Thoughts on the Weekly Parshah by HaRav Eliezer Chrysler
Formerly Rav of Mercaz Ahavat Torah, Johannesburg

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Vol. 12   No. 26

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Parshas Shemini

The Two Merchants
(Adapted from the Chochmas Chayim)

The following story was related by R. Yosef Chayim Sonnenfeld, as he heard it from his Rebbe, the K'sav Sofer.


In Pressburg, there lived two Jewish merchants, both Talmidim of the Chasam Sofer. They worked together in the export trade, selling shiploads of goods in the various distant ports on the Adriatic Sea, whenever their ship docked. To this end, they purchased their own ship, in which they would sail together with their goods to oversee the sales.

On one such journey, their ship was sailing close to Spain, when they were forced to dock in Barcelona. The Spanish harbor police suspected them of dealing in goods that had been captured by pirates (which abounded at that time, in the Mediterranean Sea), and their ship was impounded.

- It is important to note at this juncture that many of the laws of the accursed Inquisition were still in force at that time, and that any Jew caught practicing his religion was given the option either to convert or to be burned at the stake in the town square.

To that end, our two friends took great care to conceal the fact that they were Jewish, and presented themselves as two plain merchants from Pressburg. Due to the good relations that existed between Spain and the Emperor Franz Joseph of Hungary, they had the good fortune to be well-treated and given very much a free hand for the duration of the enquiry, with the assurance, that if they were proven innocent, they would be allowed to leave unharmed. Meanwhile, each merchant was placed with a tax-officer, who acted as his host until the completion of the enquiry.

The two Spanish officers dealt respectfully with their unexpected guests, and both merchants were invited to a banquet where they were served meat and wine.

And here something remarkable occurred - at least, to one of them.

Sitting at table, the host could not help but notice his guest's intense discomfort. His face had turned ashen, and he clearly looked as if he was about to faint. Suddenly, the host took hold of his guest's arm and led him to the cellar. After closing the door behind them, he turned to the merchant, and said 'It is obvious from your whole demeanor that you are a Jew, and that you are afraid of being forced to eat T'reifah food, something which presumably, you have never done in your entire life.

I want you to know that I too, am a Jew, a descendant of the Marranos, and that no T'reifah food enters my house'. and as he spoke, he produced from under the floor a shiny chalif (Shechitah knife). 'With this knife', he continued, 'I myself Shecht all the fowl that my family eat. So let us return to the guest-room and enjoy our glatt Kasher lunch'.

The merchant's relief at having been miraculously spared from having to eat T'reifah foods, knew no bounds.


The enquiry went smoothly and the two friends were soon acquitted and permitted to leave with their cargo intact. They told each other about the royal treatment that each had received at the hand of the authorities, and the merchant related the details of his amazing story.


One assumes that the reader would like to hear that the second merchant had a similar experience. Unfortunately, this was not the case.

He was not so lucky. Right from the outset, finding himself in a similar situation as his friend, he was forced to hide his fears, for he knew that if his host or any member of his family would guess his true identity, he would end up at the stake. So, with a heavy heart, knowing that his life hung in the balance, he partook of every delicacy that was placed before him, sickened by every mouthful that he took.

It is hardly surprising therefore, that when he heard of the miracle that his friend had experienced, and when he recalled how in contrast, he had had to defile himself with all manner of T'reifah food and gentile wine, he burst into bitter tears.

(to be cont.)

* * *

Parshah Pearls

Two Kinds of Priests

"Prepare your sin-offering, and atone for yourself and for the people" (9:7).

Look at the difference between a gentile priest and a Jewish one. The gentile priest administers absolution to all and sundry, irrespective of the fact that he himself has sunk to the forty-ninth level of sin. Not so a Jewish priest. He is given clear instructions that before he can begin to atone for others, he must first atone for himself. (P'ninei Torah).


Inverting the Words

"And they brought a strange fire which He did not command them" (10:1).

The Ba'al ha'Turim inverts the words to read "which He commanded them with 'No' ".

Although it is not clear where this command appears, the reason for the Ba'al ha'Turim's explanation seems to be that for Nadav and Avihu to have died simply because they had not been commanded to bring the strange fire is inadequate; whereas to have died because they contravened a Divine command is easier to understand.

The Ba'al ha'Turim makes the same observation on the Pasuk in Shoftim (17:3) (in connection with idol-worship) " ... and they will worship ... the sun or the moon or all the Hosts of the Heaven which I did not command (to worship)". He translates this as "which I commanded not to worship" (presumably for the same reason) .



"And Moshe spoke to Aharon and to Elazar and Isamar his remaining sons (bonov ha'nosorim) ... " (10:11).

Because they too, were supposed to die, comments Rashi.

The question arises from where Rashi knows this.

The K'sav ve'ha'Kabalah bases it on the word "ha'nosorim". The Torah could have written 'ha'nish'orim', which is a word denoting importance, like in the phrase "va'yisho'er ach No'ach" (after the flood), and in that of "va'yisho'aru sh'nei anoshim ba'machaneh" (with reference to the two Tzadikim, Eldad and Meidad).

Ha'nosorim, on the other hand, is generally written in connection with something unimportant, such as "ve'ha'nosar min ha'Minchah" (with regard to the less holy part of the Minchah that was eaten by the Kohanim, as opposed to the Kometz, that was given to Hashem). And likewise when the Torah describes how Ya'akov was given the weak sheep to guard, the Torah uses the word "ha'nosoros" (see Rashi Bereishis 30:36).

That being the case, the Torah's choice of the word "ha'nosorim" here, suggests that Elazar and Isamar, were inferior (in that they had been sentenced to death).


Admitting to the Truth

"And Moshe heard (Aharon's reply) and it was good in his eyes" (10:20).

He admitted and was not embarrassed, says Rashi. He did not claim not to have heard it from Hashem, but readily admitted 'I heard it and I forgot'.

Moshe Rabeinu incorporated all the good Midos that exist. These are portrayed during the course of the Torah, so that we should be able to take our cue from him. It was difficult however, to find the Midah of 'Modeh al ha'Emes' (admitting to the truth) in Moshe, since he learned the entire Torah from Hashem, and there was no opportunity to convey this to us. So what did Hashem do?

He created the situation presented here, where Moshe forgot the Halachah concerning the Chatas, and Aharon corrected him, the Shinever Rebbe explains. And Moshe rose to the occasion, leaving us with the vital lesson - never to be too ashamed to say 'I forgot!'


A Bad Trait

"Only this you shall not eat, the camel, because it chews its cud and does not have cloven hooves".

The Torah repeats basically the same words with regard to the rabbit and the hare, and regarding the Chazir, it follows the same sequence, when it writes " ... because it has cloven hooves and does not chew its cud" (11:3-7).

Now surely the first specification (that of the camel chewing its cud and the Chazir having cloven hooves), is if anything, a source of Taharah. So why does the Torah present it as if it was a reason for the animal being Tamei?

The K'li Yakar explains that these are indeed signs of Taharah - as long as they appear in a Tahor animal. But when they appear in a Tamei one, they take on the form of deceit, transforming them into symbols of Tum'ah.

Even the most outstanding Midos can be meaningless (and worse), when they are not genuine.


The Chazir's Hooves

"Only this you shall not eat; the Chazir, because its hooves are cloven, but it does not chew its cud" (11:7).

R. Yosef Chayim Sonnenfeld cites the Gemara in Bava Kama, which relates the episode that took place at the time of the siege of Yerushalayim, when the B'nei Chashmona'im were engaged in a civil war. Each day, the besieged Yerushalmim would lower a basket of Dinrim, and in return the besiegers would send up two lambs for the Korban Tamid. Until one day, when the adviser of the besieging king suggested that as long as those inside the walls were bringing the Korban Tamid, they would remain invincible, and that they (the besiegers) would never be able to defeat them.

So the following day, upon receiving the basket of Dinrim, instead of sending up two lambs, they sent up a Chazir in its place. As the basket reached half way up the wall, the Chazir stuck its hooves into the wall, and Eretz Yisrael shook four hundred Parsah by four hundred Parsah.

The question arises why the 'enemy' chose to send specifically a Chazir (and not any other species of non-Kasher animal). And besides, what was the significance of the wall shaking 'four hundred Parsah by four hundred Parsah'?


To answer the questions, one has to bear in mind the constant battle that the Jews of that time were waging with the Hellenists, the forerunners of the modern-day Reformers. The moment the Chazir stuck his 'Kasher' hooves into the wall of Yerushalayim, Eretz Yisrael shook, because it was those 'Kasher' hooves that posed the gravest danger to the existence of K'lal Yisrael.

Because the Chazir epitomizes people who disguise themselves outwardly as religious Jews, whilst inside lurks a stomach that does not chew its cud, a symbol of a treacherous heart that harbors false ideologies. This is more dangerous by far than the type of enemy that attacks our religion openly, and makes no pretence at being what he is not.

Indeed, that is why the Chazir has always served as the epitome of a Treifah animal.

And that is perhaps what Yanai ha'Melech (himself a Tzedoki) meant, when, on his death-bed, he warned his righteous wife Alexandra Salome to beware, not of the Perushim and not of the Tzedokim, but of the Tzevu'im (of those who pretended to be good Jews, but who in their hearts, were anything but that). For they were the most dangerous of all.


The Kindly Stork

"And the Chasidah (the stork" (11:19).

It is called 'Chasidah', Rashi explains, because it performs kindness (chesed) with its friends.

Then why, one may well ask, is it listed among the non-Kasher birds?

Simple, answers the Ba'al-Shem-Tov. Because it confines its acts of kindness to its friends. A genuine Ba'al-Chesed will perform Chesed to anyone who needs it, friend or not.

Let's put it like this. Someone who refuses to help someone in need, because he is not his friend is no Ba'al-Chesed. He is a heartless scoundrel!

* * *

(Adapted from the Seifer ha'Chinuch)

Mitzvah 397:
The Red Heifer

Yisrael are commanded to burn a red heifer, so that its ashes should be ready for anyone who needs it, to purify them from Tum'as Meis, as the Torah writes in Chukas (19:2) "Speak to the B'nei Yisrael and they will take to you a red cow ... ", and a few Pesukim later, it writes "and it shall be for the B'nei Yisrael as a charge ... ".

The author explains how although thus far, he has plucked up the courage to explain the reasons for the Mitzvos based on 'Remazim' (symbolic exegesis), when it comes to this Mitzvah, he is hesitant to do so. And he cites Chazal who, based on the Pasuk in Koheles (7:23) "I thought that I was wise, but it is far from me", explain that even the wise Shlomoh, who knew the reasons for all the other Mitzvos, could not fathom that of the Parah Adumah. And furthermore, they quote G-d Himself, who told Moshe that He would reveal the reason of the Parah Adumah to him, but not to anybody else.

What is incomprehensible about this Mitzvah, he explains, is not the fact that its ashes transform a person from Tamei to Tahor. There are after all, many Korbanos (such as those of a Zav and a Yoledes) which complete the Taharah process of the person who brings them.

Nor is it the fact that it renders Tamei, those that deal with it. For that too, we have a precedence, in the form of various Korbanos that render whoever burns them Tamei, together with the clothes that they are wearing.

What is extraordinary about the Parah Adumah is the fact that at one and same time, it renders those who are Tamei, Tahor, and renders Tamei those who burn it, a dual feat which neither of the above can boast. This is what makes the Parah Adumah unique.

Another perplexing aspect of the Parah Adumah, says the Chinuch, is the fact that, unlike other Korbanos, it is prepared outside the Camp of Yisrael. In fact, that is what causes the nations of the world to mock Yisrael, and to claim that Yisrael are no different than they in this respect; because they believe that when preparing the Parah Adumah, Yisrael are sacrificing to the demons in the field, just like they do.

To give us at least a slight insight into the earlier characteristic of Parah Adumah which we discussed, he reminds us that of the many cures that exist among the herbs and the trees (from the cedars in the Levanon to the hyssop on the wall), there are many that somehow work in opposite ways, to cool down what is hot, and to heat up what is cold. Consequently, he suggests, if we only knew more about the inherent properties of the soul, about what makes it sick and what cures it, we would presumably understand why the Red Heifer renders one person Tamei and the other Tahor.

Some of the Dinim of the Mitzvah ... Chazal have said that the Parah Adumah must be either four or three years old, though if it is older, it is Kasher ... One is not permitted to take a calf and rear it, but a cow that is ready to use, as the Torah writes "And they shall take to you a red cow" ... When the Torah writes "temimah", it means that it must be perfectly red (that as little as two black or white hairs will invalidate it). Consequently, even if the cow itself is a midget, it is eligible (since it does not need to be any more perfect than any other Korban) ... If it has hairs that are red at the roots but another colour at the tips, it is Kasher (whereas vice-versa is Pasul), because everything depends on the roots (and one simply cuts off the coloured tips with a pair of scissors up to where they have turned red ... Work invalidates the cow, as the Torah writes ("on which no yoke was placed", incorporating all work), which is why Chazal say that by merely placing one's Tallis on it, he invalidates it ... If it requires guarding, and one ties it by its reins, it remains Kasher, but not if the guarding is unnecessary (in which case it is considered a burden) ... The Parah Adumah is purchased from the T'rumas ha'Lishkah (money that is taken from one of the boxes in the Azarah) ... A calf that is born to it is not eligible, but requires redemption and goes out to Chulin ... Those who become Tamei are those who assist in its burning - incorporating whoever turns over the flesh, throws wood into the fire, stokes the fire or shovels the coals, and so on. But the one who sets fire to the furnace and the one who arrange the wood, remain Tahor, as do those who deal with it once it has become ashes ... The Chachamim instituted various decrees in connection with the burning of the Parah Adumah, among them the separation of the Kohen who was designated to burn it, from his wife and family, seven days before it is due to be burned, in the same way as the Kohen Gadol separated from his wife and family seven days before Yom Kipur. On each of those seven days, they would sprinkle on the designated Kohen from the ashes of the previous red Heifers. This was performed specifically by someone who had never become Tamei Meis, since the sprinkler had to be Tahor, and we are afraid that anyone who was once Tamei Meis may not have been purified properly. Similarly, all the vessels which were used in connection with the Kohen's purification had to be made of stone (which is not subject to Tum'ah).

How is it possible, you may ask, to find someone who has never become Tamei Meis?

The Chachamim describe how there were courtyards in Yerushalayim that were built on top of rocks, which were hollow underneath, to avoid the Tum'ah of what is known as Kever Tehom (closed graves with less than a Tefach space between the corpse and the earth above it). And it was to those courtyards that they would bring pregnant women, who would give birth there to babies which they subsequently brought up there until they were ready to sprinkle on the Kohen who was about to burn the next Parah Adumah. Then they would bring oxen, on whose wide backs they would place doors, to form an Ohel between the children (who would now ride on them) and a possible Kever ha'Tehom. The children, holding the stone vessels, would then ride to the River Shilo'ach, where they would dismount and fill them (paying no heed to Kever ha'Tehom, since nobody buries a corpse in a river). Then after clambering back on to the doors, they would ride to the Har ha'Bayis, where they would once again dismount and walk on foot to the entrance of the Azarah (without fear of Kever ha'Tehom, since the entire Har ha'Bayis and the Azaros were hollow underneath for precisely that reason). There they would take some dust and place it inside the stone cups, from which they would then proceed to sprinkle on the Kohen who was about to burn the Parah Adumah, though not before the children had Toveled, in case they had become Tamei in some other way. (cont.)

* * *

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