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Peninim on the Torah

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Rabbi A. Leib Scheinbaum
Hebrew Academy of Cleveland


He (Hashem) called to Moshe. (1:1)

Although Moshe Rabbeinu had reached the unprecedented spiritual plateau of being able to speak "face to face" with the Almighty, he did not enter the Kodesh HaKodoshim, Holy of Holies, unless he was called by Hashem. Chazal use this as a source for an important dictum: "Any talmid chacham, Torah scholar, who does not possess daas, knowledge, has a worth less than an animal's carcass."

Strong words. Apparently, daas is a significant prerequisite for the talmid chacham. Surely, it was Moshe's derech eretz -- good manners, etiquette, and decency-- that did not permit him to come "calling" on Hashem without first being issued a summons. It was not his daas. What does knowledge have to do with refinement and proper demeanor? Why do Chazal denounce the talmid chacham who lacks daas, rather than the one who lacks derech eretz?

Horav Mordechai Gifter, zl, illuminates this concept for us after first explaining the true meaning of daas, knowledge. We often come across three terms: chochmah; binah; daas. These denote three distinct levels of knowledge, with daas the third and highest level. Chochmah and binah are levels of understanding that remain relegated solely to the area of the mind. For example, how often do we find individuals who preach one thing, but are loathe to "practice what they preach"? Why is this? How does one expound one idea for others, but refuse to live by it himself? It occurs when one studies and even achieves proficiency in a subject, but does not integrate his erudition into his essence. It remains solely cognitive, within the chambers of his mind.

The converse is true concerning daas. The word daas, which is translated in English as knowledge, has a much deeper meaning in the Torah vernacular. Daas is knowledge that has become intrinsic to one's being. Daas is not confined to the mind, but flows through the individual's essence. It inspires and imbues his every thought and movement. Every step that he takes is governed by his daas. Thus, a concept that he has comprehended on the level of daas will be reflected in the manner in which the individual lives, as well as in his total demeanor.

Moshe's derech eretz was not simply an exercise in etiquette, the result of what one considers appropriate conduct. No, Moshe's derech eretz was the outcome of his profound daas, his depth of understanding of the Torah and the assimilation of this knowledge into every fiber of his being. Every movement that Moshe took was dictated by his daas. Chazal emphasize the significance of talmidei chachamim, Torah scholars, elevating the Torah they study to the exalted level of daas, whereby it becomes a part of them. Their Torah knowledge should not remain abstract but, rather, the motivating factor behind their every action.

We suggest that this might be the meaning of daas Torah, the wisdom that is derived from the Torah. A gadol baTorah, one who has achieved distinction in Torah, is an individual who not only has amassed an incredible amount of erudition, but who has been able to transform himself into a veritable vessel comprised of Torah. Every part of his being reflects the Torah he has learned. The Torah guides and governs every movement that he makes. Hence, the decision he renders is daas Torah, the wisdom of the Torah. The Torah is not only in his mind; it dictates his thought process, so that it produces a Torah-oriented decision.

Man is the only creature capable of refining his understanding, thereby transforming it into daas. If he fails to do so, if he studies, but relegates his knowledge to the confines of the mind, he has dismally failed to achieve his primary goal in life. He has failed! An animal, on the other hand, cannot possibly attain the level of cognition available to humans, but it at least fulfills its purpose on this world. Thus, a talmid chacham, a scholar, who has not fulfilled his purpose in life because he left his knowledge trapped in his mind is worse off than an animal's dead carcass, for he did not fulfill his G-d-given potential in life, while the animal did.

He (Hashem) called to Moshe. (1:1)

Parashas Vayikra commences with the word, Vayikra, which expresses Hashem's call to Moshe. Rashi distinguishes the term vayikra, used when Hashem speaks to Moshe Rabbeinu, from vayikar, which is a derivative of mikreh, meaning chance/happenstance, and is also related to spiritual contamination. Rashi explains that when Hashem speaks to Moshe it is a seminal, "planned" experience, reflecting the highest level of His love for the Rabban Shel Kol Yisrael. The term, vayikar, however, represents impermanence, something that just occurred. Hashem is not really interested in speaking with Bilaam. It is something that He "happened" to do. The Avnei Nezer adds that when Hashem speaks with Bilaam, it is neither direct, nor "face to face." Hashem speaks to the "place" where Bilaam is situated. Bilaam just happens to hear what Hashem says. Thus, no change occurs vis-?-vis Bilaam, since he is not affected by the experience. After the dialogue, he reverts to his original impure essence.

The Shem MiShmuel explains his father's commentary saying that the level one achieves through nevuah, prophecy, is the result of the character traits and total demeanor of the navi. Moshe manifested the attributes essential to achieve prophecy. Bilaam refused to change. Although he wanted to receive a prophetic vision, he did not want to do so at the expense of his reprehensible lifestyle. Therefore, Hashem spoke "around" him, rather than to him. He cites the Zohar HaKadosh that compares Bilaam to a leper who visits the king. The king refuses to permit him to enter his palace, for fear of it becoming contaminated. Instead, the king leaves his throne room and goes outside the palace to meet with the leper. Not so, when the king's friend arrives. He is allowed to enter into the king's innermost chamber to meet the king.

The very fact that the transitory and random comprise an attribute that is equated with Bilaam indicates that one of the primary principles of kedushah, sanctity, is stability and permanence. Tumah, spiritual contamination, is a negative quality that is intrinsic to the unstable and unanchored. The deep-rooted and resolute cannot be swayed regardless of the strength behind the winds of change. The wicked, however, who are not firmly anchored in solid conviction, are easily induced, because they themselves waver back and forth from one set of beliefs to another.

When a person offers a meal-offering to Hashem. (2:1)

The Torah uses the word nefesh, soul, to describe a person, rather than the usual term, adam, man, because the individual who offers the meal-offering is undoubtedly one of limited means. Therefore, his offering reflects a major sacrifice on his part, almost as if he were giving a part of himself. It is for this reason that Hashem declares, "I will regard it as if he offered his soul." In his sefer, Panim Yafos, Horav Pinchas Horowitz, zl, questions the Korban Minchah's designation as the sacrifice brought by the abject poor. At first glance, one would suggest that the korban ha'of, fowl, was even less expensive than the meal-offering. The fowl-offering consists of a dove or turtledove without any added ingredients. The bird itself is the complete korban. The Korban Minchah, however, requires one-tenth of an eifah of fine flour and a lug of oil and frankincense. When the ingredients are calculated, the meal-offering is more expensive. Why then do Chazal stipulate that this is the korban of the dal she'b'dalim, poorest of the poor?

The Sefas Emes adds to this when he notes that a Korban Minchah may not be brought by partners. It must be the sacrifice of an individual. The fowl, however, may be brought by more than one person. Thus, the Minchah is not necessarily the least expensive sacrifice.

The Chasam Sofer addresses this question, offering a response that goes to the root of the Korban Minchah, the individual who offers it, and what goes through his mind in preparation for bringing this korban. The poor man does not have a penny that he can call his own. He has no money with which to purchase a sheep, a fowl, or even a meal-offering. Nonetheless, in his desire to bring a free-willed offering to Hashem, to somehow make a gesture of gratitude to the Almighty Who has given him "so much," he decides that he will take off a drop of flour from his meager piece of bread. It will be a smaller slice, but he will have saved a drop of flour that over time will suffice for a korban. Every time his wife bakes a small challah, because that is all they can afford, he instructs her to make it yet smaller. We must save for a korban. Therefore, every week their challah is smaller than usual, and their "savings" are placed in a small container, set aside for the korban. He does the same with the little oil he collects every week, until soon he has all the required ingredients. He can now go to the Bais HaMikdash and proudly offer his korban. It took him some time, but he is here!

When we keep the above in mind, is it any wonder why Hashem has such exceptional appreciation for the one who brings a Korban Minchah? It is the result of a long, deliberative process that demonstrates the poor man's total devotion to this korban. It is not what one brings; it is how one brings it, and what goes into the preparation, that leave the ultimate impression.

When a person offers a meal-offering to Hashem. (2:1)

Interestingly, of all those who bring a voluntary offering, it is only the one who brings a Korban Minchah, meal-offering, that is described as a nefesh, soul. Rashi explains that the one who has brought a meal-offering is probably a poor person who cannot afford more. Hashem says, "I will regard it as if he offered his soul."

The Midrash relates an incident in which a woman brought an offering of flour to the Kohen to have it offered as a sacrifice. The Kohen regrettably took a terrible attitude towards this poor woman's offering and began to embarrass her; "Look what they bring as an offering. What is there to eat? What is there to sacrifice?" That night, the Kohen had a dream in which he was admonished never to humiliate anyone who brought a korban, sacrifice, regardless of its diminutive size or value, because what the poor offer is really their nefesh, life. It takes so much for them to scrape together the means for bringing the korban, they are literally offering themselves. The Midrash concludes that, actually the idea is a kal v'chomer, a priori logical deduction. If one is not really offering a living creation, the Torah nonetheless writes that it is as if they offer a nefesh and should be considered as having offered a nefesh, referring to his own life.

The Midrash is basically emphasizing the significance of korbanos and the place they have in Jewish life. One who has the proper intentions when he offers a korban has the ability to elevate this sacrifice in his stead. It takes his place as if he had been sacrificed. We often do not think of the sacrifice people make in maintaining their commitments as Torah Jews. For some, it is the tzedakah, charity, they give. For others, it is the tuition they pay to schools so that their sons and daughters receive a Torah education. For many, this continues on long after their children are married and have children of their own. That is what being an observant Jew is all about: knowing one's priorities and being prepared to make sacrifices for them.

Horav Sholom Schwadron, zl, relates a powerful story that so impacted the community in which it occurred, that they recorded it in the perpetual history of the Chevra Kadisha, sacred burial society, of Vilna. In the cemetery of Vilna there is a grave with the following inscription on its headstone: "Po nitman, Here lies, Ploni ben Ploni, who left this world on yom ploni and was laid to rest on yom ploni." After the inscription, there is a pasuk from Shlomo HaMelech's Eishes Chayil (Mishlei 31:10) engraved on the bottom of the stone: Kapah parsah l'ani, v'yadeha shilcha l'evyon. "Her palm, she opened to the poor and her hands, she stretched out to the needy." This is a poignant and meaningful inscription - for a woman. Eishas Chayil is a tribute which is traditionally used to describe the quintessential Jewish woman. Why is this pasuk used in connection with a man? It is not as if there is a dearth of pesukim available to laud the achievements of a man.

After careful deliberation, the following story was discovered written in the pinkas, ledger, of the city's Chevra Kadisha. Apparently, the deceased had lived his entire life in the Vilna area and was well-known for his charitable bequests. He was an individual who loved -- and thrived on-- giving whatever he had to the poor. He was very wealthy and his fame as an incredible baal tzedakah, philanthropist, spread, bringing in its wake the poor from all the surrounding cities. This not only did not bother our hero, it encouraged him. He reveled in the opportunity to help others. Indeed, as his wealth increased, so did his charitable donations. He just loved to give.

This went on for many years until his business began to waver. The market was no longer the same. People were not as willing to buy, and his great wealth began to decrease with the day's market report. Soon his liquid assets were at the point of no return. Then his properties, stocks and material possessions were sold for whatever cash they could raise. During this entire time, he kept on giving out tzedakah to the needy. Perhaps his contributions were smaller, but he nonetheless continued to give. When he bottomed out, he was left with his palatial mansion and whatever silver was in the house. There was no longer any money left for the poor.

Meanwhile, the question that was raging throughout the streets of Vilna was: What did this man do to sustain such a serious punishment? He was an individual of impeccable character who gave everything to the poor. Why should he be punished so? This question extended beyond the streets into the hallowed halls of the city's spiritual leaders, the rabbanim and dayanim who adjudicated Jewish law for the community. At first, they were also stymied. After discussing the issue at length, they arrived at the conclusion that it was the result of not adhering to Chazal's dictum of, "One who gives charity, should not give more than a fifth of his wealth." This person gave out far more than a fifth. True, he was performing a mitzvah, but when Chazal make a statement they know what they are talking about. When one disregards Chazal -- even for something positive--he may one day disregard their admonitions that have a negative connotation.

The Bais Din, judicial court, of the city decided that the only way of protecting this person from himself, from his profound love of the mitzvah of tzedakah, was to place him under house arrest. He was not permitted to leave his home. This way the poor could not approach him in the street or in shul to request alms.

The poor obviously had a difficult time accepting this rabbinic decree and they continued to come to his house. They would scream by his window late at night when no one was around, begging him for whatever assistance he could give them. He would throw silver pieces and jewelry through the window - anything he could get his hands on, as long as it could be pawned by a poor man. This went on for a while until this too came to an end, because, there was no longer anything left in the house. The man who was once the richest, most benevolent man in the community, was now totally wiped out. He had nothing.

It was the "last night," when, at midnight, two poor men came to his window and begged for alms. The man who had never turned anyone away was distraught: "I have nothing left. I am terribly sorry. I cannot help you." The poor men continued begging, crying to him, "Please, our families are starving. Please help us."

The man was moved. He had to do something. He would turn over his house. Perhaps, he had overlooked a piece of silver or gold. How could he allow their families to starve? He looked, and he found! Hidden beneath a cupboard was one golden spoon. It was quite expensive and could do wonders for a poor man's family needs, but, what could he do with one golden spoon and two poor men?

Suddenly, he had an idea. He would break the spoon, giving one man the handle and the other the spoon. The poor men were overjoyed, because they knew the value of this spoon was far beyond anything they had imagined receiving. They would immediately sell their "individual" portions of the spoon in order to sustain their families for another few months.

The next morning the rich man was no longer among the living. He had returned his pure soul to its Maker that night. It had been his last night on this earth, and he had spent it doing what he loved. This time he did it with the greatest sacrifice. He gave others when he no longer had anything for himself. The Chevra Kadisha sought to memorialize his name and his special deeds - especially his last act of tzedakah, on the last night of his life. They, therefore, inscribed Shlomo HaMelech's meaningful verse on his tombstone.

You shall salt your every meal-offering with salt. (2:13)

Horav Yaakov Abuchatzera, zl, takes this pasuk further by rendering it homiletically, as a reference to prayer. Now that because of our sins, we no longer have a Bais HaMikdash, prayer takes the place of korbanos. Our tefillos, prayers, are the sacrifices we offer to the Almighty. Therefore, "every meal-offering," every prayer that is expressed by us in place of a korban, should be "salted." It should be accompanied with "salty" tears, because Shaarei demaos lo ninalu, "The gates of tears are not closed." Chazal tell us that with the destruction of the Bais HaMikdash, the Heavenly Gates were closed to us - all except for the gates of tears. Sincere expression which is manifest through tears will penetrate the Heavenly Gates and effect a positive response for our supplications.

We may add that just as salt enhances and preserves, it can, as the Ramban notes, have a detrimental effect on plants, corroding many substances. It all depends on how one uses the salt. Likewise, tears are effective if one cries for the proper and correct reason. Unwarranted weeping can corrode and destroy. Tears of hope will catalyze a message of salvation.

Va'ani Tefillah

Mimizrach shemesh ad mevo'o mehullal Shem Hashem
From the rising of the sun to its setting, Hashem's Name is praised.

Horav Yosef Meshash interprets mimizrach shemesh, from the rising of the sun, as a reference to man's birth, and ad mevo'o, to its setting, as intimating the moment when a person's sun sets, when he passes on from this world. Throughout one's entire lifespan, he must praise the Almighty - always, and under all circumstances. Interestingly, the pasuk says that we laud Hashem's Name - not Hashem. Why?

Horav Zalmen Barr explains that everyone, regardless of his nationality, race, or religion praises "Hashem" in Name only. Who is Hashem is another question. It is only Klal Yisrael that know and accept the answer to that question. The "world" praise Hashem in Name only, while we praise Hashem Himself. To further explain this idea, Horav Menachem Katz applies an analogy. There was once a very famous, benevolent man whose identity was stolen by an unscrupulous charlatan. Traveling around the globe under his assumed name, the fraud received much positive acclaim. After awhile, the truth was discovered, and the imposter was unmasked. Yet, the original person, whose identity had been stolen, had no qualms and did not place any onus of guilt on the people who had been misled. They had no idea that they were praising the wrong person. They were sincere in offering their praise. Regrettably, it was to a fraud. Likewise, Hashem's glory fills the entire world. Those who worship idols are only doing what they think is correct. They think that they are worshipping G-d. Sadly, they are paying accolades to a chameleon who is misleading them from the truth. They are paying tribute to the Shem/Name of Hashem. One day they will pay tribute to Hashem.

l'zechar nishmas haisha
Yenta bas R' Nochum Tzvi a"h
niftar 8 Adar 5760
By the
Schulhof, Winter & Feigenbaum Families

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