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Peninim on the Torah

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Rabbi A. Leib Scheinbaum
Hebrew Academy of Cleveland


And you shall make holy garments for Aharon and your brother, for glory and splendor. (28:2)

Bigdei Kehunah, the Priestly vestments, played a critical role in the sacrificial service. Indeed, the character of the Priesthood, and, thus, the validity of the Priestly service, is dependent upon the Priestly garments. The ritual which the Kohen performs becomes a holy service only if he is attired in Bigdei Kehunah. Whether it is Priestly vestments or the everyday clothing worn by people, the source of clothing has a place of great significance in the moral education of mankind. As a result, clothing has acquired great moral significance in its own right.

When Hashem sent Adam and Chavah out from Gan Eden, He gave them clothing. They were going into the world of the mundane, a world in which toil and renunciation of worldly pleasures work side by side to keep man focused on spiritual growth; a world with its attendant moral dangers lurking throughout, waiting to ensnare man in its grip. Man can either rise up to his calling or descend to the level of beast, so that he is forever subject to being a slave to his base desires. Clothing reminds man of his moral mission in life. After all, as Horav S.R. Hirsch, zl, notes, the most conspicuous feature that characterizes a creature as a human being is his clothing.

Having said this, we can now take a critical look at our modern day attire and question: Does this style bring me closer to the moral/spiritual posture which Hashem expects of me? Do I look like a human being was intended to look, or am I flirting with my base tendencies? Am I dressing with dignity and majesty, or simply attempting to call attention to myself for a variety of reasons? "Clothes make the man" is a popular maxim, probably introduced and maintained by clothing salespeople. While clothing does not make the person, it certainly tells us something about his character.

You shall make the Robe of the Eiphod entirely of turquoise wool. (28:31)

The Me'il, Robe, worn by the Kohen Gadol was a long robe, which had seventy-two pomegranate-shaped tassels attached to its hem. In between these tassels were seventy-two golden bells, each with a ringer. When the Kohen Gadol moved around, his approach was quite noticeable. The Ramban explains that the bells were there by design, specifically so that the sound of his approach would be heard as he entered the palace of the King. It was his way of asking permission to enter. It is only proper for one to "knock" before entering a room. The Kohen Gadol was no different. Interestingly, this requirement is not imposed upon the Kohen Hedyot, regular Kohen. Why is the Kohen Gadol different?

Horav Shimshon Pincus, zl, views the Kohanim allegorically. The Kohen Gadol represents the tzaddik, righteous Jew, who spends his time in deep devotion to - and communion with - Hashem. He is involved in the "inner sanctum" of service to the Almighty. The Kohen Hedyot symbolizes the common Jew whose avodas Hashem, service to the Almighty, consists of tefillah, daily prayer, Tallis, Tefillin, etc. The Torah is teaching us that one who seeks to live a life of spiritual ascendency, who is driven by piety and virtue to lead a lifestyle of purity in total attachment to Hashem, must ask "permission" before he enters the area reserved for the few and the holy. He must introspect and question his true motives; he must have an acute understanding of who he really is; he must determine if he is worthy and prepared for this exalted calling.

We find an example of this sort of examination in an incident recorded in the Talmud Bava Kamma 59b. Elazar Zeira was standing in the marketplace of Neherdea wearing black shoes, which was the custom of one who is in aveilus, mourning. He was met by attendants of the Reish Galusa, who questioned his unusual choice of footwear. He explained that he was in mourning for Yerushalayim. They asked, "Are you such a distinguished person to be worthy of mourning the holy city?" Considering this to be an arrogant act on his part, they grabbed him and placed him in prison. He was later freed, when it was proved that he really was a Torah scholar of repute, and, thus, worthy of the "mantle" of mourner of Yerushalayim. For one to "assume" that he is worthy of acting like a "gadol," Torah leader, or a tzaddik is presumptuous. It is a status that one merits after much rumination and self-analysis.

On the other hand, the avodah, service, rendered by the Kohen Hedyot needs no consent. Likewise, every Jew, regardless of his station in life and level of spirituality, not only may - but is mandated to - fulfill every mitzvah of the Torah. He may not reflect "Who am I?" "Am I worthy of performing this mitzvah?" "Am I really up to it?" It is everyone's obligation to serve and observe. Questioning is nothing more than a pretext for reneging his responsibility.

On Yom Kippur, the Kohen Gadol entered the Kodesh HaKodoshim wearing only four Begadim. He did not wear the Me'il with the Paamonim, bells. Why? One would think that in order to enter the holiest place in the Bais Hamikdash on the holiest day of the year, the Kohen Gadol would have to be on an exceedingly sublime level of holiness. Clearly, under these circumstances, he should have to ask permission to enter. Why is Yom Kippur different?

Rav Pincus derives a powerful lesson from here. The Kodesh HaKodoshim was the place where the Aron Hakodesh, containing the Sefer Torah, was kept. The Kodesh HaKodoshim was the seat of Torah for Klal Yisrael. Entering there signifies the approach of the Jew to Torah study. When it comes to Torah study, no questions are asked. One should not ask: "Am I worthy of studying Torah?" "Can I make it?"; "Is it for me?" Kedushas ha'Torah, the sublimity of the Torah, extends above all of the mitzvos. One who studies Torah elevates himself. He is surrounded by a wall of Heavenly Fire, as he becomes a receptacle upon whom the Shechinah reposes. So, the question is repeated: "How can I, a simple Jew filled with sin, hope to experience this hallowed encounter?"

The answer is that Torah study neither requires formal invitation nor expects the individual to examine himself to see if he is worthy of it. Torah is for everyone who wants it to become a part of his life. The crown of Torah is not exclusively reserved for the elite. It is present for all those who wish to earn it. No questions are asked.

It is almost ironic that the greatest spiritual leaders, individuals whose commitment to Hashem and the Torah was unequivocal, would be the ones who found reason to question themselves. Perhaps this is specifically what made them so special. They took nothing for granted and were paragons of humility. Horav Aryeh Levine, zl, who was popularly referred to as the "Tzaddik of Yerushalayim," was such an individual. Arriving in Eretz Yisrael at the turn of the twentieth century, he joined the faculty of the noted Eitz Chaim Yeshivah. His desire and capacity for helping the underprivileged, his outreach and comfort to those who knew misery and wretchedness, is legend. He visited patients in the leper hospital every week, bringing food, warmth, a smile and love. He spent every Shabbos visiting the Jewish inmates in prison. Indeed, during the British Mandate, he was the prisoners' link to the outside world. Personal risk and trouble meant nothing to him. Above all, his modesty was unparalleled. Loved and revered by all factions of the Jewish spectrum, observant and secular, ordinary laborers and members of the government, he continues to serve as the example of the meaning of tzaddik.

A well-known Israeli author wrote a column about Rav Aryeh to be distributed in dozens of Jewish periodicals throughout the world. The following is Rav Aryeh's response.

"I have read your letter. Your intention is sound and good: to make noteworthy, outstanding people known through the various publications, so that a great many will read about their activities and follow in their footsteps. In this case, though, to my regret, you did not achieve your purpose - although the fault lies with me and not with you. I have searched and examined myself thoroughly, and I have found nothing of note or value. If perhaps I once did some good, I have already received honor and acclaim a hundred times beyond anything I deserved.

"Take then my good advice and choose someone who is really a man of great spirit and achievement to publicize as a fine model to emulate, someone in whose shining light and sturdy steps it is really worth following. Then, I will be your good friend and admirer, for it will be of value to me, too…"

You shall make the Robe of the Eiphod entirely of turquoise wool. (28:31)

Each of the Priestly vestments which the Kohanim wore had symbolism attached to it. The Kohen Hedyot, ordinary Kohen, wore four vestments, while the Kohen Gadol, High Priest, wore eight. The Kohen Gadol's vestments represented atonement for various sins incurred by the nation. One of the eight garments worn by the Kohen Gadol was the Me'il, Robe, which was a full-length garment that went from the neck to the ground. At its hem seventy-two pomegranate-shaped tassels and seventy-two golden bells were attached, each with a ringer. Obviously, when the Kohen Gadol walked around, his presence was "heard." Chazal tell us that this was by design. The Me'il atoned for the sin of lashon hora, slanderous speech. They say, "Let something which emits a sound atone for the evil sound of hurtful speech." I am sure Chazal mean more than simply emitting a sound. This is a "good" sound, a sound of derech eretz, manners, thoughtfulness, and proper etiquette. When one enters a room, he makes his presence known, just as one knocks on the door of a home.

Lashon hora is a devastating sin. It destroys the one who speaks, as it slanders the subject of the lashon hora, and it also takes its toll on the one who listens to it. It took a sage of a calibre no less than the Chafetz Chaim to raise public awareness concerning this sin. What catalyzes lashon hora? Why does a person resort to character assassination? Why is it that some people are obsessed with divulging the worst about others?

The venerable Rosh Yeshivah of Mesivta Torah Vodaath, Horav Avraham Pam, zl, feels that petty jealousy is the source of the problem. When a person is envious of the success, honor, or wealth that his friend enjoys, he feels that he must protest and declare to the world that his friend is undeserving. After all, he himself has not yet had the good fortune to reach this level of achievement. By diminishing his friend's attainments, he somehow feels better - despite the fact that it neither adds money to his bank account nor garners success and honor for him. By speaking disparagingly of his friend, however, by mocking his success and casting aspersion on his wealth, by claiming that it was ill-begotten, he feels that he is elevating himself. How utterly foolish he is. Does he not realize that he is making a fool of himself and digging himself deeper into a pit from which there is no return?

Rav Pam explains that only one person has the ability to bring atonement for such behavior, which afflicts a broad spectrum of the nation. It has to be someone whose heart is pure and who does not view his fellow Jews through jaundiced spectacles. He sees only their good, and he hopes that they achieve their best. Envy is an anathema to him. Love is his catchword. This person is Aharon HaKohen, who embodies all of the above and more. The progenitor of the Kohanim, he transmitted this characteristic to his descendants. As Amram's oldest son, he was heir to the mantle of leadership from his father. He endured the merciless servitude that the Jewish people experienced at the hands of Pharaoh and his taskmasters.

Hashem decided otherwise. The mantle of leadership would go to Moshe. The younger brother, Moshe, demurred the appointment, giving a variety of reasons which Hashem eschewed. He knew the real reason for Moshe's refusal: It was Aharon. He was afraid of slighting his older brother. After all, Aharon had been running the show in Egypt up until that time. The Almighty told Moshe, "Fear not. You neither really know your brother, nor do you recognize his true greatness and perfection of character. Not only will he not harbor any ill will or jealousy to you for taking his position, he will actually rejoice in his heart over your success - even if it comes at his expense."

The Rosh Yeshivah takes this point a bit further, into an area in which some refuse to traipse, and others totally ignore: Jealousy among family members. I am not talking about sibling rivalry. This refers to envy between brothers and family members. The Torah relates that when the famine began sweeping the land of Canaan, our Patriarch Yaakov encouraged his sons to travel to Egypt to seek food: "Why do you make yourselves conspicuous?" (Bereishis 42:1) Quoting the Talmud Taanis 10b, Rashi notes that, at that time, Yaakov had enough staples stored away to withstand the famine. Nonetheless, he told his sons to go to Egypt, because he did not want to arouse the jealousy of Bnei Eisav and Bnei Yishmael, who were suffering greatly from the famine. He insisted that his sons undertake a long, hard, dangerous trip, just to circumvent any jealousy among his neighbors.

The Maharashah wonders why the Talmud refers to arousing the envy of Yishmael and Eisav, whose children did not even live in Canaan at the time. Why did Yaakov seemingly ignore his neighbors, the Canaanites? The Maharashah responds with a chidush, novel idea. Since Yishmael and Eisav were blood relatives of Yaakov, a much greater possibility for envy existed; they would see that he and his children - their relatives - had plenty to eat, while they starved. The Canaanites were not related to Yaakov. Thus, they were not prone to the jealousy that devoured the others.

As I said before, this is something that many of us refuse to acknowledge. Regrettably, it is real, and it is highly destructive. This phenomenon is an almost daily occurrence. It is not uncommon for the blue-collar worker at the bottom of the company totem pole to be jealous of the executive who is his employer. After all, he must toil every day and endure great hardship to eke out his meager living. His boss, however, is a millionaire who lives off the fat of the land, enjoying a life of luxury and excess. It just is not fair. Imagine, if you will, that the boss "just happens" to be his brother or other close relative. Then the jealousy intensifies beyond reason. It is not necessary to emphasize how often this occurs. It is more difficult to accept because we wonder where we went wrong? Why we are the ones who have it so challenging? We grew up in the same home, same parents, same school, yet our sibling - and, in many cases, our younger sibling - is so much more successful etc.

This was Aharon HaKohen's distinction. He was able not only to wish his younger brother, Moshe, success, but actually to feel true happiness in his heart for his achievement. Due to this special heart, he merited the privilege of being the one who served as the medium through which Klal Yisrael's atonement was effected on Yom Kippur. Only an individual who possessed such purity of spirit that he would not find fault in the shortcomings of another Jew could bring about their atonement. This is much like a parent who, although not blind to his or her child's errors, cannot bear to see or hear anything negative about him.

The last statement is significant since it does not advocate us to be self-deceptive, deluding ourselves that nothing is wrong. When we purposely close our eyes to our child's faults, we do him the greatest harm. We cannot help the child in need, the child who is crying out for help, unless we open our eyes and take notice. The difference is that a parent does this reluctantly, as a means for helping his child, while the jealous person seeks negativity. He thrives on it.

It all stems from insecurity. One who lacks self-confidence often resorts to denigrating others as a means of bolstering his ego. One who feels unthreatened, who is composed and secure in himself, is not only unbothered by his friend's success, but is actually happy for him! Regrettably, some people need that pat on the back. Without attention they cannot survive - even if it comes at the expense of others. The following vignette illustrates the middah of Aharon HaKohen. Two grocers in the Machane Yehudah shuk, market, were speaking with one another. "Moshe, why are you frowning today? Remember your son is getting married tomorrow. You should be happy today - not glum," the neighbor said.

"I have just heard that the wealthiest man in our community is marrying off his daughter at the same time that my son is having his wedding. Because he is such a great philanthropist to whom most of the community is indebted, all the rabbis and distinguished communal leaders will be in attendance. Who will dance at my son's wedding?" Moshe replied.

Suddenly, a respected chacham appeared, and a gentle voice joined in their conversation. When Moshe saw who it was, he quickly jumped up out of respect. It was none other than Chacham Yaakov Ades, zl, Rosh Yeshivah of Porat Yosef. "Mazel tov, Moshe," the Rav said. "I look forward to dancing at your son's wedding."

That is exactly what happened. Most of the city's eminent personalities went to the philanthropist's wedding, and why not? They had a debt of gratitude to him. Rav Yaakov Ades, however, danced joyfully at Moshe's son's wedding.

A few weeks later, the wealthy philanthropist met the Chacham and asked him why he had not attended his daughter's wedding. "The Chacham was the only one of the rabbanim of the city who was not there," he said.

"My friend, that is exactly why I went to Moshe's son's wedding" was the Chacham's reply.

We have priorities in life. For Chacham Ades, his greatest priority was raising the spirits of another Jew - regardless of the expense. I am not questioning those who attended the social event of the year. I only want to emphasize the exemplary thoughtfulness of a great man. Indeed, thinking of the "little guy" is the true hallmark of a "great" man.

And this is what you shall offer upon the Altar; yearling sheep, two each day, continually. (29:38)

The Mizbayach, Altar, was situated directly in front of the entrance to the Mishkan, precisely opposite the Aron HaKodesh which was in the Kodesh HaKodoshim. The Altar brings to mind symbolically that a commitment to the Torah, which was housed within the Aron, is a prerequisite for entry into the Sanctuary. Up until this point, the Torah has detailed the instructions for the construction and sanctification of the Mishkan,and its accompanying vessels, as well as the design and creation of the Priestly vestments. It then concludes with the consecration and investiture of the Kohanim. The Torah now teaches us that all of the above is wonderful, but it can only be attained by means of daily self-dedication on the part of the people. This dedication is, in turn, expressed by the Kohanim to the ideals symbolized by the Sanctuary. In other words, the Sanctuary becomes consecrated as its objectives are realized via the service rendered by the Kohanim as agencies of the people. Then the Mikdash, sanctuary, becomes the Mishkan, resting place for the Shechinah, Divine Presence. The establishment of the Sanctuary affords the possibility to attain this end result.

Horav S. R. Hirsch, zl, explains that this goal is achieved only when the Sanctuary receives life through the constant acts of self-dedication performed by the people, through the life-rhythm of the nation. This idea is symbolized by the Korban Tamid, the Daily offering, which is discussed by the Torah immediately following the instructions concerning the dedication and consecration of the Mishkan and the Kohanim.

Rav Hirsch emphasizes the symbolism connected with the Korban Tamid. The Torah requires a yearling sheep to be brought daily. At its moment of birth as a nation, Klal Yisrael stood before Hashem as a "sheep of His flock." It earned its existence as a nation only by entrusting its destiny in Hashem as their Eternal Shepherd. This commitment, which it solemnly made then, accompanies our people throughout its existence. Thousands of years have gone by since that auspicious day when we stood at the foot of Har Sinai, but we have not aged. We are as young today as we were then. We will never outgrow the leadership of our Shepherd - just like the young sheep. In our relationship with Hashem, we remain forever as fresh and as youthful as in the first year of our existence. We will always stand before Him as a yearling sheep.

The Daily offering has a profound symbolism to it. "Day" denotes the time of "standing erect," as opposed to night, when one lays down to sleep. It is an independent entity, flanked on either side by night. It is in its ascendant phase from night until high noon, and it begins to decline from noon to night. This cycle of waxing and waning, working itself up to noon and descending from that point until it is once again night, governs man's physical existence. There is the waxing and waning of daylight, the waxing and waning of fortune, indeed, the waxing and waning of all life on earth - and it is all governed by the decree of Hashem. As the Shepherd of all life, He oversees and controls our destiny. As His sheep, we are able to confront the waxing and the waning with the same tribute to Hashem, acknowledging His oneness and joy in being able to serve Him. We accept what life "dishes out" to us, because we trust in our Shepherd to guide us through the maze.

It is for this reason, suggests Rav Hirsch, that we offer the Daily Morning sacrifice on the northwestern side of the Mishkan, so that the rays of the rising sun may fall upon the offering from the east. In contrast, the evening sacrifice is performed on the northeastern side, allowing the rays of the setting sun to fall on the Korban from the west. We maintain the same emotion, the same unaltered spirit, whether we are riding a wave of ascension or confronting the challenge of decline. We never lose our courage. We trust in our Divine Shepherd.

Yefa'er anavim b'yeshuah. He crowns the humble ones with salvation.

How can one glorify a humble person? Glorification and humility are opposites! The humble person cringes from glory. The Mei Ha'Shiloach explains that the glorification of the anav, humble person, takes place only when he is the subject of Hashem's salvation. Horav Avigdor Miller, zl, explains that the word yeshuah, salvation, is related to two words whose meaning is connected. It is related to shaah, which we find in Bereishis 4:5, V'el kayin v'el minchaso lo shaah, "And to Kayin and to his offspring He did not turn," or, He paid no attention. It is also related to shaashuah, which we find in Yirmiyahu 31:20, yeled shaashuim, "a child of pleasure," or, with which to play, a word which denotes being together. Hence, yeshuah is a word which expresses close togetherness, attentiveness to one another. When Hashem demonstrates His pleasure, Rotzeh Hashem b'amo, "He is pleased with His people," He does so by indicating that He is together with them and that they bring him pleasure. That is the glory of His humble ones. Their status is elevated, their trust is justified, and they see that they are loved by Hashem. When a person asks for a yeshuah, he should know for what he is asking: He wants to be close to Hashem, to be loved by Hashem, because when one has this, everything else fits into place.

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