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Rabbi A. Leib Scheinbaum
Hebrew Academy of Cleveland


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

The Kohanim represent our nation's spiritual elite. Their greatness is hereditary; thus, their responsibility to convey the compelling nature of their lineage and station in life to the next generation is consequential. It is, therefore, noteworthy that they were excluded from the monarchy, as was the rest of the nation. On his deathbed, Yaakov Avinu, blessed each of his sons. He turned to Yehudah and said, Lo yasur shevet miYehudah, "The scepter shall not depart from Yehudah" (Bereishis 49:10). While this blessing did not take effect immediately, since Shaul Hamelech, our nation's first monarch, heralded from the tribe of Binyamin - every succeeding monarch, beginning with David Hamelech, descended from shevet Yehudah. Ramban posits that, exclusive of the fact that Yaakov bequeathed the monarchy to Yehudah, a special prohibition states that Kohanim may not reign. He claims that the Chashmonaim, who were righteous, G-d-fearing leaders, were severely punished and basically expunged from our nation because they had transgressed this interdiction. After the Chanukah miracle, they took the scepter of monarchy into their hands - and kept it in their domain.

Why are the Kohanim prohibited more so than any other shevet from ruling? It is not as if there is no precedent. U'Malkitzedek, melech Shaleim… v'hu Kohen l'Keil Elyon, "And Malkitzedek, king of Shaleim… he was a Priest of G-d, the Most High" (Bereishis 14:18). Furthermore, had Reuven not sinned, he would have received the honorarium of the crowns of both Kehunah and Malchus. Apparently, no friction exists between Malchus and Kehunah. On the contrary, it makes sense to suggest that one complements the other. Aharon HaKohen possessed the Kesser Torah, Crown of Torah, and the Kesser Kehunah. Why should he not also have enjoyed the Kesser Malchus?

Horav Aryeh Leib Heyman, zl, suggests that the cause for the exclusion of the Kohanim from monarchy originated when Aharon HaKohen did not take a more decisive position during the sin of the Golden Calf. When the nation arose against him, clamoring for a replacement for Moshe Rabbeinu, he stalled for time. He did not rebuke them for their outrageous behavior and impossible demands. Indeed, when Moshe Rabbeinu confronted Aharon, he asked, "What suffering did they impose on you to force you to do it to them?" Ramban goes so far as to interpret Moshe's critique to mean, "What did they do to cause you to hate them, so that you did this to them?" The other commentators, each in his inimitable manner, present a scathing objection to Aharon's allowing the people to carry out the sin - without putting up a fight.

These disapprovals are all relative to Aharon's lofty spiritual stature, and Aharon, indeed, had his reasons, which he expressed to Moshe. He put the sin into perspective, claiming that it was the result of hundreds of years of Jewish exposure to Egypt idolatry. Yet, Moshe refused to back off.

We are being presented with two diverse personalities, two very different natures, and two opposing perspectives on how to deal with the issue of this first communal sin. Aharon demonstrated his consummate love for the Jewish People. Ohaiv shalom v'rodef shalom, "Lover of peace and pursuer of peace," were his unique qualities which earned the Kesser Kehunah for him. As Kohen Gadol, his mission went beyond creating harmony among his fellow man. His focus now was bein Yisrael l'Avinu she'ba'Shomayim, "Between Klal Yisrael and Our Father in Heaven." One quality he lacked was the dominating nature, the forcefulness and defiance, which a melech, king, must have in order to lead. When dealing with people, rachamim, compassion, is the character trait that must override all others. A king, however, must be reserved and strong. His decisions must be disciplined and guided by strict justice. A king must address the bigger picture and all of the far-reaching ramifications of his decision. He would like to show compassion, but compassion for one person can spell tragedy for another. Prior to rendering a decision, the king must take all of this into the equation.

Once Aharon deferred to the Golden Calf sinners, it left a blemish on the entire family of Kohanim. Since the Leviim are subservient to the Kohanim, the entire shevet Levi was disqualified from monarchy. Rav Heiman posits that the distinction between Malchus and Kehunah is behind the reason that Moshe's name is deleted from Parashas Tetzaveh. From the beginning of Sefer Shemos until the end of the Torah, Moshe's name is found in every parsha - except for Parashas Tetzaveh. The commentators cite various reasons for this. Rav Heiman explains that Parashas Tetzaveh is all about the Kehunah and the appointment of Aharon as its leader. By excluding Moshe from the parsha, the Torah is alluding that Malchus and Kehunah should be distinct from one another.

From the above, it seems that Aharon was passive in his resistance to Moshe. Aharon loved Jews and, as a result, he could not stand up to them. The Midrash, however, presents the first Kohen Gadol in a completely different light. While the simple reading of the Torah's narrative in Parashas Ki Sisa implies that when Moshe descended from Har Sinai, he saw the spiritual rebellion against Hashem and proceeded to smash the Luchos, Chazal do not seem to think so. Indeed, they portray a totally different scenario. Apparently, there was a serious dispute between Aharon and the elders on one side and Moshe Rabbeinu on the other. Moshe contended that a nation of idol worshippers did not deserve the Luchos. They were too obsessed with the Golden Calf to desire Hashem. Thus, the Tablets had to be destroyed. This nation had no interest in the Luchos. Aharon and the Zekeinim disputed this. The Jews should be given another chance. After experiencing so much pain, hundreds of years of brutal slavery, they were now in no condition to reject the blandishments of the yetzer hora.

Their dispute did not stop with words. Aharon and the Zekeinim took hold of the Luchos and attempted to wrest them from Moshe's hands. Moshe persevered and triumphed over them, grabbing hold of the Luchos and smashing them. Horav Avraham Pam, zl, as quoted by Horav Yissachar Frand, Shlita, explains the "dialogue" that ensued between these spiritual giants. Aharon and the Elders screamed, "Moshe! You are wrong! True, they are presently worshipping what seems to be an idol, but we can work with them. Give us a chance to show them the error of their ways, to enlighten them in our Torah. Breaking the Luchos is an act of finality. They cannot be resurrected. Please!" Moshe did not listen. He broke the Luchos.

Despite contending against a majority of dissenting opinions, regardless of the logic of the majority's position, ignoring the emotion that also sided with them - Moshe acted with conviction and, perhaps, audacity. He made a decision based upon a kal v'chomer, a priori logical argument. Concerning the Pesach offering the Torah writes, Kol ben neichar lo yochal bo, "Anyone estranged from Judaism (a mumar) is not permitted to partake of it" (Shemos 12:43). This is only one mitzvah. Certainly, one who has abandoned Judaism cannot receive the entire Torah.

Tosfos questions Moshe's logic. While it is true that one who has abandoned Judaism has no business eating the Korban Pesach, had the Jews received the Torah, they might have repented. They certainly deserved a chance to prove themselves. This is rule number one in Jewish outreach: Everybody deserves a chance.

Rav Pam explains that it was Moshe's daas Torah, wisdom derived from the Torah, that impelled him to render the unequivocal decision to break the Luchos. Our quintessential leader intuitively felt that he needed to display discipline at this most critical juncture in our nation's formation. A foundation that is weak will not endure. A foundation based on compromise is weak. There can be flexibility with the "branches," but the "trunk" must be solid. This was Moshe's finest moment. It defined him, and ultimately set the standards for Klal Yisrael's future. Aharon had his derech, approach, which was supported by popular opinion. Moshe, however, as melech, superseded their opinion. Hashem agreed with Moshe.

The mark of a gadol b'Yisrael is his greatness as a Torah giant. He is magnified in stature, not only in his erudition, but in every aspect of his moral/spiritual refinement. A giant is not simply taller than the average man; his every organ is larger than that of others. A gadol represents the true Torah monarch. His daas Torah reflects an insight based upon wisdom gleaned from Torah scholarship, the result of toil, diligence and sacrifice. Scholarship in conjunction with consummate spiritual integrity and total devotion to the Jewish nation are the traits that constitute a gadol. In addition, he brooks no compromise in his faith and adherence to the laws of Torah. He fears no man; his devotion is only to Hashem. Horav Aharon Kotler, zl, the individual who set the standard for uncompromised Torah study in America, was such a gadol.

The Rosh Yeshivah of Beth Medrash Govohah worked with selfless devotion to promote Torah and its values. He was challenged by a world of ignorance and apathy. He was attacked by Torah Judaism's overt enemies, but that was to be expected. The discreet and often subtle diatribe that emanated from those too weak to stand up to the forces were determined to secularize Judaism and distance it from Hashem. Rav Aharon was unafraid of neither Torah's declared enemies, nor of their spineless followers. Indeed, it was on the backs of these vacillating sycophants that the secular stream, whom the Rosh Yeshivah referred to as "counterfeiters of Torah," made inroads into Orthodoxy.

Rav Aharon demonstrated how, by extending religious status to the secular groups who two centuries earlier had broken away from the Torah camp and from Hashem, the very foundation of Torah was being impugned. He played a critical role in the historic psak, halachic decision, condemning membership in any organization which granted equal status to any stream of Judaism which was not Torah oriented. This psak barred Orthodox rabbis from participating in mixed religious organizations.

He would argue, "Can you imagine, doctors dedicated to eradicating a disease joining a group that spreads the sickness? It is inconceivable to build Judaism, while recognizing the legitimacy of those who deny the Torah."

Regrettably, the Rosh Yeshivah's opinion was not shared by all. Some differed philosophically; others were simply too weak to stand up to the rising pressures of those who were content with being poseiach al shtei ha'se'ifiim, "dancing between two opinions." While the situation has not been expunged, thanks to Rav Aharon, whose piercing eyes saw the truth, a new Torah consciousness was aroused which continues to grow stronger with each passing day.

Say to the Kohanim, the sons of Aharon… each of you shall not contaminate himself to a (dead) person among his people. (21:1)

The Chasam Sofer renders this pasuk homiletically as presenting the imperative and guidelines for successful Jewish outreach. First: "Say to the Kohanim, the sons of Aharon" that they should act in accordance with their noble, illustrious heritage. Their Patriarch, Aharon HaKohen, was known by his nom de plume as the consummate Ohaiv shalom v'rodef shalom, ohaiv es ha'brios u'mekarvan laTorah, "(He) lover of peace and (he) pursuer of peace; (he) loves people and brings them closer to the Torah." One who seeks success in reaching out to his fellow man must first make peace with himself. No sin, no moral turpitude, no spiritual flaws - these are a given. Otherwise, one is a hypocrite. He can hardly expect someone to listen to him if he sets such a defective standard. He must also be mekabel kol ha'adam b'seivar panim yafos, "receive everyone with a cheerful face."

There is, however, one "catch" to the welcome embrace that we are to display to those who are not yet observant. There can be no vestige of chillul Hashem, desecration of Hashem's Name. One should not call attention to himself by bending over backwards in an effort to impress one who may be called a rasha, wicked, for his efforts to undermine Judaism. We must reach out, but, if we reach out to those whose perception of our work is limited, it might very well be misconstrued. This will result in a chillul Hashem, as people will say that we have mixed allegiances.

It is not worth turning off a large number of people in our attempt to reach out to one person who has gone sour. The Torah alludes to this when it writes L'nefesh lo yetamei b'amav, "Each of you shall not contaminate himself to a (dead) person among his people." In order to save one nefesh, soul/person, it is not worth endangering an entire group of people who will be left with many unanswered questions. Kiruv, Jewish outreach, is all-important, but we must always be aware of and weigh the price we might have to pay for success.

While it is imperative that one exert great care in reaching out to the unaffiliated, we must address a serious problem. It is understandable that some of us fear the unknown and are even more concerned with what others might say. Regrettably, however, there is a shortage of good, knowledgeable, committed individuals who possess the answers and have the sensitivity necessary to deal with those who are either turned off from - or were never turned on to - Judaism.

Let me just share an example from a kiruv blog I read the other day which demonstrates the type of question one might be asked, and the answer an astute expert should give. The questioner wanted to know how one "leaves" Judaism. Apparently, the product of a secular-oriented home, he grew up with nothing Jewish; thus, he never felt a connection to the religion of his ancestors. In his mind, Judaism is a religion - not a race. Why should he be forced to be part of a religion to which he has no connection and for which he has no feeling? "Why is there no 'exit strategy'?" he asks.

With care and expertise, the responder explained that, first of all, as far as the anti-Semites of the world are concerned, he is a Jew. Regardless of what he might to do dispel this notion, the reality is: he is Jewish. Hitler did not seem to care about an individual's level of observance or his affiliation with anything Jewish, or even if he was the product of an intermarriage or himself intermarried. If they could trace a drop of Jewish blood in the person's bloodlines - he was considered Jewish.

Next, Judaism is much more than about belief and practice, as we find with other religions. Judaism is a family. We are all bnei Avraham, Yitzchak, v'Yaakov, descendants of the holy Patriarchs. We accept geirim, converts, who adopt our way of life. Then they also become "family." One cannot change his family.

Last, the mere reason that the person writes his questions is an indication that he does not want to leave. He wants to stay, but does not know how. His exposure to Judaism was through the few times that he had entered a temple which mocked G-d and Judaism. How is one to develop a connection to the real thing from such exposure? He was invited to experience Orthodox Judaism though a Shabbos and other such experiences. Before one closes the door on the religion for which so many died, it would only be proper that he become acutely aware of what it is that he is rejecting.

The above is an example. People seek the truth. We need individuals who are not afraid of the truth, who can expound it as well as they live it. These individuals must be aware, however, that there are dangers of overexposure. Just like the sun: the right amount is healthy; too much can be harmful and even deadly.

And to his virgin sister who is close to him, who has not been wed to a man; to her shall he contaminate himself. (21:3)

Chazal teach that it is a mitzvah for a Kohen to defile himself to the seven close relatives. Indeed, as Chazal say, if the Kohen refuses to ritually contaminate himself to any of them, we compel him to do so (Zevachim 100a). In a way, this is a form of sacrifice. A Kohen who is sincere about his station in life might get carried away. He might feel that, even for a close relative, it is just not worth it. He has heretofore maintained his purity. Why should he ruin his spotless record? Obviously, such a Kohen has no clue concerning kedushah, holiness, and taharah, purity. One is holy and pure as long as he adheres to Hashem's word. When his mind starts playing games, and his perspective on frumkeit, religiosity, becomes subjectively flawed - he has a very serious problem.

Family plays a significant role in Jewish life. We see here that while the Kohen must maintain a strict and highly-elevated level of personal purity, he must nonetheless defile himself to a member of his family. If family is so important, why is it that individuals who are normally quite generous, suddenly shy away and melt into the background when an extended member of their own family is down and out? Horav Gamliel Rabinowitz, Shlita, goes to the crux of the problem as he explains that it all boils down to kavod, respect; payback/gratitude; recognition of all of the things that we want for ourselves in return for being "nice" to someone in need.

Let us face it, when one helps a stranger he is acknowledged, appreciated and overwhelmed with abundant gratitude. When it is a family member whom we have helped, it is quite possible that we will not even receive a "thank you." Why? Because it is only right that one should help his own. It is expected. On the contrary, Heaven help him if he turns a deaf ear to the pleas of a family member. Family expects to be supported - even when there are no plaques or public accolades. It is difficult to help when there is little or no appreciation.

Rav Gamliel quotes Horav Mottel Slonimer, zl, who explains that one does not look forward to helping relatives, due to the lack of gratitude associated with his assistance. On the contrary, often he is left with complaints for not doing more. One must be acutely aware that disregarding the plight of a relative is Biblically prohibited. This may be defined from the fact that the Kohen may not defile himself to anyone, but he must defile himself to his closest relatives.

When an ox or a sheep or a goat is born… it is acceptable for a fire-offering to Hashem. (22:27)

The Yalkut Shimoni teaches us why the above three animals (ox, sheep, goat) were selected to serve as Korbanos, sacrifices. The ox was chosen in the merit of Avraham Avinu who, in the course of preparing dinner for his "Heavenly" guests, ran to bring for them an ox. [V'el ha'bakar ratz Avraham, "And to the ox Avraham ran" (Bereishis 18:7)]. Yitzchak Avinu's z'chus, merit, catalyzed the designation of the sheep as a sacrifice. [Va'yar v'hinei ayil neechaz ba'svach b'karnav, "And he raised his eyes and saw, and behold! A ram, afterwards caught in the thicket" (Bereishis 22:13)]. When Yaakov Avinu appeared before his father to receive the blessing, bringing with him dinner made of goat meat, he paved the way for the goat to be used for korbanos. [V'kach li misham shnei gedeyei izim tovim, "And take for me from there two choice young kids of the goats" (Bereishis 26:9)]. Interestingly, this same Midrash is quoted by the Targum Yerushalmi - but with a twist concerning the goats. The Targum posits that it was the fact that Yaakov covered his arms with goat hair when he brought his father dinner that served as the merit for goats to be placed on the Mizbayach, Altar, as a sacrifice. This appears strange, since for all intents and purposes, when Yaakov appeared before his father clothed in goats hair, it was not his finest moment. The entire scene was beguiling, so that Yitzchak would think that before him stood Eisav - not Yaakov. Why would an act of deception be worthy of merit - let alone catalyze the goat as a standard for sacrifice? One would think that it would be quite the opposite.

In his Iyeh HaYam, Horav Yehudah Leib Edil, zl, offers an inspiring explanation. When Rivkah Imeinu instructed Yaakov to take Eisav's place, the Patriarch shuddered at the thought of being complicit in an act of prevarication. How could he deceive his father? Yet, with great trepidation, he went forward and presented himself as Eisav to his father. There was a physical issue that had to be resolved. Eisav was hairy - Yaakov was not. This created a serious problem for Yaakov. What if, for some reason, Yitzchak would want to embrace his son, only to discover that his once hairy son was now smooth as silk? Yaakov's deception would be discovered, and he would be eternally condemned by his father. One does not lie to Yitzchak, the Olah temimah, perfect offering.

We forget, however, that the only reason Yitzchak asked his son to "come closer" was because of the way he spoke, alluding to G-d, that had paved the way for his good fortune. This was not Eisav's style of speech. He never mentioned G-d - period. Eisav was a self-made man, the archetype agnostic. There was no place in his life for a Higher Power. In other words, Yaakov Avinu brought the "lie" upon himself. Had he spoken like Eisav: "I did it," "I found it," - all "me," then Yitzchak would never have suspected that something was amiss. If, for once in his life, Yaakov would not have attributed his success to Hashem, Yitzchak would not have questioned him. Our Patriarch was not prepared to turn his back on Hashem, to falsify something in which he believed with all his heart and soul. This remains Yaakov's distinctive merit for which we "collected" when we would offer a goat on the Altar.

Perhaps we might suggest an alternative approach which follows along similar lines. When Yaakov was instructed by his mother to present himself as Eisav, he was taking an enormous chance. True, his mother told him, "Do not worry," but to lie was acting against his grain. Yet, his mother told him to do it. How could he disagree with his mother? From a spiritual vantage point, she was right "up there" with Yitzchak. When gedolei hador, the preeminent Torah leaders of our generation, issue a call, impose a decree - we listen; we follow. We trust in our chachamim, Torah scholars - even when their instructions do not conform with our line of thinking. This is the z'chus, merit, of the goats and why we need them today more than ever.

Va'ani Tefillah

Shema Yisrael Hashem Elokeinu Hashem Echad.

Krias Shema is a mitzvah - just like other mitzvos. If so, why is a brachah, blessing, not recited prior to performing this mitzvah? Why should Krias Shema be different than Hallel and Megillah? This question applies even according to those who deem the recitation of the three parshios, chapters, of Krias Shema to be Rabbinically ordained, since Hallel and Megillah are also Rabbinic decrees; yet, we recite a blessing.

Horav Shimon Schwab, zl, explains that the essence of the mitzvah of Krias Shema is Kabbolas Ol Malchus Shomayim, accepting upon oneself the yoke of Heaven. This is primarily the intent and focus of the first pasuk. If one were to simply read the words of Shema Yisrael: Hashem Elokeinu Hashem Echad, without the accompanying kavanah, intent and devotion necessary to the acceptance of Hashem's existence and Oneness, His sovereignty over the world - he would not have fulfilled the mitzvah. In other words, the mitzvah is not just the reading - but the kavanah. The mitzvah of Shema is: Hear, listen, intellectualize and grasp it in your mind! Mere kriah, reading, is nothing. The rest of Krias Shema does not carry such stringency. Thus, if one were to read the words without concentrating on their meaning and message, he would still be fulfilling the kriah, reading. That is all that is necessary.

Since the kavanah transforms Krias Shema into a mitzvah, no blessing is required. One does not bless for kavanah, because it is not a physical action. Blessings are a requisite for a maaseh ha'mitzvah, a mitzvah which demands a physical act. This is why we do not say a brachah over the mitzvah of tefillah. Prayer is actually an avodah b'lev, action expressed through the heart, via one's proper kavanah.

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