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Parshas Acharei Mos-Kedoshim - Vol. 10, Issue 28
Compiled by Oizer Alport
In commanding Aharon not to enter the Kodesh Kodashim without permission, the Torah invokes the death of Aharon's sons who approached Hashem improperly. Rashi compares this to the case of a sick person who needed to be warned not to eat cold food or sleep in a damp place. One doctor simply gave him the instructions, while a second doctor added, "Unless you do so, you will die like so-and-so died." Because the warning of the second doctor is much more effective, Hashem similarly told Moshe to convey the mitzvah to Aharon in this manner. The Darkei Mussar points out that it is astonishing to realize that we are discussing somebody as righteous as Aharon, who certainly would have followed Hashem's instructions even without the implied threat of punishment. From the fact that even somebody on the level of Aharon, who was considered equal to Moshe in his spiritual accomplishments (Rashi Shemos 6:26), still needed additional warnings to reinforce his adherence to the mitzvos, we can appreciate how much we on our levels need to study mussar to strengthen our commitment to the Torah.
Unfortunately, intellectual knowledge of what a person is supposed to do is insufficient, as we see from Hashem's interaction with Aharon. Until that cerebral awareness is able to be impressed upon the heart, it won't be strong enough to guide and direct a person's actions and decisions. The Alter of Kelm commented that just as Reuven's knowledge has no impact on the actions of Shimon, so too the information that somebody possesses in his mind is unable to influence the choices of his heart, as the distance between the mind and the heart is effectively the same as the distance separating two different people. The only proven and effective means to transfer intellectual knowledge to the heart is through the passionate study of mussar, just as Hashem used to help Aharon internalize this mitzvah. For this reason, the Torah requires us to recite Shema twice daily, as our mental awareness of the mitzvah to love Hashem is insufficient unless we repeatedly transfer this knowledge to our hearts.
Rav Yisroel Salanter's three most well-known students were the Alter of Kelm, Rav Itzele Blazer, and Rav Naftoli Amsterdam. The Alter of Kelm was renowned for his mussar study. Rav Itzele Blazer was famous for his brilliant Torah insights. Rav Naftoli Amsterdam was known for his diligent Torah study, to the point that he had a fixed subject to study whenever he was going to get a drink of water.
Once, on a long and cold Friday night in the winter, they sat and studied together until their candle went out. At that point, Rav Naftoli Amsterdam announced that he was tired and went to sleep. Rav Itzele Blazer continued his in-depth study of a complicated section of the Gemora in Bava Basra (26b). The Alter of Kelm rested himself on a lectern and proceeded to spend the entire night repeating to himself the verses (Tehillim 118:19-21) "Pischu li sha'arei tzedek avo vam odeh K-ah zeh ha'shaar l'Hashem tzaddikim yavo'u vo od'cha ki anisani, explaining that when a person asks Hashem to open for him the gates of righteousness so that he can ascend and come close to Hashem and thank Him, Hashem replies that the key to reaching these heights is the ability to thank Hashem for causing him to suffer in order to atone for his sins. The Alter understood that the key to internalizing lessons so that they guide our decisions is the repeated and intense study of mussar until they enter the heart, and he therefore remained awake in the dark for the entire night repeating and internalizing this lesson.
Rav Yonason Eibeshutz was once collecting tzedakah for a poverty-stricken family. He approached one of the wealthy men in his town for a donation. The man attempted to excuse himself by quoting the Gemora in Kesuvos (50a), which discusses the verse in Tehillim (106:3) Ashrei shomrei mishpat oseh tzedaka b'chol eis - Praised are those who guard justice and do acts of righteousness at every moment. The Gemora questions how it is possible to do tzedakah every second, and answers that the verse is referring to a person who sustains his own young children.
The man claimed that he had no need to contribute to the Rav's cause, as through his children, he was already considered by the Gemora as somebody who gives tzedakah b'chol eis - at every moment. To this argument, the quick-witted Rav Yonason responded by quoting the verse in Parshas Acharei Mos in which Aharon was forbidden to enter the Holy of Holies at any time that he desired. However, Rav Yonason creatively interpreted it as saying v'al yavo b'chol eis el haKodesh - A person who only gives tzedakah based on the Gemora's interpretation of the words b'chol eis will not be permitted to enter into Holy places!
Before the beginning of the emotional Neilah prayers on Yom Kippur in 1959, Rav Eliyahu Lopian rose to address those gathered to pray in his yeshiva in Kfar Chassidim in Israel. With tremendous emotion and a steady flow of tears, he commented that some righteous people are able with their deaths to atone for their entire families, others for their entire cities, and there are a few unique individuals in the world with the capacity to effect atonement for the entire generation through their deaths.
With this introduction, Rav Lopian cryptically continued, "We may understand why our verse mentions that Yom Kippur shall occur once annually, something which should be obvious and isn't explicitly written in reference to any of the other Yomim Tovim. If the generation is lax and immoral, Hashem will have no choice but to take the righteous, whose death atones like Yom Kippur, throughout the year in order to bring them forgiveness. The Torah therefore emphasizes that the decree is that there should be only one Yom Kippur each year, and we pray for no more."
Those in attendance had difficulty understanding Rav Lopian's intentions until they heard at the end of Yom Kippur that just after Kol Nidrei on the evening before, the great Brisker Rav had passed away. His son Rav Berel Soloveitchik related that a few days earlier, the Brisker Rav had cryptically commented, "This year there will be two consecutive days of Yom Kippur, one beginning just as the other ends," the intent of which was tragically clarified a few days later.
In Parshas Kedoshim, the Torah commands us to rise in the presence of a zakein - elderly person - in order to show him honor. The Gemora (Kiddushin 32b) teaches that this obligation is not limited to an aged individual, as the word zakein can also be read as a contraction of the words zeh kanah - he who has acquired, which the Gemora elucidates as referring to zeh she'kana chochma - a sage who has acquired wisdom. In other words, in addition to the literal requirement to rise and show respect to an elderly person, we are also commanded to do so in the presence of a Torah scholar. Why does the contraction state only zeh kanah without clarifying to what acquisition we are referring, namely the wisdom of Torah study?
Based on the teachings of Rav Avrohom, the brother of the Vilna Gaon, Rabbi Chaim Zvi Senter explains that although there are many objects and possessions that seem to be acquirable, in reality the only true acquisition that a person can own in this world is Torah scholarship, which is permanent and can never be taken away from him. Therefore, there was no need for the Torah to clarify which acquisition it is alluding to, as it is self-evident. Rabbi Senter adds that while the society around us tempts us to spend much of our time pursuing the "acquisition" of mundane and ephemeral objectives, we must not lose sight of the fact that acquiring Torah knowledge is not only our mission and purpose in this world, but it is also the only enduring acquisition and accomplishment.
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Parsha Points to Ponder (and sources which discuss them):
1) How was Yaakov permitted to marry Rochel and Leah, two sisters, which is forbidden (18:18) by the Torah? (Ramban Bereishis 26:5, Moshav Z'keinim; Shu"t Rema 10, Nefesh HaChaim 1:21)
2) A person who causes another Jew to violate any of the commandments, such as giving wine to a nazir to drink, transgresses the prohibition (19:14) against placing a stumbling block before the blind. When the nazir drinks the wine, besides transgressing the prohibition against consuming wine, does he additionally violate the prohibition against placing a stumbling block before the blind, as his choice to consume the wine causes the person who gave it to him to have sinned by placing a stumbling block before the blind? (Har Tzvi)
3) A person who witnesses another Jew acting inappropriately is commanded to rebuke him (19:17). Can this mitzvah be performed via an intermediary, or is one required to rebuke the sinner himself? (Shu"t Avnei Yashpeh 3:13)
4) The Torah commands a person (19:32) to rise in the presence of a sage to show him respect. The Gemora in Shavuos (30b) teaches that one is also required to show respect to the wife of a Torah scholar. In what way is the obligation to show respect to the scholar's wife more stringent than the respect shown to the scholar himself? (Minchas Chinuch 257:8)
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