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Peninim on the Torah

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Rabbi A. Leib Scheinbaum
Hebrew Academy of Cleveland


Speak to Aharon and say to him; When you kindle the lamps. (8:2)

Aharon HaKohen was chagrined that every Nasi participated in the Chanukas HaMishkan, dedicating the Sanctuary, while he and the tribe of Levi had been excluded. Hashem reassured him that his service was greater than theirs, because he was to prepare and kindle the Menorah. We must endeavor to understand how the kindling of the Menorah represents a greater spiritual service than participating in the dedication of the Mishkan. Horav Yechezkel Levenstein, zl, explains that every mitzvah that one performs is generally accompanied by a certain amount of physical benefit or pleasure. This physical dimension detracts from the spiritual dimension of the mitzvah. Indeed, the very fact that a human being is fashioned from earth, catalyzes a partnership of the physical and the spiritual in carrying out every mitzvah or spiritual endeavor. It is almost impossible to perform a mitzvah that does not involve an element of physical gratification. To the extent that one diminishes the physical component, one is thereby able to elevate the spiritual aspect of the mitzvah.

This is the underlying meaning of Hashem's message to Aharon. In the simple act of preparing and kindling the lamps of the Menorah, limited physical benefit is involved. Consequently, this mitzvah has greater spiritual value for the individual who executes it. It is a simple act, unlike that of offering animals for sacrifice.

In his Mesillas Yesharim, the Ramchal elaborates on this theme. He explains that each one of us has the capacity to make our physical body simply a temporary repository for the neshamah, soul. The body should not have more intrinsic significance than a vehicle for the soul to execute its function of fulfilling the Divine wish. The body is not here to be satisfied, but rather, to be maintained, so that it can function at its maximum as an agent for the soul.

In addressing the virtue of taharah, purity, Ramchal explains that purity refers to the perfection of one's heart and thoughts. This means that one should not anticipate the gratification of physical desires in his actions. One's deeds should be performed with intelligence and with reverence for the Almighty. The chassid, pious devotee, about whom the Ramchal speaks, the one whom he considers to be at the zenith of devotion to Hashem, is an individual who partakes of no luxuries or excesses. His food is simple; his clothes are modest. Indeed, his whole way of life bespeaks austerity and unpretentiousness.

Eating the most simple food can be enjoyable, and, indeed, it should be. Food that is tasteless is inedible. Hence, taking pleasure in discerning between the savory and the insipid is a requisite for proper nutrition. There seems to be no escape from enjoying food. This does not preclude the chassid's spiritual ascendancy. When partaking of anything physical, however pleasureful, he must do so with the correct intention - only to fulfill the Divine will. Self-gratification should not be a goal.

This is all part of Adam HaRishon's sin. The Midrash relates that when Adam ate the forbidden fruit for which he was cursed, "The land shall produce thorns and weeds, and you shall eat the vegetation of the land," (Bereishis, 3:18), he began to cry, "I and my animal shall be eating from the same trough," he said. Once Adam had succumbed to temptation and eaten the forbidden fruit, he realized the abyss to which he had fallen, for now his consumption of food was no different than that of the common beast. In attempting to rectify Adam's sin, ideally one should elevate his "achilah," consumption of food, to a level at which even those actions that are essential to survival are not carried out for physical enjoyment, but only to fulfill the Divine wish.

The true chassid views all physical behavior as a concession to existence, which should be carried out grudgingly. One might think that the concept is something unusual, which applies to a previous generation. This is not true. The true tzaddikim of every generation attain this zenith of service. Indeed, everyone is capable of acting in this manner, commensurate with his own level. We do not have to immerse ourselves in total self-gratification! Every morsel that we give up for Hashem elevates our spiritual plateau. This alone should more than compensate for the loss of some enjoyment.

Miriam and Aharon spoke about Moshe regarding the Cushite woman he had taken…Now the man Moshe was exceedingly humble…Why did you not fear to speak about My servant, about Moshe? (12:1,3,8)

In Hilchos De'os the Rambam defines a "holech rochil" talebearer, a baal lashon hora, slanderer, as one who maliciously spreads disparaging information about an individual. This applies even if the tale he bears is true. He adds that one who speaks lashon hora as a joke, to poke fun innocuously without malice, is still viewed as "touching" on lashon hora. It is considered avak lashon hora, "dust" of lashon hora. It seems clear from the Rambam, however, that unless one speaks lashon hora maliciously, out of hatred for his victim, he does not transgress the Biblical injunction against lashon hora. This is supported by the fact that the Chafetz Chaim considers avak lashon hora as being an issur midRabbanan, a Rabbinic prohibition.

Let us focus on Miriam's "speaking" against Moshe. In Hilchos Tumaas Tzaraas the Rambam perceives the incident of Miriam's lashon hora against Moshe as paradigmatic of the lashon hora whose offender is visited with tzaraas, a spiritually induced form of leprosy. Indeed, he cites Miriam's speaking about Moshe as serving as a lesson for us all regarding the effect of slanderous speech. If we were to analyze what occurred with Miriam, her behavior would not coincide with the severity of the punishment. Miriam spoke about her younger brother, whom she revered and admired. She risked her life to save him from certain death when he was placed in the river. She did not intend to hurt him in any way. Actually, her error was only in comparing him to other prophets and not realizing that he was in a class all by himself. Moshe himself certainly did not harbor any complaints whatsoever against his sister. Yet, she still suffered with tzaraas. How much more so should we be concerned when we speak lashon hora, when we maliciously slander innocent people.

In other words, Miriam's lashon hora should serve as a strong deterrent, a penetrating lesson for those who would dare to speak inappropriately of others. Now that we have established that Miriam's lashon hora was innocuous and without malice, why was she so harshly punished? Why is her slander regarded as a standard for evil speech?

Horav Shmuel Truvitz, zl, finds the root of the sin in Hashem's reprimand to Aharon and Miriam. "Why did you not fear to speak about My servant, about Moshe?" These glaring words bespeak the depth of their sin. They did not fear speaking about Moshe! Did they not realize who Moshe was, what he represented; his exalted position, unparalleled virtue and piety; and unusual relationship with Hashem? How did they dare to speak about Moshe as if he were just another human being? They did not properly appreciate his preeminence. They placed him on the same pedestal as other neviim, prophets. This in itself is a grave error, indicating their inaccurate perception of Moshe's greatness.

This is the essence of lashon hora: We neither fully realize, nor appreciate, an individual's true value. Aharon and Miriam underestimated Moshe; we, likewise, frequently do not judge people in their full context. We do not ascribe to them their proper prestige and recognition. A failure to hold an individual in his proper esteem is the seed from which lashon hora germinates.

This idea applies to all forms of lashon hora. The specific prohibition concerns actual speech, articulating slander against someone. The origin of the transgression, however, lies in one's blatant disregard, his lack of cognizance of his fellowman's value. The meraglim, spies, who returned from their mission with disparaging comments about Eretz Yisrael, catalyzed Klal Yisrael's mournful response and consequent rebellion against their leadership, to the extent that they impugned Hashem's "ability" to bring the nation into the Promised Land. The punishment for the lashon hora and its tragic results was forty years of wandering in the desert, parallel to the forty days of the spy mission. What connects the lashon hora which they spoke and their forty days of surveillance? Horav Chaim Shmuelevitz, zl, explains that it was the forty days of looking with "closed eyes", their myopic vision in not correctly perceiving Hashem's precious gift to them, that instigated their slanderous speech. The sin was slander - the cause was a lack of true perception, a flawed outlook, an inappreciation of the sacredness and uniqueness of Eretz Yisrael. While it was the spies that slandered, the people's response, their unwarranted weeping and complaining, indicated their affinity with the spies and agreement with their slander.

It is sad to say that people have not changed very much. We still speak lashon hora, and the origin of our disparaging comments has not changed - we disregard people. This is especially true in regard to the respect and admiration we should have for the Torah scholar, the educator, the one who devotes his life to Torah endeavor. Whether it is a lack of perception on our part, a failure to appreciate the positive and vital role they play in sustaining the spiritual fibre of the Jewish community, or just plain envy, some of us go out of their way to seek out the negative, to exploit a shortcoming, to accentuate any failing that might exist. Perhaps if we work on the origins, the results might be different.

Not so in my servant Moshe; in My entire house he is trusted. (12:7)

The Torah emphasizes the fact that Moshe Rabbeinu's nevuah, prophesy, is unlike that of other prophets, such as, Aharon and Miriam. Once Horav Simcha Zelig Reiger, zl, the Av Bais Din of Brisk asked Horav Chaim Soloveitchik, zl, the significance of the term, "b'chol baisi neeman hu," "in My entire house he is trusted," in regard to Moshe's level of prophesy. Indeed, in his Hilchos Yesodei HaTorah in which he enumerates the various differences between Moshe's nevuah and that of other prophets, the Rambam does not mention the concept of "in My entire house he is trusted."

Rav Chaim explained that when each of the neviim, prophets, conveyed his prophesy, he prefaced his message with the words, "ko amar Hashem," "so says Hashem," identifying the source of his prophecy. He was indicating that he was following Hashem's directive in his communiqu?. Indeed, if the individual did not dwell on the fact that it was Hashem Who commanded him to deliver this message, it was not considered to be a prophesy from Hashem. Thus, Klal Yisrael was not obligated to accept this message. On the other hand, because of Moshe's unusual status as a ben-bayis, member of Hashem's household, he did not need to preface his message with these words. It was understood that every nevuah that Moshe expressed was from Hashem's mouth. Moshe Rabbeinu's word was considered synonymous with Hashem's word. It was a given that what he said originated from the Almighty.

Rav Chaim explained this phenomenon in the following manner. The neviim did not limit their speech to prophesy. They had other conversations that, although spiritual in nature and oriented towards a more sublime goal, did not constitute prophesy. Consequently, when they were conveying Hashem's message, it was necessary for them to differentiate this speech from the others. Moshe Rabbeinu spoke only nevuas Hashem. Because everything that exited his mouth was Torah, it was not necessary to cite the source. Everyone knew that whatever Moshe uttered was transmitted from the Almighty.

What an incredible statement: Moshe embodied the highest form of nevuah, the closest relationship with Hashem. Nothing mundane existed in his sphere. His word was kulo Torah, all Torah. He represented it; he embodied it; he lived it. We may suggest that this is the idea behind Daas Torah, the wisdom that results from total immersion in Torah. One who has Daas Torah is an individual whose Torah values are integrated into his personality, with his understanding of Torah as the frame of reference for all of his rulings for Klal Yisrael, encompassing the community and the individual. As Moshe Rabbeinu was integral to Hashem's household, to the point that every word he spoke was the word of Hashem, so, too, does the Torah personality form a unified entity with the Torah, his life comprising a repository of its tradition.

This towering personality does not emerge overnight. It is the product of endless hours of study and thought, a brilliant mind coupled with an intensity of concentration. Furthermore, as the Maharal explains, one who studies Torah lishmah, for its own sake, becomes one entity with the Torah, with the power of the Torah becoming his power. Conversely, one who studies Torah for ulterior motives, for intellectual purposes or simply to become erudite in the fascinating and mind-developing sea of Torah knowledge, remains detached from the Torah. Thus, he does not benefit from any of the characteristics endemic to Torah proficiency. The authority that ensues with Daas Torah is the reward, the product of years of dedication, determination and diligence, studying Torah lishmah, coupled with yiraas Shomayim, fear of Heaven. The power of authority is never the goal, since this would undermine the entire process.

Horav Mordechai Gifter, zl, explains that Daas Torah is measured not as much by one's knowledge as by one's striving and yearning to acquire, to uncover, to plumb the depths of Torah. Daas Torah in stagnation is not Daas Torah. It must emanate from vibrancy and perpetual renewal of one's Torah knowledge.

Many people have become accomplished Torah scholars, but not gedolim. To achieve the distinction of gadlus baTorah one must become integrated with the Torah, his character traits and personality perfected by its lessons.

There is yet one other aspect that complements this individual's scholarship and erudition; a special gift. This gift from the Almighty to those who fear and cling to Him is "Sod Hashem L'yiraiav," the Divine secrets that Hashem imparts to those who fear Him. This is a critical component of the constitution of a gadol ba'Torah, Torah leader, guiding him in ways that cannot be limited to scholarship alone. The Torah authority who expounds Daas Torah is uniquely equipped to address the various problems from all facets of the entire spectrum of life. He is Divinely inspired, because he is Divinely connected.

Yet, there are people who refuse to accept or respect Daas Torah, claiming that acceding to the authority invested in individuals detracts from one's intellectual ability to question and to challenge. They view deferring to the wisdom and Torah perspective of gedolei Yisrael as an affront to their own intelligence. The hostility towards accepting Daas Torah stems from an almost childlike resistance to authority. The resentment among those who challenge Daas Torah is pernicious and, at times, bizarre. This is not a new phenomenon. Indeed, it dates back to Dasan and Aviram who were Moshe Rabbeinu's nemeses in Egypt and the wilderness. As Moshe triumphed then, so, too, will Daas Torah prevail over its antagonists. As our link to eternal truth, Daas Torah is our assurance that the Torah as given to us on Har Sinai will remain unsullied and that the chain of Torah transmission will continue uninterrupted. It represents our bond with the past, providing a measure of tranquility when we face the challenges and vicissitudes of the present. Indeed, Daas Torah is our only hope for the future.

Vignettes on the Parsha

From twenty five years of age and up. (8:24)

The Leviim did not enter the "workforce" until they were thirty years old. They studied and trained for five years after their induction into service. Horav Moshe Feinstein, zl, observes the incredible amount of time and diligence necessary to insure proficiency in only one mitzvah. We can only begin to imagine how much is demanded of us to master the rest of the Torah. Indeed, there is no limit to Torah study.


Yehoshua bin Nun, the servant of Moshe answered. (11:28)

Why does the Torah "entitle" Yehoshua "Moshe's servant." Is there significance to this label? Horav Mordechai HaKohen, zl, explains that being so close to Moshe, literally as his servant, Yehoshua had a profound appreciation of how difficult it was for Moshe to attain the spiritual plateau of nevuah, prophesy. Suddenly, he heard two young men prophesying in the camp. This disturbed him, because one does not suddenly become a prophet.


Now the man Moshe was exceedingly humble. (12:3)

How are we to understand Moshe's humility in the context of a person who spoke to Hashem? After all, Moshe achieved what no human being had ever achieved. How did he remain humble? Gelilei Zahav explains that Moshe conjectured that had any other person experienced what he had, they would be much greater and would have accomplished much more than he. This is humility.

We read in Tehillim 146:8, "Hashem gives sight to the blind; Hashem straightens the bent; Hashem loves the righteous." Why are tzaddikim, righteous, included with those that are physically challenged? The Kotzker Rebbe, zl, would say, "Anyone who views himself as a tzaddik is the biggest baal mum, the most blemished.


And (Hashem) said (to Aharon and Miriam) Please listen to My words. (12:6)

Sifsei Chachamim notes the use of the word "na," please. Although Hashem strongly disapproved of Aharon and Miriam's actions, He spoke to them gently. Had He spoken to them in an angry tone, they would not have accepted His admonishment. While they certainly would have listened, the effectiveness of the rebuke would have been diminished had Hashem not spoken to them in this imploring manner. What a powerful lesson in the "art" of giving tochachah, rebuke.

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