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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 explains that this pasuk, which enjoins us to follow in Hashem's decrees, is an injunction to engage in intensive Torah study, to study diligently, to toil in the field of Torah. There are many definitions for the ameilus ba'Torah, toiling in Torah, and there are many situations in our history during which this indomitable commitment to Torah study has been demonstrated. Going back to the Talmud in Eiruvin 54b, wherein Chazal cite the incredible episode concerning Rabbi Preida, who had a student who was educationally challenged. Rabbi Preida would have to repeat each lesson four hundred times before the student would grasp it. One day, Rabbi Preida was required to leave and attend to a certain matter involving a mitzvah. Prior to leaving, he taught his student the usual four hundred times, but, for some reason, he still did not grasp the lesson. Rabbi Preida thereupon asked him, "Why is today different?" The student answered, "From the very moment that the rebbe was notified that he must attend to a mitzvah, my attention was diverted. I was concerned that at any moment the rebbe will leave me and, thus, I could not concentrate well." Rabbi Preida then said to him, "Pay attention, and I will teach you." He then taught him the lesson another four hundred times. A Heavenly voice emanated and asked Rabbi Preida, "Do you prefer that four hundred years be added to your life, or that you and your generation merit life in the World to Come?" Rabbi Preida replied, "I ask that I and my generation merit the life of the World to Come." Hashem said, "Give him both rewards."

This is a truly powerful story about an incredible rebbe who would give up so much of his time to teach one student. This is how important Torah was to him. He toiled and labored a labor of love, so that his student would achieve proficiency in his Torah lessons. What should bother us is how did Rabbi Preida allow himself to spend so much time with one student at the apparent expense of perhaps hundreds - or even thousands - who could have imbibed his teachings during this time? During those long, difficult hours of teaching one simple lesson to one student, Rabbi Preida could have taught many halachos to multitudes of students who certainly thirsted for the knowledge he could impart.

Horav Yitzchak Zilberstein, Shlita, gleans an important lesson from here concerning Rabbi Prieda's personal derech ha'limud, approach towards learning Torah. In order to achieve success in Torah, one must exhibit patience. Not every sugya, topic, is simple. At times, one must labor with great intensity in order to understand the profundities of Chazal's lessons. This requires patience and perseverance. One who gives up quickly, as soon as the going gets difficult, does not go very far. When a passage in the Talmud is perplexing, it is easy to give up in exasperation or despair. Yes, that is the easy way out. The correct way is to review the passage, research the commentaries, and, with a little patience, the student of Torah will soon himself become a master.

Rabbi Preida accepted upon himself to teach this student, because it helped him develop his own middah, character trait, of savlanus, patience. From teaching this student, he would himself become a better student. He would develop greater patience in dealing with his own issues in learning.

Moreover, we might add that a rebbe, to be successful, must develop the middah of savlanus. In today's day and age, it is increasingly difficult to succeed in reaching out to students unless one exhibits much patience. A rebbe who is quick to become angry, not only hurts the student, but he hurts himself, as well. Anger produces confusion, and what is normally apparent to the calm mind becomes obscured by rage. Additionally, the issues and problems that a rebbe faces today, with students that are exposed to the many blandishments of contemporary society's ills, are many and different from the "old days." Patience and perseverance, hope, encouragement and much Tehillim - that is the only road towards achieving the goals we set for our students.

One more lesson that is to be derived from Rabbi Prieda's actions is: he did not lose out because of the extra time he invested. In fact, he gained by receiving both rewards. Hashem calculates the amount of ameilus that a person expends for Torah study and rewards him accordingly.

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

Rashi explains that following in Hashem's decrees is a reference to ameilus ba'Torah, toiling in Torah. One must exhaust great energy and diligence in studying Torah and, indeed, his reward for Torah study will be commensurate with the effort he expends. The Chafetz Chaim, zl, once spent a number of hours together with his son-in-law immersed deeply in a difficult halachic question. They studied the various sources in Talmud, Rishonim and Achronim. After great effort and toil, they arrived at a decision which was then written into the Mishnah Berurah. The entire effort took hours; the result was one and one half short lines in the Mishnah Berurah. The Chafetz Chaim's son-in-law turned to his venerable rebbe and asked, "Will anyone who studies the Mishnah Berurah have a clue as to how much effort and toil went into producing this one and one-half line addendum to the halachah?"

The Chafetz Chaim replied in his patient and sweet voice, "Let me tell you a story that will clarify the issue. It was during the reign of the Czar of Russia, a father and son worked together in Siberia to lay the tracks for the railroad. This was backbreaking labor. Night and day, under the most brutal conditions, from freezing cold to stifling heat, they worked putting their blood, sweat and tears into the Czar's railroad. One day, the son turned to his father and asked, "Father, will the people that ride the train have any idea concerning the backbreaking labor that went into preparing this railroad?"

The father looked at his son and said, "Czar Papushka. It is not important what people will or will not think, what they will or will not know. We work for one reason and for one purpose: to fulfill the command of the Czar. He is our leader, our father, who provides for our country. He has asked us to build the railroad. That is all that counts."

"The same idea applies to Torah study," continued the Chafetz Chaim. "It is unimportant for us to know if those who later delve through our chidushim, novellae, will appreciate the time and effort expended in their production. Likewise, it should not matter to us the amount of toil that we put into learning a difficult sugya. Everything that man does in this world should be executed with one focus in mind: he is carrying out Hashem's will."

This idea should apply to every endeavor that we are asked to do on behalf of Klal Yisrael. When the gedolei Yisrael, Torah leadership, issue forth a proclamation asking for our attendance at a function or our participation in an assembly, we must attend regardless of the hardship and inconvenience. We should have one mission in mind: to serve Hashem and carry out His will as interpreted by His emissaries, gedolei Yisrael.

But despite all this… I will not have been revolted by them, nor will I have rejected them to obliterate them. (26:44)

Hashem consoled His exiled people with the notion that, regardless of the suffering they endure in galus, exile, they still remain Hashem's nation, His Chosen People. This covenant remains in force until the end of time. We will suffer in exile, and we will be tormented, but we must remember the source of our pain and the promise that accompanies it: Hashem will never forsake us. This idea applies equally to all suffering. While it does not mitigate the pain, it should allay the depression that is intrinsic to our travail. The commentators emphasize that while we are all affected with pain at one time or another, some more, some less, we should, nonetheless, focus on acceptance and acquiescence, rather than defer to the abjectness and gloom that tends to envelop us. Hashem has given us the resolve and fortitude of spirit to cope. We must attempt to be upbeat, conjuring up whatever feelings of affirmation that we can muster, so that the pain and negativity do not overwhelm us. Everything comes from Hashem with a reason and for a purpose.

Horav Yitzchak Zilberstein, Shlita, cites an incident in the Talmud Taanis 22a, that relates that once Rabbi Beroka encountered Eliyahu HaNavi and asked him to show him a ben Olam Habah, an individual destined to receive the ultimate reward of life in the World to Come. Eliyahu HaNavi pointed out two men who had achieved this great accolade. Rabbi Beroka then approached these men to ascertain the reason for their incredible reward. "What do you do?" he asked them. They replied, "We are comedians, and we go to cheer up those who are depressed." The Maharasha explains that they actually perform a dual service. Since Hashem shares in everyone's pain, when these men relieved someone of his depression, they were also relieving Hashem of His "pain."

Now, it goes without saying that these comedians were not simply making jokes as a vehicle for ridding someone of his depression. How then did they effect this transformation? Rav Zilberstein cites two sources to explain this phenomenon. First is from the Shlah HaKadosh in his Shaar Ha'Osios. He explains that these men would address whatever emunah and bitachon, faith and trust issues, a person might have. When a person understands that whatever occurs in his life is from Hashem, for a purpose, he will relate to his pain on a totally different plane. Whether it is bad news, illness, financial crisis or an annoying neighbor - they are all agents of Hashem sent on a mission: to cause pain for the designated individual. When one knows the source, he can better relate to and deal with the accompanying depression. The pain is still there, but the depression no longer has the power to overwhelm.

The second approach is that of the Ben Ish Chai, written in his Aderes Eliyahu, that depression is a man-made nuisance. Hashem, indeed, decrees pain and misery, but the ensuing depression is self-inflicted. On the contrary, Hashem wants man to accept his misery with a positive attitude, even with joy. Depression represents a lack of emunah, faith, in the Almighty. Why would Hashem decree that a person lose emunah in Him?

The Ben Ish Chai suggests three approaches through which one can triumph over depression. First, he should speak over and share his worries with others. Human nature is such that when one talks about his problems, they seem to dissipate. Second, one should look around at other Jews, at members of his immediate community, of other people in his generation who have undergone trials and tribulations and emerged triumphant. Individuals have gone from rags to riches, from sickness to good health, from misery to good fortune. This encourages and heartens a person and elevates his spirits from the depths of depression. Last, he should speak to a tzaddik, righteous person, who will share with him stories of individuals who had suffered greatly and triumphed over adversity and travail. At the very last moment, when it appeared that all was lost, Hashem granted them a miracle.

This scenario is to be derived from the pasuk in Tehillim 115:2,5. "Our G-d, is in the Heaven; whatever He pleases, He does. Their idols are silver and gold, the work of the hands of man. A mouth they have, but cannot speak; eyes they have, but cannot see; ears they have, but cannot hear." A man should not be overcome when he is afflicted with pain and suffering, because of the origin of this torment - "Our G-d, is in the Heaven; whatever He pleases, He does." Those that are depressed about the losses they have incurred in their silver and gold should realize that atzabeihim, their idols, using a word which has a similar root as atzeiv, depression, to imply that this depression/idols is maasei yedei adam, "the work of the hands of man." The depression does not originate from Heaven; it is self-inflicted, the work of man. Indeed, why should one worry? He has a mouth - let him speak to others. He has eyes - let him look around at the success achieved by others who, until recently, had also suffered. He has ears - let him go hear from the righteous Torah leaders; let him listen to them relate the success stories of the past generations. Yes, the suffering comes from Hashem, but the emotional upheaval, the depression, is a creation of man.

He shall not exchange it nor substitute it, good for bad or bad for good. If he does substitute one animal for another animal, then both it and its substitute will be holy. (27:10)

Once one has designated a specific animal as a korban to Hashem may not exchange it for another animal, regardless of the value or quality of the second animal. In the event that he does replace the animal, the substitute animal attains the same kedushah, sanctity, as the korban, and both must now be brought as korbanos. This is referred to by the Torah as Temurah, substitution. What is the rationale behind this law?

The Rambam in Hilchos Temurah 4:13 explains that the Torah has delved into the human psyche and understands that it is human nature for a person to be concerned regarding his possessions, always seeking to increase his holdings. Although he has chosen an animal to serve as his korban, there is always the possibility that he will retract his first choice and seek to replace it with an inferior animal. Thus, the Torah discourages his action by consecrating both animals. It is, likewise, forbidden to exchange an animal of lower quality with one of better quality, since this will ultimately lead to substitution of animals in which one might substitute an inferior animal for one of improved quality.

Horav Avrohom Pam, zl, in his Ateres Avraham, recently translated by Rabbi Sholom Smith, cites the Sefer HaChinuch who derives a fundamental lesson in Jewish history from the law of Temurah. Once an animal has been consecrated as a korban, the kedushah is lasting. Unless the animal develops a mum, physical blemish, that renders it pasul, invalid, it retains a holiness that cannot be removed or exchanged. If the owner attempts to rescind the kedushah, not only will his attempt be in vain, it will bring about additional kedushah, for the second animal will now also be sanctified, since he came with his actions to uproot holiness. Instead, the converse will occur. The kedushah will expand further, and other objects will, in turn, become sanctified.

Rav Pam notes that the history of Klal Yisrael's persecutions coincides well and attests to the rationale of the Temurah law. Throughout the millennia, attempts have been made to impugn the integrity of Torah and to undermine the kedushah of Klal Yisrael. Each time they ultimately failed, and, in fact, the paradoxical result was unprecedented Torah expansion. Let us go back to the first exile, galus Mitzrayim, whereby the Egyptians sought to assimilate Klal Yisrael into their immoral society. They failed, and Klal Yisrael grew and became stronger. Indeed, a number of Egyptians converted and joined Klal Yisrael upon their redemption.

A parallel was experienced by the Jews during the tenure of Mordechai and Esther, when the wicked Haman sought to destroy every Jew. The result was the same: failure for Haman and increased devotion to Hashem by the Jews, followed by joy and festivity with the Yom Tov of Purim. Haman's downfall catalyzed an increased awareness of, and respect for, the Jewish religion bringing about mass conversions in the land. This was the Jewish response to Haman's decree: the more they were pushed down, the more they would grow.

The more things change, the more they stay the same. The lesson extends into contemporary times. We live in a day and age when Orthodoxy and its way of life are not accepted - nor can it be ignored. The non-Jewish world either vilifies us or, at best, views us as parasites. Some of our own alienated brethren who would do anything to remove the taint of Jewishness from themselves have established ideological platforms to extirpate the Torah's teachings and traditions from this assimilated society. Rav Pam suggests that while this circumstance is certainly tragic, we cannot and must not forget the lesson of Temurah. Wherever there is an attempt to abate kedushah, it eventually results in a positive augmentation of Torah life and a rise in commitment. Not only will those who asperse Torah fail, they will personally attest to its veracity and sanctity. Today we find baalei teshuvah, newly-returned, committed Jews, descendants of prominent free-thinkers who contended with the Torah authorities of their day, who devote their lives to Torah and mitzvos. This is the ultimate victory: the eternity of our Torah and its intrinsic kedushah within our People.

Va'ani Tefillah

U'b'yeshuascha tarum v'sagbia karneinu - May You uplift and hold high our horns through Your salvation.

The Jewish nation is prepared to be mekadesh Hashem, sanctify Hashem's Name, but it would much rather be at peace, since by our very nature, we are a peace-loving people. The idea of "holding up our horns" is metaphoric. It is an expression that conjures up the image of a bull or buck at peace, relaxed. When its horns are raised, it is an indication that it is at peace. When the animal is about to strike, to forcefully attack its foe, it lowers its horns in preparation. All of the animal's power is focused on the horns. We ask Hashem that our horns be elevated, be held high, symbolic of our being at peace. Alternatively, we suggest that holding the horns up high is a symbol of pride. We ask Hashem that He support our pride, that our "horns" not falter when they are raised. The banner that the Jew raises should be strong and resolute, unwavering in its conviction and self-esteem. When we sense that Hashem believes in us, that He approves of the pride that we manifest, we become stronger, and our pride becomes more enduring.

In honor of
the bar mitzvah of our son
Avigdor Yitzchok n"y
with appreciation to the
Ribono Shel Olam and all his shluchim
who share in our simchah today.

Shimon and Leah Weiner and family

Peninim on the Torah is in its 14th year of publication. The first nine years have been published in book form.

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