Back to This Week's Parsha

Peninim on the Torah

subscribe.gif (2332 bytes)

Previous issues

Rabbi A. Leib Scheinbaum
Hebrew Academy of Cleveland


Hashem called to Moshe and said to him. (1:1)

Rashi explains that whenever Hashem commanded, instructed or spoke to Moshe, he always preceded his communication with a kriah, calling out, to him. Kriah is an expression of tenderness and affection. It is an expression used by the Malachei Hashareis, Ministering Angels, as it is written in Yeshaya 6:3, "V'kara zeh El zeh v'amar Kadosh, Kadosh, Kadosh… "One angel calls to another, saying Holy, Holy, Holy…" Rashi's comment does not seem to be unique to this pasuk. His explanation that kriah is an expression of tenderness and affection could likewise have been written earlier when Hashem called to Moshe from the s'neh, Burning Bush, or prior to Matan Torah, the Giving of the Torah, when Hashem called to Moshe from Har Sinai. Why is the emphasis regarding tenderness and affection and the relationship to angels emphasized here, as we begin the laws of korbanos, ritual sacrifices?

The Piaczesner Rebbe, zl, explains that as it is written in regard to Akeidas Yitzchak, the Binding of Yitzchak, "He went, took the ram, and sacrificed it as a burnt-offering in his son's place," (Bereishis 22:14) this is true of every animal sacrifice: it takes the place of a human. In this parshah, it is written, Adam ki yakriv mikem korban, "When a man of you brings a korban." The emphasis is placed on the words "of you," because the animal is actually being sacrificed in place of the person. On Fast days, we entreat Hashem that "the fat and blood that we lose as a result of the fast should be accepted as a sacrifice upon the Mizbayach, Altar, to You, Hashem." Indeed, suffering per se cleanses away our sins, because it decreases our strength via loss of our fat and blood. Klal Yisrael's sufferings are a form of ritual sacrifice.

Consequently, Rashi chooses the text which addresses animal sacrifices to emphasize this point: any sacrifice that we make - whether it is of the nature of animal sacrifices delineated in the following text, in which an animal takes the place of a person, or it is a human being's own sufferings - constitutes Hashem "calling" to us. They are expressions of tenderness, of love from Hashem to us.

Despite the Piaczesner Rebbe's best efforts to provide hope, consolation and a degree of inner joy to his followers, in the end he was able to do little to alleviate their suffering. It had become critical for him to address the concept of suffering from a point of theological justification. Basically, what the Rebbe is saying here is that one can offer up his suffering as a form of korban, sacrifice, to Hashem. The call to sacrifice is a call to love. Hence, the suffering that a Jew endures for Hashem is an expression of profound love - which is reciprocated by the Almighty.

The Rebbe concludes his homily focusing on the concept of dibuk chaveirim, the bond between Jew and his fellow Jew in fellowship and friendship - especially in times of hardship and distress. Suffering is an occasion for the sufferer to give to others, an opportunity for compassion and empathy. In return, the empathizer reciprocates with prayers and expressions of concern. This mutual interaction has cosmic significance in that it inspires the Ministering Angels to exchange greetings with each other, to call to one another, as evidenced by the pasuk in Yeshaya 6:3.

The Rebbe exhorts his followers to share with and help one another. "Even when one has no material resources, it is still possible to share. Mutual sharing and helping is not limited to giving charity or a loan. When one hears of the troubles sustained by other Jews and does all that he can to help them; if his heart is broken and his blood is frozen; if through his heart's motivation, he is inspired to pour out his broken heart to Hashem on behalf of other Jews, then this, too, is a wonderful gift which he gives to others. We receive the broken heartedness and the repentance, and they, the subject of our prayers, receive the compassion and the good effects which we perform for them, as well as the prayer with which we supplicate Hashem on their behalf."

The Rebbe concludes with a powerful statement, "Although the angels call to one another just as humans do, the angels' words do not emerge from their own suffering. After all, an angel has never experienced a Jew's pain when he is being beaten; or his humiliation when he is being harassed and disparaged; or his terror, and his torment when he has no food." Even if we can do nothing physical for our fellow Jew in need, we can still pray for him from the heart. Caring, expressed in sincere, meaningful prayer - coupled with heartfelt concern - is a genuine contribution which goes a long way. It gives the benefactor a sense of worthiness. He no longer feels helpless. Regrettably, it is much easier to give up than to pray with sincerity and hope until the very last moment. This constitutes tzedakah at its zenith.

When a man among you brings an offering to Hashem. (1:2)

We translate the word korban as sacrifice. This translation does not capture the full meaning of the word. Horav S.R. Hirsch, zl, explains that the word korban is derived from karov, coming near. One who offers a sacrifice is bringing himself closer to Hashem, elevating himself spiritually by his actions. Horav Yitzchak Zilberstein, Shlita, cites a homiletical rendering of this pasuk by the Ohr HaChaim Hakadosh, which is compelling and provides food for thought.

"When a man among you" chooses to bring closer the hearts of his estranged brethren to Hashem, such an individual is worthy of being called an adam, man. He does not have to offer any korbanos. He will never need to bring a sin-offering, since Hashem will protect him and ascertain that no sin will result from his activities. Hashem wants His children to be near to Him, and He will repay anyone who brings His children home.

Rav Zilberstein elaborates that there are many ways and circumstances in which we can effectively reach out to the alienated, the unacquainted and unaware. They are just waiting for an "invitation" to come closer. One of the most productive forms of outreach is for us to act in the manner in which a frum, observant, Jew is to act. Our code of honor, integrity, decency and menchlichkeit, humanness, will win them over. Once they get to know us for what we are - not what they have been misled to believe - their hearts and minds will open up to us, and, consequently, to Hashem.

In his inimitable manner, Rav Zilberstein cites a fascinating story to support this idea. It was springtime, and a young rebbe was taking his third-grade class for a trip. As they were walking near an orange grove, a car came to a screeching stop near them. The driver, clearly non-observant, jumped out and addressed the rebbe, "Could I ask you and your students for a favor? My brother is laying critically wounded in the hospital. The doctors do not know if he will make it. In fact, they are giving him very little chance for recovery. Could you daven with your students for my brother's recovery?"

As soon as the students heard his request, they all answered affirmatively. The man, tears welling up in his eyes, took out a wad of large bills from his wallet and gave it to the rebbe, "Here, take this for your time. Buy something for your nice students."

"Chas v'shalom, Heaven forbid! We do not take money for helping a fellow Jew. We will be happy to do whatever we can for him. May Hashem listen to our prayers on his behalf and grant him a speedy recovery."

The man took out a card from his pocket and wrote down his brother's name and his mother's name, so they could pray for his recovery. He also added their family name. When the rebbe noticed their last name, he realized that the brother was the head of a major crime family. In fact, he was in the hospital because one of his "competitors" had placed a bomb under his car. Nonetheless, the children prayed for him. He was a Jew. His name was written on the blackboard, and the children dedicated their learning in his merit.

A number of weeks went by and, once again, the rebbe took his young charges for a short trip. Lo and behold, once again the driver of the same car that had approached them last time pulled up, and the driver jumped out. He ran over and kissed the rebbe. "Do not ask what happened!" he exclaimed excitedly. "It was a miracle. My brother survived. It was surely because of the tefillos, prayers, of the young children. Thank you! Furthermore, when I told my brother that you refused to take money for your time, saying it was your responsibility to pray for another Jew in need, my brother said that he wants to take a chavrusa, study partner, to learn more about the religion he has neglected to observe." Today, he is on the road to become a full-fledged baal teshuvah.

The lesson is simple. A man whose life revolved around money came to the realization that there are people who value something more than money, people who were happy to help another Jew. This message transformed a hardened criminal into a ben Torah. This is the meaning of a korban that brings others closer to Hashem.

He shall offer an unblemished male. (1:3)

A Korban Olah, Elevation-Offering, must be brought from a male animal. Horav S.R. Hirsch, zl, explains that with regard to the activities, mitzvos, that we as Jews are to perform in life, Hashem expects virile independence from all of His children/subjects, male and female alike. The mitzvos for which we have to stand up, transform us into "men." This concept is analogous to manly strength, manly independence, which we are to dedicate to the service of Hashem. It is not the feminine aspect of man which is represented by endurance and tolerance, but rather the vigor and independence, the firm, resolute action that seeks closeness to the Almighty in the Korban Olah.

The korban must be tamim, whole, complete, without blemish. A blemished animal is not a sick animal. It can otherwise be completely healthy and vibrant, but if it has some minor permanent mutilation or abnormality, it is deemed unacceptable for the Altar. The Navi Malachi scourges those who offer blemished animals as degrading Hashem's Name. The Sanctuary - and everyone connected to it - represents the zenith of humanity, the best, most vigorous, strongest and freshest of all that man has to offer. Pulsating life, active life filled with zest and joy: these words described the Sanctuary and those associated with it.

Those who dedicate their lives to the Jew's highest calling, studying Torah, are the most complete specimens of humanity. The "old days," in which people would disparage those who went to Kollel as cripples, lazy individuals who had no initiative or ability to succeed, are over. The spiritual renaissance we enjoy in this country is the product of some of the finest and most complete specimens who have ever given their lives for Torah. They are the zachar tamim, the independent and strong perfect examples of dedication and commitment to Klal Yisrael.

Tamim means perfect and whole. Rav Hirsch asserts that for each and every aspect of our relationship with Hashem, the first and most indispensable condition is that we apply the whole of oneself: our whole heart; our whole soul; our whole material possessions. Any aspect of our being that is lacking in our devotion bespeaks a blemish in the relationship. Achdus, complete unity with the Almighty, demands that we do not hold back any aspect of ourselves from Him. Complete subservience is the result of the negation of any other state of existence. When a Jew comes close to Hashem, he should do so with every fibre of his being, with all of his faculties. One who dedicates all of himself to Hashem is promised a life, to paraphrase Rav Hirsch, "in which even pain and death lose their sting."

We must add that by no means is one who is physically challenged considered blemished. It is the dedication and wholesomeness of one's conviction and dedication that counts - not his physical appearance. "There is nothing so whole as a broken heart" is a wonderful and meaningful maxim - one by which we should all live. I would like to take this opportunity to cite a beautiful analogy, one that goes to the very core of handicaps and physical infirmities.

A water carrier in India would serve his master by toting water from the stream to his master's home. He carried the water in two pots, hung on either end of a long pole strung across his shoulders. One of the pots had a small crack, whereas the other was whole. Thus, when the servant reached his master's home, one pot was full while the other was half-empty. This went on for two years. Every day the servant would arrive at his master's home with one full pot and one half-filled pot of water. Naturally, the whole pot felt very good; it was doing a complete job. The cracked pot, however, felt that its imperfection caused it to accomplish only part of its function.

One day, the cracked pot apologized to the water carrier. "I feel terrible," the pot said. "Every day you strain yourself to carry water for the master, but because of my defect, you do not receive full value for your effort."

The water carrier replied, "Do not worry. On our way home today, I would like you to look at the road and notice the lovely flowers that are growing there."

As they returned, the cracked pot indeed noticed the pretty, winsome, wild flowers, the sun glistening off their bright petals. Still, at the end of the road it once again was disconcerted because once again half of its water had leaked out. Again, it apologized to its bearer for its failure.

The bearer said to the pot, "I told you to look at the lovely flowers that line your side of the path. Because I have always been aware of your 'flaw,' I planted flower seeds along your side of the path. Every day as we go home, you have inadvertently watered these seeds. Every day I am able to pick some of these beautiful flowers to adorn our master's table. Were you not just the way you are, our master would not have this beauty to grace his home."

A powerful analogy. Every creation has a purpose - one that is determined by its Creator. Tamim, perfect and whole, is not an external feature. It is an internal characteristic of an individual, reflecting his attitude and devotion to his Creator.

Speak to Bnei Yisrael, saying: when a person will sin unintentionally from among all the commandments of Hashem that may not be done, and he commits one of them. (4:2)

Chazal, in Toras Kohanim derive from the words, "to Bnei Yisrael," that only a Yisrael brings a Korban Chatas, Sin-Offering, for an inadvertent sin. Gentiles do not bring a Korban Chatas. The Bais HaLevi explains that when one sins against Hashem, it is significant whether the transgression is committed b'meizid, purposely, or b'shogeg, inadvertently. When one sins against his fellowman, however, there is no difference. Adam muad l'olam, a man is always responsible for his actions against his fellowman.

When a gentile sins, his sin is only against Hashem. Therefore, if it is inadvertent, he is innocent and not liable for punishment. When a Jew sins against Hashem, he is also committing a grave injustice against his fellow Jew, since Kol Yisrael areivim zeh lazeh, all Jews are responsible one for another. Thus, any sin against Hashem is considered a sin against a Jew, because the national character of Klal Yisrael has been impugned by his sin against Hashem. Concerning a sin against a fellow Jew, there is no distinction between shogeg and maizid. Therefore, a Jew who sins inadvertently against Hashem is still obligated to bring a Korban Chatas.

Va'ani Tefillah

v'Haarev na Hashem Elokeinu es divrei Torascha b'finu - Please, Hashem, our G-d, sweeten the words of Torah in our mouth.

There is a dispute among the poskim if v'Haarev na is a separate brachah or a continuation of Laasok b'divrei Torah. In order to circumvent the issue of Amen at the end of the "first" brachah, the shliach tzibur recites the words, Laasok b'divrei Torah in an undertone, raising his voice only at the end, with hamelamed Torah l'amo Yisrael. The text of the brachah is ambiguous. What is the meaning of sweetness in Torah, if our goal is to be misyagaia, toil, diligently in Torah? In Sefer Hamenuchah, Rabbi Manoach explains that we ask that after we have labored in the field of Torah and we have achieved proficiency in understanding its profundities, we should also sense its sweetness and forget all the toil inherent in acquiring its knowledge. Horav Shmuel Hominer, zl, asserts that the Divine Assistance which one receives from Hashem is commensurate with the integrity he demonstrates as he recites the brachah. Sweetness in Torah learning is a gift from Hashem for which one must pray. Horav Shimon Schwab, zl, analogizes this hard-earned sweetness to one who is reluctant to jump into a pool of cold water. Once he has jumped in and "broken the ice," the water feels wonderfully refreshing. The same idea applies to Torah study. At first, one has obstacles to overcome, challenges to surmount as one makes the necessary effort to "shteig," succeed, in Torah. We pray that after we expend the hard work, the Torah which we acquire should be sweet in our mouths. Horav Chaim Shmuelevitz, zl, comments that sweetness in Torah is, indeed, one of the primary madreigos, levels, of Torah. Torah that is not sweet in our mouth represents a "shortcoming" in Torah study.

In loving memory of
Mrs. Fanny Brunner Feldman
by her family

Peninim on the Torah is in its 14th year of publication. The first nine years have been published in book form.

The Ninth volume is available at your local book seller or directly from Rabbi Scheinbaum.

He can be contacted at 216-321-5838 ext. 165 or by fax at 216-321-0588

Discounts are available for bulk orders or Chinuch/Kiruv organizations.


This article is provided as part of Shema Yisrael Torah Network
Permission is granted to redistribute electronically or on paper,
provided that this notice is included intact.
For information on subscriptions, archives, and
other Shema Yisrael Classes,
send mail to
Jerusalem, Israel