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Peninim on the Torah

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Rabbi A. Leib Scheinbaum
Hebrew Academy of Cleveland


Command Aharon. (6:12)

In general, the Torah introduces the commandments regarding the korbanos with the less emphatic term, amarta, say, or daber, speak. Regarding the Korban Olah, Burnt offering, the command is emphasized with the word tzav, command. Chazal explain that the Kohanim are being urged to be especially zealous in performing this service and to reiterate its significance to future generations. Rabbi Shimon adds that this exhortation is expressly applicable to commandments that involve a chisaron kis, monetary loss, such as the Korban Olah, which is entirely burnt on the Altar, leaving nothing for the Kohanim.

The concept of chisaron kis has several connotations and, indeed, the various commentators take different approaches towards interpreting it. The Satmar Rebbe, zl, renders Rabbi Shimon's statement homiletically as a reference to the Torah studied by one who is in severe financial straits. What relationship is there between chisaron kis and zos Toras haOlah, "This is the Torah /law of the Elevation / Burnt offering"? Chazal teach us that when one studies the laws of the korbanos diligently, it is considered as if he actually offered the korban. Studying Toras haOlah is k'ilu hikriv Olah, as if he had actually brought the offering.

Chazal teach us to be especially mindful of bnei aniyim, children of the poor, for from them will come forth Torah. In his commentary to the Talmud Nedarim 81A, the Ran explains that due to their financial distress, they achieve a level of erudition unrivaled by their more financially secure brethren, because they have nothing else with which to occupy their time and because they have a strong sense of humility.

This, claims the Satmar Rebbe, is the underlying meaning of Rabbi Shimon's statement. The Torah places greater emphasis on "the individuals" whose lives are relegated to chisaron kis, monetary loss. They will achieve a deeper and more meaningful understanding of the Toras haOlah.

What does "poor" mean? Does it indicate a lack of money? Or is it possible that one could be poor, so abjectly poor that he has nothing, yet he finds something to share with someone else? I recently read a story in Rabbi Paysach Krohn's latest book in the Maggid series that gave me a new perspective on poverty and wealth. The story is about Reb Yisrael Klein, zl, a Belzer chassid and designated baal korei, Torah reader, in the Belzer Shul. Shortly after Reb Yisrael was niftar, passed away, and his family was sitting shivah, a man came in to be menachem avel, comfort the bereaved. The following episode occurred.

The man that entered the room knew no one. He stood in the background, waiting for an opening up front, where Reb Yisrael's sons were sitting. He slowly went forward and took a seat at the side of one of the sons and waited to be acknowledged. He waited for a few minutes and when one of the sons looked up at him, he said, "I came here tonight out of a sense of hakoras hatov to your father. It is only because of him that I am a frum Yid today.

"It goes back many years to the dark, painful days of the Holocaust. I was a sixteen year old boy lost, scared and hungry, interned in the infamous Auschwitz concentration camp. I was going from garbage can to garbage can in search of whatever scraps of food I might find. I was terrified that I would die of hunger very soon if I did not get some food. As I was searching, I noticed another fellow, somewhat older than I, who was also searching from place to place. That fellow was your saintly father.

"He came over to me and asked, 'What are you looking for? Perhaps I can help.'

"I am starving," I told him. 'I need some food, anything, I do not care what it is, as long as I can eat it.'

"He looked at me forlornly and said, 'I, too, am looking for food, but I have not succeeded in finding any.' He then came close to me, put his arms around me and said, 'This is what I can give you,' he said, 'a hug, because I love you. I love you because you are a Yid, and the Ribono Shel Olam also loves you, just because you are a Yid."

The man struggled to continue his story, momentarily stopping to dab at a tear running down his cheeks. "I went through much upheaval after that fateful day. There were moments when my faith in Hashem was challenged, and I might have given in, but I always remembered your father's warm, loving embrace. His special words glowed within me, and they gave me support to keep on going. I eventually settled in Eretz Yisrael. I have led an observant lifestyle only because of your father."

A poor man might not have money, but he still has one commodity that can never be taken away from him: himself. We do not realize that sharing warm feelings and caring words with another Jew is as important as - and in some circumstances, more important than - financial support. The right words can save a life.

If he shall offer it for a Thanksgiving offering. (7:12)

The imperative to pay gratitude to Hashem Yisborach and to everyone that benefits us is a compelling one. Fortunate is he who is able to show that appreciation. I have been writing about hakoras hatov - recognizing the benefit we receive and demonstrating that recognition - for many years, but I never thought I would publicly convey my personal hakoras hatov to HaKodesh Baruch Hu Shehechiyani v'Kimani, uGemalani Kol Tuv.

Chazal teach us that the Korban Todah was accompanied by forty loaves of bread, so that the beneficiary would be "encouraged" to invite people, so that he could relate Hashem's chassodim, kindnesses, to them. I, likewise, take the medium of the Peninim to express my gratitude and hopefully to educate others so that what happened to me will either not happen to them or that they will act with haste in order to live to talk about it.

Parashas Tzav coincides with Parashas Terumah in my writing cycle. On Friday night, Parashas Terumah, my life changed - because it almost came to an end. Nissim min haShomayim guided a few hours that felt like an eternity. I went to bed that night with no indication of any impending problem. Suddenly at 3:20 a.m., I woke up with an excruciating pain in my upper ribcage, just below my throat, that emanated full-circle to my back and neck. It was like no pain that I had ever previously experienced. The intensity and suddenness were so incredible that I understood that something was wrong. I immediately got dressed, woke my wife, and called 911. I figured that if I was acting in undue haste, the medics would tell me this. I had the Siyata diShmaya to maintain the presence of mind not to delay, but to act immediately.

I was "fortunate" that the E.M.S. crew came immediately; the emergency room physicians were waiting when we arrived, and the members of the catheterization team were immediately placed on call. At 5:30 a.m., I was already being wheeled into the cardiac catheterization lab for the first of two procedures.

I write all of this because the Peninim is Baruch Hashem read by many people, and I feel that my greatest hodaah, offering of gratitude, is to help others not to experience a similar episode. I look back, and I wonder what zchus I had to survive. I have no idea if it played a role, but I have always felt that "Shabbos" would protect me. For the past seventeen years, I have made an effort to walk down to the hospitals on Shabbos to visit patients that are either known or referred to me. I have made a point to emphasize the significance of not leaving a Jew alone in a hospital setting for Shabbos. Hashem gave me the energy to walk, a family with the patience to tolerate it, and the resolution to continue doing what is the right thing, even though it was difficult at times.

Perhaps my zchus was the fact that I would publicly convey my experience, so that other Yidden will live. My cardiologist tells me that "time is muscle." The faster one receives cardiac intervention, the less heart muscle is damaged. For "some reason" I did not wait, and at the first sign of pain I called 911. Most people do not do this. They search for antacids or painkillers, anything but make the call that could save their lives.

I never thought that I would use Peninim as a vehicle for expounding about diet. There is no question that a low-salt, low-fat diet is not as palatable as its counterpart, but living to see your children and grandchildren grow up is certainly an option I would not trade for a piece of kishke.

Last, we are taught that Hashem prepares the refuah, remedy, before the makah, illness. We should do the same. Prepare zchusim; give Hashem reasons to keep you alive. Make yourself necessary. Provide a service for others that is vital, even if it is not comfortable or "plaque worthy." Furthermore, the Manchester Rosh Hayeshivah, Horav Yehudah Zev Segal, zl, writes that we often take the gifts of good health and life for granted, while bemoaning things that are trivial by comparison. For this and other reasons, it is good to visit a hospital from time to time. Aside from fulfilling the mitzvah of Bikur Cholim, visiting the sick, and giving encouragement and succor to someone in need, one comes in contact with people who only yesterday have been well and are unfortunately ill today. This serves as a vivid reminder to be forever grateful for the gifts of good health and life.

I close with a thought from Horav Shimon Schwab, zl, from his commentary on the Siddur. He explains that hodaah means more than "thank you." It is a confession of our indebtedness. Hence, the tefillah, Modim, is an expression of our indebtedness to Hashem, especially for the following: Al chayeinu hamesurim beyadecha, "for our lives which are entrusted into Your hand." We must constantly realize that our entire lives are in His hand - from birth until our very last breaths. We live and die by His will. I add that, while we live our lives b'derech hateva, following conventional medicine, we must never forget - and always give thanks to - Hashem, because it is only through His will that we exist.

V'al nishmoseinu ha'pekudos lach, "for our souls which are in Your care." We pay gratitude to Hashem for guarding the neshamah, which He deposited within our bodies at birth and will retrieve at the moment of death. Throughout this period, He guards it.

V'al nisecha shebechol yom imanu, "for Your miracles which are with us every day." This is a reference to the nissim nistarim, hidden miracles, which comprise so much of our lives. We are not aware of the major illness we might have contracted or the dangerous situations we go through in our daily lives. Each of us could easily relate a number of examples.

V'al nifleosecha v'tovosecha shebechol eis - erev, vaboker, v'tzaharayim. "And for Your wondrous deeds and bestowal of goodness, which occurs at all times - evening, morning, and afternoon." In its simple interpretation, we pay gratitude to Hashem for all of the hidden miraculous events which constantly occur, for which we express our thanks thrice daily in the tefillos of Maariv, Shacharis and Minchah.

Rav Schwab, however, offers a compelling alternative approach to understanding these three periods. He maintains that they are a reference to the moods or circumstances in which one may find himself. Erev: one may find himself in an "emotional state of erev." It is like evening, dark, black and unknowing. He feels that his life is declining, either due to age or mazel. Nothing seems to go right. He feels a sense of hopelessness; he is at the "end of his rope."

Boker: a person may be in a boker state of life when he notices a glimmer of light rising into his life. Little by little, things begin to fit into place and turn around for him.

Tzaharayim: a person experiences the tzaharayim state of his life. The sun is shining brightly. Everything he touches turns into success. He has the feeling of being on "top of the world."

In this sense, we pay gratitude to Hashem Yisborach for our lives which He holds in His hands, regardless of the state of being our lives are in at the time. We trust and affirm that He holds the key to our existence. It is because of His will and kindness that we are alive. Regardless of the state in which a person finds himself, being alive is in itself the greatest gift from Hashem.

I began writing this Peninim in the hospital and finished it a few days later at home. I thank the reading public for indulging me, and I fervently hope that I have made an impact. If my experience will save another life, then it will all have been worthwhile.

If he shall offer it for a Thanksgiving offering. (7:12)

Parashas Vayikra addresses all of the basic information regarding the korbanos. Parashas Tzav elaborates on the korbanos and the various halachos which concern the Kohanim in executing the avodas hakorbanos, service of the sacrifices. It is interesting to note that only one korban - the Korban Todah, Thanksgiving offering, is totally omitted from Parashas Vayikra, mentioned for the first time in Parashas Tzav. Why is it mentioned for the first time in Parashas Tzav, which is addressed to the Kohanim?

Horav Yosef Chaim Sonnenfeld, zl, distinguishes between two levels of gratitude. He cites the Talmud in Berachos 7b which states that upon naming her son Yehudah, a name derived from hodaah, gratitude, our Matriarch Leah was setting the standard for gratitude. No person before her had ever given thanks to Hashem. Chazal's assertion is somewhat puzzling. What about Adam HaRishon and Noach who preceded Leah with their expressions of gratitude?

The Kesav Sofer explains that while people did, indeed, offer gratitude to Hashem, even before Leah, their expressions of gratitude were offered as a result of a miraculous salvation. Leah, however, was the first person to thank Hashem for a purely natural event, such as childbirth. To perceive the miracle in everyday life is a higher form of appreciation. Rav Yosef Chaim explains that due to their interminable devotion to Hashem, their constant exposure to the kedushah, holiness, of the Bais Hamikdash, and their relative abnegation from the more material pursuits of life, the Kohanim had a more profound spiritual sensitivity of the Divine guidance and Providence that lies in everyday occurrences. Hence, it would be they who would be the most likely to express feelings of gratitude to Hashem.


This is the law of the Elevation offering. It is the Elevation offering (that stays) on the flame. (6:2)

Horav Moshe, zl, m'Kubrin was wont to say, that he who seeks to elevate himself spiritually, should study Torah with a flame - with passion, fire and enthusiasm.


This is the law of the Elevation offering, the Meal offering, the Sin offering, and the Guilt offering. (7:37)

If Torah is not studied with the proper attitude, it can have an adverse effect upon the individual. Horav Yisrael, zl, m'Rizin interpreted the pasuk in the following way: This is the Torah/law - for some it is an Elevation or Meal offering, while for others it can have a detrimental effect. It can become a source of a Sin offering, a Guilt offering.


And he anointed him to sanctify him. (8:12)

The Netziv, zl, explains that there are two forms of anointment. A king is anointed to invest him with a spirit of power. The Kohen Gadol is anointed as a means of elevating him to a state of holiness.

In honor of the upcoming wedding of
Chaya Herskowitz
Shmulie Diamantstein
May they together be zoiche to build a
Bayis Ne'eman B'Yisrael
and be a source of much nachas to their families
and friends


Peninim on the Torah is in its 11th year of publication. The first seven years have been published in book form.

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