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Peninim on the Torah

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Rabbi A. Leib Scheinbaum
Hebrew Academy of Cleveland


Say to the Kohanimů.Each of you shall not contaminate himself to a (dead) person among his people. Except for the relative who is closest to him. (21:2,3)

The Kohen is invested with greater kedushah, sanctity. Thus, he may not come in contact with tumah, spiritual contamination, which symbolizes its antithesis. The Kohanim, who have been selected from among the Jewish nation to serve the Almighty in the Sanctuary, must adhere to a higher standard of holiness. If this is the case, why may they defile themselves to the seven close relatives? Is this not some kind of a double standard? Tumah is tumah. Why should family ties make a distinction?

In addressing this question, the Sefer HaChinuch, explains, "Its ways are ways of pleasantness, and all its paths are peace." (Mishlei 3:17) The Torah did not want to burden emotionally the heart of the Kohen, who has just lost a close relative. The thought that they are unable to express their pain and sorrow over their loss effectively would be too disturbing. This is a compelling response. Should the Torah abolish a prohibition of tumah because of a person's emotions? Clearly, the Kohen is in a troubling and sad predicament, but he is a Kohen, a role which makes demands on a person. Distancing oneself from tumah is a prohibition that comes with the territory.

Horav Nosson Ordman, zl, derives from here that Torah and mitzvos are given to a person commensurate with his abilities and tendencies. Hashem does not demand of a person that which he is incapable of doing. Everything has been determined with exactitude by Heavenly calculation. If the mitzvah has been given, this means that a person is capable of performing it. If it is not given, it is an indication that Hashem has determined that it is not something we can handle - for whatever reason. Tumah to close relatives has been sanctioned by the Torah, because it is otherwise too difficult for the Kohen to cope.

We find a similar dispensation with regard to the go'el ha'dam, redeemer of the blood, someone whose close relative has been the victim of an unintentional murder. The Torah provides a city of refuge where the murderer may flee to protect himself. Yet, it does not prohibit the redeemer of the blood from killing the murderer. Why? Once again, we see the Torah's sensitivity to the feelings of this relative. He cannot control his emotions, as he is driven to exact some form of revenge from the murderer. While he is wrong and revenge is not in man's domain, his feelings are natural and understandable and˙ therefore, the Torah takes them into account.

We find other mitzvos that provoke a challenge from the yetzer hora, evil inclination, but they are not beyond man's ability to carry them out. With the Torah at his side, he is able to cope and triumph over adversity.

Finally, the Sefer HaChinuch adds, this exemption applies only to a common Kohen. The Kohen Gadol, High Priest, in contrast, may not become tamei even to his closest relatives. As the paragon of spirituality, the benchmark of holiness, he is ensconced in the spiritual cosmos surrounding the Sanctuary. He is to be totally free of the fetters of human emotion. He is kadosh l'Hashem, sanctified to the Almighty.

Say to the Kohanim, the sons of Aharon: If the daughter of a Kohen desecrates herself through adultery, she desecrates her father. (21:1.9)

Why does the Torah find it necessary to reiterate the Kohanim's lineage? If they are Kohanim, then they are obviously the "sons of Aharon." This point is obvious. The Chidushei Ha'Rim comments that the Kohanim should never forget the holiness of their ancestors and they should apply this lesson to their own behavior. Their "father's" kedushah, holiness; his achievements and life's endeavor; his commitment to Torah and mitzvohs; his devotion to the Almighty and to his fellowman should be a beacon of inspiration for them to emulate. We find a similar pasuk when David HaMelech was nearing the point when he was to leave this world. The Navi in Melachim 2, 1:12 says, "King David's days drew near to die, and he instructed his son, Shlomo, saying." Usually, the concluding word, leimor, saying, implies that the person who is being addressed is to pass on this message. To whom is Shlomo to pass David's message? The Gerrer Rebbe explains that Shlomo should continue saying to himself, "I am the son of David Ha'Melech. My father was the king of Yisrael, the Psalmist, the sweet singer of Yisrael." He should feel obligated to continue the shalsheles ha'yuchsin, chain of illustrious lineage. He should never forget from whom he descended, and this should inspire him to distance himself from sin, as Yosef Hatzadik was inspired by dmus d'yukno shel aviv, "the image of his father's visage." When he saw his father's image, it prevented him from falling for the beguiling blandishments of Potifar's wife.

Parents have a compelling effect on their children's behavior - whether by actual teaching or by modeling. If the lessons are of a positive nature, then they will hopefully encourage a similar behavior in their child. When the lessons are negative, they regrettably can have a damaging effect on their offspring, as we might infer from the fate of the Kohen's daughter who committed adultery. The Torah writes, "She desecrates her father." Why specifically is it her father that she desecrates?

In his sefer Imrei Shefer, Horav Shlomo Kluger, zl writes that under normal circumstances when the father is an individual of questionable repute, when his behavior is antithetical to Torah dictate, the son will inherit these tendencies and demeanor. He sees his father's example, and it will impact him. Then there are those reshaim, wicked individuals, whose father was a fine, caring, upstanding member of his community. The son was simply a baal taavah, could not control his evil inclination, and followed every one of his base desires to its pernicious end. He was a bad egg that had nothing to do with his pedigree. He was the pedigree. There is a difference between these two sons. The one who follows his yetzer hora, evil inclination, is the product of a slow digression from good to evil. His malevolent behavior did not just occur overnight. It progressed slowly, as he gave in to his weaknesses and shortcomings until he was completely ensnared by the yetzer hora. Conversely, the one who acts impulsively, who suddenly, out of the blue, performs a reprehensible act, thereby bespeaks his upbringing. He demonstrates by his sudden action that he has inherited his evil tendency from his father.

This is the meaning of the pasuk, U'bas ish Kohen ki seichel liznos. "If the daughter of a Kohen desecrates herself" Seichel is a word which can be interpreted as "begins," as in haschalah, beginning; If this girl begins her miscreant behavior with an act of znus, immorality, if she commences her career of evil with an act of adultery, then it is her father that she desecrates. We now know the source of her pernicious behavior - her father. Had her father been morally upright, she would not have started out with such an illicit act.

The Talmud in Sukkah 56b comments about the Bilgah family of Kohanim, who were fined because of an incident that occurred with Miriam, the daughter of Bilgah, who became an apostate and married a Greek prince. When the Greeks entered the Sanctuary, she took the sandal off her foot and banged upon the altar screaming, "Lukus, Lukus (which is Greek for wolf), how long will you devour the money of the Jews? But you do not stand to protect them in their time of need!" She meant that the Altar, as representative of the Almighty, took the Jews' korbanos, sacrifices, but did not protect them from the Greeks. As a result of this extreme chutzpah, her father, and, by extension, the entire family, was punished. The Talmud questions, "Why is the father blamed for his daughter's actions?" They explain that a child speaks in public what he/she hears at home. Likewise, Miriam must have heard her father speak derogatorily of the sacrificial service, and this had a negative impact on her. Therefore, he is indicted for her evil actions.

The Talmud Gittin 55A states that Yerushalayim was destroyed as a result of Kamtza and Bar Kamtza. Apparently, an individual who was friendly with Kamtza, but an enemy of Bar Kamtza, asked his servant to invite the former to a party he was making. The servant erred and invited Bar Kamtza instead. When the host walked in and saw his enemy, Bar Kamtza, sitting at the table, he became enraged and demanded that he immediately leave the premises. Bar Kamtza was humiliated and asked to be allowed to stay. The host refused. At that point, Bar Kamtza offered to pay for the food that he had eaten. When the host replied negatively to this offer, Bar Kamtza offered to pay for half of the party. This offer was also rejected. He then offered to pay for the entire party, but it was to no avail. He was not wanted. After his host ejected him from the party, Bar Kamtza said, "Since the Rabbinic leadership was in attendance at the party, and no one interjected in my behalf, I hold them all responsible for my humiliation." He then went to the Caesar and slandered the Jewish People, claiming that the Jews had revolted against him. This ultimately led to the siege of Yerushalayim and its eventual destruction.

Two questions glare at us: Bar Kamtza was the evil slanderer. Why, then, does the Talmud mention that Yerushalayim was destroyed because of Kamtza and Bar Kamtza? What did Kamtza do? Furthermore, the very fact that Kamtza's name precedes that of Bar Kamtza indicates that he had a primary role in this debacle. What did he do?

The Maharsha suggests that Kamtza was actually Bar Kamtza's father. Hence, the name Bar Kamtza, son of Kamtza. Furthermore, this miscreant went by his father's name. Why? Horav Michel Peretz, Shlita, explains that Bar Kamtza was his father's son. While his father presented himself as a righteous, upstanding Jew, a man whose relationships with others was impeccable, it was a sham. His son presented to us the real truth about his father. What his father kept internally, what might have slipped through the cracks at home, a word, a gesture, a comment, it all came to the fore in his son - Bar Kamtza.

From a positive perspective, we see Chazal (Talmud Kiddushin 31A) lauding Dama ben Nesina, a gentile whose adherence to the commandment to honor his father was unparalleled. When the sages came to purchase from him a precious stone for the Eiphod, he would not sell it to them, because the key to the vault was beneath the pillow upon which his father was sleeping. We wonder why his father's name is mentioned? It is not as if every gentile's pedigree must be delineated. What did his father do that might be considered laudatory? Rav Peretz explains that the mere fact that the father was not upset when he woke up and realized that his son had deferred the opportunity to earn an incredible amount of money just because he did not want to wake his father, is in itself a powerful lesson in honoring one's parent. The father agreed with his son and probably complimented his behavior. The reason his son acted in such a manner, was that his father showed him the way. Thus, when Chazal honor Dama, they include his father in the honorarium.

I think that there is something deeper regarding a parent's relationship with his child that should be expressed. When Yosef saw his father's image, he refrained from sinning. What about Yaakov Avinu's countenance impacted Yosef, so that he was able to ignore the blandishments of the yetzer hora? Certainly, many aspects of Yaakov's holiness could have inspired Yosef. I think that there is a practical aspect that should not be ignored. Perhaps this can be better expressed by prefacing it with the following story. Rebbetzin Leah Twerski, a.h., the Milwaukee Rebbetzin, would relate that when she was five years old, she stood near her grandfather, the first Bobover Rebbe, as he lit the Chanukah menorah. He would sit in front of the lit candles, engrossed in deep meditation. She looked at him and asked, "Zaide, what are you thinking of now?"

The Rebbe looked at the child and said, "I am praying for you to have good children."

A few moments went by, and the inquisitive child once again asked, "Zaide, what are thinking of now?" This time he responded, "I am praying for your children to have good children."

The Bobover Rebbe had just charged his granddaughter with a mission. He told her to pray for her children, for their children and to convey this message throughout the generations - which she did.

When a child grows up in a home in which he sees his parents praying for him, it leaves an indelible mark. Yosef knew how much he meant to his father. He realized how important it was to his father that he maintain his spiritual character by adhering to morality and decency. The image which saved him from sin was that of his father praying for him. Because of its simplicity and sincerity, this was an image that he could not ignore.

Hashem's appointed festivals that you are to designate as holy convocations - these are My appointed festivals. For six days labor may be done, and the seventh day is a day of complete rest. (23:2,3)

The Torah begins the chapter dealing with the Festivals by first mentioning Shabbos. Why? Rashi explains that the Torah underscores the significance of the Festivals as being intrinsically involved with Shabbos. Just as Shabbos is a day of rest, so, too, are the Festivals designated as days of rest. One who observes the Festivals is considered as if he observes Shabbos. The fact that the dates of the Festivals are determined by the Bais Din, the Jewish Court, does not engender any difference in their validity. They are equal to Shabbos, whose timing is Divinely ordained.

In other words, the difference inherent between Shabbos and Yom Tov might affect one's thought process, motivating him to manifest greater respect towards one than towards the other. Let us analyze some of these differences, so that we better understand Rashi's comment that one who observes the Festivals is regarded as if he has observed Shabbos. Horav Moshe Feinstein, zl, remarks that the primary focus of both Shabbos and Yom Tov is an equivalent principle which the Jew should cherish. Shabbos attests to Hashem's creation of heaven and earth, while the Festivals recall yetzias Mitzrayim, the exodus from Egypt, with its many miracles. Hashem's ability to control nature, to suspend the natural order at will, is recognized as a result of our Yom Tov observance. Both of these testimonies are significant. A Jew must believe that Hashem is the sole Creator of the world and that He continues to control and govern its every aspect. To negate either of these beliefs borders on heresy. The world did not just happen, nor do we think that once Hashem created it, He left it to run its own course through "Mother Nature." Our observance of these hallowed days bears testimony to our conviction.

In his Meshech Chochmah, Horav Meir Simchah, zl, distinguishes between the socio-philosophical aspects of these holy days. Shabbos is a day dedicated to one's own spiritual elevation. It is an individualistic day on which every man must remain within the parameters of defined boundaries. He may also not carry in a public domain. The result of these prohibitions is less time devoted to socializing and more time dedicated to introspection and personal spiritual growth. Yom Tov, however, is a time for strengthening relationships between man and his fellow man. One is permitted to cook for guests if they appear at his door. It was a time when people would travel to Yerushalayim to rejoice at the Bais HaMikdash. In short, people got together and they bonded. The lesson of the Torah is: both interactions are important. Self-examination and introspection are necessary for continued spiritual growth. People do not live in a vacuum. Social interaction is necessary for a unified Jewish community.

The idea that Shabbos is Divinely ordained, while Yom Tov is determined by Bais Din, plays an important part in our designation and focus as a nation. Horav Meir Shapiro,zl, cites the pasuk which serves as Klal Yisrael's manifesto as a nation. V'atem tiheyu Li mamleches kohanim v'goi kadosh, "And you shall be for Me a kingdom of Priests and a holy nation." (Shemos 19:6) The Jewish People are given two mandates: to be a kingdom and to be Priests, which are two distinct issues not necessarily rooted in one another. Priesthood is a pedigree issue which is conferred upon a person from Hashem. One is either a Kohen, or he is not. Monarchy, on the other hand, is granted from the people. They select who is to be their monarch. Hashem told Klal Yisrael about these two missions that they were to accept and be worthy of: one which is conferred upon them from Above; and one which they must earn through their own spiritual development and positive actions. The vehicles for these transmissions are both Shabbos and Yom Tov, both of which, incidentally, was the single day on which the Torah was given . Yes, the Torah was given on Shabbos/Shavuous, a day which calls to mind both aspects of our mission as Jews.

Va'ani Tefillah

Baruch Hashem Elokei Yisrael min ha'olam v'ad ha'olam
Blessed is Hashem, the G-d of Yisrael, from "world to world."

The word olam is usually translated either as world, or, forever. Horav Shimon Schwab,zl, adds a new twist to its meaning which gives us a penetrating insight into this word. The word, olam, is derived from the word ne'elam, which means hidden or obscured. There are two epochs in our history that remained sealed from us: the early past of our nation, its nascent beginning going back to Avraham Avinu; and the distant future, the period of the End of Days. These are matters to which we are not privy. David Ha'Melech recognizes the formation of our People. Hashem will also be there at that moment in time when it will all come together at the end of time. The Almighty, who has been the Source of blessings for our nation "forever;" this means that from its earliest "hidden" beginnings to the "hidden" future, He has been, and will always be there for us with His bountiful blessings.

In his Nefesh HaChaim, Horav Chaim, zl, m'Volozhin explains min ha'olam v'ad ha'olam to mean, from the world that is hidden from us, olam ha'bah, to this corporeal world, everything is considered as one long world. This is to renounce the heretics who recognized only this world and negated the world of truth, the Eternal World. No, it is all one world, with this world serving as the vestibule for Olam Habah.

l'zechar nishmas
HaRav Shalom Rephael Yehuda z"l
ben Moreinu HaRav Chaim shlita

In memory of
Rabbi Sholom Refael Yehuda Stein zt"l
Doniel Kasnett

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