Back to This Week's Parsha

Peninim on the Torah

subscribe.gif (2332 bytes)

Previous issues

Rabbi A. Leib Scheinbaum
Hebrew Academy of Cleveland


Take a census of the sons of Gershon, as well. (4:21)

Judging a book by its cover is a mistake. Concerning Judaism it could be a most tragic mistake. One never knows what is within the pages of a book. Some covers are products of a marketing genius who has employed an incredibly astute and talented graphic artist. The book within is, regrettably, a waste. Other covers are quite simple, but contain within their pages brilliant reading. Horav Moshe Feinstein, zl, suggests that an error in judgment may catalyze some Jews to renege mitzvah observance and even Judaism. There are those who settle for being "moderately" Jewish, claiming that, since they cannot ever really attain perfection, why should they bother? They either blame themselves for being too simple, or they perceive Judaism to be such a demanding religion, requiring one to know so much and be so learned, they feel it is better to not even try. Their judgment call is based upon what they view as the "cover" of Judaism. They neither take the time, nor are they willing to expend the effort, to open the "book" and leaf through the "pages," to see for themselves that achievement is based upon attitude.

This type of individual allows his false sense of perception to affect his generosity towards Jewish education. When asked to contribute to an educational institution or endeavor, he is quick to assert that, since the goal is unrealistic, why should he bother? The institution will never raise all of the money anyway. The excuse that he employs for eschewing mitzvah observance allows him smugly to refuse to help organizations in dire need of funds.

The Rosh Yeshivah applies this concept to explain what appears to be a difficulty in understanding the text of the pasuk concerning the census-taking of the Leviim. The Torah writes in the context of the Bnei Gershon, gam heim, "as well," which seems to indicate that, as Bnei Kehas were counted from the age of thirty to the age of fifty, the same would apply to Bnei Gershon.

Rav Moshe explained that the age parameter was based upon physical strength. One's strength peaks at age thirty and begins to wane at the age of fifty. Thus, it makes sense that Bnei Gershon, who were charged with carrying the curtains of the Mishkan, should be counted. This was a physically exertive labor which required peak physical conditioning.

Bnei Kehas, however, carried the Aron HaKodesh and the other holy vessels of the Mishkan. These utensils were not "heavy," since they were buoyed by their sanctity. Aron nosei es nos'av, "the Aron carried its carriers": It would, therefore, be safe to assume that even elderly men could perform this function. With this in mind, the Torah's added phrase, gam heim, "as well," which is stated concerning Bnei Gershon, should rather have been written concerning Bnei Kehas. The chiddush, novelty, is that Bnei Kehas also were counted between thirty to fifty years of age, despite the fact that their function did not require physical strength. They should, therefore, not have had limitations in age placed upon them. If the Torah determined that the age restriction applied to Bnei Kehas, as well, it should have stated this concerning them - not concerning Bnei Gershon.

The Rosh Yeshivah explains that the Torah is alluding to what might become an issue with Bnei Gershon. There is no question that carrying the Aron HaKodesh was an important function in the maintenance of the Mishkan. Carrying the curtains was also important, but perhaps in the eyes of someone who is not viewing it from the proper perspective, not as important as carrying the Aron. Bnei Gershon might be led to think that the Bnei Kehas were counted because they performed an important function. Their mitzvah was to carry the Holy of Holies. The mere thought of such a jaundiced attitude could catalyze within Bnei Gershon a feeling of listlessness concerning their function of carrying the curtains. This cannot be, because joy is the primary ingredient in mitzvah performance. Without joy, the same mitzvah is not as meaningful.

Thus, the Torah added the words, gam heim,"as well." They are considered to be on the same level as Bnei Kehas, because there is no such thing as hierarchy among the Leviim. Each one had his own function, which was useless without the participation of all the other Leviim. A Mishkan with an Aron but no curtains, is not a Mishkan. It does not matter to Hashem who does what - who carries what. The fact that they are all focused on serving Hashem attributes significance to their service. All the components of the Mishkan have equal importance, because each one requires the presence of the others. It is not size or function that matters, for they all must be working together in order to create Hashem's resting place.

A man's holies shall be his, and what a man gives to the Kohen shall be his. (5:10)

In the Talmud Bava Basra 11a, Chazal relate the following episode. King Munbaz, who, according to Rashi, was of Chashmonean descent, depleted his treasuries and the treasuries of his forebears to feed the poor during the years of famine. His brothers and members of his father's family called him to task for this. In their critique they claimed, "Your fathers hoarded their wealth and thus added to the fortune left to them by their forefathers. You, however, are decreasing their wealth." Munbaz replied by enumerating the various advantages of giving charity. He said, "My fathers hoarded their wealth below on earth, I, by virtue of charity, have hoarded wealth Above - in Heaven. My fathers hoarded in an insecure place, but I have hoarded my wealth in a secure place. My fathers hoarded something that does not produce fruits, while I have hoarded something which will produce fruits. My fathers hoarded their wealth for others to use, but I have hoarded reward for myself. My fathers hoarded wealth for this world, while I have hoarded merit for the World to Come.

The phrase, Ani ganazti l'atzmi, "I hoarded (reward) for myself," tells it all. As the Torah teaches: V'ish es kodoshav… lo yiheyu. "A man's holies shall be his." We think that by hoarding our material wealth, refusing to share it with anyone less fortunate than we are, we are amassing greater fortune. The Torah tells us otherwise. If one wants to guarantee continued ownership of his material wealth, he should "invest" it in tzedakah, charity. Every dollar that goes to tzedakah is guaranteed to accompany him to his final resting place in Olam Habba, the World to Come.

Horav Reuven Karlinstein, Shlita, relates the following interpretation of Yaakov Avinu's vow to Hashem: V'chol asher titen li; aseir aasreinu lach, "And whatever You will give me, I shall repeatedly tithe to You" (Bereishis 28:22). Yaakov acknowledged that what really was considered sheli, "mine," aseir aasreinu lach - "that which I give to You" - the maaser, tithe, this is mine. Everything else might be temporarily in my possession, but it is the money I give to tzedakah that is really mine.

Furthermore, whatever we share with others is guaranteed safe. No one can take it; it cannot be lost or stolen, because Hashem is watching over it. With regard to our material possessions, however, we are, regrettably, acutely aware of how safe they really are. The economy has no effect on our tzedakah. Its value cannot rise or disappear. It stays the same - safe and sound.

Indeed, the Chafetz Chaim, zl, would say, "If the wealthy would only realize the incredible reward in store for those who support Torah, they would take every cent and support Torah scholars and yeshivos with it. The only reason that He has concealed this reward from the wealthy is to allow the poor to contribute some of their wretched earnings."

It is related that every Erev Shabbos an elderly widow would seek out Horav Yechezkel Sarne, zl, at his home. She spent precious time there talking about whatever was important to her at the time. The Rosh Yeshivah listened, advised and basically participated in the conversation. His family members complained about her behavior. After all, the Rosh Yeshivah's time was quite valuable. Her four pennies were not supporting the Yeshivah, such that it would render his time spent worthwhile. The Rosh Yeshivah replied, "The Yeshivah does not stand upon her or her pennies. It is upon the stale bread that she saves everyday - starving herself, so that she has those few pennies to give to us - that the Yeshivah stands!"

What a powerful insight. It is not how much one gives. It is what the person must endure in order to give; that is the real tzedakah. Some give much, but it comes easily to them. Others give very little, but it is earned with blood, sweat and tears. Hashem values every drop of toil - every bit of sweat that is expended. He includes it all in calculating the benefactor's reward.

The Yissochar/Zevulun partnership heralds back to the original Shivtei Kah: Yissachar, who spent his days and nights studying Torah; and Zevulun, his brother, who engaged in commerce and shared his earnings with Yissochar. Chazal teach that Zevulun's reward equals that of Yissochar, since he is the enabler who facilitates Yissochar's learning. Horav Aharon Leib Shteinman, Shlita, wonders how it is that Yissochar's learning is considered and reckoned on behalf of Zevulun. After all, Zevulun is not actually learning! Concerning material endeavors, it is impossible for one person to be motzi, fulfill another person's obligation, for him. For example: Reuven cannot eat matzoh for Shimon; he cannot put on Tefillin or shake a Lulav for him. Either he performs the mitzvah personally or it has not been done. Yissochar learns Torah - Zevulun supports him, but Zevulun is not personally studying Torah. How can it be that he merits a reward similar to that of Yissochar?

The Rosh Yeshivah explains that this is a special chesed, kindness, from Hashem, similar to what is apparent in nature: the greater the need, the more abundant its source. We cannot exist without air. Thus, it is everywhere. The world cannot continue as a place for human habitation if there is not sufficient air. Water is a similar product which is found in abundance - although significantly less than air. This is because air is an absolute requirement for life. Water is not. Meat, for example, is found at a greater premium, because one can live without meat.

We now understand the extraordinary edge of the machazik Torah, supporter of Torah. From a spiritual vantage point, Torah is much like air: without it, one cannot survive. Even if one were to argue that without air one simply dies, the least we can say is that Torah is like water to a fish. It will not die immediately, but it will soon succumb without water. Since a Jew cannot live a spiritual life without Torah, it must be readily available everywhere that a Jew finds himself. Thus, Hashem has provided the Jew with an acute act of chesed, kindness. Wherever a Jew finds himself, he can connect with Torah by offering his support. If he personally is unable to learn, he should at least avail others to do so. Thus, he will have fulfilled the mitzvah of limud haTorah.

A man or woman who shall disassociate himself by taking a Nazarite vow for the sake of Hashem. (6:2)

Rashi quotes Chazal who observe that the laws of Nazir are juxtaposed upon the laws concerning the sotah, wayward wife. They derive that one who sees a sotah in her state of degradation should prohibit wine to himself by taking a Nazarite vow. The understanding behind this is that the sotah teaches us what unabashed sensual pleasure can do to a person. While intellectually one knows it is wrong, the heart, which is the seat of passion, has a "mind" of its own. People are easy prey to temptation and, thus, unless they are under strict control, they will become victim to their own desires.

Horav Nochum Mordechai, zl, m'Novominsk suggests an alternative exegesis. The Baal Shem Tov's maxim that one "sees what one is" is well known. Whatever is brought to someone's attention is by Heavenly design. It is a subtle message that there is a failing within him that he has not noticed. This is Hashem's wake-up call for him to introspect and put his life in order. With this concept in mind, the Novominsker offers a homiletic rendering of the Mishnah in Negaim 2:5, "All plagues a man may see (and render halachic decision concerning them) except his own plagues." When a person notices a "plague," a failing in someone else, he should be aware that actually it is mi'nigei atzmo; he is guilty of the same infraction. This is a message from Hashem to address a personal failing.

This is the idea behind the roeh sotah b'kilkulah, seeing a sotah in her state of degradation. If he has "chanced" upon the scene, he should know that it was not by "chance." Hashem is telling him that he also has "issues," perhaps not as egregious, but they begin somewhere. By becoming a Nazir, he will learn to address these issues.

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

The Nazir concludes the days of his nezirus vow and brings a korban, offering. The type of offering is similar to a Korban Chattas, sin-offering which makes the reader wonder: Why bring a sin-offering at the conclusion of the nezirus vow? This is not a sin, but a mitzvah! The Nazir has just devoted time to bringing himself closer to the Almighty. This is the manifestation of a holy calling. By removing himself from the whims and pleasure of this world, the Nazir has elevated himself above the spiritual plateau of most Jews. Yet, he is treated like a sinner who must bring a chattas. Why?

Rabbeinu Bachya explains that this korban is brought to counteract appearances. Apparently, the Nazir acted in a certain exalted manner during his yimei nezirus. Now, for all appearances, he is descending from that plateau, returning to a more mundane lifestyle, removing himself from Hashem. It is not as if the Nazir is doing something wrong. He is simply going back to the level he had been: normal, simple. Consider a person who has moved to a high level of service to Hashem. When his relationship with the Almighty has been closer, more intimate, and he is returning to a normal, accepted standard of living, his actions appear inappropriate, people will begin to talk, as they usually do, out of boredom and utter ignorance. This requires a korban seeking atonement.

After all is said and done, who cares about appearances: What difference does it make what people will say? Let them mind their own business and not be so nosy. Is it my fault if people cannot control their maligning tongues?

Horav A. Henoch Leibowitz, zl, derives a powerful and perhaps frightening lesson from here. Although our actions may well be within the parameters of halachah, if it appears inappropriate, this is in itself a sin. In other words, as difficult as it may be to accept, it is not what we do, but rather, it is perception that counts. What will the neighbors say? The mere appearance of impropriety is a sin. Acting in a manner that is seemingly wrong - but is not - is not much different than actually executing a sin. The harmful effect on us is similar.

The Rosh Yeshivah observes that this korban illuminates for us the significance of our actions. Whatever we do - be it physical or spiritual - affects us. There is an impact. If people think we are sinful, we are sinful! We will be taken to task for all of our actions, even those that only appear to be lacking. Thus, the manner in which we dress, speak, eat, interact with people will be scrutinized by the Heavenly Court. Commensurate with our station in life and that which is expected of us, we will be appropriately chastised. If it only appears that we are acting undignified, sinful, in a harmful manner to others, such as speaking lashon hora, slander. Although there is not a shred of truth to anyone's erroneous observation, we are nonetheless guilty of committing a sin. This is frightening, yet compelling, because it reminds us concerning who we are, whom we represent and how we must project ourselves to the world. This should catalyze pride - not fear.

How far-reaching are the effects of "appearances"? The Torah (Vayikra 19:15) exhorts judges not to favor a wealthy or distinguished litigant who stands before him, V'lo se'hdar pnei gadol, "And you shall not honor the great." Regrettably, this is a fact of life. Some people are treated more favorably than others. This, of course, causes the average person to talk. The fact that the distinguished person may be innocent, justified, right, does not enter the slanderer's mind. He is exonerated by the judge/rabbi due to his power. Thus, the rabbi is maligned as well, which causes a chillul Hashem, desecration of Hashem's Name. As I said, this is regrettably a fact of life.

The Machazeh Avraham was a distinguished Rav in pre-World War II Europe. In his town, there lived a wealthy Jew who was a shanah u'pireish, had once learned Torah. He had been observant, but he decided to renege it all and eschew his observance. In addition, he did this with extreme chutzpah, audacity, making a point of not concealing his disdain for the Torah way of life. He blatantly kept his store open on Shabbos. The Rav would take a circuitous route on his way to shul on Shabbos, so as not to see the chillul Shabbos. One Pesach, which happened to fall on Shabbos, this man asked the Rav to please stop by, he had something to show him. The Rav did not want to go, but, after ruminating awhile, he decided to acquiesce. Perhaps he wanted the Rav to guide him on his return to Torah Judaism.

It was a mistake. The evil man had no such intention. On the contrary, he wanted to really rub it in the Rav's face as he ate a chametz sandwich in his presence. The Machazeh Avraham was shocked at the man's chutzpah. His brazen act of profaning Shabbos in front of the Rav's eyes was unforgiveable. The man was powerful and shameless. Perhaps it was his wealth and power, in addition to the fact that every other Jew in the city was obsequious to him, that furthered his arrogance. He feared no one. It was almost as if he were daring someone to do something about his desecration of the Torah. Adhering to the Torah's enjoinment not to favor anyone - regardless of his status, the Machazeh Avraham berated him with a severe tongue-lashing. A few moments went by and the man, who had originally been laughing hysterically, began to choke, grabbed his throat and choked to death.

This episode caused a stir in the city. The Kiddush Shem Shomayim, sanctification of the Name of Heaven, was lauded by the entire town - Jew and non-Jew alike. It catalyzed tremendous reverence for the Rav, as it invoked a deep-rooted acknowledgement and appreciation of the sanctity of the Torah and its mitzvos.

Thus, it came as a shock to the townspeople that the Rav attended this wicked man's funeral. When he was later queried concerning his attendance, he said, "At the end, despite this man's manifold transgressions, he was the direct cause of an awesome Kiddush Hashem. How could I not attend this man's funeral?"

Let us analyze the above episode. Had the Rav ignored the man's impudence - people would say, "The Rav is weak." The fact that the man received his well-earned punishment immediately after the Rav's rebuke created a positive stir among the people. The fact that the Rav attended the funeral raised people's eyebrows: "Is he sorry? Perhaps he is weaker than we thought." Clearly, most people did not conjecture that the Rav was honoring the fact that the man was the mediocum for a Kiddush Hashem. This demonstrates that regardless of what we do - we cannot win. We must do what is proper, correct and advisable according to halachah, and let the chips fall where they may.

With appearances playing such a pivotal role in defining sin, we cite the Chafetz Chaim in Sefer Mitios HaKatzeir, who demonstrates how far this can go. The Torah (Vayikra 22:32) writes, V'nikdashti b'soch Bnei Yisrael, "Rather I should be sanctified among the Bnei Yisrael." The Chafetz Chaim quotes the pasuk, emphasizing that Kiddush Hashem is a Biblical mitzvah. He then writes, "We must carry out this mitzvah with mesiras nefesh, devotion and self-sacrifice, even to the point of relinquishing our lives. This is so that our faith in the Almighty is publicized. Thus, if "they" compel him to give up his faith, he should neither listen nor accede to their desires; rather, he should give up his life."

Horav Yitzchak Zilberstein, Shlita, debates whether one may "stall" his implementation of the mitzvah of Kiddush Hashem. For example, the gentile demands that a Jew apostatize. The Jew responds that he needs some time to make a decision, to put things in order. This is a stall tactic with the hope that salvation will somehow arrive in time to save his life. He is prepared to die, but just wants to see if his death can be averted. Is this permissible? V'nikdashti means that one should sanctify Hashem's Name. There does not seem to be an allowance for "taking one's time" in carrying out the mitzvah. Furthermore, what will people say? He is giving the impression that he is not prepared to die for Hashem.

Rav Zilberstein feels that according to the essential halachah, there is no reason why one must allow himself to be killed - immediately - without attempting to negotiate his release. He questions his psak, halachic decision, from the episode concerning Rabbi Amnon of Mayence, Germany, the author of U'nesaneh Tokef. When confronted with the question of Kiddush Hashem, he asked the king for three days to "think it over." He later suffered a brutal, painful, tragic death. Why did he wait? Should he not have told the king that there is nothing to negotiate? Do what you must do. Rav Zilberstein explains that there was no question in Rabbi Amnon's mind concerning giving up his life. He asked for three days because he was such a tzaddik, righteous person, that he did not want to call attention to himself. The last thing he wanted was to be remembered as a legendary martyr. He thus "played down" his act of self-sacrifice. He was concerned about how people would perceive him, and he did not want to be guilty of "false" misrepresentation. How far we have distanced ourselves from this unique spiritual plateau!

Va'ani Tefillah

Adon ha'niflaos. Master of wonders

Horav Eliyahu Eliezer Dessler, zl, cites the Gaon, zl, of Vilna, who says that the phrase, Adon ha'niflaos, is an acknowledgement in the Olam Ha'Asiyah, that by the medium of Hashem's wonders, we come to realize that there is a Master to the world. We take the liberty of explaining this concept. There are four "worlds" of Kabbalah: Asiyah, Yetzirah; Beriyah; Atzilus. As Rav Dessler explains, these world are neither places nor universes. They are states of consciousness. One's "world" is defined by what he sees as absolute. Thus, a person who sees moral and spiritual awareness as an absolute lives in a higher world - the world of Yetzirah. This was the world in which Adam HaRishon lived while in Gan Eden and the one inhabited by Klal Yisrael as they stood at Har Sinai. For them, reality was the life of the spirit. Spirituality was as real to them as touching and feeling is to us. Understandably, what one perceives as absolute transitions with his spiritual status.

In conclusion, what I perceive as real defines my world. This, in turn, depends upon my spiritual level. When we perceive Hashem's miracles, we acknowledge His "involvement" in this world as an absolute. Since this is a sense-experience realization for what we have seen with our own two eyes, we attribute these wonders to Hashem, thereby making this acknowledgement part of our Olam Ha'Asiyah.

Sponsored in loving memory of our
dear father and zaidy on his yahrzeit

Rabbi Shlomo Silberberg
Harav Shlomo ben Nosson z"l
niftar 14 Sivan 5759

Zev and Miriam Solomon and Family

Peninim on the Torah is in its 20th year of publication. The first fifteen years have been published in book form.

The Fifteenth volume is available at your local book seller or directly from Rabbi Scheinbaum.

He can be contacted at 216-321-5838 ext. 165 or by fax at 216-321-0588

Discounts are available for bulk orders or Chinuch/Kiruv organizations.


This article is provided as part of Shema Yisrael Torah Network
Permission is granted to redistribute electronically or on paper,
provided that this notice is included intact.
For information on subscriptions, archives, and
other Shema Yisrael Classes,
send mail to
Jerusalem, Israel