According to Chazal, the little Aleph in “Vayikra” comes to teach us that Torah can only flourish in an individual who acts humbly. Such an individual considers himself small, “Za’ir,” in his own eyes.
Recently, in Gemara Berachot, Rabbi Solnica and I studied a line from Mishlei: “Tov Lishmoa Gaarat Chacham Mishirat Meah Kesilim.” This is usually translated as, “It is better to hear the rebuke of a Chacham than the songs of 100 fools.” This translation puzzles me. It is obvious that the rebuke of a Chacham is of more value than the songs of 100 fools. We do not need Shlomo Hamelech to tell us this!
Rabbi Avraham Twerski explains that the above translation cannot be correct, not only for the reason stated, but also because if the translation was accurate, correct grammar dictates that the Hebrew should read, “Tov Lishmoa Gaarat Chacham Milishmoa Shirat Meah Kesilim,” “It is better to hear the rebuke of a Chacham than to hear the songs of 100 fools.” Since it does not say this, we must reinterpret the Pasuk to mean that it is good to hear the rebuke of a Chacham who has already heard the 100 songs of the fools, who has listened to them already. Seek the advice of an experienced person. Such a person has been there and knows what he is talking about.
I have become upset at the anti-Orthodox prejudice I have heard and read in the secular press both in Israel and here in the U.S. I find it even more upsetting to hear Orthodox Jews in one “camp” speaking negatively about the Jews in another: “The Chassidic are…,” “The Modern are…,” “The Yeshivish are….” This is what Shlomo Hamelech calls the songs of fools. My personal experiences testify to the falsehood of such characterizations. Let me share several of them with you.
When we moved to Monsey, we wanted to buy a house. We were having trouble getting a mortgage because I was learning full-time and not earning any money. We turned to a Chassidic mortgage broker who practically turned over Heaven to get us our house. Believe me, he made very little money off the deal.
Soon afterwards, it was two days before Succot, and my wife was sick in bed with double pneumonia. My Sukkah was not up, and I had to take care of family and prepare for Yom Tov. I was exhausted. That day, a station wagon pulled up in our driveway. A very Yeshivish lady driver delivered box after box of freshly prepared food – soup, Challahs, wine, meat, kugel, etc. - a feast that lasted us through Yom Tov! She refused to tell me her name. Afterwards I learned that a number of people in her community have taken it upon themselves to help families whose mothers are ill and unable to cook.
A few of you might remember that a few years ago, a very deranged individual drove around the Monsey area one night setting things on fire. At about dawn, his last act was to set my car ablaze. Hatzolah was the first to arrive on the scene. The driver jumped out of his ambulance with a huge fire extinguisher and put out the flames, which by that time had reached heights exceeding 15 feet. He made sure everyone was OK and took off without fanfare.
How many times have our own Modern Orthodox students at TABC gone to the Old Age Home, cleaned graveyards, worked at JEP, raised money for charities....
I could go on and on - Chaverim, ZAKA, Tomchei Shabbos, various Gemachim, Bikkur Cholim, Vaad Lemaan Hachayal - our kaleidoscopic communities are responsible for all kinds of quiet Chesed.
It was once a common (albeit false) criticism of people heavily involved in Kollels that “Ein Heim Lomdim,” “They do not learn.” This is again the song of fools. I would like propose a Drush of this statement. Ein Heim Lomdim means they learn Ein. They view themselves as Ein, as “Ze’irim,” or small Alephs. Such people refuse to draw a lot of attention to themselves and their accomplishments. In this age of “Harbeh Omrim, Ume’at Osim” (“many people talk, but few accomplish”), we can be proud the continuing quiet of all our communities.
I am reminded of Rabbi Jachter’s warning when he spoke at Shacharit in TABC a few weeks ago. As long as we are Mefuzar Umeforad, scattered and divided, we are open to the whims of the Hamans of world history. Only if we are united can we overcome our enemies and the Hamans of the world.
Two Modes of Religious Observance
by Eliezer Stavsky
Here at last! We have finally finished the Parshiot of Terumah, Tetzaveh, Vayakhel and Pekudei, which labor over a miscellany of details and measurements concerning the Mishkan, a structure that will never be rebuilt. But alas, much to the readers’ dismay, we encounter Parshiot Vayikra and Tzav, which present a litany of rather obscure procedures.
Oftentimes, we find ourselves skimming the surface of the text, never penetrating beneath the simple meaning of the words. Such an attitude is not befitting for the Torah, our guidebook, which, as Chazal commented on the Pasuk “Ki Lo Davar Reik Hu Mikem” (Devarim 32:47), is comprised of only relevant and significant information, from which we can extract valuable insights and lessons. Therefore, I would like to present one idea that emerges from a close reading of these Parshiot, which will hopefully heighten our appreciation for and understanding of these Parshiot.
In the beginning of Parshat Terumah and in the beginning of Parshat Ki Tisa, God speaks to Moshe concerning the collection of materials for the construction of the Mishkan. In Terumah, the method of collection is that of Nedavah, voluntary giving, “Kol…Asher Yidvenu Libo” (Shemot 25:2), and all materials, ranging from blue wool to gold, are collected. However, in Ki Tisa, the collection is not voluntary, but forced, and only silver is collected.
Let us analyze these two methods of collecting funds. The first, that of Terumah, allows the individual to donate as much as he wants, without pressure, willingly. The second, that of Ki Tisa, forces the individual to donate, and thus its negative element is that there is coercion. However, it does have a positive element not present in the Terumah method, namely that each person is equal, as each person gives the same amount to the Mishkan. No one has a greater share; there is no Stavsky Wing of the Mishkan.
These two methods seem fundamentally contradictory and mutually exclusive. If it is voluntary, then it cannot be that each person gives an equal amount. How does the Torah deal with this contradiction? How can they coexist?
Rav Yoel Bin Nun extended this discussion from the context of the Mishkan to that of religious observance. There are two ways in which service of God could have been prescribed. On the one hand, it could be that each Jew is forced to do certain Mitzvot in a set, inflexible fashion. There is no room for a Jew to decide to worship God in the way he chooses. On the other hand, it could be that voluntary worship, where one goes beyond that which is demanded, is primary and decides the way in which he serves God. The benefits and problems of each are obvious. One need not look farther than Tefillah and how it is treated by many people to see the negative effect of the first method of worship, that of prescribed and predefined service “forced” upon the individual.
The Torah tells us its opinion regarding this issue. In Pekudei, when Moshe tallies up the exact amount of each material collected, a fascinating solution emerges. The only two parts of the Mishkan that were made from silver were the 100 Adanim, sockets, and the Lulaot, hooks. Surprisingly, the only silver that was collected from the people was from the half-Shekel mentioned in Ki Tisa. (Proof: there were 603,500 people who gave the half-Shekel. This would bring in 301,775 Shekalim. 1,775 Shekalim were used for the hooks, and 300,000 were used for the Adanim, as per Parshat Pekudei.) All of the other materials, such as the Techelet, Argaman and Zahav, were collected from the voluntary donations of Parshat Terumah.
Based on this, we can resolve the contradiction. The sockets were the base, the foundation, of the Mishkan; the hooks were the last objects placed in the Mishkan. Everything else, the walls and vessels, were not made of silver. Thus, in the context of forced donation, one can have free-willed, voluntary donation. In the context of the silver collected by the half-shekel in Ki Tisa (the sockets at the base, and the hooks at the top), we have the other materials collected as Nedavah. (Note that the Torah first discusses the free-willed donation and only later mentions the half-Shekel contribution.)
One can further suggest that in the context and framework of mandatory religious observance, there is room for individual initiative in the service of God. When one is firmly rooted in that which is strictly mandated, one’s relationship can take on the nature of “Kol Asher Yidvenu Libo.” Regarding Tefillah (the Amidah), the first three Berachot and the last three Berachot serve as the frame, and the middle thirteen Berachot can and perhaps should (see Orach Chaim 119) take on the character of free-willed, individually inspired prayer.
Lest one think that this idea is forced and not supported by the text, let us examine the structure of the Korbanot in Parshat Vayikra, our Parsha, in which the exact same issue is presented with the exact same solution. Here, too, the Torah first presents the Korbanot which are voluntary, those of Neder and Nedavah. Only later, in Parshat Tzav, does the Torah present the daily mandatory Korbanot, the Temidim. In fact, the first and last Korbanot brought in the Beit Hamikdash each day were the Temidim, the Tamid Shel Shachar and Tamid Shel Bein Haarbayim. Every Korban brought between the two mandatory Korbanot was voluntary. Here, too, we see that voluntary service is appropriate when framed by mandatory worship of God.
A Korban of Energy
by Chanan Strassman
Parshat Vayikra discusses at length the sacrifices that were offered in the Mishkan and Beit Hamikdash. Regarding certain kinds of sin offerings, the Torah tells us that only the blood and fat of the bull are offered. The rest of it is carried outside the camp and burned (Vayikra 4:3-12).
The Gemara (Berachot 17a) tells us of an interesting practice adopted by Rav Sheishet. On fast days, he would include the following special prayer in his Shemoneh Esrei:
“Master of the Universe! You know that when the Temple stood, a person who sinned would bring a sacrifice. Although only the fats and blood would be offered on the altar, the person would be granted atonement. Now I have fasted, and my fat and my blood have diminished. May it be Your Will that the lessening of my fat and my blood should be considered as if I offered them on the altar, and my offering was accepted.”
Based on what we know from the Torah’s instructions regarding sin offerings, Rav Kook points out that Rav Sheishet’s prayer raises two interesting questions. First, why is it so important to bring the blood and fat of the bull? In fact, we are specifically told to dispose of all the other parts! What is so special about blood and fat? Also, if what Rav Sheishet said in his prayer is accurate and fasting accomplishes the same atonement as a sacrifice, why bring the sacrifices? If we could simply designate some fast time each day to let our fat and blood “diminish,” why do we not?
The answer to our first question is simple. Rav Kook explains that blood and fat are symbolic of the two types of sin and the atonements for them. A blood sin is the type caused by a need, such as hunger, thirst or poverty. Such needs could lead a person to murder or steal. For these “bloodier” and more severe sins, the bull’s blood brings atonement for the sinner. The fats, on the other hand, atone for indulgent “fatty” sins, sins caused by an overindulgent or luxurious lifestyle. Thus, it is clear that the blood and fat are crucial to the atonement process, thereby taking center stage in the procedure of the sin offering.
The second question is somewhat trickier. What do sacrifices have that fasting does not? When a person brings a sin offering, the Ramban explains, he is supposed to bear in mind that the bull is being slaughtered in his (the sinner’s) place. Hashem, in His infinite mercy, devised a method of atonement in which the killing of animals is substituted for the killing of people, even if they deserve to feel His punishing wrath. It is this thought that “it should have been me” that will purify the sinner’s mind and rid him of any negative qualities that may be lurking around his conscience. However, a fast does not work in quite the same way. A fast may shut down a person’s unruly side, but it also shuts down his good side. During a fast, people may not have the energy to misbehave, but are also usually too drained to concentrate on doing Mitzvot or learning Torah. Therefore, we bring the sin offering because it allows us to tune out only our negative side, whereas fasting would sap all of our energies.
This is why Rav Sheishet prayed that the diminishing of his “blood and fat” should serve as atonement. It was his hope to achieve the offering-effect during his fast, but only to have his negative energies diminished. He desired to maintain his positive energy, without the unfortunate side effects of fasting.
This Dvar Torah was written in memory of my dear grandmother, Rachel Esther bat Moshe A”H, who always kept her positive energy up. Even as she became progressively less active, she maintained her vitality and cheer. It is one thing to take life one day at a time, or “Yom Yom,” but it is another feat – one that she accomplished – to do so “Besever Panim Yafot,” with a smile and a positive attitude.
From the Soul
by Chaim Strassman
Every Korban has a special aspect to it called Reiach Nichoach. This can be explained to mean that we are sanctified to God by listening to His commandments. But in truth, we are not giving Hashem anything at all; we are just burning an animal, something Hashem could have trillions of in a moment if He so desired. What is the significance of our one animal to Hashem?
Rabbi Eli Teitelbaum offers the following explanation: What counts is not the animal, but the “sacrifice” – the effort that the person puts into it. That is why when a poor man would bring the Korban Minchah, the cheapest Korban, the Pasuk describes it with the word Nefesh, soul. This poor man could have done many things with the flour involved with the Korban, such as making bread. But instead, his thoughts were about Hashem first. Because of the strain this man caused himself to give his flour to Hashem, it is as though he gave his life.
A Korban can also be ruined easily through a bad thought, such as, “I am wasting my money on this Korban; I could sell this animal or eat it.” This undermines the whole point of Reiach Nichoach, sanctifying oneself to God by listening to His commandments. One should be pleased and happy for this chance to serve Hashem, not upset over losing an animal.
We may not have Korbanot today, but we still have our Tefillah. As we all know, Tefillah parallels and almost replaces the Korbanot. Just as we needed our Nefesh for the Kobanot, we need it for our Tefillah. We must pray with all our hearts, and understand and feel what we are saying.
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Editors-in-Chief: Willie Roth, Ely Winkler
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This week’s issue of Kol Torah has been sponsored by Barbara and Kenneth Strassman and Family, in the observance of the Shloshim of Barbara's mother, Elaine Kaiser A"H.
This week’s issue of Kol Torah has also been sponsored by Marcia and David Jacobowitz in loving memory of Abram Jacobowitz, Reb Avraham ben Dovid Hacohen on the occasion of his first Yahrzeit. May his memory be a blessing.
This week’s Kol Torah is dedicated to TABC’s Mock Trial Team, which captured the New Jersey State Championship.
We wish a Refuah Shleimah to Ari
Schwartz, Aharon Dovid ben Elka Shprintza Machla.
This publication contains Torah matter and should be treated accordingly.