Back to This Week's Parsha

Peninim on the Torah

subscribe.gif (2332 bytes)

Previous issues

Rabbi A. Leib Scheinbaum
Hebrew Academy of Cleveland


And they established their genealogy, according to their families, according to their fathers' household. (1:18)

The census was executed according to tribe, thereby requiring each individual to establish his genealogical descent from a given tribe. This was done either by document, witnesses, or by the word of the individual. Chazal relate that when Hashem gave the Torah to Klal Yisrael, the nations of the world suddenly disputed His decision. Why were the Jews receiving the Torah and not they? Hashem replied, "Bring Me your sefer Yuchsin, book of family pedigree, to determine from which nations you descend, so that it can be determined if you are worthy of receiving the Torah. The Jewish people have presented their pedigree, and it is impeccable." Chazal's words have allowed for the various commentators to each present his individual exegesis of the concept of pedigree.

Horav Yisrael Yaakov Fisher, zl, offers a practical explanation. Kabbolas HaTorah, the receiving of the Torah, was not a one time commitment. It was an acceptance for each and every ensuing generation until the end of time. Otherwise, it is not a kabbalah, acceptance. The question is: How do we guarantee such commitment? How do we ensure the dedication to the Torah of each and every generation of Jews following Har Sinai? This is done through compliance with the instruction received from Moshe Rabbeinu in his farewell address to Klal Yisrael: "And make them known to your children and your children's children - the day that you stood before Hashem, your G-d, at Chorev" (Devarim 4:9,10). Imparting the Revelation and its significance to the next generation is the primary method for keeping Kabbolas HaTorah alive and well in the hearts and minds of each generation of Jewish children. They will, in turn, transmit their knowledge and emotions to their children. As Ramban writes, "This process affirms the veracity of the Torah, for a father will neither testify falsely to his children, nor will he bequeath them something foolish in which he does not believe."

There is one catch, however: This process works only as long as children respect and value their parents. A child who does not extol and hold his parents in high esteem will not accept his parents' affirmation of support for the Torah. Thus, he will not transmit the lessons he has heard from his parents to his children. In order to believe in an event which has taken place in the distant past, one must have faith in his mentor. Faith is the product of esteem. Without respect, one cannot have faith. It is as simple as that.

Chazal convey this idea via a simple aphorism: "If the rishonim, previous generations, are (viewed by you) as angels, then we are like human beings. If, however, the previous generations are not more than human beings, then we are like donkeys." There is a degradation of generations. In order to maintain a status quo, we must glorify our predecessors. If we will not sing their praises, who will? Certainly our children will not take up the cause of faith in the past. On the contrary, they will say, "It was appropriate in the past. We do not live this way today. We are in a modern, progressive society. It is about time that we removed the shackles of the past and move on." Every generation produces its intellectuals who think they are wiser than the previous generation. If there is no respect, there can be no Torah transmission.

This is Klal Yisrael's uniqueness. We have a sefer Yuchsin, book of genealogical descent. We are proud of our ancestors, and, as such, we extol them by singing their praises to our children. Only the Jewish people can say this. We establish our genealogy l'bais avosam, according to their "father's" household. This is a reference to the Patriarchs. Indeed, we are acutely aware that, with each ensuing generation, we are distancing ourselves further from this source of inspiration and pride. We savor everything that we hear or study about them. The greater they appear in our eyes, the greater we become.

You shall appoint the Leviim over the Mishkan of the Testimony. (1:50)

The Baal HaTurim notes an intriguing Mesorah concerning the word hafkeid, appoint. There is one other hafkeid in Tanach: Hafkeid alav rasha, "Appoint a wicked man over him" (Tehillim 109:6). What relationship is there between the two hafkeids? Appointing the Leviim to a position of distinction, and signifying one as wicked, are hardly parallel. The explanation of the Baal HaTurim seems to intensify the ambiguity concerning the correlation of the two pesukim. He says that this supports a statement made by Chazal, "One does not become a pakid (hafkeid), overseer, rise to a position of importance and responsibility below, until after he has been designated as a rasha, wicked, by Heaven." In other words, it is almost tit for tat. The one who ascends to greatness on this world's stage has already been "demoted" in the Heavenly sphere. Does this make sense? How are we to reconcile this Chazal and the Mesorah which the Baal HaTurim suggests is supported by Chazal?

Horav Menachem Tzvi Taksin, zl, offers the following homiletic rendering of Chazal and applies it to explain the Baal HaTurim. In the Talmud Yoma 22b, Chazal state: Kama lo chali v'lo margish gavra d'Morei sayei. "How spared from sickness and worry is the person whose help is his Master in Heaven!" Shaul b'achas v'lo alsa lo; David b'shetayim v'alsa lo, "Shaul erred in one sin, and it was reckoned against him; whereas David erred in two sins, and it was not reckoned against him." Rashi explains that Chazal are teaching us that one who has Hashem's support can be confident that no misfortune will befall him. This means that the punishment he receives from Hashem will be mitigated and not necessarily commensurate with his sins. As proof, Chazal illustrate the difference between the manner in which Hashem treated Shaul, who had erred once concerning the incident with Agag, King of Amalek, whom he allowed to live; and David, who had erred twice: first, concerning Uriah HaChitti, and second, when he took a census of the Jewish People, thereby causing a plague. Shaul was penalized with death, causing an end to his monarchy and precluding the chance for a dynasty. David was not punished for either of his infractions.

David received favorable treatment, whereas Shaul did not. Apparently, David had Hashem's support, while Shaul did not. This is the case, despite the fact that Chazal, in the Talmud Moed Katan 16b, imply that Shaul was on a higher spiritual plane than David. How are we to understand the implications of Chazal's statement? Are we to think that Hashem plays favorites? Clearly, there is no such thing as favoritism with Hashem.

In his Yaaros Devash, Horav Yehonasan Eibshutz, zl, explains that Shaul was a good person by nature. This means that he was born with a "good" DNA; he was an individual who was good to everyone, who viewed everything through the prism of "good" and positive. Even those who were disrespectful of Shaul never saw a negative reaction. He was nice to every person, regardless of his nature. While this may be a wonderful - even laudable - way to live, it precludes the individual from being a successful leader. A king is not allowed to let people insult him. A leader must rule with discipline. "Mr. Nice Guy" does not make an effective leader. There comes a time when he must make demands, must put his foot down.

In contrast, David was born with a nature that was far from affable. It is not that he had a mean streak; it is just that his personality was a challenge that he needed to overcome. David Hamelech rose to the challenge, worked on himself and refined his character. He learned how to deal with all types of people under various circumstances. He transformed himself from Heaven's original "designation" of him. It was for this incredible refinement of character that Hashem chose him to be the King of Yisrael and the founder of the Davidic dynasty.

Rav Taksin suggests that the Baal HaTurim is alluding to this. One does not become an overseer in this world until after he has been designated as wicked Above. This means that one who was originally born with character traits that are less than desirable, with a nature that was destined for evil - but, by his own free will and tenacity has succeeded in overriding these innate qualities - manifests leadership capabilities for which he deserves to become an overseer over his community. It is not what a person was - it is what, by his own grit and resolution, he has become.

This was the nature of Shevet Levi, about whom Moshe Rabbeinu said, "The one who said of his father and mother I have not favored him" (Devarim 33:9). When they were asked to carry out Hashem's decree against those who sinned with the Golden Calf, they listened and acted immediately - regardless if it meant carrying out punishment against close relatives. They subdued their natural tendencies and did what had to be done. Those who were originally known for their exceptional compassion transformed themselves in order to execute Hashem's decree.

The Peninei Rabbeinu Yechezkel relates that Horav Chaim Soloveitchik, zl, was meticulous in this area. Every endeavor, every moment in his life, was governed by Torah and Halachah. If Halachah demanded strict justice, he acted in this manner. If Halachah called for extreme compassion, Rav Chaim was compassionate. One could never form an opinion of Rav Chaim's nature, since every aspect of his life was in consonance with what the Torah was asking of him at that moment. His entire essence was suffused with Torah. He was its mortal embodiment.

The Ksav Sofer, zl, suggests a practical explanation of this Mesorah. It is well-known that the greater one is in his spiritual achievement, his yetzer hora, evil-inclination, likewise grows commensurately. There must be a balance in order to earn reward. Thus, the challenge must be raised. One who has been designated for spiritual leadership must be aware that, with his appointment to distinction, there was created in Heaven a spiritual entity or power given to Satan to challenge him. Thus, with spiritual ascension on this world, a rasha, wicked challenge, must be created in Heaven.

The Kotzker Rebbe, zl, was known for his short aphorisms which always hit the bull's eye of truth. He viewed leadership over the community, with its responsibilities, as a thankless experience which isolates one from his true purpose on this world: serving Hashem. He, therefore, would say that when one is appointed to a leadership position, it is an indication that Heaven is upset with him. Otherwise, why would he warrant such "punishment"?

You shall appoint the Leviim over the Mishkan of the Testimony. (1:50)

Upon perusal of the pesukim, it is evident that the Torah instructed Moshe Rabbeinu to appoint the Leviim for their mission concerning the Mishkan of Testimony even before he was told to count them. Whereas the rest of the nation was immediately entered into the census, Shevet Levi was presented with their unique function and then counted. The Shach explains this from a practical standpoint. Shevet Levi's census was quite small in contrast to the other Shevatim, Tribes. At first blush, this could cause them chalishas ha'daas, a somewhat downcast feeling. After all, why should Shevet Levi be the smallest in number? I must add that it is not just a concept of numbers. Every child that is brought into Klal Yisrael is unique. Every parent wants to play a role in increasing the quantitative effect of the Jewish People. Every Jew is a world. Why should Shevet Levi have less? Thus, the Torah precludes their census by first calling attention to their lofty position. When they realized their sublime calling, it assuaged their negative feelings which were evoked by having a diminished portion in Klal Yisrael's total census.

After all is said and done, does their increased role in the Mishkan ameliorate their decrease of progeny? Horav Chaim Kanievsky, Shlita, explains that indeed Shevet Levi had a comparatively diminished family size for a very good reason - one for which they could all be proud. Klal Yisrael's miraculous growth in Egypt was due to a special Heavenly blessing of kein yirbeh v'kein yifrotz - "So it would increase and so it would burst forth." (Shemos 1:12). The evil Pharoah was concerned that his Jewish citizens would one day rise up and rebel against his rulership. He felt that by subjugating them to hard and degrading labor he would minimize their growth. Pen yirbeh u'pen yifrotz, "Lest they multiply; lest they burst forth." Hashem responded, Kein yirbeh v'kein yifrotz; "The more you afflict them - the more they will grow and increase." Thus, Klal Yisrael multiplied, increasing their numbers by leaps and bounds in a manner that spelled miraculous. There was, however, one drawback: their growth was commensurate with their labor and affliction. Shevet Levi remained in Goshen, seeing to it that the bais hamedrash was kept spiritually verdant. Whereas Klal Yisrael's physical growth was supernatural, Shevet Levi had to settle for the "natural." As an aside, this provides us with an inspiring lesson. Life is ultimately balanced. The "haves" and "have nots" will, in the final diagnosis, all balance out. It might even take a few generations, but at the end, they are all equal.

Returning to the reason that Shevet Levi were not immediately counted like the other Shevatim, Rav Kanievsky explains that this was due to their distinction. Shevet Levi was different. They were in a league all their own, due to their function as guardians of the Mishkan. The concept of minyan, census, is that everyone is included together as a single unit. Since Shevet Levi was different, they were not counted together with the rest of Klal Yisrael. They were their own distinct minyan. Thus, the Torah defers the count to single out Shevet Levi as the appointees to oversee the Mishkan.

Nadav and Avihu died before Hashem. (3:4)

Vayamas is singular, meaning, "and he died." Concerning the deaths of Nadav and Avihu, the Torah should have written vayamusu, "and they died." K'motzei Shalal Rav cites the Zohar Hakadosh that teaches that Nadav and Avihu died a purely physical death. Their spiritual selves did not perish, but lived on. The Zohar supports this hypothesis with an anomaly in the text concerning Pinchas. The Torah states (Shemos 6:25) that Elazar HaKohen took a wife from the daughters of Putiel. Pinchas was born to him. This is followed up with the words, eilah roshei avos, "These were the heads/leaders of the fathers of the Leviim." The word eilah, these, is plural and written with regard to a single person - Pinchas. Why does the Torah use a word which implies a plurality if, in fact, it is speaking about one individual? The Zohar infers that Nadav and Avihu's neshamos were nisgalgel, transmigrated, into Pinchas. Therefore, Pinchas - the single person - is actually the embodiment of two people - Nadav and Avihu.

The Zohar continues that, for this reason, in delineating Pinchas' pedigree, the Torah writes, "Pinchas ben Elazar ben Aharon HaKohen." Why is it necessary to mention Pinchas' grandfather, Aharon? Indeed, when the Torah mentions Elazar HaKohen, it does not find it necessary to call attention to his father Aharon. Why is it different concerning Pinchas? Rabbi Shimon bar Yochai explains that Nadav and Avihu, although two separate people, were, in fact, together nisgalgel into Pinchas. By detailing Pinchas' ancestry back to Aharon, the Torah is implying that Pinchas had a very distinct relationship with his grandfather. In fact, he was his spiritual father!

Rabbi Elazar ben Shimon asked his father why two people were nisgalgel into one person. It is not as if there was a shortage of people into whom the neshamos could be placed. Rabbi Shimon explained that Nadav and Avihu represented two halves of a human body, since neither of them had married; they were designated as plag gufa, "half a body." Together, they equaled one body, which allowed for both of their neshamos together to be transmigrated into Pinchas.

In summation, Pinchas receives the plurality, since he was the recipient of two neshamos, while the deaths of Nadav and Avihu are written in the singular, since together they were one.

I feel we would be remiss to allow the Zohar Hakadosh's chidush, novel idea, to go by without reflecting upon its implications. Pinchas serves as the paradigm of the true religious zealot, the kanai l'shem Shomayim, one who acts to protect the glory and sanctity of Heaven. Nothing stands in his way when he sees Hashem's Name being dragged in the gutter, utterly humiliated and degraded by those whose purported goal in life is to undermine the sanctity of Judaism. Where did he get this sense of sincere religious outrage? What were the origins of Pinchas' moral indignation with those who defile Judaism? He was one person amongst an entire nation who had the courage, resolution and fortitude to stand up to the Nasi, Prince, of the Tribe of Shimon and slay him and his paramour during their blatant act of moral desecration. Everyone else stood numb, dumbfounded, as they watched Pinchas act definitively, without fear of reprisal or public condemnation.

We now have a clue to Pinchas' origins, his drive and passion, as the recipient of not one - but two - holy neshamos, of Nadav and Avihu, the individuals whom Moshe Rabbeinu eulogized as the b'krovai ekadash, "Through My close ones I will be sanctified." They were Hashem's "close ones"! This is the first prerequisite for achieving kanaus - being close to Hashem - both in experience and in emotion.

In order to take righteous umbrage on behalf of Hashem's Name, one must feel such a sense of closeness with the Almighty that he is one with Him. This feeling must be controlled or it can lead to disaster - as it did with Nadav and Avihu. Out of an overriding sense of love for Hashem, and a compelling passion to serve Him, they crossed the line by not waiting for the Almighty's command. This created an eish zarah, "strange fire." Without Hashem's express directive, the most committed act of observance becomes strange. A Jew lives by obedience. This means he acts in accordance with Hashem's dictate - and never acts without direction from Above.

Prior to Pinchas' act of zealousness, he presented himself before his Rebbe Moshe and asked, "Did the Rebbe not teach that Ha'boel aramis kanain pogim bo, 'One who cohabits with a gentile - zealous ones may strike him down?'" Moshe agreed, instructing Pinchas to avenge Hashem's honor. By asking, Pinchas rectified the one error exhibited by Nadav and Avihu, which on their unprecedented sublime plateau, cost them their mortal lives.

In conclusion: A kanai has to achieve a spiritual plateau relative to that of Nadav and Avihu, a consummate devotion to Hashem and an unwavering sense of obedience to His word. Nadav and Avihu equals Pinchas, who, due to his act of zealousness, was granted the Covenant of Peace.

There are the offspring of Aharon and Moshe. (3:1)

The Torah is about to detail the offspring of both Aharon and Moshe; yet, it enumerates only those of Aharon. Rashi quotes Chazal in the Talmud Sanhedrin 19b that teach "whoever teaches his friend's son Torah, it is considered as if he gave birth to him." The Shlah Hakadosh adds that one should not take the word k'ilu, "as if," verbatim, for it is more than "as if." One who teaches Torah to his friend's son has actually given birth to him. Father and mother provide a child's body; the rebbe, Torah teacher, sustains his neshamah, soul. Thus, whoever has chosen the holy calling of chinuch as his life's vocational endeavor, is actually creating and sustaining neshamos.

It goes even deeper than that. One who provides a Torah education for a Jewish child is granting him continued life. The following episode will perhaps shed light on this theory. One day, Horav Elazar M. Shach, zl, convened an important meeting with regard to issues confronting the Jewish people. Most of those "invited" to attend were from the Diaspora. Apparently, this was an important meeting. Therefore, his grandchildren insisted that Rav Shach not have his usual "office hours" during which individuals from all over the world came to petition his blessing and sage counsel.

The group was waiting to begin their meeting when a father asked to enter the Rosh Yeshivah's office with his fourteen-year-old yeshivah son. At first, the reply was in the negative. At the behest of Rav Shach, these people had traveled across the world to meet with the gadol hador, the generation's preeminent Torah leader. This was an unusual meeting and quite significant. The Rosh Yeshivah would be tied up all day.

The father would not take "no" for an answer. He asked for only a minute of Rav Shach's time, to obtain a blessing for his son that he grow and be successful in Torah learning. The men granted him his request, stipulating that he would have only a minute. The father and son entered the office and departed from there almost two hours later! One can only begin to imagine the group's agitation when they came out. "You promised us it would be but for a moment, yet you remained for almost two hours!" they clamored.

"You are correct," the father replied. "My intention was to spend a moment, but Rav Shach thought otherwise. He insisted that we stay!"

"What happened?" they asked. "When I presented my son to the Rosh Yeshivah, he asked my son if he enjoys learning Torah. My son answered that he does not look forward to studying Torah, because it makes no sense to him. Apparently, the rebbe teaches the subject, and those students who care to learn - do, while the others are allowed to stare at the ceiling.

"Rav Shach immediately picked up two Gemaros - one for himself and one for my son, and they began to learn together. Slowly, carefully, meticulously, Rav Shach explained the Gemorah's dialogue to my son. One could see the subject matter becoming clear in his mind. Suddenly, my son began to cry. 'Why are you crying?' Rav Shach asked my son.

"Rebbe, I am crying from joy. For the first time in my life, I understand the Gemorah. It is no longer a closed book to me. Now, I finally sense a taam, flavor, to my learning."

The father and son apologized and left. When the group entered Rav Shach's office, he immediately explained his actions, "I could not allow the boy to leave here without addressing his problem. To sense a taam in learning is pikuach nefesh, a matter of life and death! For a Jewish child to have a dispassionate attitude towards Torah study is egregious. Such a child is a choleh mesukan, critically ill. To save a critically ill child takes precedence over everything!"

Va'ani Tefillah

Adon Ha'niflaos - Master of Wonders.

When we see or read about wonders in the world, it is important that we take it in perspective. It is a wonder only in the sense that we humans are not used to it. It is outside of the realm of nature to which we humans have become accustomed. To Hashem Yisborach, it is all the same: natural/supernatural are all under his dominion. He is the Master, Hu levado, He alone controls everything which takes place in the world. As Master, He is so far removed from our ability to understand that we could go on and on describing His niflaos, wonders, and still not ever scratch the surface.

Furthermore, a peleh, wonder, is something which, according to the course of nature, should have destroyed everything in its path - yet did not, because Hashem did not want it to. As Horav Shimon Schwab, zl, observes, whether it was the scud missiles that just "happened" to be intercepted by Patriot antimissile missiles or it is every catastrophe that occurs - but does not destroy. Every bullet has its mark. This is part of the Adon Ha'niflaos.

l'zechar nishmas
Chaim Tzvi ben Aharon Halevi z"l
Dr. Harry Feld
niftar 28 Iyar 5760
Dr. Donnie and Debbie Norowitz
and family

Peninim on the Torah is in its 20th year of publication. The first fifteen years have been published in book form.

The Fifteenth volume is available at your local book seller or directly from Rabbi Scheinbaum.

He can be contacted at 216-321-5838 ext. 165 or by fax at 216-321-0588

Discounts are available for bulk orders or Chinuch/Kiruv organizations.


This article is provided as part of Shema Yisrael Torah Network
Permission is granted to redistribute electronically or on paper,
provided that this notice is included intact.
For information on subscriptions, archives, and
other Shema Yisrael Classes,
send mail to
Jerusalem, Israel