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Peninim on the Torah

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Rabbi A. Leib Scheinbaum
Hebrew Academy of Cleveland


Upon the completion of the days of her purity for a son or for a daughter, she shall bring a sheep within its first year for an elevation - offering, and a young dove or a turtledove for a sin-offering. (12:6)

A yoledes, woman who has given birth, brings two korbanos: a sheep, as a Korban olah; and a fowl, as a Korban Chatas. Chazal explain that the Chatas, Sin-Offering, is brought because a woman who goes through childbirth suffers so much pain that she vows not to have more children. Such a vow is sinful. Breaking it, which is likely to occur, is more sinful. The reason for the Korban Olah, however, eludes us. The usual reasons that catalyze a Korban Olah do not apply to the yoledes.

Abarbanel explains that the Korban Olah is a form of gratitude to Hashem for granting her a child and for sparing her life through the ordeal of childbirth. This reasoning is supported by a number of Midrashim that obligate the woman to acknowledge Hashem's beneficence during her involvement in the motherhood process. While all this is true, a Korban Todah, Thanksgiving-Offering, seems more appropriate than an Olah. Horav Avigdor HaLevi Nebentzhal, Shlita, addresses this question and suggests two approaches. He explains that; either the criteria for bringing a Korban Todah do not apply to a yoledes; or the demands of halachah which apply to the Jewish woman do not correspond with the halachic application of a Korban Todah.

The first approach is based upon the halachah that one must consume a Korban Todah in one day and one night, while one has two days and one night to consume the usual Korban Shelamim, Peace-Offering. The reason for this is that gratitude must be spontaneous. One must express gratitude amidst joy and enthusiasm with a heart filled with song. Once one waits and allows his obligation to fester, a significant component of the appreciation is diminished. Thus, as the time for consuming the Todah passes, the level of simchah, joy, is decreased. Therefore, the Torah shortened the time span allotted for its consumption, so that it would be eaten at the time of heightened joy.

This halachah concerning the Korban Todah creates a problem for the yoledes, who cannot bring a korban for forty days for a male birth and eighty days for a female birth. After such a lengthy time passes, the emotion that permeated the yoledes at the time the miracle of birth took place might have waned. Without a doubt, if she desires to bring a Todah, she may, but to say that every yoledes should be obligated to bring a todah does not seem consistent with the halachos that apply to that korban.

Second, another halachah which pertains to the Korban Todah does not coincide with the manner in which a bas Yisrael, Jewish woman, should act publicly. Together with the korban Todah, one must bring forty loaves, of which four are given to the Kohen. The Netziv, zl, explains why this korban necessitates so many breads. He says that since everything must be eaten in a short period of time, it behooves him to invite friends and relatives to share in the celebration of his good fortune. The greater number of participants involved in the celebration, the more magnified is the Kiddush Hashem, sanctification of Hashem's Name, which is the underlying purpose of Todah - thanking Hashem.

This halachah, however, does not concur with the halachos of tznius, modesty, that are the hallmark of the Jewish woman. It is inappropriate for a woman to call attention to herself in front of a crowd. The impropriety becomes more grievous when it is a married woman, which is the case by a yoledes. Kol kevudah bas melech penimah, "The entire glory of the daughter of the king lies on the inside." (Tehillim 45:14) This pasuk, which underscores much of the Torah's attitude toward the role of a woman, has been used by Chazal as a statement describing the private nature of the female role as well as a panegyric on the private nature of the religious experience in general. Indeed, the private sphere should be the dominant area of a woman's life. Implicit in the woman's creation was the idea that she focus on a specific trait of the human personality - tznius.

While a woman may certainly offer a Korban Todah, to oblige her to do so after childbirth would not be consistent with the parameters of hilchos tznius. This statement will surely be cause for considerable discussion, especially in light of the influence of western civilization on contemporary Jewish society. Rav Nebentzhal cites two mitzvos that women do not usually perform, specifically because of constraints on them made by the laws of tznius.

Women do not light the Chanukah lights unless there is no man in the house. Why? The Chasam Sofer explains that because of the criteria of pirsumei nissa, publicizing the miracle, one should light the candles outside, in public. It is not the manner of a woman to stand outside of her house and publicly light the candles. It is not tznius. How far we are removed from the Chasam Sofer's perspective on Jewish life!

Kiddush Levanah, sanctifying and blessing the New Moon, is a time-bound mitzvah. Yet, while women do recite a brachah upon performing a mitzvos asei she'hazman grama, time-bound mitzvah, they do not recite the Kiddush Levanah service. A number of reasons are cited. The Rama says that since this mitzvah should be performed publicly beneath the sky, preferably on the street, it is not consistent with the laws of tznius.

We have only to return to the sources to realize that to reverse a G-d-given role is to invite censure, both Divine and human. Regrettably, the effect of the society in which we live has somewhat distorted our perspective on what really is the G-d-given role of woman. Adam Harishon gave Chavah a name which he saw b'ruach Hakodesh, with Divine Inspiration, was to reflect her fundamental - though not necessarily exclusive - role in life: eim kol chai, mother of all life. Perhaps, if more people would accept this truth, there would be many fewer issues concerning our children's educational development.

He is to call out: "Contaminated, contaminated!" (13:45)

Rashi explains that the metzora must warn people to distance themselves from him lest his tumah, spiritual defilement, contaminate them. The following narrative indicates how far we are removed from reality and the definition of sin. Horav Elazar M. Shach, zl, related that his uncle Horav Issur Zalman Meltzer, zl, the venerable Rosh Hayeshivah of Eitz Chaim, would give a shmuess, ethical discourse, on Motzoei Shabbos, during the month of Elul. The words that came from his heart entered the hearts of his students and deeply inspired them. The emotion that was felt in that room was overwhelming.

One time, the Rosh Hayeshivah stood at the lectern. He looked at the crowd, declaring, "When a Sefer Torah is found to be pasul, invalid, we take a gartel, sash, and wrap and tie it around the outside of the Sefer. This way people will be aware that it is pasul, and they will not use it."

Suddenly, the Rosh Hayeshivah burst out in heartrending tears and screamed, "If so, how many gartlech, sashes, should we be wrapped with, so that people will realize how pasul we are? Yet, we still do not learn from our actions!" As soon as these words left Rav Issur Zalman's mouth, the entire assemblage broke down in bitter weeping. Rav Issur Zalman was a tzaddik. His students were talmidim of their revered rebbe. He was their religious role model. Yet, they all wept sincerely. What should we say?


This shall be the law of the metzora on the day of his purification. (14:2)

Living outside the camp of society, the metzora has the opportunity to reflect upon the effect of his disparaging words. He learns to realize how much evil he has generated. Words can hurt. They can also soothe. They can ameliorate one's grief. They can also cause untold pain. They can lift one's spirit. They can also cause crushing despair. They can bolster one's confidence. They can also rob one of his dignity. It all depends on one's thoughtfulness in speech - or his malevolence. And what about words spoken in anger, with no aforethought? How many families have such harshly spoken words divided? How many friendships have they destroyed? How many marriages have they soured? Words used thoughtfully can enhance relationships, raise reputations, make people feel good - about themselves and others.

Words are not cheap; the old adage, "names will never harm me," is not true. Names do cause harm. Just ask any adult who had been called a name as a child. Ask him if he still remembers the name, and if it still bothers him. Then there are the words which we have not said, the compliment we did not give, the apology we did not make. This is especially true of parents and teachers. That little compliment, the few words of encouragement, the smile that comes with a job well done, goes a long way. Everybody thrives on a compliment; some hunger for it. It goes without saying that the derogatory or thoughtless remarks we make to our children and students can come back to haunt us later in life.

The following story demonstrates the devastating effect of a parent's scornful comment. It is a story about a woman who survived the Holocaust, moved to Eretz Yisrael and became an intelligent and articulate member of the community. She would often reminisce about her childhood in pre World War II Europe. Once, during her musings, she declared that one of the happiest recollections of her life was the day in which she was forcibly taken by the Nazis from her home and transferred to an extermination camp.

Those listening to her story were understandably taken aback. Responding to their shocked expressions, she explained that her family situation was far from ideal. Apparently, her older sister had been the favored, frum, observant daughter, while she was the rebellious one. If there was one pat of butter and one pat of margarine, her sister would get the butter, while she would get the margarine. "After all," her mother would explain, "your older sister is exhausted from davening with such great kavanah, concentration, while you probably skipped a few pages. You can do with less."

The derision would increase and become more spiteful when she did something to anger her parents - which, regrettably, occurred more often than not. In anger, her mother would complain, "You probably are not even my biological daughter! Your sister was born at home, whereas you were born in a public clinic. The doctors probably exchanged my real daughter with you." This was certainly not her mother's usually refrain, but the painful effect of a derisive comment endures.

In 1942, the Nazis came to her hometown and rounded up the children. Only she and her parents were home at the time. Her father immediately wrote a kvittel to the Gerrer Rebbe. Her mother threw herself at the feet of the Nazi beasts, begging that they spare her child, "Please, I beg you. Let my child stay. I will do anything. I cannot live without her!" She entreated upon deaf ears.

The young girl, now turned adult, remembered that moment with great joy. "I felt no pain; I had no fear," she said. "I was overjoyed to finally hear that my mother truly loved me as a child." The affirmation that she was, indeed, her own and beloved daughter, that she was accepted and not rejected, overshadowed the fear of being taken away to her death.

Imagine, after all these years, this woman looked back on a devastating experience as being her greatest source of joy. After all, it was this experience that erased the pain in her heart that had been caused by words.

And immerse himself in the water and become pure. Thereafter, he may enter the camp. (14:8)

The punishment for speaking lashon hora is meant to teach the slanderer a lesson. He now has some idea regarding the effect of his words. As a result of his slanderous tongue, he caused a break in relationships between people. Let him live alone, far from the center of the community, so that he will begin to realize the harmful consequences of his vile mouth. Furthermore, when he is alone, he now has time to introspect and focus on his life. He now has the opportunity to change his overall demeanor and work on bettering his character. Last, as Horav Avigdor Halevi Nebentzhal, Shlita, explains, the metzora, having been distanced from the three machanos, encampments, now realizes that Hashem views him as being on a very low spiritual plateau. The reason for this is that a person's position relative to the center of kedushah, sanctity, is an indicator of his spiritual position.

There is a direct corollary between the two positions. This is to be noted from the fact that the Kohen Gadol walks into the Kodshei Hakodoshim, Holy of Holies, on Yom Kippur, the holiest day of the year, only after having been away from his home for seven days prior to Yom Kippur. During his separation period, he lives on the Har Habayis, Temple Mount, in preparation for his awesome experience. Residing in this elevated Makom, place, of kedushah, has a powerful effect on the Kohen Gadol - one which now gives him access to the Holy of Holies. Thus, the metzora, who is sent away from his original home, now understands that his spiritual position has now been changed; he has been distanced from his original standing.

Once we understand the depth of the punishment, we now have an idea of the incredible reward in store for he who speaks positively of Klal Yisrael collectively, as well as each Jew individually. The Toesfta in Meseches Sotah 4:1 says that Hashem's reward is five hundred times greater than His punishment. This is all the more reason to look for the positive aspect in every person's behavior. At times, it might take a bit of imagination to see the positive, as the following story demonstrates.

Two friends worked together, side by side, for an institution in Eretz Yisrael for many years. After awhile, one of them suddenly passed away. The funeral was attended by many of Yerushalayim's elite, among them Horav Aryeh Levine, zl. It happened that Rav Aryeh was walking in the funeral procession together with the surviving friend, when the man left the procession and ran into a flower shop. A few minutes later, he rejoined the procession, this time carrying a flowerpot with him. The man's action shocked Rav Aryeh, who was fully aware of his lifelong relationship with the deceased. It continued to bother him until he decided that he must give the man mussar, reproach, for his lack of respect for his friend. He began by asking, "Can you please enlighten me why you felt it necessary to leave your friend's funeral procession to buy a potted plant?"

"Rebbe, let me explain my actions," the man replied. "Yesterday, a man who was being treated for leprosy passed away in the hospital. My friend, the deceased, was very close to this leper and would visit him often. When the leper died, the hospital staff was about to burn all of his effects due to contamination. The problem was that among his few possessions were his Tefillin. My friend had been negotiating with the hospital administration concerning the Tefillin. At the end, the hospital deferred and agreed to have the Tefillin stored in a flowerpot and then removed and buried in the ground. There was one condition: They had to have the flowerpot in the hospital by 12:00PM - today. Regrettably, my friend died suddenly and the risk of the Tefillin being destroyed was considerable. This is why I left the procession to purchase a flowerpot, and I am going immediately to the hospital to bury the Tefillin.

Rav Aryeh concluded the story by emphasizing to what length one must go to judge another person favorably.

Va'ani Tefillah

Asher bochar banu mikol hoamin - Who has selected us from all the nations.

The Marpei Lashon explains the meaning of our selection over all the nations to receive the Torah, when, in truth, we were the only ones who were willing to accept the Torah. Chazal teach us that the Torah was given in seventy languages, so that every nation would have access to understanding it. Lashon Kodesh, however, is different from the other languages, because it alludes to the lessons and derivations of Torah SheBaal Peh, the Oral Law. Everything that Chazal derive is based upon the structure of the Torah's text which is written in lashon kodesh. No other language affords this opportunity; no other language alludes to the oral law. Thus, we thank Hashem for giving us the Torah in lashon kodesh. He selected us for this unique distinction by giving us His Torah in the language that was written in Heaven.

All Birchos Hanehenin, blessings over food and fragrance, in which a person partakes and enjoys Hashem's gifts do not have the extra clause, Asher nosan lanu, "which He gave us." Rather, the brachah is a general statement, such as: Hamotzi lechem min ha'aretz, "Who brings forth bread from the earth;" or Borei minei mezonos, "Who creates species of nourishment." Why is Birchos HaTorah different? Siach Tzvi explains that every form of material/physical good in the world can be beneficial for one and harmful for another. Bread may be healthy and nourishing for one person, while it is detrimental for another. Torah and mitzvos are the only gifts that present blessing and good for anyone, anytime, anywhere. Torah is the ultimate gift. Thus, its recipients acknowledge the fact that they have been chosen to receive the gift and that the Almighty gave it specifically to them.

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