to be an observant Jew, he fails in his conception of Judaism. He is missing the point. One does not perform Hashem's will - Hashem's will is our will! A Jew has an inner compulsion to serve Hashem. It is part of his essence. One who serves Hashem because he was commanded to do so - not because he wants to do so - is off his mark in Judaism. A Jew gravitates to serve. He wants to serve.

I think the above disparity between Judaism and other religions is alluded to by Horav S.R. Hirsch, zl, in his commentary to the beginning of the parsha. He notes that there is no word that truly defines the word korban. We use the words "offering" and "sacrifice" lightly as a definition. In truth, however, these descriptions of korban cannot be further from the truth. Sacrifice, as well as offering, implies that one is giving something up, destroying it to his own detriment. This idea is entirely foreign to - and incongruous with - the character and connotation of the word korban as seen through the spectrum of the Torah. The idea behind an offering or sacrifice implies that the one to whom the "gift" is being presented has a desire, a need, to be gratified by the gift. The concept implicit in a korban has no relevance to such a notion. Never does the Torah indicate that korban is some kind of gift.

This brings us to the reality concerning the veritable definition of a korban. It is neither a gift, nor is it an offering, an appeasement. A korban describes man's relationship vis--vis Hashem. Korban is derived from its root word, karov, to come close, to approach, to be near. Thus, the korban implies attaining a close relationship with Hashem. The act of bringing the korban, the hakravah, implies the attainment of a place in a higher sphere of life.

With this in mind, we understand that korban negates the notion of sacrifice as an act of destruction or renunciation. One does not spurn or eschew anything when he offers a korban, nor is he acting to satisfy the needs of the one to whom this korban is offered. There are no needs or desires to be fulfilled. The makriv, one who brings the korban, desires that a part of him, something which is in his possession, enter into a closer, more intimate relationship with the Almighty. The purpose of the korban is to achieve kirvas Elokim, closeness with G-d. When one enters into this "close relationship" via the medium of the korban, he elevates himself to the destiny of a human being, to a different lofty dimension, where his outlook on life and his own concept of human happiness are measured on a barometer of holiness and nearness with the Source of all sanctity.

We now understand the vast chasm that exists between the dogma underlying Jewish sacrifice and the idea behind the gentile sacrifice. We do not give up - we move closer. We do not sacrifice - we transform our will to that of Hashem, so that His will is our will. Carrying out Hashem's will is a reflexive action for a Jew. It is part of his Jewishness.

For you shall not cause to go up in smoke from any leavening or fruit honey as a fire-offering to Hashem. (2:11)

Sefer HaChinuch suggests a moral lesson concerning man's service to G-d, to be derived from the prohibition against offering leaven and fruit honey. The process of leavening is slow and sluggish. Time elapses, and the dough slowly begins to rise. Honey symbolizes sweet pleasures, the allure of physical satisfaction. Man should neither be sluggish, slothful, nor should he be obsessed with the pursuit of the sweet forbidden pleasures.

Se'or, leavening, has other offensive characteristics: Sour, acrimonious, grudging, and discontented are all aspects related to se'or. Someone who has an angry countenance reflects a "sour" attitude towards people in particular and life in general. An angry person is an unhappy person. One should distance himself as much as possible from the middah, character trait, of kaas, anger. Horav Yehudah Tzedakah, zl, was wont to admonish his students concerning losing their cool and falling into the abyss of anger. Indeed, no one ever saw this great tzaddik, righteous person, become angry. He never "lost it" - except when he witnessed a Torah scholar defamed. When it concerned kavod Shomayim, the glory of Heaven, the rules did not apply. He would chastise anyone who was disrespectful of a Torah scholar.

He would interpret this behavior into the above pasuk. As mentioned earlier; se'or connotes a sour, angry expression. Devash is quite the opposite, reflecting a sweet, amicable demeanor. A person who seeks to achieve shleimus, perfection in character, must know when to make use of his sweet/devash side and when to scorn with his se'or expression.

Kol se'or, one who is always expressing himself in a jaundiced manner, reflecting discontent and cynicism, is incapable of serving Hashem. Likewise, the individual who is always smiling, manifesting a devash countenance, is also missing the mark. When the Torah is disgraced, when Torah scholars are belittled, it is not a time to keep smiling. On the contrary, this is a situation in which a se'or attitude is in order. Se'or and devash are fine at the appropriate times. It is when they are kol, used all of the time, when they represent a person's prevalent demeanor, that they present a serious deficiency.

If an individual person from among the people of the land shall sin unintentionally. (4:27)

Sin is a deviation from the appropriate behavior expected of a Jew. When one sins, he is off the mark, missing the target of the area upon which he is supposed to focus. This is one circumstance in which being a poor marksman is a serious liability. There is sin which is intentional, and there is the instance where one unintentionally deviates from the focus of the target. Somehow, he forgot, did not think, was the product of an assimilated background; he did not mean to stray, but, regrettably, he did. He receives no punishment. He brings an offering to atone for his lax behavior, and life goes on. It was a mistake, and a mistake can be rectified. One can always return - if it was an error. Horav Yitzchak Zilberstein, Shlita, relates the following story:

One of the eighteenth century's greatest Torah giants, the Shaagas Arye, Horav Arye Leib Gunzburg, zl, had a devoted shamesh, aide/secretary, who stood by his rebbe's side for many years. When the man reached the end of his life's journey, he implored the Shaagas Arye to take his young son under his wings. Apparently, he had a young child, born to him late in life, who was a veritable genius. Rafael, as the boy was called, was a special child, who under the right tutelage had a bright future. The old shamesh knew that his rebbe would see to it that his only child's bright future would become a reality.

Rav Arye Leib was true to his word, basically adopting the boy and personally studying Torah with him. One night, when Rav Arye Leib went into the boy's room to bid him goodnight, he was shocked to see that the boy was not there. The Rav called for a search in which the entire Jewish community was involved. They found no clue to the boy's whereabouts. They had searched everywhere. It was as if he had disappeared into thin air.

That night the Shaagas Arye had a dream during which he was informed that Rafael had been kidnapped by a priest who wanted to raise this brilliant Jewish boy as a Catholic. Regrettably, such tragedies were not entirely uncommon in those days. In the dream, Rav Arye Leib was shown that the boy was in a nearby monastery, already taking lessons preparing him to convert to Christianity. The Shaagas Arye woke up with a start. He would have to save the boy.

There was a tailor in town who had been around for some time. He had a thriving business, catering to the wealthy gentiles of his community. As a result of his daily encounter with his gentile customers, he crossed the line of religion, to the point that the Christians considered him one of them. He had access to their monastery and priests, having established their trust and esteem. The Shaagas Arye was determined to save Rafael. He approached the tailor and asked him to be his agent to rescue Rafael from the monastery. The tailor agreed - on one condition: The Shaagas Arye must assure him that he would be buried alongside the Torah giant. Rav Arye Leib agreed.

Fearing that Rafael might not trust the tailor, Rav Arye Leib gave him a code which only Rafael would understand. "Tell him the words, Taus l'olam chozeres, 'A mistake always returns.' (This is a reference to the halachah that one who errs in the recitation of the first three blessings of Shemoneh Esrai returns to the beginning. It has also become the catchphrase for anything that is executed under erroneous circumstances, that the subject, such as in the sale of a product, the taus, mistake, is returned).

The tailor succeeded in extracting Rafael from the monastery. In order to ensure that the priests not return to recapture him, Rafael was sent to another city where he studied with a special tutor who attended to his spiritual/intellectual development. Before long, Rafael became one of the young, distinguished rabbanim in the area. By now, the Shaagas Arye had passed on to his eternal rest. The tailor had aged and now was confronting his imminent moment of truth. He lay on his death bed and called for the Chevra Kaddisha, Jewish Burial Society. He notified them of his "deal" with the Shaagas Arye. He demanded that they follow through on the Shaagas Aryeh's promise that the tailor could be buried next to him. Understandably, the chevra were in a quandary. They were unaware of the tailor's courageous act of rescue years earlier. It had been kept hush hush, for fear of ramifications from the Catholic priests. While the chevra "debated," Hashem did His own work. The funeral took place Friday afternoon. It was a rainy, gloomy day, with a heavy cloud of mist surrounding the cemetery. It was so difficult to see where they were going that, by "mistake," the chevra "just happened" to bury the tailor next to the Shaagas Arye!

That Sunday, the error became known when the weather cleared up and the townspeople noticed the freshly-dug grave next to the Shaagas Arye. The city became one large tumult. People began to take sides. The Chevra Kaddisha were prepared to disinter the body and bury him along the outside fringe of the cemetery. In the end, they decided they would consult with one of the distinguished rabbanim in the area. The Rav was Rav Rafael! Yes, that same young boy who could attribute his return to Jewish life to the self-sacrifice of the tailor was now presented with the halachic query: Should they remove the body and bury it elsewhere?

Rav Rafael decided that Taus l'olam chozeres, "A mistake always can/should (be) returned." He felt that the tailor's close relationship with the monastery's priests was in itself a taus, mistake. He thought that in order to earn a living he would have to be like them, to talk like them, to live like them. This was his life's error. Had he acknowledged Hashem, he never would have gravitated to the goyim. Thus, he is no different than one who has transgressed b'shogeg, inadvertently, and may, therefore, continue to have his burial plot next to the Shaagas Arye. Rav Rafael adjudicated, the law as he saw it. Little did he know the significance of his halachic treatise, taus l'olam chozeres, and its meaning to his own religious life. It was the code that spelled the difference for him between spiritual life and death.

Va'ani Tefillah

Baal milchamos - zorea tzedakos. He is the Master of wars; He sows righteousness.

Chazal teach that ba l'tamei - poschin lo, "If one wants to become spiritually defiled, Hashem will give him the opportunity to do so." It is our choice how to live, how to act. On the other hand, if one chooses to do something good with his life, to be righteous, virtuous, kind and benevolent, the Almighty grants him such opportunities that will spur positive growth. Horav Shimon Schwab, zl, interprets this idea in his explanation of the pasuk. When people wage war, evil as it may be, it is Hashem Who gives them the power to fight. If wicked people exercise their G-d-given bechirah, freedom of choice, Hashem grants them the ability to carry out their desires. On the other hand, as the Baal HaRachamim, Master of compassion, He is zorea tzedakos, sows righteousness. This means that the mitzvos and good deeds which one carries out are "sown" away for the future, when they will produce an abundant spiritual harvest.

In memory of our beloved parents
Rabbi Dr. Avrohom Yitzchok Wolf
Rebbetzin Anna Moses
Sruly and Chaya Wolf and Family
Ari and Rivky Wolf and Family

Abba and Sarah Spero and Family
Pesach and Esther Ostroy and Family
Sruly and Chaya Wolf and 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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