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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)

The parshah of Korbanos, sacrificial offerings mandated by Hashem to be a part of the Jewish People's service to Him, is rife with ambiguity. The Rishonim offer their rationale to explain and lend meaning to this service. In his Moreh Nevuchim, Rambam explains that the korbanos had a therapeutic effect on the Jewish People after their exposure to the idolatrous cultures in which they had lived. Egypt had elevated idol worship as to a way of life to the point that anything short of paganism was beyond rationale. The korbanos would balance out this perverted ideology. Notwithstanding the Rambam's view of korbanos from a historical perspective, we still pray to Hashem daily for a return to the Bais Hamikdash and the sacrificial service that was so much a part of the experience.

How do the korbanos adapt to contemporary times when idol worship, for the most part, is an anathema ridiculed by society? Horav Nissan Alpert, zl, offers the following explanation. He begins by noting the sequence in which the various forms of korbanos were presented to Moshe Rabbeinu. Moshe was first instructed with regard to the Olas Nedavah, free-willed Burnt offering. This was followed by the Shelamim, Peace-offering and the Korban Chattas, Sin-offering, brought for a sin committed unintentionally and a Korban Asham, Guilt-offering, brought for a sin willfully committed. One would think that the Korbanos would be listed from the most requisite to the free-willed, rather than the other way around. The order seems puzzling - at first glance. Those korbanos which are min ha'din, according to the law, should precede those that are lifnim mishuras ha'din, beyond the obligatory demands of the law. As the Rosh Yeshivah put it quite succinctly, "Should a person not first be concerned with paying his debts and only afterwards about giving gifts?"

Rav Alpert explains that the Torah is addressing the individual who wants to make certain that he does not commit a theft which requires him to bring a Korban Asham. How does one protect himself from falling into the felony of geneivah, theft? The way to achieve this is by setting one's sights on a higher goal, to seek to ascend that ladder whose legs are on this world, but whose pinnacle reaches the Heavens. This can be done only when one trains himself always to go beyond the letter of the law; in order to strive to act lifnim mi'shuras ha'din, one must strive to resemble the Korban Olah, Elevation/Burnt offering.

Only then is one assured that he will never be the cause of harm to his fellow man; he will never cause him even the most minute financial loss. Only then will he truly distance himself from evil. Sof maaseh b'machashavah techillah, the action which one ultimately performs had been preceded by a certain thought. An Olah is brought for the sins of thought. An improper thought obligates the individual to atone for himself with a Korban Olah.

The Olah represents one who aspires to elevate himself, to reach the Heavens while still ensconced on earth. To achieve this, he must first focus on his thoughts, since his thoughts precede his actions. Every time an improper thought sneaks its way into his mind, he must banish it and follow up with a Korban Olah. Thus, the one who is offering the Olah is a ben aliyah, one who is in the process of ascending. Even if he does reach the summit, the mere fact that he has distanced himself from the earth and its earthliness is in and of itself a tremendous feat.

Under normal circumstances, when one climbs a ladder, he should look where he is going and concentrate. Ascending the spiritual ladder requires one to shut his eyes and not give any thought to this world. His thoughts should be focused only on Hashem, with his goal being the dissemination of Hashem's glory throughout the world. Torah should be his guide and mainstay.

Let us return to our initial question concerning why Moshe was informed of the voluntary offerings before he was instructed concerning the obligatory ones. Hashem was teaching him that a Jew's first priority should be self-improvement and self-elevation, so that he will not sin and be compelled to seek atonement through obligatory offerings. Rather than seeking cures for spiritual deficiencies, a Jew should focus on personal growth in avodas Hashem, service to the Almighty, thereby circumventing the opportunity for committing unintentional sins. One who is grateful for what G-d gives him will not resort to theft. A thief is an unhappy person who never seems to have enough, and, when he has enough, he does not know how to use it. The thief never takes the blame on himself. It is always someone else's fault. Indeed, he considers himself to be the victim!

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

Rashi explains that the Torah uses the word adam, man, by design-to recall the Adam HaRishon, Primordial Man. Just as Adam HaRishon did not offer anything from gezel, that was stolen (since everything belonged to him), so, too, may we not offer a sacrifice from an item that has been stolen. We wonder why Adam HaRishon is used as the paradigm to teach the absolute requirement that the korban that is offered may not be derived illegally. After all, everything in the world belonged to Adam. Would it not have been more appropriate to bring a proof from someone who could have stolen - but chose not to?

The Chafetz Chaim, zl, explains that one must introspect himself and his actions to make completely certain that whatever he uses for himself has no taint, no vestige whatsoever, of gezel. This is specifically the purpose of the Midrash cited by Rashi. Adam HaRishon was alone in the world. This being the case, he was certain that everything in the world belonged to him. As he was assured that whatever he used was thoroughly his, so should we be certain that our actions are not tainted by any form of misuse.

The Chafetz Chaim was naeh doresh, naeh mekayim, or, in contemporary vernacular, he practiced what he preached. The thought of using something that did not belong to him was unfathomable. He was once asked to speak in Bialystok, Poland, to raise awareness concerning the laws of taharas hamishpachah, family purity. The shul in which he spoke was packed, standing room only. When the Chafetz Chaim ascended to the lectern, the members of the congregation that had assembled to hear him were at a loss. Diminutive in height, the lectern towered over him. The Chafetz Chaim feared that, if the congregation did not see him, the effect of his speech would quickly dissipate. A suggestion of having the venerable sage stand on a chair was quickly overruled for a practical reason: the chair might tip over, and the Chafetz Chaim would fall. Then the wealthy members of the community offered to remove their thick, warm coats, lay them on the floor and allow the Chafetz Chaim to stand on them. It was a great idea which the sage accepted - reluctantly. Why?

A short while later, the Chafetz Chaim met one of the city's rabbanim and said, "You should know the mesiras nefesh, self-sacrifice, which I expended in order to speak on behalf of taharas hamishpachah." When the rav looked at the Chafetz Chaim somewhat incredulously, the sage explained, "When I was supported (being physically elevated) by the material possessions of my fellow men, I felt very ill at ease. Indeed, it felt like standing on a bed of needles. Nonetheless, I agreed, due to the significance of the matter at hand."

Horav Chaim Kreisworth, zl, related that the Chafetz Chaim once visited Warsaw to attend a rabbinical meeting. At one point during the conference, he needed a piece of paper to jot down a Torah thought. On the table of the home where he was staying overnight lay a small piece of paper which seemed ownerless. The Chafetz Chaim asked if anyone knew to whom the piece of paper belonged. Those who heard the question were stymied by it. Surely, whoever owned the paper would be overjoyed to have the sage use it, especially since it was for the purpose of a mitzvah. Furthermore, the paper was worth less than a penny, of no significant value. The Chafetz Chaim replied, "True, the piece of paper may have little value, but the material for the prosecuting Angel that would be created by such a lapse in sensitivity to another person's property could destroy all of Warsaw!"

Rav Yosef Leib Nendick, zl, offers an alternative reason for gleaning the prohibition of offering a sacrifice derived through inappropriate means specifically from Adam HaRishon. The Zohar HaKadosh explains that, prior to creation, Hashem histakel b'Oraisa, looked into the Torah and then created the world. The Mashgiach explains that only through such circumstances (of first delving into the Torah) prior to creating the world, could man, the product of Hashem's Creation, function and serve Him in this world. In order for the Torah to be man's blueprint for life, his creation/life must be attuned with the Torah. Thus, Adam was created in such a manner and with such capabilities that observing the Torah coincides with his characteristics. Indeed, Chazal teach that Adam was created alone, so that every one of his descendants would be empowered to say, "Bishvili nivra ha'olam, the world was created (especially) for me." The world was created specifically to "fit" with man.

Therefore, explains the Mashgiach, the fact that Adam did not offer sacrifices from gezel was not merely because everything belonged to him, but rather, the world was created in sync with Adam. Hashem abhors stealing; therefore, man could not offer a sacrifice to Him from that which was not his. Hashem gave Adam everything, so that he would never have to resort to stealing. In other words, the world was created upon the premise and basis that theft is evil and contradicts the very underpinnings of Creation. The fact that everything belonged to Adam was Hashem's way of intimating to him that "I want only what is yours." To steal is to undermine the integrity of Creation. It is as simple as that.

You may not discontinue the salt of your G-d's covenant from upon your meal offering. (2:13)

Rashi teaches that a covenant was enacted during the Sheishes Yemei Bereishis, Six Days of Creation, that ensured the lower waters (the waters of our earth) that they would be offered on the Mizbayach. This is executed through the induction of salt on the Mizbayach and the water libation. Apparently, the waters were appeased for a reason. What was it?

In the beginning of Sefer Bereishis, Rashi comments concerning the creation of Heaven and earth which was preceded by the spirit of G-d hovering over the water. This would seem to indicate that the creation of the waters preceded the creation of the world! Furthermore, it seems that the water was "there" without any function or purpose. On the second day, the rakia, sky, was created, thereby serving as a divider between the upper waters (clouds) and lower waters (oceans). Still, the lower water had no function - yet. Finally, on day three, the lower waters descended and gathered in various places, forming oceans, rivers, seas, etc. Now, the land was revealed in contrast to the waters. Hashem saw that this portion of His labor was complete, and He saw that it was good. We wonder why the creation of water had to endure for days before it was deemed good. After all, it had been around before the rest of the world was created. Last, why would Hashem create something that had no function for two days, a creation concerning which He could not say that it was tov, good? Horav Zaidel Epstein, zl, explains that on the first day of Creation, Hashem sought to teach us the significance of caring about one's fellow man. Bein adam lachaveiro plays a critical role in the life of a Jew. Prior to Creation, there was no idea of bein adam lachaveiro, because there was no chaveir. Each and every creation was obligated solely to Hashem. It was only after Hashem added to His portfolio of creations that the idea of sensitivity toward others came into vogue.

The Mashgiach compares this to a Rosh Yeshivah in whose yeshivah many students studied. Every grade had two parallel classes taught by two individual rebbeim who maintained equal status. As a result of a diminishing student population, it was now prudent to close down one of the classes. They now required the services of only one rebbe. One would remain in his position, while the other one would be relegated to teaching a lower class. Understandably, the Rosh Yeshivah was confronted with a difficult decision. Who should he "demote"? Veritably, the rebbe who would be compelled to teach a lower class might be offended. The Rosh Yeshivah ruminated over his problem and arrived at what he felt was the most amenable decision for all concerned - rebbe, student and yeshivah.

During Maasei Bereishis, Creation, Hashem taught us how to think, how to make different decisions concerning people. Hashem found a "painless" way to allow the lower waters to descend to their rightful place. At first, He did not say, "Descend"! Rather, He insisted the upper waters remain in their present place in the Heavens. Hashem then split the heaven from the earth, whereby the earth took up its designated place. What benefit was gained by this approach? The lower waters were acutely aware that they were going to be located in the lower part of the hemisphere. In order to ease and assuage its "feelings," Hashem did not lower it; rather, He sort of elevated the upper water. Hashem did not do this immediately, in order to allow the change in status to take place in the most sensitive manner. Furthermore, now that change was made, Hashem added a fringe benefit, the covenant of salt and water libation. That sweetened the pot - and taught us a lesson in human interaction: always be sensitive to another person's emotions. Those who feel it is best to be brutally honest, and cut quickly and deeply, have severe bein adam l'chaveiro issues - or perhaps they are deficient in the area of being an adam, mentch; period.

It all boils down to one word: care. Do we care about others, or are we the center of our focus of caring? Kavod ha'briyos, the respect that we accord others, goes hand in hand with empathy. When we respect our fellow man, we find ways to care for and about him. I wrote a story many years ago which sadly rings true today - as pertinent today as it was then.

On a visit to America shortly before Rosh Hashanah in 1939, Horav Yitzchak Aizik Sher, zl, was asked to deliver a shmuess, ethical discourse, to a group of senior rabbis. He addressed the august group with a question: "Why did you ask me to speak dvrei mussar, words of ethical reproach? What are you worried about? Is it the Yom HaDin, Day of Judgment, which is rapidly approaching? You observe Shabbos, kashrus; your integrity is impeccable; lashon hora is an anathema to you, so what is it that worries you?"

After a lengthy discourse, the Rosh Yeshivah arrived at his response, "My friends, you are all fine, upstanding Jews, and you do not sin. Yet, you pick up the New York Times in the morning, read that a man was killed, and you continue to drink your coffee! How can you drink coffee when you have read that a woman just became a widow and children lost their father? You should faint in anguish. Yet, you do not. Why? Because you do not care how death affects others. As long as it is not you or yours, you can simply continue with your coffee. Yes, you have something to fear on the Yom HaDin, because Hashem is stricter with the righteous than He is with ordinary people. On the Day of Judgment - you must be careful!"

The message is timeless, because our attitude has not changed. We hear of korbanos in Eretz Yisrael, in America, in our communities, but as long as it does not reach home - it does not hit home. We are too involved with ourselves to allow room for others. Perhaps this might be a wakeup call. Life is not only about us; we are all part of one large family. What happens "there" really happens "here."

If a person sins and commits a breach of trust against G-d by lying to his friendů so it shall be when he will sin and become guilty, he shall return the robbed item that he robbed. (5:21,23)

The pasuk appears to be redundant, "He should return the robbed item that he robbed." The words asher gazal, "which he robbed," are superfluous. Obviously, the item which he robbed is what he is presently returning. What else? He is certainly not returning something which he did not rob. The Sefer Chassidim asks this question and offers an insightful answer which sheds light on the nadir of theft. One who steals from someone and later has a change of heart, and - immediately that same day - returns the item - he will not have to add to the principle. If, however, he allowed time to slip by, time during which the pain of the loss can take a harmful effect on the victim, he should be relegated to add to the principle. A day - a week - a year - any amount of time past the immediate day that the theft was executed adds extra to the amount the thief should return, because, over time, the loss of the object becomes more profound and has a greater effect.

He adds that there are circumstances in which, as a result of his loss, the victim of the theft is forced to alter his lifestyle, cut back on his expenditures, and diminish his lifestyle. He no longer has the money that he once had. Furthermore, the victim's loss goes far beyond the economics aspect. There is also an emotional aspect to be considered. When a person takes a monetary hit, the ramifications are all-encompassing, often taking an emotional toll on the victim's entire family.

This should serve as a powerful admonishment for anyone whose actions have caused a fellow Jew a loss of money. Everything must be considered: the financial ruin; physical and emotional toll on the victim, and, by extension, his family. For someone who once had money, poverty can be a serious affliction. It can destroy a family. Children who have been raised to "have" cannot deal with "not having." For some it is an emotional stigma, a taint, smeared by a society that measures success by how much one is "worth" rather than by how "worthy" one is. Children growing up in a home where trips and vacations are non-existent; where going to a restaurant represents a major family milestone; where a Yom Tov means another hand-me-down, have difficulty with a society - regardless of its varied affiliation with Torah Judaism - which places a great premium on material possessions.

The ganov is not much different than the murderer, claims Horav Chaim Zaitchik, zl. One who murders a fellow Jew is punished not only for the death of the victim, but also for every potential offspring that could have emerged from him. We see the present victim; we see the actual monetary loss. Hashem sees it all, and He factors in the appropriate punishment to suit the sin.

Horav S. R. Hirsch, zl, expounds on the words v'moalah maal b'Hashem, "and commits a breach of trust against G-d." Any breach of trust between man and man is viewed as a breach of trust against G-d. As it states in Toras Kohanim, Hashem is the unseen Third Party Who is present wherever and whenever one has dealings with another, even if no other witnesses are on hand. Hashem Himself is guarantor for the integrity of dealings between men. Thus, if the guarantor is "called upon" to attest when any aspect of these dealings has been disavowed, it is not viewed as an ordinary act of faithlessness, begidah. This act involves the Jew's relationship with G-d, his priestly character which is a surety for maintaining his honesty. By breaking his word, he has shown that his involution of G-d was nothing more than a sham, a false pretense. Thus, the most apt designation of this mendacious act would have to mean the transgression of meilah.

Rav Hirsch distinguishes between two terms: begidah, faithfulness; and meilah, breach of trust. Meilah is related to meil, the term used to describe the Robe of the Kohen Gadol, High Priest. Begidah is closely related to beged, a garment. He explains that here we have a classic example of the harmonious logic on which the roots of Hebrew words are based. In other words, the choice of a specific Hebrew term to define a situation or subject is by design, because of its relationship with the subject. A beged is the garment worn by an ordinary person. Thus, begidah describes an act of faithlessness in ordinary human affairs. The Meil is the Robe worn by the Kohen Gadol. Thus, meilah represents a breach of trust in sacred, priestly affairs or matters. Beged implies that the promise one made to his fellow man has turned out to be nothing more than a "garment," a covering, a sham. It was not real; it does not represent the real person. Meilah, however, indicates a lack of integrity committed beneath the "Robe," "Meil," of the Priestly office. This breach of trust is an act of meilah.

Perhaps we can take this idea further. There are two types of breach of trust. An individual sins against his fellow man. The fellow is hurt, angry, has lost money, but a chillul Hashem, desecration of G-d's Name, has not been committed. He understands that he was the victim of a con man posing as someone whose honesty was impeccable. There is another level, however, in which Hashem's Name is impugned, because the act of faithlessness was carried out by those who represent Him, by those who speak His Name. When a chillul Hashem is involved, it is no longer an act of begidah; rather, it is a full scale meilah, since now the sin is also against G-d.

If I may be so bold as to add that meilah is a legal dictum applied to the unintentional misuse of a sacred object. Judaism is as much concerned with indifference as it is with deliberate desecration. One who commits an unintentional act does so because he has forgotten the sacredness of the object, the enviable sanctity of that with which he was entrusted. One forgets what he considers unimportant; one ignores that to which he is indifferent. At times, one feels that his goals are so sublime, so lofty, that he becomes indifferent to the means of achieving these goals. He might be so driven to achieve his goal that a breach of trust might occur, albeit unintentionally - but a breach of trust, no less. Someone was hurt, because someone else did not care. He was involved in something holy. That is meilah.

Va'ani Tefillah

Gomeil chassadim tovim. Who bestows beneficial kindness.

The same Keil Elyon, Almighty G-d, whose actions are beyond our understanding, whose seemingly harsh judgments are beyond our comprehension, is also the source of constant benefaction to His Creations. Horav Shimon Schwab, zl, notes the phrase chassadim tovim, "good" kindnesses, as opposed to chassadim, kindnesses. He explains that chassadim, kindness, benefit only the recipients of the actual kindness. Chassadim tovim, however, impact others as well, because the recipients of the kindness are able to help others as a result of the kindness from which they benefitted. Therefore, those who survived the Holocaust, who escaped Europe, are the beneficiaries of Hashem's chassadim tovim.

Taking this idea one step further; When one benefits in such a manner that he now is able to share his good fortune with others, it is incumbent upon him to do so. Hashem provided him with a chesed tov, "good" kindness, for the purpose of spreading it around. To use it all for himself negates the tov in the kindness and seems to undermine the reason that he was blessed. Those of us who are the progeny of parents and grandparents who survived the purgatory of the European Holocaust have an added responsibility: to make good on the chassadim tovim.

In loving memory of
by her family

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