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Peninim on the Torah

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Rabbi A. Leib Scheinbaum
Hebrew Academy of Cleveland


Now, you shall command. (27:20)

The commentators note the Torah's use of the unusual phrase, V'atah tetzaveh, "Now you shall command," instead of the more common, Tzav, "Command." Furthermore, Moshe Rabbeinu's name has been omitted from this parsha. Is this deletion significant? Each commentator, in his inimitable manner, offers his explanation. Horav Moshe Shmuel Shapiro, zl, cites the Be'er Mayim Chaim who explains that the term, v'atah, "(now) you," indicates a higher status than the name, "Moshe." This means, explains the Rosh Yeshivah of Be'er Yaakov, that when Hashem speaks to Moshe, He is actually speaking with Moshe, as if two friends are speaking one to another: ani, I; v'atah, and you. This language represents a higher level of -- and closer-- relationship between the Almighty and Moshe.

The Gaon, zl, m'Vilna explains that this is the essence of the blessings: Baruch atah Hashem, "Blessed are You Hashem." In His infinite greatness, Hashem "lowers" Himself and makes Himself "equal," so to speak, with us, as we recite our blessing. It is as if we are having a "one on one" conversation with Hashem. This demonstrates His greatness.

Likewise, when Hashem speaks to Moshe in this pasuk, it is on the level of, v'atah tetzaveh - no specific name, just simply "you." Moshe has been granted elevated status. He has achieved a closer relationship with the Almighty. We find a similarity in the Talmud Shabbos 133b, when Chazal explains the pasuk, Zeh Keili v'anveihu, "This is my G-d and I will glorify Him." (Shemos 15:20) I will glorify Him in mitzvos, attempting to be "like" Hashem, acting as He does, manifesting His compassion and love, etc. Rashi adds that the word anveihu is a contraction of ani, I, and, v'hu, and Him, as if we and Hashem have a close relationship.

A relationship of this caliber can only be achieved through Torah study. It is through the individual's diligence in-- and application to-- Torah that the unique relationship of re'a, a "friend," develops between the student of Torah and Hashem. Rav Moshe cites the Sifri in Parashas Korach, which explains that after David Hamelech studied Torah and achieved distinction in his study, he said, V'li mah yakru rei'echa Keil, "To me, how glorious are Your thoughts, O' G-d." (Tehillim 139:17) The word rei'echa, thoughts, is a derivative of re'a, friend, as if David were saying, "How glorious is Your friendship." We can elevate this idea of "friendship" with Hashem to another level. The Talmud in Berachos 28B relates that Rabbi Nechuniah ben HaKanah would offer one prayer when he entered the bais ha'medrash and another one when he left. When he entered, he prayed that he not err in Halachah, and, when he left, he offered his gratitude that he was fortunate to be among those who study Torah. The Rambam writes that it is incumbent upon all students of Torah to recite these prayers.

Horav Shimshon Pincus, zl, explains that these prayers do not simply constitute another way to pursue success in Torah learning. Chazal are teaching us that in order to succeed in Torah, one must view himself to be a partner with Hashem. This is a joint endeavor. Therefore, it is as if Hashem tells us, "Help Me, and I will help you. Let us do it together. You learn and I will help you. Together, we will make a talmid chacham, Torah scholar, out of you."

Moreover, we derive from here that limud and tefillah, study and prayer, are not two mutually exclusive endeavors. They are one. Without tefillah, entreating Hashem for success, one can learn diligently, and he still will not achieve his maximum potential. He needs Hashem's help, which does not occur without the individual requesting it. Thus, the tefillah is an integral part of the limud haTorah process. One who wants to succeed in Torah study, who strives to achieve greatness in Torah erudition, must learn, and he must also supplicate the One Who grants wisdom to make him one of His beneficiaries.

They shall take for You pure olive oil. (27:20)

In the Midrash, Chazal compare the Jewish People to an olive, for all liquids mingle with one another, but oil always separates and rises to the top. The great Kabbalist, Rabbi Suliman Uchna, zl, one of the students of the Arizal, writes that Klal Yisrael is holy. If a Jew errs and strays from the path of observance, even if he descends to the nadir of depravity, it is not a permanent shift. He can still rise to the top, return and perform teshuvah. While both of these ideas are true, they do not clarify the significance of olive oil. The fact that oil and water do not mix applies to all sorts of oil. It is the viscosity of the oil, not the nature of the olive, that separates from other liquids. Why is it necessary to use olive oil specifically?

The Midrash uses the following parable to explain why olive oil was used in the Bais HaMikdash. It is compared to a king whose legions rebelled against him. One legion, however, maintained its fidelity to the king and did not rebel. The king said that in recognition of this legion's faithfulness, he would, in the future, choose his rulers and governors only from it. Hashem said, "This olive brought light to the world in the time of Noach, when the dove returned with an olive branch in its mouth." The Radal, Horav David Luria, zl, explains that the corruption preceding the flood did not affect only man. Indeed, even the plant and animal kingdoms were involved. Various animal species tried to interbreed: plants attempted to intergraft. Only the olive branch resisted all forms of grafting. Thus, it is considered the one legion that did not rebel. Because it remained faithful to Hashem, the olive branch merited to be the sign of rebirth, the symbol of rejuvenation and renewal after the destruction of the flood. Subsequently, the olive became the source of illumination in the holiest place in the world, and the source of light and symbol of hope for generations to come.

In respect to the original thought that oil symbolizes the Jew who always rises to the top - regardless of how deep he has fallen: The reason is that the essential neshamah, soul, which is within each of us never becomes tainted. It always remains pure. Its fidelity to Hashem is unequivocal. We sin; our bodies rebel, but our neshamos continue to remain pure. We cannot harm them. The neshamah attempts to fight its way to the top, to rise up above the muck that we have piled on it. In due time, the Jew finds his way home. In due time.

You shall take the two Shoham stones and engrave upon them the names of the Bnei Yisrael. (28:9)

Engraved like a signet ring shall you engrave the two stones with the names of the Bnei Yisrael. (28:11)

Of the two pesukim, one reads clearly that the names of the twelve sons of Yaakov should be engraved on the stones. The next pasuk, if interpreted literally, reads that the two stones should be inscribed on the names of Bnei Yisrael. Rashi explains that the word "on the names" is to be read as "with the names." In his preface to Pischei Chochmah, the Ramchal relates the following story.

A man died, and his soul ascended to Heaven and stood before the Heavenly Tribunal. "How did you educate your son?" he was asked.

"I educated him to be a good Jew who would be self-supporting," he replied.

"Why did you not send him to the yeshivah to study Torah?" they asked.

"Are we then in need of more Torah scholars? There are many people who are studying. What is wrong with him supporting himself?" the man responded.

They replied, "You do not know what you have done. You have no idea what you have created. There are 600,000 explanations to the Torah, one coinciding with each Jewish soul and based on its own distinct level of cognition. True, there are other talmidei chachamim, Torah scholars, but not a single one of them can learn like your son; not a single one can offer novellae as your son can. Now, it is all lost. Your son's contribution to Torah is lost forever, because you decided not to send him to yeshivah."

The Alshich Hakadosh interprets this idea in the pasuk in Tehillim 68:13, U'navas bayis techalek shallal, "And the dweller within apportions booty." This is a reference to Klal Yisrael who dwells within the land. It will be they who find fulfillment in the Torah, and they will rise over those nations who ascribe to might as the key to human advancement. They will all fall to the nation who devotes itself to the wisdom of the Torah.

The sefer Tzitzim U'Perachim writes that this is the reason the Torah says that the names of Bnei Yisrael should be inscribed on two stones. The two stones are a metaphor for: the Torah She'Bi'ksav, Written Law; and the Torah She Ba'al Peh, Oral Law. Chazal teach us that each Jew should engrave his name on the Torah. His thoughts, his novellae, and his own commentary and interpretation.

To view this from a different vantage point, to understand why the Torah later says, "The two stones shall be inscribed on the names of Bnei Yisrael," we cite Horav Mendel Kaplan, zl, who explains that the Jewish People represent a tangible reality that is greater than that of the two stones. The Torah's choice of words defines the meaning and essence of reality for us.

When one studies the Talmud, he is not simply reading a manuscript. He is actually developing a relationship with a friend. The Mesechta that he is learning is a world unto itself. When Horav Aharon Kotler, zl, asked the Chafetz Chaim, zl, if he should change mesechtos at the end of a semester, the Chafetz Chaim told him that he should first complete one, then begin another; not to jump from mesechta to mesechta. That is not how one should treat a relationship. A mesechta is real.

One can talk to a mesechta like he converses with a person. Just because we do not see its tangibility does not mean it does not exist. Chazal tell us that a mesechta once attended a funeral in the form of a person.

Rav Mendel would ask, "You may know that you have to kiss a gemara, but how do you kiss a gemara? You look it up and learn it and talk about it: that is how you kiss a gemara! The gemara becomes so pleased and happy that it becomes your friend." The Hadran, the prayer said at the completion of a mesechta, demonstrates how a mesechta becomes a person's friend. We "promise" the tractate, lo nisnashi, minach, "We will not forget you," and we ask it, lo nisnashi minan, "Do not forget us!" That is a relationship. That is reality. This is how the stones are inscribed on the people, because the people are real. They endure.

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

The Torah emphasizes the significance of the Kohanim's garments, dedicating more space to them than to any of the vessels of the Mishkan. Chazal teach us that if a Kohen performs a service while he is not wearing the proper vestments, the service is rendered invalid. We wonder what about these vestments has such an impact on the service.

Horav Mordechai Gifter, zl, explains that an individual's character traits and abilities play a dominant role in his life only if they are used and manifested. Having potential, but not maximizing it, is really of no intrinsic value. In order for a Kohen's avodah, service, to reach its potential, it is necessary that the Kohen render honor and glory to Hashem to the best of his ability. Therefore, the Torah commands that the Kohen's garments meet the criteria of kavod and tiferes, glory and splendor. Even the Kohen's garments have to contribute to elevating the service by expressing honor to the Almighty. Thus, only when the Kohen wears his vestments is the service valid, because only then does it reach its highest potential.

The Rosh Yeshivah adds that the lesson imparted by the Kohanim's vestments is not restricted to the Priesthood. It has application to each and every one of us. After all, does the Torah not exhort us to be a "kingdom of Priests" (Shemos 19:6)? Every action that we take must give praise to the Almighty. Our service to Him can only achieve its fullest potential when it is expressed in every aspect of our essence.

The Torah perceives clothing to have a greater degree of distinction than other means of obtaining honor and attention. Clothing is a form of expression through which our avodas Hashem can reach greater elevation. Therefore, dressing in a dignified and immaculate manner is important as part of our service to the Almighty, not simply because it is trendy.

In the Talmud Avodah Zarah 20b, Rabbi Pinchas ben Yair enumerates the various traits one must acquire in his quest for holiness. Nekius, cleanliness, is an important prerequisite to the achievement of purity and sanctity. Horav Yonasan Eibschutz, zl, explains that cleanliness, which is a reference to spiritual purity, can also refer to immaculate clothing and an overall unsullied demeanor, for the cleanliness of one's clothing and appearance play a critical role, both symbolically and literally, in his service to the Almighty.

The clothing one wears defines him. Often, it indicates a tendency toward a certain lifestyle. More often, clothing serves as a reminder of who one is and where he is going, as demonstrated by the following episode. A young man who was a chasid of the Bais Yisrael of Gur related that he once took a trip from Eretz Yisrael to Belgium. He arrived in Belgium on Sunday and took responsibility for the affairs that needed his attention. His plan was to spend the week and leave after Shabbos. Thursday evening, he heard a knock at the door of his hotel room. He opened the door and saw an unusual individual who had just arrived from Eretz Yisrael. In his hands, he held a package. The stranger just handed the package to him, made an about-face and left. No conversation ensued between them. It was as if the package would explain itself. No further conversation was needed. He immediately opened up the package to find his long Shabbos frock which he wore in Eretz Yisrael, but had no plans to wear in Belgium.

Apparently, the Gerer Rebbe knew his students well. He went to the young man's house and asked to see what the young man had packed to take along. When he saw his kappota, frock, hanging in the closet, he knew that his student had no plans to maintain his fidelity to wearing the traditional Shabbos garb in Osland, the Diaspora. He was not planning to dress like a chasid. The Rebbe was intimating a more than subtle hint to him: These are bigdei kodesh, consecrated garments. They are the traditional garb that he was used to wearing. A lapse in such a simple commitment today could, and would, be likely to lead to a greater failing later on. This is how the Bais Yisrael demonstrated his overwhelming love to his students - by ensuring that they preserved their spiritual rectitude.

This is what you shall do to sanctify them. (29:1)

In the waning years of the first Bais HaMikdash, the Navi Chavakuk asked that death be eliminated from the Jewish People. Citing the pasuk above, as well as the opening pasuk of Parashas Kedoshim where we are exhorted to be holy, he argued that in order for us to achieve sanctity, Hashem must abolish death from us. He maintained that holiness and death are incongruous and, thus, cannot coexist. No member of the Jewish People, especially Kohanim, should die. Hashem responded that it was too late. Death had been a part of "life" ever since Adam HaRishon sinned, causing Hashem to decree death against mankind. Hashem's response seems to indicate a sort of acquiescence and agreement with Chavakuk's claim that death and holiness do not share common ground. The idea of death could not be eliminated but only due to an extrinsic reason.

Let us attempt to qualify this statement. On the one hand, we agree that death and holiness do not mix; and the level of sanctity achieved at Har Sinai during the Revelation should repel death. Nonetheless, the generation of Chavakuk deserved the impending destruction of the Bais HaMikdash. A people that was not worthy of keeping the Bais HaMikdash; in fact, catalyzed its destruction. Yet, they possessed the level of holiness necessary to repel death. How is this possible? Why should Adam's transgression be necessary to justify their death decree? Why do we ignore their own misdeeds which brought down the Bais HaMikdash?

Horav Henach Leibowitz, Shlita, derives a significant lesson from here. When Klal Yisrael stood at Har Sinai, they achieved an unparalleled level of kedushah which rendered death inappropriate. They were beyond death. Their new level of sanctity demanded that they be immortal. Death affected them only because of Adam's sin. This legacy of kedushah is bequeathed to all Jews and is an inherent part of their essence. Yes, they sin and will continue to sin, and these transgressions, at times, will be grievous. Nonetheless, it does not affect their inherent kedushah which they retain as part of their spiritual DNA.

Regardless of a Jew's failing, he remains a son of royalty. His lineage does not become tarnished. Therefore, even if he has deviated from the ways of the "palace," he still deserves to be treated as royalty. We must view our non-observant brethren as heirs to the royal throne that have lost their way home. At any point, the inherent holiness that is part of them may be catalyzed such that they will return and reclaim their birthright and legacy.

The Rosh Yeshivah adds that this noble heritage places an even greater demand on those who do know better. All too often we become spiritually complacent and satisfied with mediocrity. Rather than maximize our potential for greatness, we accede to the blandishments of the yetzer hora, evil inclination, and settle for much less than we are capable of achieving. We sell ourselves short, shying away from opportunities for accomplishing spiritual distinction when they avail themselves to us. The Navi Chavakuk intimates that we are a holy People with enormous potential that can, and should, be translated into reality. We have an inborn sanctity that should make us immortal. We must, therefore, empower ourselves to use the gifts with which Hashem endows us, so that we reach the lofty level of kedushah that Hashem expects of us.

Perhaps we should take this idea a bit further. Nobility demands a certain rectitude and demeanor that bespeaks one's station in life. In other words, the prince does not speak or act like the average hooligan. The prince respects people, because he appreciates the value of a human being on a higher level. The higher one has risen, the greater one's achievements, the more that is expected of him. He must bring honor to his position. Thus, a Jew should appreciate all human beings, regardless of their background, race and religious affiliation.

I was recently reading how Horav Mendel Kaplan, zl, the legendary Rosh Yeshivah, would sense a spark of holiness in every human being. When he spent time in Japan and China, he could not bring himself to ride in a rickshaw, even though this was a common mode of transportation, because it required another human being to pull him. Late in life, when he would drive, he would use the horn only for safety purposes, never as a way to vent frustration. When he would drive into a gas station, he made a point to park nearest to the attendant, so that the worker would not have to walk more than necessary. He would treat every one with respect - never talking down to anyone, regardless of his position or disposition. The warm feelings he demonstrated towards others were always reciprocated. When you make someone feel good, they appreciate it and respond in turn.

Va'ani Tefillah

Hodu Lo barchu Shemo
Give thanks to Him; Bless His Name.

Obviously, we are enjoined to bless Hashem. Is this not what this entire tefillah is about? Horav Avigdor Miller, zl, explains that we are being taught an important lesson. Everybody pays lip service to Hashem, but do we understand that He is the only source of our welfare? We think that our happiness is due to times of prosperity, or that our good fortune is due to our abilities or the kindness of men. The tefillah tells us: Give thanks only to Hashem, for He alone is the source of your life, sustenance, peace and wisdom. Certainly, one should pay gratitude to the mortals that serve as the Almighty's agents, but never forget that they are mere agents.

Bless His Name - The word barchu, bless, notesRav Miller, is a derivative of berech, bending the knee. This implies that one must feel humbled by the weight of gratitude that he owes Hashem. Brachah is the result of todah. We bend over, bowing in humility, because of our great and weighty debt of gratitude to the Almighty.

If we stop to think exactly what it is that we are saying before we utter these words, our davening would have a different and a more powerful effect.

refuos, yeshuos v'nechamos
to all Klal Yisroel

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