Why, asks R' Gedaliah Silverstone z"l (see page 4), do Jews not
observe the birthdays of their heroes in the same way that
Americans observe the birthdays of George Washington and Abraham
Lincoln? He answers as follows:
In Devarim (17:8) we read, "If a judgment is hidden from you,
between blood and blood, between verdict and verdict, between
blemish and blemish, matters of dispute in your cities . . ."
This may be interpreted: G-d's judgment seems to be hidden. Why
is Jewish blood different from non-Jewish blood, that Jewish
blood should be spilled so freely? Why is a verdict involving a
Jew different from a verdict involving a non-Jew, that a Jew
cannot get a fair trial in many parts of the world? Why is one
Jew's moral blemish attributed to the entire Jewish people?
The answer, writes R' Silverstone, is that it is because of
disputes in our cities. All of our troubles in exile are caused
by our own lack of unity. When we fight among ourselves, gentile
governments listen gleefully and take advantage of our weakened
state. Moreover, it has not been uncommon in Jewish history for
Jews to resolve their personal or communal disputes by filing
false reports with the government against their opponents, thus
giving our enemies opportunities to oppress us.
A Jew's ability to turn against his own people is the reason
that we do not celebrate our heroes' birthdays. When a George
Washington or an Abraham Lincoln is born, his nation can be
reasonably certain that he will be loyal to his people. If he is
not destined to serve his nation, at least he is unlikely to turn
against his nation. This is not true, unfortunately, among our
own people. We do not know until a Jew dies whether or not he
will turn out to be an enemy of his own people. (Bet Meir, Vol.
"And you [Moshe] shall command Bnei Yisrael that they shall
take to you pure, pressed olive oil for illumination, to
kindle the lamp continually." (27:20)
Why does it say here, "[T]hey shall take to _you_," whereas
regarding the command to build the mishkan/tabernacle it says
(25:2), "[T]hey shall take to _Me_"? R' Gavriel Ze'ev Wolf
Margolis z"l answers as follows:
The gemara (Nedarim 38a) states that Moshe was commanded to
teach the laws of the Torah to all of Bnei Yisrael. However, the
ability to study the Torah in depth and to reason through it was
given to Moshe and his family alone, and Moshe, because of his
kindness, shared this gift with the Jewish people.
The purpose of the mishkan was to house the aron/ark. The
aron, in turn, held the luchot, i.e., the Torah. Thus, the
mishkan represents the main body of the Torah, which was given to
all of the Jewish people with which to serve Hashem. Therefore,
regarding the mishkan it says, "[T]hey shall take to Me."
The menorah represents the wisdom of the Torah (see, for
example Bava Batra 25b - "One who wants to become wise should
turn toward the south [the location of the menorah] in prayer").
The wisdom of the Torah is primarily Moshe's, and therefore it
says, "[T]hey shall take to you."
The following comment on the above verse is quoted by R'
Margolis in the name of "my relative, the gaon, R' Ben Zion Aryeh
Leib the son of R' Yosef Zeisling":
There is a custom in many communities to light extra candles in
shul on the seventh of Adar, the yahrzeit of Moshe Rabbenu. The
reason is that one is obligated to honor a teacher as one honors
a parent, and Moshe was the teacher of all of us. This is
alluded to in the above verse, which may be read as follows: "And
you Moshe will command Bnei Yisrael [the laws of the Torah;
therefore] they will take for you pure, pressed olive oil for
illumination, to kindle the lamp continually [when your yahrzeit
comes]." It should be noted that the seventh of Adar typically
falls during the week in which this parashah is read.
R' Gedalyah Schorr z"l explained the above verse as follows:
The midrash says that Moshe was troubled when Hashem told him to
draw Aharon near to become Kohen Gadol. Hashem answered with the
words of Tehilim 119:92, "Were not Your Torah my preoccupation,
then I would have perished in my affliction."
At first glance, the midrash appears to mean that Moshe did not
want Aharon to be the Kohen Gadol, and that Hashem consoled Moshe
by reminding him of his own important role as the teacher of
Torah. However, this cannot be correct! In fact, Moshe
initially refused to be Hashem's prophet because he was concerned
that his older brother, Aharon, would feel slighted (see Rashi to
Shemot 4:13-14). What then does the midrash mean?
R' Schorr explains that Moshe felt that it would be a slight to
Aharon if Moshe had to appoint Aharon to be Kohen Gadol. Moshe
preferred that Aharon be acclaimed as Kohen Gadol without any
intervention on Moshe's part. Hashem answered him, "No! There
can be no leadership independent of the Torah, and you, Moshe,
represent the Torah."
This is why the Torah says, "[T]hey shall take to _you_ . . .
olive oil for illumination." Any service that is performed in
the mishkan must be done through Moshe, i.e., through the Torah.
Any attempt to serve G-d that is done independently of what the
Torah demands is worthless.
The two most prominent of the Kohen Gadol's garments (all of
which are described in this week's parashah) were the tzitz and
the choshen, notes R' Joseph B. Soloveitchik z"l. The tzitz was
the golden band worn on the Kohen Gadol's forehead; the choshen
was the breastplate full of gemstones. The tzitz was opposite
the Kohen Gadol's mind; the choshen was opposite his heart. The
tzitz represented the wisdom with which the Kohen Gadol decided
questions of halachah: of ritual purity, of kashrut, of business
relationships, etc. The choshen was the vehicle by which the
Kohen Gadol answered political questions: should the Jewish
people go to war, should the king be rebuked, etc.
For millennia, there was no doubt that the same Kohen Gadol,
who wore the tzitz, should wear the choshen as well. Political
leadership and halachic leadership were inseparable. The same
Kohen Gadol whose mind was saturated with the wisdom of the holy
Torah of R' Akiva and R' Elazar, of Abaye and Rava, of the Rambam
and the Ra'avad, of the Bet Yosef and the Rema, was the
individual who was divinely inspired to see the solutions to the
political and social questions of the day.
Only recently, says R' Soloveitchik, has a new way emerged
among us: a distinction has been created between the gaon/sage of
the generation and the manhig/ leader of the generation. This
view says that the sage who busies himself with the most complex
halachic questions is not sophisticated enough to deal with the
"real" problems which we face. In truth, though, Chazal have
said, "If a kohen is not divinely inspired, do not ask anything
No so-called leader can love his fellow Jews if his mind is not
permeated with the holiness of the Jewish Torah. There is no
choshen without the tzitz.
(Divrei Hagut Ve'ha'arachah p.191)
Rabbis of the New World
R Gedaliah Silverstone z"l was born in Eastern Europe in 1871,
and he studied in the yeshiva of Telshe under R' Eliezer Gordon.
In 1901, R' Silverstone became Chief Rabbi of Belfast (Ireland).
In approximately 1906, he moved to Washington, D.C. where he
served several congregations, including Tifereth Israel (which
was then Orthodox) and Ohev Sholom. During the 1930's he settled
in Eretz Yisrael, and he died there on 2 Av 5704/1944. His works
include Bet Meir, Yeshuah Gedolah, Pirchei Aviv, Sukkat Shalom
and a Haggadah commentary entitled Korban Pesach.
In Bet Meir, a collection of sermons, R' Silverstone gives the
reader glimpses of Jewish life in America before World War One.
I know that many of the rabbis who know me, both in this
country and in England, will wonder why I am occupying
myself with homiletics rather than "negaim ve'ohalot"
(esoteric areas of halachah). However, I know that in
this country there are few people who learn such things
(i.e., learned works) and they become fewer in number
every day. Furthermore, those who would learn such books
cannot afford to buy them.
He also writes:
A sinner once asked me, "Why do rabbis in America ask for
payment for their services? They will learn with you for
money, they will deliver a sermon for money, they will
eulogize for money, etc."
I answered him, "Assuming you are correct - tell me, what
do you do for money? You transgress Shabbat for money,
you interlope on other people's businesses for money, you
cheat for money, etc. You will commit any abomination for
money. At least rabbis earn their money from doing good
R' Silverstone's father, R' Yeshayah Meir Silverstone, was
rabbi in Liverpool, England beginning in 1901. (Sources: Otzar
Harabbanim Nos. 4344, 11779; Introductions to Bet Meir, Vols. II