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Rabbi Doniel Staum - Parshas Vayikra 5775 "On His Level"
by Rabbi Doniel Staum, LMSW

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3/20/15

STAM TORAH

PARSHAS VAYIKRA 5775

ON HIS LEVEL

In the wonderful biography of Rabbi Shlomo Freifeld zt’l[1], the following story is recorded:

“A student recalled the evening in 1970 when he learned of the death of a well-known rock singer. He was a big fan of the musician and mourned his death intensely. He was suffering, but he didn’t think it was appropriate to share the depth of his pain with his rebbi.

“He was surprised when Reb Shlomo called him over to invite him to his house the next evening. “And bring along a record, please,” Reb Shlomo told him. That evening, the student entered his rebbi’s house, the album in his hand.

“Reb Shlomo sat down near the record player and together they listened. Reb Shlomo sat quietly, totally lost in the experience of listening, his eyes closed. After it was complete, Reb Shlomo smiled apologetically. “I need to think for a little bit; would it be okay if we put on some of my music now?”

“Reb Shlomo turned on a beautiful album of classical music, a rousing, exhilarating symphony that lifted their spirits. Reb Shlomo was obviously lost in thought as the notes swirled around them. Finally, he spoke. “Now I understand why he is so popular; the music defines a generation in turmoil. You should know that it’s disturbing music, indicative of struggles and discontentment.”

“”That was all he said,” remembers the student, “but his message penetrated.””

After the Mishkan had been constructed, the next step was to teach the Service that was to be performed in the Mishkan. Chumash Vayikra is dedicated to the laws that applied to the priests, specifically regarding the various offerings that were offered upon the altar on a constant basis.

The Mishkan’s primary function was to serve as the focal point where every Jew could feel connected to G-d. Many of the offerings were offered after one sinned. Bringing the offering precisely as commanded, afforded the sinner the opportunity to rectify the spiritual damage that was caused.

The Torah is very candid about human nature. Nobody is immune to sin or mishap, even the greatest of men. “אשר נשיא יחטא (asher nasi yecheta) - When a ruler sins, and commits one from among all the commandments of Hashem, his G-d, that may not be done – unintentionally – and becomes guilty. If the sin that he committed becomes known to him, he shall bring his offering…”[2]

On this verse, the sages[3] commented that אשר is related to the word אשרי (fortunate). This implies that “fortunate is the generation whose leader brings an offering for inadvertent sins”. This observation is surprising; why is a generation whose leader succumbs to sin laudable?

The great Chassidic Master, Rabbi Elimelech of Lizhensk[4], explained that Klal Yisroel is comprised of the multitudes who strive to be good Jews to the best of their abilities, as well as its great leaders, who stand apart because of their extreme piety and devotion.

As a nation we are led and guided by our leaders who reveal to us what G-d demands of us in all situations. However, at times our leaders may have a hard time relating to us. Their unyielding dedication to every commandment, as well as their fierce and passionate love to serve G-d and learn Torah constantly, can make it difficult for them to comprehend the petty and comparatively paltry issues and worries of the masses.

How does G-d resolve this problem? How can that spiritual chasm be bridged so that our leaders can guide us on our level?

Reb Elimelech explains that G-d causes the righteous to stumble in “minor sins” so that they too are compelled – on their level – to engage in repentance and seeking atonement. When they are in such a state of contrition they are better able to relate to the challenges and struggles of those on inferior levels of spirituality. [Their ‘descending’ is for the purpose of helping other ascend with them (yeridah l’tzorech aliyah).]

Tanna d’vei Eliyahu offered a parable to elucidate this point: A poor maid once inadvertently dropped her earthenware jug into a well. She was beside herself with grief because she knew how angry her master would be with her for losing the jug. She also knew that there was no way for her to retrieve the cheap jug, and so she begrudgingly resigned herself to the fate that awaited her. However, just before she walked away, a princess arrived at the well, and she too inadvertently dropped her jug into the well. The difference was that the princess’s jug was made of pure gold. When the maid saw what happened she rejoiced. She knew that the princess would surely dispatch her servants to descend into the well to retrieve her priceless jug. While they were down there already, it would hardly be an added bother to scoop up her earthenware jug as well.

This is the meaning behind the Sages’ comment: Fortunate is the generation whose leader brings an offering because of inadvertent sins. That generation has merited a leader who will be able to understand their follies and will be better suited to relate to their followers and disciples. When a righteous person descends spiritually, as he strives to repent and ‘re-ascend’, he can guide and assist his followers to ascend with him.

This idea that the Noam Elimelech discusses is important in regards to education as well. In order for a parent or teacher to exert an influence on a child, the child must feel that the educator is able to relate to him. If a child feels that the lessons being taught are archaic or unrealistic, than he will not internalize what he is being taught.

It is well known that one cannot educate one generation in the same manner as a previous generation, because each generation possesses its own unique set of challenges.

A number of years ago, Rabbi Lazer Shach zt’l, commented that in our day and age, every two years had to be viewed as a new generation![5] For many centuries the world was basically stagnant in its external appearance. In the past two centuries however, there has been an explosion of revolutionary changes that have drastically altered the world. In our time, the rapidity of the improvements of technology causes society to change at a dizzying pace. The spiritual dangers of today are different from what they were just a few months ago, and that trajectory doesn’t seem to be slowing down any time soon.

An educator has the responsibility to ensure that he is able to relate to his children, just as a Rabbi or community leader must be able to understand and relate to his congregation.

Rabbi Mendel Kaplan zt’l, once witnessed a snowball fight taking place at recess in the yeshiva’s yard where he was a rebbe. He mused to a student standing nearby half-jokingly, half-sadly, “In our generation, a Rosh Yeshiva has to smile when he sees students having a snowball fight. In the next generation, the Rosh Yeshiva will have to pick up a snowball and join in.”

One of the most well-known passages recited at the seder, is that of the Four Sons. Before “introducing” the Four Sons, an introductory paragraph is recited. “Blessed is the Omnipresent; blessed is He. Blessed is He who gave the Torah to His nation Yisroel; blessed is He.” How does this statement of gratitude to G-d segue into the subsequent topic of the Four Sons?

One of the sons that we confront at the seder is the Wicked Son. It would seem that a son who is so full of malice and bitterness towards all that we are doing at the seder, should not be invited to the seder at all. But that is not the case. Although we deal with him cautiously, he still has a place at the seder.

Why/how are we able to do so? Because the Omnipresent has granted us His Infinite Torah, which teaches us the ways of life and the world, including how to deal with human shortcoming and iniquity. The wisdom of the Torah guides us how to respond to each of our children, in the manner that they require. Therefore, we would be remiss if we did not express our appreciation for the Torah, before proceeding to discuss how we relate to each child, especially the Wicked Son.

An educator must understand the needs and capacity of every one of his children. “What can this child accomplish today?” “What can he accomplish this year?” An educator must be able to relate to each child as an individual.

I conclude by quoting a powerful well-known article that serves as a potent reminder about how careful we must be in our demands and expectations of our children:

Listen, son:

I am saying this as you lie asleep, one little paw crumpled under your cheek and your blond curls on your damp forehead. I have stolen into your room alone. Just a few minutes ago, as I sat reading my paper in the library, a stifling wave of remorse swept over me. Guiltily I came to your bedside.

These are the things I was thinking, son: I had been cross with you. I scolded you as you were dressing for school because you gave your face merely a dab with a towel. I took you to task for not cleaning your shoes. I called out angrily when you threw some of your things on the floor.

At breakfast I found fault, too. You spilled things. You gulped down your food. You put your elbows on the table. You spread butter too thick on your bread. And as you started off to play and I made for my train, you turned and waved a hand and called, 'Goodbye, Daddy!' and I frowned, and said in reply, 'Hold your shoulders back!'

Then it began all over again in the late afternoon. As I came up the road I spied you, down on your knees, playing marbles. There were holes in your stockings. I humiliated you before your boyfriends by marching you ahead of me to the house. Stockings were expensive - and if you had to buy them you would be more careful! Imagine that, son, from a father!

Do you remember, later, when I was reading in the library, how you came in timidly, with a sort of hurt look in your eyes? When I glanced up over my paper, impatient at the interruption, you hesitated at the door. 'What is it you want?' I snapped. You said nothing, but ran across in one tempestuous plunge, and threw your arms around my neck and kissed me, and your small arms tightened with an affection that G-d had set blooming in your heart and which even neglect could not wither. And then you were gone, pattering up the stairs.

Well, son, it was shortly afterwards that my paper slipped from my hands and a terrible sickening fear came over me. What has habit been doing to me? The habit of finding fault, of reprimanding - this was my reward to you for being a boy. It was not that I did not love you; it was that I expected too much of youth. I was measuring you by the yardstick of my own years.

And there was so much that was good and fine and true in your character. The little heart of yours was as big as the dawn itself over the wide hills. This was shown by your spontaneous impulse to rush in and kiss me good night. Nothing else matters tonight, son. I have come to your bedside in the darkness, and I have knelt there, ashamed!

It is a feeble atonement; I know you would not understand these things if I told them to you during your waking hours. But tomorrow I will be a real daddy! I will chum with you, and suffer when you suffer, and laugh when you laugh. I will bite my tongue when impatient words come. I will keep saying as if it were a ritual: 'He is nothing but a boy - a little boy!'

I am afraid I have visualized you as a man. Yet as I see you now, son, crumpled and weary in your cot, I see that you are still a baby. Yesterday you were in your mother's arms, your head on her shoulder. I have asked too much, too much.

W. Livingston Larned,

“When a ruler sins”

“Fortunate is the generation”

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[1] By Rabbi Yisroel Besser

[2] Vayikra 4:22

[3] Rashi quoting Sifra and gemara Horayos 10b

[4] Noam Elimelech, Vayechi

[5] We can assume that today he would have said that every few months must be viewed as a new generation!



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