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by Rabbi Yisrael Pesach Feinhandler
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Parshas Acharei Mos

Humility Leads to Good Education

And he [the kohen gadol] shall put the incense on the fire before the L-rd and the cloud of the incense may envelope the mercy seat [the cover] that is upon the testimony [the Ark], that he die not.
(VAYIKRA 16:13)

Rabbi Chizkiyahu Medini lived in Buchara as a young man. The town had a kolel, patronized by a wealthy Jew who supported the young married students while they learned Torah. Although the kolel had set times for learning, Rabbi Medini, who loved to learn Torah, would come early in the morning and leave late at night. Because of this dedication, the wealthy patron was fond of him and would show him special favor.

A man who frequented the beis midrash became extremely jealous, believing that Rabbi Medini was receiving more money than the other students. And so he devised a wicked plan against him. He bribed the gentile housemaid who cleaned the wealthy man's house and the beis midrash to tell people that Rabbi Chizkiahu Medini had tried to seduce her.

Early one morning, when Rabbi Medini came to the beis midrash, the housemaid, who had been cleaning the beis midrash, ran screaming hysterically into the street, claiming that Rabbi Chizkiyahu Medini had tried to seduce her. Many people came running into the beis midrash, including the jealous man who had plotted the whole thing, and they began to shout at Rabbi Medini, asking him how he dared do such a terrible thing. The jealous man then convinced the angry crowd to go to the wealthy man's house and demand that he dismiss Rabbi Medini from the kolel. After they had told him what happened, the wealthy man instructed them to return to the beis midrash and promised that he would verify the truth of their accusations. Reluctantly they consented.

Throughout the entire incident Rabbi Chizkiahu Medini had continued his learning without interruption and did not even take the time to reply to their accusations. The wealthy man arrived at the beis midrash and watched him for half an hour, during which time Rabbi Medini continued learning. Finally the wealthy man announced that Rabbi Chizkiyahu Medini was a holy man and anyone who dared slander him would not be allowed to enter the beis midrash again. He also fired the housemaid. No one dared to disobey him and the whole matter was put to rest.

A few days later, when Rabbi Chizkiyahu Medini was learning as usual alone in the beis midrash, the housemaid approached him early one morning. She burst into tears and said to him, "You know the truth, that I falsely slandered you. But it is not my fault. So-and-so bribed me and so I did what he told me to. But what have I gained from all this? The money he gave me is gone and now I am without a job. Therefore I wish to make a public confession that you are innocent and that he was the culprit who initiated the whole affair."

Rabbi Medini considered the matter. On the one hand, the housemaid's public confession would be of great benefit to him, since it would convince everyone that he had been framed and had not done anything wrong. But on the other hand, he realized that a chillul hashem (desecration of G-d's Name) would result from such a public confession. People would find out how wicked the man was who was willing to ruin Rabbi Medini's reputation and had tried to deprive him of his livelihood out of jealousy. He decided that even though he would personally benefit from a public confession, yet he must prevent such a chillul hashem.

"I have a better idea," he told the housemaid. "Why go through such a public embarrassment? I will find a new job for you." She readily agreed, since this served her purposes better than a confession, which would not only leave her penniless, but would also show her in a bad light. Rabbi Medini kept his promise and convinced another member of the community to hire her.

The wicked man who had tried to ruin Rabbi Medini died within a week, and took the secret of what he had tried to do with him to the grave. Rabbi Chizkiyahu Medini later recalled that after this incident he gained great clarity in learning Torah, such as he had never before experienced, and he felt as though he had been given the entire Torah as a gift. He continued to grow in his learning and was known as one of the greatest Torah luminaries of his generation. He was the author of the numerous volumes of the Sedei Chemed.

Rabbi Chizkiyahu Medini's humility and his ability to recognize true priorities enabled him not to take revenge on the man who wished to harm him. From his example we can learn that humility is one of the most valuable tools in educating children.

Our Sages have taught, "'And he shall put the incense on the fire before the L-rd.'(1) This is to be understood in the following way. The kohen gadol, during the Yom Kippur service, shall not put incense on the coals outside the Holy of Holies first and afterwards enter, but rather it shall be done 'before G-d,' which means inside the Holy of Holies. This interpretation of the verse disputes the opinion of the Tzedokim, who used to say that the proper way of performing the mitzvah was to put the incense on the coals outside the Holy of Holies first and afterwards enter."(2)

Our Sages have taught, "It happened that a Tzedoki succeeded in putting incense on the coals outside the Holy of Holies first and afterwards entered. When he left the service, he was elated. He met his father, who was aware of his success. His father said to him, 'Even though we are Tzedokim, we still fear the Perushim (the Sages who were accepted as the true interpreters of the Oral Torah).'

The son answered, 'My entire life I have been waiting impatiently for the opportunity to fulfill our interpretation of the verse, "And he shall put the incense on the fire before G-d." Now that I finally have that opportunity, shall I not fulfill it?'

Our Sages say that not many days passed before the Tzedoki died a sudden death and his body decayed in a garbage dump, with worms coming out of his nose. Others say that immediately after he left the Holy of Holies he was struck and killed, as Rabbi Chiya taught, "A sound was heard in the azara. The sound was the angel striking him on his face. His brethren, the kohanim, entered and found the form of a calf's foot between his shoulders, as it is written, 'And their foot was a straight foot.'"
(YALKUT 571, par. "Tanu")

Although our Sages say a difference of interpretation between the Tzedokim and the Perushim caused the argument whether the incense should be put on the coals inside or outside the Holy of Holies, what is the deeper meaning behind their argument? What did the Tzedoki's father mean when he said, "Even though we are Tzedokim, we still fear the Perushim?" Why was the Tzedoki punished with worms coming out of his nose after his death? What was the significance of the other opinion that he was punished immediately and not after several days? Why was a calf's foot imprinted on his dead body?

The Tzedokim Ideology

"It happened that a Tzedoki succeeded in putting incense on the coals outside of the Holy of Holies first and afterwards entered."

The Tzedokim were known not to depend on the Oral Law to understand the mitzvos of the Torah, but rather they tried to interpret the verses literally. For instance, they claimed that no fire may burn in a person's house on the Shabbos, even though it had been lit on Friday. They based this on the verse which says, "You shall not light any fire on the holy Shabbos day."(4) Although our Sages interpreted this to mean not to actually light a fire on Shabbos, they understood the verse to mean that no light should be burning.

The Tzedokim felt that man is not capable of interpreting the verses of the Torah because of its holiness, and therefore they disputed the Oral Torah and its authenticity. But the Perushim felt that although man is greatly limited, G-d had faith in him and gave him the Oral Law and ways to interpret the Written Torah.

We could also interpret their dispute symbolically. The Perushim believed that even though the incense had not yet been put on the coals and the mitzvah was not yet complete, the kohen could still enter the Holy of Holies, and once inside, he would be given the strength to complete the mitzvah. They felt that the holiness of the kohen was great enough to give him permission to enter. But the Tzedokim felt that if they did not have a complete mitzvah in their hands they could not enter the Holy of Holies, because man is not holy enough. This parallels their dispute whether or not man was holy enough to interpret the Torah on his own.

When the Tzedoki's father said, "Even though we are Tzedokim, we still fear the Perushim," he meant that although they differed in opinion from the Perushim, yet they still appreciated the Perushim's righteousness and closeness to G-d. It was one thing to argue about the interpretation of verses, but to go further and change the normal service in the Temple was tampering with G-d's Law and endangering one's own life. To talk is one thing, but before one acts he must carefully consider all the possible consequences of his actions.

Punishment Beginning with the Nose

...The Tzedoki died a sudden death and his body decayed in a garbage dump, with worms coming out of his nose.

We can perhaps understand the punishment of the Tzedoki from a comment by Rashi.(5) He explains that the first limb to enter a room is the nose. Rashi means by this that the sin of the Tzedoki was his entering the Holy of Holies after he had already put the incense on the coals. His entry was forbidden since he was not fulfilling the mitzvah as prescribed. Therefore the nose, which was the first organ to sin by entering the Holy of Holies, was also the first organ to receive punishment.

Another interpretation could be that the major sin of the Tzedokim was arrogance. They "put their noses" into things which they should not have. They did not realize how small they were compared to the greatness of the Perushim. Instead, they claimed that they were smarter and understood the Torah better than the Sages. This arrogance was their downfall, and this particular Tzedoki, who acted according to his own opinion, lost his life because of it. Arrogance is referred to in the verse as "the height of the nose."(6) For when a person is arrogant he raises his nose to show his superiority. For this Tzedoki the worms coming out of his nose were a clear sign from heaven that arrogance was the cause of his death. The worm is a symbol of humility. King David used this terminology when he said, "And I am a worm and not a man."(7) David here was emphasizing his humility.

The opinion that the Tzedoki was punished immediately and not after several days is based on the conviction that going against the Torah in the Holy of Holies was considered such a great chilul Hashem that G-d made a point of not waiting even a few days to punish the Tzedoki. For such a great sin demanded immediate retribution, so that no one could misunderstand the reason for the punishment.

The Imprint of a Calf

His brethren, the kohanim, entered and found the form of a calf's foot between his shoulders,...

Rashi(8) explains that the foot of an angel is in the form of a calf's foot, and from this we deduce that the Tzedoki was struck by an angel.

But angels have other forms as well, and this particular form may have been used to allude to the Golden Calf, with which the Jewish people sinned in the desert. G-d was telling the Tzedoki that changing the Divinely-ordained service of the Temple or anything else in the Torah was tantamount to worshipping the Golden Calf, since if we do not follow the Torah and do G-d's Will we are worshipping ourselves and our own ideas.

Humility: A Vital Tool for Education

Parents can make a mistake similar to that of the Tzedoki if they are arrogant when it comes to making important decisions which affect the lives of their children. Instead of relying on their own opinions, they should be ready sometimes to consult a trusted and learned rabbi when it comes time to make crucial decisions, such as where to send their children to school. Sometimes parents send a child to a school where they think he will get a more sophisticated education, but in such a school he might not become a more observant and knowledgeable Jew. Since this is a decision which will affect a child's entire life, it is important to ask advice from rabbis who are considered sages. The choice of a school can be crucial to your child's adherence to Yiddishkeit and ultimately to his happiness in life. This also applies when problems arise over a child's behavior. Parents may think that they are clever enough to handle any problem without anyone else's help. But here again, this attitude may stem from arrogance. Education is a complicated process, and unless someone is well trained himself, he needs the advice of learned people. Making a mistake in educating children can be harmful. But such mistakes can be avoided when parents understand their limitations and seek advice from those who are wiser and more experienced.

Here the father of the Tzedoki saw his son's error, and tried to point it out to him, but the son would not listen and it cost him his life. From this we can learn that an older person often has a better perspective, as our Sages say, "Those who take advice from the elders will never stumble." Asking for appropriate advice in educating children can make all the difference in the world in ensuring a successful Jewish life for your child.

Your Children Want You to Listen

It is most important that we instill in our children the feelings that they must obey and seek advice from their parents. Without these feelings our children can easily stray into the wrong circles and lose their connection with Yiddishkeit.

In order to attain this goal, we must be listeners. When a child comes home from school, put aside anything you are doing and listen to your child. This will show him that you care about him and really want to help him with his problems. But if you continue doing the dishes or reading the newspaper, he will get the message that he is of secondary importance.

Listen with Humility

You can utilize humility to learn to listen to your children. Try to practice feeling humble and this will help you give your child the attention he needs.

If you do not listen to your children, you will be cutting off the bond you have with them. It is as though you are making them into orphans while their parents are still alive. They need you, and you are deserting them at their time of need.

If your children feel that you do not listen to them, they will find other people who will listen. These may be their friends, who are far from having wisdom, and may even be corrupt. These friends will now have great influence on them, since they will replace you as your children's confidantes.

Obviously, the consequences will be disastrous. Your child will be given to destructive influences, and all because you neglected to give your child the attention he needs.

Train Yourself to Listen

It is not easy to listen to children for long periods of time. But since their emotional and spiritual welfare depends upon this, you must train yourself to develop this skill.

Start by listening to your children for perhaps five or ten minutes at a time. Then you can increase your concentration slowly.

When your children see that you are a good listener, they will gradually start seeking your advice and guidance more and more, and your genuine interest in their thoughts and problems will develop. They will begin asking you questions. Did I do the right thing? Where was my mistake? What would you have done in my situation?

Try to bend down to them and feel their problems as if they were your own. If you do this, you will find within yourself the answers to their questions. G-d gave every parent the capability to educate his children. When we humble ourselves enough to ask for His help, then we shall find it in abundance.

1. Vayikra 16:13
2. Yuma 53
3. Yechezkel 33, Yuma 19
4. Shemos 35:3
5. Yuma 19b
6. Tehillim 10:4
7. Ibid., 22:7
8. Yuma 19b

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