Torah Portion of the week – Tetzaveh – How to Overcome Arrogance – Removing the Impostor – A Powerful Parable about the Shinny Dishes – A Great Story about the Rav Shach and Peace in Your Home – Introduction of Rav Simcha Cohen – The Ultimate Torah Podcast
The Torah Podcast Transcript
047 The Torah Podcast – How to Overcome Arrogance – Removing the Imposter
Torah Portion of the Week – Tetzaveh
In this week’s Parsha we have the verse in Shemos 28:2 that says, “And you shall make holy garments for Aaron your brother, for honor and for glory. These are the garments of the Cohen Gadol, the High Priest.” The Ramban explains, “What does it mean for honor and for glory? This is the same type of clothes that kings used to wear at the time of the giving of the Torah.” We’re talking about garments that are only fit for a king. He goes on to explain, not just the form of the garment but also the colors of the garment. He says, “As for turquoise, no man today would even dare to lift his hand to wear turquoise, except for the kings of nations.” So, the garments that God commanded that Aaron should wear since he was the High Priest were kingly garments that only a king would wear. This would separate him from the people to make him on a higher level, as if he was a king. Everybody would be scared. He would be higher and separate.
Rav Mordechai Miller from Gateshead points out that there’s a contradiction here. Earlier in the Parsha we know that the cloak that Aaron had to wear had on the bottom of it pomegranates and bells, and the bells would make noise. The verse explains, “This will be worn by Aaron as he serves in the Temple, so that the tinkling of the bells will signal his approach as he comes into the Sanctuary, into the presence of God; and as he departs, that he will not die.” In other words, he had to have bells that would make noise before he went into the Holy of Holies, that it would signal his presence so that he wouldn’t die. And the Rabbeinu Bachye explains, “It’s just like going into a real king. Nobody would barge in on a real king. So, the bells were a sign of humility and derech eretz, the way of the world – that a person should be humble before he comes into the Holy of Holies. This was the reality of walking in on king. We know by Purim, by Achashverosh that if you would go into him without knocking, without being announced, you would be killed. So, there’s a contradiction here. On one side, the garments that the Holy Priest had to wear, that was for kavod – to separate him from the people, to make him great, to show his greatness, his honor, his glory, his splendor. On the other side, the garments themselves were a sign of humility, so that he should have the feelings of dread and submission and humility before he goes into the Holy of Holies. It is an emotional contradiction. On one side, the clothes make him feel great. On the other side, the clothes are supposed to make him feel humble. How does Aaron haCohen and the other Cohanim reconcile these mixed emotions?
Now, we know there’s a Gemara Pesachim 1:12A where Rabbi Akiva instructed his son Rabbi Yehoshua not even to go into his own house without knocking. There’s another Gemara that says that Hashem hates three people, and one of them is someone who comes into his house without knocking. The Rashbam explains that it’s a matter of derech eretz that you should not disturb the privacy of people when you walk into your house, even in your own house. Even if a man has the fanciest house or the man has the fanciest garments like the Cohen Gadol, he still has to be in a position of humility when he walks in. We need to explain how greatness and splendor and glory goes together with humility.
There’s a possuk in Devarim 7:7 which says, “It is not because you were more numerous than the other nations that God desired you. He chooses you because you are the least of all the nations.” That was the verse and Rashi explains, “The least means that you do not exult yourselves when you were granted the blessings of God. On the contrary, you belittle yourselves like Avraham who said, ‘I am dust and ashes,’ and Moses and Aaron who say, ‘What are we?’ And not like Nebuchadnezzer who said, ‘I shall be like the most high,’ or Sancheriv who said, ‘Who can save Jerusalem from my hand?’ It is because Yisroel do not vaunt themselves in this way, that God desires them.” Rashi points out that there’s a Jewish quality that the Jews do not attribute to themselves their powers and their qualities and their prosperity. They don’t say it’s their own skill or their own merits. But really they attribute everything to God, and they know it’s a gift from God. And that’s what we saw by the High Priest. Even though he’s wearing royal garments, on the bottom there’s little bells to make him modest and submissive. We know that after the destruction of the Temple, King Achashverosh wore these garments. But he wore them for arrogance. He wore them at the 180 day party that he made for the nations. That’s when he brought out Vashti naked, and he wanted to show her off to everybody. And it says there in the Megillah, after he killed Vashti a message should be sent out to all the nations that each man should be a master of his own home. This is the exact opposite of what we just learned. The Gemara said that when you walk into your own house, you should knock. That even in your most intimate life, in things that you own, your attitude should be an attitude of humility.
The question now is – how do we actually acquire this humility? Even though it may be latent in all of us, how do we manifest it and bring it into the world to make it a part of our personality? Not a simple thing. The Bal Shem Tov brings a moshul, an unbelievable moshul, a parable, to explain how to achieve this. One time the emperor was going to visit a certain town. The prince of that town figures he has to go and meet the emperor with kavod, so he puts on his best clothes, his clothes that represent him as the prince. He gets himself the finest chariot. And now he’s going to bring the emperor into the city, that everybody should be happy to see him. What happened? When the emperor and the prince came into the city, you could hardly recognize who was who, because the prince overdid it. He dressed so well, he dressed like the emperor. What happened is, the people made a mistake. They thought the prince was the emperor, and they ignored the emperor completely. So, every cheer and every outburst of honor from the crowd, the prince was cringing. The more the people honored him, the more mortified he was. And he knew later that he’d have to pay for his insult to the king. That was the moshul.
The nimshal, conclusion is that if a person feels alone in the chariot, when he gets praise he accepts it. “Yeah, it’s really me. I’m great.” But if a person always feels he’s together with Hakadosh Baruch Hu, that God is with him, you’ll have the opposite reaction. Every time somebody praises him he’ll say, “Don’t praise me, praise God.” There’s an error being made between the internal and the external. Even though externally it looks like we are successful, we’re great and we’re smart, and we have all these qualities, but the qualities are gifts from God. The more somebody would praise our qualities we would cringe if we were humble. If we really believed and understand that our gifts come from God; that our success comes from God. It’s not our success. It’s not because we’re so smart.
This is how you solve the contradiction. It’s just the opposite, the more praise you get, the more humble you become. When Aaron haCohen put on those priestly garments, he understood who he really was. He was standing before the King of Kings. The garments themselves humbled him. And it wasn’t that he said, “Oh, the garments are not a big deal.” No, the garments were beautiful, they were great. A person has beautiful qualities, great qualities. A person has unbelievable success. Not to belittle the thing itself, but to understand where it came from – it came from the bracha, the blessing that Hashem gave him. It came from the blessings that he received at birth. Or even if he developed them himself, it came from the koach, the strength that God gave him to succeed. And the success itself only came because of God, because of a decree from Heaven, that God said, “Yes, you can have these things. You can be successful.” It’s all in the hands of God. This is a tremendous chiddush, a new idea in the understanding of what humility is. The more blessings you have, the more humble you’ll become.
At the beginning of the Parsha you have another verse. It says, “And you will command the Children of Israel that they should take for you clear olive oil, crushed for illumination, to light a lamp continually.” It’s the ner tamid, that’s the ner, the light that you see in every shul you have a light in front of the aron hakodesh, the ark, that always burns. It’s on 24/7. This was the light in the Temple. There’s a famous kasha, a question that the Midrash Rabba asks, “Why does God need us to light a light? God is the light of the world. What does he need with our light?” The Midrash gives its own answer. But the Sfas Emes wants to answer, “In a certain sense, we do bring light to the world. How do we bring light to the world? With our maasim tovim, with our actions and our mitzvos, commandments.” By doing mitzvos we bring God into the world. People see chessed, kindness, righteousness, hard work, mesirus nefesh, self-sacrifice, a willingness to be able to give ourselves over to Hakadosh Baruch Hu. People see that and they appreciate it. It brings light into the world. But the Sfas Emes wants to explain, “All of this does not come from our power. God commands us to perform mitzvos, and He is the one that generates that the light that should go into the world from those mitzvos. Even though it’s true that maasim tovim, good deeds make people more cheerful and bring a brighter world, that’s only because Hashem said so. It has nothing to do intrinsically with our actions. It’s only the blessing of God. When we use our bodies to do mitzvos, our limbs become vessels for the light of Torah. It’s all Hashem. It’s true, we have the free will. When I move my little finger, the only thing that I’m actually doing is deciding to move my little finger. But the fact that my little finger moves, that’s all Hashem. All a person is, is his free will. He is the one who makes the decision. But all the results that comes out it, everything that comes out of that, it’s only coming from the strength that Hakadosh Baruch Hu is giving the person.”
Rav Noam Elimelech also speaks on this concept. It’s very interesting, you have a lot of the meforshim who bring down the same concept in this week’s Parsha. He has a question, “How can it be that a righteous person has the ability to heal the sick, or liberate captives, or do miracles?” That’s one question. His second question, “It says in Koheles, ‘There’s nothing new under the sun.’ How could it be that a person can bring something new, a new chiddush HaTorah, a new novel idea, something revolutionary that he learned from the Torah that was never in the world before? Where does a person get that strength from? We know that all the great Rabbis through all the generations wrote chiddushim, new novel ideas, things that were not revealed before. That’s the excitement that a person gets in learning Torah, he learns it over again and he sees another angle, another light, another beauty. How could it be new if it’s already written in the Torah?’ Rav Chaim Zimmerman used to ask the kasha, “If what you’re saying is Torah, so it was already said before. We already have the Torah. And if your chiddush it is not Torah, so it has nothing to do with the Torah. So, what’s a chiddush? What’s a new, novel idea?” Rav Noam Elimelech wants to answer. He says that, “Everything that comes into this world has a root above. It’s like we shake the roots above so things could be drawn down here below.” He brings a verse, “You have done many things, Hashem. Hashem, my God. You’ve affected many causes and actions.” He explains that the root of everything stays above. The mitzvos were given over for us, we’re here to perform. When a tzaddik, righteous person heals a person, he is using the strength that comes from above. When a person has a chiddush, a new idea, he’s just bringing what’s above, he’s bringing it down. But either way, the source is not coming from us. We’re just shiluchim, messengers. That’s why we should be humble. And just the opposite, the more that people praise us, the bigger our chiddushim, the better our clothes, the nicer car we have, the more we have, we should be more humble.
I want to end off with the Mesillas Yesharim. He says, “Any virtue that he acquires is nothing less than a divine act of benevolence that it has been done in his favor. He is, by the very nature of his physical makeup lowly and shameful, therefore we must thank the One who graced him in this matter, and humble himself before Him all the more so.” He brings a moshul. It’s like a pauper, a poor person who received a gift. The more he is treated with kindness, the greater will be his shame. And the same applies to any individual, for his eyes are open and permit him to see that the attainment of his virtues is from Hashem Himself. This is what Dovid HaMelech said, “How can I repay the Eternal for all the kindness He has done to me?” I think this is a tremendous chiddush, a novel idea in how to reach humility – by understanding that everything we receive is from God, automatically we will be humble. And the more we receive, the more humble we will be. The nicer our car, the nicer our garments, the nicer our house, the more chochma, wisdom we have, the more matzliach we are, the more successful we are, the more humble we should become. I know that’s not the way of the world, but this needs to be worked on and thought about. At least it’s a way, it’s a derech that we can think about, to achieve true humility.
A Powerful Parable
The Maggid Mi Dubno also brings this verse, “To keep the lamp burning continuously.” “Similarly,” he says, “The light of Torah never goes out, and always illuminates the world, for we could always constantly find more and more wisdom within the Torah.” He wants to bring a moshul, a parable, of a guest who came to the house of an important nobleman. When he walked in the house, he noticed these gleaming vessels, these dishes, such beautiful dishes. These dishes were so beautiful that anybody who walked in the house will look at them for a couple of minutes. They couldn’t tear their eyes away from them. But what happened? They had people who worked in the house who no longer looked at those dishes. They got used to them. They didn’t pay attention to them. The nimshal, conclusion is, this is not true for people who learn Torah. If you go to a place where you see people learning, they’re happy, they’re excited, they’re screaming and yelling. In a beis midrash, place of learning, it’s very noisy. They’re enjoying what they’re doing. It’s so sweet, every moment, because they’re finding more and more chiddushim, more and more novel ideas are coming out of their Torah. The more they learn, the more they understand, the deeper it goes. But this is not true by a person who never learned Torah, who has never experienced the beis midrash, the yeshivas. They don’t see anything. They’re not impressed by it at all.
Great Stories – Rav Shach
The Sefer HaChinuch explains on the verse, “And the choshen shall not be loosened upon the ephod.” We’re talking about the clothes of the Cohen Gadol. It has to be mesudar, organized. He explains that people are impressed by beauty and splendor, and thus were commanded to spare no element of beauty. The mitzvah of the choshen should not be loosened. It’s a requirement of the Cohen Gadol that he looks perfect. We know that the Shelah ruled that children should learn from new books. They should be happy with their books. It should be beautiful. Rabbi Akiva Eiger himself instructed to his son that his books should be printed on fine paper with beautiful black ink, and he should have a red cover. Because he explained, “The soul is impressed and the understanding is broadened. And the intent is strengthened through learning through an attractive, splendid book.” That’s human nature. You have beautiful books, you’re going to enjoy learning.
One time, Rav Shach asked one of his talmidim, students, to bring him a very old copy of the Shulchan Aruch. He couldn’t understand why the Rav wants such an old copy of the Shulchan Aruch. The new one surely has everything that the old one has? When he asked Rav Shach, he explained. “I wanted to take this volume home and learn from it tonight, because I’m afraid that if students come looking for this volume of the Shulchan Aruch, if I take the new one, they’re going to wind up with the old one, and they won’t learn from it properly. They won’t be as excited. Therefore, I’ll be responsible for their lack of learning. I’d rather take the old one myself, so that the students can learn from the newer editions.
Peace in Your Home
Rav Simcha Cohen, the one who wrote HaBayit HaYehudi, the famous book on shalom basis,has another book. The name of this book is, “What Did You Say? Making Yourself Understood in a Marriage.” I want to go through the introduction.
He says that shalom bayis, peace in your home is not just if you’re having trouble. It’s even if things are okay. But it’s a tremendous mitzvah to come closer and closer together as a couple, because if you have real love in your house, the children grow up healthy. They succeed in school. They feel secure, or the opposite, God-forbid. Throughout the generations the Jewish leaders, the Rabbis always were very concerned with peace in the home. They consider it one of their most critical duties to make sure that the Jewish people have shalom bayis. In Avos de Rabbi Nassan it explains that Aaron haCohen, the High Priest, brought peace to thousands of families. These families named their sons Aaron. Aaron haCohen, the Cohen Gadol, he was involved in bringing peace into people’s homes – the Jewish idea. Where do we know that even if things are okay, things should be better? We know from the possukim in Bereishis. When the angels came to visit Avraham Avinu, they asked, “Where is Sarah your wife?” Rashi explains there, that was to show that she’s modest – to show Avraham that she’s modest, to praise her in front of Avraham. Now I’m sure we know that Avraham Avinu’s house was like the Beis HaMigdash. The shechina was there, God’s presence was in the house of Avraham Avinu. And all the Beis haMigdash itself with the shulchan, table, and the ner, everything that happened there was just a reenactment of the house of Sarah and Avraham Ainu and still the angel came to praise Sarah in front of Avraham that they should even have more peace in their house. So, it’s not just where there’s trouble, it’s even when there’s no trouble. It’s even when things are good, it never ends. It goes further and deeper, and more and more love.
The Ramban explains that when it comes to the mitzvah, love your neighbor as yourself, it’s virtually impossible to do by another person. The only place in our generation where maybe we can do it is between husband and wife – love your neighbor as yourself. In other words, love your spouse as yourself. Now, this is not simple because the house has a lot of stress in it. Every house with children, money problems and all kinds of situations. And that’s why the possuk says, “When a man takes a new wife, he should be free at home for one year.” The Sefer HaChinuch explains that he should create a family unit, that even though there are differences between the couple, they have to both come to the conclusion that they were meant for each other. By feeling they were meant for each other, they will be able to overcome any difficulties. It’s not impossible, and it involves small, simple words and deeds. It’s not in Heaven. It’s here on earth. He claims though, problems have arisen in recent generations. One is because of the prosperity of everybody. People are over indulged, they’re over sensitive. They’re over dependent. We’ve been spared the hardships of our grandparents, but along with that came some bad character traits. We don’t know how to overcome anything. We don’t know how to withstand any kind of discomfort. That’s one of the reasons why there’s not peace in the home.
Another reason is because society is so fercrumpt. Things have changed in a crooked way. A man is supposed to be a woman, and a woman’s supposed to be a man. A woman has to work, and a man has to take care of the house. But when the roles become confused, it creates stress. No one knows what they are supposed to do, and it makes people argue. He claims that most of the problems are really just a lack of basic knowledge. We don’t know how to behave ourselves when it comes to the opposite sex. We never learned how, we weren’t taught. It’s a question of education. We believe it’s because the other person is evil, they’re bad. The wife is bad, the husband is bad. But really, that’s not true. It’s coming from ignorance, because we’re not behaving properly and they’re not behaving properly. But with a little bit of education, we can overcome these things. Many times, the problem comes just because we don’t understand that that’s a female trait, or that’s a masculine trait. We blame it on our wives or our husbands, but really it’s true by every man and every woman. We’re confused. So, bezrat Hashem, with the help of God, through educating ourselves we could bring more peace into our homes.
Okay, that’s it for this week’s podcast. Please share it with your friends. And if you could do me a personal favor, go to iTunes and leave a comment and a rating. It’s really going to help to spread the podcast.
Rabbi Eliyahu Mitterhoff