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Tzav, Shabbos Zachor: There’s Always Hope for Return

וידבר ה' אל משה לאמר. צו את אהרן ואת בניו לאמר זאת תורת העולה וגו'.

“And Hashem spoke to Moshe to say: Command Aharon and his sons to say: ‘This is the Torah [commandment] of the Oleh offering.” (Vayikra 6:1-2)

There is an interesting Midrash on this verse: “Rabbi Yossi ben Kisma’s disciples asked him, ‘When will [Moshiach] ben Dovid come?’ He replied: ‘This is the Torah of the Oleh offering.’” What is the connection between Moshiach and the Oleh offering? As long as we are in exile we do not have the ability to bring any offerings to Hashem, so how does this Torah commandment refer to Moshiach’s coming?

In the Megillah (Book of Esther), we read about Mordechai’s refusal to bow down to Haman. The verse says: “And all of the servants of the king who were in the gateway of the king asked Mordechai, ‘Why do you transgress the command of the king [to bow down to Haman]?’” There is a beautiful interpretation of these words that brings out an important message. There are many Torah leaders who admonish the people. They urge us to repent by asking the question: “Why do you transgress the commands of the King of Kings?” They rebuke their fellow Jews sharply whenever they see improper behavior.

Shlomo Hamelech says in Mishlei (9:8): “Do not rebuke the scoffer lest he will hate you; rebuke the wise man and he will love you.” The Alshich asks: “How can Shlomo Hamelech contradict the Torah, where it says clearly that we should rebuke our fellow man? The Torah doesn’t make any distinctions between whom we should rebuke and whom we shouldn’t, so why does Shlomo Hamelech differentiate between the scoffer and the wise man? Furthermore, the wise man would probably not need to be rebuked too often, so how can we say that the obligation to censor our fellow man refers to wise people only?”

The Alshich answers his own question with an insightful interpretation of the verse. Shlomo Hamelech is not referring to two different people – to a wise man and a scoffer. Instead, he is discussing the rebuke itself and the manner in which it is delivered. There are two ways that one can rebuke his fellow man. He can choose to label him a fool and a scoffer, and call him a heretic and sinner. If you do so, explains the Alshich, in all likelihood the person will hate you and you will gain nothing, other than causing the person to commit even more transgressions. But there is another way to deliver rebuke. You can call the person a wise man, indicating that it is beneath a person of such quality to behave in such a manner. If you will focus on his positive traits and speak respectfully, then he will love you and you will have achieved the purpose of tochachah (rebuke).

With this understanding, we can interpret the verse in Megillas Esther. “And all servants of the king who were in the gateways of the king.” Most people who deliver rebuke are indeed in “the gateways of the King” - they are servants of Hashem. They demand from others, “Why do you transgress Hashem’s command?” This type of rebuke is often counterproductive. Mordechai’s way of delivering rebuke was different, as it says in the Megillah: “For he told them that he is a Jew.” Mordechai would admonish his people by saying, “You are a Jew, and you have a holy and precious soul. No matter how far you have strayed, you will always remain a Jew with the ability to repent and become a tzaddik.” In this manner, he drew people closer to Hashem.

This is the meaning of the original verse we’ve mentioned before, and the Midrash about Reb Yossi ben Kisman’s response to his disciples. “This is the Torah of the Oleh offering.” The word Oleh means to elevate. The Torah is telling us that when you try to bring others closer to Hashem, don’t push them down with sharp words of rebuke. Don’t call the person a scoffer, a fool or a sinner. Instead, lift him up, elevate him! Call him a tzaddik, a precious Jew, beloved by Hashem.

When the Jewish people were in Egypt, they had sunken to the 49th gate of impurity, yet Hashem still called them, “My firstborn son, Israel.” Hashem still referred to them as His precious children and assured them that He did not forget their plight. Just as He did in Egypt, so too every year Hashem pulls us out of the depths of impurity. The Chesed L’Avraham writes that thirty days before Pesach, which is Purim, Hashem opens the gates of heaven and helps each Jew pull himself up, out of his personal spiritual mire. Each day, the heavenly gate is opened wider; by the time Pesach arrives the door is completely ajar and every Jew can finally be freed from spiritual captivity.

Hashem took us out of Egypt in great haste, because had we tarried, the Jewish people may have sunken to the fiftieth level of impurity from which there is no return. Our sages tell us, however, that in our preset exile there are Jews who have sunken to the fiftieth level of impurity, but even so they should not despair of being able to repent and return to Hashem. Since the Jewish people were given the Torah, they can always return to Hashem, regardless of how far they may have strayed and how low they may have fallen.

Aharon was a tzaddik who strove to help others return to Hashem. How did he accomplish this? He would rebuke his fellow Jews the way Shlomo Hamelech advises – by reminding them of how special they are. “You are a wise person, someone destined for greatness!” he would say. “It is beneath you to act in such a manner. Deep within your heart you surely want to be better. Please remember that you always have the ability to return to Hashem.” If the person would say, “Not me! I’m too far gone. For me, there is no longer any hope,” then Aharon would “bring him close to the Torah (Avos 4:12).” By teaching the person Torah, Aharon would help the person return to Hashem, even from the fiftieth gate of impurity.

This is what Hashem commanded Moshe to tell Aharon and his sons, and all those who wish to emulate Aharon. “This is the Torah of the Oleh.” With the Torah, one can always become elevated, no matter how low they have fallen.

Reb Yossi ben Kisma’s disciples asked a really good question: “When will Moshiach come? Hashem hastened to take us out of Egypt so that we should not fall into the lowest level of impurity. But in our present exile, we have already fallen so low. Perhaps we should despair of Moshiach’s coming? Could it be that we are beyond hope – that it is no longer possible for us to return to Hashem?”

Reb Yossi replied: “This is the Torah of the Oleh.” With the Torah, we can always elevate ourselves. With the power of Torah we can still rise above ourselves, even though we may have fallen lower than the Jewish people in Egypt.

In the story of Purim, we see how the Torah can pull the Jewish people up when they’ve fallen. Haman built Mordechai’s gallows fifty cubits tall in order to hint that the Jewish people have already fallen into the fiftieth gate of impurity and there is no longer any hope for them. Haman failed to realize that the Jewish people accepted the Torah anew on Purim, and with the power of Torah they were able to return to Hashem even from the fiftieth gate of tumah.

We must remind ourselves and each other that we can always return! We should always remember that we are beloved to Hashem. On Purim, we are required to drink wine until we reach the point of “not knowing the difference between ‘cursed is Haman’ and ‘blessed is Mordechai’.” One of the yetzer hara’s tactics is to convince us that we are like Haman, and therefore we are forever cursed. But on Purim, the time of salvation, we come to the realization that there is no difference! No matter where we stand, we can always turn around and become as righteous as Mordechai.

Hashem, our King, is throwing down a rope into the pit into which we’ve fallen. He wants to pull us out; all we need to do is take the rope and hold on to Him. Let us utilize this opportunity and connect to the Torah, which tethers us to Hashem. Then we will finally be lifted out of exile and restored to greatness.

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