שבת טעם החיים תצוה תשע”א
Shabbos: Ta’am HaChaim Tetzaveh 5771
Clothing of Betrayal
ועשית בגדי קדש לאהרן אחיך לכבוד ולתפארת, you shall make vestments of sanctity for Aharon your brother, for glory and splendor. (Shemos 28:2)
In this week’s parasha the Torah records the instructions regarding the בגדי כהונה, the Priestly Vestments worn by the כהן גדול, the High Priest, in the Mishkan and in the Bais HaMikdash. It is said (Shemos 28:2)ועשית בגדי קדש לאהרן אחיך לכבוד ולתפארת, you shall make vestments of sanctity for Aharon your brother, for glory and splendor. What exactly is the definition of בגדים? While normally translated as clothing, there is a deeper meaning to this word. When Zilpah gave birth to Gad, the son of Yaakov, it is said (Bereishis 30:11) ותאמר לאה בגד ותקרא את שמו גד, and Leah declared, “Good luck has come!” So she called his name Gad. Rashi writes that one explanation for the word בגד is that Leah was saying, “Yaakov, you betrayed me by taking a concubine to have children.” This declaration by Leah is perplexing, as it was Leah’s idea that Yaakov take concubine, despite the fact that Leah had already given birth to four sons. Why would Leah accuse Yaakov of betrayal if the idea of taking a concubine was hers and not his?
Let us understand what a בגידה, a betrayal, means. A person has an agreement with someone else, and the second person violates that agreement. When Adam Harishon sinned by eating from the Tree of Knowledge of Good and Bad, he had essentially violated the agreement that HaShem had made with him. One of the consequences was that he and Chava would be required from then on to wear בגדים, clothing. Now, if one was asked if he feels penalized for wearing clothing, it is doubtful if the answer would be in the affirmative. Clothing has taken on a life of its own, with fashion and design the emphasis on what a person wears. The Gemara (Shabbos 113a) even states that Rabbi Yochanan referred to his clothing as his honors, as clothing allows a person to be dignified. Nonetheless, the original catalyst for man to wear clothing was because of the shame of Adam and Chava sinning. In a similar vein, Leah was informing Yaakov that while she certainly desired more children, Yaakov should have prayed that the children be born from Leah and not from another woman. This was Leah’s intention in referring to Gad by this name.
The Torah commanded us to fashion vestments of sanctity for Aharon, so that they will reflect glory and splendor. Is it possible to suggest that even these holy vestments are a sign of betrayal? The Baal HaTurim shares with us a fascinating insight into why Moshe’s name is not mentioned in this week’s parasha. The Baal HaTurim writes that initially Moshe was to be the כהן גדול, the High Priest. However, because Moshe initially refused to be the messenger to inform the Jewish People that they would be liberated from the Egyptian slavery, Moshe forfeited the position of כהן גדול and instead it was given to Aharon. For this reason HaShem omitted Moshe’s name from Parashas Tetzaveh that discusses the Priestly Vestments, so Moshe would not be disappointed by his loss. This insight is fascinating as HaShem altered the wording of the Torah so that Moshe would not feel bad. Perhaps we can suggest that in some form the clothing worn by Aharon were a betrayal, as Moshe was originally the one who was supposed to wear the Holy Vestments.
The lesson that we can gain from the words of the Baal HaTurim is profound. Clothing are external, but they reflect on the inner core of the individual. The High Priest would don vestments for glory and splendor, but they served as a reminder that one should not betray his mission in life. Leah understood this well, and she remonstrated with Yaakov regarding the birth of a child from a concubine. HaShem should allow us to reflect on our own mission in life and we should merit succeeding to fulfill HaShem’s will.
Shabbos with the Sfas Emes and the Rebbes of Ger
The Medrash states that HaShem tells the Jewish People, “My candle is in your hand, and your candle is in My hand.” The Sfas Emes writes that a mitzvah is referred to as a candle because the mitzvah allows the supernal light to be revealed in this world. HaShem desires that the Jewish people have merits,. HaShem could have created a world full of holiness, similar to the upper worlds. Nonetheless, HaShem created this world with a physical form, and the holiness is only revealed when the Jewish People perform mitzvos. Through the mitzvos the holiness is revealed, and that is the meaning of HaShem’s declaration “My candle is in your hand.” In a similar vein, HaShem declares that “your candle is in My hand,” as the Jewish People have a place in the upper worlds. Although the heavenly spheres are not physical, HaShem designates a place in the spiritual world for the souls of the Jewish People. According to the manner that we connect the spiritual and the material in this world, we merit to elevate the physical to a spiritual plane. Similarly, writes the Sfas Emes, during the week we work to bring the light of the soul into the actions of the body. The reason for this is because on Shabbos, even the material is elevated to being spiritual, as Shabbos is a semblance of the World to Come.
The Convert of Vilna
One of the wealthiest and most influential landowners in seventeenth century Poland was Count Potocki. Many members of the devoutly Catholic Potocki family held high offices in the church hierarchy of Poland, a country with a predominantly Catholic population.
Count Potocki, the owner of the city of Vilna and the surrounding province, had one son who was his pride and joy. From early on, the Count and his wife decided that their son would become a priest. At the age of 16 the parents enrolled him in the Catholic University of Vilna.
Young Potocki met a fellow student named Zarodny, the brilliant son of an impoverished family. With the passage of time, the two young men became close friends.
Early one morning Potocki commented to his friend, “I’ve had trouble sleeping for weeks.”
“Is something on your mind?” Zarodny inquired.
“Yes,” Potocki admitted. “I’m tormented by a baffling question.”
“Why don’t you tell me about it?” Zarodny suggested.
“There are three religions: Christianity, Islam, and Judaism. The Christians believe their religion to be the true faith, but so do the Moslems and the Jews. I’ve been wondering ― which of the three is the true faith?”
[Potocki persuaded his parents to give him permission to travel abroad, seeking to learn about the various cultures and religions. He traveled to the Vatican to meet the pope, and then to Istanbul to meet the chief mullah of Islam. Finally, he ended up in Amsterdam where the leading rabbi of the generation was residing.
After long and serious reflection, Potocki became a convert to Judaism, and was given the name Avraham ben Avraham.]
A thought struck Potocki one day. “I am so happy with my newfound faith. But millions of people in Poland are living in darkness, without any awareness of the truth. I must go back to Poland and spread the knowledge of Torah to those who are living in ignorance.”
Potocki decided to return to Poland. His beard had drastically changed his appearance, but it would still be too dangerous to go to Vilna. Instead he went to the village of Ilya, near Vilna, where he continued learning Torah in the local shul.
He became friendly with the rabbi of Ilya; to him alone, he confided his true identity. The rest of the Jews in Ilya knew only that the young man with the blond beard who learned so diligently in the shul was a convert…
[Once] a gentile happened to pass the shul; he overheard a few words, peeked inside ― and was dumbfounded at the sight of the blonde young man in the shul. He was certain that the convert was none other than the long-lost son of Count Potocki!
The next day he went to Vilna to report his exciting find. “Your son is alive and well,” he told the aged Count and his wife. “He converted to Judaism and lives in the shul in Ilya.”
Hope battled with despair: Could it be true? Had their lost son finally been found? Hardly daring to believe it, the parents nevertheless ordered a company of soldiers to go to Ilya, arrest the young man in the shul, and bring him to their mansion.
Countess Potocki immediately recognized her son. “Where have you been? We’ve been searching for years! Why didn’t you let us know that you were in Ilya, so close to home? Oh, my son, look at you ― appearing like some savage! Go shave and get cleaned up!”
“Mother, I was a savage when I believed the Catholic teachings,” Potocki said quietly. “Now I am a Jew; I know the true G-d of the Jewish people.”
“Think about it, my son,” his mother pleaded. “If you come home with us, you’ll be one of the wealthiest people in the country. You are our only son. You will inherit our entire fortune! If you remain a Jew, you’ll be nothing but a poor beggar.”
“For the sake of the true G-d, I am willing to give up all the riches in the world,” Potocki replied resolutely.
The count pounded his fist on the table. “You’re refusing to listen to reason! I’ll have you placed in jail. There you’ll come to your senses.”
The convert was placed in solitary confinement in a dark cell in the Vilna jail. Day after day his father’s private Catholic priest came to discuss religion, trying to make him renounce Judaism. But he remained steadfast in his faith.
“Just say ‘I’m sorry.’ That’s all it will take to release you from prison,” the priest implored.
It was to no avail. The convert remained firm.
“Remember,” the priest threatened, “if you refuse to confess your mistake, you will be tortured and put to death.”
The convert remained silent.
Exasperated at Potocki’s stubborn refusal to return to the Church, the bishop decided to take him to court, charged with abandoning the Catholic faith. A trial was held, and Potocki was quickly found guilty.
The sentence: Avraham ben Avraham was to be burned at the stake. The execution was scheduled to be carried out on the second day of Shavuos.
Some say that on the morning of the execution, the Vilna Gaon visited the convert in prison, where he comforted him. “You have the merit of the greatest mitzvah ― sanctifying G-d’s Name. You have reason to rejoice. G-d is the Father of those who have recognized the truth of His word.”
“I am ready to meet my death with dignity and faith,” the convert replied.
At the last moment, his mother sent a messenger with a letter, asking the court to pardon her son and set him free. The messenger was somehow delayed, and by the time he delivered the letter ― it was too late. The death sentence had been carried out…
That Shavuos day, the Jews of Vilna lived in fear, afraid to leave their homes. The Catholic population of Vilna was seething with fury. Imagine, Count Potocki’s only son had rejected the Catholic religion, sacrificing his life for the G-d of the Jews!
A few hours after the execution, a brave Jew, Reb Meir Sirkis, risked his life and gathered the ashes of the saintly martyr. The convert’s remains were buried in the Vilna cemetery. With the passage of years, a tree shaped like a man grew at the gravesite, shading it with its outstretched branches. Today, only the trunk of the tree remains standing. [Prior to the Holocaust, all the synagogues of Vilna commemorated his yahrtzeit.]
The old woman’s soul hovered above the open grave. In it rested the fancy coffin — “She was a grand old lady, she deserved it,” the mortician had told the family — which contained her “remains”: the body of a woman in her late nineties, ostentatiously groomed and dressed in fashionable clothes. In the distances, the last black-clad backs of her children were vanishing from sight. Her soul shook to the vibrations of suppressed laughter wafting back.
The last spadeful of damp earth was now being flung carelessly upon the fresh grave by the alcohol-weakened hand of a stranger. “Better there in the grave,” she sighed, “than laid out in the chapel.” Her body — the part which disintegrates — had been decked out and put on exhibition, but her soul was still shamefully naked.
But this was nothing new. For years it had been the pattern. Her physical needs had been well provided for by the children but her soul had been left to yearn and finally allowed to shrivel in its loveless and lonely world.
“How can I come before the throne of the Eternal without one merit for my poor children?”‘
She made her way to the nursing home where she and her human form had lived for some time before their final separation. Her old room seemed strange and she looked around as if she were seeing it for the first time.
Two cleaning ladies were working in the stark, cheerless room. The bed had been stripped down — her closet, dresser, and night table stood open mouthed and empty. The only thing in view, besides the furniture, was a large, well-worn Korban Mincha siddur (prayer book) looking forlorn on the bare night table.
“What are we supposed to do with this?” one of the cleaning women asked, pointing to the siddur.
“Dunno. The daughter said to get rid of it, but seeing like it s a prayer book, I don’t have the heart to throw it away,” replied the other.
“Just leave it there for the next one,” she ventured after a while. “Looks to me that nowadays Jewish people have to get old and sick before they go back to prayin’. And that’s the kind — old and sick, I mean — we get here, so just leave it be.”
“Yeh, the young ones don’t seem to have no use for prayin, do they now? I always say that’s one sure sign that they need it all the more, but they gotta be taught when they’re young.”
When she heard this, she winced and fled. New thoughts of self-incrimination came over her and she decided to visit the home of her oldest daughter where the whole family was likely to be gathered. Maybe there she would find the one merit for her children which she was so anxious to find. On the way, a long forgotten memory forced itself upon her. She recalled the time this very daughter, then about six or seven, approached her tearfully.
“Mama, why do we have to be kosher? Nobody else is. I’m the only one who doesn’t eat lunch in school. I sit by myself and everybody looks at me.”
She remembered how her child’s anguish had penetrated her. After a few more crying sessions she yielded and permitted the child to eat the school’s lunches. But she had made sure to impress upon the child that she was never to bring any non-kosher food into the house.
Yes, that’s how it had started. She had weakened — permitted her children to do what everybody else was doing and they had followed through by “laying out” their mother’s body the way everybody else did.
Arriving at her daughter’s split-level ranch, she brightened hopefully. Here she would find something–or would she?
She entered the smoke-filled living room and looked around. The spacious room was crowded with people, most of them middle aged: her two sons and their wives; her two daughters and their husbands; their married children and spouses; their many friends and acquaintances; and four or five of Grandma’s own friends and some neighbors. There was a lavish spread on the dining room table; her oldest daughter was “presiding,” making sure that everyone was properly served. The bar was open — a white-jacketed bartender was serving drinks. People were sitting in clusters, eating and chatting in studied restraint. Now and then, a spurt of suppressed laughter hung unfinished in the air.
“Look, she had a full life. All right, so there were bad years too, as well as good ones, but that’s to be expected when you live as long as she did” — her oldest son was speaking.
“Yes, I’m sure she’s better off now, but she suffered so at the end,” replied his wife.
“What I always admired in her, though, was the way she never interfered in her children’s lives. . .and I mean never. Even when she thought they were wrong, she bit her lips and said nothing. Remember the time–I don’t know how many years ago–we were at her house on a Saturday and you lit a cigarette? She looked at you, but she never said a word. She just walked into the other room and came back with an ashtray.”
“You know Mom,” a young woman in her late twenties spoke up, “maybe it’s not nice to say, but I think another word for ‘non-interference’ is ‘non-guidance.’ I know if I’d see my Stevie do something I’d taught him was wrong — and I don’t think a parent loses that responsibility ever — I’d make sure to correct him. I’d even go a step further; if I’d only suspect he was doing something wrong, I’d try to find out if he needs straightening out. That’s part of being a parent. And why shouldn’t it apply to smoking on Saturday as well as stealing, for instance?”
“But how can you compare smoking on Saturday to stealing?” asked another young woman who had overheard the conversation from several feet away. SUDDENLY THE ROOM WENT QUIET. Everybody turned to Stevie’s mother — she’d been born a Gentile and had converted to Judaism.
Stevie’s mother remained undaunted.
“Smoking on Saturday isn’t a violation against society… it’s not punishable in a court of law, that’s true. But it is a violation of G-d’s law and an affront to our elders. I’ve been taught.. .”
A hubbub of voices cut off the speaker
“Listen to her–since when did she become a rebbetzin?”
“Hey, Joe, when did you become a rabbi? After all, you have to be a rabbi before your wife can become a rebbetzin.”
Grandma couldn’t stand it anymore. She fled from the room to the adjoining den. Here she found her grand- and great-grandchildren sprawled over the furniture and the rug, their eyes fixed on the television set–quiet, and out of the way.
Feeling utterly desolate, she made ready to leave, but as an afterthought, she went into the kitchen. In the corner of the counter, surrounded by the clutter of food serving, she noticed an eight-day yahrtzeit candle (1) flickering mournfully. Snatches of conversation came drifting in from the dining room.
“…Three days. And about kaddish (2)… if you insist on it that way, I’ll give you the name of an Orthodox rabbi whose synagogue has services three times a day. For about a hundred dollars they’ll take care of it. Or if you prefer to have me make the arrangements. . .”
“Thanks, Rabbi, I’ll send you a check for the hundred.”
Not even time for the kaddish. But then her sons had never been used to disrupting their schedules on her account, and who knows if they remember how to read Hebrew. Saddened and contrite, she turned to leave. . . but she heard a voice–the voice of a child.
A psalm dear to King David: Guard me, oh Lord, because I am dependent on You. [King David said to his soul:] You have said to G-d, “You are G-d; the goodness you have bestowed upon me, You did not have to bestow, because I am not worthy of it.
Swiftly and lightly, she reached the second-floor bedroom from which the voice of a child was coming. Stevie’s mother stood in the doorway.
“Oh, there you are, Stevie. I missed you downstairs and I couldn’t imagine where you were. Why didn’t you tell me you were going upstairs?” Without waiting for an answer — “But what in the world are you doing?”
“I–I’m–I’m praying for Great-grandma’s soul, Mom,” answered the little boy, “my teacher in yeshiva showed me what to say.”
Turning back to his Psalms, the child continued:
“For the sake of the holy ones who died and were interred in the earth and had been pious, in their merit do You help me; and they are the strong ones through whose merit all my desires are satisfied…”
And on the wings of those precious words the soul was borne heavenward.
1. A special candle which is lit during the week of mourning and on every anniversary of the passing of the deceased.
2. A short prayer for the deceased, which is said three times daily, preferably by a son, the first eleven months after their passing. (www.innernet.org.il)
Shabbos: Ta’am HaChaim Tetzaveh 5771
Have a wonderful and delightful Shabbos
Prepared by Rabbi Binyomin Adler
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