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Peninim on the Torah

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Rabbi A. Leib Scheinbaum
Hebrew Academy of Cleveland


Moshe said to Aharon: "Come near to the Mizbayach…and provide atonement for yourself and for the people." (9:7)

Aharon HaKohen was selected to represent Klal Yisrael to provide atonement for himself and the people. Why was Aharon chosen to represent Klal Yisrael? What unique quality did he manifest that made him worthy of being Kohen Gadol? The Targum Yonasan cited by Horav Yitzchak Zilberstein, Shlita, in his sefer, Aleinu Le'Shabeach, on Parashas Ki Sisa writes that Moshe Rabbeinu, in his hesped, eulogy, for Aharon HaKohen cried out, "Woe is me for you, Aharon, my brother, the pillar of prayer of Klal Yisrael."

The Netziv, zl, questions Moshe's description of Aharon as Klal Yisrael's "pillar of prayer." Was not Moshe the one who constantly entreated Hashem on behalf of the Jewish People? Let us just look back at their history and we will see that it was Moshe, not Aharon, who should be characterized as the Amuda d'tzelusa d' Yisrael: There was the Yam Suf, followed by the manna, the quail and countless incidents during their forty-year sojourn in the desert. Each and every time, it was Moshe who prayed and interceded on their behalf - not Aharon. Why then is Aharon crowned as the Jewish People's great "supplicator?"

To explain this, the Netziv distinguishes between two foci's of prayer: Prayer for great miracles, for the rendering of the supernatural, such as was the case at the Red Sea, the manna, and all the miraculous events that occurred in the desert. A second focus is prayer for the everyday, mundane life - necessities such as health, livelihood, success in raising children and harmony between husband and wife. Every individual has his own "peckel," personal baggage, his own list of requests, which bother him. They may not be important in the overall scheme of things, but, to this person, they are everything! Many assume that the most significant power of prayer is the prayer one makes for wondrous miracles. It is not. It is the prayer uttered on behalf of the "little guy," the common Jew, the housewife, the teenager in need. The daily prayers expressing Klal Yisrael's needs - that is what counts.

Each and every Jew deals with personal challenge in his own individual way. To some, making a livelihood is the most important obstacle to overcome. To others, it is the health and welfare, both physical and spiritual, of their children, that plays a significant role. Yet, to others, it is shidduchim, seeing to it that their child marry the appropriate mate and be happy. There is health, both physical and emotional, which weighs heavy on the minds of some. This was Aharon's function, his area of expertise, the magnet that drew every Jew to him. What better basis for his very selection as the people's representative?

These shall you abominate from among the birds, they may not be eaten…the chasidah. (11:13,19)

What a beautiful name - chasidah! Rashi says that the chasidah truly was a bird that performed chesed - with members of its own specie. This is not an admirable trait. We Jews do not believe in selective, discriminatory, chesed. Rashi's use of the word chavrosehah, its "friends", seems to lend itself to a deeper thought. The term chaver/chibur means connection. When two people are connected with each other, they are considered chaveirim. The connection is of an equal and positive nature. There is something in common between the two. A reyah is a stronger form of friendship. In any event, the term chaver refers to someone who sees things in the same manner that I do. We are connected because we agree with each other. This implies that the chasidah acts kindly only with those it can call a chaver, with whom it sees "eye to eye."

The chasidah represents the individual who acts kindly with those that are like him: they dress like him, they pray in the same shul where he prays, they believe in the same approach to serving Hashem as he believes. In short, they are of the same weltanschauung, they share the same perspective and world view.

Is that so bad? After all, there is just so much money and time to go around. Why not stay focused on one particular group - "my people"? First of all, this is not chesed. Chesed means to act benevolently towards others. One who discriminates, does not act kindly towards others - he acts kindly towards himself!

I think Rashi is emphasizing another point with the word chaver. What is the greatest chesed we can perform for another Jew? Even greater than physical chesed is spiritual chesed. Should we ignore another Jew just because he is not as observant as we are? What are we doing about his lack of observance? Is the Jew who is not shomer Shabbos, Shabbos observant, any better off than the observant Jew who is living in a state of poverty? There is no greater form of abject poverty than the Jew who is "empty of mitzvos!" Perhaps, if we would view our non-observant brethren in this light, as Jews in need, we might reach out to them and perform the ultimate chesed- spiritual chesed. We have to remember that our "chavrusashaft," connection, with all Jews is the fact that we are all bnei Avraham, Yitzchak, and Yaakov.

The Klausenberger Rebbe, zl, was a towering tzaddik whose overwhelming love for all Jews was legend. It was after the war, after the accursed Nazis had decimated so many of our people, that the Rebbe's boundless love came to the fore. The American liberators supplied him with a vehicle and a driver. The Rebbe went to all the little villages surrounding Feldafing, the DP camp where he was stationed, with the slogan, "I am looking for my brothers." There were Jews there that were hidden during the war who had completely given up hope of ever being reunited with their people. The Rebbe gave them hope; he gave them courage to carry on.

Many survivors followed the Rebbe to Feldafing with no real desire to go. They had food given to them by the Americans. They had support. Why would they want to follow the Rebbe? Many even went so far as to say that they had suffered long enough as Jews. They no longer had any desire to continue living as the oppressed people. The Rebbe convinced them, slowly - very slowly and with great patience - that it was the right thing to be with other Jewish survivors.

Once, the Rebbe encouraged a young teenager to come with him to the camp. The boy resisted because he was sure the Rebbe would not let him go to the movies. The Rebbe was not deterred. He promised the boy that when life returned to some sort of normalcy and a movie theater was opened for the survivors - he would give him the money to purchase a ticket. The boy joined the Rebbe, who later kept his word and bought the boy a ticket to the movies. The Rebbe's love eventually brought the boy back to Yiddishkeit.

The Rebbe did not lecture the survivors. He understood their questions and inner struggle. He showered them with love and kindness and these were the keys to opening their hearts and souls to return to Hashem. The Rebbe comforted everybody. His motto was: "If you are a Jew, you are my brother! I will do everything that I can for you."

There were dozens of young orphans in the camp with no one to care for them. The Rebbe felt it was his obligation to see to their physical and spiritual needs, in the same manner that a biological father cares for his child. The story is told about a young girl who, due to her abject poverty, walked around the camp without socks. Upon seeing her one day, the Rebbe took off his own socks in the middle of the street and gave them to her. "It is unbecoming for a Jewish girl to walk around this way," he said. While this narrative demonstrates the Rebbe's love and caring, it also underscores his love for the Jewish People. A Jewish girl does not walk around without socks!

As mentioned before, the greatest chesed is the one that stretches across the great divide that exists between those that are observant and those who, for whatever reason, have not yet been fortunate enough to see the true way a Jew should live. The Rebbe did not care about a person's past or present - only his future. An American official once related to the Rebbe that there was a group of Hungarian Jewish girls in one of the DP camps who were acting inappropriately, in a manner indicating that they had completely forgotten their roots. The Rebbe spared no time, and he immediately left for the camp in search of these girls. He spoke to them like a loving father. With compassion and understanding, he was able to convince them to leave the camp and return with him. The Rebbe established a school for these girls, all of whom had been raised in observant homes. At times, when depression took hold of them, and the girls would cry bitterly about their lives and the losses they had experienced, the Rebbe would listen intently and offer soothing words that healed and encouraged. Probably the greatest tribute to the Rebbe was the fact that all the children called him by one name - Tatte, father. They were attached to him like a child to a father, since, indeed, he was truly a spiritual father to them.

It would have been so easy to let apathy take control, and religious differences continue to breach Jewish unity. It took a great man to tower over these differences, to see beyond the petty and inconsequential, and look at the Jewish neshamah, soul, in its pristine beauty. Indeed, it takes a great person to focus upon the areas that unify us, rather than our differences.

And these shall be impure to you among the creeping things that creep upon the earth; the rat and the mouse, and the tortoise according to its variety. (11:29)

There is an intriguing Midrash that comments on the word "v'zeh," "and these," with which our Pasuk begins. Chazal tell us Hashem showed Moshe Rabbeinu four things with His finger because Moshe was puzzled by them. He showed him how the shemen ha'mishchah, oil of anointing, was made. Second, He showed Moshe the work of the Menorah. Third, He showed him the creeping things that are ritually impure. Also, He showed him the moon, so that Moshe would know when the new month was to be sanctified. In each case the word "zeh," this, was used to indicate a special emphasis made by Hashem in showing Moshe the intended subject. The Midrash ends with the following statement: "He stirred up the fire and showed him the salamander, for it says in Sefer Tehillim, 29:7, "Kol Hashem chotzeiv lahavos eish," "The voice of Hashem hews out flames of fire." When did He do this? When He said, "And these are they that are ritually impure to you."

What is the Midrash teaching us with the last statement concerning the salamander? Horav Mordechai Rogov, zl, in his Ateres Mordechai has a compelling explanation of this Midrash. Hashem was intimating to Moshe that Klal Yisrael would be subject to trial by fire. There would be difficult and trying times in Jewish history when we would encounter persecution and tribulation of the worst kind. The "stirring of the fire" which the Midrash mentions, is a reference to the periods of affliction when our enemies would burn our bodies and destroy our lives. Yet, it was at this very time that Hashem showed Moshe the "salamander," a creature which Chazal in the Talmud Chagiga 27a say, is created and formed from fire. Consequently, this creature is immune to the effects of fire.

Fire destroys everything but fire. Klal Yisrael is likened to the salamander for they will not be consumed by the flames of persecution. Those who attempt to annihilate us will not succeed. We have been in galus, exile, for over two thousand years. How many fires have been set to destroy us? Torquemada did not succeed and neither did Hitler. Nations have come and gone, but Klal Yisrael will live forever. A nation forged in fire will not be destroyed by fire. The Navi Yirmiyahu says, "So says Hashem; is not My word like fire." We have the power of the salamander within us as we cling to the Torah, Hashem's word.

Rav Rogov offers a powerful insight. When was the message regarding the salamander revealed to Moshe? In what context was it related to him? It was in connection to the laws of kosher foods that Hashem stressed our relationship to the salamander. If, in fact, the Torah is still adhered to even after our long and agonizing exile, it is on account of our care and concern specifically to the laws of prohibited foods. These spiritually defiled foods contaminate one's heart, thereby breaking down one's resistance to the effects of the fires of exile.

What a powerful statement! Our bodies are not simple bodies. They are the repository of the holy neshamah, soul, given to us by Hashem. This container must be cared for by following the "directions" given by its "Maker." A vital factor that is necessary if our bodies are to retain their holy spirit, be strong, and able to resist the harmful spiritual and physical challenges of the exile, is by scrupulously adhering to the laws of Kashrus.


Moshe said to Aharon; come near to the Mizbayach. (9:7)

Rashi says that Aharon was overawed and ashamed to approach the Altar because of his role in the Golden Calf. Moshe encouraged him saying, "Why are you ashamed? It is for this position of Kehunah Gedolah that you were chosen!" The Baal Shem Tov adds, that precisely because Aharon possessed the attribute of humility and shame that he was selected for the Kehunah Gedolah. It is important that a position gravitate to the leader rather than the leader gravitate to the position. Our greatest leader, Moshe Rabbeinu, was the paradigm of humility, a character trait that was his greatest attribute.


And they brought forth before Hashem an alien fire that He had not commanded them. (10:1)

Eish zarah, an alien fire, is particularly dangerous when it is lifnei Hashem, before Hashem. When people attach the Name of Hashem to acts of zealotry which are, for the most part, more personal than for Hashem, the consequences of those actions can be especially tragic. Whatever we do "before Hashem" must be introspected many times to determine its true relationship with Hashem.


Who elevates you from the land of Egypt to be a G-d unto you. (11:45)

The Baal Shem Tov renders this pasuk homiletically. He explains that even the "lachem," one's personal physical acts should be performed l'shem shomayim, for the sake of Heaven. By elevating our physical/mundane acts, we give them a degree of spirituality.

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Peninim on the Torah is in its 11th year of publication. The first seven years have been published in book form.

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