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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. (27:20)

V'atah - now you - this, of course, refers to Moshe Rabbeinu, whose name is not mentioned in this parsha. Veritably, from the time he was born until Parashas V'Zos HaBrachah, in which his mortal self takes leave of this world, this is the only parsha in the Torah which does not mention Moshe's name. Chazal teach that this was by design. When Moshe was interceding on behalf of Klal Yisrael, following the Eigal HaZahav, Golden Calf infraction, he told Hashem: "And now, if You would but forgive their sin! If not, erase me now from Your Book that You have written" (Shemos 32:32). A decree left his mouth; a decree issued by an individual of righteous scholarly status is not ignored. Since Moshe's name is identified with the Torah, it could hardly be deleted. One parsha - the one that most often coincides with the seventh of Adar, his yahrzeit- is missing his name.

In any event, v'atah, "now you," remains. The power to command Klal Yisrael, to be Hashem's agent par excellence to lead His nation, is the result of Moshe's selflessness, his willingness to relinquish his life and name from the Torah, in order to save them. This readiness to sacrifice life and limb for Klal Yisrael has been the hallmark of our nation's leadership throughout the generations. V'atah - you - and those like you, who follow in your path, are worthy of commanding the nation, because of your preparedness to negate yourselves or the nation.

The Chafetz Chaim, zl, and the Gerrer Rebbe, the Imrei Emes, zl, were traveling together by train. Whenever the train stopped at a town, the entire Jewish population came out to greet the train, in order to hopefully get a glimpse of the two eminent Torah giants. When the train stopped, the Imrei Emes went over to the window and blessed those who had gathered to see them. The Chafetz Chaim did not. He explained to the Rebbe that whatever honor one receives in this world detracts and diminishes the honor he will receive in Olam Habba, the World to Come.

Hearing this the Imrei Emes replied, "For the sake of Klal Yisrael, I have already relinquished my time in this world and in Olam Habba!" When the Chafetz Chaim heard these piercing words, he rose from his seat, went over to the window and blessed the people. A gadol lives for the people - just like Moshe Rabbeinu.

They shall take for you pure, pressed olive oil for illumination. (27:20)

"Pure, pressed": only the oil which was designated for lighting the Menorah had to be the product of pressed olives - not crushed. The oil used for illumination must be quintessentially pure, without any sediment, in its original state. Filtering later on is insufficient. The oil must be pristine from its very beginning. Thus, the oil was made by gently pressing the olive until only one drop emerged. That drop was used for illumination.

La'Yehudim haysah orah v'simchah v'sasson vikar, "The Jews had light and gladness, and joy and honor" (Megillas Esther 8:15). Orah zu Torah, "Light, this is (the light that emanates from) Torah" (Meseches Megillah 15). True light that illuminates, that irradiates one's life and gives him the ability to serve as a beacon of light and radiance for others, is derived from Torah. Just as the light that shone from the holy Menorah in the Sanctuary was the product of pure olive oil, the first emergence from the pressed olive, so, too, the light that emanates from one who studies Torah must be the result of pure oil, effort that is kassis, pressed, whereby one exerts pressure in order to study Torah.

Too many of us are focused on groping through the darkness, helping one another to make it, despite the overwhelming gloom which obscures our ability to see, to maneuver, to develop. There are those who are one step ahead. They cannot and will not resign themselves to living in the darkness. They look for any way, any opportunity, to pierce through the blackness that surrounds them.

A chasid once asked the Kotzker Rebbe, zl, why the Rebbe chooses to seclude himself in his house, spending the day deeply involved in Torah study. True, many chassidim visit him at home, thus allowing for his influence to spread, but he could achieve so much more if he would not isolate himself from the world.

The Rebbe listened intently to the question, replying with the use of the following parable. Three wealthy men were incarcerated in a dungeon. Apparently, they had sinned against the king, and, even though the infraction was one of perception, the king was not a forgiving person, and even a perceived infraction rendered the offender guilty, and thus he had to be punished. The dungeon was tiny, cold and damp, with all types of vermin making it their habitat. In addition, it was dark, the darkness palpable to the point that the prisoners could not even locate their own mouths in order to place food inside.

This is where the varied personalities of the three prisoners played itself out. One prisoner was not much of a thinker. He had been most fortunate to have earned a huge sum of money, but-- when it came to fending for himself in an inhospitable situation-- he was at a total loss. He could locate neither the food, nor the spoon with which to eat - and worse - he could not even find his mouth.

The second prisoner was a wise man, accustomed to the world, he knew his way around. Regardless of his predicament, he could be relied on to discover some way out. He took pity on the other man who was by now starving - unable to find his food, spoon or mouth. He was able to maneuver himself over in order to feed the sorry fellow, thus keeping him alive in the dungeon.

So far, we have addressed prisoners number one and two. What about prisoner number three? He remained quietly in his corner, secluded from the other two. Apparently, he was faring well, since he neither asked for assistance, nor offered any. This upset prisoner number two, who asked him, "Why do you not offer me assistance in taking care of prisoner number one?"

The elusive number three explained his somewhat incomprehensible behavior: "We are incarcerated in a miserable, dark dungeon. We are unable to do anything, because we cannot see. You spend the entire day figuring out how to gather the rations from one end of the cell to bring it to our friend, so that you can feed him. Do you realize that we have been here for an entire month, and he still does not know how to fend for himself? I am not sitting around wasting time. While you occupy your time with him, I am using my fingers to notch out a hole in the dirt wall. Once I dig deep enough through the wall, I will allow some rays of sun to penetrate. One drop of light drives away much darkness. When I succeed, our friend will once again be able to see, and he will finally be able to feed himself!"

Horav Shlomo Schwadron, zl, adds that that this that the meaning of, La'Yehudim haysah orah v'simchah vikar. "First, there must be orah, light, which refers to Torah. Once Torah permeates a person, he becomes suffused with its light. Everything else-- gladness, joy and honor-- follows in tow, because, until one can see, he remains disjointed and unable to perceive anything else. How does one gain Torah? Kassis la'maor: press yourself, work hard, toil, labor, involve yourself in Torah; you will see the light begin to at first flicker, then become stronger, until it shines brilliantly and illuminates your entire life."

And you shall make vestments of sanctity… for glory and splendor. (28:2)

Some of us get carried away by the impression we develop based upon an individual's attire. In reality, it is difficult to ignore-- or not be impressed by-- one who is impeccably dressed, his clothing perfectly cut to his body's form, the material and color drawing attention to the wearer's position in life. Our first impression is generally governed by outside appearances, of which clothing plays a leading role. Of course, if the wearer opens his mouth and spews forth one foolish statement after another, our first impression will be impugned, and our next impression invariably overpowers it. A wise man waits, while everyone else judges a person by what he sees at first glance. This is sadly why Madison Avenue lives by the phrase: "Clothing makes the man." They know that first impressions count, and one does not get a second chance to make a "first" impression.

Horav Shlomo Levinstein, Shlita, relates an incident which took place concerning Ibn Ezra, which is a classic. Ibn Ezra lived in abject poverty. Indeed, he felt that, for some reason, he just was not destined to be financially sufficient. He once said that if he were to sell candles, the sun would never set; or, alternatively, if he were to sell tachrichim, shrouds, people would not die. The cards were stacked against him - a situation which he had come to accept and live with. His dire circumstances did not deter him from his diligence in Torah study. Hence, we are blessed with his brilliant commentary on the Torah.

Being poverty stricken, he dressed the part, his clothes simple, unassuming, and quite threadbare. He certainly did not dress the part of a brilliant sage who had no peer. One Erev Shabbos found him in a small, distant town far from his home. He approached one of the community's wealthy Jews and asked if he would host him for Shabbos. The man took one look at Ibn Ezra's clothes and began to hem and haw. Ultimately, he acquiesced, but he asked him to sit in a corner of the dining room where he would not have to gaze at him dressed as a decrepit pauper. He brought his food to him as covertly as possible, in order not to gather any attention to his indigent guest.

On Motzei Shabbos, Ibn Ezra approached his host and said, "I would like to extend my gratitude to you for your warm hospitality. At this opportunity, I would like to propose a shidduch, matrimonial match, for your daughter, who I notice is of age. I know a wonderful young man who I know would fit in perfectly with your family. I am certain you will appreciate his external bearing and comportment." Ibn Ezra knew this young man well. He was, indeed, a fine, upstanding, well-dressed and well-behaved young man. Alas, his erudition in Torah was non-existent, as he had not had the opportunity to study. Knowing that the wealthy man would not settle for a non-intellectual, regardless of his excellent demeanor and appearance, Ibn Ezra said, "The young man in question is very diligent and somewhat of a counter-culturist. He keeps to himself and hardly speaks to anyone. I ask that you make available for him a small quiet room where he can keep to himself. You may still gather a group of scholars to test him in areas of Torah knowledge. I will forward the question to him and return immediately with his response."

Shidduchim were not easy to come by - even for the wealthy. A good boy was even more difficult. Thus, despite the circumstances, the wealthy man agreed to the proposal. Ibn Ezra instructed the young man to remain silent. He would take care of everything. A few days later, Ibn Ezra appeared with the young man. He was everything that the man had hoped for: handsome, well-dressed, noble bearing; in short, his external appearance was the "package" he was seeking for his daughter. A group of sages gathered to present him with their halachic queries, which Ibn Ezra quickly fielded for him. The sages gave their approbation of the young man. Apparently, he must be a genius. He immediately answered every question they sent to him succinctly, indicating a breadth of knowledge uncommon for anyone his age. They were veritably impressed. Needless to say, the shidduch went through.

Following the engagement, Ibn Ezra moved on, and the young man now had to fend for himself. It did not take long for the truth to be revealed: the young man was well-dressed and handsome, intellectually philistine. He knew nothing. The wealthy man was furious. How could he allow his daughter to marry someone who was so intellectually challenged? The man summoned Ibn Ezra and demanded, "How could you have done this to me? I trusted you to bring me a young man that I would be proud of - and you brought him!"

"You do not seem to understand," Ibn Ezra began. "I noticed that you are impressed by externalism: nice clothes, appearances, behavior. Nu - I brought you 'nice clothes'! I did not get the impression that anything else mattered!"

The man took the hint. He was acutely aware of the concept to which Ibn Ezra was alluding. He asked, "What do I do now? Do I let my daughter marry this man?"

"Do not worry," Ibn Ezra replied. "Let them get married. I will tutor the young man, and soon you will see that he will become proficient in what really matters!" So it was. The young man studied with the illustrious Ibn Ezra for a number of months and, before long, he was counted among the erudite Torah scholars of his community.

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

When the Kohanim performed the avodah, service, in the Mishkan/Beis Hamikdash, they had to wear special vestments; otherwise the service was considered to be invalid. The commentators explain that the special nature of these vestments served as a medium for setting the Kohanim apart from the people when they performed the service. They were Kohanim on a mission to act as agents of the people in performing the Temple service. As such, they had to be devout, maintaining an exalted spiritual level, replete with exemplary moral and ethical standards - as evinced by their total demeanor. The unique nature and appearance of the vestments brought this idea home to the minds of the people. They viewed the Kohanim from a different perspective. The people were impressed with the vestments, which reflected a deeper manifestation of the spiritual distinction of the Kohanim.

Impressions matter. When one person first encounters another person, he forms a mental impression based upon a wide variety of characteristics. Physical appearance and apparel play a definitive role in influencing the mind of the average person. This does not mean that it is a proper judgment. We often judge a person by how he appears to us. In the area of spirituality, it goes much deeper. One must believe in the person in order for that person to influence him. To a great extent, a great tzadik, righteous person, is as effective as the people's acceptance of and belief in him. One must believe in his Rebbe for the Rebbe's blessing to achieve maximum efficacy.

There is an oral tradition that Horav Chaim Shmuelevitz,zl, once transmitted concerning the Gerrer Rebbe, zl, the Bais Yisrael, "I am capable of performing the same mofsim, wonders, as the Bais Yisrael. He is successful, however, because his chassidim believe in him." Efficacy, to a great extent, depends on belief. Emunas chachamim, believing in our Torah leaders, is a prerequisite for accepting a blessing. The following short vignette underscores this idea, presenting a penetrating message.

Two chassidim would visit their Rebbe annually on Succos. Each year, on the way to the Rebbe, they stopped at the same inn. One year, the innkeeper, a religious Jew, humbly approached them. "You know that I am not a chasid of your Rebbe," he said, "but I have a great favor to ask of you. My wife and I have been married for over ten years, but, sadly, we have yet to be blessed with a child. Please ask the Rebbe to pray for us." The chassidim agreed to do so, as they prepared to leave the following morning.

That morning, the innkeeper's wife went to the store to purchase a baby carriage and promptly began parading with it through the streets of town. When her friends gathered to wish her mazel tov, she explained that, actually, she was not with child, but would soon be blessed with a child. The holy Rebbe was going to pray for her. The two chassidim who were in the process of pulling out of town heard this interchange and became embarrassed, because they knew only too well that prayers do not always achieve the desired result. They kept quiet and quickly left town before they became more entangled in the evolving situation. When they arrived at the Rebbe's court, they faithfully carried out their mission, relaying the innkeeper's request.

A year went by, and the two chassidim returned to the inn once again on their annual trip. How shocked and delighted they were to discover they had arrived in time for the baby boy's bris. Yes, the innkeeper and his wife had been blessed with a healthy child! The innkeeper was effusive with his gratitude, treating them as guests of honor. The next day, they continued on their journey. On the day of their arrival, one of the chassidim asked to speak with the Rebbe. He walked in with his head bowed and asked, "Rebbe, you did not even know the innkeeper," he complained. "I, however, have been coming here for the last twenty years, as my father came before me. The Rebbe knows very well that I have been married this entire time and have no children. I have made the same request of you, and my wife has yet to conceive. Rebbe, is it fair? Do I not deserve better?"

The Rebbe took his chasid's hand in his, looked deeply into his eyes and asked, "During all of those years, did you ever buy a baby carriage? How great was your faith in comparison to that of the innkeeper's wife?"

The Rebbe's prayers on behalf of the innkeeper's wife had greater efficacy because she believed in him so much that she considered his successful prayer a "done deal." Apparently, the chasid's belief in his Rebbe's ability to act as an intercessor was not as unequivocal.

Into the Choshen HaMishpat shall you place the Urim v'Tumim and they shall be on Aharon's heart when he comes before Hashem. (28:30)

In his commentary to the beginning of Sefer Shemos (4:14), Rashi comments concerning Aharon HaKohen's attitude vis-?-vis Moshe Rabbeinu becoming Klal Yisrael's leader, V'raacha v'somach b'libo, "And he will see you and be gladdened in his heart" (Hashem said to Moshe). "Unlike what you think, that Aharon is envious of your appointment (achieving a position higher than he did, despite Aharon being the older brother), he will see you and be gladdened in his heart". Aharon HaKohen's brotherly love for his younger brother was stronger than any feeling of envy which might otherwise have festered within him. As a result of his heartfelt expression of love, he merited to wear the Choshen HaMishpat, Breastplate, which had the names of the twelve tribes embedded on it. As Rabbi Yossi says, "The heart that was overjoyed with his brother's greatness warranted to wear the Breastplate on his heart" (Shemos Rabbah 13:17). Horav Eliyahu Baruch Finkel, zl, derives from here that the reward of paying a person measure for measure applies not only to one's entire body, it even applies to each individual body part, whatever part played a role in the mitzvah. Aharon's heart demonstrated deference towards Moshe. Thus, it merited to be the repository upon which the Choshen would rest.

A similar idea may be gleaned from the reward experienced by Yosef when he ascended from the pit to become Egypt's viceroy. The Yalkut Shimoni writes: "Yosef was given (back) from his (from what he had given): his mouth did not bend to sin (with the wife of Potifar), "by your command shall my people be sustained" (Bereishis 41:40); The neck that did not speak with sin, "And he placed a gold chain on his neck" (ibid. 42); the hands that did not touch sin, "And he dressed him in linen garments" (ibid. 42); the legs that did not jump to perform sin, "He also had him ride in his golden chariot," (ibid. 42), his thoughts which did not harbor any sin, "And they proclaimed before him: Avrech!" This indicates that reward is positioned for the person, particularly for every individual part of his body which contributed to his success.

We find in Sefer Melachim 2, 9:35, that when they went to bury the evil Izevel, all that was left of her body was her skull and legs and palms of her hands. Rashi explains that she would dance at weddings in front of the chassan/ kallah in order to increase their joy. She would shake her hands and head back and forth. Thus, these body parts were not devoured with the rest of her corpse. They warranted burial.

Likewise, on the flip side, one's organs which sinned will be punished more so than any other part of his body: "Shimshon followed his eyes; thus, the Plishtim gouged out his eyes; Avshalom aggrandized himself over his hair; thus, he was hung by his hair" (Talmud Sotah 9B).

The Rosh Yeshivah explains that this is why, on Yom Kippur, when we recite the Viduy, Confession, we focus on sins perpetrated by specific organs: hands which took bribes; legs that ran toward sin.

In an alternative exposition, he quotes Horav Chaim Shmuelevitz, zl, who explained that middah k'neged middah did not rule with regard to having the Choshen placed on Aharon's heart; rather, it is specifically because Aharon's heart was pure of any vestige of personal vested interest. He cared not about himself; he lived completely for others. Thus, he was able to be fully happy for his younger brother. There was no self in Aharon. It was all about others. Therefore, he was suitably fit to wear the Choshen which projected the needs of the Jewish People - on his heart. One whose heart is pristine, that is not immersed in personal issues, whose devotion for others is unequivocal-- such a heart can represent the Jewish people. Only one who lives for others can be their true emissary.

Va'ani Tefillah

V'Elokei Avraham And the G-d of Avraham.

Horav Avigdor Miller, zl, explains that the relationship one has with his friend has greater profundity when this friend is a family friend, someone who had, before you, befriended your father. Shlomo HaMelech says in Mishlei (27:10), "Forsake not your friend and the friend of your father." We understand this pasuk on two levels. First, one has greater trust in someone who has previously befriended him, and, even more so, if that friend had befriended his father. There is no friend like a family friend, for such a friend has passed the test of two generations. Furthermore, the love one manifests toward the father guarantees that he will continue this love to the son.

Second, we have an obligation to pay our gratitude toward anyone who has befriended us. This obligation becomes magnified if that benefactor had previously befriended his father. Thus, Shlomo HaMelech's admonition has greater meaning: "Forsake not your friend; forsake not your trust in such a friend; and forsake not your duty to pay gratitude toward such a friend."

Dedicated in memory
Moshe ben Shmuel z"l

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