Back to This Week's Parsha

Peninim on the Torah

subscribe.gif (2332 bytes)

Previous issues

Rabbi A. Leib Scheinbaum
Hebrew Academy of Cleveland


This is the decree of the Torah… (This is the teaching regarding) a man who would die in a tent. (19:2,14)

In Yevamos 61a, the Talmud makes the following statement: "The graves of idolaters do not transmit tumah, spiritual contamination, by way of a roof. In other words, any person, utensil, article of clothing or foodstuff located under the same roof as a human corpse contracts tumah. This type of tumah is called tumas ohel, tumah by way of a roof, for it is stated: Tzoni, tzon marisi, adam atem, "Now you My sheep, the sheep of My pasture, you are adam" (Yechezkel 34:31). The Torah uses the term adam to refer to Klal Yisrael. We can, therefore, deduce that the Torah refers to "you" (Klal Yisrael) as adam, but does not refer to idolaters as adam. Chazal are teaching us that the laws of tumas ohel apply only to a Jewish corpse, since it refers only to a Jew as adam, which seems to be the defining characteristic for determining who can transmit tumas ohel.

Tosfos distinguishes between the terms adam and ha'adam, the man. While we find idolaters referred to as ha'adam, they are not considered adam. This seems questionable, since the term ha'adam, with the hay ha'yediah, the letter hay indicating a definitive "the," acknowledges and emphasizes "the" adam, attributing significance to this term. It is like saying the "select" man. How is it that idolaters, who are often compared to a species of creation far lower than a human, be referred to as ha'adam, while Klal Yisrael, the Chosen People, in whom Hashem prides Himself, is called only adam?

Horav Avigdor Halevi Nebentzhal, Shlita, quotes Horav Shlomo Zalmen Auerbach, zl, who explains that the term adam actually suggests two different meanings. First, adam is a derivative of the word adameh, as in "I will liken myself to the One Most High" (Yeshayah 14:14). Thus, since man is created in the image of G-d, he has the ability to elevate himself to great spiritual heights by identifying himself with the Creator, as he attempts to emulate His actions and follow in His ways. In this sense, adam means to imitate, replicate, to reflect and liken oneself in some way to Hashem by closely following His actions of loving kindness, etc. Adam, is also derived from adamah, earth, the source of all mankind. It is the place in which all humans find eternal rest as their physical bodies are returned to the earth.

The term adam, which suggests comparison to Hashem, encouraging man to emulate the Creator and follow His ways, cannot be preceded with a hay ha'yediah, since to adameh, imitate, is a verb, and a verb cannot be preceded with a definitive "the." This prefix is applicable only in conjunction with a noun, as in adamah, earth. It would then mean "the" individual who originates from the earth.

Both Jews and idolaters are called adam - but for two disparate reasons. The term adam, which is used to refer to Jews is a verb denoting their capacity for emulating the Creator. The hay ha'yediah does not apply in such an instance. We can refer to idolaters, who are called Adam because of their origin with the hay ha'yediah. This definitive "the" certainly does not grant them select status. It only emphasizes their inability to achieve spiritual ascendancy which reflects the image of G-d.

The Kohen shall immerse his clothing and himself in water. (19:7)

Ironically, the Kohen who is involved in preparing the Parah Adumah, which is used to cleanse someone of ritual impurity, himself becomes tamei, ritually contaminated, and likewise does his clothing. In his commentary to the Mishnah Parah 8:3, the Rash m'Shantz, writes that if by some chance the Kohen were not to be wearing his holy vestments during his preparations of the Parah's ashes, he would not become tamei. The Kohen contracts ritual impurity only when he is wearing his clothes. Why is this? What characteristic of the Kohen's clothes catalyzes his tumah?

Horav Mordechai Gifter, zl, explains that we must first understand the origin of clothing and its relationship to man. Prior to the sin of Adam ha'Rishon, each organ of man was used innocently as a vehicle to serve Hashem. As Sforno explains in his commentary to Bereishis 2:25, there was no difference between man's reproductive organs and the organs he used for eating and drinking. As a result of man's transgression, lust and desire became inherently associated with his reproductive organs, creating a need for him to cover them. The introduction of the yetzer hora, evil inclination, transformed man's entire composition. Thus, as a result of man's sin, clothing became an essential part of the human being, to the point that if man is lacking in clothing, he is not merely lacking in modesty; he is actually deficient in his essence.

A Kohen who is not wearing his vestments is not a "complete" Kohen. He is missing part of his essence. Therefore, he could not be rendered impure as a result of his contact with the Parah Adumah's ashes. Devoid of his clothing, he is bereft of his true human form. As a defective human being, this form of spiritual impurity does not affect him.

Based upon the Rosh Yeshivah's words, we have a new perspective on the concept of tznius, modesty, in dress. An individual, male or female, who is improperly covered, is lacking part of his or her essence. There is a deficiency in his or her human form. It is much more than an affront to the Torah's concept of morality and self-respect. It means that these people are lacking in their basic substance. This idea probably never entered their minds.

This shall be for them an eternal statute, and the one who sprinkles the water of the sprinkling shall immerse his clothing, and one who touches the water of the sprinkling shall be impure until evening. (19:21)

Rashi cites Chazal who say that the Kohen who actually sprinkles the water remains pure. The pasuk teaches us that the one who carries the water contracts a tumah chamurah, severe impurity, in that it renders impure even the clothes that he is wearing. This is unlike one who sprinkles the water. Furthermore, the Torah expresses this idea using the word mazeh, "one who sprinkles," to teach that the impurity does not transmit to the one who carries the water unless he is carrying a quantity sufficient for sprinkling.

The laws of Parah Adumah, Red Cow, are paradigmatic of the chok, commandments for which there is no expressed human rationale. These laws are considered an edict of the Supreme King - Hashem. They also serve as a lesson to teach us that, indeed, all mitzvos, even those that we seem to understand with our limited abilities, are to be viewed as royal edicts. One of the anomalies concerning the Parah Adumah is the fact that the Kohen who is occupied in preparing it becomes tamei, ritually contaminated, although those whom he is sprinkling, become tahor, ritually clean.

Horav Eliyahu Meir Bloch, zl, derives a powerful lesson from here which has practical application to the mundane, physical life we lead. One who studies Torah superficially, who barely "touches" it, is exposed to the danger of becoming ritually defiled. Torah is not something with which one can merely come in contact, without becoming wholly involved in it. There is no place for a desultory, one-dimensional relationship with Torah. It must become an inexorable part of one's life. The individual who "simply" carries the water mixed with the ashes of the Parah Adumah, whether there is someone tamei upon whom to sprinkle it or not, becomes defiled by virtue of the fact that he did nothing with the water but carry it. He did not appropriate it for its unique function of purifying others. The waters of the Parah Adumah have a function and purpose, which is to purify others. Anything less than that detracts from its purpose. Likewise, one who has the ability to inspire and influence others to follow the Torah way - to elevate their level of Torah study, to intensify their mitzvah observance - and does not, is using the Torah for personal reasons. Thus, he defiles himself, much like the Kohen who carries an amount that is fit for sprinkling - but does not sprinkle it on others. Torah study is a mitzvah, a way of life, a responsibility. Each of us has a moral obligation to use the Torah he gains to help others - not only himself.

And the people settled down in Kadesh, and Miriam died there, and was buried there. (20:1)

One would assume that if Miriam HaNeviah had died in Kadesh, that it would also be her eternal resting place. Why does the Torah emphasize that she was buried there? Horav S.R. Hirsch, zl, explains that Miriam's grave in Kadesh serves as a lesson to future generations that she did not leave this world until the next generation was prepared to enter into the future that was promised to them. Miriam had completed her mission on earth. When people would see her gravesite they would take note of her remarkable leadership and inspiration, realizing that she had left over a living legacy of inspired students - women who had learned from her example.

During Klal Yisrael's long sojourn in the wilderness, a sojourn replete with so many sad experiences, it was the women who were the least implicated in the frequent mutinies and defections that arose from the despair that plagued some of the people. Under these trying circumstances, it was the women who did their utmost to preserve the faith and maintain their fidelity to Hashem. According to the Midrash, this was the reason the women were not included in the decree that relegated the members of that generation to perish in the wilderness before the nation could enter Eretz Yisrael. As a result, the women of that generation, grandmothers and mothers, entered the land together with their offspring. A generation which did not experience the Egyptian slavery or exodus with its accompanying miracles, they were there to guide, to inspire, to recall the past and to prepare the next generation for the future. Their recollection of the past, of the auspicious, unprecedented events that took place in the desert, would inspire their grandchildren and great-grandchildren with the spirit of the G-d-revealing experiences which they had previously witnessed. The fact that these women had been so deeply and thoroughly imbued with the Jewish spirit may accurately be attributed to Miriam, who served as a shining example of a Jewish prophetess.

We wonder why Miriam succeeded in leaving a lasting influence on the women, while Moshe Rabbeinu and Aharon HaKohen were not successful in preventing such sins as the Golden Calf, the spies, and the dispute of Korach from occurring? Did Miriam demonstrate a unique form of inspirational qualities that her two brothers were lacking? Surely, this cannot be true. Perhaps the difference lies in their respective positions. As leaders of the nascent Jewish nation, a nation comprised of people who had heretofore been slaves for generations, Moshe and Aharon were given the difficult task of molding a nation, of creating a peoplehood out of individuals who had for generations been broken-spirited and understandably untrusting of any form of authority. This insecure attitude led to resentment, envy, and malice toward those who had been Divinely mandated to lead. While most of Klal Yisrael unquestionably accepted and revered Moshe, some dissenters managed to find fodder for their bitterness to germinate into invidious rebellion against Hashem's anointed.

Miriam was not in such a position. At least, she was not viewed as a threat to anyone's self-expression. Thus, she lived her life as a righteous and saintly woman, a paradigm for the nashim tzidkaniyos, righteous women, who faithfully supported their husbands, encouraging them to accept the travail and believe in Hashem. One day they would be redeemed from Egypt. In the wilderness, they attempted to dissuade their husbands from engaging in mutinous activity. Some succeeded; many did not. This sin of the people was the final straw for them. They wept that night for no reason, so Hashem promised to give them a reason.. They lost their opportunity to enter the land. Today, we have Tisha B'Av, our national day of mourning, to commemorate that night of unwarranted weeping which led to the destruction of the Batei Mikdash.

Inspiration is a powerful term, conferring enormous responsibility upon a person. One who has the ability to inspire, but does not, is grievously selfish. One who has been inspired by a person, regardless of his station in life, remains forever indebted to him. Above all, we must realize the compelling effect of inspiration - both positive and negative. I recently heard quoted in the name of the Klausenberger Rebbe, zl, who cited the following statement form the Chafetz Chaim, zl.

Leon Trotsky was one of the key figures in the Russian Marxist and Revolutionary circles. Later in his life, he became one of the central leaders of the USSR. The progeny of Russian Jews, he was born in Ukraine and named Lev Davidowitch Bronstein. Born with a superior intellect, he went on to use it to mold the Marxist party. Countless Jews in Russia were the victims both spiritually and physically of his philosophy and consequent actions. "Imagine," said the Chafetz Chaim, "if the cheder rebbe of the young Lev had gone out of his way to inspire him to learn Torah, to observe mitzvos, to warm up to Yiddishkeit, all of this might not have occurred." Do we have an idea of the powerful ability we have to inspire and influence our students? Tragic consequences can result if we are negative or even lax in fulfilling our mission to imbue Jewish children. One student did not make it, and millions of Jewish souls were extinguished. Do we need a more thought-provoking example of our power to inspire and our moral obligation to act constructively?

And Sichon assembled his entire people and went out against Yisrael in the wilderness. (21:23)

Rashi tells us an intriguing bit of information. Cheshbon, the capitol of Sichon's monarchy, was a city that was so fortified that it was considered impregnable. Indeed, had Cheshbon been a city of gnats, it still would have been safe from any creature. How much more so someone as powerful as Sichon, who, even had he been situated in a weak village, no one would have been able to conquer him. With these two extremes in place: a powerful king and an impregnable city, it was clearly considered impossible to defeat him. Hashem said, "Why should I trouble My children so much, to make them lay siege to each town? He, therefore, put the idea in the heart of all the warriors to leave their towns and go out to battle with the Jews in the green fields. They all gathered in one place, and there they fell in defeat. The Jewish army then went to each town, which was now left unprotected, and basically took over.

What an incredible story. What prompted Sichon to act so injudiciously? What prompted him to deliver his entire nation to the Jews on a silver platter? Horav Dovid Povarsky, zl, explains that it was his ego, his feelings of Kochi v'otzen yadi asah li es ha'chayil hazeh, "My power and my might made this great wealth for me." When a person believes in himself, he believes in a fool. Chazal are teaching us how far one can be misled by his own ego. Under normal circumstances, Cheshbon was a city that was considered impregnable. This led Sichon to believe that he was so mighty that no one could defeat him. Hashem demonstrated for all time how foolish this notion is.

In contrast, we learn how when Yosef Hatzaddik was presented to Pharaoh as a brilliant interpreter of dreams, he refused to take credit for his success. Instead, he attributed it all to Hashem. He sincerely believed that whatever success he was privileged to have was all due to Hashem. This is the way a Jew should live, always cognizant that whatever he possesses and whatever he has achieved is a gift from the Almighty.

How quickly we seem to forget that it is Hashem Who is constantly protecting and sustaining us. We have only to peruse the incident at the end of the parsha in which the people defamed the manna that sustained them. The ungrateful sinners were punished, bitten by fiery serpents whose poison made their victims feel as if they were on fire. This punishment was just recourse for those who slandered. After all, was not the primeval serpent the first slanderer? It was punished by not ever being able to enjoy the taste of its food. Then, in a sense, "it" punished the ingrates who complained about the "tasteless" manna. The antidote for their pain was to gaze upon a copper serpent that Moshe Rabbeinu had fashioned.

How did this cure them? It compelled them to deliberate, thus giving greater efficacy to their teshuvah, repentance. The sole purpose of the snake bites was to arouse the people to the constant dangers that surrounded them in the wilderness. They had to realize that their entire existence was due to Hashem's miraculous power which protected them from these perils. Regrettably, we too often do not recognize the "G-d factor" in our lives until we are "bitten" by the serpent. The Jew had to fix his gaze on the copper snake and acknowledge that, if not for the grace of G-d, he would be a victim to the snake and other hazards. In this manner, the individual remains cognizant of the existence of the perils through which Hashem's special protection guides him safely every day and at all times, without his realizing it. Every time we need a little reminder, we should think about the "fiery snakes" in our own lives. Just as the protective screen surrounding the Jews was removed, allowing for the snakes to attack the ingrates, so, too, should we fix in our minds the remedy of remembering the image of the snake, so that we circumvent any other "reminders" to stabilize our focus on the true Source of our continued welfare.

Va'ani Tefillah

Ashrei ha'am shekacha lo. Happy is the people for whom this is so.

How fortunate are we to be the individuals who are characterized by the term yoshvei veisecha, "who will dwell in Your house." Happy is the nation whose G-d is Hashem. We do not have to go further, but to look "outside" at the world around us, in order to realize the good fortune that we enjoy by being part of Hashem's nation. Furthermore, as the Levush comments, we praise Hashem for allowing us to be a part of the nation that is constantly praising Him. To praise Hashem is a privilege of which one must be worthy. We thank Hashem for granting us that entitlement. This is the meaning of true happiness. The opportunity to cling to Hashem, to achieve closeness to Him, is the greatest source of happiness. For once one achieves this zenith in his relationship with Hashem, nothing else matters. He has made it. He is there. He has achieved the ultimate relationship. All of the worries that would normally bog him down no longer trouble him. He has reached the pinnacle. If only we would realize the definition of good fortune. When one reaches a point whereby he is totally secure and has no worries, he has achieved the summit of happiness. One who becomes near to Hashem is not affected by anything else. He understands the "ashrei" of "shekacha lo."

Peninim on the Torah is in its 14th year of publication. The first nine years have been published in book form.

The Ninth 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