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Rabbi A. Leib Scheinbaum
Hebrew Academy of Cleveland


This is the thing that Hashem has commanded you to do; then the glory of Hashem will appear to you. (9:6)

The adage that the main thing is to be a Jew in one's heart is popular among those who have acculturated themselves to the prevalent gentile culture and society. According to this approach, mitzvah performance and a Torah oriented lifestyle are unnecessary. G-d's primary objective is that Jews maintain Jewish hearts. This means that one believes in Hashem. In his heart, he is an Orthodox Jew. In practice, however, he is far from the Orthodox perspective. They often quote the rabbinic dictum, Rachmana liba ba'i, "Hashem desires that a Jew have a pure heart." Also, machshavah tovah Hakadosh Baruch Hu m'tzarfah l'maaseh, "Hashem equates good intentions with actions." Clearly, they are wrong, but how does one explain the error of their ways? The Ben Ish Chai suggests the following analogy to evidence the utter fallacy of their arguments.

A man married a woman whose acumen was not her strongest characteristic. She was a nice girl, but not very bright. The day after the wedding, she prepared dinner for her husband. It was a dinner fit for a king: stuffed chicken with seasoned meat and rice. Her husband praised her culinary skills, adding, "I like my food very spicy. Therefore, from today on, do not be cheap on the salt." The wife, whose intelligence quotient was lacking, figured that if her husband loved salt so much, why bother filling the chicken with meat and rice, and then add salt and spices? It would be far more beneficial to just fill the chicken with salt and spices. The next day, the wife brought out the main course. The husband, expecting something spectacular, almost choked on the dish. The chicken was ruined as a result of a surfeit of salt and spice.

This is the response that we give to those who either act simple, or are actually dimwitted. Clearly, a machshavah tovah, virtuous thought, is very significant, and Hashem surely wants a Jew to have a pure, sincere heart. A good heart, however, is like the spice that flavors the food. If one executes a mitzvah, the good heart and the accompanying virtuous thought add to the spiritual content of the mitzvah. To have nothing more than good thoughts and a good heart is like having a chicken filled with nothing but salt and spice. It is inedible.

While thought without action is of no value, thought does, nonetheless, play a critical role in increasing the kavod Hashem, honor of Hashem, factor. The reason for this is that action is not necessarily an accurate indication of an individual's true motivation, goal and objective. Why is he fulfilling the mitzvah? For what purpose is he carrying out the good deed? For example, a man who sits in the Succah on Succos does not by his very action indicate the true reason for sitting in the Succah. It could be the result of peer pressure. If everyone sits in the Succah while he sits in the house, it is bad for his reputation. He would have a difficult time getting his children into a good school. We cannot conclude from his actions that he is sitting in the Succah in order to carry out the will of Hashem.

The Almighty, however, looks into the inner recesses of a person's heart and sees the truth. When Hashem sees a heart that is inspired and motivated to honor Him, that constitutes kavod Shomayim. Indeed, the gimatria, numerical equivalent, of lev, heart, and kavod, honor/glory, is the same. When the heart motivates positive action, the honor of Hashem is increased.

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

Aharon HaKohen was not prepared to perform the service in the Sanctuary, because he felt undeserving and ashamed as a result of his involvement in the sin of the Golden Calf. Moshe Rabbeinu convinced him to take the plunge, to go forward and execute the mission for which he had been selected. Indeed, Moshe addressed his reluctance, challenging him, L'kac nivcharta. "Why are you ashamed? Indeed, this is (specifically) the reason you were chosen."

Why was Aharon reluctant? Why was he ashamed? He had a number of valid justifications for his involvement with the Golden Calf. He was attempting to delay the people from becoming nervous over the loss of leadership. He was resorting to stall tactics. Regrettably, it did not work. He thought that by asking the people to give up their gold they would be reluctant, thereby delaying what seemed imminent. Aharon was concerned lest they kill him, as they had killed Chur. It was not as if Aharon feared for his life. He would have gladly risked his life to sanctify Hashem's Name. His apprehension was that the people might add another sin to their list of iniquities. Chur's murder was sufficiently tragic. Another insidious act would seal their fate. Last, if the Jews committed idolatry in thought alone, their act of turning against Hashem would remain covert. This would create a furor amongst those who would not be able to witness a segment of the Jewish People being punished without an indication of sinfulness. Thus, Aharon helped create the Golden Calf in order to give their sin a face, their iniquity an image.

Aharon could have rationalized away his participation in the sin, but he did not. He took full responsibility. It was all his fault. Thus, he felt a sense of shame upon approaching the Mishkan. Aharon felt that he was unworthy. Disregarding the reasons that might have justified his actions, he came forward and took responsibility. Thus, he feared the Mishkan. Let someone else do it; let a "better man" be the one to inaugurate the Mizbayach, Altar. Aharon was not afraid of accepting responsibility. He would not enter the Mishkan while his actions were under a cloud. Moshe told him that it was this attitude that Hashem sought in a person: accepting responsibility for one's actions, not standing behind the "apron strings" of rationalizations.

Aharon teaches us an important lesson in our quest for character development. When one is wrong, he should acknowledge his error. Covering up iniquity only leads to more sin.

And Nadav and Avihu, the two sons of Aharon, took each one his fire pan…and they brought before Hashem a strange fire that He had not commanded them. (10:1)

Asher lo tzivah osam, "That He had not commanded them." Herein lies the error of Nadav and Avihu - two individuals whose piety brought them into the league of Moshe Rabbeinu and Aharon HaKohen. Yet, they did not make it, being struck down as they executed what they thought was a great service. The Chidushei HaRim derives from the words; "that He had not commanded them," that man's claim to distinction in serving Hashem is only relevant to the extent that he carries out Hashem's command, that he executes His will. Nadav and Avihu were very righteous, and they certainly had no intention of disobedience. Yet, they erred in His service. Why? Their act of religious devotion lacked one crucial component: Hashem had not commanded them. Carrying out Hashem's command is what defines and determines the significance of a religious service - not its intrinsic meaning.

Judaism is a religion of command, of obedience: Torah tzivah lanu Moshe, "Moshe commanded us the Torah (Devarim 33:4)." As soon as a child learns to speak, his father teaches him that Moshe Rabbeinu "commanded" us the Torah. We have 613 mitzvos, commandments. Understanding the nature of tzivui, command, is part of developing a cognitive appreciation of Klal Yisrael's relationship with Hashem. It is a relationship based upon mitzvah performance.

What is a mitzvah? It is a command from Hashem which we accept wholeheartedly, without question. We invest ourselves in the execution of mitzvos with an excitement and enthusiasm borne of love and obedience. There is no hesitation, no mistrust, no second-guessing. There is no place for rationalization, dialectic, intellectual discourse - nothing - only mitzvah. Hashem commands, and we carry out His command without question and with due diligence. Mitzvos are precious, because they allow us to carry out the Divine Will without our added input. It is pure Hashem. This is what the Almighty wants from us.

When man rationalizes and follows up with his own input, it is no longer Hashem's command. It becomes man's command. Mitzvah defines our identity as being one with Hashem. We do nothing on our own. We are in total obedience. When we act in full accordance with Divine will, we fuse with Hashem, creating a unity where we abrogate ourselves to become one with Him. A mitzvah's distinction is in carrying it out exactly as commanded - not delving into its profundities and inner meanings. This does not render it irrelevant, or inappropriate to study these profundities, but one must always acknowledge and recognize the lines of demarcation between Hashem's Will and man's will.

Based upon the Chidushei HaRim's thesis, the Sefas Emes continues with a penetrating interpretation of Nadav and Avihu's sin. One of the reasons which Chazal present for the punishment of Nadav and Avihu was their entering into the Mishkan under the influence of wine. While this sin is totally beyond our ability to grasp, as it was a transgression only relative to their lofty relationship with the Divine, it must be addressed and explained. The Sefas Emes explains this from a homiletic sense. Shlomo Hamelech writes in Shir HaShirim (1:2), Tovim dodecha mi'yayin. "Better is Your love than wine." The taamei mitzvos, reasons underlying the mitzvos, can be compared to sweet-tasting wine. The gimatria, numerical equivalent, of yayin, wine, is seventy, the same as that for the word sod, secret. The analogy is: The secrets of the Torah are intoxicating. Nonetheless, the driving force behind mitzvah observance must be the devotion to carry out Hashem's commands. Nadav and Avihu clearly had sublime reasons for bringing their own fire and incense offering. Despite the quality of their rationale, they were not responding to Hashem's command. Thus, their punishment came in spite of their pure intentions. They did not wait to be commanded.

The Sefas Emes explains that it was not Nadav and Avihu's shortcomings that catalyzed their error. It was our fault, and for this we mourn. We catalyzed their tragic deaths. Their intuitive understanding of Hashem's Will went beyond an intellectual level. They had achieved a level which the nation as a whole only attained when they stood at the bottom of Har Sinai and declared, Naaseh v'nishmah, "We will do and we will listen!" At this point, they did not need overt Revelation. They sensed the Heaven Above. Seeing was unnecessary. Thus, they felt that the fires from below, created by man, should bring offerings to Heaven Above. We do not require an open fire revealing the Divine Presence for all to see.

Prior to their sin, Nadav and Avihu had achieved this extremely high level. It was their plan ultimately to lead Klal Yisrael on their level - a level of faith achieved by the Jews at Har Sinai, a level on which they remained but for a short time, until their role in the Golden Calf debacle. Nadav and Avihu were demanding. They thought we could do it. Hashem did not "agree." He told Moshe, B'kerovai Ekadesh, v'al pnei kol ha'am Echabeid, "Through My close ones I shall be sanctified, and before all the people I will be sanctified." Klal Yisrael's leadership must be in sync with their followers. The generation must be in sync with Hashem's close ones - its leaders. A leader is, alas, only as strong as his follower's convictions. Since Klal Yisrael was now weak, the issue was whom to follow.

The Torah concludes its narrative of the tragedy with the words that have become endemic to tragedy: B'kerovai Ekadesh v'al pnei kol ha'am Echobeid. "Through My close ones I will be sanctified, and before all the people I shall be honored." (ibid 10:3). Every Jew is obliged to mourn the deaths of these Torah giants. The Zohar HaKadosh claims that, due to our spiritual failing, we must bear responsibility for their deaths. Had we been on the proper spiritual level, we could have followed them. Because we were deficient - they died.

Sefas Emes now turns to Aharon Hakohen's reaction to the sudden deaths of his sons. The Torah relates that his reaction was silence. Is this because he was exhibiting incredible self-control? Was he suppressing his true feelings? No! Aharon had the ability to abrogate himself entirely - body and soul - to Hashem's will. He was selected for Kehunah Gedolah, the High Priesthood, specifically for this reason. His sole desire in life was to perform Hashem's Will. When the tragedy occurred the reaction was non-existent, because Aharon's will was Hashem's Will. They were one and the same. If Hashem wanted this - then, this is how it must be. This is the madreigah, level, of Va'yidom Aharon, "Aharon was silent." He not only did not display emotion, but he did not react at all. Complete silence. His acceptance of G-d's will teaches us that the only way to achieve closeness with Hashem is by carrying out His will.

We may suggest that this idea is to be interpreted into the words Va'yidom Aharon, "Aharon was silent." Horav S.R. Hirsch, zl, posits that the word adam, man, is phonetically connected with ha'dom, footstool. Man is a footstool to Hashem. This is to be the focus of his existence. A footstool spares a superior from placing his feet on the earth. The pure activity of man on earth, his truth, equity, benevolence and love, "spare" Hashem from having to consummate directly on earth all of the above. The pure activity of man achieving the will of Hashem through his own free-willed, independent energy, making this his mission in life, reflects the underlying motif of tzelem Elokim, the image of G-d.

As a ha'dom, one exists purely to serve. Silence is a form of subservience, an abrogation of one's self. Va'yidom Aharon reflects the highest ideal of man, the pinnacle of his mission: to serve Hashem wholeheartedly with a completeness of oneself, his totality, in righteous devotion to Hashem - in such a manner that he becomes cohesive with Hashem. It is a concept I refer to as spiritual integrity. One need not be the most erudite Torah scholar to possess this quality. One needs, however, to have a sterling character, which manifests itself in living a life which represents the paragon of truth. He is neither jealous of anyone, nor does he bear grudges. He neither flatters, nor does he allow any wrong to persist. He immediately makes it right. One such individual was Rav Yaakov Yosef Herman. A Torah pioneer who trail blazed the spiritual wasteland that was America at the beginning of the twentieth century, he helped to establish the two major pioneering yeshivos of the Lower East Side of New York City. He sent young men to Europe to study in the premier yeshivos, to see them return as budding scholars on the way to becoming gedolei Yisrael, Torah giants. His impact via his incredible family has continued for generations.

How did he do it? I think it is all expressed in the title of the book written by his daughter, Rebbetzin Ruchoma Shain, "All for the Boss." Rav Yaakov Yosef had a close, personal relationship with Hashem. The Almighty was his Boss to Whom he turned at every free moment of the day. His life revolved around Hashem. In his hesped, eulogy, for his mother, Rebbetzin Chaya Esther Stern, eldest daughter of Rav Yaakov Yosef, Horav Moshe Aharon Stern, zl, Mashgiach of Yeshivas Kaminetz, Eretz Yisrael, related the following dialogue that he had with his grandfather.

Rav Moshe Aharon was a young man studying in Kollel. He met his grandfather in Zichron Moshe. His grandfather asked, "Moshe Aharon, where are you going?" The Mashgiach answered that he was going to a certain place.

Rav Yaakov Yosef asked him, "What is your purpose in going to this place?" Rav Moshe Aharon was stymied, "What does Grandfather mean by this question?"

Rav Yaakov Yosef clarified his question, "If you feel that by going to this and this place you sanctify Hashem's Name, then you should go. If you have any doubt concerning your ability to pull off a Kiddush Hashem, then you should not go!" Rav Yaakov Yosef continued, "This is how I conduct my life. Prior to going anywhere, prior to doing anything, I ask myself, "Will this activity increase kavod Shomayim, the glory of Heaven? Will it bring honor to the Almighty's Name?" This is what it means to live for the purpose of carrying out the will of Hashem. When one had lived a life replete with such spiritual integrity, it is no wonder that he achieved so much success, impacting the lives of Jews for generations to come.

I will be sanctified through those who are nearest to Me, thus, I will be honored before the entire people. (10:3)

Rashi offers the accepted interpretation of this pasuk. When Hashem imposes His attribute of Strict Justice, even on those closest to Him, He is feared and honored. People say, if this is how Hashem punishes those within close proximity to Him, surely the punishment in store for those who disobey Him is far worse. Well, at least this is how it should be, how the world should react when tragedy strikes Hashem's close ones. The Torah expects an intelligent person to derive a positive lesson from an act of G-d which appears to the human eye to have a negative connotation. Regrettably, this is not the usual reaction. The positive lesson is not acknowledged. Indeed, all too often the reaction is quite negative.

Horav Baruch Saffrin, zl, the Komarner Rebbe, interprets this pasuk homiletically, as referring to the issue of critical questioning. The Rebbe expresses his concern for the simple and unlearned Jew, unlike the learned and deeply committed individual who is truly one of Hashem's close ones. He says, Bikerovai ekadesh, "I will be sanctified through those near to Me, (and) (thus) I will be honored before all the people." Those who are close to Hashem, who have some understanding of His scale of Justice, sanctify Him. They understand the depth of the punishment effect, its purpose in purifying a person and catalyzing his spiritual reward in the world of Truth. It concerns the kol ha'am, the entire people, the unschooled, not profoundly committed, who do not possess the spiritual fortitude necessary to withstand the pain and misery; it concerns those to whom echabeid, "My actions weigh down." He cannot understand why the Middas HaDin, Attribute of Strict Justice, would strike the righteous. It is just too much for them to deal with. They will "burden" G-d with many questions. In his rendering of the word echabeid, Rebbe employs the root kavod to mean heavy, burden, as opposed to its alternate meaning, glory, honor.

In any event, we acknowledge that we cannot readily expect the average person to accept Divine judgment. It takes someone special - someone close to Hashem. We say every day in Ashrei, Tzadik Hashem b'chol derachav v'chasid b'chol maasav, "Righteous is Hashem in all His ways and magnanimous in all His deeds" (Tehillim 145:17). We believe that Hashem does not manifest iniquity in His judgment. Everything He does is for a purpose, an objective that is inherently good. The pain and suffering that we experience may be attributed to yesurin shel ahavah, troubles resulting from Hashem's love for us. Indeed, when the not yet observant Jew notices his observant brother accepting and acquiescing Hashem's decree, he feels an inner pang of jealousy. He is not able to accept Hashem's decree lovingly. It is above and beyond the level of his spiritual functioning.

Yet, as Horav Yitzchak Zilberstein, zl, notes that although the average Jew is unable to grasp the love behind Hashem's decree, one must express to him the Torah's perspective on tragedy. It is not what it appears to be. Not everything that we see in black and white is absolute. While things do happen, tragedies do occur, one should not interpret them as they appear, but acknowledge that some things are beyond his grasp. Rav Zilberstein cites from Seder Tanaim V'Amoraim, that the great Tanna Bar Kapara had twelve wives. The commentators are bothered by this. Horav Reuven Margolis gives the following explanation. He cites the Yerushalmi Yevamos 28b which states that there was a family in which there were thirteen sons, twelve of whom died young, leaving no progeny. The surviving brother was a distinguished Torah scholar who was willing to offer chalitzah to each of his twelve sisters-in-law. These women all demurred, claiming that they each wanted to be his wife. This was despite the fact that each one would have eleven tzaros, co-wives.

The scholar attempted to circumvent the situation, saying that he did not have the means to support twelve women. Each one responded that she would take it upon herself to sustain the "family" for one month. This solved the problem during a regular year. What were they to do during a leap year when there were thirteen months? Rabbi Yehudah HaNasi, the Prince, said he would support the family that month.

Rabbi Yehudah HaNasi prayed that the family be blessed with children. Each year they each had a child. Three years went by, and it was a leap year. The scholar came to Rabbi Yehudah HaNasi's house at the beginning of the second Adar with his wives and thirty-six children. He was coming to collect on Rabbi Yehudah HaNasi's promise. The sage took care of all their expenses for that month.

Rav Margolis posits that the Torah scholar who now had twelve wives and thirty-six children was none other than Bar Kapara. This is why he had twelve wives. Life threw him a curve, and he accepted his twelve sisters-in-law as wives. This was an incredible kiddush Hashem, sanctification of Hashem's Name. The mere fact that each wife wanted to marry him, knowing full well that she would have eleven co-wives, was an indication of his exalted nature. In addition, everyone around was witness to the incredible example of Divine Providence manifested in the support of this family.

Rav Zilberstein now asks the question that is probably on everyone's mind: Anyone privy to this story will immediately express shock and disbelief, sorrow and grief, concerning the tragedy that befell this family. Imagine, to have twelve children perish! It is a tragedy beyond belief. How is one to reconcile with this?

Rav Zilberstein explains that the Heavenly Tribunal viewed this tragedy from a different perspective. Prior to the descending of these twelve pure neshamos, souls, to this world, there was a Heavenly announcement calling for "volunteers" who were willing to descend to this world for a short time, to be called to return "home" under circumstances that might be painful. The flipside was that their being here would ultimately be the catalyst for an immense kiddush Hashem. These twelve souls gladly accepted the opportunity to be a vehicle for elevating the glory of Heaven and were ultimately placed within the bodies of Bar Kapara's twelve brothers.

We see from here, explains Rav Zilberstein that what appears to us to be a tragedy is viewed differently in the World of Truth. Those neshamos who lamentably leave this world suddenly, or after suffering great pain and misery, are holy souls that had "volunteered" for the mission of sanctifying Hashem's Name. It is not what it seems, but then, nothing in this world is really what it seems.

Va'ani Tefillah

Zorea tzadakos Matzmiach yeshuos. He sows righteousness; He makes salvation grow.

The beauty of giving charity, explains Horav Mordechai Ilan, zl, is the reward one receives for the charity he gives. For example, one may give a paltry amount of money, but, when invested, it may reap incredible dividends. One may give a small amount, but, to the beneficiary, these few dollars may spell the difference between life and death. Hashem does not grant reward commensurate with what one gives but, rather, with what it grows into. Hashem takes the tzedakah, charity, that one gives and uses it as a base, as a seed, from which the beneficiary's salvation will sprout. It is not necessarily what one gives; it is what it becomes that incurs the reward.

Horav Yechezkel Levenstein, zl, interprets, "He plants righteousness; He makes salvation grow," in the following manner. Hashem covertly plants the seeds of righteousness in various places and different time periods. Later on, we observe how those early seeds have grown into the salvation which was needed at the time. They were prepared much earlier for this fateful moment when they came into play. This was quite apparent throughout the Megillas Esther/Purim episode. The seeds of salvation had been planted years before they sprouted, and were harvested during the time of Mordechai and Esther.

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