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PARSHAS SHEMINIMoshe and Aharon came to the Ohel Moed, and they went out and blessed the people - and the glory of Hashem appeared to the entire people. (9:23)
Rashi describes what occurred behind the scenes which necessitated the entry of Moshe Rabbeinu into the Ohel Moed together with Aharon HaKohen. When Aharon saw that all of the offerings had been brought and all of the service in the Mishkan had been performed, he was greatly concerned. The Shechinah had not descended to Klal Yisrael. In his great humility, Aharon blamed himself: "I know that Hashem has become angry with me, and it is because of me that the Shechinah has not descended to the nation." Aharon approached his brother and said, "Moshe, thus you have done to me; that I entered and performed the service, because you asked me to - and I was humiliated. The Shechinah did not descend. It is because of me." Immediately upon hearing this, Moshe entered with Aharon, and together they pleaded for mercy. As a result, the Shechinah descended.
Afterwards, Moshe and Aharon went out and blessed the people. Once again, Rashi explains that this was to allay any fears the people might have had concerning their lack of acceptance. For all Seven Days of the Inauguration, during which Moshe put up the Mishkan, officiated in it, and then dismantled it, the Shechinah did not rest in it. The people were ashamed. They said to Moshe, "Our master! We went to so much trouble that the Shechinah should repose among us. This would be a clear indication from Above that we have been forgiven for the sin of the Golden Calf. Now, we see that we have labored for nothing." Therefore, Moshe said to them, "This is the thing that Hashem has commanded you to do; then the glory of Hashem will appear to you Aharon, my brother, is worthier and more important than I. For through his offerings and his service, the Shechinah will rest among you. Thus, you will know that the Almighty has chosen him."
What seems to be a simple interpretation by Rashi is explained by Horav Boruch Moshe Ezrachi, Shlita, as a powerful lesson in interpersonal relationships. Imagine the situation as Aharon entered the Mishkan. Let us take the time frame into context. It was not long after the creation of the Golden Calf, the sin that continues to haunt us until this very day. We can still hear the reverberations of a nation gone wild with lust and depravation, bowing to a molten facsimile of divinity. It was idol-worship at its nadir. Perhaps they had not all been involved, but, other than Shevet Levi, the Tribe of Levi, no one else seemed to have stood up to the revelers. Regrettably, Aharon had a role in this act. It was an awkward role, as he attempted to delay the people. Yet, this giant felt responsible; he was contrite and filled with humiliation. His worst fears of rejection seemed to have been realized when, after seven days of service, the Shechinah had not yet descended. He turned to his brother as if to say, "How could you do this to me? You knew that I was unworthy of this honor!"
Moshe had reason to be mute, to turn a deaf ear to his entreaty. After all, the Golden Calf was the reason that Moshe had broken the Luchos. He must have had "feelings" about that, the precursor which had led up to that tragic moment. Moshe could have - and many other would have - found it difficult to overlook the past. When Moshe saw his brother's humiliation, he immediately decided that one thing takes precedence over the devastating sin of the Golden Calf: bein adam l'chaveiro, interpersonal relationships, between man and his fellowman. Moshe could not allow his brother to stand there in shame. He immediately entered with Aharon to entreat the Almighty for mercy. Hashem listened, because nothing stands in the way of a person's pain. The laws concerning bein adam l'chaveiro, interpersonal relationships, are on a completely different plane.
Likewise, when the Mishkan "refused" to remain erect, because the Jewish nation was not worthy of an edifice of such unprecedented sanctity in its midst, Moshe once again intervened. Whatever "issues" there might have been, it could not be at the expense of the nation's humiliation. Their feelings were hurt. Nothing stands in the way of bein adam l'chaveiro. Nothing!
In his biography of the Telshe Rosh Yeshivah, Horav Mordechai Gifter, zl, Rabbi Yechiel Spero quotes from an article that the Rosh Yeshivah wrote in the Jewish Parent magazine: "Every human being is part of the great family of Mankind; and if one is really to enjoy life, he must share with others that which has been granted to him," Naeh doreish v'naeh mekayeim. Rav Gifter practiced what he preached. He was a mussar sefer, his very essence comprised volumes of ethical character refinement, dedicated to the enhancement of interpersonal relationships.
Many episodes are related in the book concerning the caring of the Rosh Yeshivah for others. I think the one which encapsulates his life is not a story that involved him, but rather, a story that he would often relate. His choice of story gives us some insight into his value quotient for interpersonal relationships. Horav Itzele Ponovezer, zl, was Rav and Rosh Yeshivah of Ponevez. As Rav and Rosh Yeshivah, it was difficult for him to also assume the responsibility of handling the yeshivah's finances. He, therefore, appointed someone to function as the yeshivah's financial director. When World War I broke out, the man lost his son in the war. This caused him to descend into a deep melancholy and eventually to neglect his responsibilities to the yeshivah. Everyone, including Rav Itzele, tried to help this man, but his depression had taken a terrible toll on his mind. He could not snap out of it; he could not function in his position. They could not simply hire someone else, since it was he alone who had been working on a daily basis with the banks, and, without him, the yeshivah accounts were frozen. The yeshivah's finances had plummeted and were now in a desperate state.
It was suggested to the Rosh Yeshivah that perhaps the secular courts could "convince" this man to do his job. Rav Itzele presented the question to Horav Chaim Soloveitzhick, zl. His response demonstrates to what lengths one must go to ensure that he does not hurt another Jew. Rav Chaim said that it would be better to shutter up the yeshivah than to risk the fellow falling into a deeper depression, which might result in his life being at risk from self-inflicted harm. He said, "The power of Torah study does not override saving a life; and, if necessary, it is worthwhile to close the yeshivah, so as not to cause another's demise."
In order to carry out one's responsibility towards his fellow Jew properly, he must, as Rav Gifter writes, feel that he is part of the great family of mankind. One must feel the pain of his fellow. I had the opportunity to witness such a sentiment this past year during a trip to Eretz Yisrael. I had the z'chus, merit, to visit Horav Shachne Zohn, zl, to petition his blessing on behalf of a young woman who was suffering at the hands of her recaltricent husband. Since the sage had great difficulty hearing, he motioned for me to write my request on paper - which I did. He began to read my words, and, as he continued to read, tears flowed down his face onto his beard. My grandson was watching this in astonishment. He looked at me as if to ask, "What gives?" I replied, "He feels her pain." That is greatness.
And they offered an alien fire before G-d which He had not commanded them. (10:1)
Emotions motivate a person to scale the highest elevations. When a person is positively motivated; when he is inspired to do good, he can achieve success in what otherwise would be considered a difficult task. Positive emotion catalyzes greatness. There is, however, one caveat: the emotion must be harnessed and focused. To live on emotion alone, without direction and discipline, invites dangerous consequences.
A student in a yeshivah was extremely devoted to his spiritual development. A sincere and seriously motivated young man, he would spend twenty minutes in deep devotion as he recited Shemoneh Esrai. Thursday night mishmor, when other students in the yeshivah would stay up late learning, he would stay up all night and study through Friday, not going to bed until Friday night. He exhibited extreme care in observing halachah; he was meticulous in carrying out every mitzvah according to every possible chumra and hiddur, stringency and beautification of the mitzvah. He refused to speak unless it was extremely necessary, lest he utter a word of lashon hora, slanderous speech. It, therefore, came as a total shock when this young man went off the derech, snapped (so to speak) and rejected everything related to religious observance. Obviously, he had experienced too much emotion and had insufficiently channeled this emotion. It was inspiration gone wild, uncontrolled, unbridled passion, too much heart and inadequate mind. One must have balance and self-control.
We may derive this idea from the tragedy that occurred concerning Nadav and Avihu. Even the greatest, most profound, righteous devotees must be commanded to act. One does not act on his own. Otherwise it is eish zarah, alien fire. As Horav S. R. Hirsch, zl, points out, Nadav and Avihu's intention and devotion were praiseworthy. After all, they are referred to as Kerovai, "My close ones." They were the best of the best, for, indeed, their tragedy served as the catalyst for sanctifying Hashem's Name. So what went wrong? "They were not commanded."
Kirvas Elokim, the proximity - and getting near - to G-d, which is the purpose of korbanos, sacrificial offerings, is only to be found by way of obedience, by compliance with the will of Hashem. This is where Judaism is in a diametrically opposed posture to that of pagan belief and ritual. The pagan brings his offering as a means for making his god subservient to his wishes. The Jew, with his offering, wishes to place himself in the service of Hashem. By his service, he wishes to subjugate himself to the will of Hashem. Rav Hirsch explains that all offerings are formulae of Hashem's demands, which the makriv, bringer of the korban, seeks to incorporate into the normal routine of his life. Thus, self-devised offerings are the very neutralization of those verities which our korbanos are meant to impress on - and dominate the mind of - the bringer. One who acts of his own volition is placing a pedestal to glorify his own ideas, rather than erecting a throne for obedience - and obedience only.
With the fiery deaths of these two kerovim to Hashem, at the very onset of the consecration of the Mishkan, a most solemn warning for all future Kohanim was conveyed. Regardless of its motivation and sincerity; capricious behavior - subjective ideas of what is correct and proper - has no business in the sanctuary of service to Hashem. We serve G-d not by innovation, but by executing that which is ordained by Him. This is how the Kohen affirms the authenticity of his activities.
And the sons of Aharon, Nadav and Avihu, each took his fire pan, they put fire in them and placed incense upon it; and they brought before Hashem an alien fire that Hashem had not commanded them. (10:1)
It all boils down to the last four words: Asher lo tzivah Hashem, "That Hashem had not commanded them." The best laid intentions are of little value if they go against someone's wishes. In his Sefer Nitzotzos, Horav Yitzchak Hershkovitz, Shlita, gives a practical analogy. Reuven had a good friend, Shimon, whom he had invited to stay at his house whenever he was in the area. Shimon was a welcome guest who would not over-extend his welcome. He would come for a few days, enjoy, and leave. Reuven felt very comfortable inviting Shimon to stay as long as necessary - even if he was not home. In fact, Reuven gave Shimon the key to his house to make himself at home. Once Shimon's visit coincided with one of Reuven's business trips. Reuven was only too glad to allow Shimon the run of his house - while he was gone.
Reuven was gone for a week. When he returned, he discovered that his house had been treated to a complete makeover! Shimon had changed the selection of paint colors adorning the walls. He even changed the furniture and carpeting. When Reuven discovered this, he went ballistic. "What right did you have to change the paint on the walls?" he asked. "I felt the colors were not in tune with the times. They were drab and flaking. I wanted to add more life to this dull house," Shimon countered. "That is why I also changed the carpeting and furniture," he added. "What right did you have to do what you want in my house? I am the one who determines what color scheme should be prominent in my home. If I wanted to redecorate, I would have hired an interior decorator. You had no right to alter anything in my home. I allowed you to stay here - not take over!"
A few weeks later, Reuven once again left for a business trip. This time, however, Shimon did not house-sit for him. One day, an electrical surge caused the wiring to misfire and the house to catch fire. Very soon, the entire house was engulfed with flames. Shimon happened to be in the neighborhood and saw the conflagration. He did not think twice, as he ran into the house. After calling 911, he was able to save most of Reuven's valuables. The firemen, who arrived shortly, did the rest. Shimon was a hero, but he was anxious concerning Reuven's reaction. After all, he had once again mixed in where he did not belong. He had acted without Reuven's express permission.
When Reuven returned, he did not have words sufficient to thank Shimon. Indeed, Reuven was effusive with praise and gratitude. "I thought you would be angry with me," Shimon said.
"Why?" asked Reuven. "You did me an incredible favor. You saved most of my house and my valuables."
"But I acted without your permission," Shimon said.
"What is the comparison?" Reuven answered. The first time you took it upon yourself to do something which you were not asked to do. There was nothing compelling you to act. You did it completely of your own volition. This time, it was quite the opposite. My house was burning. If you were to wait until you got in touch with me, my house and everything in it would have been lost. There is a time and place for everything. This was a time to act. I owe you an enormous debt of gratitude. In fact, with this latest act of heroism on your part, you corrected the detriment to our relationship that resulted from your acting on impulse without asking my permission."
A similar idea applies to the incident of Nadav and Avihu's offering, asher lo tzivah osam, which Hashem did not command. The Jewish nation is founded and maintained on obedience to the Almighty. We do not act freely on our own, simply because we think it is the correct thing to do. We wait for His command, then we immediately act with reverence and love. Even if in our minds we feel that the time to act is now, we wait for Hashem's command. When the situation is out of control, when the honor of Heaven is impugned by those whose agenda runs counter to the Torah, we do not wait for a command. We immediately take up arms and act. This was the scenario when Pinchas slew Zimri in the midst of the latter's moral outrage. There comes a time, such as when the house is on fire, that asking for permission is foolhardy and self-defeating. Indeed, Pinchas' act of zealousness, by elevating the glory of Heaven, repaired the initial breach that he had made earlier.
Moshe said to Aharon: Of this did Hashem speak, saying, "I will be sanctified through those who are close to Me, and I will be honored before the entire people;" and Aharon fell silent. (10:3)
The last two words of the above pasuk, Va'yidom Aharon, "And Aharon fell silent," are, to me, among the most frightening - yet awe-inspiring - words in the Torah. The ability to transcend emotion, to experience tragedy on what should have been the happiest and most spiritually-elevating day of Aharon's life, is truly inspirational. Aharon HaKohen had worked his entire life to achieve this moment, to be crowned as the Kohen Gadol, High Priest. His response to the mind-numbing tragedy was the true indication of his worthiness of this exalted position. How are we to come to terms with Aharon's reaction, and in what way can we, to some degree, aspire to such a level of total acquiescence to Hashem's decree?
Horav Yitzchak Hershkowitz, Shlita, relates the story of a Kollel yungerman, fellow, in Eretz Yisrael, who was struck by tragedy. His three-year-old daughter, a beautiful, sweet and charming young child, suddenly fell gravely ill. He and his wife went from doctor to doctor, hospital to hospital, taking every treatment from the conventional to the clinical trials. He was torn between hope and doubt, frustration and fear. Every improvement brought aspiration for a bright future; every setback drove home the frightening reality that his daughter was seriously ill, and they were just playing the time game, pushing off the inevitable. Sadly, his worst fears were realized when, shortly before her fourth birthday, her pure soul left this world.
During the shivah, seven-day mourning period, he was visited by many friends and sympathizers who attempted to console him. The father was strong, a ben Torah, who believed that we are not privy to the Almighty's ways; our function is to accept, despite our lack of comprehension. We realize that there is a greater picture, and we are all part of a Divine Plan. There is an answer to that difficult question: "Why?" but it is beyond our ability to grasp. The father related to one of his close friends the highs and lows of his daughter's illness, describing the faith that carried them through the tragic ordeal, but it had not been easy. Indeed, there was one time following a very negative diagnosis that he was about to throw in the proverbial towel. He no longer could handle it. He was beyond faith. He was standing at the threshold of anger.
"I left the hospital in a state of desperation. I was miserable. My little girl, the light of my life, was on the verge of death. The doctors could do no more. As I walked down the street, a man stopped me and inquired concerning my condition. Apparently, the grave situation was written all over my face. Amid various degrees of weeping, I related my story and the travail that my family and I had been experiencing these past few months. The man listened, then said, 'Let me share with you a story that recently took place. Perhaps, it will be a source of inspiration and heartening to reinforce you with fortitude to go on.
"'One of the contemporary outreach persons, an individual of incredible virtue and piety, truly righteous in all aspects of his personality, had a serious personal problem. The man who had successfully altered the spiritual lives of thousands was undergoing a situation at home that was literally destroying his family. One of his sons had begun to weave to the left and was continuing to do so at a very rapid rate. His religious observance was already a thing of the past. Whatever his father promised him was to no avail. He could care less. Once the frumkeit, religious observance, was gone, drugs entered the picture. Soon, there was very little left to discern this boy from the non-observant, depressed thugs on the street. The father never gave up. After all, he was his son, and one never gives up on a child.
"'This tzaddik was aware of a certain yichud quoted by the Arizal which the famed Kabbalist claimed was effective in helping a person to find his way back to religious observance. (A yichud is a Kabbalistic term describing the unification of supernal elements in - and by - one's mystical devotions in prayer and/or mitzvah observance. It is not for everyone, since not everyone is on the madreigah, spiritual level, to achieve such devotion.) This specific yichud was derived from the Alshich HaKadosh, whose son had apostatized himself, and eventually returned to the faith as a result of this yichud.
"'The tzaddik began to pray fervently, with purity of heart and deep devotion. He prayed that his son embrace the Torah which had once been so much a part of his life. He prayed so hard and long that the page of his Siddur where the brachah of Hashiveinu Avinu l'Sorasecha, "Return us, Our Father, to Your Torah," which is recited in Shemoneh Esrai thrice daily, was saturated, became darkened from his tears. Hashem listened and the yetzer hora, evil-inclination, which had devastated him, was banished, and the boy returned to Torah. He did not just simply return, but rather, returned with a vehemence, with an excitement and enthusiasm which was unprecedented and unparalleled. He himself became a tzaddik, righteous and pious in his every demeanor. He met a lovely, young, like-minded woman, and his father gave his blessing to their union. The young couple moved to Tzefas and set up their home there.
"'Hashem blessed the young couple with two healthy children. Life was idyllic. The young man spent his day devoted to Torah study. He would study until the wee hours of the morning until he was literally exhausted, then go to sleep. Then tragedy struck their home. His wife was pregnant with their third child, and there were issues throughout the pregnancy. At first, they thought nothing of it. After all, not all pregnancies are a walk in the park. When she was rushed into premature birth at the very beginning of her ninth month, their anxiety began in earnest.
"'Their worst fears were realized when his wife delivered a child that was clinging to life. It was touch-and-go for the first few days, until the seventh day when the child returned its pure soul to Heaven. The parents were heartbroken. They had prayed so hard. They did everything right, but apparently, it had not been enough. Their little boy had succumbed.
"The halachah is clear that, regardless of a male infant's age and how long he was alive, once the child is born he must have a Bris Milah, circumcision, prior to burial, in order for his neshamah, soul, to rise up during Techiyas Ha'Meisiem, the Resurrection of the Dead. A mohel, ritual circumciser, was summoned to the cemetery, where he was asked to do the honors. The mohel circumcised the dead infant, then turned to the father, and said, 'Your son must be given a name. What name do you want to give him?'
"Filled with emotion, the young father bent down and, with tears welling up in his eyes, looked down at his infant's body, thought for a moment, and said, Ratzon Hashem. The will of G-d. 'This is the name that I want my son to have. This name implies accepting yissurim, troubles, and pain with love. I do not begin to understand Hashem's ways - but, if this is the will of Hashem - I accept it wholeheartedly. This is why my son is named Ratzon Hashem.'
"The gentleman concluded his story and looked at me. 'Now you understand how a Jew confronts challenge and adversity. We believe it is all the ratzon Hashem. The will of G-d.'"
Shema Yisrael Hashem Elokeinu Hashem Echad. Hear O' Yisrael, Hashem, our G-d, Hashem is One.
This is Klal Yisrael's most seminal verse, its most powerful prayer. It is a declaration of who we are and in Whom we believe. Before I begin to explain its meaning and message, I take the liberty of quoting a passage from the Kaliver Rebbe, Shlita, in his introduction to his book Shema Yisrael. This volume, which is a collection of testimonies concerning the Kiddush Shem Shomayim, Sanctification of Hashem's Name, evinced by the victims and survivors of the European Holocaust, is fittingly named Shema Yisrael. These words are the clarion call of the Jewish People whose belief in Hashem is unequivocal.
The Rebbe says: "Shema Yisrael, Hashem Elokeinu, Hashem Echad, Our hearts will never accept any G-d other than the Creator of the Universe. I do not think that even the angels in Heaven believed that, after all the calumnies against Am Yisrael during the Holocaust and after all the bloodshed and the agonizing deaths of millions - that after all this, the Jewish People would still stand forth as the torchbearers of faith in G-d, declaring, 'Despite it all, we have not forgotten Your Name!' With perfect faith we still shout forth from the depths of our hearts, 'Shema Yisrael.'"
This should give all of us something to consider when we say Shema Yisrael.
of our grandson,
Asher Anshel Lindenbaum
Miriam Aliza Seidman
May they bring much nachas to their families
Ruth and Charles Lindenbaum
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