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Peninim on the Torah

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Rabbi A. Leib Scheinbaum
Hebrew Academy of Cleveland


If a man or woman commit any sin that people commit… then they shall confess their sin… and he shall make restitution for his guilt. (5:6,7)

The Rambam rules that vidui, confession, is a mitzvah, positive commandment, which is an integral component of the teshuvah, repentance, process. Interestingly, the Rambam does not list teshuvah as a mitzvah - only vidui. Given the crucial significance of teshuvah, we wonder why the Rambam does not include it in his minyan ha'mitzvos, detailed count of the 613 commandments. Vidui - yes. Teshuvah - no? It does not sound right. What makes the question more demanding is the fact that vidui is, in fact, part of the teshuvah process.

The Nesivos Shalom explains that teshuvah essentially is comprised of regretting the act of committing the sin. This applies whether the sin was committed intentionally or unintentionally. The fact is that the individual sinned, and, in order to expunge the spiritual taint created by his sinful behavior, he must repent. Without teshuvah, one remains distant from Hashem. He has offended the Almighty and refuses to acknowledge his infraction. Therefore, by refusing to repent, he is perpetuating his sinful behavior and maintaining his distance from Hashem. Accordingly, teshuvah, repentance, is part and parcel of the mitzvah to abstain from sin, for, by not repenting, he prolongs the sin. What is the difference between one who sins and one who perpetuates his sin? Regardless, he is offending Hashem. Thus, the Rambam writes that when one does teshuvah, he has an additional mitzvah of vidui.

We now have a new insight concerning the mitzvah of teshuvah. One who sins may think that while he did something wrong, that was then; now, it is over and done with: "One does not cry over spilled milk." If he repents - good; if he does not repent - it is not the end of the world. After all, his mind is made up, and he will not sin again. What happened - happened. He cannot rewrite the past.

We now see that this is a faulty perspective. Every day that passes by without teshuvah is a continuation of the sin. He sins every moment that he does not repent. Therefore, when one finally acknowledges his sin and regrets its commission, he must not only regret the actual violation that he committed, but he must also do teshuvah for not coming to his senses and repenting earlier. To delay one's teshuvah is to perpetuate his sin. It is that simple.

The pasuk ends with the Torah's admonition that the sinner repay his victim. Teshuvah is not complete until the victim has been placated. The Torah begins with the words ki yaasu, "will commit," in the plural; then v'hisvadu es chatasam, "then they shall confess their sin," also in the plural; but ends with, v'heishiv es ashamo, "and he shall make restitution," in the singular. What changes between the beginning of the pasuk and its conclusion? Did someone "drop out"?

Horav Zalman Sorotzkin, zl, gives a practical explanation that, sadly has become quite true. When it comes to confessing one's guilt, the offenders are prepared (after some pressure) to concede that they have made "mistakes"; the "investments" did not turn out as expected; "things" go wrong; "things" happen. Thus, the Torah writes the confession in the plural. This part is easy to extract. It is when it comes to compensation, when the thief has to reimburse the victim, that the pasuk changes into the singular. Sadly, the thieves do not wait in line to offer restitution. They erred; they are sorry. Now, the money is gone. Too bad. That's life.

A tenth eiphah of barley flour; he shall not pour oil over it and shall not put frankincense upon it. (5:15)

The composition of the korban brought on behalf of the sotah, wayward wife, is indicative of its purpose and symbolism. Coarse barley is used instead of fine flour. She acted coarsely, thus her sacrifice reflects her behavior. Likewise, she offers barley, which is a grain most often reserved for animal feed. She acted in a base manner, a behavior suitable for an animal. Last, the korban does not have the usual accompaniment of oil and frankincense, because incense recalls the spiritual fragrance of the Imahos, Matriarchs, and oil symbolizes light. She acted in darkness to conceal her sin, and she is far-removed from the example of the Matriarchs - whom she should have sought to emulate.

At first glance, what we expect of this woman is incredulous. She acted like an animal; yet, we blame her for turning away from the example set by our holy Matriarchs. Is this not a bit inconsistent? Do we expect a woman who acted so basely to think about the Matriarchs? Do we demand of the drunken derelict lying in his own vomit in the Bowery why he did not become President of the United States?

The Chachmei haMussar, Ethicists, explain that one of the primary causes for this woman's downfall is precisely that she had no set goals in life, no role model to emulate - so what else should one expect from her? Horav Yisrael Salanter, zl, was wont to compare striving for greatness to a bird flapping its wings as it soars into the sky. If for one moment it halts its flapping of the wings - it falls to the ground. Likewise, one must have a defined set of realistic goals and never swerve from their realization - even for a moment.

It was General Napolean Bonaparte who said, "A soldier who does not aspire to be a general - will not even be a soldier." A young Jewish woman should view the Imahos as the apex of Jewish womanhood. If one sets high goals, then there is hope that, even if these standards are not met, the individual's life will always be one of striving. Conversely, if there are no goals, life is one static, unchanging, wandering in space affair, which can only lead to depression and sin. It is up to us to make the correct choice.

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

When we first set eyes on an individual who has chosen a life of crime, human nature tends to focus on the present; he is a criminal, with little or no redeeming value. Rarely do we take the time to question his or her origins: What was his or her family life like as they were growing up? Did he or she go to school? Did he or she have good friends? In other words, we rarely ask where and when he or she went wrong? For the most part, this is due to a preconceived notion that all criminals had a miserable childhood, no parents to speak of, no clear set of values, etc. We could be no further from the truth.

Let us take a look at our parsha, peruse the halachos of the nazir, and ask ourselves about the origin of this saintly person, the nazir who has taken a vow upon himself to abstain from worldly pleasure, to live an ascetic life fully devoted to spiritual ascendance. Surely, this must be a person to whom sin and moral turpitude must be an anathema. Clearly, this is a person to whom the very notion of sin is something very distant. Our sages take a different look at this person - and, indeed, at all of us.

Rashi notes the juxtaposition of the laws of nazir upon those of the sotah, wayward wife. He explains that we derive from here that one who sees a sotah b'Kilkulah, in her degradation, should abstain from wine. Often, the result of inebriation is a clouding of the senses. No longer are the parameters of right and wrong clearly demarcated. People try to become lax with previously ordained moors of morality. The result is a total breakdown of the structure of morality. Infidelity is no longer taboo, and everything else that sadly follows is the stuff we read about on an almost daily basis.

Let us ask ourselves whether this holy nazir has anything to do with this repulsive woman. She has lost all sense of morality. She left her husband, her family, her friends and her parents; she shamed them all - why? A momentary fling; a lapse in moral decency; a selfish deference to base nature. Why would the nazir even dream that this woman, who represents his complete opposite, has any lesson to impart to him? He surely does not lead such a degenerate lifestyle.

This is specifically the Torah's lesson. It takes one mistake, one diversion from the straight and proven path, one uncontrolled glass of wine, and suddenly the individual is no longer the same. This is why he must immediately abstain from wine. Hashem has shown him something very important. It was no simple sojourn that he took that day. If it led him past an ishah sotah, there must have been a reason for it.

I once met a fellow who was doing his third "tour" in the department of corrections. At first glance, he appeared to look like a common person - nothing special - nothing overly negative about his appearance. After speaking with him for a while, I discovered that he had graduated Harvard Law School magna cum laude, and had immediately been hired as a White House intern during the Clinton administration. His future was very promising; his life appeared to be moving forward on a positive note.

Then he discovered the allure of narcotics. First, it was pain killers, followed by anti-depressants, until, as they say in contemporary vernacular, he was hooked. One thing led to another. He lost his prestigious position. After great difficulty, he found another job in a law firm. This, too, did not last long. He was an emotional and physical wreck - all the product of his own foolish delinquency. He had no one to blame but himself. Now he sits incarcerated, with time to mull over a life gone bad. He has repented - numerous times. Each time he makes up his mind - no more - until the next time. This is the sotah b'kilkulah. We think it can never happen to us. The Torah, thus, encourages us to abstain from wine. No protection against sin is too much.

All the days of the vow of his nezirus… holy shall he be. (6:5)

The Nazir is unique in that his body becomes consecrated to Hashem. He becomes kadosh, holy, b'kedushas ha'guf, his actual body becomes holy. He is not permitted to become ritually impure to a corpse, even to his closest seven relatives. Why? Ki neizar Elokav al Rosho, "For the crown of his G-d is upon his head" (ibid 6:7). What is the meaning of being the "receptacle" for Hashem's crown? Why would this be a reason for prohibiting him from becoming contaminated to a corpse? Is he holier than the Kohen who is permitted to become tamei, contaminated, to his seven close relatives?

Chazal teach that the prohibition is only concerning ritual defilement due to actual contact with the corpse. He is, however, allowed to attend the eulogy and to stand in line with the mourners. This law is applicable whether the Nazir has a growth of hair on his head or whether it has already been shorn.

In a masterfully crafted thesis, Horav Nissan Alpert, zl, distinguishes between the various loves that exist between parent and child, mother and newborn infant, child and parent who has passed away. He delineates between love for the human body of either parent or child, versus a deeper, more profound and intellectual love for the character of the person.

The love of a parent toward his/her child, and child toward his/her parent, reaches its apex during variant, almost contrasting, stages. The love felt and expressed by a mother for her newborn infant is without peer and measure. Likewise, the pain felt and expressed by a child experiencing the demise of a parent is unparalleled. The intensity of emotion reaches its highest point during birth and death. During these experiences, a commonality is shared in that the emotion is unrestrained and unbounded. During the intervening period of "life" following the infant's growth until shortly before a parent's death, the parent/child relationship is more complex, requiring greater understanding.

In other words, to place it in a more present-day vernacular: there is a difference between emotional love, which is unconfined and inexhaustible, and intellectual love, which is bounded by intellect, common sense and an acute awareness of reality. Now that we have established these parameters, we ask ourselves why, according to the Torah's point of view, should this pattern exist? How are we to understand this?

Seichal ha'yashar is mechayev, common sense imperes that the older one gets, the greater intelligence that he possesses, the more "person" he becomes, it would give greater reason for a stronger, more balanced egalitarian and harmonious relationship. Logically, one would expect that parents relate better to offspring after such offspring has matured and reached a stage of greater intellectual and personal sophistication.

The flipside is just as reasonable and presents a strong argument. As a child matures, independence sets in. Anyone who has ever raised a teenager or chosson/kallah "type" knows that this transformation does not always lend itself to greater harmony. Independence, by its very esssense, means to break away, to sever the relationship. The child is no longer an extension of the parents' bodies.

This state of independence which fluctuates up and down, back and forth, during the lifetime relationship between parent and child, is terminated upon death. The deceased is now completely reliant upon the kindness and love of the surviving loved one. At death, the relationship reverts to its status at birth, when the child is once again an extension of the mother's body. The love that has over the years been suppressed is now aroused and ready to once again be shared. Likewise, in death, the surviving relative can wail more easily and, without inhibition, declare, "Woe, for what I have lost! Woe, for the part of me that has left me!"

When Chavah gave birth to Kayin, she exclaimed, Kanisi ish es Hashem, "I have acquired a man with Hashem" (Bereishis 4:1). She had more than an emotional bond with her newborn child. She acquired something special. The connection was physical, as well as emotional. Mother and child develop a relationship unlike any other relationship between two human beings, other than husband and wife, concerning which it is written, V'hayu l'basar echad, "They shall become one flesh" (Bereishis 2:24). There is a physical, as well as emotional, bond.

There is another area of commonality to be addressed - that of the birthing mother who becomes tamei, ritually unclean, with birth, and a corpse, which is the avi avos ba'tumah, highest level of ritual impurity. Rav Alpert explains that when a person takes leave of his mortal surroundings, there is an outburst of love which is purely physical in nature. People who were close to the niftar, deceased, yearn for the physical entity - not the Tzelem Elokim, Image of G-d, spiritual essence of the individual, but his physical aspect, the one to which we related, we loved. When death occurs, the mourners grieve over the "body" without the soul. Likewise, when a child is born, the attachment that is generated by its birth is physical. The mother focuses on the physical entity which is an extension of herself. Thus, there is tumah, ritual impurity.

This, explains Rav Alpert, is the idea behind our supplication that Hashem be merciful to us, k'racheim av al banim, "Like a father is merciful toward his children" (Tehillim103:13). David Hamelech underscores father, rather than mother. A mother's love stems from her physical bond with the child who is an extension of herself. The father's love is more focused on his child's being a Tzelem Elokim. It is a deeper, perhaps less traumatic, sort of love.

Attraction to physicality can be somewhat dangerous. Inordinate fascination to the physical can be manifest in one's excessive interest in base earthly pleasures, or by being overly impressed and impacted by the purely physical external aspects of people, such as beauty. Additionally, one becomes obsessed with what he lacks - physically - rather than by what he has.

Kinah, envy; taavah, lust; kavod, honor: are the three primary physical drives which our sages consider to be the most harmful negative character traits that can drive a person to forfeit his portion in the World to Come. These are all obsessions with physicality, seeking what another person possesses, feeling a personal sense of inadequacy, always mulling over how one appears in the eyes of others.

This is what prompts the nazir to take an extreme approach to life, to make an about face, to remove himself dramatically from the pursuits of the flesh. He is prepared to live a life focused on spirituality, idealism, character refinement and closeness to Hashem. By being a nazir, he embarks on a radical path that circumvents the passions of the flesh and brings him into greater proximity to Hashem.

A nazir may not drink wine, cut his hair, or contaminate himself to a corpse. Basically, we can say that he has severed his relationship with all externality, superficiality, from the flesh - which represents the outer layer of a person. His outward appearance is of no significance to him. He neglects himself by growing his hair long. He eschews physicality.

We now understand why, although the nazir may not come in proximity of a corpse, he may, attend the hesped, eulogy. The human corpse represents the flesh/external aspect of a human being. The eulogy focuses on his essence, his character, achievements - not his physical dimension. The nazir may attend the "intellectual" aspect of death, because it enhances his goals. While it is true that at a funeral we mourn the "body" of the friend, relative, with whom we will no longer share our experiences; but more so, we grieve over the vacuum left by the return of his neshamah, soul, to its Heavenly source.

In closing, Rav Alpert returns to the pasuk, "For the crown of his G-d is upon his head." Hashem is the primary influence on the nazir. He is guided by his "head," looking up to G-d for guidance. He has outgrown the passions of his heart, the desires of the flesh. He is guided by Elokav, his G-d, employing the Divine Name which reflects Middas HaDin, the Attribute of Strict Justice. Hashem judges a man through the spectrum of justice, clarity unclouded by emotion. Likewise, the nazir is guided by the "crown of his G-d on his head"; his thought process, his "head," referring to his seichel, common sense, wisdom, ability to view situations cogently, is not distorted by his heart. He is kadosh l'Hashem, holy to G-d.

How fitting it is that the parsha of nazir follows immediately after that of the sotah, wayward wife. This woman represents all that can go wrong when the passions of the heart, the desires of the flesh, distort one's ability to think rationally. The nazir sees where too much wine can lead to more than inebriation. It can lead to the destruction of one's self, family, and future. The nazir knows what he must do; he understands the immediate course of action that he must take. He must place his head in "gear" before his heart goes into "overdrive."

So shall you bless Bnei Yisrael, saying to them. (6:23)

The Kohen who blesses the people has an "approved text" to which he must adhere verbatim. There is no room for the Kohen to supplement the prescribed text stated in the Torah. The Kohen who adds blessing transgresses the prohibition of Es kol hadavar asher Anochi metzaveh eschem oso tishmoru laasos, lo soseif alav v'lo sigra mimenu, "The entire word that I command you, that you shall observe to do; you shall not add to it, and you shall not subtract from it" (Devarim 13:1). In his commentary to the pasuk, Rashi cites examples of Bal Tosif, do not add: five tosafos, compartments for Tefillim; five species for a Lulav; four blessings for Bircas Kohanim, Priestly Blessings.

Bearing the above in mind, let us look to Parashas Pinchas as Moshe Rabbeinu prepares to transfer the reins of leadership to his primary disciple and successor, Yehoshua. The first step in the process was semichah d'Oraisa, Biblical ordination, whereby Moshe conferred "rabbinic" status on his student. This was the beginning of a chain of tradition that went on for generations, through the era of the Amoraim. There was an attempt to revive semichah in the early sixteenth century in Tzfas, but it failed to germinate.

In Parashas Pinchas, the Torah relates that Moshe placed both hands on Yehoshua - despite being instructed by Hashem to lay only one hand on him. Rashi explains that Moshe ordained Yehoshua b'ayin yafeh, "good eye," with both hands. How could Moshe amend Hashem's instructions and add to the mitzvah? Why was he not in transgression of Bal Tosif? The Kli Yakar asks this question, wondering why semichah should be any different than the other classic mitzvos cited by Rashi.

Horav Aryeh Leib Heyman, zl, distinguishes between mitzvos ben adam laMakom, between man and the Almighty, and mitzvos ben adam lachaveiro, between man and his fellow man. The prohibition against adding to a mitzvah applies to those mitzvos between man and G-d. Hashem has given strict instructions concerning the parameters of the mitzvah. When it comes to performing various acts of loving kindness to our fellowman, there are no restrictions concerning doing more. Kol ha'mosif, mosifin lo, 'Whoever adds, it will be added to him." He will be blessed for going beyond the call of duty.

Apparently, the Priestly Blessing is a mitzvah which is bein adam laMakom. Thus, there is no allowance for addition of any sort. Rav Heyman supports this with a statement found in the Sifri's commentary to our parsha. The Torah writes, V'aani avaracheim, "And I will bless them." The Torah underscores that the blessing is derived from Hashem, so that people should not erroneously think that their blessings are contingent upon the Kohanim. The blessings come from Hashem. The Kohanim are the medium for deliverance. Hashem - and only Hashem - can confer blessing. Thus, it is clear that the mitzvah is bein adam laMakom.

The Biur Halachah wonders how a parent may confer blessing on his child, employing the exact text reserved for the Kohanim's blessing. Does the Talmud not derive from the words koh sevarachem, "So, shall you bless," that a zar, Yisrael or Levi, who are not members of the Priestly family, may not bless? Rav Heyman explains that a Yisrael is considered a zar only with regard to ascending the Duchan in the Sanctuary and conferring an official blessing in a place reserved for Kohanim. Under such circumstances, the zar partners with other Kohanim in a blessing through which Hashem bestows His favor on those who are the subjects of the blessing. Since the zar is not part of this august group of Kohanim, he transgresses koh sevarechu, by bestowing blessing using the Biblical vernacular. However, a father who blesses his son with a personal blessing - not as a Bircas Kohanim - is acting bein adam lachaveiro. Thus, there is no reason to prohibit his blessing - even if he uses biblical language. As long as he is not acting bein adam laMakom, it is not a mitzvah, per se.

Va'ani Tefillah

V'sartem va'avaditem elohim acheirim. And turn astray and serve gods of others.

V'sartem, one turns away from Hashem by being poreish min haTorah, removing Torah study from his religious practice. In other words, he serves Hashem, performs mitzvos, carried out acts of loving kindness - just does not study Torah. This person is considered an oveid elohim acheirim, worshipping "another G-d." He thinks that he worships Hashem, but he does not. Horav Shimon Schwab, zl, puts it very succinctly, "Judaism without Torah is another religion." Other religions have a prayer service, religious rituals, observances and prohibitions. We have one thing which they do not have: Limud haTorah, Torah study. That makes all the difference.

Rashi explains it further when he says, she'heim acheirim l'ovdeihem, 'They are called other gods, because they are strangers to those who serve them." One pleads with his god - no answer. Thus, the other god becomes estranged to the supplicant. A person may believe in Hashem Echad and, certainly, he is not an idol worshipper, but he does not have anyone listening to his tefillos. Rav Schwab adds that, even when one says all of the right words, bows when necessary, even gives a shuckle, body movement, here and there, if he does not have the proper kavanah, intention and devotion, that he is standing before the Ribono Shel Olam, then he is praying to elohim acheirim, a stranger who does not hear his tefillos. Prayer without kavanah is not talking to anyone in particular.

R' Alter Chaim Dovid by R' Menachem Shmuel z"l
niftar 28 Iyar5767
Menachem Shmuel and Roiza Devora Salamon
In memory of Mr. David Salamon

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