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Peninim on the Torah

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Rabbi A. Leib Scheinbaum
Hebrew Academy of Cleveland


When you kindle the lamps. (8:2)

Rashi addresses the juxtaposition of the chapter, which deals with the lighting of the Menorah, upon the passage relating to the korbanos, offerings, brought by the Nesiim, Princes, for the Chanukas HaMishkan, Inauguration of the Mishkan. He explains that when Aharon saw that neither he nor any other member of his tribe had been included in these offerings, he became depressed. Perhaps, it was his fault. Did his involvement in the sin of the Golden Calf preclude his inclusion in this auspicious moment? Hashem allayed his fears when He told him, Shelcha gedolah mishelachem, "Your task is greater than theirs! For you prepare and light the Menorah!"

Why was Aharon depressed? If anyone should have been crestfallen, it should have been Moshe, the leader of the Jewish nation, who was also a member of the tribe of Levi. Aharon could also have been discouraged, but the person who really should have felt morose was Moshe. Yet, Moshe was not upset over the apparent "rejection" of Shevet Levi. Furthermore, Shevet Levi was involved in the inauguration ceremony. Moshe was commanded by Hashem to communicate all of the instructions concerning the construction of the Mishkan. He brought most of the sacrifices, and he personally carried out most of the dedication service. How could Aharon have felt that Shevet Levi had been excluded?

HoRav Yaakov Weinberger, zl, cited by Rabbi Boruch Leff in his anthology of the Rosh Yeshivah's thoughts, "Forever His Students," explains that Moshe, by virtue of his having become the leader of Klal Yisrael, was no longer a member of the Tribe of Levi. One who ascends to national leadership loses his sectarian, narrow interests. He is a national figure - not merely a provincial spokesman for a limited group.

The President of the United States is no longer viewed as the governor or senator of a specific state. He has graduated beyond that. He reflects the entire country, because he represents the entire American people. He is the embodiment of the nation.

Moshe's engagement in the Mishkan cannot be viewed as representing Shevet Levi. He was beyond that. He was the leader of am Yisrael, and, as such, he represented the entire nation - all of the Shevatim - not just Levi. The Rambam, Hilchos Melachim 3:6, writes: "The king's heart encompasses the heart of the entire community of Jews." Thus, when one revolts against the king, his mutinous behavior is an affront to the entire nation, and he warrants the death penalty. The king is not "one" person. He is the nation.

The Rosh Yeshivah suggests that this is why David Hamelech was the author of Sefer Tehillim. The volume of Psalms is unique among literary works. It is a sefer whose verses are expressions of yearning, declarations of love, renditions of praise, statements whose relevance transcends time. They are intellectually and emotionally stimulating. The pesukim of Sefer Tehillim are an expression of the soul of Klal Yisrael, and accordingly, had to be authored by an individual who represented this collective soul. Who was better suited than David Hamelech, the "sweet singer of Yisrael" to be the one privileged with this function? As king of the Jewish people, he was acutely aware of-- and sensitive to--the variegated needs of his flock. He knew their challenges, understood their passions and frustrations, and felt their pain and joy. He was the heart of the nation.

This is the story of Klal Yisrael's leadership, the gedolei Torah, giants of Torah that lead each successive generation. In searching for the perfect way to describe Torah leaders, I came across Rabbi Henoch Teller's book, "Sunset," stories of the lives of gedolei Yisrael. In his preface, he cites a N.Y. Times editorial from the year 1967, following the Six-Day War. The caption of the article was written in large bold letters: Acharai. The writer was commenting on the credo of the victorious commanders of the Israeli army. He sought to underscore the difference between our people, its leadership, and that of our enemies. Acharai means "after me" or "follow me." Our nation's troops do not march leaderless into battle, at the command of a general ensconced in a plush, air conditioned office, or the safety of a protective bunker. Our leaders lead the attack; they go in front and call out: "Follow me." A leader must lead; he must stand at the forefront protecting his charges. This is what gedolei Yisrael are. They are not only erudite scholars; they boldly lead, take a stand, defend and maintain the dignity and sanctity of our holy nation.

We might add that while the word is read, acharai, "follow me," it could also be read, acha'rai, "responsible." A leader is one who assumes responsibility for the people, never thinking of himself until all of their concerns have been addressed. He does not shy away from controversy if it means defending Klal Yisrael, collectively or individually. His nation always comes first.

During the First World War, when many Jewish boys served in the armies of their respective European countries, the Chafetz Chaim, zl, refused to lie down in a bed. When he "slept" or actually dozed, it would be in a hard chair. He would say, "How can I sleep on my bed, when Jewish boys are suffering in the trenches?" That is true responsibility.

Then I assigned the Leviim to be presented to Aharon and his sons… and to provide atonement for Bnei Yisrael. (8:19)

In pasuk 16, after Hashem instructs Moshe Rabbeinu to separate the Leviim from the rest of Klal Yisrael, the Torah says, ki nesunim, nesunim heimah Li, "For they are given, they are given to Me." Sforno explains that the repetition of "give" refers to two separate givings. The first nesunim, given, refers to the time after the sin of the Golden Calf, when Moshe declared, Mi l'Hashem eilai, "Who is for Hashem should be with me," and the Leviim volunteered their services. The second nesunim refers to the giving of the Maaser, tithes, by Klal Yisrael as compensation to the Leviim for their service.

According to Sforno, Klal Yisrael gave Maaser, so that the Leviim would not have to work to support themselves and thus, be free to serve Hashem. Furthermore, by accepting the Maaser, the Leviim who replaced the bechorim, firstborn, provided Klal Yisrael with a means of atonement for their participation in the sin of the Golden Calf. In other words, a very strong relationship exists between the Jewish People and the Leviim. The people pay their dues via the Maaser, which supports the Levi and his family. In return, the Levi provides the atonement which the Yisrael needs.

HoRav Mordechai Gifter, zl, derives an important lesson from this pseudo partnership. The Levi is not a shnorer. He is doing nothing unethical by accepting support. In fact, if he does not take the Maaser, he is endangering the Yisrael's ability to achieve atonement. The Yisrael needs the Levi's spiritual abilities, and the Levi requires the support of the Yisrael. It is as simple as that.

Regrettably, this concept has been abused by both the Yisrael and the Levi, due to a lack of understanding. The Yisrael finds supporting the Levi a difficult undertaking, one which he does not understand. I think if he would have a greater appreciation of the value of Torah, understanding would be a non-issue. Indeed, the same Yisrael does not seem to confront such difficulty when it comes to supporting a secular program. Perhaps, it is because the success a ben Torah achieves in Torah is unlike that which is to be found in the secular disciplines. A ben Torah who has successfully navigated the labyrinth of Torah studies will not necessarily establish a hefty financial portfolio for himself.

The ben Torah must also acknowledge that by accepting the Yisrael's support, he is doing him a favor by enabling him to achieve atonement. The relationship between the Yisrael and the Levi is reciprocal, with each one respecting the contribution of the other. This is similar to a two-way street, where each driver respects his space. The problem arises when one wants to take up more space than is allowed in his "lane." There is sufficient room, if everyone watches where he is going.

Now the man Moshe was exceedingly humble, more than any person on the face of the earth…. "Why did you not fear to speak about My servant, about Moshe?" (12:3, 8)

Two descriptions are used to describe Moshe Rabbeinu: humble and servant. These two qualities have an intrinsic relationship in that a servant is humbled. Moshe serves as the prototype personality that sets the standard for prophecy. Only the unique individual who possesses the four qualities enumerated by Chazal can become a prophet. They are: gibor, physically strong; ashir, rich; chacham, wise; anav, humble. Elsewhere, Chazal make a statement which, at first, seems to contrast the qualities of a prophet. In the Talmud Nedarim 38a, Chazal state, "One who desires wisdom should turn towards the south, when standing in prayer. One who desires wealth, should likewise angle himself towards the north, for the Menorah, which was they symbol of wisdom was placed in the south, and the Shulchan, Table, upon which was placed the Lechem HaPanim, Showbread, which symbolized material well-being, was positioned in the north." Chazal seem to teach us that wealth and wisdom are not synonymous. One, who seeks wealth, turns one way, while the one who seeks wisdom positions himself towards the opposite direction. If one precludes the other, how can prophecy require both wisdom and wealth? Furthermore, there have been a number of distinguished, wise Torah scholars throughout history who were quite wealthy. How do these contending qualities coexist in harmony?

HoRav Nachman Breslover, zl, asks this question and replies that the simultaneous possession of these two qualities is possible in one who is humble, for "a person with humility does not have a place."

In his Michtav Eliyahu 4, HoRav Eliyahu Eliezer Dessler, zl, explains what the Breslover means with this cryptic comment. HoRav Mordechai Miller, zl, expands on this. What follows is a synopsis of their explanation. The Midrash addresses the qualities of wisdom and physical strength, delineating between gifts that originate from Hashem and those which do not. Thus, strength and wisdom, which do not originate from Hashem, eventually leave the person. Chazal cite instances of famous people who possessed these qualities and lost them, as a result of the fact that Hashem was not the source of their supply. Obviously, this Midrash begs elucidation. Is there anything that does not originate from Hashem? A gift which does not come from the Almighty is transitory. Is there such a gift? Hashem is the source of everything. Without Him, we have-- and we are-- nothing!

Rav Miller asks another question. A well-known Chazal teaches that prior to a child's entry into the world, it is decreed whether he will be clever or foolish; rich or poor. These gifts are predetermined before birth. If so, no exertion can transform a fool into a wise man, and in no way can someone destined to be poor become richer, regardless of his machinations. If so, how can Chazal refer to a person whose wealth or wisdom did not originate from Hashem? How else did he get it?

Chazal teach that Betzalel, the Mishkan's architect, was bestowed with wisdom by Hashem, Yahiv chochmah la'chakimim, "He gives wisdom to the wise." This teaches us, claim Chazal, that a person is bestowed with wisdom only if he already possesses wisdom. A princess once asked the sage Rabbi Yosi ben Chalafta: "Surely, wisdom should be given to someone who needs it - not to one who already possesses it?" He replied, "If a rich man and a poor man approached you for a loan, to whom would you be more comfortable lending?" "To the rich person," she replied. "He will find some way to pay back the loan, while concerning the poor man, I have no guarantee that my money will be reimbursed."

The sage explained, "The Almighty gives wisdom to one who will not squander or misuse it. Wisdom bestowed upon wise people will be utilized in a wise manner. It will not be wasted."

The fact that Chazal draw a parallel between lending money and the gift of wisdom indicates a relationship between the two. Clearly, if the question of giving money to the poor or rich were to present itself, one would give to the poor. What does lending money have to do with giving wisdom? Apparently, there is a powerful relationship, one that illuminates for us the perspective we must maintain towards Heavenly gifts which are bestowed upon us.

The fundamental principle to be derived from Chazal is that those gifts that are bequeathed to us from Heaven are not really gifts. They are loans granted to us for the enhancement of our spiritual development. Yes - all of the bounty that Hashem grants us is for a reason, and that purpose is not self-gratification. Complete ownership of an item is achieved only when one is allowed to do whatever he wants with his newly-acquired possession. If, however, it comes to him with stipulation and restriction, then he is not really its complete owner.

The wisdom we receive from Hashem is to be used for the furtherance of Torah study - not to revel in futile intellectual pursuits. The material bounty we receive is to be used for the enhancement of spirituality - not for indulgence in physical/material pastimes from which we derive no spiritual fulfillment. Physical strength is granted to us for the purpose of advancing Torah endeavors - not to exalt in our physical prowess. Whatever we receive from Hashem has a "string" attached: it is to be used with seichel, common sense, so that we become better Jews, more committed Jews, nicer Jews, more generous Jews.

Rav Miller now explains why Hashem grants wisdom to those who already possess it. The prerequisite wisdom is a reference to the knowledge and realization that money and resources are given to us for a purpose. They are basically "loans" from the Heavenly bank. With this in mind, some people comply with the loan's rules and apply the grant to appropriate uses. They act as faithful and trusted guardians of the grant which they have received, and, as such, will be worthy of receiving added "loans" such as: strength, money and intellectual acumen.

When a person realizes that what he has is really not his own, but a loan from Hashem, his attitude towards it changes. He has no pride in his wisdom, because it is not his. He has it only for the purpose of serving Hashem. There is no room for "I" or "mine," since it is all "His." "I" am only a caretaker who has been entrusted with a function.

Let us now return to the original question. Moshe is referred to as "servant" and "humble," two descriptions which we see are intrinsically linked one to another. These qualities are inherent and necessary in an individual who has been blessed with wealth, wisdom, or both. The possession of any of these qualities presents a constant challenge to man. It is his wisdom, his money. He begins to feel an unrestricted ownership; the money is in his domain, his makom, place. When this is the case, he can be certain that the money will elusively slip through his fingers. He will ultimately lose possession of it. If, however, he views it as a loan from Hashem, he will utilize his gift for the correct purpose. Therefore, he can hope to continue in this position for some time to come. It is the kind of loan that is not recalled.

This concept applies equally to wisdom, physical strength, or any qualities which Hashem bestows upon a person. If the person attempts to "grab" it for himself, to make it part of his makom, he will surely lose it. Under normal circumstances, Hashem refrains from conferring both of these gifts, wisdom and wealth, on a person at the same time. It is just too much for an individual to handle, too great of a challenge; that is, if he is "a regular" person. As Rav Nachman Breslover said, "An anav, humble person, has no place." Possession of these gifts is dependent upon the individual's attitude towards them. An anav does not view himself as taking up any place. He withdraws from any makom. Such a person will not abuse his G-d-given blessings, because his humility will prevent him from ever appropriating them to himself. He has no "place" to put them.

Likewise, a servant is not his own boss. He belongs to a master; someone owns him. His acquisitions belong to his master. A servant is a person who is divested of all personal identity. He has no personal domain. He has no place. Moshe was both an eved, servant, of Hashem and the most humble man on earth. Thus, he was able to merit all of the qualities of wisdom, wealth and strength. He had no makom, because he had no delusions of pride. After all, he knew that he belonged to Hashem.

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

Miriam commented concerning Moshe Rabbeinu's separation from his wife, Tzipporah. Hashem was angered by these comments, considering them lashon hora, slanderous speech, and He censured Miriam, saying, "It would have been wrong to speak about My servant, even if he were not as righteous as Moshe (the mere fact that he is My servant, should exclude him from your milieu). Additionally, it would have been inappropriate to speak about Moshe, even if he were not My servant. All the more so (is the infraction greater), if Moshe is My servant, and the servant of a king is (himself) a king. It is not without cause that I love him" (Rashi's interpretation). This is a very powerful critique which we simple people, thousands of years later-- who certainly have no concept of Moshe Rabbeinu --should take to heart, so that we do not utter an inappropriate word against our present day "Moshe Rabbeinus." What strikes me most about the pasuk is the word yireisam, "Did you not fear?" This indicates that our relationship and approach to Torah leadership must be one not only predicated upon respect, but also one of fear and awe. Only then, can we truly be assured not to be carried away every time we find it difficult to see eye to eye with their actions.

Horav Avraham Pam, zl, quoted by Rabbi Sholom Smith, in his latest anthology of divrei Torah from the Rosh Yeshivah, "A Vort from Rav Pam," would often explain Rashi's exegesis as relating to an incident that occurred hundreds of years ago between two Torah giants. The Chozeh m'Lublin and the Ketzos HaChoshen were both dynamic, all-encompassing Torah leaders. They were separated by hashkafic, philosophic, differences resulting from the fact that the Chozeh was a Chassidishe Rebbe, and the Ketzos was a misnagid, opponent of Chassidic doctrine.

It is important to have some idea of the background of this machlokes l'shem Shomayim, controversy for the sake of Heaven. Chassidus was founded by the Baal Shem Tov in the beginning of the eighteenth century. After the Shabbetai Tzvi debacle left much of Eastern Europe in a collective state of depression, much of the Jewish population suffered in terms of Jewish scholarship. This catalyzed a curtailment in religious observance. The average Jew was not connecting with Hashem. Enter the Baal Shem Tov with a doctrine that emphasized bringing G-d into all aspects of one's life, especially through prayer and singing. He taught that even the deeds of the simplest Jew, if performed with sincerity and devotion, were equal to those of the greatest scholar. Deveikus, clinging to Hashem, was a way of integrating Hashem's Presence into all areas of one's existence - not just by Torah study and mitzvah observance. This movement brought new and invigorated vision and depth to the entire corpus of Jewish thought.

Understandably, such a movement would have detractors, Torah leaders, whose concerns for the future intellectual and spiritual integrity of the Jewish nation was paramount. The Gaon of Vilna was the primary spokesman of the misnagdim, opponents of Chassidus. They felt that the chassidic concept of G-d being "in all things" was too close to pantheism. It would also lead to people believing that all things were equally holy. The idea that one elevates himself by attaching himself to a holy person was idolatrous. Moreover, there was a fear that Jewish scholarship and observance would be displaced by singing and dancing. Clearly, there were ample ideas on both sides to fuel a healthy dispute.

Returning to Rav Pam's "vort." The Ketzos was Rav in Satria, a small town in Galicia, who had among its Jewish population a number of chassidim of the Chozeh of Lublin. One month, they publicly conducted Kiddush Levanah, Sanctification of the new moon, after the latest time of the month prescribed by halachah. When the Ketzos, as Rav of the city, criticized their behavior, they insolently shamed him, treating him in a most contemptible manner. The Ketzos responded as any decent Rav would respond, and he placed them in cherem, excommunication, for thirty days. They were forced to leave town, so they traveled to their Rebbe in Lublin. How shocked they were, when, after asking for an audience with the Chozeh, they were rejected. They were told to return after the Ketzos' cherem was terminated.

Thirty days elapsed; the ban was over, and the chassidim came to the Chozeh with their list of complaints about the Ketzos. They were shocked and quite dismayed when the Chozeh berated their unseemly behavior. How does one insult the Ketzos? To make them understand their error, the Chozeh quoted Rashi's interpretation of the above pasuk. "What does Rashi mean when he says that Moshe and Aharon should have respected Moshe even if he were not Hashem's servant? If Moshe was not an eved Hashem, was there any obligation to honor him?" The question baffled the chassidim.

In order to elucidate Rashi, the Chozeh cited an episode from the Talmud Berachos 34b. Rabbi Chanina ben Dosa came to study Torah under the distinguished Rabbi Yochanan ben Zakai. Shortly thereafter, Rav Yochanan's son fell ill, and the Rebbe asked his student Rav Chanina to pray for his return to health. Rav Yochanan's wife was surprised, "Is Rav Chanina greater than you that you ask him to pray for our son? Are his prayers more acceptable than yours?"

Rav Yochanan replied, "Rav Chanina is like an eved, a servant before the king, while I am a sar, minister." Rashi explains that while a minister has greater eminence, his only access to the monarch is through an appointment or when the king summons him. A servant, however, is always in the company of the king and can therefore make requests of him at any time. This is why Rav Yochanan asked Rav Chanina to intercede on behalf of his son.

"A similar idea applies here," continued the Chozeh. "The Ketzos HaChoshen is a Sar HaTorah, one of the truly great Torah leaders of our generation. While he many not be a follower of the Baal Shem Tov, and he does not agree with our approach to serving Hashem, we must nevertheless give him the utmost respect. Under no circumstances may we impugn his dignity. We chassidim may consider ourselves servants of the King, but that does not give us license to be rude and disrespectful to such a man who may be compared to Moshe - af al pi she'eino avdi, "like Moshe - even if he was not My servant." A person should tremble in the presence of such a great Jew, even if his way of life and service to Hashem differ from ours."

Needless to say, the Chozeh's rebuke had the desired affect, and the chassidim returned to the Ketzos to apologize for their insolence.

Rav Pam concludes with an important lesson for us to absorb. I may add that it takes a gadol of Rav Pam's caliber and sensitivity to make this statement. While one may choose a specific path of service to Hashem which he finds most suitable for himself, he must be tolerant of others who choose a different, halachically valid path. Their service of Hashem is of no less consequence than the one chosen by us. Their adherence to a Torah leader - be it a Rav, Rabbi, Rosh Yeshivah, or Chassidic Rebbe-- must be respected, even if there is a variation in viewpoints and perspective.

Va'ani Tefillah

Vayevarech David es Hashem - and David blessed Hashem.

David Hamelech continues expressing publicly his praises of Hashem, so that the people who feel that Shlomo's rise to the monarchy heralds the advent of Moshiach Tzidkeinu will not lose sight of the purpose of Moshiach: the Revelation of Hashem's existence. In one of his final speeches to the People, David assembled the elders and related his preparations to build the Bais Hamikdash. He indicated that the wars which he fought resulted in a vast fortune, which he had added to the national coffers. It had all been placed in trust for the purpose of building the Bais Hamikdash. He had taken nothing for himself.

He reaffirmed that his young son, Shlomo, who would be his successor, would bring about the recognition and glory of the Heavenly Kingdom. Shlomo would direct the building of the Bais Hamikdash. David describes his vast fortune, reiterating that all of it was the result of Hashem's beneficence. His victories were not the result of his great prowess, but rather, because Hashem delivered it into his hands. He then went on to ask all Jews to contribute with him towards the construction of the Bais Hamikdash, just as their ancestors had done in the wilderness under Moshe Rabbeinu. David entreated Hashem that He accept these donations and that they serve as an eternal merit for the Jewish People. With this huge cache of material wealth serving as the backdrop, David begins his praise of Hashem: Va'yevarech David.

In loving memory
of our aunt
Yolanda bas Baruch A"H

Dr. & Mrs. Jacob Massuda

Peninim on the Torah is in its 18th year of publication. The first fourteen years have been published in book form.

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