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Peninim on the Torah

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Rabbi A. Leib Scheinbaum
Hebrew Academy of Cleveland


He called to Moshe. (1:1)

The commentators note the diminutive aleph, which is the last letter of the word, vayikra, He called. They explain that the miniature aleph is the symbol of Moshe Rabbeinu's intense modesty, not wanting to call attention to the fact that the Almighty called him. The Midrash Tanchuma states: "Anyone who pursues sherarah, rulership/dominion/honor, sherarah runs from him. One who runs from sherarah, it pursues him." Moshe did not want to accept honor. He conferred it on others, but he himself ran from glory. Yet, as much as he attempted to evade honor and avoid calling attention to himself, it kept on "catching up" with him. Why should it be this way? Would it have been so bad if his wishes to be modest had been respected? If he does not seek kavod, honor, let him be. While it may be difficult for most of us to understand, for such an individual, however, glory is like an albatross around his neck.

The Sefas Emes explains that the true boreiach min hakavod, one who runs from glory, does not just avoid it. He defers this honor to Hashem, the source of all honor. He is the Melech HaKavod, King of Glory. The truly modest person acknowledges that whatever qualities he possesses that are worthy of honor are his because Hashem has willed it to be so. Thus, Hashem should be the focus of honor - not he. Therefore, the glory which he has succeeded in attributing to its Source waits for him, so that he receives his due honor in the future.

A chasid once queried Horav Bunim, zl, m'Peshischa, "Rebbe, I flee from kavod; yet, it does not pursue me. Where is the truth in Chazal's statement?"

The Rebbe replied, "From your question, I can deduce that when you run from kavod you turn around to see if it is pursuing you. That is not considered fleeing from kavod."

The Chafetz Chaim was once approached by a Torah scholar who, after having spent some time in Radin, was slightly disconcerted that the students with whom he had conversed in learning failed to give him the respect that he demanded. Actually, his arrogating respect was a turn-off to the students, who reciprocated by denying his "request." "Why is it," he asked the Chafetz Chaim, "that you receive all of the kavod, while I am showered with disdain? Are we not comparable talmidei chachamim?"

The venerable sage replied, "The key is in the word 'kol,' 'everyone' who pursues glory - it runs from him. 'Everyone who flees from glory, it will chase after him.' The word kol, 'everyone,' means that anyone - regardless of his level of erudition - who runs from kavod will, nonetheless, be pursued by it. Likewise, when anyone pursues honor - regardless of his worthiness - it will not catch up with him. It has nothing to do with his merit or erudition. It is all in the pursuit. Is one running after it - or from it?

"My friend, you are certainly great in Torah, yet the kavod you yearn for seems to elude you. It is because you are pursuing it. I, on the other hand, am not worthy of honor; yet, it seems to catch up with me, because I do not pursue it!"

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

Chazal teach us that Hashem appeared to Moshe Rabbeinu every day and commanded him to teach various mitzvos to Klal Yisrael. Rabbi Yehudah bar Simon says that this was for a purpose. He compares it to a craftsman who was making an atarah l'melech, crown for the king to wear. This would be "the" crown; thus, it would have to be exceptional. A passerby asked him what it was he was doing. The craftsman said, "I am making a crown for the king." The passerby told him, "Be sure to put in as many diamonds, rubies and other precious jewels as you can, because this crown will be worn by the king. He will rejoice in its splendor. Therefore, spare no effort or expense in creating the perfect, resplendent crown that will be fit for the king."

Chazal conclude that Hashem likewise told Moshe, "Whatever you can do to praise and exalt Klal Yisrael - do so. Whatever you can do to bring out this nation's distinction and splendor - do so. As they are glorified, so will I be. They are My crown."

In his collection of divrei Torah from Horav Avraham Pam, zl, Rabbi Sholom Smith quotes the Rosh Yeshivah, who underscores this Midrash as the cornerstone and raison d'etre of the life of a mechanech, Torah teacher. Those who teach Torah to Jewish children are entrusted with a noble mission: to bring out the beauty and splendor of each child, to polish these diamonds until they shine. This is accomplished by drawing out the inner beauty embedded in their souls. Each child is endowed with unique abilities and potential. The rebbe has to focus on these qualities, so that they surface. The only way this can occur is by stressing the positive. The rebbe who criticizes and denigrates a child's shortcomings and faults destroys the child's potential. No child is perfect - neither is the rebbe. While much toil, blood, sweat and tears goes into the teaching relationship, one must never forget that children are fragile. In addition, as we have just learned, they will be the future Klal Yisrael; they will adorn Hashem's crown. To turn off a child is to destroy his chance to make it into that crown. It is an egregious sin for which one must answer to the child and to Hashem.

Let us take this thought to the next level. The personal mission of every Jew is that his neshamah be "set" in Hashem's crown. If we would give this matter the thought it deserves, we might conduct ourselves on a more dignified level. When we realize our enormous value as jewels in Hashem's crown, we stop doing things that downgrade us. We talk differently, dress differently, act differently. Yosef Hatzadik refrained from sinning with Potifar's wife when he realized that his name would be engraved in the Choshen Hamishpat. Our names will be zocheh to be in Hashem's crown. Can we have a greater incentive for the positive reinforcement of our spiritual goals?

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

The word mikem, from you, has a deeper connotation. The Jew who brings a korban places his essence on the Altar. He delivers "himself" to Hashem. The animal replaces the human being who perceives himself to be on the Altar. Our concept of religion is quite different from that of the secular world. Serving G-d is not about delivering gifts and messages. We have no place in our relationship with Hashem for an intermediary. We speak directly to Hashem. When He calls us, He wants us - not something from us. Hashem focuses on the individual - not what he has to offer.

This was the dialogue that played out between Moshe Rabbeinu and Pharaoh when our leader asked to have the Jewish People - lock, stock and barrel - leave Egypt. Pharaoh asked how many Jews were going. Moshe replied that the number was not negotiable. All Jews - all ages, all genders - were leaving. It was a festival with G-d. Everybody was attending. Were Pharaoh and Moshe contending in numbers, or did their debate go deeper - into the fundamentals of religion?

Pharaoh's idea of divine service was fulfilling some responsibilities, discharging some duties to the gods. Give them what they need, and they will reciprocate with favors. Thus, anyone can deliver the message. An entire nation need not go to deliver the message or to pay homage.

Moshe explained that this might work for the deities which serviced the perverted Egyptian mind, but Judaism is completely different. Hashem does not need our gifts or our messages. He wants us! Each and every Jew has an obligation to be present and accounted for. We serve Hashem with ourselves - not with our gifts. It is mikem, from among you. When Hashem calls out to us, when He sends us a message, He expects us to respond. He wants us - not our surrogate. A festival with Hashem involves every Jew. Indeed, if a Jew is left out, it is a blemish on the observance of everyone. We must see to it that all Jews participate with Hashem. A Jew's relationship with Hashem is exactly that: a relationship. It is personal, non-transferrable and the mainstay of our religion.

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

Rashi explains the use of the word adam, man, as a reference to Adam HaRishon, who serves as the paradigm of integrity in the offering of a korban. The korbanos offered by Adam were all his, as the entire creation was his. Likewise, the korbanos we offer should belong to us - not stolen from someone. Rashi's exposition seems superfluous, since we already have a limud, derivation, from the word korbano, his offering (1:3), explaining that one may not bring an offering min ha'gazul, from that which is stolen. Why does Rashi emphasize that we derive that gezel is prohibited from the word adam?

Horav Moshe Bik, zl, explains that the Torah is addressing the effect of the yetzer hora, evil inclination, on us. It uses its guile to find a way to convince us that certain forms of gezel, theft, are really permissible. We fall for its ruse all of the time, because we want to believe it. Thus, the owner might even view the korban as korbano, his offering. Adam HaRishon did not have that problem. Everything was his. It rightfully belonged to him. This level of ownership serves as the paradigm for proprietorship which is essential for bringing a korban. There may not be the slightest vestige of impropriety connected to one's claim to the animal.

Concerning the type of korban which the Torah is hereby addressing, Rashi interprets the words, ki yakriv, "brings an offering," as referring to a korban nedavah, free-willed offering. Rav Bik explains the significance of this explanation. Due to human nature, guided by the yetzer hora's "engine," many people invariably feel that if they are giving charity, the money does not necessarily have to be that legitimate. Even if it was originated from a source that was less than de riguer - if it is for tzedakah, it is acceptable. This concept cannot be further from the truth. As the korban of Adam HaRishon was the height of rectitude, so, too, must every offering we give - regardless of who is on the receiving end - be the paragon of integrity.

Rav Bik feels this is consistent with the adam, definition of man, which may be derived from the well-known pasuk in Michah 6:8, Higid lecha adam, "He has told you, O man, what is good! What does Hashem require of you but to do justice, to love kindness and to walk humbly with your G-d?" Who is worthy of offering a korban to Hashem? Only one who may be called an adam, one who reflects the Navi's definition of humility, kindness and justice. For some, this may be a tall order, but the korban is being offered to Hashem. We could have no less.

We acknowledge and accept that for one who gains funds inappropriately, expecting to perform a mitzvah with this money, the mitzvah will not atone for his sinful behavior. This is what Chazal refer to as a mitzvah ha'baah b'aveirah, "a mitzvah that was derived through the medium of a sin." The tzedakah, charity, he gives is not acceptable to Hashem. Chazal take this idea to the next level. They say that it would have been far better for him had he taken this questionable money and purchased food and eaten it, than to have used it for charity. When one sanctifies money by designating it for a noble purpose, such as charity, this "elevated" money stands before Hashem, Who looks at it with disdain. The man's sinful appropriation stands shamelessly before the Almighty as a liability for the individual. In other words, the fact that the stolen money was used for a mitzvah increases the sinner's liability.

Horav Shimshon Pincus, zl, paints a grim picture for us, but not nearly as grim as the one we paint for ourselves when we use money gained inappropriately for charitable purposes. The age-old custom of hanging tablets in a shul with the words, l'zeicher olam b'heichal Hashem, "for eternal memory in the hall of Hashem," or embroidering the name of a benefactor on the shul's paroches, curtain over the Ark, is performed so that the supporter's name will be emblazoned before Hashem in a positive light. While this may be a great merit for the contributor, charity given in a more covert manner has a much greater impact before Hashem. Having said this, we ask: Would a sane person have the paroches embroidered with the following: "I, so and so, swindled and stole money, part of which I have donated to the shul." It sounds incredible, but this is exactly what is achieved when one uses illegally derived money for tzedakah. He is making a public declaration to the Almighty. This is what I did! By sanctifying the money, one is calling attention to his iniquity.

Rav Pincus demonstrates how, in fact, a good portion of our income is appropriated for holy endeavors, which is essentially a way of underscoring the origin of the funds. A large family with a number of boys studying in yeshivah, and girls in the Bais Yaakov - or affiliated - schools has a considerable tuition bill. If this money is earned under questionable means, it is used against us. If the Kohen Gadol was not permitted to enter the Kodesh HaKedoshim, Holy of Holies, on Yom Kippur wearing gold vestments, because it brought to mind the sin of the Golden Calf, why would we foolishly call attention to our miscreancies by using money questionably gained for Torah purposes? It just does not make sense. Regrettably, this has not yet stopped anyone from doing it.

We have an obligation to heed Hashem's word, regardless if an incredible opportunity to gain a fortune appears on the horizon, or even if we have what appears to be an opportunity for unrestricted spiritual growth. We are not smarter than the Almighty, by any stretch of the imagination. If He instructs us not to do something, then we do not do it - period - regardless of vast opportunities for a quick profit. Nothing overrides the word of Hashem. Yet, there are many of us who refuse to accept this idea. They feel that the end justifies the means, so that if I were to give money gained inappropriately to a yeshivah, I am purifying myself. This is total nonsense.

In his Kovetz Maamarim, Horav Elchanan Wasserman, zl, quotes Horav Yisrael Salanter, zl, on this topic. The founder of the Mussar movement posits that some individuals justify the use of ill-gained money for charity or acting anti-thetically to Torah dictate, if it will, in the end, positively enhance spirituality. They foolishly think that if a positive development arises from a negative activity, it justifies any iniquity. In other words, the end justifies the means. What they do not realize is that whatever positive achievements may materialize, they will be short-lived, because the individual is transgressing the word of G-d. He has crossed the line. This does not engender enduring, positive results.

Rav Yisrael offered the following analogy to explain this idea. A king once sent his prime minister to another land. The king instructed the minister in very clear terms: "If the ministers of the other country engage you in conversation, be brief. I do not want you to get involved with them and under no circumstances should you agree to a wager." These instructions were repeated a number of times. The king was, for some reason, obsessed with his minister limiting his conversation with these people. Well, so be it.

The prime minister arrived in the distant country and quickly concluded his country's business. As he was preparing to leave, the ministers of that country asked him, "Tell us, are you a hunchback?" "Absolutely not," replied the prime minister. "We do not believe you. In fact, we think you are, and we can prove it!" "I am not a hunchback," was his repeated reply. "We are willing to wager one million dollars that you are a hunchback," they countered.

The prime minister remembered his king's warning against making a wager with these people, but these circumstances were clearly different. There was no question that he would win the wager and return to his king with one million dollars. Being a trusted servant to his king and an altruistic soul, he deferred and made the wager. After all, he was risking no harm. He was not a hunchback.

"We expect you to prove your claim by undressing completely and showing us that you are indeed not a hunchback." The prime minister quickly undressed and displayed that his posture was perfectly aligned. The ministers looked at him sheepishly, as they handed over one million dollars to him. The prime minister returned home very excited about the unexpected gift that he had for the king.

When he related to the king the story of his successful trip and how he had won the bet, the king's face suddenly turned ashen: "You fool! I told you not to accept a wager from them. Do you have any idea how much your disregard of my instructions will cost me? Ninety-nine million dollars!"

The prime minister was shocked by his king's reaction, and he stared in disbelief as the king continued to berate him. "A few months ago, I made a one-hundred million dollar wager with the king of that country that he could never convince my prime minister to undress himself in public. He, of course, claimed that he could persuade my minister to undress. Well, he won. You made one million dollars for me, but your lack of adherence to my command cost the royal treasury ninety-nine million dollars."

We often think that our goals and objectives take precedence, overshadowing the means we employ for getting there. Apparently, we are wrong. Not only do our achievements not endure, we ultimately create an environment which will take us even further back than we originally had been.

When one shall become guilty regarding one of these matters, he shall confess what he has sinned. (5:5)

Horav S.R. Hirsch, zl, makes note of the Torah's use of the reflective form, v'hisvadah, which actually means, "And he shall acknowledge/confess to himself." Indeed, the Torah usually uses this form of expression concerning the sinner's confession. The reason is simple: The sinner does not have to express his guilt to another man - and certainly not to Hashem. The Almighty is quite aware of his iniquity, and people have no business knowing. One must confess to himself; he must confront the fact that he has sinned. Such an admission of guilt to oneself is the very first, critical step on the road to teshuvah, complete repentance. This solemn resolution, this personal acknowledgement of his wrongdoing, is a pre-requisite for his Korban Asham, Guilt-Offering. For the korban, as such, presupposes the sinner's sincere decision to repent; the offering is the external expression of his inner resolve. Without viduy, the offering is meaningless.

Self-knowledge is the first step in the individual's resolve to repent. Free of delusions, one sees with acuity exactly what it is that he did and where he went wrong. No cover-ups, no self-deceptions cloak reality and conceal the truth. With such an attitude, the sinner can be expected to continue his life in a punctilious manner, free of guilt and the various "hang-ups" that accompany it. Upon confessing to "himself," it is essential that the sinner not speak in general terms, but rather, focus on the specific sin, its source and motivation. Only then can he begin to grapple with its aftermath in order to commence on the road to recovery. Without confronting the actual misdeed, the fear remains that he could be enticed to sin again.

Every time an individual brought a Korban Chatas, Sin-offering, Asham, Guilt-Offering, or Olah, Elevation/Burnt-Offering, he expressed Viduy. As the owner/sinner placed his hand upon the offering, he would utter the words of Viduy. The concept of v'hisvadah is far-removed from the popular notion of confession, which is so much a part of the religious dogma of several other religions. The admission of guilt to another person is a mistake. The truly repentant sinner should keep an improper exposure of shame, within his heart. This does not preclude cases of therapy, in which admission of guilt to the therapist is a factor in his cure. It is just that disclosure of sins that involve only our relationship with Hashem need be known only to Him.

Another aspect to self-awareness and self-knowledge comes to the fore when we instruct others - students, children and friends - how to act. We must remember that we cannot expect others to do more than we ourselves do, and, for that, we must know ourselves. In Sefer Tehillim 147:19, David HaMelech says, Magid devarim l'Yaakov, chukav u'mishpatav l'Yisrael. "He relates His word to Yaakov, His statutes and judgments to Yisrael." The commentators observe that Hashem has given us His laws and statutes, which He Himself observes. The Almighty does not ask us to do what He Himself does not do.

Some individuals have the audacity to expect of others what they themselves do not do. Parents often expect greater perfection from their children than they do of themselves. This is hypocritical and ineffective. Perhaps we might say in defense of these parents that they are unaware of - or refuse to confront - the realities governing their own lives. Often, those who expect more of their children than they do of themselves are unaware of their own missteps and lack of achievements. They have found ways to justify their own shortcomings, usually by blaming others, but refuse to do the same for their children. One should confront his own demons before placing heavy, unrealistic goals on his children. It will avert much pain and depression later on in life, for both parent and child.

Rabbi Dr. Abraham Twerski relates the story of a couple who had a son who indulged heavily in sweets. Aware that this practice was detrimental to their son's health, they were desperate for him to stop. The son had a great interest in the political activist and Indian ideologue, Mahatma Ghandi. The parents decided that they would take their son to Ghandi; perhaps he could exercise his authority and prevail upon the boy to refrain from eating sweets.

It took some time, and the expense was great, but they finally reached Ghandi and told him of their problem. He told them to return in two weeks. They begged and pleaded with him, explaining that the cost in time and money was prohibitive. Ghandi refused to yield. It would either be two weeks or nothing. The parents could do nothing but agree to return.

Two weeks went by, and they returned to Ghandi, who embraced the boy and said gently, but firmly, "Son, you must stop eating sugar and candy. It is harmful to your health." That was it. The entire conversation took less than a minute.

The parents were understandably incredulous. "Why did you make us wait two weeks at such great expense to us. What you told our son could have been said two weeks ago!"

Ghandi shook his head and replied, "No. I could not have said this two weeks ago. You see, two weeks ago, I was still myself hooked on sweets. I could not tell your child not to do something that I myself was doing."

One should never ask someone to do something that he himself is not doing.

Va'ani Tefillah

Yemincha Hashem ne'edari ba'koach. Your right hand, Hashem, is adorned with strength;
Yemincha Hashem tiratz oyeiv. Your right hand, Hashem, smashes the enemy.

When we delve into the miracles that occurred in Egypt - and the ones that took place at the Red Sea - we note a vast difference between the two. The Bais HaLevi notes that, in Egypt, the Egyptians sustained the effect of supernatural plagues which catalyzed Klal Yisrael's release. These plagues were the result of Hashem's Middas HaDin, Attribute of Strict Justice. Taking this idea a bit further, the Jewish People were really unworthy of being liberated. After all, they had no mitzvos. Despite the fact that the zman ha'geulah, time for the Redemption, had arrived, the Jews were not yet worthy. They were released, however, due to the miracles that came as punishment to the Egyptians.

Krias Yam Suf, the Splitting of the Red Sea, was catalyzed by Klal Yisrael's merits resulting from their commitment to Bris Milah and Korban Pesach. These were accompanied by the tremendous display of emunah, faith, in Hashem that they manifest upon leaving Egypt without sufficient food for the "trip." They were going into a bleak and dreary wilderness with nothing but trust. Thus, the Splitting of the Red Sea presented miracles that were to save the Jews. They had finally earned their own redemption. The Egyptians died in the water, because Hashem was saving the Jews. One who falls into the water will drown unless a miracle occurs. The Jews were saved by Hashem's Middas HaRachamim, Attribute of Mercy. The Egyptians, however, died as a result of this same middah.

Yemincha Hashem: "Your right hand," which denotes mercy, as well as the name of Hashem, which also implies mercy. Tiratz oyeiv - smashed the enemy.

l'zechar nishmas
Yehoshua ben Avraham Pinchas z"l
Mr. Josh Norowitz
niftar 8 Adar 5769
Dr. & Mrs. Daniel Norowitz

Peninim on the Torah is in its 20th year of publication. The first fifteen years have been published in book form.

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