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Peninim on the Torah

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Rabbi A. Leib Scheinbaum
Hebrew Academy of Cleveland


And let them take for Me a portion, from every man whose heart motivates him you shall take My portion. (25:2)

The Yerushalmi Terumos 1:5:5 states that five individuals are excluded from giving Terumah, the designated tithe of grain given to the Kohen. They are a: cheresh, deaf - who speaks but does not hear; shoteh- imbecile; katan - young child; toreim es she'eino shelo - one who contributes from funds that are not his; oveid kochavim - idol worshipper/gentile, even if he is giving money which belongs to a Jew. I was perusing through some old seforim and came across a volume of drashos, homilies, from rabbanim written some fifty years ago. From a homiletic perspective, they were quite good. One lesson that I learned from them was that the problems confronting the American Jewish community have not changed. They have just become more "state of the art." The issues are the same; the terms of description have changed. There was a homiletic rendering of the above Yerushalmi that was informative and inspiring. I take the liberty of citing it here, adding my own embellishment.

Chazal's statement Lo yitromu, "these five should not give Terumah," in the literal sense means that these individuals should not set aside their tithe of grain for the Kohen. It can also indicate a foreboding concerning the potential of a certain breed of individual whose contribution to the Jewish community we can do without.

Let us begin with the cheresh, someone who has great difficulty controlling his oral expression, but, for some reason, hears nothing that anyone says. Always prepared to present his ideas for the improvement of the community, he has no problem articulating his disdain for present policies and procedures. In other words, he questions the validity of hallowed rituals and customs, impugns the character and ability of those in present leadership positions, but adamantly - and with extreme indifference - ignores any rebuttal or deference. He talks, but refuses to listen.

There is, of course, a clear difference between the cheresh whom Chazal disallow from giving Terumah and the cheresh who plagues every community - large or small. Chazal address a cheresh who is a victim of circumstances, whom Heaven has incapacitated. He would give anything to listen, but, sadly, he cannot. Our cheresh refuses to listen. Regardless who makes the attempt to reach him, to get his attention, to calm him down - he deliberately, maliciously and obstinately rejects any appeal to common sensical listening. Such a person should be neither expected - nor allowed - to contribute to the community.

According to Chazal, the shoteh is an individual who squanders that with which he has been entrusted. He is a frightened person, overly insecure, and ever self-conscious. His self-esteem is obviously at an all-time low. He will, therefore, do anything for attention - regardless how much a fool he makes of himself. He cannot be trusted, because he would even turn his back on his best friend if he thinks that it would advance his own prestige. Pride is a word that is foreign to his lexicon, and loyalty is equally so. In order to garner attention and acceptance, he attempts to usurp tradition, while simultaneously claiming his allegiance to the Mesorah. While declaring his fidelity to Halachah, he distorts and denigrates individuals who stand at Klal Yisrael's helm, as well as their decisions. He, too, is another individual whose Terumah is unacceptable.

The Talmudic katan is, physically, a child. We can apply the childish characteristics to those adults who manifest infantile tendencies. A child thinks small; likewise, the katan of our community is small-minded, maintaining a bucolic, narrow-minded, unsophisticated perspective - just to be different. He is often a hypocrite whose personal lifestyle is self-serving, reflecting opulence and modernity; he feels that his shul, yeshivah and the lifestyles of those who devote their lives to the spiritual and physical maintenance of both of these institutions should be supported according to the welfare scale.

Chazal refer to the katan as someone who is samuch al shulchan aviv, perpetually relying on his father's support. Our katan is quite similar, in that whenever it comes to communal forward and upward growth, and especially when it demands serious contributions on his part, he responds, "What was good for my father is good for me!" He certainly neither drives a car nor lives in a house like his father did. He sees nothing wrong with maintaining the old ghetto lifestyle for others, but never for him. Indeed, can we ever expect a contribution from this katan?

The last two types of individual whose contribution to the Jewish community are eschewed began to rear their ugly heads fifty years ago, as the Orthodox Jewish community was picking up steam. There were those who feared an insular lifestyle. They feared being cut off from the newfound friendships they had made and their acceptance into American society. Rather than take pride in their heritage, they began to incorporate she'eino shelo, that which was not theirs, into their celebrations and social affairs. Contemporary music became the sound track for the "lyrics" which David Hamelech used for Sefer Tehillim. Observances included gentile flavor and anything that would convey the message: "We are not the old-fashioned Jews from Europe. We are like you. We are Americans." Yes, this Jew seeks to inject she'eino shelo, that which is not his, into what Hashem wants to be only ours.

Akum she'toram, the gentile who seeks to contribute, represents the external forces that have pervaded the Jewish mindset. The illness of "keeping up with the Joneses" used to be an intra-Jewish-community issue. Now, we see that this scourge has spread, as Jews try to impress their non-Jewish neighbors. Our buildings must compete with theirs; our general studies curricula must contend with that of private schools; our shuls must be modern basilicas; our demands of our spiritual leaders are that they be politically correct, secular-minded intellectuals whose proficiency in the non-Jewish disciplines exceeds their Torah erudition.

Chazal saw that akum she'toram can present serious issues for the Jewish community. We neither have a need to impress anyone, nor should we judge ourselves and our success based upon the values and morals of the outside world. If this renders us as being insular, then we have something else of which to be proud.

And the Keruvimů and their faces toward one another (25:20)

The Talmud Bava Basra 99a debates how the Keruvim stood. What position toward one another did they maintain? One opinion posits that they stood with their faces toward one another, while the other opinion is that they faced toward the House, i.e., eastward towards the Holy. The question raised from the pasuk which states: u'pneihem laBayis, "With their faces toward the House," is resolved by Chazal, who distinguish between: b'zman she'Yisrael osin retzono shel Makom, "when the nation does the will of Hashem," when the Keruvim faced one another; and when the nation did not perform the will of Hashem, which was indicated by their facing the House.

The Keruvim that stood above the Aron HaKodesh in the Kodshei Kodoshim, Holy of Holies, manifested varied situations which served as the barometer of the people's relationship vis-?-vis Hashem. When the Keruvim stood side by side, facing the House, it was not a good sign. It indicated that Klal Yisrael's service to Hashem was lacking; their behavior was deficient. When they looked at one another, it projected an image of love, symbolizing the love that prevailed between Hashem and His People. When the nation strayed, the Keruvim turned toward the House to remind the people that something was amiss; they were not fulfilling their obligations (to the House).

What is the meaning of panim el panim, "facing toward one another"? Obviously, it has a deeper meaning than a mere positional encounter towards one to another. Horav Shimshon Pincus, zl, offers the following analogy: A man enters his home, his hands filled with packages of all sizes and weight. He calls out to his wife, "I picked up everything that was on the list." His wife replies tersely, "Thanks," and instructs him where to put the groceries that he bought. In other words, the husband has just returned from a shopping expedition, worn out and tired. His wife barely acknowledges his return, probably taking it for granted that this is the way it should be. After all - it is only groceries. Let us change the scenario a bit and imagine the husband arriving home with a bouquet of flowers for his wife. Then, she will not simply instruct him to place them in a certain vase. She will stop to look at them, smell them, appreciate them. This is the meaning of "face to face" - a reflection of love, of caring.

When a Jew performs a mitzvah, he must demonstrate his care for the mitzvah and his love for its Author - Hashem. He must "face" Hashem, panim el panim. A Jew arises in the morning and begins his day with Modeh Ani - "I thank (You, Hashem)"; lefanecha - "I stand before You in praise and gratitude." He must place emphasis on the lefanecha, before You. He washes his hands and recites the brachah, blessing, Baruch Ata Hashem. Does he underscore in his mind to Whom he is speaking - before Whom he is standing? This is how one should go through his day, reflecting the acute awareness that he stands before Hashem. Let us stop for a moment and view ourselves through the perspective of reality. We walk/drive to shul while reading our text and email messages. Then, of course, we must respond. One does not want to be rude. We enter the sanctuary of the shul, but do not put the phone away. It is placed right next to our Siddur - just in case something that requires our attention comes up during davening. We "rarely" answer the phone during Shemoneh Esrai - the rest of davening is not as fortunate. Now, is this panim el panim?

Hashem calls out to us: "I want to see you face to face." Sadly, we do not hear Him, because we are too busy responding to our most recent text! How do we understand this concept of panim el panim in the context of the Churban Bais Hamikdash? When the gentile attackers entered the Holy of Holies, they saw that the Keruvim were looking at one another. Obviously, this was not a good time for the Jews. This was a period of anger. Hashem was expressing His displeasure with us. Perhaps the Keruvim should not have been positioned toward one another. The commentators offer explanations for this anomaly, of which I will quote two.

When the Keruvim were found to be facing one another during the destruction of the Temple, this was interpreted as Hashem's "goodbye kiss"to Klal Yisrael prior to their leaving the land to go into exile. We have yet to return from the exile, but we will always remember Hashem's "good bye." The kiss reflected love and yearning for the day when we could ultimately return.

Rav Shimshon Pincus suggests that the panim el panim of the Keruvim was a sort of "last will and testament" to Klal Yisrael. As long as the nation was comfortably ensconced in Eretz Yisrael, it might have been possible to maintain the lesser, "side by side" relationship with Hashem. When the nation was exiled and they no longer had the good fortune of the protective barrier of the Bais Hamikdash, they were in a serious predicament. When the path to Gehinom, Purgatory, was glaring at them, about to swallow them up at the slightest wrong move on their part, they were literally on shaky ground. They must have known that the path to spiritual survival is always open to those who maintain a panim el panim relationship with Hashem. Otherwise, without the "love," we cannot make it. We may not have the Bais Hamikdash in our midst - but we will always have Hashem.

You shall make the planks of the Mishkan of Shittim wood, standing erect. (26:15)

Chazal teach that the Kerashim, Planks, of the Mishkan were from a tree, she'eino oseh peiros, that was non fruit-bearing. One would think that the edifice from which such holiness emanated would have had walls that symbolized the future. What could be more symbolic of the future than bearing fruit? Yet, this is exactly what the Torah does not want. Dayan Moshe Swift, zl, explains that when the walls are comprised of fruit-bearing wood, there is always the fear that one might begin to think that it is the edifice that generates holiness, that the building itself is the primary component. We do not believe there is a difference between a small shul in a basement and a large arena with all of the modern innovations. It is what takes place within the environs of the building that determines the future. It is not the building - it is what goes on inside.

Alternatively, the Chachmei Ha'Mussar, Ethicists, derive from here that one does not build a shul, yeshivah, or any organization at the expense of others. As long as the tree bears fruit - it should continue to bear fruit. Why stunt its potential, simply because we need wood for a shul? It is so easy to take the shirt off of someone else's back - and use it for our own purposes. How often do we take the liberty to contribute someone else's time and money for a project for which we personally have no time or interest? This is why we use a tree that does not bear fruit - so that we do not deprive it of its continued potential to provide fruit.

We might suggest another idea. Every person has his or her own potential function in life. Sadly, there are those who do not appreciate their G-d-given function and desire that which belongs to others. This causes them to lose out doubly. First, they are not achieving what they could do best; and they are also often preventing the realization of the success of a project, because they insist on a position for which they are not qualified.

The "tree" that was created to bear fruit should continue doing so, for it has a vital life-sustaining function. It is when individuals are dissatisfied with themselves, or are envious of others, that problems surface. If Hashem has designated a specific purpose to an individual, it should become his life's focus.

The middle bar inside the planks shall extend from end to end. (26:28)

The Briach HaTichon was an amazing component of the Mishkan. It basically kept the walls together, thus stabilizing the Mishkan structure. The Targum Yonasan ben Uziel explains how this pillar functioned. Avraham Avinu planted a tree in Beer Sheva. When Klal Yisrael walked through the miraculously split Red Sea, the angels uprooted the tree and flung it into the sea. The tree floated on top of the water. At that point, an angel proclaimed, "This tree was originally planted by the Patriarch Avraham; it was at this tree that the Patriarch would pray and call out to others in the Name of Hashem." The nation immediately grabbed hold of the tree and eventually appropriated it for the Mishkan, where it served as the Briach HaTichon. It was seventy amos, cubits, long, and when it was placed into the center hole of a beam, it wound itself around the corners and connected all the beams. When the Mishkan was disassembled, it returned to its original straight position. The questions are obvious: Why did it require a miracle? Why could they not use any other piece of lumber? Why did it require a historic origin i.e., Avraham Avinu? Apparently, nothing else in the Mishkan had such an "illustrious lineage" as the Briach HaTichon.

In his Kaayal Taarog, Horav Ronen Abitul, Shlita, offers a meaningful explanation. Chazal teach that the world stands on three things: Torah, avodah and gemillus chasadim, the study of Torah, the service of G-d through prayer, and performing acts of lovingkindness (Pirkei Avos 1:2). At first glance, we see that the Mishkan was the amalgam of two of these requisites. Moshe Rabbeinu erected the Mishkan. It was only through his input that the Mishkan stood. He was the symbol of Torah; he was its lawgiver, the one for whom the Torah is called - Toras Moshe. Aharon and his sons, the Kohanim, performed the avodah, service, in the Mishkan. So we now have Torah and avodah. In order for this microcosm of the world to endure, it must have some aspect of gemillus chasadim must be connected to it.

This is where the Briach HaTichon enters the picture. Hashem specifically selected the tree which was planted by Avraham the Amud HaChesed, Pillar of lovingkindness. Our Patriarch wrote the book on chesed - both from a material/physical standpoint and from a spiritual perspective. He devoted his entire life to saving the world from the scourge of paganism. He initially reached out to the pagans with material kindness, and then, once he had their attention, he taught them the monotheistic dogma. The Mishkan with its Briach HaTichon imparts a valuable lesson: Torah and avodah are necessary; they are wonderful - but they are insufficient if one seeks enduring reality. Gemillus chasadim must be added to the equation, as it was included in the structure of the Mishkan. Then it will last.

This was the scenario during the Bayis Sheni, The Second Temple era. There was Torah study and the service was being carried out in the Bais Hamikdash, but there was sinaas chinam, unwarranted hatred between Jews. This - more than any other factor - brought down the Bais Hamikdash. There was no chance. How could there be - if people did not get along with one another?

It is impossible to touch upon the subject of chesed without immediately referring to the tzaddik of Yerushalayim, Horav Aryeh Levin, zl, an individual who not only truly understood the meaning of chesed, but lived it with his every breath. After all is said and done, carrying out acts of kindness to our fellow man generates a good feeling within a person - even when one does not receive a thank you. The mere knowledge that one is doing a good thing, that one is helping someone, should engender an internal sense of satisfaction. We observe an even more elevated level of chesed: when one acts not only because it is a "good" thing, but because it is the "right" thing to do. When one empathizes with the other, when one feels his pain, when it does not make a difference if the subject is observant or not, ethical or even a criminal - that is chesed. This was Rav Aryeh Levin.

He gave help to the underground fighter - the Israeli soldier before the State was established. He also found the means and spirit to extend his hand in encouragement to the thief that had befouled his life. He did not care if one was a hero who might have had little or no respect for Jewish observance or one who was down and out, willing to steal and cheat as a means of self-support. At times, he could go in the morning to give courage and infuse faith in the condemned prisoner who was on his way to the gallows, and in the evening, he was at the prisoner's home giving solace and comfort to the woman who that day became the prisoner's widow. With Rav Aryeh there was no "before" and "after," no sense of what must come first and what could be put aside for later. It was all one seamless life of chesed.

Rav Aryeh had no rating system concerning acts of chesed. He loved all Jews alike and he felt their pain equally. For him, every human being was an entire world, and the entire world, in turn, was one unity. The feelings were reciprocated. People who came into his presence simply felt better. They wanted to better themselves, their lives, their religious observance. They were drawn to him because they knew that he loved them all. Who taught him such compassion? Where did he learn such sensitivity, such empathy and love for another human being?

In his memoirs, Rav Aryeh wrote: "I remember arriving in the Holy Land in 1905 and visiting Jaffa. I went to visit the Rav, Horav Avraham Yitzchak HaKohen Kook, zl, who received me with good cheer, as was his holy way to receive all who came to him. After chatting a while, we davened Minchah, and then went out for a stroll in the fields. He did this often to collect his thoughts. Along the way, I plucked some branch or flower. My rebbe was taken aback, and then he gently said to me, 'Believe me: in all my days I have taken care never to pluck a blade of grass or flower needlessly, when it still had the ability to grow or blossom. Chazal teach (Bereishis Rabbah 10:6) that there is not a single blade of grass here on earth that does not have a Heavenly force Above telling it - grow! Every sprout, every leaf of grass says something, conveys some message. Every stone whispers some inner, hidden message in the silence. Every creation utters its unique song to Hashem.'

"These words, spoken from a pure and holy heart, engraved themselves deeply on my heart. From that time, I began to feel a strong sense of compassion for everything."

As mentioned earlier, performing chesed often generates a warm feeling within a person. This, for many, is the ultimate reward - knowing that one is doing something to help another Jew - even if there is no audible gratitude. Chesed shel emes, kindness of truth, is the ultimate chesed, because one receives no reward. Even this form of chesed, however, has varied levels. One can perform kindness towards someone who is so sick that he is unaware that someone is even present. One can address the spiritual and emotional needs of those who are incarcerated in prison, as did Rav Aryeh, or he can assist in the preparation of the deceased for burial. Various levels structure the performance of this mitzvah. The following is an eyewitness testimony of an act of chesed shel emes that is truly emes.

In his Yesupar L'Dor, Rav Yona Emanuel writes concerning his experiences in the Westerbork Concentration Camp, outside of Bergen Belsen, Germany. Officially, Westerbork was not classified by the Nazis as an extermination camp. Still, prisoners who are not fed, and beaten mercilessly inevitably die. The prisoners who died in Westerbork were not buried, but rather, they were taken to the crematorium to be burned.

It was a gruesome sight: Jews bringing sacks filled with bodies of babies to the crematorium, Jews loading the bodies of their brothers and sisters into the ovens. Rav Emanuel writes that he asked the Jewish kapo in charge of the detail if he could enter the crematorium to see what was being done there. He agreed, but stipulated that it would a brief "visit."

The following are his words describing the sight. "The silence of death surrounded me when I entered. I was shaking from head to foot and choked with emotion. Suddenly, I heard voices, and I shuddered as the thought entered my head, 'Are the dead speaking to one another?' I walked on nevertheless, and now I heard the voices with greater clarity. Somewhere, people were praying!

"The voices were coming from over to the right. I walked that way and discovered a small room in which a group of Jews were sitting and reciting Tehillim with a tone of sad melancholy.

"I do not know if they saw me, but I saw them. Their clothes, like mine, sported the yellow patch. These were the men of the chevra kaddisha, Sacred Burial Society, who were responsible to carry the bodies to the ovens. They recited Tehillim in memory of the dead after carrying each sack of bodies. Later on, I discovered that before any bodies were burned, these men made every effort to prepare them as if for burial, in accordance with Jewish custom."

Perhaps, the next time one feels that he has properly executed an act of chesed to his self-satisfaction - he should think about what these holy people were doing, and he will have some idea concerning the meaning of chesed.

Va'ani Tefillah

A Talmudic rule teaches us that whenever the word v'hayah, "and it will be," is used, it denotes joy. This makes sense, because v'hayah symbolizes the future - which personifies hope, change, something to which to look forward. The Sfas Emes comments upon the relationship between v'hayah and listening to mitzvos. This should be a way of life, rather than a cause celebre. He says that the Torah is teaching us an important lesson: Joy in mitzvah observance catalyzes a deeper understanding of these mitzvos. In accordance with the v'hayah - commensurate with our enthusiasm and joy will be our cogency of these mitzvos. Blind faith is for those who cannot see. Joy opens one's eyes. The greatest reward for mitzvah performance is - a mitzvah. One better understands it and appreciates it.

V'hayah im shemoa tishmeu deals with accepting the yoke of mitzvos. In the previous parshah, V'ahavta, we accepted upon ourselves the yoke of the Heavenly Kingdom. Does that not also include the ol mitzvos, yoke of mitzvos? Why is it necessary to accept a new yoke? Horav Moshe Feinstein, zl, explains that, while accepting the yoke of Heaven does include mitzvos, such mitzvah observance becomes something inclusive in what I had originally accepted. Mitzvah observance must be out of a sense of love, calm and satisfaction, out of a desire to do and to act - not because it is part of the "Heavenly package."

In Memory of
Florence Goldberg Levine
Beloved Mother, Grandmother and
Great Grandmother
Monmouth County, New Jersey

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