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Peninim on the Torah

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Rabbi A. Leib Scheinbaum
Hebrew Academy of Cleveland


Take a census of the Bnei Gershon, as well. (4:22)

Part of Bnei Gershon's responsibility was to participate in the musical accompaniment of some of the Korbanos Tzibur, communal offerings, a duty that in the Talmud Arachin 11a, Chazal characterize as labor. Horav Moshe Feinstein, zl, explains the significance of "gam heim", also them, or, as well, as the Torah's way of demonstrating to us that no difference existed between the work performed by Bnei Kehas, who carried the Aron HaKodesh, and the work of Bnei Gershon, who were seemingly not involved in such a holy endeavor. Exactly what one does is not significant, it is how and why one performs Hashem's command. They were all carrying out Hashem's will.

The same idea, says Rav Moshe, applies to the area of Torah chinuch, education. There is no difference between the Rosh HaYeshiva who lectures to erudite young laymen and the rebbe who teaches young children. If they act l'shem Shomayim, for the sake of Heaven, if they view their work as carrying out Hashem's will to disseminate Torah, they are both equally praiseworthy. Perhaps if more prospective educators would keep this idea in mind, Torah chinuch would build a new image.

Any man, if his wife will go astray and commit a trespass against him. (5:12)

Rashi explains the juxtaposition of the laws of sotah, the errant wife, upon the preceding passage, which addresses the laws of Matnos Kehunah, the Priestly gifts. The connection between the two passages is that if one withholds the gifts that rightfully belong to the Kohen, he will have to confront the Kohen when he is required to bring his wife, the sotah, to him. Simply, this means that if one does not go to the Kohen out of his own free-will, he will be compelled to go out of a sense of urgency and necessity. This makes sense in regard to the husband. His obstinacy in refusing to give the Kohen his due is the catalyst for the husband to go to the Kohen against his will. What about his wife? She certainly should have a choice in the matter: whether to sin or not. It seems that because of the husband's non-action, she ends up as a sotah. Why is this?

Horav Baruch Shimon Schneerson, Shlita, Rosh HaYeshivah of Yeshivas Tchebin offers a practical response. He posits that the husband is not refusing the Kohen his due out of a sense of evil. It is not as if he steals the Kohen's gifts by refusing to give them Terumah. In fact, this man views himself as a tzaddik, a righteous man, who is acting correctly, even righteously, by not giving the Kohen the Terumah. He ascribes to Chazal's statement criticizing one who gives Terumah to an illiterate Kohen. He refuses to give the Kohen his due because he feels the Kohen is not worthy to receive this gift.

This occurs in regard to every Kohen. "Our" husband finds fault in every Kohen. This one is illiterate, the other one is not pious enough, while yet a third is not virtuous, and so on and so forth. In short, he denigrates the Priesthood. Anyone living in a house where the honor of Torah is vilified, in which Torah scholars become a mockery and their lifestyle disparaged, will certainly develop a disdain for Torah and its commandments. It is no wonder that this person's wife violated the boundaries of matrimony and was disloyal to her husband. Chazal teach us that "aveirah goreres aveirah," a sin causes another sin. One who falls into the stranglehold of sin will regrettably compound his transgressions with continued sin, because one sin leads to another. This is especially true when one attempts to justify his evil by considering it to be a mitzvah.

And a man will have lain with her…and she became secluded and she was defiled…and a spirit of jealousy had passed over him and he warned his wife. (5:13,14)

Regarding the phrase, "and a spirit of jealousy had passed over him," Rashi explains that this occurred prior to the seclusion. If he had become jealous after the seclusion, however, this law would not apply. In other words, the Torah writes about the seclusion and defilement prior to the jealousy, even though, in reality, the jealousy must precede the seclusion. We must endeavor to understand why the Torah changes the sequence of events. Why not record the events in their sequence: first kinui, jealousy and warning, followed by setirah, seclusion? Horav Yitzchok Goldwasser, Shlita, cites Chazal in the Talmud Sotah 3 who say, "Rabbi Meir says, since a man (or woman) sins in private (such as a promiscuous woman who secludes herself with a man other than her husband), Hashem will exact punishment in public." The sotah attempts to conceal her infidelity; Hashem exposes her licentiousness.

We derive from here that although the husband's jealousy and warning preceded the wife's seclusion, chronologically, from the perspective of cause and effect, the seclusion and subsequent defilement preceded the jealousy. Since this woman was destined to sin, Hashem preempted her defilement and put the notion of jealousy into the mind of her husband, causing him to warn her concerning her inappropriate behavior. The Torah is teaching a lesson regarding the reality of the sequence: What occurs is not reality; it only seems that way. One does not escape punishment by concealing his sin. Hashem prepares the scenario for the sin's exposure even before it has occurred. To sin is wrong; to think that one can get away with it is foolish.

But if the woman had not become defiled, and she is pure, then she shall be proven innocent and she shall bear seed. (5:28)

Rabbi Akiva, cited in the Talmud Sotah 26a says, "Then she shall be proven innocent and she shall bear seed." What does this mean? It refers to a circumstance in which a woman who previously had been unable to conceive, who had been wrongly accused of infidelity, will now be blessed with conception. Rabbi Yishmael questioned this, suggesting that every barren woman, therefore, will seclude herself. After being wrongly accused, she will be blessed with a child. A virtuous woman, who nonetheless remains loyal to her husband and avoids all suspicion, however, will continue to be barren! Is this fair? Thus, he interprets the pasuk to mean that if she previously had borne children in pain, she will now bear with ease; if she formerly had given birth to girls, she will henceforth give birth to boys; if previously her children had been short, they will now be tall; if formerly her children had been dark, she will now have fair children. In short, the woman who had wrongly been suspected of infidelity by her husband, such that this suspicion is broadcast throughout the community and she has undergone a process of public humiliation whereby her innocence is unequivocally proven, is rewarded. Indeed, she is a recipient of a miraculous reward from Hashem for her ordeal.

Humiliation is a terrible experience to undergo. Hashem recognizes the ordeal of one who suffers embarrassment, and He repays the victim in accordance with the extent of his personal suffering. Nachalas Tzvi cites a story that Horav Yaakov Kamenetzky, zl, related concerning Horav Yechiel Michel Heller, zl. Horav Heller would sign his name, "he'aluv, the lowly, Yechiel Michel ben Aharon." Why did he preface his name with such a shameful title?

It seems that Rav Yechiel Michel's grandfather was a very wealthy man. Whenever he left on a business trip, he would leave his business in the care of his daughter. Rumors began to slowly spread regarding her virtue. Indeed, it did not take long before her innocent name was besmirched. When she reached marriageable age, her parents could not find any prospective suitors for her. Everyone was "turned off" by her reputation. As she aged, her father decided that he must lower her standards and seek a simple young man from a common home. There was a young man in the community who fit the bill. His name was "Aharon Shmeisser," because he worked as an assistant to one of the wagon drivers, whereby he would "shmeiss," hit, the horses to get them to move. Understandably, this position did not require great acumen, and this young man "qualified" for the job.

Broken-hearted, the father attempted to convince his daughter to accept such a shidduch, match - if the young man would agree. It was not easy, but she finally acceded to her father's request. At first, the young man was not interested in the shidduch. Indeed, even his mind was poisoned by the vicious slander. After some convincing, he agreed to marry this "young" woman. As she stood beneath the chupah, the kallah looked Heavenward. In a proud, but broken voice she quietly said, "Ribono Shel Olam, You know the truth, that all of the rumors that were said about me were not true. They were nothing more than the work of evil people who envied my father's wealth. I am tahor, pure and chaste. Therefore, Ribono Shel Olam, I ask of You a special favor. Since I compromised and accepted this shidduch, in this merit, I implore that You grant me sons who will be righteous Torah scholars."

Rav Yechiel Michel's mother merited to have four sons whose Torah scholarship and virtue illuminated Klal Yisrael, all because of the humiliation she sustained. Hashem concerns Himself with the emotions and feelings of a human being. Should we not do the same?

This is the law of the Nazir on the day of the completion of his vow. (6:13)

At the conclusion of the Nazir's term he brings a sacrifice. The reason for this korban is enigmatic. Usually a sacrifice of this sort is a sin-offering, but how did the Nazir sin? One would think that at the completion of such a mitzvah, whereby the Nazir dedicates himself to Hashem on such a lofty spiritual plateau, that a Korban Chatas, sin-offering, would certainly not be necessary. Rabbeinu Bachya explains that since it appears that the Nazir is distancing himself from Hashem, he must bring a korban. Actually, he is only returning to his original state, but perception is what counts. If people might perceive him as faltering in his spiritual progression, he is to offer a korban as penance. Apparently, appearances are significant in regard to spiritual matters.

Horav A. Henach Leibowitz, Shlita, maintains that although our actions may very well be within the parameters of halachah, the mere appearance of impropriety is in itself a sin. Indeed, everything we do, regardless of its nature, has an impact on us. Because of our position as Klal Yisrael, we have a certain status to uphold, a specific standard to which to adhere. The way we eat, speak, or dress must be consistent to standards for an individual who is a member of Klal Yisrael. If it even seems that we are acting inappropriately, then we have sinned.

We may add that this is especially true in regard to parents and their relationship vis` a `vis their children. At times, we act in a manner that might fit into our "comfort zone" of respectability. Our children do not always realize this, however, and will either derive the wrong message from our actions or lose respect for us. Unknowingly, we continue along our merry way, blatantly disregarding what might be misconstrued by those nearest and dearest to us. Parents must bear in mind that they are constantly on the public stage with their children serving as the captive audience. We should seek their applause, not criticism.

The Princes of Yisrael brought offerings…they were those who stood over the counted. (7:2)

The Nesiim, Princes, each offered sacrifices in honor of the inauguration of the Mizbayach. They each brought an identical offering. Yet, the Torah records each one's offering, emphasizing the individuality of each. The Ramban adds that each Nasi maintained a different kavanah, intention, in his offering. Hence, the Torah records each Nasi's korban separately, to underscore his individual thoughts. Horav Simcha Zissel Broide, zl, derives from here that two actions, albeit identical, which are the result of two different machshavos, thoughts/intentions, are considered two distinct actions. In other words, since the Nesiim each had different intentions, the korbanos are viewed as being distinct from any other. It is all in the mind. Every individual thinks in his own unique manner. Even if the result of two individual's way of thinking coincides, their thoughts are not analogous, thus creating two different representations of thought. This is to be noted from a statement made by Chazal in Zevachim 7a. According to Rav Chisda, if one slaughters a Korban Todah, thanks-offering, in the name of his fellow's Korban Todah, it is deemed invalid, because it falls under the rule of Shinui Kodesh, transferred holiness. Although both animals were holy and destined to be slaughtered as a Korban Todah, my Korban Todah is not my friend's Korban Todah and vice versa. Each person possesses his own individual faculties which creates a distinction in actions. Hence, it is as if he slaughtered the animal for a completely different korban.

We should add that this type of individuality should be respected in all people. A mechanech, educator, is mandated to recognize each student's individuality and uniqueness: "Chanoch l'naar al pi darko," "Raise a child according to his way" (Mishlei 22:6). Shlomo HaMelech teaches us the most important maxim in education: every child must be raised and taught as an individual. The overall objective is the same: the child should grow up to be a G-d-fearing observant Jew whose actions will be pleasing to his Maker and to the society in which he lives. The practical method by which we are to guide each individual to reach the intended goal, is not the same. There are varied proclivities and temperaments, as well as intellectual and emotional potential that must be considered. Each student, or siblings in a family, must be guided commensurate with his own unique qualities. Only then can we hope to achieve success in this noble endeavor.

Vignettes on the Parsha

And the Kohen shall take from the earth that is on the floor of the Mishkan. (5:17)

The leader of Klal Yisrael, regardless of his eminent stature, should be able and prepared to learn from everyone - regardless of his simple or lowly position. The Kohen takes from the "dirt" of the Sanctuary. Its obscure and humble origins notwithstanding, it is the lesson that counts.


From wine and hard drink he shall abstain. (6:3)

Horav Sholom, zl, m'Belz says that a drunk is worse that a sinner. The drunk, looking through his stupor, sees the entire world as straight. He sees nothing wrong. He will, therefore, never repent. We may add that this applies equally to those who have intoxicated themselves with life's materialism. They can no longer see things in their true perspective.

To his father or his mother…he should not make himself impure. (6:7)

The Sochatshover Rav, zl, explains why a Kohen may be metameh, defile himself to his relatives, while a Nazir may not. The Kohen receives his sanctity as a result of his family lineage. He owes them. The Nazir reached this pinnacle on his own accord. He owes nothing to anyone. Likewise, the Kohen Gadol is not metameh to relatives, since his position is achieved by his own accord.


And he shall provide him atonement for having sinned. (6:11)

Chazal derive from here that one who "sits" b'taanis, in fast, is a sinner. It is not proper to afflict oneself. Horav Yechiel, zl, m'Ostrov'se would fast quite often. For many years, he would fast m'Shabbos l'Shabbos, all week, eating only on Shabbos. When this practice was questioned, based upon Chazal's admonishment against fasting, he responded, saying, "Chazal critique one who is "yoshev b'taanis" sits and fasts." This means that the fasting does not spiritually elevate and refine him. He continues "sitting" in the same position as before. One who increases and elevates his spiritual plateau via the medium of fasting is to be commended.


And to Bnei Kehas he did not give, because the service of the holy is upon them. They carry on the shoulder. (7:9)

The Chafetz Chaim, zl, explains why Moshe Rabbeinu did not give oxen to Bnei Kehas by which to transport the Aron Kodesh. He says that the Aron miraculously carried its own carriers. It is not dignified for the holy Ark to carry animals.

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