Back to This Week's Parsha

Peninim on the Torah

subscribe.gif (2332 bytes)

Previous issues

Rabbi A. Leib Scheinbaum
Hebrew Academy of Cleveland


When you kindle the lamps. (8:2)

Rashi explains why the passage regarding the Menorah and the participation of Aharon HaKohen in its lighting follows immediately after the dedication of the Mizbayach, Altar, and the contributions of the individual Nesiim, Princes, for this event. When Aharon noted that every tribe had been included in this ceremony except his own Shevet Levi, he became chagrined. Hashem responded to Aharon, saying, "Shelcha gedolah mi'shelahem," "Yours is greater than theirs. For you will kindle the Menorah." What is the meaning of "Yours is greater than theirs?"

The commentators offer various reasons for the distinction accorded to the lighting of the Menorah. In the Ethical Discourses of Yeshivas Bais Sholom Mordechai they focus on the word "gedolah," greater than, as if Hashem was emphasizing that Aharon HaKohen's virtue was greater than theirs. The mere fact that Aharon was concerned about being deprived of a mitzvah distinguished him from the others. Specifically, as a result of his devotion to the mitzvah, he merits to kindle the Menorah.

Elsewhere in this parsha we find a similar idea. A number of people could not participate in the slaughtering of the Korban Pesach. They were the individuals charged with carrying Yosef HaTzaddik's aron, coffin. Consequently, they became tamei, ritually contaminated. They came to Moshe Rabbeinu and stated, "We are contaminated…Why should we be diminished by not offering Hashem's offering in its appointed time?" The Sifri adds, "The Torah tells us that there were people, who were kesheirim v'chareidim al ha'mitzvos, proper and anxious/fearful concerning mitzvos. This means that if a person discovers that for some reason he is exempt from performing a mitzvah, yet he is concerned about the "loss" of a mitzvah, he is a kasher v'chareid. This is the true meaning of the term chareidi Jew, a person who is fearful of the loss of a mitzvah. They were pained; and hurt. Why should they be deprived of joining with everyone else? We may add that herein lies the deeper meaning of communal involvement. These people asked, "Why should we be diminished?" What does it mean to be diminished? I think that what they were implying was: by not being included in the communal sacrifice they felt themselves to be diminished, of a lesser stature. They felt that their non-inclusion created a void. They were not concerned as much about themselves as they were about the void their lack of involvement created in Klal Yisrael. They were concerned that by their "diminishment" Klal Yisrael would also be diminished. When a person's approach to the community is so selfless that he feels his non-participation will cause a vacuum, then he is worthy of having a new festival added by virtue of his thoughtfulness.

So shall you separate the Leviim from among Bnei Yisrael…for presented, presented are they to Me…in place of the first issue of every womb. (8:14,16)

The Leviim replaced the bechorim, first-born sons, as those who would serve in the Sanctuary. The Jewish first borns became holy in Egypt when they were saved from death, when Hashem slew every Egyptian firstborn. When the Mishkan was erected, however, the first borns' privilege to serve was revoked as a consequence of their participation in the tragic sin of the Golden Calf. Every Jewish firstborn was "redeemed" by a Levi - as the Levi took the place of the firstborn, the state of kedushah, holiness, that had previously been imbued in the bechor was now transferred to the Levi. There was one problem: there were 273 more firstborns than there were Leviim. How were they to transform from their state of holiness, so that they could now lead ordinary lives? Hashem instructed Moshe that for these 273 bechorim, he should take five shekalim per head/individual, and the money should be given to Aharon and his sons as the redemption of those in excess of the number of Leviim.

It seems simple enough. There is one question, however, to address: Why specifically five shekalim? It is indeed true that a thirty-day-old firstborn is redeemed for five silver shekalim, but that is because he is only a baby. Certainly, the price increases with age. This is indicated by the increase in price for an adult over a child in regard to the laws of arachim, evaluations. Rashi gives us an interesting response to this question. He explains that this was the price for the sale of Yosef, the firstborn son of Rachel: twenty pieces of silver, which is the equivalent of five silver shekalim. Now that we have considered Rashi's response, we must begin to understand the relationship between the sale of Yosef and the exchange of the firstborn for the Leviim. Reb Yitzchak Bunim, zl, gives a practical but penetrating response to this question. Let us for a moment think about the identities of those firstborn, - the original bechorim who were intended by Hashem to serve in the Sanctuary. They certainly were not ordinary people. They were to be Klal Yisrael's emissaries, Hashem's ministers, who were to offer up the holy korbanos. The Torah is teaching us a valuable lesson. When you are redeeming Hashem's servant do not minimize his value. Do not let him be worth less to you than what those Midyanite or Yishmaelite traders, who bought Yosef, were willing to spend for a young Jewish servant. "Pay for My servant," says Hashem, "at least what the heathen paid for a Jewish boy - not one penny less!" The emphasis, in other words, is not on how much the redemption money was, but, rather, on how little it cannot be.

The purpose of this thesis is to express the value of a Jewish child and to explore how we demonstrate this value. Let us estimate the cost of educating a child in today's public school system. Add to that the cost of high school and city college. I am not sure of the cost, but it certainly runs at least into the tens of thousands. In other words, if a Jewish boy were to go through the public school system, elementary, high school, and college, the city, state and federal governments are prepared to spend a small fortune in the attempt to educate him. If this is what the secular, non-Jewish world is willing to spend, then how much is it worth for us to develop a Jewish boy into a grown, intelligent, G-d fearing Torah scholar? If this was a criticism of our ancestors, how much more so will we have to give a reckoning for our lack of values when it comes to appreciating a contemporary Torah education?

Perhaps the next time we are approached to contribute to a Yeshivah, a Bais Yaakov, a Day School, let us take the above into account. It is not enough to give a token amount, because the American culture will have no problem giving more. What message are we conveying if the non-Jewish world puts a greater premium on a Jewish child's education than we do? Reb Yitzchak Bunim writes that he recently (forty years ago) read about a conference of missionaries held in Oakland, California. After a comprehensive report of their activities, careful calculation indicated that it cost them nearly $50,000 to convert one Jew to their faith. This was the price they were willing to pay to "save" one Jewish soul. By the way, the price has certainly risen many-fold over the last four decades. What is our response to this? One thing is for certain - leaving the shul prior to the appeal for the local school is surely not the way to counteract this. We should remember Hashem's admonishment to us: "Do not devalue My children! Do not give less for a Jewish child than others would give for him!"

Gather for Me seventy men from the elders of Yisrael…And I will increase some of the spirit that is upon you and place it upon them, and they shall bear the burden of the People with you. (11:16,17)

Moshe Rabbeinu was instructed to select seventy elders to replace those who had died. The Mishnah in Sanhedrin 2a regards these elders as constituting the Sanhedrin, High Court. They were to assist Moshe in leading the nation. This was apparently a very distinguished position. Thus, the men chosen to fill the role must have been the most eminent members of the nation. They must have behaved nobly and achieved a lofty level of scholarship in order to have been singled out for this honor. The Midrash tells us that actually they had been the foremen, the Jewish taskmasters in Egypt. When Pharaoh ordered them to punish their brethren, these unique individuals accepted the punishment and allowed themselves to be beaten in place of their Jewish brothers. They would not inflict punishment upon their brethren. For their willingness to protect their brothers and accept their pain, they warranted the distinction of being elevated to the Sanhedrin.

When a person demonstrates sensitivity to his fellow man, by feeling his pain, Hashem remembers this empathy, and He reimburses the person. When the time came to select the elders who would share in Moshe's burden of leadership, they were the ones who were singled out. Interestingly, the criteria for leadership was not piety or scholarship. It was empathy - because that is a quality that a leader must manifest if he is to succeed.

Why did you not fear to speak against My servant Moshe? (12:8)

The use of the term "fear" in regard to speaking "about" Moshe Rabbeinu - or any Torah leader for that matter - is noteworthy. One must demonstrate such reverence for our gedolim that to speak about them should evoke within us a sense of fear and trepidation. We are so distant from the spiritual plateau and perspective of our Torah leaders that we cannot begin to fathom their penetrating insight into everything - even those areas which we feel is not in their domain of expertise.

Horav Baruch zl, m'Kasov offers an excellent analogy to explain this further. There was a king who wanted to have his palace bedecked with beautiful paintings. He commissioned the finest and most talented artists to paint breathtaking scenarios, beautiful landscapes and splendid portraits to enhance his palace. When the decorating was completed, he invited his citizens from throughout the country to view the stunning palace.

Artist and layman alike came to feast their eyes on the unsurpassed beauty of the palace. Among those who came to view the palace was a simple farmer. He looked at many of the paintings. After awhile, he called one of the master artists over to him and criticized a painting. "In this drawing, you have stalks of wheat blowing in the wind and a bird perched on top of a stalk. How is this possible? A bird cannot balance itself on a stalk that is blowing in the wind." "You are correct," responded the artist, "I guess I was not thinking."

"But that is not all," continued the farmer. "Here you have a group of farmers following the plowshare. A farmer stands on the right side of the plow, while you have him standing on the left side."

The artist was slightly embarrassed for his error, and he quickly apologized. A few moments later, the farmer found another painting to criticize. In this portrait, the king's private servant was placing a vase in the king's study. "Stop right there!" the artist exclaimed. "I listened to your critique concerning the field and the plow, because it is an area with which you are acquainted, but what do you know about the king's private study? This is probably the first time you have been off the farm!"

The same idea applies regarding our attitude towards our Torah leaders. Do we have any idea of their penetrating insight? What does a simple farmer know about the occurrences in the king's private chamber? We must recognize our place and realize how distant we are from where they stand. Perhaps a dose of humility is in order. Interestingly, it is always the one who is most obtuse who expresses himself the loudest.

And Miriam and Aharon spoke about Moshe. (12:1)

Much has been written about the tragic effect of lashon hora, evil, disparaging speech. Perhaps, if we would focus on lashon tov, the far-reaching effect of positive speech, we would react more "positively" when we are admonished in regard to lashon hora. I recently read an inspiring story which communicates this message. The story takes us to South America to a kosher slaughterhouse managed by a certain Mr. Samo.

Every night, prior to closing, he would check to make sure everything was in order. One night, as he was about to lock up, Alex, the night watchman, approached him and implored him not to leave. "Mr. Samo, you cannot close up because there is still one slaughterer left in the building!" "Alex," Mr. Samo responded, "I have been checking this building for years. Trust me, there is no one left inside."

"Please, Mr. Samo," entreated Alex, "I am certain that he is still in here." Mr. Samo relented and thoroughly checked the building. Upon returning, he told Alex, "The building is clear. There is no one left inside. I am closing up."

"No, you cannot do this," Alex emphatically declared. " I have no doubt whatsoever that the slaughterer is somewhere in the building. You must check again!"

"Okay, Alex, but this is the last time. I will check the entire building." Indeed, Mr. Samo was moved by his watchman's overwhelming concern for the slaughterer. If he could care so much, the least he could do was look one more time. Mr. Samo returned and searched every nook and cranny in the building and found no one. As he walked by the large meat freezer, he thought to himself, "This freezer is huge enough to hold a person. What if the slaughterer entered the freezer and the door closed on him? Let me take a look and see. Who knows?"

One can only imagine the shock that overcame Mr. Samo when he opened the door to discover not one, but three shochtim, ritual slaughterers, nearly frozen to death. He quickly called an ambulance and rushed the three to the hospital. Apparently, earlier that day, the shochtim had entered the freezer to check the meat and the door slammed shut on them. They banged and yelled for hours, to no avail. They finally gave up and resigned themselves to a certain frozen death. It was just then that Mr. Samo came and discovered them.

A few days later, after the slaughterers were released from the hospital, Mr. Samo approached Alex and asked him, "How did you know for sure that something was amiss, that the slaughterer had not left the building? Furthermore, if you knew about one slaughterer, surely you also knew about the other two."

Alex responded with a deep sense of pride. "Ever since those men arrived from Israel a few months ago, one of them has gone out of his way to greet me in the morning and bid me goodnight at the end of the day. His sincerity and good cheer have been the hallmark of my day. Never has a day gone by that he would not greet me in the morning and say good evening when he left. That day, I remembered that he had greeted me in the morning but had not wished me good night. That is how I knew that he had not yet left the premises. I had no idea that the others were also inside."

What a powerful story! A simple greeting, made with sincerity, not only saved the shochet's own life, it also saved the lives of his two colleagues. This is but one of the far-reaching effects of positive speech.

Questions & Answers

1. What important lesson is derived from the fact that the Menorah was mikshah, beaten from one piece?

2. Why does the Torah emphasize that the journeys and campings of the Jews were always in response to the commandment of Hashem?

3.The trumpets were sounded for the tribes that camped on the ______side and _____ side. What about the other two sides?

4. Why did Hashem summon Moshe, together with Aharon and Miriam, if He only wanted to speak to Aharon and Miriam?


1.It teaches the need for achdus, unity, which is the intended purpose of the Menorah itself (Sforno).

2.The Torah stresses the fact that when they camped it was not due to their love for the place. When they journeyed forth they went willingly. Although the place they were leaving had been good for them, they were willing to leave on the spur of the moment, as a result of their love of Hashem.

3.Eastern and southern sides. Along with the tribes who camped on these sides, Bnei Gershon, Merari and Kehas would travel carrying the holy vessels. Sforno contends that since there were no Leviim on the other sides, it was not necessary to sound the trumpets. Ramban disagrees. Ibn Ezra suggests that since it was the Kohanim who sounded the trumpets, and they had already left with the Leviim, there was no one left to sound the trumpets.

4.Hashem wanted Moshe to know that He was scrupulous regarding his honor.

Sponsored in honor of the marriage of
Noach & Michal Scheinbaum


Peninim on the Torah is in its 11th year of publication. The first seven years have been published in book form.

The Seventh volume is available at your local book seller or directly from Rabbi Scheinbaum.

He can be contacted at 216-321-5838 ext. 165 or by fax at 216-321-0588

Discounts are available for bulk orders or Chinuch/Kiruv organizations.

This article is provided as part of Shema Yisrael Torah Network
Permission is granted to redistribute electronically or on paper,
provided that this notice is included intact.
For information on subscriptions, archives, and
other Shema Yisrael Classes,
send mail to
Jerusalem, Israel