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Peninim on the Torah

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Rabbi A. Leib Scheinbaum
Hebrew Academy of Cleveland


Speak to Aharon, your brother, he shall not come at all times into the Sanctuary…so that he should not die. (16:2)

Rashi comments that Hashem commanded Moshe Rabbeinu to remind Aharon Hakohen regarding the sanctity of the Sanctuary, referring to the tragic incident of his sons' deaths. This seems to imply that at a time when the yetzer hora, evil inclination, stirs us up and encourages us to do the inappropriate, it is only the fear of punishment, yiraas ha'onesh, that can save us from falling into the abyss of sin. Even Aharon, who would enter the Holy of Holies on the holiest day of the year, Yom Kippur, needed that Heavenly reminder. Remember what happened! It can happen to you if you do not listen. Horav Aharon Kotler, zl, underscores this idea, reiterating that even an individual who has achieved a profound, elevated level of cognition concerning the greatness of Hashem, one who possesses a penetrating awe of the Almighty, must still maintain yiraas ha'onesh, fear of punishment, to serve as a deterrent from sin.

Let us attempt to analyze this idea further. In the parsha that deals with ribbis, usury, the Torah says, "Do not take from him interest and increase; and you shall fear your G-d" (Vayikra 25:36). Horav Matisyahu Solomon, Shlita, derives from the pasuk's conclusion with, "fear of Hashem," that without fear, it would be difficult to restrain someone from taking interest, because the individual will be moreh heter, render for himself a dispensation, that it is "reasonable" to ask for something in return for using someone's money. We see from here that finding heterim for oneself is natural, and it is the opposite of erecting fences to protect oneself from falling into the abyss of transgression. Indeed, one who seeks and finds dispensations to allow himself to skirt the law-or to go beyond the parameters of right and wrong-- clearly has no fear of Heaven. If one has yiraas Shomayim,, he does not look for opportunities to avoid observance.

Horav Yeruchim Levovitz, zl, takes this point even further, positing that even if one were to transgress and eat non-kosher meat, it would still not be a clear indication that he lacks yiraas Shomayim. It is possible that he is a G-d fearing Jew who has fallen under the trance of his yetzer hora's blandishments. One who renders a dispensation for himself, who convinces himself that what he is about to do is permissible, demonstrates that as far as his "desire" is concerned, he could refrain from sin, he could navigate past the yetzer hora. Nonetheless, he finds a way to sin - but with a heter. This is the epitome of a yiraas Shomayim deficiency. One who fears Hashem does not look for excuses or dispensations. He listens and observes. One whose entire life is lived in the specter of, "I must be careful because I might do something wrong," is a yarei Shomayim. He does not look for a way around sin. He distances himself as far away as possible from any opportunity that might lead him astray.

In his sefer, Emunah U'Bitachon, the Chazon Ish delineates the necessary requisites for one to be worthy of earning the appellation of talmid chacham, Torah scholar. After discussing the minimum requirements of Torah erudition that a talmid chacham must possess, he writes, "The praises of the talmid chacham cannot be sung unless his wisdom is preceded by fear of Hashem. The Torah's wisdom cannot come to rest on a heart that is closed…To be truly wise in the knowledge of Torah, a synthesizing of intellectual analysis and dread of sin is necessary…One who has not achieved wholesomeness in fear of Hashem will never achieve wholesomeness in knowledge of Torah, even if he is endowed with superior mental abilities. The paths of his studies will be crooked and perverse; he will not arrive at halachic truth."

Conversely, Torah study enhances, strengthens and refines one's yiraas Shomayim. The Chazon Ish once told a student that upon reading correspondence containing chiddushei Torah, Torah novellae, he could discern the writer's level of yiraas Shomayim. He added that one's success in Torah is dependent primarily on his level of yiraas Shomayim and overall service to Hashem. He felt that one cannot be a repository of daas Torah, the wisdom acquired through Torah study, unless he possesses an abundance of yiraas Shomayim.

The Chazon Ish was once traveling in a wagon, together with Horav Chaim Ozer Grodzenski, zl, on their way to inspect the recent modifications to the city's mikveh. Suddenly, the Chazon Ish jumped off the wagon. It dawned on him that the seats of the wagon might contain shatnez, a mixture of wool and linen. Although to avoid sitting on shatnez is actually a chumrah, stringency not demanded by halachah, the Chazon Ish was not taking any chances, and he continued the rest of the way on foot. The Chazon Ish did not just fear sin - he dreaded it as one would fear physical danger. This was true even when the sin was not his own. It happened once that a group of Israeli soldiers were engaging in target practice near his home on Shabbos. An officer knocked on the door to assure the Chazon Ish not to be concerned: this was only a training session and there was nothing to fear. The Chazon Ish replied, "I am more afraid of your Shabbos desecration than I am of the Arab grenades during the weekdays."

He shall don a sacred linen tunic. (16:4)

The Kohen Gadol possessed two sets of vestments: one set was called Bigdei Zahav, golden vestments, in which four of the eight garments contained gold in them, and the other set was called Bigdei Lavan, white vestments, because four of its garments were made of white linen. The white vestments were worn once a year, on Yom Kippur, during special portions of the service. The Kohen Gadol performed the remainder of the service wearing the golden vestments. In Rosh Hashanah 26A, the Talmud explains the reason for this change in procedure. When the Kohen Gadol sought forgiveness for Klal Yisrael's sins, it was considered inappropriate that he should do so while wearing golden vestments. Since the Jewish People had sinned by creating and worshipping a Golden Calf, a sin so grievous that it continues to remain a "prosecutor" against us, it would be wrong to have "a prosecutor become a defender, i.e. have gold (worn by the Kohen Gadol) be a part of the forgiveness seeking service. Thus, the Kohen Gadol wore white linen, a color symbolic of forgiveness and purity, and a material symbolizing the Heavenly service of the angels, who are described as wearing linen. Indeed, the custom to wear a white kittel on Yom Kippur originated from the white vestments of the Kohen Gadol.

Horav Zalman Sorotzkin, zl, feels that the maxim, "Ein kateigor naase saneigor," "A prosecutor may not serve as a defender," has been misused. How often do we hear clamoring from those self-righteous individuals who suddenly remember this Rabbinic dictum when the spiritual leader must take a stand to render rebuke? Rav Zalman was referring to a situation in which the rav of a certain community rebuked one of its most powerful citizens for eating non-kosher food. This caused an outrageous uproar as a number of sanctimonious, hypocritical people came forward and denounced the rabbi for his negativity. "How can a man charged with doing good and being the symbol of positive living and caring cast aspersion on a reputable member of the community?" "Is it not prohibited to speak ill of another Jew?" "How could the rabbi take such an antagonistic and jaundiced view of a prominent member of the community?"

Rav Zalman explains that the Torah teaches us that when a Jew falters and falls into the nadir of sin, he should be rebuked. When a Jew publicly flaunts his transgression, we must protest publicly and vilify his malevolence as much as possible. This attitude however, applies only in regard to the individual. In speaking with Hashem, however, one must find every possible merit and justification to absolve the individual of his sin. In other words, we reproach and denounce the sinner to his face, but pray to Hashem for his welfare. We hope to see an end to sin, not to sinners.

This is the lesson of the Bigdei Kehunah, Priestly vestments. As long as the Kohen Gadol was in public, serving in the Sanctuary filled with Kohanim, Leviim and Yisraelim that came to observe his service, he wore gold. Even though gold was an agent of indictment because it recalled the sin of the Golden Calf, nonetheless, it served a positive role, by reminding the people to atone for their past sins. The gold demonstrated to them that it was not all positive. They had transgressed and must repent and seek atonement.

When the Kohen Gadol was alone in the Kodoshei Kodoshim, Holy of Holies; when he poured forth his heart in sincere prayer to Hashem to spare Klal Yisrael, he wore only white linen. When he stood in prayer on behalf of the nation, he would not wear gold which signified a pessimistic attitude towards the people he was seeking to help. This was not the place or the time to prosecute. It was the time for mercy and forgiveness.

And confess upon it all the iniquities of Bnei Yisrael, and all their rebellious sins among all of their sins. (16:21)

Prior to sending the he-goat to the desert, Aharon HaKohen-- or whoever was the Kohen Gadol-- would lean upon it and confess the sins of Klal Yisrael. In Meseches Tamid 30b, Chazal say that the Kohen Gadol's voice would carry and be heard all the way to Yericho, a distance of quite a few miles. How did he do it? What power did the Kohen Gadol have to raise his voice so loud that it was heard in the distance? Certainly, the Kohen Gadol was not selected for his ability to raise his voice. Horav Tuvia Lisitzen, zl, maintains that anything that is founded, established, created in kedushah, holiness, and taharah, purity, has incredible, supernatural force that goes beyond its physical counterpart. Spirituality begets a physical force unlike anything else, rendering it much stronger.

We find this concept in a number of places in which a human being is capable of doing much more, of going beyond the usual and acceptable norm of physical strength and ability.

When Avraham Avinu heard that his nephew, Lot, had been taken captive by the consortorium of four very able and powerful kings, he gathered together his "strong" army of three hundred eighteen students, and-- according to one source-- his army consisted of none other than Eliezer, his trusted servant. How did they do it? Avraham was strong, but not that strong. Eliezer was one person. Where did he get the strength to fight against four kings, four armies of heavily armed soldiers? We must say that spirituality creates strength. An overriding desire to help his master and save Lot engendered within Eliezer a new source of strength, a sort of spiritual adrenalin, beyond the realm of the physical.

When Yehudah spoke to Yosef, he raised his voice in a scream that was heard four hundred miles away, causing the teeth of those who heard his voice to fall out. Why? How? Apparently, Yehudah's over-extension of himself on behalf of his brother, Benyamin, because of his commitment to their father, Yaakov Avinu, generated a source of super-human strength within him, giving him the ability to raise his voice in such a manner. There is no other way to understand this phenomenon.

Shimshon haGibor was holy from the womb. As a nazir whose life was wholly dedicated to the service of Hashem, he possessed amazing physical strength. Once again, ruchniyos, spirituality, catalyzed outstanding physical prowess. An individual whose commitment, devotion and intention are synchronized totally in honor of Hashem, to observe His dictates meticulously, transcends the constraints and limitations that physically encumber a person. He is no longer in the realm of the physical, and, thus, not under its restraints.

Stories abound about those righteous Jews, both common and erudite, members of the Torah elite who lived in a different world. Whereas their bodies existed on the physical plane, their essence was in a world above and beyond this physical plane. They transcended pain and suffering, accomplishing much more than humanly possible, all because they built with the mortar and stone that was composed of spiritual ingredients.

The Klausenberger Rebbe, zl, was an individual who serves as a paradigm for us to emulate. He arose from personal tragedy and irreplaceable loss to serve as both spiritual mentor to thousands and creative builder of everything from chadorim to yeshivos, Bais Yaakov schools and even a world-class hospital. How did he do it? With ruchniyus, with spiritual mortar. In a short synopsis of his incredible life, he was a person who experienced tragedy in its most painful and debilitating sphere, yet, with great personal sacrifice and amazing moral fortitude, he was able to transcend his experiences, to elevate himself to a much higher spiritual plane and to play a pivotal role in the rebuilding of Klal Yisrael after World War II. When one tallies up his achievements, it is mind-boggling. It is hard to believe that this was all the impetus of one man - who had himself lost everything.

Within twenty-four hours of the liberation - having just learned of the brutal murder of his wife and eleven precious children - himself still clothed in the prison garb of a concentration camp inmate, the Rebbe set about delivering spiritual and emotional CPR to the survivors. He never thought of himself. Indeed, during those years in the concentration camps and after, he never shed a tear over his own misery, fearing that it would imply a critique of Hashem's ways. He worked at establishing kosher kitchens in all of the DP camps, provided Tefillin for the men, established a printing press to print seforim for those who lost out on four to five years of Torah study: founded the first yeshivos in Europe after the war, arranged marriages for the young men and women who had survived, but had lost everything. He even provided shaitlach, wigs, for the women. He came to America to raise money and returned to Europe, claiming that he was needed there.

He arrived on these shores in 1947 and set about establishing schools and shuls -all of this with boundless love. He was not afraid to rebuke when necessary, but his rebuke was always couched in love. The Rebbe was an innovator and, in 1950, he laid the cornerstone for Kiryat Sanz. He built an entire city, but that was not enough. He wanted a world-class hospital with a nursing school that taught Torah as well as nursing skills. The list goes on: with his community in Union City, New Jersey; his Mifal HaShas, which provides the means for students from all walks of life to study Talmud and receive a stipend after they have successfully completed a written test. One wonders how he did it. How does an individual who had suffered so extensively and was so sick accomplish so much? It is as we said earlier: the power of ruchniyus. When one builds with spirituality there are no limitations. This has been proven time and time again. Indeed, the renaissance of Torah in this country since World War II is a clear testament to this fact.

The he-goat shall bear upon itself all their iniquities to an uninhabited land. (16:22)

The Yalkut cites what seems to be a Midrash Pliah, a Midrash whose rationale eludes us. The Midrash states that Hashem takes all of the sins of Klal Yisrael and places them on Eisav HaRasha, the wicked. Since Eisav is referred to as seir, he is the sair, he-goat, upon whom the sins of the Jews are placed. The Midrash continues with Eisav's complaint that he has enough sins to burden him already. Why should he have to also carry those of his brother? His refusal does not seem to concern Hashem. After all, Eisav has so many, a few more will not create much of a difference for him. In his Tiferes Yonasan, Horav Yonasan Eibshutz, zl, wonders why Eisav has to be the receptacle for Jewish sin. Is there a shortage of refuse centers where these sins can be disposed? If the purpose is to get rid of them, this can be achieved anywhere.

Rav Yonasan explains that there is a deeper meaning to this Midrash. When Klal Yisrael's sins are brought before the Heavenly Tribunal to be prosecuted, the angel Gavriel comes forward to defend them. "Ribono Shel Olam," he begins. "All of these transgressions are really the fault of Eisav haRasha. The Jewish People are no more than students of his evil ways. Perhaps they might be called good students, but students no less. Therefore, the sins of Your people should be placed on Eisav's head, for he is to blame."

Yes, we can lay blame at Eisav's doorstep. It is not our fault. It is the influence of the street, the contemporary society in which we live. It is all Eisav - not us. Perhaps, this is true. Eisav is the source of influence - but, we performed the actions; we sinned. Knowing the origins of sin is important, because then we can protect ourselves in the future. Horav Yaakov Galinsky, Shlita, cites the Talmud in Yevamos 113 that teaches us that the Mabul, Flood, did not reach Eretz Yisrael. Tosfos question why Noach had to have an ark to save him. Hashem could have provided safe passage for Noach and his family to the Holy Land where they would be protected from the waters of the Flood. The Zohar Hakadosh explains that whereas the flood waters did not actively reach Eretz Yisrael, it nonetheless had a detrimental effect on its environment, to the point that whatever life existed there ceased as a result of the Flood.

Rav Galinsky continues, reiterating the fact that our homes are under the influence of the "street." Whatever perversion prevails in today's society finds its way into our homes. Some homes even "invite" the "street" in, while others put on a show of self-righteous religiosity. They are not prepared to grant the "street" carte blanche access to their homes, but they do not seem to lock it out. Furthermore, if we would not be under the influence of the "street," it might be under our influence. When people see the beautiful lifestyle of an observant Jew, when they sense the serenity and joy that permeates his home, they are captivated. They would also like to experience such a life.

How many individuals have become observant after experiencing a Shabbos in a frum, observant, setting? They thought their life belonged in a garbage dump - only there could they experience joy. How difficult it must be for them to accept the truth when they ultimately discover it. We should never forget that we have the ability to influence those around us - if we want to and if we try.

The Talmud tells us that when Sancheirev was laying siege to Yerushalayim, Chizkiyahu haMelech entered the Beis Hamedrash and stuck a sword in the floor, declaring, "Whoever does not study Torah will be pierced by the sword!" The king was acutely aware of the beneficial effect of Torah study. He understood what would occur if the sounds of Torah would suddenly cease in the bais hamedrash. The commentators ask a compelling question concerning Chizkiyahu's action. Obviously, he was interested in making a powerful statement. Is the Bais Hamedrash, however, where people are studying Torah the place to make that statement? He should have gone out on the streets of the large cities to the cafes, fast-food restaurants, theaters and sports centers where people were occupied with nothing and make his declaration there. Why pick on the Bais Medrash?

Rav Galinsky explains that Chizkiyahu understood that if the learning in the Bais Medrash is up to par, then there will be no problem on the street - so compelling will be the influence of the Bais Hamedrash. Placing a sword in downtown Tel Aviv will have no effect, because the problem that exists there has its origins in the Bais Hamedrash. If the learning and camaraderie in the yeshivah are the way they are supposed to be; if the yiraas Shomayim, fear of Heaven, is on the proper level, it would have its positive effect on the citizens that make downtown their home. It is up to us to influence and inspire them, or it will be the converse. We attempt to blame everything on Eisav, but we forget that what Eisav was and what he has become is, in a great sense, our fault! He receives his lessons in life from us. When we live according to the way our grandfather, the Patriarch Yaakov taught us, Eisav's influence is left to the street. In fact, he improves his behavior due to our influence. It is when we give him a prominent place in our homes, our lives and that of our children, that we pay dearly for this experience. Indeed, we cannot blame Eisav for our ineptitude.

Va'ani Tefillah

Rabbos machshavos b'lev ish, v'atzas Hashem hee takum.
Many designs are in man's heart, but the counsel of Hashem - only it will prevail.

What is this pasuk teaching us? Is it telling us that Hashem is wiser than His creations? Clearly, this is so. Horav Bunim zl, m'Peshischa explains that we are being taught that the ratzon Hashem, will of Hashem, will prevail regardless whether the individual who is acting believes that his thoughts, plans, intentions are going to be carried out instead. It happens - a person thinks he can get away with doing what he wants - even if it does not coincide with Hashem's plans. He even goes so far as to do various activities that seemingly run counter to Hashem's will. In the end, however, it will become apparent to all, that not only were his machinations ineffective in halting the process that Hashem wanted; on the contrary, his own actions served as the conduit for executing Hashem's will! We think we can get away with it. How foolish we are and how ridiculous we appear, when we see clearly that we played into the Divine plan. The sooner we wake up and "get with the program," the sooner will we see the truth that we have been denying.

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

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