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Peninim on the Torah

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Rabbi A. Leib Scheinbaum
Hebrew Academy of Cleveland


Now You shall command Bnei Yisrael that they shall take for you pure, pressed oil for illumination. (27:20)

The commentators wonder why Klal Yisrael was enjoined to bring the oil to Moshe Rabbeinu, when Aharon was the one who needed the oil. Horav Chaim Shmuelevitz, z.l., cites the pasuk in Tehilllim 133:2: "Behold, how good and how pleasant is the dwelling of the brothers, moreover, in unity. Like the precious oil upon the head, running down upon the beard, the beard of Aharon, running down over his garments." The harmony that existed between Moshe and Aharon -- the brotherly love that connected them, was so strong that when the oil was on Aharon's beard, it was as if Moshe Rabbeinu had also been anointed. Rav Chaim supplements this, stating that Moshe actually felt the oil on his beard, so great was the unity between them.

Had Moshe been a lesser person, he would have had every reason to be envious of Aharon. Kehunah Gedolah, the High Priesthood, was the zenith of spiritual appointments - and Hashem granted it to Aharon. Moshe was not jealous, because he loved Aharon as if they were one. It was no different with Aharon. The love was reciprocal. When Moshe was chosen by Hashem to be Klal Yisrael's leader, Aharon, the older brother, came to greet him with open loving arms. In fact, the love and joy was so immense that it could not be expressed verbally; it could only be manifest with his heartfelt love.

Accordingly, Horav Chaim Beifus, Shlita, explains the concept of "veyikchu eilecha," "that they shall take for you." The word eilecha/you implies both of them - Aharon and Moshe. The oil that was brought to Moshe was considered as if it had been brought to Aharon, because Moshe viewed Aharon's anointment as if it were his own. The two brothers each viewed the other as one with himself.

The harmonious relationship between Moshe and Aharon is not exclusive to these two famous brothers. It is the type of relationship that should be the natural ideal for all Jews. After all, are we not all brothers? This harmony can be divided into two components: joy and pain. While it is important to share in another Jew's joy, to feel a sense of happiness at his friend's good fortune, it is also essential that one feel the pain and hurt his friend experiences. The Torah first introduces us to Moshe Rabbeinu as a young man, when he went out and noticed the hard labor to which his People were being subjected. He immediately shared in their pain. That is the paradigm which Moshe sets before us.

Jewish lore is replete with narratives that demonstrate to us the concept of sharing the simchah, joy, of a friend's good fortune, as well as sharing in his grief and pain. These stories usually revolve around a great tzaddik or Rosh Yeshiva. What about the simple fellow? Does this equally apply to him, or is he considered to be different? Ostensibly, unity within our People, harmony among Jews from all walks of life, is an essential prerequisite in our nation's present and future.

How does one "feel" his friend's joy? How does one submit himself totally to another person, so that their two hearts beat as one? First of all, it takes self-confidence. An insecure person, one who is afraid of his own shadow, will certainly have a difficult time supporting someone else. One must manifest respect for another person, appreciate his virtues and qualities. Lastly, sharing a big heart - a heart filled with compassion, a heart that is prepared to cheer at another person's success, to cry at his failure. It may seem like an insurmountable criterion, but people attain this level all of the time. In fact, a secular program is founded upon this concept. It is called the Special Olympics, a program in which those who participate are accompanied by an able-bodied person to help them do anything they would have done had they not been physically challenged. They swing a bat together; they throw a ball together. The prize goes to the participant, but it is the teamwork that "brings home the gold." Hopefully, we can develop this form of teamwork without the "external" motivation.

You shall make vestments of sanctity for Aharon, your brother, for glory and splendor. (28:2)

One's clothing affects him in two ways: his individuality; how others relate to him. The Kesav Sofer explains that what a person wears reminds him of his station in life and prevents him from assimilating with those beneath him. Indeed, their manner of dress is precisely what distinguished Klal Yisrael in Egypt. This is what kept them from integrating into Egyptian society. A second aspect of the clothing one wears is from the perspective of other people. The manner in which one dresses, the type of clothing he wears, manifests his personality and status. Thus, people view him in accordance with the way he presents himself.

The Torah tells us that Aharon did not need the Priestly vestments to remind him of his exalted and sanctified position. Aharon was holy and distinct in his own right. He did not need external motivation. The vestments were "for glory and splendor," so that the people would realize the spiritual glory and splendor of the Kohen Gadol, High Priest, and his august position. Clothes do not make a person, but they definitely tell a lot about him. Hopefully, the message we send is the one we wish to be sending.

You shall make a forehead plate of pure and engrave upon it… holy unto G-d… and it shall be on Aharon's brow…(28:36,37,38)

Chazal tell us that the Kohen Gadol's begadim, Priestly vestments, were more than outer coverings for his body; they symbolized Hashem's forgiveness for various sins. The Tzitz HaKodesh, Holy Forehead Plate, personified absolution for the sin of brazenness. The Hebrew term for brazenness is azus meitzach, which translated literally means "a bold brow." This expression is found in Sefer Yirmiyah 3:3, "You have the meitzach ishah zonah," the brazenness of the brow of a loose woman, in that you refuse to be ashamed (of your loose behavior).

When all is said and done, this trait can be summarized in one word: chutzpah, audacity, insolence, a characteristic which has a clearly negative connotation. It undermines authority, impedes discipline and, hence, destroys any semblance of constructive order. A mechutzaf, one who is audacious, disrespectful and shameless, can sabatoge the hard work of the most dedicated leader on the other hand, one must earn respect. Repression and coercion will never effect reverence; they will only incur wrath, disillusionment, and chutzpah from those whom we seek to command -- and from those whose respect we want to build.

Chazal teach us that every character trait can have both desirable and undesirable applications. Indeed, whether a trait is considered positive or negative depends on the manner in which it is applied. Hence, we may commonly refer to chutzpah as an undesirable character trait but, it can, at times, be constructive, necessary and laudable. When a person refuses to defer his morality and spiritual strength in the face of overwhelming social and peer pressure, when one refuses to yield his religious beliefs in the face of financial pressures - chutzpah is a wonderful character trait to possess. In fact, we are taught time and again that one must observe the Jewish rituals of worship, even when he confronts derision and mockery. This is not only "kosher" chutzpah; it is requisite chutzpah. Regrettably, all too often we equate boldness and daring with impertinence and insolence. It all depends on what side of the line of religious conviction one stands. Our nation is here today because of its "chutzpah" to believe in Hashem Yisborach, despite the challenges that have threatened its survival.

The Baal Shem Tov Hakadosh teaches that if one recognizes his character deficiencies, he should do everything within his power to channel them toward constructive endeavors. Thus, one who is quick to "lose his cool" should direct his anger l'shem Shomayim, for the sake of Heaven, to cleanse the world of evil, to eradicate sin, to stamp out injustice, to expose those charlatans who claim to represent our People, but are actually only striving for self aggrandizement. One who has difficulty overcoming feelings of arrogance, who is given to notions of grandeur and pride, should channel this pride to take a stand for his People, to publicly proclaim with dignity that he is the bearer of a Divine Soul. He should view immorality with the disdain and derision it deserves. Last, one who is stubborn, who does have chutzpah, should focus his obstinacy and fortify himself against any incursion directed towards his ethical/moral standards. Indeed, in today's society -- where "everything goes" and "just do it" is the catchword of the generation -- chutzpah will help us to maintain our identity in a sea of confusion and will prevent us from yielding to the forces of assimilation.

As mentioned above, chutzpah should be equated with daring, with the mettle necessary to survive as a Jew. I could cite a number of instances where the Jew has demonstrated his temerity and determination to survive and thrive as a committed Jew. Jewish stoicism is part of our emblem, a primary component in our self-definition. There is another word which, although is not a clear synonym for chutzpah, clearly is a result of its constructive application. The following story explains this statement:

The narrator of the story remembers himself as a young boy in the Auschwitz concentration camp. For awhile he was able to share a barracks with his father. Despite the unspeakable horror, heinous cruelty and overwhelming hardship, many Jews clung to whatever religious observance they had when they entered Hitler's purgatory. One cold wintry night, one of the inmates reminded the men in the barracks that it was the first night of Chanukah, the festival of dedication. How could they overlook a festival that represented the Jew's fight for spiritual freedom and religious conviction? How were they going to light the Menorah in the concentration camp? Moreover, where would they get a Menorah?

The narrator's father fashioned a small Menorah out of scrap metal. It probably could not have received many awards for its artistic beauty, but its spiritual meaning was unparalleled. For a wick, he took some threads from his prison uniform, his "vestments" of Jewish heroism. For oil, he used some butter that he was somehow able to procure from one of the guards.

They were taking a great risk. Such observances were strictly forbidden, so that being caught meant certain death. Taking risks was part of their Jewish chutzpah, daring. The son/narrator observing the scene questioned his father: "It is a terrible 'waste' of precious calories to take the butter that could feed a starving man and use it as oil to burn in the Menorah," the son queried. "Would it not be better to share the butter on a slice of bread than to burn it?" "My dear son," the father responded, "both you and I know that a person can exist a very long time without food. But, my child, I tell you, a person cannot live a single day without hope. This is the fire of hope, the fire of faith. Never let it go out. Not here. Not anywhere. For without it, we are nothing."

The word that we seek is the word "hope". It is something that has preserved us throughout our tumultuous history. Hope and faith are not really two different concepts. As Jews, our faith engenders hope. It is our faith that gives us that "chutzpah" to hold our heads up high with pride. That is the kind of chutzpah that every Jew should possess.

You shall offer one sheep in the morning. (29:39)

What seems to be a simple statement instructing us regarding the Korban Tamid, Daily Sacrifice, had a profound impact upon the Apter Rebbe, z.l., the Ohaiv Yisrael. Once, a chasid who dealt in sheep came to the Rebbe to bemoan his plight. He described the various difficulties he encountered raising the sheep and preparing them for the market. During this entire time, the Rebbe was listening attentively. Suddenly, the Rebbe emitted a bitter moan. He turned to the sheep trader, saying "You have been speaking this whole time about your sheep. Have you given any thought to Hashem's sheep? Do you realize the tragedy that occurred this morning to Klal Yisrael?"

"What tragedy happened, Rebbe? I am not aware of anything that occurred," responded the chasid incredulously.

"I see that you have forgotten that we once had a Bais Hamikdash," responded the Rebbe. "Every day the Korban Tamid, consisting of a sheep in the morning and one in the evening, was offered. Today, as in every day since the destruction of the Bais Hamikdash, a tragedy occurs: we do not fulfill the mitzvah of offering the Korban Tamid."

This is how a tzaddik learns a pasuk Chumash, and how he views the sad state of affairs since the destruction of the Temple. We suggest that there is an additional tragedy: the fact that we do not remember - or think about the fact that we once had a Bais Hamikdash. The Baal Shem Tov was wont to say, "Forgetfulness leads to exile; remembrance is the secret of redemption." The genesis of our "problems" is our inability -- or lack of desire -- to remember, to study our glorious past, to come to grips with its lesson and message for the future.

The Baal Shem would explain the pasuk in Shemos 17:14, regarding erasing the memory of Amalek, "Write this as a remembrance in the Book and recite it in the ears of Yehoshua, that I will surely erase the memory of Amalek from under the heavens," in the following manner: The destruction of Amalek is the beginning of the redemption. We are to write a remembrance, since remembering and redemption are synonymous.

Questions and Answers

1. What is unique about Parashas Tetzaveh relative to other parshios in Sefer Shemos, Vayikra and Bamidbar?

2. Was there a specific purpose to the Tzitz Hakodesh worn by the Kohen Gadol?

3. How many bells and ornamental pomegranates were attached to the Me'il?

4. Did the Me'il have sleeves?


1. Parashas Tetzaveh is the only parsha in the Torah from the time of Moshe Rabbeinu's birth in which his name is not mentioned. This excludes Sefer Devarim, much of which is narrated by Moshe. When Moshe entreated Hashem on behalf of Klal Yisrael after the sin of the Golden Calf, he said, "If You do not forgive the Jewish People, erase me from Your Book." This is the fulfillment of that self-inflicted curse (Baal HaTurim).

2. The Tzitz atoned for sacrifices brought by Klal Yisrael which had become tamei, ritually contaminated, and were offered anyway. Because of the Tzitz, these sacrifices were rendered kosher (Rashi citing the Talmud Menachos 25a).

3. There were seventy-two bells and seventy-two pomegranates attached to the edges of the Me'il, with twenty-six in front and twenty-six in back. Rashi says the bells were placed in between the pomegranates. Ramban says the bells were placed inside the pomegranates.

4) There is a dispute among the Rishonim in regard to this. Rashi and Raavad say that the Me'il had sleeves as did the Kesones which was worn underneath it. Rambam and Ramban contend that the Me'il was completely open on either side with no sleeves.

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