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Peninim on the Torah

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Rabbi A. Leib Scheinbaum
Hebrew Academy of Cleveland


And he shall take up the ashes to which the fire has consumed the elevation/burnt offering on the Altar, and lay them down at the side of the Altar. (6:3)

Prior to arranging the pyre and the kindling of the Altar fire, the Kohen was enjoined to perform the mitzvah of Terumas HaDeshen. The purpose of Terumas HaDeshen is not to prepare the Altar for the coming day's sacrifices, since this is the focus of the Hotzoas HaDeshen, the removal of the ashes; rather, Terumas HaDeshen is in and of itself an avodah, priestly service. Thus, it may be carried out only by a Kohen kasher, dressed in his priestly vestments. The Haromas HaDeshen is the final conclusion to the service of the preceding day. Just as with the Korban Minchah, the Kohen lifts out kometz, measure, so, too, does he leave out a kometz of ashes. He then deliberately places it eitzel ha'Mizbayach, next to the Altar on the east side. Just as the Kometz ha'Minchah serves as an azkarah, remembrance, for the whole Minchah that it (the Minchah) be remembered before Hashem, so, too, is the kometz of the Deshen laid out as an azkarah, remembrance, of the devotion represented by the sacrifices of the previous day to Hashem and His Torah.

Horav S. R. Hirsch, zl, explains the mitzvah of Terumas HaDeshen with his classic focus on the past as the foundation of the present and the guide for the future. It is a continuation of yesterday's mission, picking up where yesterday left off. It is to carry out the mission that yesterday was to accomplish, with renewed freshness. The very last Jewish grandchild stands before G-d, with the very same mission of life that his first ancestors confronted. Every day he adds his contribution to the solution of the task given to all of the generations of Bais Yisrael to that of his predecessors in the whole historical continuum of our nation. The Jewish "today" must take its mission from the hand of "yesterday."

Rav Hirsch applies this thought in his interpretation of the pasuk in Sefer Tehillim 20:4, Yizkor kol Minchosecha v'Oloscha yidashne selah, "May He take the azkarah, remembrance, of all your Menachos, Meal Offerings, and the Terumas HaDeshen of your Korbanos Olah, Burnt Offerings." May the remembrance of your acts of allegiance to Him and your efforts to elevate yourselves up to Him be constantly with G-d.

We now understand why, although the mitzvah has been executed, naasis mitzvaso, such that the Terumas HaDeshen nonetheless retains its kedushah, sanctity, so that if one uses it improperly, there is meilah, trespass. This is despite the rule that once an object has fulfilled its purpose, the prohibition of using it for profane purposes ceases. The kedushah of the Terumas HaDeshen does not cease, because the purpose of the lifting out of the ashes is not completed by just depositing it. If its meaning is specifically the remembrance of the past as a foundation for all the future - its kedushah is never-ending.

Perhaps we might use the mitzvah of Terumas HaDeshen - and its significance in retaining our focus on the past while confronting the present and building for the future - as a springboard for developing a deeper understanding of the value of Jewish history as expounded by our sages throughout the generations.

First of all, what is the definition of Jewish history, and how does the Torah's outlook differ from the perspective of the secular historian? The Torah (Sefer Bamidbar 32:2) writes: Va'yichtov Moshe es motzaeihem l'maseihem al pi Hashem. "Moshe wrote their goings forth according to their journey at the bidding of Hashem." The Torah is the Divine narrative, authored by G-d and transcribed by Moshe. The Torah especially emphasizes Moshe's role in transcribing the experience of the Jewish People in the masaos, forty-two encampments, in the desert.

In this pasuk, the Torah seeks to underscore G-d's role in history. Thus, as Moshe Rabbeinu writes the story, he is recording that everything taking place was dictated by G-d. Every occurrence, every event, every episode, is a direct product of the Almighty's design.

The destruction of the Bais Hamikdash is recorded in history. Through Divine Inspiration, Chazal were able to deduce that the catalyst for this destruction was a dispute between two men: Kamtza and Bar Kamtza. It may seem like an isolated event, but our Sages teach us that it was not. It was part of the Divine Plan. So, too, when Moshe recorded the series of the Jewish People's encampments in the desert, he was also alluding to their catalyst, thereby indicating G-d's Hand in history.

Regrettably, the study of history plays a small role, if any, in Jewish life. At best, we focus on the events, rather than on the lessons they impart. It is specifically this narrow sweep of events that gives rise to the revisionist approach to history picking apart events, thereby transforming the lessons to suit one's fancy and distorted spiritual perspective. The secular historian, whose bias against traditional and spiritual leadership is evident, has, over time, spawned a school of history that totally ignores G-d's "involvement." We study "events," "people," "issues," but never the guiding Hand of the Creator in catalyzing these events. We refuse to "connect the dots," for fear of having to acknowledge the clear fact that it did not all "just happen." There is purpose, mission and destiny in everything and everyone. To ignore this is to undermine history selfishly and to fool oneself.

Many lessons can be gleaned from the study of history. First, we develop a sense of pride in our heritage. The ability to connect to the glorious culture that preceded us is invaluable. Conversely, our inability to relate to history - to look back with pride; to place people in their correct timeframe and perspective - engenders within us a certain naivete and outlook that are counterproductive to living a full life according to the Torah. The Torah gives us a total blueprint with confidence. Thus, the false accusation leveled at us by our enemies will not sway us, nor will we be compelled to live a life of apologetic acquiescence. This is exactly what happened concerning our secular co-religionists. Their break with the past created a distortion in their self-esteem and severed their identification with the historical continuum of our nation.

We can learn from history how we must deal with the outside world: which strategies to implement; which policies have proven effective over time; and which have not proven effective. Jewish history demonstrates the strength of the creative spirit, the drive for renewal and rejuvenation within the Jewish psyche. If we peruse the last century, we note how Chassidus revitalized and quite possibly saved Jewish life in Eastern Europe. We observe how the Yeshivah Movement developed and joined with the Mussar Movement, saving the traditional method of Torah-learning. Moreover, it infused the European-Jewish community with the study of ethics and character refinement.

Jewish history teaches us that the traditional way of life had its opponents and its antagonists. The latter were relentless in their battle to undermine, reject and ultimately destroy the Torah way of life that has been transmitted throughout the millennia from generation to generation, harking back to Sinai. Yet, Torah has always prevailed. New ideas and modern approaches that emanate from a holy source - if introduced sincerely, l'shem Shomayim - can and have preserved the sanctity of tradition as it faces the challenges of modernity.

We face the future standing determined and proud upon the foundations of the past: our glorious and holy history of triumphing over challenge, adversity, apathy and indifference. As we continue to rebuild, we are sparked with a sense of purpose, spurred on by a commitment to the past, a promise to those who laid the foundation for contemporary Jewish life. Tragedy and revival have always been a part of our historical continuum. We look forward to that glorious day when we will no longer suffer tragedy, when challenges and adversity will be a thing of the past, when revival will be our constant motif and everlasting companion.

Jewish history is very much a self-contained drama, with the world as a bystander. World history is a backdrop for Jewish history, since everything that takes place in the world is somehow tied to the Jewish People and their ability to study and keep the Torah. Jewish history views world events and their ramifications as direct links to Jewish destiny. Thus, what takes place "out there" is viewed through the context of the drama taking place "in here." Jewish history, therefore, has a powerful and intrinsic religious aspect to it. One cannot study it in a vacuum. One must be able to discern and reflect upon the guiding Hand of G-d; otherwise, what is the purpose of rehashing the past? Obviously, it is so that we can better define and understand the present, thereby allowing us to build the foundation for the future.

And he shall take up the ashes… He shall remove his garments and don other garments and he shall remove the ashes. (6:3,4)

Every day - the same process. Every day began the same way, with the same service, the same ritual. The avodah was filled with details - minute details, necessary details, but it was always the same. The routine never changed. The daily routine began with the Terumas HaDeshen, lifting the ashes from the korbanos, sacrifices, of the previous day. The ashes that had accumulated were then removed. The Kohen placed wood on the Altar, so that the fire would burn continuously; the first and last korban that was offered daily was the Korban Tamid, which incidentally means "always," "constant" - no change.

In other words, the service in the Bais HaMikdash, the center of spirituality for Klal Yisrael, followed a constant routine: no innovation; no spontaneity; no chiddushim, novel approaches. There was a daily schedule, a constant process that never varied. Why?

Horav Noach Weinberg, zl, teaches that the Torah is presenting us with an important lesson - a lesson in: how to service Hashem; how to become a talmid chacham, Torah scholar; and how to "make it" to be a success at the Torah endeavor of one's choice. Sustained growth, a growth that will endure, is not the result of sudden bursts of inspiration without follow-up. Growth is the product of constant, consistent and continuous actions that demand unwavering commitment and persistence. Many people can write a dvar Torah; many people can even author a book of divrei Torah; but day in and day out, constantly - that takes commitment. I will never forget listening to a remarkable young speaker who kept the audience entertained and, at times, even spellbound for an hour. Next to me was a contemporary of that speaker who commented to me, "I could also do that." My response was honest, perhaps too honest: "You could, but he did." There are so many gifted young men who, upon viewing the success of others remark, "I could also do that." Sadly, it is all talk, because to "do that" requires a life of commitment, continuity and sacrifice.

Rav Weinberg guides us about how to achieve constancy, consistency and continuity in our actions - how to achieve true success in life. Interruptions destroy one's work. One can accomplish much more with one hour of straight, continuous study than with two hours riddled with interruptions. These breaks destroy one's train of thought and limit one's ability to retain what he has learned. To cook a pot of water, the pot must be on the fire until the water has boiled. If the pot is removed, the process must begin all over again.

Impatience and lack of discipline are challenges that not only hamper positive growth, but also convince us to settle for minor successes when, indeed, we are still far from achieving our goal. The United States Navy Seals are the elite of America's special forces. They are taught to view every challenge with determination and resolve, to be persistent in seeking success and relentless in fighting to the very end. Three of their mottos have always been an inspiration: "The only easy day was yesterday;" "Failure is not an option;" "Never quit." In laymen's terms, to achieve success at anything - be it spiritual growth, acquisition of Torah knowledge, middos, character refinement -requires patience, discipline, tenacity and consistency. Taking the water off the fire will never provide a hot cup of coffee.

Fire shall be kept continually on the Altar; it shall not go out. (6:6)

I had a rebbe who would often say that, when one looks through blue lenses, everything appears to be blue. An individual's perspective is colored by the lens through which he views life around him. This applies equally to the way we view people. We often view others through the lens called "me." We judge others through the lens of our personal proclivities and sentiments, often diminishing the value and talents of another person because they either do not live up to our personal standard or, the contrary, they tower over us, so we must put them down. There is another dichotomy in outlook: spiritual versus physical. The physical dimension has a form of perspective which is based upon one's earthly, physical, material features and tendencies. The spiritual plane views life and living from a totally different perspective.

Horav Nissan Alpert, zl, observes that, in the standard calculation of the Jewish day, daytime follows evening. In the calculation of the Bais HaMikdash, it is the opposite, with evening following day. The Rosh Yeshivah explains that, in the physical world, the symbolic evening precedes the symbolic day. Evening is a reference to darkness and ambiguity, while day personifies clarity and light. For example, man sits in "darkness," in total unknown, waiting to see whether the fruits of his labor will materialize. Will all of his endeavors achieve successful fruition, or will everything have been for naught? He must sit in "darkness," waiting anxiously to see whether the seed that he has planted will bear fruit.

The uneasiness of waiting, the anxiety of sitting in darkness, wondering, not knowing whether or when he will see tangible results from his physical efforts, places an awful burden on him. Was it not our Patriarch, Yaakov Avinu, the b'chir ha'Avos, chosen of the Patriarchs, who entreated Hashem, V'nosan lechem le'echol u'veged lilbosh, "Give me bread to eat and clothing to wear" (Bereishis 28:20)? Furthermore, even when one finally has the bread, he worries whether he will actually be able to eat it.

Feelings of insecurity concerning his physical well-being can depress a person. The toll can be debilitating, unless he has some form of support system, someone to whom to turn, someone who can give advice, comfort and soothe his anxieties regarding what tomorrow has in store for him. Thus, it can truly be stated that, with regard to the physical realm, an inevitable "evening" precedes the "day."

Once we enter into the realm of the spiritual dimension, however, the sphere in which the Shechinah, Divine Presence, is dominant, just the opposite occurs. One's anxiety is released as he is filled with a sense of security and confidence with regard to the future. The worries - both great and petty - do not overwhelm him. Even upon hearing a distant cry from his neighborhood, he does not worry. It is not coming from his home. He certainly is concerned with the source of the cry because he is a Jew, and Jews care, but the overwhelming feeling of dread that we all have when we see a fire truck speeding down our block no longer prevails over us.

The trust one has in Hashem is so great and empowering that the "day," the illuminating spirit of trust as opposed to fear, overpowers the "evenings" of his life. Darkness is not a dominant factor in his life. His outlook is not bleak - it shines! Furthermore, even when things do appear to be bleak, he tells himself that, just around the corner, a new day is dawning, Ashrei ha'gever asher sam Hashem mivtacho, "Fortunate is the man who made Hashem his trust" (Tehillim 40;5). This idea is alluded to by the opening pasuk. The illuminating fire of the spirit burns constantly on the Altar of our mind and heart.

Perhaps we might expand on the above idea. We began with the observation that one's perspective can be colored as a result of the lens through which he views a specific circumstance. We continued to delineate between physical and spiritual perspectives. One who views life through a spiritual lens sees the positive, because his faith and trust in Hashem tempers whatever ambiguities cloud his mind. How does one transcend fear, anxiety, when he is confronted with a challenging experience, a difficult situation, one that tests his faith and undermines everything that he would believe? How does one view life through the light of a spiritual lens when he is confronted with the darkness of a physical reality? How does one jumpstart his spiritual perspective? Within every living thing, every situation, every edifice, every entity, there is the external fa?ade, which one sees with his physical eyes, and there is an internal essence, which presents a deeper meaning to the reality before our eyes. This internal essence requires eyes connected to a brain and synchronized with the heart, so that one's eyes can penetrate the external fa?ade in order to view the inner essence.

There is a well-known parable about an old Chinese woman who had two cans which were attached to a yoke. Every day, she would place the yoke over her shoulders and walk down to the river to fetch water. She would carry the water to her modest hut where she would put the water to good use. There was a difference between the two cans: one was whole without blemish, while the other one had a crack in its side. Obviously, when she returned home, the sturdy, solid can had retained all of its water, while the cracked can was half-empty.

The cracked water can felt inferior to the other can and was ashamed that he caused the woman to lose half of its water. He felt that his "contribution" was deficient, and it bothered him. One day, the cracked can got up its nerve and apologized to the woman for being defective. The wise woman smiled gently to the can and said, "Do you think that I have been unaware of your crack, and that half the water leaks out? Take a look at the path from the river to my hut. Do you see all of those beautiful flowers on one side of the road? I planted those flowers there, and, every day when I walk back from the river, you water those flowers for me. You are the reason that such beauty adorns the side of the road."

We confront situations that at first glance appear troubling: people that come across as lacking; institutions which do not seem to get off the ground; individuals in various vocations whom from our superficial perspective do not seem to be making it. Yet, one person is helped by them; one family has found comfort in this institution; someone has benefitted by what appears to be a troubling situation. At first, we cannot understand why or how, but, stay around, be patient, look around with your brain and your heart and you might even see a miracle in the making. It is so much easier to notice the crack in the can than to look for the flowers on the side of the road.

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

The Midrash says that, in the future (with the advent of Moshiach Tzidkeinu), all korbanos, sacrifices, will become null; there will no longer be korbanos. The Korban Todah, Thanksgiving offering, however, will continue in full force. Likewise, all prayers will become bateil, null, but prayers of todah, gratitude, will continue unabated. Chazal do not give a reason for this.

Horav Eliyahu Baruch Finkel, zl, cites the commentary of the Ramban to Parashas Bo, where he writes that the purpose of Creation was that we should pay gratitude to the Creator, and that the purpose of mitzvos is to serve as a vehicle for us to have faith in Hashem and thank Him for creating us. In other words, the purpose of our creation, the purpose of the Torah and mi

tzvos, is to bring us to the point of appreciating what Hashem has done for us and to pay gratitude to Him for this unparalleled gift. With this in mind, Rav Eliyahu Baruch distinguishes between the Korban Todah and the other korbanos such as: Olah, Elevation/Burnt-Offering; Chatas, Sin-offering; Asham, Guilt Offering; Shelamim, Peace offering. The aforementioned korbanos are each brought to complete or repair something that is lacking, a deficiency that was created by a misstep on our part. A Sin-offering or Guilt-Offering is there to atone for an infraction on our parts - be it unintended or intentional. We created a void which must be repaired. Even the Korban Olah atones for one's non action concerning a mitzvas aseih, positive mitzvah, or inappropriate thought which did not lead to action. Something was left lacking, which must be corrected via the act of penance by offering a korban. The Shelamim, Peace-offering, is just that: an offering that increases peaceful relationships and harmony among people as they share in the Korban. Something is corrected by these offerings.

In the future, everything will be perfect, thus circumventing any reason for atonement or repair. Korbanos will become obsolete, because sin and lack of harmony will be antiquated. Saying "thank you" will never become outmoded. Gratitude is and always will play a dominant role in our lives. It is the purpose of the creation of man. This idea applies equally to prayer, of which all - except for prayers of gratitude - exists to complete an inadequacy which is the result of spiritual deficiency. Gratitude will always be necessary, because, without it, we are not human.

Va'ani Tefillah

V'Koneh hakol. He is the owner of everything.

Hashem is the end all and be all. We are nothing without Him. We have nothing without Him. As such, we are incapable of properly expressing the gratitude that we owe Him. Whatever we are and whatever we achieve is through Him. When one realizes his utter nothingness, his total inability to function without the will of his Beneficiary, is there a word, a phrase, that can aptly encapsulate his gratitude? It is beyond him. It is literally too much for him to manage. Therefore, we say to Hashem, V'Koneh HaKol: Since we are at a loss to express our gratitude properly to you for all that You do for us, we declare. V'Koneh HaKol, "You own everything; we have nothing that we can give You. Therefore, we are Your servants. We, too, belong to You."

Horav Shimon Schwab, zl, suggests that this idea has an interesting precedent in the Torah. The Torah teaches us that, during the first year of the Egyptian famine, the Egyptians depleted all of their savings in order to purchase grain to sustain their families. At the beginning of the second year, with no wherewithal to purchase, they offered to exchange themselves and their land for food, for sustenance! Thus, Pharaoh acquired all of the Egyptians, their land and livestock - everything belonged to him. So, too, we realize that we have nothing to "trade" to Hashem. We offer ourselves to Him, because He is Koneh hakol, owns it all.

Dedicated l'zechar nishmas
our husband, father, grandfather
Harav Daniel ben Harav Avraham Aryeh Leib Schur z"l Horav Doniel Schur Z"L
niftar 21 Adar 5766
by his wife, sons and daughters

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