When I was in high school, my rebbe, Rabbi Farber, z”l, took our class to a restaurant to celebrate our completing a Gemara, a siyum. One boy ordered shish kebab on big skewers. As young teenage boys, we thought these long metal skewers were quite cool. Some of us took on a dare: to take one of the skewers from the restaurant. I accepted the challenge and hid the long skewer under my coat. When we came back to class, everyone was playing with it and Rabbi Farber saw the commotion, with one boy wielding the long skewer like a sword. He was very upset to discover I had taken something that didn’t belong to me.
With sensitivity but firmness he motioned me to go with him outside the classroom to speak privately. He explained how businesses lose money with such pranks and that I needed to return it with a full apology. “But the restaurant is in downtown Manhattan and I have no way of getting it back there,” I said. “No problem,” he replied. “Tomorrow after school I will drive you there and you will go inside and tell the owner what happened and apologize.”
I was very embarrassed by what I did and asked if the rebbe could return it for me and I would call the owner to apologize. But Rabbi Farber insisted I return it personally. As we were driving, I was nervous and very ashamed. I apologized and the owner was forgiving and told me that this should be a lesson to never take something that is not mine, even as a joke or for fun. It was a memorable life lesson that it’s important to own up to a mistake.
Parshas Shemini opens with the korbanos (sacrifices). Moshe instructs Aharon and his sons to bring on the eighth and final day of the inauguration of the Mishkan, a young calf as a korban chatas (sin offering) for his involvement in the sin of the Golden Calf and to demonstrate that Hashem is forgiving him.
Aharon hesitated and, still embarrassed, he approached the mizbei’ach to offer the calf. In fact, the Midrash Tanchuma tells us that when Aharon approached the mizbei’ach, he saw an image of a cow! To Aharon, the corners of the mizbei’ach looked like cow horns and he felt shame for his involvement in the sin of the Golden Calf. The Baal Haturim says this is alluded to in the word krav (approach), where the letter “reish” has two crowns on it, which resemble two horns of a cow. Rashi explains this is why Moshe told Aharon the following words of encouragement: “Why are you ashamed? This is precisely why you were chosen.”
Moshe’s words are curious: How was Aharon’s involvement in the Golden Calf debacle a reason for him to be chosen as the kohen gadol? The Sfas Emes answers brilliantly that Aharon’s profound embarrassment for doing any misdeed was precisely why he was chosen for greatness. He had internalized his lesson. Indeed, the quality of being ashamed of a misdeed is a gift Hashem granted Bnei Yisrael at Har Sinai.
At times we might slip up and do something we regret. This feeling can paralyze us! We need to recognize that a deep feeling of remorse for our mistakes is the first step back to potential greatness. Our job is then to convert our feelings into action by apologizing and asking for forgiveness, or doing whatever it takes to rectify the situation.
This week we also read Parshas Parah, where Bnei Yisrael are instructed to take a red cow and use its ashes in the purification process of those who are defiled from coming in contact with a deceased person. Rashi tells us that the Parah Aduma (red heifer) is our means to attain forgiveness for the sin of the Golden Calf. In effect, we let the mother cow come and clean up the mess caused by the baby (golden) calf.
When I was newly married, my parents hosted a Shabbos meal for me and my young married friends with their small children. In the middle of the meal, a curious 2-year-old walked into the living room and thought the planter was a sandbox, as was evident from the dirt that was all over him and the floor. The mother washed the child, but the dirt on the floor was muktzah so it stayed there. After Shabbos, my friend came back to clean up the mess.
Embarrassment is well…embarrassing!! But the more clearly we recognize and deeply feel embarrassment for a misdeed, and take any necessary steps to remedy what we’ve done, the more potential we have, like Aharon Hakohen, to achieve personal greatness.
As we delight in the warmer weather that is finally arriving, we’re also feeling a lot of pressure this time of year. Pressure on our pocketbook! It’s registration time for all the yeshivos. It’s time to pay hefty deposits for our girls going away to seminary in Eretz Yisrael. It’s only a month away from the pricey holiday of Pesach and the budget keeps getting tighter. Oh yes, April 15th (Tax Day!!!) is coming close too…
Believe it or not, money was also a topic of concern back in the days when korbanos (sacrifices) were brought. In our parsha, Moshe is instructed to teach Aharon and his sons (the kohanim) the various laws of the bringing of the korbanos. The opening Rashi of Parshas Tzav notes that the word tzav – command – is used in the context where there is a need to encourage a person and his future generations to be diligent with a particular task. Rebbe Shimon explains that the concern about a slackened attitude with regard to the korban Olah – burnt offering – is because there is a chisaron kis – a loss of money.
This Rashi is very difficult to understand. What is the loss of money? The instruction is for the kohanim to bring the korban Olah, which is entirely consumed by burning on the mizbeach (altar). Although the kohanim do not get to eat any of the meat, since it is fully burned, it’s not a loss to the kohanim personally –they didn’t buy it! They are just doing their job by bringing it on the mizbeach.
The Baal Haturim explains that the command to Aharon and his sons is really directed at being diligent in studying of the laws of the korbanos and the korban Olah. Additionally, the Gemara Menachos (110a) notes on this pasuk, “Zos toras ha’Olah” — this is the Torah of the korban Olah. Why does the pasuk add the word “toras” — the Torah of the Olah? Simply, it is to teach us that when someone toils and studies the laws and concepts of thekorban Olah in the Torah, it is as if he brought a korban Olah as a sacrifice.
I believe we can now explain the chisaron kis – the loss of money – with regard to a korban Olah. Studying the Torah of the korban Olah needs encouragement, particularly because we want it to be passed on to our children. Look around and you’ll see that your children are copying your actions, not your words. If you do something with enthusiasm, your children will embrace it enthusiastically!
Dedicating oneself and one’s children to Torah study … costs a lot of money! Sending a child to yeshiva, and a good healthy Torah summer camp, comes with a price. Our bank accounts can deplete quickly. This is exactly what Hashem was telling Moshe. Aharon and his sons needed specific reminding to never see dedication to Torah study as a financial burden. This would communicate to the next generation that Torah study is just costly, rather than a prized and treasured privilege.
Our perspective on the cost must be a positive one. The wording our sages use is very specific. The simple translation of the words chisaron kis is a loss of money, but the exact translation of these words is – chisaron — lack, kis– pocket /wallet- purse. Our money is not being lost, it’s just a chisaron kis in our wallet. In truth, the money has been deposited in a different account! It’s like a 401k plan, where an employer deducts a certain percentage of their employees’ monthly salary and deposits it directly into a 401k account. The employee brings home less money each month, but the money is not lost. It’s saved for him when he needs it later.
The Gemara Beitzah 15a tells us there are two expenses which are not deducted from one’s income. Money spent for children to learn Torah and Shabbos / Yom Tov expenses. For these, Hashem will repay us in some way.
Investment companies never guarantee financial security with regard to the principal. However, money spent on Torah study is the surest investment, as the principal is always guaranteed by Hashem. The profits are sure to happen if we follow the formula of Tzav. We need to be excited and enthusiastic about Torah study and feel it is the ultimate investment. If our approach shows enthusiasm, then it will carry over to our children!
Rav Elchonon Wasserman visited a wealthy supporter of his yeshiva, and since his shoes were muddy from the road, he knocked on the side door where workers entered instead of at the grand front entrance. When the wealthy man heard Rav Wasserman had entered through the side, he was aghast! “You are ruining my daughters by entering through the side door! How can you do this to me?” he exclaimed.
Rav Wasserman was bewildered and replied, “I am so sorry, but I didn’t want to dirty your carpets with mud.”
The rich man replied, “I am a wealthy businessman, but I love Torah and love to support Torah study. How will my daughters know how valuable Torah is when they see the great Rosh Yeshiva enter my house through the side door?” So Rav Wasserman walked back outside, knocked on the front door, and walked across the expensive carpet with muddy shoes in front of the smiling rich man and his daughters. This demonstrated to the girls the value their father placed on honoring great talmidei chachamim (Torah scholars) above any material wealth and possessions.
And his daughters ended up marrying great talmidei chachamim.
This Shabbos we read Parshas Zachor—to remember that Amalek’s existence in this world attempts to obscure the presence of Hashem. Bilaam prophesized about Amelek, “Reishis goyim Amalek v’achriso adei oved.” (Bamidbar 24:20) “Amalek was the first of the nations, and his fate shall be everlasting destruction.” Amalek is called the first nation since it was the first nation to attack Klal Yisroel after they left Egypt.
Shlomo Hamelech defines Amalek as a leitz—a mocker (Mishlei 19:25) Where do we see this quality in Amalek, and why is this quality one which must be destroyed?
Rav Hutner gives a penetrating insight into the essence of Amalek. To scoff or to mock is to attempt to remove importance from something of value. A scoffer searches for a flaw in something important in order to tear it down and lower its importance in the eyes of the public. Amalek is the ultimate scoffer. Klal Yisroel had just been clearly led by the Hand of Hashem out of Egypt, through the desert and across the parted Red Sea. Hashem thereby demonstrated His choosing the Jewish nation and according them the status of Ambassadors of Hashem. The entire world was terrified of Klal Yisroel! Yet Amalek attacked Klal Yisroel precisely at this time, knowing Amalek would be harmed and lose the war, but they didn’t care. Lowering the “untouchable” status of Klal Yisroel was more important.
But what lowered Klal Yisroel’s connection to Hashem to make them vulnerable to attack?
Amalek fought Klal Yisrael in Refidim, which is a hybrid word for rafu yedeihem—their hands slackened. When something is precious, such as Torah, you hold on very tight. A looser grip indicates it’s not so important. That was the opening for Amalek.
The opposite of a scoffer is a person who praises things that have true value. Rabbeinu Yonah quotes Shlomo Hamelech, “Ish l’fi m’halelo,” (Mishlei 27:21) “Each man according to what he praises.” That is, whatever is important to a person defines who he is.
The Sfas Emes tells us Amalek is not just a nation but also an attitude toward life. Amalek is the approach of derision and scorn, labeling anything good that happens a coincidence, rather than the hand of Hashem. The urge to deride anything good is the Ameleki attitude. There is no room for that in this world.
During the Purim story, Haman was defeated at precisely the time Klal Yisroel re-accepted the Torah willingly, out of love. This willing acceptance defined who we are and what is important to us. Similarly, how much a person values Torah is not necessarily seen in how much time he spends studying but rather in how much he inwardly values Torah. Is Torah uppermost in his value system, or does he more admire successful businessmen or celebrities?
On Purim, the Rema says, one should drink more wine than he is accustomed to. This loosens a person’s tongue, allowing him to articulate what he really feels and thinks. But we must be very concerned about what we might say! Only if we have a pure attitude, an attitude centered on Torah values, can we be certain the right words will emanate.
Whether we drink on Purim or not, we always want to channel our energies to Torah values, which can be accomplished by learning and acting in ways that are befitting for children of Hashem. Just as Klal Yisroel lovingly recommitted itself to Torah on Purim, we have the ability to recommit ourselves to Torah every day.