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Peninim on the Torah

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Rabbi A. Leib Scheinbaum
Hebrew Academy of Cleveland


Say to the Kohanim, the sons of Aharon, and tell them. (21:1)

Rashi explains that the redundancy of the words, Emor, v'omarta, "Say to the Kohanim and tell them," is teaching us an important lesson. Emor v'omarta - l'hazhir gedolim al laketanim, "to caution the adults about the children." Basically, the Torah is expressing the significance of teaching the next generation. This concept applies not only to parents, but also to all of those charged with disseminating Torah. L'hazhir, to caution, may be derived from the word zohar, to shine/illuminate. It is imperative that the student notices the teacher's joy and enthusiasm about everything holy: Torah; mitzvah observance; acts of loving-kindness. Only when exhibiting these traits is he truly able to convey the beauty of being an observant Jew. It is not enough to merely teach; one must light up the students' eyes. This occurs when the student sees the rebbe's elation, his thrill and excitement at being able to impart his Torah knowledge to another Jew. When the teacher is enthusiastic about his work, the student senses its significance.

Horav Yitzchak Zilberstein, Shlita, relates the following story that occurred with Horav Binyamin Finkel, Shlita. In one of the developments outside of Yerushalayim, a lecture for baalei teshuvah, recent returnees to Jewish observance, was planned. Fifty people were to attend this shiur. As it would happen, the lecturer had a last-minute conflict that prevented him from attending. The organizers of the lecture called upon Rav Binyamin to give the shiur instead. Realizing the importance of maintaining credibility and continuity, he accepted the invitation. It took him considerable time using public transportation to reach the home of the sponsor. At first, he thought he had a wrong address; nobody seemed to be home. As he was about to leave, the door opened. A young man greeted him apologetically. Apparently, he had forgotten to organize the lecture and, therefore, no one had come.

Rav Binyamin had taken considerable time to travel to the shiur. He was not going to waste it. "Let us learn together," he said to the young man, whose name was Moshe. The man was excited about the opportunity for a "one on one" chavrusa, study partner, with the Mashgiach. He even brought along his young son. The seder ha'limud, order of study, was to study Mishnayos for thirty minutes, followed by thirty minutes of Talmud. Prior to the shiur, Moshe asked Rav Binyamin, "When we finish studying the Mishnayos, can you let me know?" "Surely," Rav Binyamin replied, not knowing why it was crucial for Moshe to know when they started studying the Talmud portion of the Shiur.

Thirty minutes had elapsed, and Rav Binyamin notified Moshe that they were about to begin the Gemara. Moshe arose from his chair. With great enthusiasm, he recited the Bircas Shehechiyanu. Moshe explained, "I have never studied Gemara before. This is my first time, and I wanted to thank Hashem for granting me the opportunity to study the Talmud."

Twenty years later, Rav Binyamin was walking down one of the streets in Yerushalayim when he was approached by a middle-aged man. To all outward appearances, he seemed to be a rav or rosh yeshivah. "Rav Finkel, do you recognize me?" the man asked. "Forgive me, but I do not," replied Rav Binyamin.

"I am Moshe, with whom you learned Gemara twenty years ago." "What brings you to Yerushalayim?" Rav Binyamin asked, visibly taken aback by the contrast between his present appearance and that of twenty years earlier.

"I have just taken a position as rosh kollel in one of the kollelim here in Yerushalayim. The Shiur that you gave me that night was the beginning of my total return to the Torah way of life."

Emor v'omarta: When the teacher demonstrates indifference to the subject and to the student, the lesson has a commensurate endurance. In contrast, when he displays excitement, joy and enthusiasm, he produces students of the caliber of Moshe, who followed in his path and continued his work.

Students are machshiv, appreciate and value, the Torah in the manner that the rebbe values it. In the following story cited by Rabbi Yechiel Spero, we see how a gadol, Torah luminary, valued the Torah. Horav Michel Forshlager, zl, was a brilliant talmid chacham, Torah scholar, whose volumes of commentary on Torah and halachah indicate his encyclopedic knowledge and utter brilliance. His hasmadah, diligence, in Torah study overshadowed even his erudition, so attached was he to Torah every waking minute of the day. Horav Yaakov Y. Ruderman, zl, Rosh Hayeshivah of Ner Israel in Baltimore would send the premier students of his nascent yeshivah on Friday afternoons to "speak in learning", discourse various topics in the Talmud, with him.

Rav Michel did not care about his material surroundings. His life's essence was nothing but Torah. Understandably, the American students who visited with him were somewhat taken aback with the sparseness of his living conditions. To put it simply: Rav Michel lived in abject poverty. His home had one focus: Torah study - and nothing else. When his guests would arrive, Rav Michel would greet them with a big smile. His table was piled high with open sefarim, as he researched and plumbed the depths of Torah and its commentaries.

Before he began to speak in learning, he would excuse himself, leave the room and return a few minutes later. His behavior seemed strange to the young yeshivah students: He went out to exchange his old worn-out sweater for one that was slightly less tattered. Rav Michel felt the need to explain his actions: "There is a reason for changing sweaters before I speak in learning with you. I own two sweaters - one is for weekdays and one is reserved for Shabbos. Before you walked in I was wearing the weekday one, but before I speak divrei Torah with two such distinguished yeshivah students, I feel compelled to put on my Shabbos sweater as a token of kavod haTorah, honor for the Torah, which you embody."

This is Torah study at its zenith. When one is machshiv Torah, he also values and reveres those who study and disseminate Torah. Regrettably, he who does not respect those who study the Torah is not demonstrating respect for the Torah either. This is to be noted especially by parents. Parents convey a critical message to their children by their every action. The esteem in which they hold their children's rebbeim foreshadows the respect the children will show to these same rebbeim. It always begins at home: Emor v'omarta, "the adults are cautioned regarding the children."

Say to the Kohanim, the sons of Aharon. (21:1)

The Midrash tells us that Hashem showed Moshe Rabbeinu an outline of the future, the various Torah leaders of every generation. He showed him Shaul Hamelech, the first king of the Jewish people, and the manner in which he died tragically by the sword. When Moshe saw this, he asked, "Is it proper that the first king to reign over Your children should perish by the sword?" Hashem replied, "You say this to me. Emor el haKohanim, say this to the Kohanim, whom he killed in the city of Nov. They serve as an indictment against him." Apparently, Moshe agreed with the Kohanim's incrimination of Shaul. His only question was in regard to Shaul being the first king. What is the significance of being first?

Horav Nosson Wachtfogel, zl, notes that throughout the Torah we find primacy and precedence given to the rishon, first. Terumah and Maaser have kedushah, sanctity, because they are first. Adam HaRishon's sin was overwhelming because he was the first man, thus attributing greater significance to his sin. Reuven would have been the Kohen and king over Klal Yisrael had he not erred. Even the gentile nations acknowledge the relevance and distinction to be accorded to the first, to the one who inaugurates a position. During the Polish Revolution, Marshal Wosilski, Poland's first marshal came to the president and demanded that he abdicate his position. The president was guarded by two powerful soldiers who moved forward to kill the seditious marshal. As they moved toward him, the marshal opened his tunic and declared, "Are you prepared to kill the first Polish marshal?" Upon hearing this, they immediately moved back, a move that heralded the beginning of the end for the Polish president.

Likewise, Moshe was claiming that Shaul was the first king and should, therefore, not have died such a humiliating death by the sword. Hashem replied by citing the pasuk, Emor el haKohanim, "Say to the Kohanim:" While it is true that being the first of anything engenders great distinction, how will you respond to the accusation brought by the Kohanim of Nov? They are also rishon, first. The Kehunah, priesthood, is honored first in every endeavor. Indeed, all of Shevet Levi receives distinction because they were the first ones to stand up for the honor of Heaven during the sin of the Golden Calf. After Levi was criticized by Yaakov Avinu, he repented and became the first Rosh HaYeshivah of the Shivtei Kah, Tribes. Yes, the fact that Shaul was the first king is of great significance. He reduced that significance, however, by killing the Kohanim who also had the advantage of being first. As with every honor, it is beneficial only if the individual values it. The favored position can only assist one who acknowledges the advantage that it generates. Apparently, Shaul did not respect the position of the Kohanim. Thus, his inaugural position of monarchy was similarly not honored.

Say to the Kohanim, the sons of Aharon, and tell them. (21:1) Rashi explains that the apparent redundancy of the words Emor, v'omarta, Say to the Kohanim and tell them, is a reference to the important role the adult Kohanim play in teaching the laws to their children. I was recently reading how the Brisker Rav, zl, raised his children and the critical significance he gave to supervising their educational development personally. While some of contemporary society's enlightened parents might feel his approach was a bit to the right of center, he succeeded in laying the foundation for generations of offspring dedicated to emes, spiritual integrity, and the Torah way. The Brisker Rav said later on in his life, that when he was young, he was personally aware of where his children were and what they were doing twenty-four hours a day, seven-days a week. Furthermore, his children were acutely aware of his supervision and impact upon every aspect of their lives. This probably would not be comfortable for some of today's children or their parents. They are not, however, gedolei Yisrael. The Brisker Rav was a firm believer that a child have a sense of freedom, but nonetheless the parent should monitor everything. Granting total freedom to a child is to court disaster. A parent should combine discipline with love, taking a deep interest in his life, regardless of his age. Yet, the parent should be strict with regard to granting him total independence.

The Brisker Rav did not waste money on frivolities or materialistic notions. On the other hand, when the demands were spiritual, he always found the money. Even if an old Chumash or Siddur was not worn or torn, if a child wanted a new one, the Brisker Rav purchased it. The greatest respect was accorded to his children's rebbeim. Consequently, the children learned to emulate these values in their own homes.

While there is much to be written about the Brisker Rav's approach to chinuch habanim, the following vignette summarizes it, teaching us what we should do in order to achieve success in raising our children. The Brisker Rav was once taking a stroll in Yerushalayim, when a man came up to him and said, "I am very envious of the Brisker Rav. All of his children go in the richtigen vehg, proper way, b'derech ha'Torah, in the path of the Torah, even though they were raised during turbulent times. Many other families, even some of the most distinguished rabbinic families in Lithuania, did not fare so well. Many of the young people were swept up in the revolutionary movements and the like."

The Brisker Rav did not respond. He simply listened and nodded his head in acknowledgment. Approximately one half hour later, he turned to his son, Rav Rephael, who was with him at the time, and said, "Ah, they do not know how many tears I shed as I shokeled, rocked, each baby in the carriages; how I prayed; and how many kapitlach, chapters, of Tehillim, I recited for them that they should follow in the path of Torah."

Rav Rephael followed in his father's footsteps. A master mechanech, educator, he raised his only child, a daughter, in the Brisker way of integrity and simplicity. He understood the crucial value of the home, especially when it came to a girl's educational development. He would say, "Whereas a son's domain is in the yeshivah, the daughter absorbs her Yiddishkeit primarily in the home. Parental example and life experience are her primary texts - even in contemporary times."

His daughter recalled an incident that demonstrated her father's approach to infusing his perspective of pashtus, simplicity, in her education at home: "I remember when I was young and about to enter the first grade. I was an only daughter, which would normally grant my parents license to spoil me. The situation was far from that. I was given a simple, homemade briefcase with the straps stitched on by hand. My maternal grandmother came over and declared, "I am buying her a nice new leather book bag with a matching lunch bag - a special set." My father said, "Wait a moment. She will not go to school the first day with both pieces of the set. If she does, it will cause jealousy. First, she will bring the book bag, then, a few weeks later, she can bring the matching lunch bag."

This orientation is quite different from that to which our children are accustomed today. Interestingly, many years later, Rav Rephael's daughter recalled the incident with pride as having a seminal influence on her life.

If the daughter of a man who is a Kohen will be defiled through having illicit relationships, she defiles her father. (21:9)

One would think that her sin is serious enough. Why does the Torah add that she defiles her father? In the Derashos HaRan the question is raised why Avraham Avinu was prepared to allow Yitzchak to marry into a family from Charan, yet he rejected anyone from Canaan? The people of Charan were idol worshippers, while the Canaanites were steeped in licentiousness and moral depravity. Is one form of malevolence less evil than the other? The Rav explains that both activities are reprehensible. The sin of idol worship is a philosophic distortion that a parent does not necessarily transmit from parent to child. A character flaw, however, such as moral degeneracy, is transmitted from parent to child. This is why the Torah adds that the daughter of a Kohen who debases herself demonstrates that her perversion and wanton behavior are part of her family legacy. Her perverse actions degrade her father, because they indicate a genetic flaw in her moral makeup.

In his Shoeil u'Meishiv, Horav Yosef Shaul Natanson, zl, applies this thesis halachically. Halachah states that a Kohen whose daughter apostatizes her faith may still duchen, bless the people. The Magen Avraham questions this law. Idol worship is a grave sin. Should the father not be held in contempt for his daughter's actions?

The Shoeil u'Meishiv contends that a father is discredited only when the child's transgression is such that it reflects the parent's moral turpitude. If the sin, however, is one that bespeaks a child's cognitive perversity, an imperfection in his philosophic perspective, the onus of guilt is not attributed to the parent.

They placed him under guard to clarify for themselves through Hashem. (24:12)

Rashi explains that the blasphemer was incarcerated because Moshe Rabbeinu was not sure if he was to be punished with the death penalty or not. The commentators question this. What reason could there possibly be for not executing him? Is he any better than an individual who curses his parents, a sin that is punishable by death? Certainly, one who blasphemes the Almighty is guilty of a treasoness offense that should carry with it the death penalty. Horav Tzvi Hersh Ferber, zl, explains that the Heavenly Tribunal adjudicates in a manner similar to that of earthly judgment. Let us approach this transgression from an earthly perspective.

Imagine a person of ill repute, a drunkard and ne'er do well, a depressed, poor man whom life's many opportunities have passed by. If he were to stand in the street and publicly curse the king, would anybody listen? Would anybody make a public outcry? No! Because he is a nothing. True, he would be punished, but he would not be executed, because to do so would be to validate his very existence. If a powerful, distinguished, nobleman were to commit the same transgression, he would surely be put to death, because the sin is weighed relative to the sinner. A nobleman who humiliates the king commits a public act of treason. He must be executed as a demonstration of the king's power and authority. When a man of no standing insults the king, it is not considered to be much of an insult.

The same idea applies to the incident of the blasphemer. He was a person of questionable lineage, descending from the union of an Egyptian father and a Jewish mother whose moral behavior was reprehensible. Such a person certainly did not maintain a high regard in the community. Thus, conceivably he should not receive a serious punishment. Nonetheless, the verdict issued against him was death, since it is important to destroy the few thorns in the vineyard before they have an effect upon the grapes.

Va'ani Tefillah

Birchos Hashachar - Brachos of the morning.

Asher nossan la'sechvi binah l'havchin bein yom u'bein laylah. "Who gave the heart understanding to discern between day and night."

Rashi and Tosfos both define sechvi as a "rooster." The word binah, understanding, is derived from the word, bein, which means to distinguish between things. Hence, understanding means the ability to discern between - to make the fine distinction between - night and the beginning of day. Horav Shimon Schwab, zl, explains that this brachah praises Hashem for giving the rooster this innate ability to "understand" between night and day. The rooster's brain is miniscule, yet it has this unique gift, a cognitive ability to distinguish between night and day. What does this have to do with human beings?

The Alter, zl, m'Slabodka cites the Talmud in Berachos 59b which asks, "What blessing is recited for rain? Rabbi Yehudah says, 'We thank You Hashem for every single drop that You caused to descend.'" "This teaches us", explains the Alter, "that we must thank Hashem for everything that we receive from Him - regardless of its size." We do not merely thank Hashem for the collective rain, but for each individual drop. Thus, when we thank Hashem for man's seichal, his ability to think and evaluate, we should simultaneously appreciate every "drop" of seichal, cognitive ability, that He has created, even the most infinitesimal: that of the sechvi, who distinguishes between night and day. We acknowledge and pay gratitude to Hashem for all of our faculties, from the greatest to the smallest, because they all comprise His gifts.

In honor of
Rabbi and Mrs. Neustadt
on the occasion
of the Bar mitzvah
of their son,
Akiva n"y

Mr. and Mrs. Eli Adler

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