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Peninim on the Torah

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Rabbi A. Leib Scheinbaum
Hebrew Academy of Cleveland


He called to Moshe, and Hashem spoke to him from the Ohel Moed. (1:1)

One cannot help but notice that the concluding letter, aleph, of the word Vayikra, He called, is written in a miniature form. The commentators, each in his own way, find homiletic insights to explain this change in the text. Chazal distinguish between the way Hashem spoke to the prophets of the pagan nations of whom Bilaam was the greatest and the way that He addressed Moshe Rabbeinu. Hashem's prophecy to Bilaam is introduced with the word vayikar, without the concluding aleph. The word vayikar - which is related both to mikreh, chance, and spiritual contamination - indicates that Hashem's relationship with Bilaam was one of necessity. He certainly did not speak to him out of love. He needed to convey a message, and Bilaam served as the conduit. In his own right, he was not worthy of this unparalleled experience. He was like a microphone or tape recorder through which the words of the speaker emanate outward.

Moshe, on the other hand, was the quintessential Navi, prophet; he had attained the standard of holiness and piety inherent in a Jewish prophet. When Hashem spoke to him, it was on the level of vayikra, a complete, wholehearted communication. Due to Moshe's prodigious humility, he sought to describe his address from Hashem in the same uncomplimentary term of vayikar, which refers to Hashem's communication with Bilaam. Hashem's love for Moshe did not allow for this. Yet, out of a sense of humility, Moshe wrote the last aleph in a miniature form, making it appear that it was only vayikar.

In an alternative exposition, the Kli Yakar opines that the miniature aleph is there by design in order to convey to us that Moshe's prophecy was also to be viewed from the perspective of vayikar, by chance. This is a powerful statement. Is there anyone throughout history that was more worthy of this achievement than Moshe? Certainly, Hashem wanted to speak to him. The lesson that we are to derive is that, even though Moshe was the greatest Navi and no one deserved this honor more than he, we must always realize that, regardless of the status of the individual, nevuah, prophecy, is a gift from Hashem. One receives nevuah because his generation is in need of its message. Thus, the navi serves as the medium for disseminating Hashem's word. On his own, however, he does not warrant this unique experience.

We see this idea reiterated concerning the Golden Calf. Hashem told Moshe, "Go, descend - for your people that you brought up from Egypt has become corrupt" (Shemos 32:7). Moshe had been elevated to his lofty spiritual status only for the sake of the Jewish People. Now that they had sinned and become unworthy, Hashem ordered him to descend from the mountain. "Now that Yisrael has sinned, I do not need you," Hashem intimated. Moshe achieved his position because of Klal Yisrael. If they were not deserving, he was not needed. Klal Yisrael's leadership received a gift from Hashem for a purpose. Everything that the leadership accomplishes is a result of this gift. On his own, no one individual can reach the lofty spiritual status required of the leaders of Klal Yisrael.

This lends us insight into Chazal's dictum in the Talmud Rosh Hashanah 25b, "Yiftach in his generation is like Shmuel in his generation." On a spiritual plane, Yiftach certainly did not compare to Shmuel haNavi. Once he was appointed to be a leader of his community, however, he was to be considered the mightiest of the mighty. Since the tzibur, community, needs him, he will be granted special powers from Heaven. Indeed, anyone who is needed by the community receives a special inspirational flow from Above.

If the anointed Kohen will sin, bringing guilt upon the people… the Kohen shall take from the blood of the bull and bring it to the Ohel Moed. (4:3,5)

Concerning every other Korban Chatas, Sin-offering, the Torah conveys explicitly that the Kohen will sprinkle the blood and atone for the sinner. Regarding the Sin-offering of the Kohen Mashiach, we do not find this stipulation. Rather, the blood is brought into the Kodesh, Holy, and sprinkled there without the involvement of anyone else. Why is this? The Meshech Chochmah gives a practical explanation. The purpose of the entire process surrounding a Korban Chatas is so that the sinner will regret his sin. The requirement that the Kohen must assist in sprinkling the blood is to add guilt to the sinner's conscience, something that will hopefully drive home the lesson: You have erred, and now you must regret and atone for your sin.

When the Kohen Mashiach sins, publicizing his error can have a deleterious effect on the people. Once word gets out that the spiritual leader had sinned, people will begin to talk about his failures and weaknesses, instigating a general lack of respect for him and his position. Others might use this negative influence as an excuse to sin personally. Thus, the Torah felt it prudent to allow the Kohen to conceal his error and to obligate him to bring the blood of his offering into the Holy and to sprinkle it personally, without fanfare, without an audience. The Torah's perspective is that the indiscretions of its spiritual leaders should be dealt with in a discreet and confidential manner, thereby avoiding a situation that would lead to a "guilt upon the people," in which the common person will find individual rationale to justify his own iniquity.

If an individual person shall sin unintentionally… he shall bring as his offering a she-goat unblemished for the sin that he committed. (4:27,28)

The korban is a means for expiating the sin and the consequent spiritual blemish that it creates in the cosmos. We cannot conceptualize the effect of our sins on the spiritual realm of the world in which we live. If we were able to realize the taint that our sin catalyzes, we would be much more vigilant in distancing ourselves from any situation that might lead to sin. The following story may leave a lasting impression concerning this thought.

The Apta Rebbe, zl, known as the Ohaiv Yisrael for the sefer which he authored, related that he remembered who he was in his previous gilgul, reincarnation. He lived in the time of the Bais Hamikdash. His name was Rabbi Zerach, a distinguished, pious and learned man. When his students heard this, they asked, "Rebbe, if you were righteous, why were you sent back as a gilgul to live your life over? Is this not a form of punishment?"

The Rebbe replied, "I was mechallel Shabbos b'shogeg," transgressed and profaned Shabbos unintentionally.

"But if there was the Bais Hamikdash, surely you were forgiven," they countered.

"Yes, there was the Bais Hamikdash, and I brought a korban to expiate that sin. Yet, I had to relive my life in order to correct my spiritual defilement." Indeed, as I speak, I remember the overwhelming shame I experienced when I brought the korban."

The Rebbe then related his ordeal in bringing the korban, "First, I went to the market to purchase an animal to sacrifice. When I requested a seirah, she-goat, the merchant looked at me incredulously and said, "Reb Zerach, one may use a he-goat for a Korban Shelamim, Peace-offering." I replied, "Yes, I know, but I am offering a Korban Chatas, Sin-offering. The merchant looked at me and mumbled, "It just is not right, Reb Zerach - not someone of your status."

"Well, what could I do? I paid for the animal and walked towards the Bais Hamikdash to have it sacrificed. The whole way I felt that everyone was staring at me. To make matters worse, when 'we' arrived at the Har HaBayis, the goat ran off, and I was compelled to chase after her, while everyone stared. Up and down the small side streets I went, asking people if they had noticed a loose she-goat. In response, people asked me, 'Why are you, Reb Zerach, bringing a she-goat. Is that not for a Chatas?' Finally, someone called out, 'Reb Zerach, I found your she-goat. Now you can have your kaparah, atonement.' Can you imagine how this felt? I finally arrived at the Bais Hamikdash and handed the animal over to the Kohen who asked, 'A Korban Shelamim, I presume?' 'No,' I answered, 'it is a Chatas.' He just stared at me in shock. Trust me, my hair turned white that day."

"But, Rebbe," the talmidim asked, "if you went through all of this, and you offered a korban, surely your sin must have been expiated. Why then did you have to return to this world as a gilgul?"

The Rebbe replied, "You have no idea of the extent of spiritual damage that chillul Shabbos catalyzes."

If a man commits treachery and sins unintentionally against Hashem's Holies. (5:15)

Meilah, trespassing against Hekdesh, the Sanctuary or its vessels, is a Hebrew term which implies the unauthorized use of sacred property. In the laws applying to Meilah, we find a distinction between Meilah of an object that is kadosh kedushas haguf, the actual item, whose "body" is sacred; and an object which is only kadosh kedushas damim, its value has been sanctified. Concerning an item which has only kedushas damim, the law states that once it has undergone one Meilah its kedushah, sacredness, is gone. The reason for this is that the individual who had made use of it had intended to remove it from the custody of the Sanctuary. By doing so, he profaned and transferred it out of the dominion of the Sanctuary. An item that is in itself inherently sacred retains its sanctity under all circumstances. Even if it has been the subject of Meilah, it does not lose its status of kedushah. Thus, an object whose value is consecrated can only undergo Meilah once. Afterwards, it is no longer holy. An object which is essentially holy can undergo Meilah as often as a person uses it in an unauthorized manner.

The Bais HaLevi extends this distinction to kedushas Yisrael, the inherent holiness of each and every Jew. This kedushah is a kedushas haguf, whereby every Jew has an essential sanctity that permeates his entire essence. This kedushah is irrevocable. Thus, we understand the Rabbinic dictum that, Yisrael - af al pi she'chatah - Yisrael hu, "A Jew - even if he has sinned - remains a Jew." This applies regardless of the gravity of the transgression. Even if a Jew were to worship an idol with the express intention of apostatizing himself from the Jewish People, he nonetheless retains his kedushas Yisrael and does not need to convert back to Judaism when he is ready to repent. On the other hand, prior to performing teshuvah, repenting, he cannot say, "I do not ascribe to the Jewish religion." He remains a Jew, reflecting both the positive and negative implications of the word.

He shall return the robbed item that he robbed. (5:23)

The thief must first return the stolen goods, and only then may he bring a korban to atone for his sin. One does not approach Hashem for forgiveness until he has first appeased his victim. Horav Yitzchak Zilberstein, Shlita, relates an incredible story about a thief who returned stolen goods, which I feel has its underpinnings in a Midrash in Parashas Toldos. A Sefer Torah was stolen from a Shul. This was an unusual Sefer Torah. It was written by one of Yerushalayim's most prominent sofrim, scribes. It had just been brought into the shul a few days earlier amid much pomp and celebration. The theft catalyzed a depression in its contributor, who had dedicated it in memory of his parents. He had put away money for years, so that he could remember them in this most unique and meaningful manner. He would not give up hope of retrieving his beloved Sefer Torah. It meant too much to him.

One of the members of the shul, who was a "worldly" person with connections throughout the spectrum of society, suggested that he speak with a well-known baal teshuvah, returnee to religious observance, who prior to his teshuvah had been acquainted with members of the lower echelons of society. He would point him in the direction of the thief, or, at least, he might be able to offer advice about locating the missing Sefer Torah. The man spoke with the baal teshuvah, who asked for a few days to spread the word among his "old friends." Perhaps he would be able to strike a chord in the right person's heart and compel him to return the Sefer Torah. A few days later, the baal teshuvah returned to the man and said, "To the best of my knowledge, I have reason to believe that the Sefer Torah will be returned to you shortly."

Two days later, a man wearing a large yarmulka knocked on the door of the donor's home. In his arms, wrapped in a Tallis, he cradled the lost Sefer Torah. "I am the thief who stole the Sefer Torah," he mumbled. "I have come to return it." The donor was overjoyed to see the Torah, but he did not believe that the man who stood before him, wearing a yarmulka, was the thief. How could an observant Jew, wearing a yarmulka, fall to such a nadir of depravity that he would steal a Sefer Torah? This man was probably an agent who was doing the thief a favor.

The thief noticed the incredulous look on the donor's face. "I can imagine what is going through your mind," he said. "Yes, I am the thief. Do not let my yarmulka deceive you. When I stole the Sefer Torah, I was very distant from religious observance. I would never think of wearing a yarmulka. After keeping the Sefer Torah in my home for a week, however, I decided that I had to become a baal teshuvah. I have sinned, and I want to correct and change my life."

The kedushah emanating from the Sefer Torah had a spiritual effect, transforming a hardened criminal into an observant Jew.

This story reminds me of a Midrash in Parashas Toldos, which relates the story of Yosef Meshissa, an apostate Jew, who was asked by the Roman conquerors to enter the Bais Hamikdash before them. They figured, let a Jew go in first, then we will follow and take whatever we want. They told him that he was allowed to take one item, any item that he wanted for himself. Yosef came out carrying the gold Menorah. When they saw this sacrilege, they said, "This is not made for a common person to use. Go back inside and take something else." He refused. They attempted to persuade him by offering a three-year release from paying taxes. He reiterated his refusal, saying, "Is it not enough that I angered my G-d once, that I should do so again?" When they saw that he was intractable, they placed him on a carpenter's table, which was used for cutting wood. His death was both painful and gruesome. As he died, he screamed out, "Woe is to me that I angered my Creator!"

Any sensible person would wonder what happened here. This was an apostate who left no transgression to the imagination. He had the gall to enter the Bais Hamikdash with impunity. Then, all of a sudden, he refused to return to the place of his first iniquity and, instead, died a baal teshuvah. What catalyzed this sudden transformation? The Ponevezer Rav, zl, explains that it was the kedushah, sanctity, of the Bais Hamikdash. Once Yosef entered the holy site, he could no longer leave as the same person. The holiness of the Bais Hamikdash permeated his essence, and he was no longer Yosef Meshissa, the apostate; he became Yosef Meshissa, the baal teshuvah.

If this is the case, why is it that so many of us have no problem transforming the bais haknesses or bais hamedrash into our private business office, social club, or for any other secular/mundane role? Have we lost sight of the inherent kedushah these holy places manifest? Why do they not inspire us the way Yosef Meshissa was inspired? In Vayikra 5:2,3, the Torah addresses the individual who enters the Sanctuary in a state of tumah, ritual contamination, or eats kodoshim, food of korbanos, in a state of tumah. If he does so intentionally, the punishment is kares, Heavenly excision. If he does so unintentionally, such as he knew of his contaminations but either had a momentary lapse; or he remembered that he was tamei - but he forgot that the Sanctuary or the food is holy - and then realizes what he has done, he must bring a korban. Let us analyze this case. A man stands in the Bais Hamikdash, after having passed through the Har Habayis, Temple Mount, and the various entranceways leading to the Sanctuary - and he forgets that he is in a holy place! How are we to understand this? The surrounding area, the architecture, the Kohanim and the aura that permeate the locale, scream kedushah, holiness, at every juncture. Yet, he forgets that he is in a holy place! This is mind-boggling!

Horav Yosef Sholom Elyashiv, Shlita, explains that it is all the side effects of hergel, habit. If a person becomes familiar with a place, if he is there often, it loses much of its impact. Familiarity breeds contempt. In the Talmud Sanhedrin 52b, Chazal teach us how an am haaretz, common, unschooled person, views a talmid chacham, Torah scholar. At first, he appears as a golden ladle. Once he has conversed with him, he takes on the appearance of a silver ladle. After he has benefited from him, he is viewed as earthenware ladle, which, once it is broken, is no longer mendable. A parallel may be noted with regard to any davar she'bikedushah, holy endeavor. If a person does not make an effort to acknowledge its distinctiveness, viewing it as something new and fresh each time he comes in contact with it, he will soon become acclimatized to it, and it will lose its superiority and preeminence in his eyes.

This is what David Hamelech asked of Hashem, "One thing I asked of Hashem, that shall I seek - that I dwell in the House of Hashem all the days of my life, to behold the sweetness of Hashem and to contemplate in His Sanctuary." (Tehillim 27:4) First David asks, shivti b'bais Hashem, "to dwell in Hashem's House," then he asks, l'vakeir be'heichalo, "to contemplate/to visit His Sanctuary." These two requests seem to contradict one another. Rather, David is saying, I know that there is the danger of familiarity and complacency that is endemic with always being in the sanctuary. Therefore, I ask that every time I enter the Sanctuary, it should be like my first visit. The excitement and enthusiasm - the invigorating wholesomeness and passion, the awe and trepidation - associated with entering the Sanctuary for the first time should never leave me.

This is what we should all strive to achieve. The bais hamedrash should become our second home, but that is only with regard to our attendance. Concerning our relationship with our house of worship and study, it should be as if we are entering it for the first time, each time. We should never forget its function, its significance and our place therein.

Va'ani Tefillah

Hashem, Elokai, shivaati eilecha va'tirpaeini. Hashem, my G-d, I cried out to You and You healed me.

David Hamelech gives thanks to Hashem for healing him. We wonder, would it not have been better had he not be stricken ill altogether? If he had not gotten sick, he would not have needed to be cured. Horav Zalman Sorotzkin, zl, explains that David understood the therapeutic effect of illness. He was acutely aware that this illness spared him from any further punitive measures in Olam Habah.

The Malbim distinguishes between the words shavah and tzaakah, both of which mean outcry. Shavah is derived from yeshuah, salvation; it is a more focused cry, articulating what and where it hurts, where the salvation is needed most. Tzaakah, however, is a more general outcry, lacking any specific message.

Ibn Ezra notes that David turned only to Hashem for salvation, since he understood that the source of his ills were of a spiritual, not physical, nature. Horav Avigdor Miller, zl, adds that David did not just say, "O' G-d," he said, "My G-d," proclaiming his closeness to the Almighty. He reiterates, "You healed me," not merely, "I was healed." Just as he never attributed his affliction to chance, so, too, did he not attribute his deliverance to anyone but Hashem.

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