april 18th, 2015
Nisan 29th 5775
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The Foundation of Aaron’s Service
by Rabbi David Pinto Shlita
It is written, “Aaron raised his hands toward the people and blessed them. Then he descended from having performed the sin-offering, the burnt-offering, and the peace-offering” (Vayikra 9:22).
The commentators have questioned the significance of the expression “he descended.” Does this mean that Aaron was on an elevated area, such that he had to descend from it in order to bless the people? The commentators explain that for seven days Moshe assembled the Sanctuary in the morning and disassembled it at night, and during that time the Holy One, blessed be He, did not rest His Shechinah among the people. Hence Aaron began to suspect that this delay may have been because Hashem was upset with him for having indirectly caused the sin of the golden calf. Although Aaron’s intentions had been good – he was looking for a way to distract the Children of Israel, and therefore he made them search for gold until Moshe could return while they were still gathering it – nevertheless they were determined to sin, and they found the time to make the golden calf before Moshe had descended from the mountain. The result was that Aaron was also responsible for this sin. Hence he feared that the Holy One, blessed be He, was upset with him and therefore did not send His Shechinah. In his pain, Aaron turned to Moshe and told him of his worries. Moshe and Aaron entered the Tent of Meeting and asked Hashem to quickly send His Shechinah, but in the meantime Aaron’s worries grew. Moshe consoled him by saying that the sin of the golden calf was not dependent on him, the proof being that the Holy One, blessed be He, chose him to be the Kohen Gadol.
Aaron knew that he had to do something to make the Shechinah descend, which is why he tried to excel in the area of humility and radically eliminate all traces of pride within himself. This is what the verse is saying: “Aaron descended” – meaning that he made himself descend; he humbled himself before the people and raised his hands to bless them. We still need to understand why Aaron wanted to excel precisely in the area of humility and rid himself of all traces of pride. The explanation is that Aaron feared that his status as Kohen Gadol and the beautiful garments that he wore would lead to a feeling of self-importance. Hence he sought to rid himself of all traces of pride in order to truly be ready and worthy for the Shechinah to descend when he made the offerings. Aaron considered himself to be a simple kohen, not the Kohen Gadol, and he descended toward the people and blessed them with the attitude that the blessing of an ordinary man has definite importance. When the Holy One, blessed be He, saw Aaron’s sincerity and desire to elevate himself in humility, which is the foundation of all virtues, He immediately revealed His glory before the eyes of all the people, for after Aaron descended from making the sin-offering, the burnt-offering, and the peace-offering, we immediately read: “The glory of Hashem appeared to the entire people” (Vayikra 9:23).
The author of Noam Elimelech explains this verse as follows: “The tzaddik is constantly connected to the upper worlds. Yet because of his constant yearning for Hashem to help the Jewish people and bestow abundance and blessings upon them, he descends a little from his spiritual level and diminishes his connection to G-d. Nevertheless, this descent is inherently beneficial, for when people witness his connection to G-d and his desire to do good for them, a fear and love of G-d is infused in their hearts, and they are aroused to serve Him.” Afterwards he adds that the phrase “and [Aaron] blessed them. Then he descended from having performed the sin-offering, the burnt-offering, and the peace-offering” means that Aaron descended from his spiritual level, for the tzaddik is constantly evaluating his own spiritual state – least he has sinned in an imperceptible manner or in thought – and he is constantly in a state of repentance. This is alluded to by the mention of sin-offerings and burnt-offerings, which come to atone for sinful thoughts, whereas peace-offerings allude to a connection to G-d, by which he makes peace among the heavenly hosts. Because of his desire to help the Jewish people, he descends a little from this level.
Let us attempt to explain the concept that the tzaddik is always connected to the upper worlds, but that his desire to help the Jewish people leads to a slight detachment from those worlds. This means that his compassion for the Jewish people in the lower world diminishes his connection to the upper worlds. In reality, this is a good thing, for when Jews realize that the tzaddik has such great love for them, a fear and love for Hashem arises in their hearts and they desire to serve Him wholeheartedly. Aaron was also infused with a great desire to do good for the Jewish people, and he yearned to bless them. Yet in order to bless them, he had to descend a little from his elevated position and connection to the upper worlds. The author of Noam Elimelech explains that the tzaddikim are constantly examining themselves, lest there exists a slight trace of pride or an evil thought in them. Aaron did this as well, and in his great humility he did not allow himself any rest. Rather, he examined his ways least he might unleash the wrath of Heaven and have to repent for something in order for the Holy One, blessed be He, to rest the Shechinah upon the Jewish people. This is the meaning of “he descended from having performed the sin-offering, the burnt-offering” – an allusion to the offerings that atone for evil thoughts, whereas peace-offerings allude to a connection to Hashem, which establishes peace among the heavenly hosts. Yet even with all this, Aaron’s love for the Jewish people pushed him to descend a little from his level.
Above all, we must not say that Aaron succumbed to pride, which corresponds to the sin of idolatry. On the contrary, this is the way of the tzaddik: To find himself in a constant state of repentance, even for sins that he did not commit. As such the sins of the Children of Israel are erased, and they grow in holiness and purity, to the point of establishing peace among the heavenly hosts and causing the Holy One, blessed be He, to make His Shechinah dwell among them. This is why the Jewish people were filled with such great joy when they saw the Shechinah. They realized the importance of that eight day, the day when the Shechinah descended, and they understood that it was not a one-time event. Rather, the Shechinah would continue to accompany them forever, even in their exile after the destruction of the Sanctuary and the Temple.
The Words of Our Sages
The Effects of What You Eat
It is written, “You shall not defile yourselves through any creeping thing that crawls upon the earth. For I am Hashem, Who has brought you up from the land of Egypt to be your G-d. You shall be holy, for I am holy” (Vayikra 11:44-45).
Rav Benisti, the director of a school in Nice, France, shared an extraordinary story with Rabbi David Hanania Pinto, a story that he heard from a Mrs. Hanina, may G-d grant her long life.
Rabbi Haim Pinto would usually fast from one Shabbat to the next. He refrained from eating as soon as Shabbat ended, and fasted until the following Friday night, a time during which he neither ate bread nor drank water.
Each Friday night, his wife prepared him some hot soup and a plate of meatballs in order to restore his strength, which was diminished by his service to G-d.
One day the Rebbetzin went to the butcher to purchase some meat, as she normally did once a week for the tzaddik’s Friday night meal. This time the butcher deviated from his usual practice and sold her meat that was simply kosher, not glatt kosher as she would usually buy.
Not knowing this, however, the Rebbetzin brought the meat home and prepared the Friday night meal for her husband, who had fasted throughout the week. Yet once she placed the soup on the table and Rabbi Haim was about to taste it, he suddenly called out to her and exclaimed: “Take the soup away! It’s treif! There are worms in it!”
His wife looked at the soup, which was clear and clean, and then she looked at his plate, but couldn’t see any worms. Innocently, she thought that the Rav didn’t feel like eating and was therefore joking when he mentioned the worms.
She went back to the kitchen to get the second dish, which consisted of meatballs.
Yet this time as well, the Rav noticed worms wiggling around in the plate.
“Are you trying to make me eat something treif? The Torah states that anyone who eats a worm transgresses five prohibitions, and yet you want me to eat meatballs with living worms in them?” The Rav then took the pot of meatballs as well as the soup, and threw everything into the garbage. For that meal, after a week of fasting, he ate only bread and didn’t touch any meat. At that point his wife realized that something wasn’t right, and she was worried.
Those Who Serve Him with Zeal
On Sunday, the Rebbetzin hurried to go see the butcher. She asked him if the meat she had purchased from him was good, and who the shochet (ritual slaughterer) was.
The butcher replied that the shochet was indeed a G-d-fearing man, but that the meat was not glatt kosher. It was simply kosher. In fact the meat came from an animal that had a defect which prevented it from being glatt.
The Rebbetzin then realized how G-d had prevented her husband from eating meat whose kashrut was doubtful. This teaches us that whoever protects himself from prohibited things will also be protected by Hashem, Who will prevent him from stumbling, as it is said: “He guides the steps of those who serve Him with zeal.”
Check the Shochatim
What follows is an extraordinary story from the Rambam, who illuminated a teaching of our Sages which states that forbidden food tarnishes the human soul. This story was told by the Maggid of Ritova, Rav Issachar Ber, who in turn heard it from Rav Chaim Soloveitchik.
As we know, during the Rambam’s journey to Yemen, he met one of the greatest gaonim of his time. Even upon his return home, the Rambam regularly received responsa from this gaon. One day the Rambam received a letter from him which contained a disturbing philosophical question.
The Rambam was surprised by the question. As he placed his head in his hands, he said: “How can such a question arise in the mind of a Jew? Such questions can only arise from a person whose soul is impure!” He therefore refrained from sending an answer to his friend.
For some time, his friend continued to send him letters, until finally the Rambam felt obligated to respond. His response was the following: “Go check the reliability of the shochatim and inspectors within your community.”
The gaon followed the Rambam’s instructions, at which point he discovered that he along with his entire community had been supplied with treif food for 13 years. It had tarnished their souls to the point of bringing a gaon of his level to ask questions bordering on heresy.
The Light of the Zohar
Do Not Defile Yourselves
It is written, “Do not make yourselves abominable by means of any creeping thing. Do not defile yourselves through them, lest you become defiled through them” (Vayikra 11:43).
Rabbi Yitzchak said, “For one to defile himself with unclean foods is like serving idols: Just as one who serves idols leaves the side of life and the domain of holiness for another domain, likewise one who eats unclean foods is defiled both in this world and the next, for these [unclean foods] were assigned to the idolatrous peoples, who are already unclean and come from the side of uncleanness” (Zohar III:42a).
An idolater excludes himself from true life and leaves the domain of holiness and enters another domain. Not only that, but he is defiled both in this world and in the World to Come. This also explains why the term ve'nitmeitem (“you become defiled”) is written without the letter aleph. Furthermore, it is also written: “You shall not render your souls abominable…through anything that creeps on the ground, which I have set apart for you to render unclean” (Vayikra 20:25). What does “to render unclean” mean? To render unclean the nations of the world, which stem from impurity, for each cleaves to its source.
In the Footsteps of Our Fathers
Who Likes Those Who Reprimand Them?
The Shelah particularly likes the ethical lessons hidden within Aaron’s silence when Moshe addressed him, as it is written: “Moshe said to Aaron: ‘Of this did Hashem speak, saying: “I will be sanctified through those who are nearest Me; thus I will be honored before the entire people.” ’ And Aaron was silent” (Vayikra 10:3). Rashi comments: “He was rewarded for his silence. And what reward did he receive? That G-d addressed him exclusively in the [ensuing] passage regarding those who drink wine.” The Shelah concludes: “From here everyone must learn not to hate being lectured, but to accept it with love.”
In his book Darchei Mussar, the gaon Rabbi Yaakov Newman wrote: “By our very nature, we don’t like those who reprimand us. We think that no one is smarter than we are, and that we no longer need to learn things or be lectured to. Our stubbornness leaves no room for reprimands.”
We often say, in a joking way, that a person who thinks like this will not arise during the resurrection of the dead. In fact if Mashiach were to awaken him by knocking on his grave and saying: “Arise,” he would reply: “Absolutely not – I’m not going to arise!” Considering himself more intelligent than anyone else, he will respond to Mashiach, who has come to extricate him from his foolishness: “I’m the wisest of men! Do you think you can teach me something?”
It’s human nature not to like being reprimanded. We think that if someone is reprimanding us, he wants to harm us. Now just as a wicked person detests preachers and thinks that they want to harm him, likewise a wise person appreciates them because he knows that they prepare him for the World to Come. In fact without their remarks, he would remain isolated by his own evil inclination, his drives, and his desires.
The book Darchei Mussar also recounts the tragedy that struck the Rebbe of Ger (the author of Chiddushei HaRim), whose disciples recounted the following story: While still a young avrech, the Rebbe of Ger was a disciple of the Rebbe of Koznitz. After a certain time, the Rebbe of Ger left him in order to learn from the Rebbe of Peshischa. However the Rebbe of Koznitz was deeply troubled by his departure.
The Rebbe of Ger lost his twelve sons, concerning whom he said: “I’m persuaded that all my sons died because of the resentment that the Rebbe of Koznitz developed for me. Nevertheless, I left his school. Why? Because in Koznitz I used to receive compliments, whereas in Peshischa I was treated very strictly. I don’t need a Rav who heaps praise upon me, but rather one who helps me grow.”
Why Not Reprimand Me?
The tzaddik Rabbi Hillel Lichtenstein of Kolomaya would usually travel to small Jewish villages in order to reprimand the people there.
One day he traveled to Sanz, where Rabbi Chaim bestowed numerous honors upon him and spoke to him of Torah and Chassidut.
During their conversation, Rabbi Chaim asked him: “You reprimand everyone. Why don’t you reprimand and preach to me as well?”
Rabbi Hillel replied, “I’m actually surprised that in your home I don’t see a square cubit in memory of the destruction of the Temple!”
Upon hearing this, Rabbi Chaim immediately asked for a step ladder. He climbed upon it and found an area of the right size near his doorway. He then took a knife and ruined all the pain in that area before thanking Rabbi Hillel for his remark with a sincere “thank you!”
In the Light of the Parsha
What Prevented the Shechinah from Dwelling in the Sanctuary?
In the Midrash our Sages cite Rabbi Shemuel bar Nachman as saying: “All the seven days of the [burning] bush, the Holy One, blessed be He, was trying to persuade Moshe to go on his mission to Egypt. Thus it is written, ‘Not since yesterday, nor since the day before yesterday, nor since You first spoke to Your servant’ [Shemot 4:10], which makes six days, and on the seventh day he said to Him: ‘Please, my L-rd, send through whomever You will send’ [v.13]. The Holy One, blessed be He, said to Moshe: ‘As you live, I shall punish you for this.’ When did He repay him? … All seven days of the inauguration, Moshe officiated in the office of Kohen Gadol, and he imagined that it was his. On the seventh day, He said to him: ‘It belongs not to you, but to your brother Aaron.’ Thus it is written: ‘It happened that on the eighth day, Moshe called Aaron and his sons…’ ” (Vayikra Rabba 11:6).
We may add that since Moshe refused for over a week to go and deliver the Children of Israel from Egypt, G-d also refused to make the Shechinah dwell among the people during the seven days of the inauguration. It was only on the eighth day that He made the Shechinah dwell among them. The Children of Israel were certainly not at fault, yet since they were united as one with Moshe, they also suffered the consequences of his actions. Hence the verse states, “Vayehi [And it was] on the eighth day” (Vayikra 9:1), using a term (vayehi) that denotes misfortune. In fact during all seven of these days, the Jewish people suffered greatly, for the Shechinah delayed in dwelling among them, and yet they yearned to perceive G-d from the very first day. They were impatiently awaiting the time when Hashem would dwell among them. Upon realizing that such a moment was being delayed, however, they innocently assumed that He was angry with them and that they did not merit the Shechinah. Hence the reason for their suffering. It was only on the eighth day, when Moshe declared “the glory of Hashem will appear to you” (v.6), that they experienced great joy.
We can now better understand why Moshe also summoned the elders of Israel. It’s true that according to Rashi, he called them “to inform them that it was by the express command of G-d that Aaron was entering into the Kehuna Gedola, so that they should not say that he entered of his own accord.” Yet according to what we have said, we may assume that [at the burning bush] when Moshe delayed for seven days before going to deliver the Children of Israel, the elders were also negatively affected by this delay. The elders were involved in Moshe’s mission to Pharaoh, and Moshe had received the order to “go and gather the elders of Israel” (Shemot 4:16). Clearly, the Shechinah dwelled among the elders during this mission because G-d spoke to them, and therefore as long as Moshe refused to carry it out, the elders suffered as a result of the Shechniah’s absence. Thus the suffering of the elders was alleviated when Moshe returned to the people, at which point Moshe summoned the elders along with Aaron and his sons and bestowed great honor upon them.
May it be G-d’s will to make our days like those days, and just as the Shechinah dwelled among Israel, may He make it reside in Jerusalem and dwell among us. Amen.
At the Source
It is written, “A fire came forth from before Hashem and consumed them, and they died before Hashem” (Vayikra 10:2).
The Midrash states, “We find that the death of the tzaddikim is more grievous to the Holy One, blessed be He, than the 98 curses mentioned in Devarim and the destruction of the Temple” (Eicha Rabba 1:37).
How are we to understand this?
During the eulogy of the Chafetz Chaim, Rabbi Pesach Pushkin, the head of the rabbinical court and Rosh Yeshiva of Kobrin, explained: “When the Temple was destroyed, G-d found some consolation in the existence of the tzaddikim. In fact as long as they live, houses of study [which are miniature Temples] are firmly established and the tzaddikim go there to study Torah. This no longer happens when they die, after which there is no consolation whatsoever. That is why the death of the tzaddikim is more grievous to G-d than the destruction of the Temple.”
No Serpents to Punish Them
It is written, “A fire came forth from before Hashem” (Vayikra 10:2).
The Gemara describes how Nadav and Avihu died: “Two streams of fire emerged from the Holy of Holies, branching off into four, and two entered each of their [noses] and burned them” (Sanhedrin 52a).
Rabbi Yehonatan Eibeshutz explains:
“We know that ‘Whoever teaches a Halachah before his teacher deserves to be bitten by a serpent.’ Our Sages have affirmed, ‘The sons of Aaron died only for having taught a Halachah before Moshe.’ In that case, they should have been bitten by a serpent!
“At that point, however, there were no serpents to bite them! In fact our Sages state that when the Children of Israel entered the desert, they were afraid of the serpents that dwelled there. Therefore two streams of fire emerged from the Holy of Holies, branched off into four, and killed all those serpents.
“Hence when Nadav and Avihu committed a sin that was punishable by a snakebite, these very same streams of fire that had killed the serpents in the desert entered the nostrils of Aaron’s sons and burned them, thus fulfilling the mission of the serpents that had been killed.”
Because of the Prohibition
It is written, “These shall you abhor from among the birds” (Vayikra 11:13).
According to the Rambam, the Torah prohibited the eating of certain foods because they are harmful to the body. However Abarbanel contradicts him by stating: “Is the Torah a medical textbook telling us what is healthy to eat and what is not?” According to him, this prohibition deals with the perfection and health of the soul, not the body.
For Rabbi Chaim Soloveitchik, forbidden foods harm the body, but only because the Torah has not permitted their consumption – not the other way around. Thus we learn from his son, Rabbi Yitzchak Zeev, that a person who is permitted to eat food that is generally prohibited should not worry about harming his soul or his body, since they only do harm because they are prohibited.
Men of Faith
Stories of the Tzaddikim from the Pinto Family
Be Mindful of the Children of the Poor
Whenever he had the opportunity, Rabbi Haim Pinto would cite the teaching: “Be mindful of the children of the poor, for from them the Torah goes forth” (Nedarim 81a). Not content with simply stating these words, the tzaddik was constantly seeking out the company of the poor and needy. He preferred their company to that of wealthy and prominent people, his only goal being to help and support the poor in every possible way.
He went to visit needy families each day, families whose meals consisted of a simple salad, or just a piece of bread and something to drink. In this way, he showed everyone that he preferred the dry bread of the poor to the fine meats and savory meals of the wealthy.
At the end of each visit, the Rav would normally bless the members of the family, especially the father of the house. He encouraged them and assured them that he enjoyed visiting them more than wealthy families. He then added that the fear of G-d is acquired through suffering, through a life of poverty and distress. Finally he declared that the Torah emerges precisely from the children of the poor, as we know. In fact it is said that the Tanna Rabbi Yehudah bar Ilai was so poor, six of his students had to share one covering just to keep warm as they studied Torah.
Hence there are many people who have told Rabbi David Hanania Pinto, the tzaddik’s grandson, that the Rav would customarily eat in the homes of the poor and sit on the ground just as they did.
The Power of Faith
Rabbi Haim once met a Jew by the name of Reb Yehia Cohen. The tzaddik said to him, “I know that you have [such and such an amount] of money in your pocket. Give me a portion for tzeddakah, and you will have [such and such an amount] left.”
Reb Yehia asked the tzaddik, “But if I give you that, what will I end up with?” To this the tzaddik replied, “I promise that a blessing will rest on the amount that remains, a blessing for your children and grandchildren.”
Reb Yehia followed the instructions of the tzaddik, whose blessing was indeed fulfilled. Reb Yehia died at a very advanced age, and merited seeing his children and grandchildren becoming immensely wealthy.
Such is the power of faith in a tzaddik, as it is written: “They had faith in Hashem and in Moshe His servant” (Shemot 14:31).
Guard Your Tongue
A Cantankerous Personality
One of the factors that lead a person to habitually making defamatory remarks is a cantankerous personality. Anyone who is cantankerous is constantly complaining and becoming angry, always finding fault with what others say and do, even if they are innocent and haven’t acted against him. A cantankerous person is also constantly judging negatively, interpreting every mistake as a premeditated sin, and suspects that others are acting against him out of hatred. Thus whoever possesses this vile character trait will not be spared from a desire to slander others, for he feels that everything that others do or say stems from a desire to harm him. Whoever wants to save himself from this character fault should mediate on the consequences of such an attitude.
– Sha'ar HaTevunah