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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. (21:1)

Horav Gamliel Rabinowitz, Shlita, interprets this pasuk homiletically, utilizing it as a primer and guide for those who seek to devote themselves to Jewish outreach. Such work requires extreme dedication, love of Hashem and His children, consummate patience and selflessness - never expecting a thank you, because it is often not forthcoming. The work is very satisfying; saving a Jewish child or adult, bringing one back, encouraging a brother or sister to embrace a life of Torah and mitzvah observance are satisfying endeavors. They can be spiritually dangerous, however, for someone who is ill-prepared, who himself has a way to go in his own personal development.

The spiritual dimension of a Jew consists of four levels, of which nefesh is the lowest. Thus, the nefesh of our pasuk refers to pechusim, individuals who are on a base level of spirituality - or have attained no level at all. They are the subjects of outreach. While it is every Jew's obligation to reach out to his fellow Jew and attempt to inspire him or her to return to Hashem's embrace, one must be acutely aware of the dangers that abide in this endeavor. The observant Jew, the ben Torah, who had previously been living in an insular society, far-removed from the moral and spiritual bankruptcy that prevails and controls much of contemporary society, is in for a culture shock. He is no longer functioning within the confines of his comfort zone: the bais hamedrash, the shul, the frum, observant milieu in which he has been ensconced his entire life. His work is noble - and quite necessary, but, he must realize that the spiritual umbilical cord that has sustained him until now should not be severed. Otherwise, he will become a victim, a challenge for the next outreach person.

Furthermore, one must be vigilant concerning whom he brings home. When a kiruv professional is being mekarev, bringing someone closer to observance, a person whose prior Jewish affiliation had been negative, he should take into consideration that who they are, their background and level of negativity, can have an adverse influence on the unassuming minds of his children. There are those unaffiliated who hail from fine, upstanding, cultured families, who just happen to be non-observant. There are also those whose family background, prior relationships and exposure to the base profligate morals of our society leave much to be desired. They could have a harmful influence upon one's impressionable children. While it is true that he is engaged in spiritual life-saving, he must take his family into consideration as well.

Rav Gamliel presents a rule which he feels should be the determining factor in our kiruv decisions: Any person whose demeanor we would personally reject as unsavory, should be dealt with outside of the parameters of our homes. We must do whatever we can to bring him or her back to a life of Torah, but this endeavor should be carried out outside of our homes. Our children should not be sacrificed to our outreach endeavors.

Rav Gamliel interprets this idea into the pasuk, L'nefesh lo yitameh b'amav, "Each of you shall not contaminate himself to a (dead) person among his people." The criteria concerning whom to bring home should be b'amav, "among his people," whether this individual can be viewed as one of his people, someone with whom he would readily and comfortably associate. Otherwise, his office would be the best place for his outreach activities.

We forget that, in kiruv, relationships based upon trust and caring determine success. Relationships are often established by individuals who are like-minded. The outreach individual must remember that he is different from his subjects. If this difference is philosophically confined, such that they do not share an equal perspective concerning avodas Hashem, service to the Almighty, we should reach out and explain to them, guide them, inspire them - but never undermine our own commitment in order to promote a like-minded relationship. The Torah says that a Kohen can be metameh, ritually contaminate, himself only l'sheiro ha'karov eilav, "to his relative who is closest to him." For our purposes, this may be interpreted as: One may reach out to someone who is already "close" to him. This is certainly germane to one who must reach out to a relative who has lapsed in observance. After all, he is family.

I say this because, sadly, some individuals have an open home, hand, and heart to everyone, but when a family member requires assistance, they are suddenly too busy to get involved. The reason for this is simple: Family members often expect assistance, so the gratitude is not quickly forthcoming. Outsiders are more appreciative, because they do not expect the help. We are human beings who need and thrive on gratitude, and, when this gratitude is not anticipated, we shirk our duties. We must remember that we do what is right because this is Hashem's command. We are not in this for appreciation, gratitude, recognition because it is not inevitable. On the contrary, if one errs in judgment, his kindheartedness notwithstanding, he will be blamed and even derogated. We must care for Hashem's children - because we are all Hashem's children. We are all one family.

And they shall not desecrate the Name of their G-d. (21:6)

The sin of chillul Hashem, desecrating Hashem's Name, is of such magnitude that only death serves to atone for it. Teshuvah, repentance, must be accompanied by missah, death, so profound is the blemish created when one desecrates Hashem's Name. What is the reason for this ultimate punishment which brooks no compromise? Horav Shimshon Pincus, zl, explains that whenever Hashem metes out justice against one who sins against Him, His Name is sanctified. This is especially true of death, because it demonstrates Hashem's power over man. The Navi Yeshayahu 45 says: Ki Li tichra kol berech, "For to Me will bow every knee," which is interpreted by Chazal (Talmud Niddah 30b) as referring to death. When Hashem takes someone's life, He becomes sanctified, because one sees that ultimately everything and everyone must ultimately answer to Hashem.

Rav Pincus notes that this concept is accepted by any intelligent person. A funeral evokes a certain element of respect, because all in attendance, especially those who are directly connected to the deceased, put on a head-covering, dress respectfully, recite Kaddish and follow Jewish ritual. When we see a coffin lying before us, it is a compelling sight which elicits our acknowledgment of Hashem's reign over us. What greater Kiddush Hashem is there than this?

It is now understandable why chillul Hashem is not atoned with teshuvah alone. Although the individual's repentance affects forgiveness, the void left in the world by his desecration of Hashem's Name is yet to be repaired. It can only be rectified by Kiddush Hashem, sanctifying Hashem's Name, through death. Desecration creates a vacuum which is filled with sanctification. Regrettably, the sanctification required to fill this void must be of such a nature that no one can question its source. This occurs when justice is meted out, and the sinner is called home.

You shall not desecrate My Holy Name; and I shall be sanctified among Bnei Yisrael. (22:32)

The above pasuk is the source of the mitzvah of Kiddush Shem Shomayim, enjoinment to sanctify Hashem's Name. This mitzvah applies to all Jews - not simply a select few. Our willingness to sanctify His Name is the determining factor in measuring our level of commitment and faith. If this is the case - and if Kiddush Hashem is of such overriding significance - why does the Torah not write it in a more "commandment like" vernacular, such as, "Sanctify My Name!" Instead, the Torah presents it in such a manner as to be describing an unrelated future event that will occur when Hashem's Name will be sanctified among the Jewish People. "And I shall be sanctified" - V'Nikdashti - is not an enjoinment; it is a description of what will be.

Horav Nissan Alpert, zl, posits that the pasuk is deliberately worded, actually presenting a fundamental lesson concerning the nature of mesiras nefesh, self-sacrifice, in general and Kiddush Hashem in particular. We must first analyze the motivation for mesiras nefesh. One does not simply decide one day that he is willing to sacrifice himself for his faith. Mesiras nefesh is a process. A sane adult who is in control of his faculties does not just give up his life without prior conditioning, consisting of thinking through his faith and acknowledging his commitment by achieving an elevated level of spiritual connection to the Almighty. One does not relinquish his life just because one day he has discovered the existence of the mitzvah of Kiddush Hashem. It is also not the result of a solitary decision. It is a major decision which is the consequence of considerable spiritual development.

Only one who has lived a life of dedication to kedushah and taharah (holiness and purity), taharas ha'mishpachah (family purity), kashrus (laws of forbidden foods), ethics in business, care concerning one's speech and maintaining a Torah-appropriate lifestyle, both in his private and communal life, can say that he yearns to come closer to Hashem. If and when he sins, he is sincerely filled with regret, seeking to atone for his errant behavior. The bottom line: Is he for real? Is he sincere in his beliefs? Or is it all based upon comfort and convenience? Is he fully committed to Hashem, His Torah and His mitzvos, or does he carry out only those mitzvos which do not cramp his style?

One who has "checked" positive to the all-around commitment demanded of an observant Jew, he - and only he, upon being confronted with the ultimate test of commitment, the test of mesiras nefesh, will be motivated by the kedushah, holiness, from within himself, choosing to give up his life to sanctify Hashem's Name. It will be the natural consequence of a committed life.

We now understand the meaning of V'Nikdashti b'soch Bnei Yisrael, "And I shall be sanctified among Bnei Yisrael." It will not happen as a result of being commanded, but rather, as a natural extension of a life lived as an observant Jew in accordance with Hashem's prescribed demands of us.

Rav Alpert suggests that this is the underlying meaning/message of the episode concerning Rabbi Akiva, a scenario that played itself out during the final moments of his life. Chazal (Talmud Berachos 61b) teach that, when they brought Rabbi Akiva out to be executed, it was the time for Krias Shema. They began raking his flesh with metal combs. Yet, despite this excruciating painful ordeal, he was in the midst of reciting Krias Shema and accepting upon himself the Ol Malchus Shomayim, Yoke of the Heavenly Kingdom. His students asked him, "Our master, even to this extent? (Must one recite Krias Shema amidst such debilitating pain?)" Rabbi Akiva replied, "All of my life I was troubled by this pasuk, b'chol nafshecha, 'With all your soul,' which is interpreted as even if He takes your life. [The mitzvah of serving Hashem with all your soul means literally even if you must give up your life in His service]. I thought, 'When will this opportunity be given to me so that I can fulfill it?' and now that the opportunity is here, should I not fulfill it?"

Observing Rabbi Akiva at the moment of ultimate truth and sacrifice, even his students (who were themselves distinguished scholars and had achieved an extremely high level of service to Hashem) were amazed. They asked, "Rebbe, even to such an extent?" Although acutely aware of Rabbi Akiva's greatness and holiness, they wondered how it was possible to ignore, to transcend one's terrible pain and meditate with clarity the acceptance upon oneself of the Heavenly Kingdom. There are some instances that are beyond human capability.

Rav Akiva's response was that this was not a thought that had come to him only at this point in his life; rather, it had always been on his mind. The thought of mesiras nefesh accompanied him through his mortal sojourn. This moment - his reaction to the raison d'etre of his life - was the natural continuation of the way he had lived every moment of his life.

With this in mind, the notion of Kiddush Shem Shomayim as a lifelong process of avodas Hashem until one achieves the ultimate deveikus, clinging to the Almighty, allows us to better understand the words of the Maharam, zl, m'Rottenberg. In his Teshuvos, Responsa, the Maharam writes that once a person has decided to give up his life for Kiddush Hashem - regardless of the form of death to which he is subjected - he will feel no pain - whatsoever! This is substantiated by the fact that people have gone to their death by fire which is the most excruciatingly, painful form of death - without uttering a sound. How is this possible? A person who puts his finger in a flame will scream. It is impossible to control the expression of emotion under such conditions. We have heard, however, that kedoshim, holy martyrs, have sustained this terrible pain - in silence.

Rav Yosselman, zl, of Rosheim, the famous shtadlan, intercessor, on behalf of Jews during the sixteenth century, would accompany those martyrs for whom his advocacy was unsuccessful, on their final journey. He personally attested to the following. "I attended the crucifixion of a number of our brethren. As they went out to the gallows, they accepted the yoke of Heaven upon themselves with great love. They suffered much pain, some of them living up to ten days on the cross (their hands and legs pierced with nails, their bodies suspended on the nails); yet, they never for a moment reneged their acceptance of the yoke, until the moment that their holy neshamos, souls, departed from them b'taharah, with utmost purity" (paraphrased from Umasuk Ha'or).

Horav Shlomo Levinstein, Shlita, quotes from one of the Golei Sfarad, Spanish Inquisition exiles, Rav Avraham HaLevi in his Megillas Amrafel (Rav Avraham HaLevi was the author of one of the Kinos of Tishah B'Av). "It is a mesorah, tradition, handed down from our sages, that one who decides to give up his life to sanctify Hashem's Name will feel no pain. He will be able to undergo much pain and suffering without exhibiting any outward expression of hurt." He quotes the Midrash Tanchuma, "Why is Klal Yisrael compared to the yonah, dove?" As the dove neither struggles, nor exhibits any painful death throes when it is slaughtered, so, too, Klal Yisrael does not struggle when they are slaughtered. In his kinah, lamentation, for Tishah B'Av, Rav Avraham writes, "See the great and exalted wonder; My children enter into the flames amidst song and joy to unify and sanctify their Creator and praise His Name."

The Festival of Pesach has historically been marred with tragedies involving Kiddush Hashem. The infamous blood libels of the Medieval ages, which continued on to the twentieth century, was the gentile anti-Semite's medium for inflicting bodily harm and death on the Jewish citizens of Europe. For centuries, Jewish families throughout Europe celebrated Pesach in an environment of unbridled terror. They never knew when the forces of hatred would unleash their venom against them. Hundreds of blood libels were the precursor of the pogroms that followed. The fear became so grave that the Taz ruled that the traditional red wine that was used for the Seder should be substituted with white wine; "In lands where false accusations are made, we refrain from using red wine." Perhaps, when we sit back at our Seder tables and drink red wine, we should stop for a moment to think and pay tribute to all those of our brethren who fell victim to the reign of terror that prevailed during this time.

Veritably, why is Pesach, the Festival most associated with miracles, freedom and rejuvenation, the time when so much Kiddush Hashem, takes place? It is almost an anomaly, as Pesach is the time when we became liberated from this persecution. When two brothers, Rav Yehoshua and Rav Chaim Reitzes of Lvov, Poland, were being led to their execution as a result of a false blood libel, Rav Yehoshua turned to his brother and asked this question. "Why has so much Jewish blood been spilled during this time of year - when Hashem has shown us so many miracles?"

His brother, Rav Chaim, replied, "Concerning the pasuk, 'And I shall be sanctified among Bnei Yisrael, I am Hashem Who makes you holy. Who took you out of the land of Egypt, to be a G-d unto you; I am Hashem' (Ibid 22:32,33), the Toras Kohanim comments, 'This is the condition for which I took you out of Egypt - so that you will sanctify My Name.'" Kiddush Shem Shomayim is part and parcel, the raison d'etre, of the exodus from Egypt.

Growing up, my parents would often relate, especially during the Pesach Seder, how they survived the Warsaw Ghetto uprising which took place during Pesach of 1943 (April 19-May 16, 1943). They "celebrated" the Seder by running from burning house to burnt out house - and then back again. I always had difficulty understanding how they were able to conduct a Seder during such a period of danger and travail. I now understand, that, actually, this is all part of the Pesach ritual. Without our willingness and readiness to sacrifice ourselves for Hashem - there would be no Seder, because we would still be slaves in Egypt.

The son of a Yisraelite woman went out - and he was the son of an Egyptian manů they fought in the camp, the son of the Yisraelite woman and Yisraelite man. The son of the Yisraelite woman pronounced the Name and blasphemed. (24:10,11)

Rarely do we see such an explosion of un-Jewish depravity as evinced by the blasphemer. Indeed, had his mother not been the only Jewish woman to have committed her own act of transgression with the Egyptian, this blasphemy would not have occurred. The mother planted the seed of infamy; the son executed his ignoble heritage that became his mother's legacy to him. Indeed, the mother's name is recorded for posterity in the Torah only after her son sinned. Parents must realize that, while they may ignore the personal ramifications of their ignominious behavior, they cannot disregard its effect on their children. The Torah underscores the consequences of the mother's moral encroachment. Amidst the horror of the son's crime, the Torah lays bare the mother's seeds of mutiny which germinate her son's blasphemy.

We often talk about kids at risk, ignoring the fact that, at times, they are products of parents at risk. Shlomis bas Divri achieved the sad distinction of having her name recorded in the Torah to impart a lesson to all parents: Your children are watching. You serve as an example. The mistakes you make today to satisfy your momentary desires - or to stroke your ego - will come back to haunt you, when your children outdo you!

Numerous lessons are to be derived from the episode of the blasphemer. Probably the lesson which should strike us most is how someone who had great spiritual expectations could so easily and quickly descend to the very nadir of depravity, because of what might appear to be a minor infraction. Veritably, there is no such thing as a minor infraction, since every transgression is committed in the presence of Hashem and violates our obedience to His dictates. Thus, the word "minor" is relative to other sins which seem more egregious in nature.

Rashi cites two opinions concerning what led to the blasphemer's downfall. Rabbi Berachiah taught that the blasphemer had difficulty understanding the process of the Lechem HaPanim, Showbread. Each week the week-old Lechem HaPanim was eaten, after being replaced by fresh bread. The blasphemer scoffed about this process, saying, "A king normally eats fresh bread. Why should Hashem have old, cold bread?" His disrespect incurred the ire of another Jew, who scolded him. The verbal altercation became physical, as they began pummeling one another. The blasphemer's reaction was to utter a curse.

It began by degrading one mitzvah in the Torah. It did not sit right with him. His ultimate reaction was blasphemy. Aveirah goreres aveirah; it all begins with one sin - however minor - which leads to another and another, until the ultimate transgression. This was a person who had stood at Har Sinai and experienced the Revelation. That is no guarantee. One can be on the mountain and fall to the depths of depravity, if he allows that minor encroachment to filter into his mind. It all began with cynical scoffing. We may never disregard anyone's negative attitude, because one never knows where it might lead.

An alternative version of the strife focuses on the Torah's emphasizing the contrasting lineages of the two disputants, in connection with the words, Va'yinatzu ba'machaneh, "They fought in the camp," which implies that the dispute concerned matters of the camp - inheritance. Being that the blasphemer's mother came from shevet Dan, he wished to make his dwelling among members of his mother's family - with the tribe of Dan. They refused him, claiming that his father was not from the tribe of Dan, and was, in fact, an Egyptian. Moshe Rabbeinu's court decided with the tribe of Dan. This did not sit right with the petitioner, who, in turn, blasphemed the Name.

In other words, the debacle was caused by anger. He was a sore loser, becoming angry with the court, the judge - everyone who did not see it his way. Regrettably, this is not an isolated incident. If things do not work out "my" way, it means that: the system is corrupt; the rabbi has lost sight of reality; the court is out of touch with the times - all this and more. It gets worse. The disgruntled person who has just lost his case, not only does not settle by accepting the decision, but he becomes angry at everyone involved and ultimately blames the Almighty for all of his problems. All of this occurred because of a lapse: a "minor" cynism; a lack of accepting the court's judgment; a little bit of anger - which all led to his spiritual ruin.

Horav Shimshon Pincus, zl, compares it to someone who was in a terrible car accident. He is now laid up in the hospital for months. His body is in a cast after he underwent numerous surgeries. He is in constant pain and agony. All of this due to one critical moment that he took his eyes off the road. That is all it takes: one moment; one mistake; one cynical moment: one anger. How careful we must be - regardless of our stature and achievements; one lapse can destroy a lifetime of accomplishment.

Va'ani Tefillah

Podeinu u'matzileinu meiolam Shemecha.
Ein Elokim Zulasecha.
He, our Redeemer and Savior, has been known to us by This Name forever. There is no G-d besides You.

What a powerful few words! With Ein Elokim Zulasecha, There is no G-d besides You, we conclude our affirmation of the basic elements of our emunah, faith, in Hashem. This tefillah is short on words, but long and profound in its message; Thus, it should be recited with great deliberation and concentration. Horav Shimon Schwab, zl, cites a beautiful parable from the Chafetz Chaim, which has great application to this prayer. A person was once stranded on an island far from civilization. He noticed that strewn all throughout the island were precious stones. The citizens of the island had no inkling concerning the value of these stones. When he was finally about to be rescued, he scooped up a handful of stones and placed them in a small bag in his pocket. Upon arriving home, he took one stone and traded it in at a jewelry store. He received a small fortune of money in return. With this money, he was able to live out his life with great wealth.

The point of this analogy, explains Rav Schwab, is that we live in a world that is replete with countless opportunities for earning everlasting life in Olam Habba, the World to Come. This tefillah is but one example of what one can achieve with a few words. He can gain immediate entrance to Olam Habba. When asked what he can show for his life on earth, his response would be, "I said and believed these words with my whole heart."

Rav Schwab writes that he heard that when the Nazis were taking a group of Jews to the gas chambers, a gadol among them told them to recite the words of this prayer as they were about to die. This would be their expression of their total affirmation and acceptance of their belief in Hashem.

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