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PARSHAS ACHREI MOS/KEDOSHIMAfter the death of Aharon's two sons, when they approached before Hashem, and they died. (16:1)
The Midrash says that when Iyov heard about the tragic deaths of the two sons of Aharon HaKohen, he said, Af l'zos yecherad libi v'yitar mimkomo; "Even for this, my heart trembles and it leaps from its place" (Iyov 37:1). Iyov had suffered as no other man. He believed that he did not deserve such extreme pain and misery to be visited upon him. He had led a virtuous and pious life, and he had done no wrong, certainly nothing of the caliber to warrant such serious punishment. He claimed that the physical/emotional pain of losing his children and his possessions paled in comparison to the mental anguish of losing his exalted standing among his peers. He was devastated, and he could not find any reason to justify his pain. His friends attempted to present reasons for his punishment, all of which Iyov vehemently refuted. He had done no wrong.
At the end of Sefer Iyov, a new participant enters into the debate - Elihu ben Barachel. This young man becomes incensed with the failure of Iyov's friends to give Iyov a satisfactory cause for his suffering, thus allowing him to justify his self-righteousness. Elihu begins his explanation by saying that, while Iyov may have valid questions, he must understand that one cannot argue with Hashem. This alone is the reason he is wrong. Man can ask questions, but he cannot engage Hashem in a debate as if he were the Almighty's equal. One addresses Hashem in the form of a request or a prayer, but never as an argument or critique.
Having said this, Elihu alludes to what happened to Nadav and Avihu, citing Aharon's non-reaction Va'yidom Aharon, "And Aharon was mute" (Vayikra 10:3). Here Iyov posits that no one had ever suffered as he did, and that no one had accepted, albeit grudgingly, his lot in life as he did. Now he hears about Aharon HaKohen. This created within him the sensation of, "My heart trembles, and leaps from its place." He begins to delve deep into his own reactions, wondering if there ever had been any justification for his questions. Perhaps all of his issues are the result of a lack of emunah, faith, in Hashem?
The question that glares at us is quite simple. Based upon the timeline of history concerning the life of Iyov, he lived either during Moshe Rabbeinu's period or later. Thus, he was certainly aware of the tragedy that had befallen Aharon's sons, as well as the unusually noble reaction of Aharon to this conflagration. Why, all of a sudden now, after Iyov himself had sustained the loss of his sons and other miseries, did he begin to tremble? Why had he not trembled earlier - before he became a partner in suffering?
Horav Chaim Zaitchik, zl, derives a practical lesson from here. One does not hear someone else's pain until he himself has suffered in a similar manner. That is human nature. After Iyov himself suffered greatly, he was able to appreciate Aharon's reaction to a similar tragedy. When he perceived the incredible strength of character exhibited by Aharon, his unequivocal faith in the Almighty, his ability to accept the hand of strict justice without uttering a word of complaint, Iyov began to tremble. He saw that the little pedestal of questions that he had erected for himself was wrong.
Zachrah Yerushalayim yemei anyah u'merudeha, "Yerushalayim recalled the days of her affliction and sorrow" (Eicha 1:7). Simply, this means that, while in exile, the nation recalled the churban, destruction, that precipitated their present affliction and sorrow. In its commentary to Eichah, the Midrash defines merudeha as being derived from marod, to revolt/rebel. Thus, the pasuk is interpreted in the following manner: In the days of her affliction, the nation came to acknowledge and remember its revolts against Hashem. Rav Zaitchik explains that when life is good, the sun is shining in one's face, the hour is filled with joy, it is impossible to speak with the person concerning his past wrongs, his failings and iniquities. He is on cloud nine, and no one can penetrate his smug feeling. He believes he did no wrong, and, thus, he is firm and resolute; he goes on doing his own thing, ignoring the signs indicating future concern. Everybody is wrong, except him. After all, look, he has it made! Furthermore, he is unable to listen to the pleas of those who are suffering, whose lives are filled with constant misery. Someone who has it good cannot taste the bitter life of the individual whose life is a constant challenge.
When the tables are turned and the errors of the past come to haunt him, when all those "innocent" iniquities prove to be not quite so innocent, when payback time is beginning to take its toll on him, his mind becomes open to the plight of others. When the high and mighty begin to fall, they are suddenly blessed with eyes that see others and with ears that hear their pain.
It is difficult: to feel the cold when one is in a warm room; to understand hunger when one has just had a six-course dinner; to be sensitive to the needs of others when one seems to have it all. One winter, when the city of Brisk had no heat, its Rav, Horav Chaim Soloveitchik, zl, left his heated home and stayed in the shul. He explained, "I cannot feel their cold as long as I am in a warm home."
Horav Elazar M. Shach, zl, was a legend in his empathy for a fellow Jew. No favor received ever went unrequited. No Jew's pain was ignored. He did not alleviate their pain - he personally felt it. In a classic hakoras hatov, gratitude, episode, related by Rabbi Paysach Krohn, we learn how the Rosh Yeshivah acknowledged and paid back a favor he had received many years earlier.
It was a cold, dreary, rainy day in Bnei Brak. Rav Shach was well into his nineties and very frail. Yet, he asked his grandson to arrange a car for him, so that he could travel to a town near Haifa. The grandson was not happy about this request, claiming that the Rosh Yeshivah was in ill health and too weak to go out in the inclement weather. The Rosh Yeshivah was adamant. He had to attend the funeral of a certain woman.
It took two hours to reach the cemetery. The grandson figured it would be a large funeral if his grandfather was making such a supreme effort to attend. He was wrong. There was barely a minyan, quorum, in attendance. A small group of elderly men and women braving the cold, wind and rain, stood in solemn respect around a freshly dug grave, It was truly a sad experience. Apparently, the woman had had no children, and the few remaining relatives and some neighbors gathered together to pay her final respects.
When the funeral was over, the venerable Rosh Yeshivah recited Kaddish Yasom, the Mourner's Kaddish. He stood there a few moments amid the pelting rain and simply stared at the grave. His grandson attempted to take him to the car, but Rav Shach was not yet ready. It almost seemed as if he wanted to remain in the cold rain and get wet. Finally, shivering and shaking, the Rosh Yeshivah signaled that he was ready to return.
Clearly, this entire day, beginning with his grandfather's request to attend the funeral, to stand out in the cold, stymied Rav Shach's grandson. He expressed his incredulity. The response came by way of a story, which speaks volumes about Rav Shach's perception of the middah, character trait, of hakoras hatov, gratitude.
When Rav Shach was a young boy of twelve, a yeshivah for select illuyim, brilliant students, opened. There was no dormitory, and food was sparse. The older students slept on the benches of the shul, while the younger ones found a place on the floor. Rav Shach was by far the youngest student. Despite his youth, he was granted a place on a bench. This attests to his brilliance and dedication.
While the conditions were tolerable in the spring and summer, the harsh winter brought its challenge. There was no heat. It is difficult to sleep on a hard floor; a cold floor is almost impossible to sleep on. A few months of this physical deprivation was getting to the budding young scholar. After all, he was only a "kid." What made things worse was the letters that arrived from his uncle, a prosperous blacksmith, asking his nephew to join him in the business. The young boy ruminated over the offer. Veritably, he wanted to learn and dedicate his life to Torah, but if he froze at night and, as a result, could not sleep, he could not learn. He might as well become a frum, observant, prosperous professional. He decided to give it one more day before making a decision.
That morning, a woman came to the yeshivah with a small wagon filled with blankets. Apparently, her husband was a blanket salesman, who had tragically been killed in an accident. She was here to donate the remaining blankets to the yeshivah students. Rav Shach was one of the fortunate recipients of a blanket. It made a world of difference for him, and it played a critical role in keeping the young boy in yeshivah that winter.
End of story? No. Rav Shach went on to become the gadol ha'dor, preeminent Torah leader of the generation. That woman, regrettably, had a sad life. She never remarried. After moving to Eretz Yisrael, she settled in Haifa. She died as she lived: quietly, without fanfare. "This is why I attended her funeral," Rav Shach said to his grandson.
"But why did you keep on standing there, after the funeral, getting soaked to the skin?" the grandson asked. "It has been so many years since that incident, and, over time, one tends to forget. I wanted to remain out in the cold, so that the frigid sensation that gripped me then would inspire me now to pay the proper gratitude for her gift."
No one, no one of you shall approach any kin of his flesh to uncover nakedness…and you shall not give any of your progeny to pass it to the Molech… I am Hashem. (18:6,21)
After enumerating a list of sexual aberrations, the Torah concludes with an exhortation not to pass one's child to the molech god. Horav S.R. Hirsch, zl, explains the rationale for this juxtaposition. He suggests a practical reason for the prohibition of the laws concerning ervah, physical relations with close relatives, explaining that a relationship between husband and wife should be predicated upon bonds of mutual love, which is the result of marriage. Any relationship which has been linked prior to marriage by bonds of mutual attachment and affection, or of familial love, precludes the link founded in - and based upon - marriage. This transforms the relationship into nothing more than crude physical attraction, which is common in the animal kingdom. If the marriage is founded upon the ideals of Torah, then what otherwise is ervah is elevated to the sphere of mitzvah.
The law against passing a child to the molech teaches us that, just as children should be the product of a marriage built upon love and not blind physical urges, so, too, should the lives of these children not be given over to the random workings of some blind physical force. Children are to be conceived under the protection of Hashem's law, hence the prohibitions concerning ervah. Likewise, their lives and fortunes are also dominated by Divine protection and guidance!
Regarding the children, Hashem says, Ani Hashem, "I am G-d." Your children must be educated in My ways. Children must be "turned over" to Hashem - not to the Molech. Our children do not belong to us. They belong to Hashem, and we should raise them in that manner. Raising children is a privilege which is accorded to parents as long as they understand that they are nothing more than Hashem's agents. When parents make decisions concerning their children's education based upon their own personal preferences, they are abusing this privilege. Molech was a pagan godhead, the service of which represented a parent acting without direction from Above. This is not the Torah way. Throughout the millennia, Jewish parents have sacrificed in order to provide their children with the proper Torah values. They have realized the trust that Hashem placed in them. Horav Shmuel Wosner, Shlita, was asked if there was truth to the story that his mother had given up a career as an opera singer after a great tzaddik, righteous person, promised her that if she did, she would be blessed with a son who would achieve even greater fame in the Torah world. He replied, "I never heard her say it, but my mother encouraged my learning, saying that I have no idea what she gave up for me!"
Speak to the entire congregation of Bnei Yisrael, and you shall say to them, "You shall be holy for I am holy." (19:2)
A while ago I received a call from a Peninim reader, concerned about the fact that I had distinguished between the focus of punishment meted out to a Jew and that meted out to a gentile. Hashem's punishment of the Jewish nation is therapeutic, to elevate and better the individual Jews. The punishment that Hashem metes out to the gentile world is punitive. Apparently, more is demanded of us. The caller took issue with the notion that I was differentiating between people. I apologized, but reality is what it is. At times, it might make us uncomfortable. In Parashas Kedoshim, we are presented with the injunction, Kedoshim tiheyu, which basically exhorts the Jew to strive for holiness. We are different; our lives are different; our goals and objectives are different. In order to achieve what is expected of us, we must maintain ourselves on an elevated status of morality, ethicality and holiness. This is why Kedoshim tiheyu plays such a critical role in Judaism.
Daber el kol adas Yisrael, "Speak to the entire congregation of Bnei Yisrael." The pasuk emphasizes that this command should be delivered to the entire nation assembled together. Rashi explains that this section of the Torah was spoken to an assembly of the entire nation. This is because a majority of the essential elements of Torah are dependent upon it. Rashi's comment begs elucidation. Was not the entire Torah transmitted to the whole congregation? The Torah is not exclusionary. Its mitzvos apply to everyone. Why was this particular section of Torah presented in a communal setting? Indeed, Rashi details the dynamics of the teaching process to Klal Yisrael. In the process, the entire congregation received one lesson; the Zekeinim, Elders, received two; Bnei Aharon heard these lessons, and Aharon HaKohen heard it four times. Thus, everybody was taught the Torah. Why is Kedoshim tiheyu singled out to be taught to everyone at one time?
The Sifsei Chachamim explains that the other lessons were addressed primarily to the men, while the mitzvah of Kedoshim tiheyu was spoken to all: men, women and children. Alternatively, the Torah was normally taught to the people in sections, allowing for parts to be explained. Parashas Kedoshim was unique in that it was read to the people in one continuous address. Maharal adds that, whereas the nation was not compelled to attend the other Torah teaching sessions, the gathering for Kedoshim tiheyu was compulsory. All were required to be in attendance. Apparently, Kedoshim tiheyu, replete with its many mitzvos addressing kedushas Yisrael, the sanctity of the Jew, could not be missed; they could neither be heard in chapters, nor could the nation be broken into groups for its address. They had to all be together, to hear it all in one session. Why is this?
Horav Mordechai Miller, zl, analyzes what it means to have Hashem in our presence and the implications. He cites the Mishnah in Pirkei Avos 3:7, "If ten people sit together and engage in Torah study, the Divine Presence rests among them, as it is stated, Elokim nitzav ba'adas Keil, 'G-d stands in an assembly of Keil.'" The Mishnah continues that Hashem's Presence rests on a group of five people, citing the pasuk, "He has established His gathering upon earth." Using the pasuk, "In the midst of Judges He judges," Chazal say that the Divine Presence resides in an assembly of three. Two people also have the opportunity for Hashem's Presence to be in their midst, as it says, "Then the G-d-fearing people spoke, one man to his neighbor, and Hashem listened and heard." Last, they prove that this Divine phenomenon applies even when one person studies Torah, quoting the pasuk, "In every place in which I cause My Name to be mentioned, I will come to you and bless you."
This Mishnah evokes an obvious question: If a single, solitary person feels Hashem's Presence when he is engaged in a spiritual endeavor, why is it necessary to quote other pesukim to prove that larger groups sense Hashem's Presence as well? The Mishnah enumerates these pesukim by design. Eitz Yosef explains that each of the pesukim describes a different manifestation of Hashem's Presence as it rests among us. When a person studies alone, Hashem says, Avo eilecha, "I will come to you." Avo is a term used to describe a chance encounter. When two people study together, the usual expression is Vayaksheiv Hashem va'yishma, "Hashem listened and heard." This indicates greater intent and an increased sensation of His Presence. As the number of people ascends to three, five and ten, the degrees of manifestation of Hashem's Presence likewise increases.
Rav Miller derives an important principle from the Mishnah: Hashem manifests His Presence in our midst, in varying degrees. The larger the group, the greater the intensity with which the members feel His Presence. A minyan, quorum of ten, feels Hashem's Presence more fervently and with greater passion than a group of five. Five people have a deeper awareness, a more profound knowledge of His Presence, than a smaller group of three, two or one. Additionally, the feeling of closeness to Hashem does not necessarily have to be inspired exclusively by Torah study. It may be precipitated by any gathering that is for the sake of Heaven, which increases kavod Shomayim, the glory of Heaven. Any assembly whose focus and goal are to spread the light of spirituality in the world, earns the Divine experience. The larger the number, the greater the intensity and more potent the feeling of the Divine Presence.
Hashem never leaves us, regardless of our iniquitous actions. The problem is that when we sin, we become spiritually defiled, causing us to become numb. We are unable to sense the Divine Spirit within our midst. A great Chassidic Master said, "One can be for Hashem, or he can be against Hashem, but he cannot be without Hashem. The Almighty is always there."
If a Presence exists even when the individual is in spiritual decline, one may deduce that it certainly exists when he is on a lofty spiritual plane. Hashem's Presence is magnified in greater intensity when the entire nation gathers together for the exclusive purpose of hearing Hashem's word. This was the nature of the Hakhel gathering. It was an experience that was without equal. Certainly, Hashem's Presence was felt in a manner that was unprecedented and unrivaled.
With this in mind, we must acknowledge something of which we are acutely aware deep down, but all too often ignore. Hashem is with us all of the time. His Presence is felt even stronger when we are in shul, with many other Jews. Yet, this awareness does not seem to accomplish anything for us. Does it change how we act, how we speak, how we interact with others? Does our mode of prayer take on a new fervor knowing that Hashem is with us - waiting, listening? We have an awesome responsibility to maintain standards that acknowledges the Company that is constantly accompanying us.
You shall not make a cut in your flesh for the dead…My Shabbosos you shall observe and My Sanctuary shall you revere. I am Hashem. Do not turn to (the sorcery of) the Ovos and Yidonim (those who claim to speak with the dead). (Vayikra 19:28, 30, 31)
There is no way of getting around it: the death of a loved one is one of life's most crippling experiences. This is especially true for the death of a parent - regardless of his or her age. Respect for parents and the deceased has long been one of the hallmarks of Judaism. When a parent passes on to the World of Truth, the surviving family reacts with grief, followed by public displays of reverence. The family observes shivah, the seven-day mourning period. Sons recite Kaddish for eleven months following the death of a parent. It is a time when one is able to attend to his/her emotional needs, as well as to acknowledge an intellectual appreciation of the deceased both in general and, in particular, his/her own personal relationship. The Kaddish prayer is a form of sanctifying and affirming that the Torah ideals which had been so much a part of the life of the deceased continue unabated in his/her offspring.
The Torah decries over-excessive mourning and displays of grief. This was a practice employed by the pagans, who either venerated death or considered it the very end to everything. Judaism is life -oriented and encourages mourning practices that are restricted and life-affirming, such as Shabbos observance, Torah study and praying in a shul. This explains the juxtaposition of the above pesukim.
The Bostoner Rebbe, zl, relates that in America, circa 1930 through 1950, the only Jewish observance which Jews kept religiously, the only contact they had with their local shul, was to recite Kaddish for the passing of a parent. They kept very little to nothing else, but Kaddish for a parent was different. Jews in those days had respect for parents. They represented an old world from which the children had divorced themselves. In some instances, their parents represented their last ties to Judaism.
The Rebbe relates that once on a long, hot summer Shabbos, he was giving a shiur in Pirkei Avos in the Bostoner shul. In the middle of the shiur, a young man dressed in work clothes entered and asked the Rebbe, "Can I ask the Rabbi a question?" The Rebbe promptly responded in the affirmative. Obviously, the young man did not understand that one does not interrupt a shiur.
Apparently, he had just lost a parent a few days earlier, and he was still in the middle of shivah. Just before Shabbos, someone had mentioned to him that shivah is not observed on Shabbos, since it is inconsistent with the joy inherent in Shabbos Kodesh. The Rebbe confirmed this. The fellow looked at the Rebbe, and, in all seriousness born of naiveté, he asked, "Can I go to my Saturday job as usual, or must I sit at home?"
The question bespoke an innocence which was the consequence of ignorance of his own religion and was heartbreaking. He had heard of shivah, even Yizkor, but Shabbos - one of Judaism's staples - was foreign to him. He had not the vaguest idea what Shabbos was all about. He typified members of the American Jewish community, an entire generation of Jews lost to their heritage. At least this generation was aware of - and understood - the significance of sitting shivah. Regrettably, the generation which followed was clueless about shiva as well.
That was "then." What about "now"? Decades ago Jews, regardless of their affiliation and preferred mode of Jewish observance, made a point to remember parents. Shivah and Kaddish were Jewish fundamentals which they remembered and to which they adhered. After all, it was for their parents. It is for this reason that I wonder how we have strayed so far, so quickly, from these basic rituals. Yes, the family aspect which was so prevalent, the togetherness of family which was the symbol of reverence for the deceased parent, is something of the past.
We are living in a time when death creates a vacuum - a leadership void - which creates the opportunity for sibling rivalry. The greater position, the more lucrative the material bounty, the more covetous and grudgingly the various family members become of one another. Sides are taken, positions are carved out and the love and harmony which reigned for a lifetime have suddenly been torn asunder. All for a couple of dollars and a little kavod, glory. The neshamah, soul of the deceased, cries out, "What about respect? Where is your Kibud Av V'Eim, respect for parents?" Is this what a parent deserves to witness while he/she is in the Olam H'Emes, World of Truth? This is what I mean: Life was much simpler then. They did not know Shabbos, but they understood the significance of shivah. Today, we are aware of Shabbos, but have lost the true meaning of shivah. Well, it is all part of the same Torah. One does not go without the other.
Borei refuos - He creates cures.
Once again, we return to the underlying concept of Hu levado, "He alone." Hashem is behind it all. This is probably most ignored in the world of medicine - not necessarily only by the physician, who is acutely aware of how helpless he really is, but even by the patient, who views the physician, the therapy and medications as the source of his healing - when, in fact, it is all Hashem's work. There is no doubt that we constantly hear of medical advances, new medicines and new skills that save countless lives on an almost daily basis. The problem is that the more we hear, the more we think and begin to believe that these advances are all part of science, all the products of scientific discovery and brilliant acumen. The Malachim, Angels, see and know the truth. It is the Hu levado, Who, is Borei refuos, creates cures. Hashem prepares the wonders of medicine which benefit our lives. The gift of intelligence which the scientific researchers "seem" to possess; their insight and brilliance; their skills and successful findings are the products of Hashem, Who grants them the possibility for these discoveries. When we recite these words we should imbue ourselves with this awareness so that we not lose sight of the truth.
Rachel bas Avraham a"h
Dr. Jacob Massouda
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