By Rabbi A. Leib Scheinbaum
Hebrew Academy of Cleveland
The fire on the Altar shall be kept burning on it, it shall not be extinguished; and the Kohen shall kindle wood upon it every morning; he shall prepare the elevation offering upon it; and shall cause the fasts of the peace offerings to go up in smoke upon it. A permanent fire shall remain aflame upon the Altar; it shall not be extinguished. (6:5,6)
Horav Bentzion Yadler, zl, relates that a simple Jew once visited one of the distinguished Baalei Mussar, Ethicists. He complained of a heavy heart, a depressed soul, because it was becoming increasingly difficult for him to properly observe all of the mitzvos. The demands of his far-reaching business were compelling and the balancing act of Torah/mitzvos versus success in commerce was taking its toll on his observance. Heaven forbid should it be taking its toll on his business – only on his religion. This is why I referred to him as a “simple Jew.” “Rebbe,” he asked, “What should I do? I cannot go on like this.” The wise man told him to visit a certain village populated mostly by farmers, and there he would discover the solution to his problem.
The man immediately left for the village. The first person he met was standing atop a wagon filled with timber, stacking each log side by side and on top of the other. “Excuse me, my friend,” the farmer called out. “Could you do me a favor and hand me one of those logs on the side?”
“I am sorry,” the man replied. “I cannot help you. The logs appear too heavy for me to lift.” Since he was a city dweller, lifting and carrying logs was unusual for him. The heaviest object that he typically lifted was his pen.
The farmer looked at the man and said, “If you had replied, I do not want to help you,” I could live with that. You have no obligation to help me, but do not say, ‘I cannot help.’ If you want to do it, then you could. You simply do not have the desire to help. Nothing, absolutely nothing, stands in the way of one’s will!”
This random meeting came to an end and, at the end of the day, the businessman returned to his home. The next day, he went to visit the wise man and related what had occurred. The Baal Mussar listened and then said, “Remember what the farmer told you. It will be a beacon of guidance for you and, incidentally, it answers your question. A person’s will is his most important attribute. It is the anchor that keeps him moored in place. It is the linchpin that secures a person to Torah and mitzvos. No such excuse exists as business matters. If you want to be a Torah Jew, then you will become one, and nothing will stand in your way. If you find excuses that prevent you, it means that you really do not want to be observant. It is all up to you – and what you want.”
The Alter of Novardok, Horav Yosef Yoizel Horowitz, zl, was wont to say: “There is no such thing as ‘not able;’ there is, however, such a thing as ‘no desire.'”
How does one achieve this elusive desire to grow, to be observant, to study Torah, to understand that life for a Jew means one thing – and one thing only? Rav Bentzion relates that he asked this question of the Maharil Diskin, zl, who told him, “Study mussar, ethics and character development, with great diligence and act modestly.” This was indeed the practice of the Maharil. As his student, Horav Zerach Braverman, zl, related, his rebbe always carried Rabbeinu Yonah’s Shaarei Teshuvah in his Tallis bag.
Horav Tzvi Michel Shapiro, zl, would often say, “If one seeks the easy way to become a yarei Shomayim, G-d fearing Jew, he should not study mussar. Thus, he will appear in his own eyes as a frum, observant, G-d fearing Jew. It is only after he studies mussar with intensity that he will begin to realize how distant from this goal he really is.
Rav Bentzion interprets the significance of studying mussar into the pasuk which enjoins us to see to it that the fire on the Altar should constantly be kept burning. The Torah intimates that if one wants to be sure to maintain a constant flame of love for the Torah, a fire of yiraas Shomayim, fear of Heaven, it is not sufficient merely to not extinguish it with water or actively put out the flame. One must keep on adding “wood,” constantly affirming one’s commitment through learning mussar, which is required text to maintain the flame.
It is said concerning Horav Yisrael Salanter, zl, the father of the mussar movement, that he reviewed the sefer, Mesillas Yesharim, Path of the Just, by Rav Moshe Chaim Luzzato, zl, for eighteen continuous years, until its words were engraved on the chambers of his heart. He did this so that his character would be refined and the steps he took would be on the correct path – the path of the just.
Many of the great Torah luminaries of the previous generation viewed mussar study as an imperative that must be observed at all costs. Once such gadol, Torah giant, who exemplified this adherence was the Manchester Rosh Yeshivah, Horav Yehudah Zev Segal, zl. He would often say, “I do not know how it is possible to exist without the study of mussar. If I let even one day pass without mussar study, I already sense a bit of arrogance within myself!” He felt that the classic mussar texts–notably the Shaarei Teshuvah; Chovos Halevavos; Mesillas Yesharim; Nefesh Hachaim; and Sefer Chafetz Chaim-comprised the arsenal one needs to protect himself from the harm caused by the yetzer hora, evil inclination.
The Rosh Yeshivah felt that one who disregards self-improvement, who is content to fulfill matters of ritual and observance, but has no interest in those mitzvos which relate to character refinement and interpersonal relationships, is in a sense disregarding a critical part of the Torah. He is no different than those members of liberal sects of Judaism who pick and choose mitzvos as they see fit.
The following incident demonstrates the Rosh Yeshivah’s lofty level of character refinement, a plateau reached only by a person who constantly engaged in self-examination and improvement, always seeking to build a positive attitude so that he may be free of negativity.
In 1957, the Rosh Yeshivah accepted a boy whose background in religion and Torah study was very limited. His desire, however, was incredibly strong and, therefore, he was accepted. The Rosh Yeshivah and his rebbetzin took the boy into their own home, showering him with love and care. One evening prior to Pesach, Rav Segal was discussing something with the rebbetzin within earshot of their young “boarder,” who had been helping with the Pesach preparations. The boy, feeling quite at home, interrupted their conversation to contribute his own feelings about the matter. Rav Segal was displeased with this breach of manners, and he told the boy, “We did not ask you for your opinion.” The discussion ended with the Rosh Yeshivah returning to his study and the boy and the rebbetzin returning to their work.
Some two and a half hours later, Rav Segal emerged from his study – his face flushed and his eyes still moist from weeping. He opened a volume of the Rambam Hilchos Deios and read from the text: “Whoever displays anger is considered as if he worshipped idols.” He looked at the boy and said, “I want to do teshuvah, repent, and I ask your forgiveness from having shown anger towards you.” The boy replied that he harbored no negative feelings as a result of what he felt was nothing more than constructive criticism. Nonetheless, Rav Segal was not satisfied until the boy expressed his forgiveness.
There is another aspect to the mussar imperative: it helps us to develop a closer bond with the Almighty. Let me explain. Rav Segal would study mussar early each morning as a preparation for Shacharis. One morning, a student looked on as the Rosh Yeshivah repeated for more than an hour the words of the Mesillas Yesharim in Perek I, “that man was created for the sole purpose of rejoicing in G-d and deriving pleasure form the splendor of His Presence.” The pleasure which Rav Segal derived from serving Hashem was clear to all. It was the pleasure of a pure neshamah, a pristine soul, whose personality had been refined to perfection through decades of relentless effort. Mussar was the crucible; the neshamah was the product. This enhanced his relationship with the Almighty, bringing him closer, increasing his love for–and joy in–serving Hashem.
This brings us to the next point. I have always wondered how someone of the caliber of Moses Mendelsohn, who in many ways is considered the inspiration and progenitor of the German Enlightenment–a movement that was directly responsible for the assimilation and eventual spiritual demise of hundreds of thousands of Jews–ended up with such an ignominious epitaph. As a talmid, disciple, of the Korban HaEidah, Horav David Franckel, zl, one would have expected a totally opposite result. What happened to his learning? Where did he go wrong? What motivated his children to apostasize themselves? Indeed, we have no Jewish remnant left to his memory.
I think the root of his downfall was his lack of learning mussar. To him, Torah was chochmah, wisdom, an intellectual pursuit–no different than science, mathematics and philosophy. He did not equate Torah with its Source. The joy inherent in serving Hashem through Torah learning and mitzvah observance was lacking from his life. Learning was progressive intellectualism. It had nothing to do with a Jew’s purpose in life. He treated Judaism as a rational religion comprised of ceremony, considering the Torah to be nothing more than a religious textbook.
His yearning for secular knowledge was the result of insecurity, a lack of pride in his heritage. He thirsted for the German way of life and thought. He wanted to be accepted. Had he studied mussar and focused on self-improvement, he would have realized that all of his yearnings were founded on his own personal issues – not on Judaism. He was the problem – not the religion. Mussar would have shown him the way. Regrettably, he was not willing to look.
This is the law of the feast peace offering that one will offer to Hashem. If he shall offer it for a Thanksgiving offering. (7:11,12)
The Korban Shelamim, Peace-offering, comes in two forms: the Shalmei neder unedavah, free-willed offerings that one brings to the Mizbayach; and the Shalmei todah, Thanksgiving-offerings, which is in a sense, obligatory, since one brings it as an expression of gratitude to the Almighty. It is a free-will offering which one feels compelled to bring. The Korban Todah is distinct from the Korban Shelamim in two aspects. The Torah requires the Korban Todah to be accompanied by four types of baked loaves, thirty made of leavened flour, and ten of unleavened flour. Four of these loaves are eaten by the Kohen, with the remaining thirty-six shared by the owner and those joining him. This law does not apply to a Korban Shelamim. It does not require any accompanying loaves. Second, the allotted time for consuming a Korban Todah is only one day and part of the night until chatzos, midnight. One is permitted to eat the Korban Shelamim for two days and one night. Given the fact that the Todah has all of these accompanying breads, the time allotted for eating seems a bit demanding. One would expect the Torah to grant an extension to the individual who has so much to eat. Instead, he has even less time than he does for the Korban Shelamim. Why?
The Netziv, zl, in his Haamek Davar writes that this was established by design, so that the one paying gratitude via his Korban Todah would invite his family and friends to share in consuming his korban. As a result, his miracle, the reason for which he is bringing the Korban, will be publicized, creating a heightened Kiddush Hashem, sanctification of Hashem’s Name.
This is the reason that the Bircas HaGomel, blessing recited in place of the Todah, the blessing of gratitude, is recited only in the presence of a minyan, quorum of ten men. This way the miracle is publicized, and Hashem’s Name is sanctified.
Horav Avigdor HaLevi Nebentzhal, Shlita, suggests this as the reason that the blessing of Horav es riveinu, “Who takes up our grievance,” which is recited following the reading of the Megillah, must be said in the presence of ten men, in order to increase the publicity concerning the miracle which occurred on Purim. Likewise, we find that the lighting of the Chanukah menorah should take place at a certain time and place in which it will receive optimum notice.
Alternatively, another reason is given that the Korban Todah must be consumed on the day that it is offered. Human nature has it that time cools emotion. What excites a person one day will not necessarily stimulate the same enthusiasm on the next day. A person who is spared death will invariably be extremely animated the first day. As time goes on, the excitement begins to wane, the status quo sets in, and he becomes complacent about his future. The Torah wanted the Korban Todah, which is the expression of one’s gratitude to the Almighty, to be offered when the individual is at the height of his appreciation, when he acknowledges the miracle with intensity, excitement and fervor. This is why the entire Korban must be consumed in one day – the day it is offered, so that the miracle that catalyzed this event will be fresh in his mind. Indeed, the Bircas HaGomel should l’chatchilah, initially, be recited within three days after one was spared.
The excitement surrounding the reading of the Megillah on Purim night is not the same the next day. The prayers of Rosh Hashanah are not as intense on the second day. The Birkas Shehechiyanu is recited only for those mitzvos that are not commonplace – such as Pidyon HaBen, Redeeming of the First Born, but not on Tefillin, which we do every day. A Shehechiyanu is made for a fruit that we have not eaten in a year. That is human nature. We become complacent; we get used to something; the adventure is gone and with it, the necessary emotion to properly express our feelings of elation.
The Korban Shelamim is not motivated by emotion; rather, it is a product of seichal, rational thought. A person acknowledges the need to move closer to Hashem. He decides to do something about it, and brings a Korban Shelamim as an expression of his commitment. It is not an issue of seizing the moment, but rather of carrying out a determination rooted in a well considered decision.
What is left over from the flesh of the feast offering shall be burned in the fire on the third day. And if some of the flesh of the feast offering was intended to be eaten on the third day, it is not acceptable, the one who offers it may not intend this – it remains rejected. (7:17,18)
In the Talmud Pesachim 85A, Chazal make what appears on the surface to be a startling statement. The hands of an individual that come in contact with either Pigul, a sacrifice in which the Kohen has improper intentions, thus invalidating it, or Nosar, the flesh of a sacrifice that was left over and not consumed in its prescribed time, become tamei, ritually contaminated. One of the reasons given for this Rabbinic tumah is chashdei Kehunah, a suspect among the Kohanim. Rashi explains that in the event that there would be a Kohen who was angry at the person offering the sacrifice, he might render it Pigul to spite the owner. Now, due to the tumas yadayim, contamination of the hands, it would serve as a deterrent. Since Pigul is ritually unclean, it would mean that the Kohen is compelled to immerse his hands in a mikveh after coming in contact with pigul. He will not want to trouble himself to do this; therefore, he will not render the Korban into Pigul. Tosfos explain that even a wicked Kohen, who would harm another Jew financially, was nonetheless extremely meticulous with regard to the laws of tumah, ritual contamination, and taharah, purity.
What Chazal are teaching us is mind boggling! A Kohen has no qualms about rendering a Korban invalid, thereby incurring a financial loss to another Jew; yet, he would be deterred from acting out his diabolical plan if it involved a little tircha, trouble, to himself. He does not want to go “out of his way” to immerse his hands in a mikveh. The little bit of tircha saves him from sin. This is incredible!
Horav Avraham Grodzenski, zl, feels that Chazal have delved into the human psyche, understanding it from a more profound standpoint than we do. The slightest strain, the smallest inconvenience, is sufficient reason for some – even Kohanim – who are unusually alacritous, to refrain from being proactive in sin. We have before us a battle of wills: the will to do evil, to hurt a fellow Jew who no longer finds favor in our eyes; the opposing will, not to bother oneself. In other words, I will sin if it is convenient, if it is not too demanding on my time or energy. In this scenario, sin loses out. The flip side is that we see how a little bit of tircha can affect someone, causing him to “decide” not to go forward. Does this apply to a positive act? Will tircha preclude mitzvah performance? Quite possibly, for some, it might. How careful we must be of our true intentions, examining the “reasons” we give for not acting. Are they the real reasons, or are we simply masking our laziness? That is the question. Clearly, everyone has his own “individual” answer.
The flesh that touches any contaminated thing may not be eaten. (7:19)
The Baal HaTanya, zl, notes what seems to be a paradox regarding the laws of tumah, ritual contamination, and taharah, purity. We find that when something tahor, clean, touches a davar tamei, unclean object, it becomes tamei. Likewise, when an object touches something holy, the kedushah, sanctity, of the object affects it, rendering it holy. In other words, simple contact, touching between two objects, has an immediate effect which creates a halachic transformation within the object that is touched.
There is a difference between the two: i.e. unclean touching clean; holy touching that which is not yet holy. When something comes in contact with an unclean object, a mere touch suffices to render the second object tamei. When something touches kedushah, a simple touch is insufficient. It needs bliah; its taste must be absorbed. The “relationship” is more than mere contact. It needs a more binding and thorough union.
The Torah is teaching us a profound lesson. The Baal HaTanya sees this as an ethical message concerning relationships among people. In order to be influenced by kedushah, mere “touching,” simple contact, popping in and out at one’s leisure, is insufficient. It will not contribute much to the person who is searching for a life of higher meaning, deeper content, and holier endeavor. He must suffuse himself into the kedushah in order for it to leave an enduring impact on his life. In contrast, for one to become tamei, spiritually defiled, it does not take a lot – mere contact. When one comes into association with the wrong group, gravitates toward a friend whose goals and objectives are not in sync with the Torah way of life, he takes the chance of falling into the same abyss of moral/spiritual corruption as his newly-found friend. A positive influence must be developed; a negative impact occurs through exposure. How careful we must be with regard to falling prey to such an experience.
Ahallelah Hashem b’chayay, azamrah l’Elokai b’odi
I will praise Hashem during my lifetime, I will sing to my G-d as long as I exist.
The K’sav Sofer explains the sequence of the pasuk, “I will praise Hashem during my lifetime,” as “I praise Hashem because I am alive”, coinciding with the Yalkut Shimoni that exhorts a person to praise Hashem al kol neshimah u’neshimah, for every breath that we breathe. “I will sing to my G-d as long as I exist” – this idea alone, the mere fact that I am alive, is sufficient reason for me to praise Hashem, so surely I must praise Him for all the good with which Hashem has blessed us.
In an alternative explanation, attributed to Horav Yitzchak, zl, M’Volozhin, Ahallelah Hashem b’chayay, is a reference to one’s youth, when he feels alive, when all of his strength and faculties are in full bloom. At that point, he clearly feels a sense of joy in being able to enjoy his life to its fullest. When he ages, however, when his body no longer has its original vigor, when pain accompanies him constantly and he is frail and infirm, he no longer has the ability to “live” life to its fullest. He merely exists, not yet “gone,” but not alive in the full sense of the word. He is odenu, “still” among the living. This is the meaning of azamrah l’Elokai b’odi, “I will sing to my G-d,” b’odi, “while I am ‘still’ alive.” In addition, a person must learn to recognize the incredible act of chesed, lovingkindness, that Hashem grants us during our twilight years.