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Peninim on the Torah

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Rabbi A. Leib Scheinbaum
Hebrew Academy of Cleveland


And sent it with a designated man to the wilderness. (16:22)

The man who was appointed by the bais din to lead the he-goat to the wilderness was appointed the day before Yom Kippur. Chazal (Talmud Yoma 663) teach that he was accompanied on this journey by the yakirei Yerushalayim, dear ones, distinguished members of Yerushalayim's elite, who would drop what they were doing - just to accompany the ish iti on this unique journey. Imagine what these men were relinquishing. They could have remained in the Azarah and been spectators, observing the Kohen Gadol perform the Yom Kippur service. This inspirational experience would have impacted their lives forever. Yet, they acquiesced to leave, because they did not want the ish iti to go at it alone. This earned them the appellation yakrei Yerushalayim, the dear ones of Yerushalayim. They gave up an opportunity for personal spiritual advancement for the sake of helping a fellow Jew.

The Chizkuni quotes the Midrash that teaches that the ish iti would not live out the year. Despite the impending death sentence associated with the position of ish iti, there was no shortage of individuals who vied for the position. How are we to understand this? Horav Deutsh, son-in-law of Horav Moshe Halberstam, zl, relates that his revered father-in-law would often take his children to visit kivrei tzaddikim, graves of the righteous, to entreat them to intercede in Heaven for the living. Once, when they were traveling from Kever Rachel to Chevron, the Rav had the tendor stop the vehicle and everyone went out. "See, children!" the Rav would declare. "Right over here is the place where the seir l'azazel, he-goat, that was taken to the wilderness, was brought, and here it died, and this atoned for the sins of Klal Yisrael. I am sure that all of you remember what you learned in cheder concerning the ish iti who accompanied the he-goat. He died that year. Yet, Chazal inform us that a long list of distinguished Jews applied for this sublime work."

At that moment, the Rav broke into incessant weeping. When he calmed down, he said, "Children, remember this lesson. There is a powerful lesson to be derived from here: A Jew should be prepared to give up his life for the benefit of his fellow Jews. Why should the ish iti, who is sacrificing himself for Klal Yisrael, do it alone?"

Let us now address the function of the seir l'azazel and for which sins it brought atonement. There were two seirim, he-goats. The seir hapenimi, internal he-goat, the seir l'Hashem, was offered by Aharon HaKohen himself. He slaughtered it, accepted its blood, and sprinkled it in the Kodesh Ha'Kodoshim, Holy of Holies. It atoned for tumaas Mikdash u'kedoshav, ritual contamination which occurred or was brought into the Bais Hamikdash.

This is unlike its partner he-goat, which was neither slaughtered by the Kohen Gadol, nor was it sacrificed within the environs of the Sanctuary. Yet, it carried upon itself the atonement of all the nation's sins. Is this not anomalous? The he-goat which the Kohen Gadol slaughtered in the Bais Hamikdash atoned for a small, select group of sins, while the he-goat that was sent to the wilderness by a volunteer carried upon its shoulders the heavy load of Klal Yisrael's collective sins.

Horav Zalmen Sorotzkin, zl, quotes Horav Aharon Walkin, zl, who explains that the purpose of a korban, sacrifice, is for the one who offers it to take an educated and insightful view of what is happening to the animal. This would catalyze within him the realization, "If not for the grace of G-d, there go I." This should have happened to him as punishment for his sinful behavior. Out of His boundless love and compassion for us, Hashem overlooks this and instead allows for the animal sacrifice to take the place of the human. This insight will generate teshuvah, repentance, on behalf of the sinner.

When the he-goat which was slaughtered was sacrificed, the collective reaction of the nation was: "At the end of the day, we will all die. One-hundred-years from now, nary a single one of us will be here. If we are going to die, then what better place than in the Bais Hamikdash, with the Kohen Gadol officiating?" Such a reaction will certainly not inspire teshuvah. When they saw what happened to the other he-goat, which died a brutal death, its limbs torn apart as it is flung off a cliff, however, the people became nervous, their anxiety catalyzing mass repentance. Since the he-goat which was led into the wilderness engendered public repentance, it makes sense that it should have atoned for a multitude of sins.

Do not perform the practice of the land of Egypt in which you dwelled; and do not perform the practice of the land of Canaan to which I bring you. (18:3)

Canaan and Egypt were the two most morally depraved lands in the world. Furthermore, both the area in which the Jewish People lived in Egypt and the area in which they were destined to settle in Canaan were the worst parts of these degenerate countries. The influence of these decadent cultures can be overwhelming. Thus, the Torah warns us to be alert to the dangers which lure the unknowing into an abyss of decadence and immorality. The Ksav Sofer distinguishes between the evil perpetrated by the Egyptians and the degeneracy which was the way of life in Canaan.

The Egyptians were a cruel people. With utmost brutality they slaughtered Jewish children for their blood. They had no qualms about substituting Jewish infants to take the place of bricks. The Egyptian represented cruelty at its nadir. The Canaanim were not as evil. Perhaps they did not murder babies, but they were morally degenerate. Chazal (Bava Metzia 83b) say that when we notice someone who is an unusual mechutzaf, audacious, it is an indication that his pedigree is flawed and that he is a mamzer, illegitimate child, the product of an immoral union. This teaches us that moral degeneracy produces chutzpah, temerity, brazenness, and cruelty.

This is the Torah's message: Do not perform the practice of the Egyptians. Do no act cruelly as did the Egyptians. How does one prevent the cruelty "gene" from becoming a part of his family's DNA? Do not act immorally like the Canaanim. Immorality begets audacity which is the basis for cruelty.

This Torah thought is especially insightful in contemporary times, when society's moral compass has made an about-face and is hurdling south on a collision course. Morality must be defined by a Higher Authority, a Supreme Being, not given to the allures and temptations of a society in which decadence reigns supreme and degeneracy is as common as "apple pie." Morality determines what is right and what is wrong, what is appropriate and what is improper. As noted, however, a compass denotes direction; a moral compass is an indication of the direction to which morality must point. In contemporary society we are being bombarded and influenced by individuals whose compass has changed direction. Today, people act immorally and do so with impunity. Immorality begets chutzpah, and chutzpah is the godfather of cruelty. In a generation where arayos - immorality and forbidden relationships - have become the norm and are acceptable, and, by some, even championed, is there any question why there is so much unusual brutality, acts of cruelty that had been unheard of since the dark ages? It is Canaan all over again - and it will begat another Mitzrayim.

How does one protect himself from the temptations of the outside world? What does one do to overcome the fearsome power of the yetzer hora, evil inclination? Torah study - and more Torah study. Nothing else gives one the strength and the ability to deal with the wiles of the yetzer hora. Incidentally, one should never think that he has succeeded, because this, in itself, can be the greatest mistake and ultimate downfall. The following episode underscores this idea.

The Yehudi HaKadosh m'Peshischa was a chasid, follower of the Chozeh, zl, m'Lublin. This all came to an abrupt end one day when another distinguished follower of the Chozeh, an individual whom the Chozeh held in high esteem, slandered the Yehudi. The Chozeh, for some reason, accepted this chasid's unkind remarks concerning the Yehudi, and, in response, severed his relationship with the Yehudi. No explaining could mitigate the slander. The damage was done, and it seemed irreparable. The Chozeh refused to accept the Yehudi into his court.

The Kotzker Rebbe, zl, who was a disciple of the Peshischa, remarked that one can marvel at the power of the yetzer hora, who had invested sixty years of building up that slanderous chasid, to the point that he became unquestionably believed by the holy Chozeh. Imagine all of the man's mitzvos, good deeds, prayers and Torah study - all sponsored by the yetzer hora for one purpose - to use him as a vehicle to catalyze machlokes, controversy, between two holy people. He maintained the pristine nature of that chasid's reputation, so that he could make him appear as the paragon of virtue and ethicality. All this was to destroy a relationship between two giants of Torah.

Horav Yechezkel Levinstein, zl, echoes these sentiments. The venerable Mashgiach posits that, if someone presents a deficient middah, character defect, even at an advanced age - a middah which had heretofore never surfaced from this person - it has been with him throughout his entire life. It just never has had the opportunity to rear its ugly head - until now.

Bad middos are innate. A person is born with them and, unless he fights to expunge them, they will fester and germinate until one day they end their dormancy with a vicious appearance. That moment is not an aberration of one's otherwise fine middos and upstanding virtues. On the contrary, it is an indication of his innate hostility, middos raos, deficient character traits, that had never been extirpated from within him.


You shall be holy, for holy am I. (19:2)

Regardless of how we translate kedushah, holiness, it clearly represents a state of being which is above and beyond the usual. One may be good - wonderful - virtuous, whatever other adjective that comes to mind, but it does not mean that he is holy. It represents the next step. Once one has achieved all of the other appellations which define upstanding behavior - then there is kedushah, holiness. Interestingly, Kedoshim tiheyu, "You shall be holy," is a mitzvah which is addressed to all of Klal Yisrael - not just a select few. Every Jew is enjoined to achieve a level of holiness - not just good - but holy! How are we to define the concept of kedushah which applies to all Jews?

To understand the concept of holiness, we must address its Source. Hashem says Kedoshim tiheyu ki kadosh Ani - "Be holy, because I am holy." Hashem is the Source of kedushah. Thus, when one connects with Hashem, the closer he becomes to the Source of kedushah, he becomes holy. Having said this, we deduce that holiness is a state of spiritual or transcendent goodness, in which one who has achieved the requisite levels of virtue and uprightness is now unrestricted by the limitations imposed by the physical dimension. His goodness soars beyond the here and now. He is on a completely different plane. Perhaps this is why so much of our religious activity is focused on its transmission to the next generation. We believe in perpetuation, because our relationship is with Hashem, Who is eternal. We do not think only in terms of the present, we are focused on the future, because our religion is holy, and holiness is forever.

The Jewish People have always understood that it is not enough to be good - one must be holy. Holiness means unrestricted goodness, unlimited by time and place, and given to perpetuation. Thus, parents have sacrificed to inculcate Jewish values and tradition into the minds and hearts of their children, for if there is no future, then there is no present. The following episode, quoted by Rav Moshe Toledano, underscores this idea.

One night, in the summer of 2011, a funeral took place in Yerushalayim. An elderly Jew, who, for the last decade of his life had lived with excruciating pain, had passed away. Among the participants was Horav Yechiel Michel Stern, Shlita, Rav of Shechunos Ezras Torah, in Yerushalayim. In his eulogy he related the following story. In 1924, the great leader of European Jewry, Rav of Kovno, and author of the celebrated Dvar Avraham, Horav Avraham Duber Kahane Shapiro, zl, visited America. During his stay, a young couple came before him with a domestic "dispute." Obviously, this couple felt that the issue over which they were divided was important enough to take up this great gaon's time. The Kovner Rav was an undisputed scholar whose Torah erudition was unparalleled. Every minute of his day was meticulously devoted to Torah study and affairs of the klal, general community. Yet, this couple felt that their dispute was worthy of his input and mediation.

What was the point of contention between them? The husband claimed that his wife fasted every Monday and Thursday - a fast which is reserved for the most righteous. While he was impressed with his wife's piety, he was concerned that the fasting would be detrimental to her health. The wife did not deny his allegations. She fasted twice weekly, and she would continue to do so. Her rationale was: At present, she was in the fifth month of her pregnancy. She felt that raising a child in the spiritually deficient environment of America of those days was very difficult. She felt that she needed every bit of protection that she could garner for her unborn child.

The Kovner Rav was greatly impressed by the piety and spiritual innocence of this woman. He said, "Granted, your concerns are far from baseless. Yet, a pregnant woman must eat." Fasting may be detrimental to her health and to the health of her baby. He encouraged her to put an end to her self-deprivation. The woman listened respectfully to the Rav, then said that, while she understood that, as a Rav, he was correct in his decision, as the future mother of a child to be raised in America, she would follow her prerogative of fasting to protect her child. The Kovner Rav listened to what she had to say and was greatly impressed with her devotion. He, therefore, offered a compromise: She should cease fasting, and he would bless the unborn infant that, in his mother's merit, he would grow up to be an observant, committed Jew, who would be a nachas, spiritual satisfaction, to his parents. The parents were overjoyed with the Rav's assurance, and they left with the hope that their child would be a credit to his people.

Rav Stern concluded his eulogy with the following: "Eighty six and one half years have passed since that fateful day that the Kovner Rav gave his blessing to that young couple. Before us lies the deceased, Rav Yisrael Shimon Stern, who was the child born of that blessing. This child was born and raised in America in an era when it was not much more than a spiritual wasteland. It was the blessing of the gadol hador to a mother who was willing to sacrifice her very health so that her child would grow up a ben Torah.

Rav Yisrael Shimon was a close neighbor and confidante of Horav Shlomo Zalmen Auerbach. His father, Rav David Zussman, was the Menahel Ruchani, spiritual guide, of Mesivta Torah Vodaath. His entire life was devoted to Torah and chesed. He established a glorious Torah home that exemplifies his devotion to Torah and mitzvos. The last decade of his life was filled with excruciating pain. His legs could not carry him, and the open wounds were a constant source of infection. Yet, he never raised his voice in complaint. His face manifested a perpetual smile, because he felt that it was forbidden to complain. Whatever Hashem doles out to a person, he must accept with gratitude and joy. This was the product of America!

I think his mother's concern for the future, her anxiety concerning the future, exemplified the meaning of holiness. It was not enough for her alone to be observant. Her son had to be observant! For her present to have any meaning, her future and the future of her progeny had to be assured.

You shall love your fellow as yourself. (19:18)

Rabbi Akiva declares that the mitzvah of ahavas Yisrael, to love one's fellow as himself, is the fundamental rule of the Torah. Hillel paraphrased this mitzvah, Man d'alach sani l'chaveircha lo saavid, "What is hateful to you, do not do unto others." When a gentile came to Hillel and asked to be converted "while I stand on one leg," he responded with the above rule. The question is asked why Hillel did not use the pasuk, V'ahavata l'reiacha kamocha, to respond to the gentile. The Chidushei HaRim explains that, since the fellow was still a gentile, he was unable to grasp the positive aspect of the mitzvah - to love a Jewish person constantly and proactively. In his non-Jewish state, he could only grasp the negative - not to do something to another person which he would not want done to himself. This is a powerful statement which underscores the deep chasm that exists between the nature of a ben Yisrael and one who is not.

In his Shemen HaTov, Horav Zev Weinberger, Shlita, quotes the Bais Yosef who offers a similar statement. The Torah (Bereishis 21:33) writes, "He (Avraham Avinu) planted an eshel (either an orchard or an inn for lodging) in Beer Sheva, and there he proclaimed the Name of Hashem." In the Talmud Sotah 10b, Rashi explains how Avraham utilized the eshel as a vehicle for engendering spiritual ascendency. After wayfarers had enjoyed a refreshing repast, he would say to them, "You should bless the One from Whose food you have eaten. You think that you have eaten from mine? No! It all belongs to the One Who brought the world into being." The Bais Yosef wonders why Avraham asked them to make a brachah acharonah, after- blessing, following their meal. Why not a brachah rishonah, blessing prior to partaking the food? The Talmud in Berachos 35a, posits that one can derive the obligation to bless before one eats through a kal v'chomer, a priori logic. If one blesses after he is satiated, certainly he should bless when he is hungry! Why did Avraham not encourage them to bless Hashem before they ate? The Bais Yosef explains that, since they were still pagans, it would be sufficient that they bless once they had received pleasure. To ask them to bless before they even received the "gift" would be too much to expect. Once again, we note two aspects concerning loving one's fellow - positive and negative. To act affirmatively with sincerity, to be progressive in one's attitude to his fellow man, is, for some, a challenge. This is why one must work on himself to overcome the obstacles that stand in his way of achieving ahavas Yisrael - on the Jewish level. To refrain from harming another Jew is something that even a gentile understands!

One aspect of the love that one must manifest for his fellow is always to judge him favorably. There is no dearth of stories which highlight this quality. I recently heard a story concerning the Bobover Rebbe, Horav Shlomo, zl, that was enthralling. The Rebbe was known as the modern-day Aharon HaKohen, who exemplified the trait of Ohaiv shalom v'rodef shalom, one who loves peace and pursues peace. He sought every opportunity to accentuate the positive when it concerned a Jew - regardless of his actions or religious affiliation. He abhorred controversy in any shape or form. His smile manifest the deep and boundless love that he had for all Jews.

When Bobov first established itself on American soil following the Holocaust, their center of activities was on New York's West side. It was a small community, comprised of a handful of broken people who had experienced horrors that defied description. The glue that kept them together was the hope fomented by the Rebbe. His love was fatherly. He never questioned; he only encouraged - with a smile. For some, this was the difference between life and death - between religious observance and spiritual extinction.

One of the shul's members was a Polish Jew who had survived the war and followed the Rebbe to the West side. He would attend the services and participate in all of the Rebbe's activities. As he did with all of the others, the Rebbe took him under his wing, giving him a place of distinction among his small cadre of followers. One Friday night, he did not show up for davening, so the Rebbe asked his son, Horav Naftali, zl, to go look for him. Setting out for the man's apartment, Rav Naftali took a shortcut through Central Park. One can imagine the young man's (who was successor to his father's throne) shock when he noticed the man sitting on a park bench - smoking a cigarette - on Shabbos! Rav Naftali made an immediate about-face and returned home to tell his father the sad news.

The Rebbe listened to his son and replied, "He was not smoking; it was the Nazis who were smoking!" The subject was closed; the conversation had ended; there was no room for discussion. The Rebbe implied that what his son had seen, was an aberration attributed to the harmful influence that resulted from the tragedy of the Holocaust.

Two weeks later, the man returned to Friday night davening. The Rebbe honored him with leading the Shabbos zemiros. Later that evening, Rav Naftali was incredulous. "Tatte! He smoked on Shabbos! How could he lead the davening?" The Rebbe replied, "I told you before that he did not smoke on Shabbos; the Nazis smoked on Shabbos!"

Fast forward decades later, when the Rebbe asked Rav Naftali to accompany him to a sheva brachos, the festive meal honoring a nuptial ceremony. When they walked in, they were greeted by a scene that brought tears of joy to the heart. The man who had years earlier been standing on shaky spiritual ground was now surrounded by a family of Chassidic-bred, fully- observant children. He was resplendent in his Chassidic garb of shtreimel and bekeshe. The Rebbe looked at Rav Naftali and remarked, "I told you that he was not smoking; it was the accursed Nazis who were smoking."

The Rebbe's boundless love for a fellow Jew gave him the forbearance and insight to look deeper and see beyond appearances that belied the true essence of the Jew.

Va'ani Tefillah

Yotzreinu Tzur yeshuaseinu. He is our Creator, the Rock of our salvation.

We believe that our Creator and our Savior is One. Horav Shimon Schwab, zl, maintains that this verse states our clear declaration that we reject the concept of a bris chadashah, new testament, accepting a new savior to whom we look in times of peril and adversity. Christian dogma is founded in the notion of a new savior, a new testament, a new god other than the Creator. We believe that Hashem is the G-d of creation and likewise the G-d of history. He has been with us throughout the trials of history, and it is only upon Him that we rely.

Sadly, one of the methods used by messianic missionaries is to present a dichotomy between the Creator and the savior; otherwise, their false messiah would be put out of business. One whose faith in Hashem is on shaky ground might find some feeling of relief in accepting such dogma. It is so much easier to accept something "new" than to maintain belief in the tried and proven. This is especially true when the "new" makes no demands.

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