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Peninim on the Torah

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Rabbi A. Leib Scheinbaum
Hebrew Academy of Cleveland


If you will follow My decrees. (26:3)

Rashi understands the concept of following Hashem's decrees as engaging in intensive Torah study. Ameilus, toil, in Torah is a critical aspect of Torah study. The Taz in Orach Chaim 47 writes, "The Torah is retained only by he that toils in it diligently and with great intensity. Those who study Torah casually - amid comfort and without toil - will not retain it." The study of Torah is unlike any other scholarly pursuit. For a Jew, it is his lifeblood and must be viewed as such. Horav Eliyahu Eliezer Dessler, zl, explains that one who toils in an endeavor or puts his heart and soul into the development of a certain goal will naturally develop a close bond with it. One who plants a tree or works in a garden becomes attached to the tree or the bushes on a level consistent with the effort and toil that he has expended. If this is true in the material/physical dimension, how much more so is it true in the spiritual dimension. The more one toils to achieve a foothold, to acquire a level of spiritual accomplishment, the stronger his relationship with the Torah becomes. Indeed, when one studies Torah with great intensity, it becomes his acquisition; it becomes an integral part of him.

Our great Torah leaders, past and present, have viewed ameilus baTorah as the only way to study Torah. Indeed, the more toil, the greater was their enjoyment. There is a story told that when Horav Meshulam Igra, zl, was rav in Sismanitz, two laymen from a different town came to him with the request that he render judgment in regard to a monetary dispute between the two. Rav Meshulam listened carefully to the two litigants as they presented the case. He told them that the matter was laden with various opinions in halachah, and he would need some time to sort out the halachah and render judgment. The two men realized that it would take a few days, so they decided to return home and ask their local rav, who was also a Torah scholar.

They presented the question to their rav, who asked them to return in a few minutes. As soon as they left the room, the rav began to entreat Hashem with bitter tears, begging Him to guide him so that he would render the correct judgment in this most difficult case. He feared that if he could not give a correct judgment, he would lose his esteem in the community and eventually his position. Hashem listened to his prayers and guided him to look in a certain volume of halachic responsa that quoted the correct judgment to their dispute. The rav rendered judgment; the laymen accepted; everyone was happy.

A few months went by, and these men once again had the occasion to be in Sismanitz. They went to Rav Meshulam and apologized for not waiting around for his ruling regarding their earlier dispute, asking "By the way, what was the psak, ruling?" Rav Meshulam said that after much deliberation, he had come to a judgment. The men began to laugh, explaining how they had left Sismanitz earlier because they could not wait a few days for Rav Meshulam's psak. When they returned home, their rav had rendered judgment almost immediately.

When Rav Meshulam heard this, he was determined to meet the rav. Anybody who could render judgment in such a difficult dispute so quickly must be an erudite Torah scholar of the highest calibre. He must go to pay him homage.

When Rav Meshulam came to visit the rav, the rav became frightened. Rav Meshulam was one of the preeminent Torah leaders of the generation. This was an honor of the highest accord. It also could prove embarrassing, because Rav Meshulam was under the impression that the rav was a great scholar, a fact which the rav viewed as somewhat discrepant from the truth. Rav Meshulam began by saying how impressed and astounded he was that the rav was able to render judgment so soon after being presented with the dispute. The rav responded humbly, "It is not that I am a great scholar. Indeed, I feared that I would not be able to render judgment, so I prayed fervently to Hashem to guide me."

When Rav Meshulam heard this, he shrugged and said, "To cry - I could also do that. The proper and correct manner to render judgment is through ameilus, toil in Torah study, and careful, didactic perusal of the sources. I bid you good-day."

The message is loud and clear. Certainly, the rav must have been a pious individual, since Hashem had immediately responded favorably to his supplication.He was, however, lacking one point in his Torah study: ameilus - toil, and that was everything. We can pray for success before a test, or we can study for it. In the end, the scholar is the one who has studied diligently.

Studying Torah does not come easily to everyone. For some, it means overcoming the challenge of aptitude, while for others it is time. Then there is a challenge that we do not realize exists: parents who do not understand the value of their sons' achievements. These are simple challenges. What about studying Torah under duress, with extreme mesiras nefesh, self-sacrifice? Horav Chaim Kreisworth, zl, would note that he had greater mastery and deeper insight into those sections of Talmud that he was compelled to study under great hardship and mesiras nefesh. He went so far as to posit that not only was he proficient in these areas, but his sons even achieved greater expertise in those sections of Talmud that he studied with mesiras nefesh. He cited a famous maxim of Chazal in support of this phenomenon. We are taught that any mitzvah which Klal Yisrael accepted with mesiras nefesh remained with them forever. These mitzvos were transmitted through the generations from father to son.

The simple interpretation of Chazal is that any mitzvah for which Klal Yisrael demonstrated remarkable commitment - accepting it from the beginning - endured. A classic example is the mitzvah of Bris Milah, which is still an accepted Jewish tradition by even the most alienated Jew. Rav Chaim contends that Chazal are teaching us that any mitzvah - and we may add that this applies to any activity - that increases Kavod Shomayim, honor of Heaven, which is performed with mesiras nefesh, will remain in the family. It will become a father's legacy to his children.

Horav Moshe Neuschloss, zl, Rav of New Square, maintained such a strong bond with the Torah. Indeed, he lived his life with the acute awareness of the centrality of Torah to the Jewish people. After the Holocaust, which he miraculously survived, he took upon himself the commitment to study Torah diligently - especially during such times in which the community in general would be engaged in other areas of Jewish tradition.

At one point, towards the end of the war, he was so sick and weak that the accursed SS guards took him for dead and removed his body to the morgue to be incinerated with the other corpses. He survived and was allowed to go on living. After the war, he returned to his native Hungary, settling in Paksht. His brother, who also survived, was overwhelmed with joy when he heard that Rav Moshe, who was originally sent to the crematorium, had actually survived. He took advantage of the first opportunity to go see him.

He arrived on a Friday afternoon at the doorstep of Rav Moshe's home. With great joy and trepidation, he knocked on the door. One can only imagine the joy that reigned during this meeting of the two surviving brothers. Rav Moshe immediately invited his brother into the house and said, "We must learn Torah - now." For five uninterrupted hours, they sat together delving into the intricacies and minutiae of the Talmud.

As the time to usher in the holy Shabbos drew near, they closed their Gemorrahs. Only then did they embrace with great emotion and weep uncontrollably on one another's shoulders over their own and Klal Yisrael's losses. Rav Moshe then told his brother why, at first, he quickly retreated to studying Torah for five hours. "Since the world was devoid of Torah for so many years of the Holocaust - and even now, so many are involved with rebuilding their lives - I feel it necessary that someone carry the world's spiritual needs, which can be accomplished only through intensive Torah study. I have made this my life's commitment, expressing my gratitude to Hashem.

"Furthermore," Rav Moshe continued, "there is another reason. In repayment for my room and board in this home, I agreed to a Yissacher/Zevulun partnership with the owner, whereby I spend my time learning and he shares half of my Olam Habah, reward in the World To Come. I did not think it appropriate that I detract from my responsibility for personal reasons."

It is also noteworthy that throughout his life, Rav Moshe made a point to engage in Torah study on days preceding Shabbos and Yom Tov, knowing that due to the pressures of the upcoming days, people would not be as inclined to study Torah with the same fervor and diligence.

I will provide peace in the land (26:6)

Rashi cites the Sifra, which suggests that the positioning of the blessing of peace climaxes the precious blessings of material abundance. The Torah teaches us that peace is equivalent to all the other blessings combined. What a wonderful blessing - peace among people. Imagine a community with no strife, no controversy. Indeed, when people are embroiled in dispute, they have no time or energy to enjoy the fruits of their success. They are too busy fighting.

How is peaceful co-existence achieved? Commenting on the pasuk, Ibn Ezra explains, shalom beineicham, "peace among you." Usually, we translate beineicham as "among you." Perhaps, we can go a bit further and suggest that beineicham is a reference to inner-peace, a sense of security and pride - "peace among/within oneself." One who has been able to control the demons within himself, who has achieved inner satisfaction and is content and at harmony with himself, has no reason to contend with others. Hashem will cause shalom within us so that we will have no reason to clash with others.

Horav Yitzchak Zilberstein, Shlita, cites an insightful incident concerning the Alter, zl, m'Slabodka that teaches how careful we should be to distance from any altercation, however innocuous, with another Jew. The students of the Slabodka Yeshivah exemplified ahavas Torah, love of Torah, at its zenith. Every endeavor, every action, was for avodas Hashem, service of the Almighty. It was no wonder that when the Alter spoke, everyone would push themselves to get as close to his shtender, lectern, as possible. They did not want to miss a word of his discourse.

As soon as the Alter entered the study-hall, everyone would begin to hurry for a close seat. Regrettably, at times, this involved pushing, as each student tried to get that special seat for himself. The Alter would rebuke his students, explaining that they were defeating the whole purpose of the lecture. Where was their respect for their fellow? To take someone else's seat was disrespectful and wrong. Pushing another student aside was uncharacteristic of a ben-Torah. The Alter substantiated his words with proof from the Torah. When the trees were created, they did not all spring forth together, one on top of the other. No! Each tree grew in its own place, removed from its "neighbor," so that it would not infringe upon its neighbor's space.

Chazal teach us in Talmud Chullin 60a that the herbage/grasses derived a kal v'chomer, a priori argument, from the trees. Hashem told the trees to sprout forth l'mineihu, each according to its own specie. The earth yielded trees each according to its own specie, in its own place, not crowding its neighbor. Now, trees always grow one at a time. Yet, Hashem specified l'mineihu. So herbage which always grow together in clumps, how much more so should we be sure to sprout forth each one away from the other. The grass that grew did not have even one blade touching the others.

The Alter looked at his students and said, "If trees and herbage understand what it means not to crowd one another, surely we human beings who might hurt each other through the pushing should take great care not to jostle one another." Sometimes we get so involved in the michamtah shel Torah, battle for success in Torah study, that we forget who the enemy is.

Then they will confess their sinů and also for having behaved toward Me with casualness, I, too, will behave toward them with casualness. (26:40,41)

If they confess to their sins, why does Hashem say, "I, too, will behave toward them with casualness"? Why does He not accept their repentance? Horav Shimon Schwab, zl, explains that when one peruses the parsha, he will note that the underlying sin for which Klal Yisrael is held in contempt is the sin of keri, casualness. Their lackadaisical attitude to everything is what led to their downfall. Yet, when they confess, they admit only to avonam, their actual sin. They also happen to confess to their casualness - disregarding the fact that it was specifically this apathetic observance that catalyzed their other sins. Hashem demands a complete reckoning, an unbiased and open recognition of their sin and its source. To relegate the sin of indifference to the back burner, to consider it an "also," defies the essence of teshuvah, repentance.

Horav S.R. Hirsch, zl, posits that historically the scenario of Hashem responding to our dispassion - with religion in general and tradition in particular - with a corresponding casualness has played itself out more often than we realize. It begins with our phlegmatic treatment of halachah, granting it secondary significance to everything else. This leads to a slow decaying of our spiritual and moral life. Eventually, our social life will begin to atrophy. When we come to our senses and realize that our lack of fidelity to Hashem's mitzvos did not achieve for us the happiness that we thought it would engender, we will confess to our sins. We will recognize the consequences of our indifference.

Hashem's response coincides with the sin. Since we did not completely sever our relationship with Him, but remained in contact with the Torah in a passive manner, Hashem will also not give us up. He will act with us b'keri, casualness. We will be left entirely to the influences of the historical occurrences of the various nations among whom we live. In all these happenings, which seem to us to be just unlucky "chance," Hashem will still be with us. He will not let us become destroyed. The world historical events, which seem to be isolated occurrences, are actually for the purpose of the spiritual and political rehabilitation of Klal Yisrael. The painful educative effects of the developments of the history of the world itself will have consequences in the maturing of Klal Yisrael. They will ultimately be fit for independence and return to their homeland. Thus we understand that the long exile in "the land of the enemies" is all part of a long circuitous route, guided by Hashem as part of His Master Plan to return us to our eternal calling. We are never alone.


If you will follow My decrees. (26:3)

Minchah Belulah explains that the two Hebrew letters of the word im, if - aleph, mem - represent the redemptions, past and future, and the two primary individuals who led/will lead them: the Egyptian exile, Aharon and Moshe; the Persian exile, Esther and Mordechai. The future redemption will be led by Eliyahu HaNavi and Moshiach. The Torah conveys to us the message that the geulah, redemption, will be catalyzed by following Hashem's decrees.

Rashi emphasizes that bechukosai teileichu means to toil in Torah. Horav Moshe Feinstein, zl, adds that one should be diligent and toil in the performance of all mitzvos. Indeed, it is only when one toils, thereby indicating his overriding devotion to the mitzvah, that he can inspire others to emulate his ways.


And I let you erect. (26:13)

Rashi says b'komah zekufah, with erect bearing. The Tzemach Tzedek, zl, once remarked to his grandson Rav Sholom Dov Ber, "Hashem did a great kindness to man by creating him standing erect on two feet. This way, when he walks, he looks up and can see and consequently be inspired by Heaven. An animal, regrettably, sees only one view: the ground.


I will chastise you, even I. (26:28)

The Baal Shem Tov, zl, explains, this is similar to a loving father who must punish his son. He also suffers out of compassion for his son.


You will eat the flesh of your sons. (26:29)

What a devastating curse! A rav was once queried regarding the fact that in the future with the advent of Moshiach, all the curses of the Tochechah, Rebuke, will be transformed into blessings. How could the curse of having to eat the flesh of one's children be turned into a blessing? He responded that, tragically, today we find deeply devout Jews who cannot eat in the homes of their children due to their lack of observance. In the future, we will be blessed with children in whose homes we will be able to eat.

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