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Peninim on the Torah

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Rabbi A. Leib Scheinbaum
Hebrew Academy of Cleveland


Hashem spoke to Moshe in the wilderness of Sinai in the tent of meeting. (1:1)

The wilderness is a large area. One would expect the Torah to specify the place in the wilderness that Hashem's dialogue with Moshe Rabbeinu occurred. Chazal derive from here that the word midbar, wilderness, imparts to us a lesson concerning the attitude one must manifest when studying Torah. A midbar is a makom hefker, ownerless property. It is also desolate, indicating humility and lowliness. One must make himself as hefker, give himself up, so to speak, for the Torah. He relinquishes his ownership of himself, declaring himself null and void, so that he is able to dedicate himself totally to the pursuit of Torah study.

There is a limit to how far one can go being hefker. As Horav Bunim, zl, m'Peshischa would say, "I value and appreciate one who declares himself hefker for Torah. I am very wary, however, of he who is mafkir others." This means that the demands we make on ourselves must not be the standard which we apply to others. One should be eager to give someone the shirt off his own back. He should never, however, give away the shirt off someone else's back. Do chesed, perform acts of kindness, with your time, your energy, your money. Do not do it with other people's time, energy and money. Volunteer yourself. Do not volunteer others.

Moshe was the symbol of kabbolas haTorah, accepting the Torah. His humility was exemplary. He made himself hefker to all. He was there for everyone whenever he was needed. Har Sinai was selected to be the mountain upon which the Torah was given because it was the lowest of all mountains. This was its distinction. It achieved eminence because of its diminutive size.

The Noam Elimelech cautions us not to get carried away with being hefker and acting humble. Unrestricted humility, unregulated passiveness, and uncontrolled self-abnegation can lead to depression and hopelessness, which will cause the Shechinah to depart from him. This is why the Torah "counters" the word midbar with Ohel Moed, Tent of Meeting. Moed is the Hebrew term used to describe the Moadim, Festivals, which symbolize festivity and joy. The Shechinah only resides in a place which is the seat of simchah, joy. A person should make himself as a midbar, but he should concurrently see to it that he brings himself into the Ohel Moed - tent of happiness.

The Baal Shem Tov says that everything that can be achieved through fasting and self-denial can be achieved more quickly by performing mitzvos with simchah. The Shomer Emunim writes that the yetzer hora, evil inclination, directs all of its forces to weaken a person's simchah, because it leads to negligence of mitzvos and greater vulnerability to sin. Indeed, the Arizal said that his enormous spirituality and monumental achievements were the result of his performing mitzvos with simchah.

This does not mean that one should laugh in the face of disaster. The antonym for simchah is atzvus, depression, not sadness. The Baal HaTanya explains atzvus as an absence of feeling. One who is depressed is beyond sadness. He has no feeling whatsoever. Sadness is the state of feeling sad. One who is sad about a situation can be motivated to do something about it. Thus, this awareness and sensitivity can be the source of simchah. We see people who are seemingly sad who say they cannot express their emotions; they cannot cry. This is not sadness. This is depression.

The Baal Shem Tov once visited a town in which the people complained that their chazzan, cantor, behaved strangely. It seems that on Yom Kippur, he would chant the Al Cheit, Confession of sins, in a merry melody, rather than in a more appropriately somber tune. When questioned by the Baal Shem Tov, the cantor explained, "Rebbe, if I was the janitor in the king's palace, would I not be happy that I was sweeping away the dirt and beautifying the king's palace? Likewise, the neshamah, soul, within me is G-dly. When I confess my sins I feel that I am cleansing myself and making a better, more appropriate place for my neshamah. Is that not a reason to rejoice?" Needless to say, the Baal Shem Tov praised the chazzan for his attitude.

David HaMelech is the symbol of simchah, reiterating his feelings of gladness and joy throughout Sefer Tehillim. Yet, according to the Midrash, David HaMelech did not have a single good day throughout his entire life! It was his faith and trust in the Almighty that gave him the ability to triumph over adversity with the feeling in his heart that Hashem is taking care of everything. I will just have to wait and see how it all works out. Since Hashem is in control, the outcome will ultimately be good.

Rabbi Abraham Twerski tells the story of a recovering addict that explained why she had succeeded in her recovery program. She explained that she is a devout football fan who never misses watching her team play. She is either there or finds some way to see it. One weekend she had to be away, so she asked her friend to tape the game for her. Upon returning, the friend handed her the tape and said, "By the way, your team won."

Later that day, she watched the game in horror as she saw her team behind by twenty points at halftime. Under all circumstances, at this point, she would normally have been a nervous wreck, looking for different ways to assuage her nerves. This time, however, she was perfectly calm, because she knew the outcome of the game; her team had won.

That was the reason for her success in the addict recovery program. She had made a conscious decision to give her life over to the will of G-d. Knowing fully well that the Almighty will do what is best, she knew that she was ultimately going to win. Even though there would be a number of situations in which she would feel lost and confused, she trusted in G-d.

This is the story of life. We believe; we are faithful; and we trust in the Almighty. Thus, even when things seem not to be going in our favor, we do not lose hope. That is simchas ha'chaim. Is it easy? No. Is it necessary? There is no other way.

Take a census of the entire assembly of the Bnei Yisrael. (1:2)

Rashi writes that because of Hashem's love for the Jewish People, He counted them frequently. He counted them when they left Egypt; after the sin of the Golden Calf, to see how many remained after the sinners died; and now, when He rested His Presence . The Mishkan was erected on Rosh Chodesh Nissan and they were counted on Rosh Chodesh Iyar. Horav Yosef Leib Bloch, zl, wonders why a human emotion which motivates a person to count something which he cares about should play a role with regard to the Almighty. Man counts that which is precious to him, because he is fond of it and, thus, wants constantly to be aware of its existence. Hashem, however, is aware of everything. There is no secret before Him. Why does He "need" to count? Certainly, it is not because He needs to be made aware of its existence.

Apparently, one can count something merely because he is fond of it - not because he needs to know its amount. Nonetheless, he is still counting it because he wants to concretize the number in his mind. When one cares, he counts because it increases his awareness of the subject. This concept does not apply in any way to the Almighty. Doubt never enters into the equation, because the word "doubt" does not exist regarding Hashem. Why, then, did Hashem instruct that the Jewish People be counted?

Horav Nossan Ordman, zl, cites the Midrash which states: "Come and see how beloved Klal Yisrael is to Hashem. Hashem counted them a number of times, individually, as tribes and collectively, as a nation. This was done l'hodia, to make known, how much they are loved by Him. One always counts and recounts that which is precious to him, receiving great pleasure from every count." This teaches us that Hashem counts the Jewish People simply out of love. Once again, the question arises: How do we attribute a physical emotion to the Almighty? Hashem knows the number of Jews there are. Reiterating this number will certainly not increase His feelings towards us.

Rav Ordman understands this Midrash from a different perspective. He suggests that the word l'hodia, to make known, means to make known to Klal Yisrael. Hashem does not need this knowledge. We do! When we realize how much we mean to Hashem, how much He loves us, how precious we are to Him, we will be ennobled to act better, to be more observant, to develop a closer relationship with Hashem. It is all for us. Is it any different in the human sector? When children feel that their parents love them, they act differently. When students feel that their teachers care about them, they respond concommitantly.

For the sons of Yosef, for the sons of Efraim, for the sons of Menashe. (1:32,33)

The Baal HaTurim notes the use of the words, l'bnei Yosef, for the sons of Yosef; livnei Efraim, for the sons of Efraim. Usually, when the Torah mentions Yosef's two sons who achieved tribe status, it would write, l'bnei Yosef, l'Eraim; for the sons of Yosef, for Efraim. Why does the Torah add l'bnei Efraim, for the sons of Efraim, as if to exclude Yosef entirely? He explains that Yosef did not participate together with his brothers in carrying Yaakov Avinu's coffin, because he was a melech, king, and it was not kavod malchus, respect for the monarchy. Therefore, he is not counted among the Degalim, tribal banners. The banners are attributed solely to his two sons, Efraim and Menashe.

It seems implied by the words of the Baal HaTurim that Yosef's exclusion in the Degalim was some form of punishment for not carrying Yaakov's coffin. This is enigmatic. It is not as if Yosef refused to participate. He surely would have participated had he not been a melech. It was an oneiss, an accident, and he should not be blamed. The Alter, zl, m'Kelm explains that while it is true that Yosef is not to be faulted for not carrying his father's coffin, regardless of the reason, he did not carry it. Therefore, he was not personally included in the Degalim. An accident may relieve one of culpability; it may ameliorate the circumstances for one's non-participation in an endeavor, but, after all is said and done - he was not there! An accident does not fill the void; it excuses it.

We derive an important lesson from here. There are times when we are asked to participate in a certain endeavor or project for which we have a way of excusing ourselves. While our excuse may suffice to explain and even justify our non-attendance, we cannot demand at a later date to be included among those who served, who were involved, who participated. We cannot have our proverbial cake and eat it. Accidents do happen, and circumstances do arise when one cannot be at a given place, but we cannot expect to be included among those who made something happen, if, in fact, we "legitimately" had not been involved.

And these are the generations of Aharon and Moshe…And these are the names of the sons of Aharon. (3:1,2)

Rashi notes that the Torah begins by stating, "These are the generations of Aharon and Moshe," and goes on to list only the children of Aharon. This is because Moshe was their rebbe, Torah teacher. We are to infer from here that whoever teaches another person's children Torah is considered as if he gave birth to him. The lesson, aside from its simple message, also implies a rebbe's obligation to his student. If he is like a parent, then he must maintain a parental obligation to his student. In other words: it goes both ways. The student is not the rebbe's son unless the rebbe acts like a father.

There is a distinct difference between the nature of Torah studies and that of secular knowledge. The instructor of science -- or any other area of secular knowledge -- discharges his responsibility as long as he successfully imparts the lesson to the students. He is not obliged to take an interest in his student's personal life. As long as his students excel academically, he is considered to be an excellent teacher.

In Torah education this will not suffice. While scholastic achievement is important, it remains only one aspect of a rebbe's responsibility and ultimate success. He is required to take a parental interest in his student, demonstrating an interest similar to what he would manifest for his own child. Torah is more than a utilitarian endeavor; it provides a goal for one's life. If a student has been provided with the tools for living, but has not been taught how to actively assimilate these tools into life, then the teacher has not successfully carried out his mission. Teaching someone how to start a car, but not how to drive it, does not help much. Knowing how to drive on a straight road, without the ability and know-how to maneuver in traffic, will also not serve the student very well. Just as a parent is concerned about his child's ability to adjust to life in the world, so, too, should a rebbe take great pains to see to it that his student will be able to function successfully in confronting life's challenges.

Now that we have some idea of the awesome responsibility placed on our rebbeim, we must ask ourselves: Are we demanding too much from them? Are their classes too large, too demanding? Are they being compensated commensurately, or are they forced to augment their salaries with other sources of income? We must remember that all these diversions deplete their energy and deter them from their primary focus of addressing the totality of their student's life. Let me take the liberty of adding one more item to the list. It is probably not my place, and perhaps this is not the forum, but given the popularity of this publication, I want to bring a need to the attention of my readers: life insurance. Yes, tragically it happens. A young rebbe is stricken, a family is left bereft of a father and breadwinner. Because of his previous financial situation, he just did not have the money to purchase insurance. So, a tragedy occurs, and as rachamanim bnei rachamanim, compassionate sons of compassionate fathers, we provide for the family. What about preventive medicine? What about seeing to it that rebbeim are provided with the means to protect themselves al kol tzarah shelo tavo? After all, they are raising our children as if they were their own a little hakoras hatov, appreciation, would be in order.

Returning to Rashi's statement, we wonder whether every rebbe is considered to be as a parent, or are there specific criteria concerning the manner and approach of his teaching? Perhaps the words of the Maharal m'Prague can enlighten us. He asks: Was not Moshe Rabbeinu the Rabbon Shel Kol Yisrael? If everyone was his student, why are Aharon's sons emphasized more than anyone else? He explains that while Moshe taught all of Klal Yisrael, he spent extra hours studying with Aharon's sons. When a rebbe goes beyond the call of duty, when he does not look at the clock waiting for the bell to ring, then he is koneh, acquires, the students. They become his, because he has shown that he cares - about the student - nothing else, just the student.

The Chasam Sofer notes that Aharon's sons are mentioned because Moshe taught them, but what about Moshe's own sons, his flesh and blood? Are they any less significant than Aharon's sons? His answer is frightening and should serve as a wake-up call for those of us whose priorities are not in order. He says that Aharon's sons are considered Moshe's spiritual children, because he taught them and devoted his time to them. Moshe's sons were his flesh and blood, but, because of the constraints of leadership, he did not supervise his sons as much as he would have liked. The sons that one watches over and with which he spends time are his sons. The others are his physical offspring, but, in the spiritual sense, there is a failure in their father-son relationship! The Chasam Sofer goes on to suggest that when the opportunity to be mevakesh Hashem, seek Hashem's word, arose and one only had to turn to the Ohel Moed, Moshe's sons did not go of their own volition, and Moshe was not there to motivate them. Therefore, they did not achieve the spiritual distinction that Aharon's sons developed.

The Chasam Sofer emphasizes that educating one's children demands that one dedicate time and effort. "Moshe descended from the mountain to the people" (Shemos 19:14). Rashi notes that Moshe, the quintessential Jewish leader, ignored his personal affairs completely; he went directly to the people. On that day, Moshe's students became his spiritual children, while his physical offspring did not. Children cannot be raised on "five minutes here" and "five minutes there." Perhaps we can add that when children see how much time and effort their parents put into their education, it tells them how much their parents value their education. This sends a powerful and compelling message to a child - one that will hopefully engender a positive reciprocity.

In closing, Horav Yitzchak Zilberstein, Shlita, cites the Mishnah Berurah, who cites the Tur, who discusses two berachos, blessings: Hashuveinu Avinu, Return us our Father; and Selach lanu Avinu, Forgive us, our Father. They both include the word Avinu, our Father, because a father is obligated to his son, and a father has compassion for his son. We, therefore, ask Hashem to do what a mortal father would do. Rav Zilberstein asks: If a father does not find the time to learn with his son; if his son's educational development does not fit into his scheme of things, how can he ask Hashem to do the same for him? This is a question that should make us think. After all, how can we ask Hashem to do for us what we will not do for our own children?

Va'ani Tefillah

Va'yomru kol ha'am Amen, v'hallel l'Hashem.
And the entire assemblage said: Amen and praise to Hashem.

In the Talmud Pesachim 117A, Chazal tell us that the word Hallelukah is the highest term for the praise of Hashem found in Sefer Tehillim, which lists ten expressions of praise. They explain that Hallelukah combines both Hashem's Name and praise, all in one word. What is the meaning of hallel, praise, that elevates it above the other forms of expressions of praise? Horav S.R. Hirsch, zl, explains Hallel as the piel conjugation of the verb hallel, which means to shine a light on something. In the piel form, hallel means to reflect the light away. Thus, the piel form is actually the converse of the kal, simple, conjugation. We find a similar instance with the word dashon, which means to put down ashes, and dashein (piel) which is translated as to remove the ashes. In this sense, the words hallel, mehullal, or ahallelekah, when praising Hashem, means that we are "reflecting back to Hashem" all the blessings that He has bestowed upon us. In other words, our praise is the acknowledgement that He is the Source of all of our blessings. Is there a greater form of praise than such recognition of Hashem?

l'zechar nishmas
Chaim Tzvi ben Aharon HaLevi z"l
Dr. Hrry Feld
niftar 28 Iyar 5760

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