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Peninim on the Torah

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Rabbi A. Leib Scheinbaum
Hebrew Academy of Cleveland


We are journeying to the place about which Hashem had said, "I shall give it to you. Go with us, and we shall treat you well." (10:29)

As Klal Yisrael "packed up" in preparation of their long journey through the wilderness, a journey that was to last forty years, Moshe Rabbeinu had a conversation with his father-in-law, Yisro. "Please join us on our journey," Moshe implored Yisro. The wise father-in-law responded in the negative. "I am going home to my land and the place of my birth." Moshe did not give up, "Please do not forsake us, inasmuch as you know our encampment in the wilderness, and you have been as eyes for us. We need your assistance, your perspective, your advice." The Yalkut Shimoni interprets Moshe's words: Whatever is concealed from our eyes, you will be able to reveal for us.

This is an incredible dialogue. Does Moshe Rabbeinu need Yisro's vision, his advice, his counsel? This all took place at a time when the Shechinah was resting among Klal Yisrael. What could Yisro have added that was so significant? What could his eyes have seen that was so unique? In his Ben Ish Chai, Horav Yosef Chaim, zl, m'Baghdad provides a compelling answer to this question. Yisro had a powerful characteristic that was essential for Klal Yisrael as they entered into the challenges confronting them in their travels. It was a characteristic that was not to be found among the members of the nascent Jewish nation. Even nevuah, prophecy, would have been of no avail at this critical juncture. They needed a person who had the ability, the unwavering resolution, to swim against the current, to stand tall and erect as the winds of indifference and assimilation blew with a fierceness. Yisro had been there and prevailed. He was able to give Klal Yisrael the insight they needed as they confronted the obstacles and challenges that stood in their way. Yisro's affirmation of the truth was his ammunition. It gave him the strength to prevail. His perspective was invaluable to Klal Yisrael.

The people would spread out and gather (the manna). (11:8)

Pursuit of a livelihood is often an experience that consumes a person. One dedicates his energies to chasing that pot of gold which is nothing more than a dream turned nightmare for many. While one should be mishtadel, endeavor, and take the necessary steps to see to it that his material needs are provided for, he must realize and believe unequivocally that Hashem is the Provider Who will provide him with whatever he really needs. We derive this concept from the manna of which the Torah in Sefer Shemos 16:17-18 writes, "Bnei Yisrael gathered (the manna), those who took more and those who took less. And they measured it in an omer and found that those who took more had nothing extra, and those who took less were not lacking; each person had gathered according to his eating needs."

In his commentary on our parsha, the Zohar Hakadosh focuses on the word shatu, spread out, which can also be derived from the word shoteh, fool. The Zohar says, "Those people of whom it says shatu, were truly shatia, fools - for sufficient manna was supplied to each person, without the need to stroll around and search for it - which was in any event a futile endeavor. Hashem had provided what was needed for each.

Horav Yosef Chaim Sonnenfeld, zl, would decry those who would devote their lives and energies towards earning a livelihood. He would often cite a mashal, parable, of the Chafetz Chaim in this regard: a customer in a wine maker's shop once came up with this "powerful" suggestion to the shopkeeper: "Why do you not put two spigots on each barrel instead of one? That way you could make twice as much money!" While we understand the foolishness of this idea, there are still people who do not realize that no matter how hard a person tries, the total amount of sustenance he is destined to receive does not increase one iota as a result of his efforts.

Nonetheless, one must not sit back and relax, relying on the reality that Hashem will provide for him anyway, so he need not bother. Rav Yosef Chaim applies the pasuk in Devarim 15:18, "So that G-d will bless you in all that you do." It is only when a person does something that he opens up the possibility for Hashem to bless his work and provide for him. There are individuals whose trust in the Almighty is so intense and true that what they must do is truly very little. It is only because they possess such spiritual integrity that they are so blessed. When one toils for a living - whether through commerce, Torah education, Kollel or any endeavor in which Hashem finds a kli machazik berachah, vessel to accept and hold blessing - he develops a relationship with Hashem as the Provider, through which he becomes acutely aware that success or failure is dependent totally upon His grace.

Moshe heard the people weeping in their family groups, each one at the entrance of his tent. (11:10)

Entire families vented their resentment publicly by gathering outside of their tents and weeping. Chazal say that the word "families" underscores the reason for their animus, frustration regarding the family laws that had been imposed upon them. To some of the people, the Torah's restrictions regarding marriage were an unbearable burden. It seems strange that they would complain now. The laws were given at Sinai. Why did they not weep then? Why did they wait until now to express their acrimony?

Horav Zalmen Sorotzkin, zl, derives from here the incredible impact that a holy place can have on a person. Being at Har Sinai and having the Aron HaKodesh in their midst compelled them to maintain an elevated level of sanctity and purity. When a person is surrounded by kedushah, holiness, he feels within himself a need to maintain purity. As they traveled away from Har Sinai, with the Aron HaKodesh traveling in front of them at a distance of three days - suddenly the overwhelming desire to eat meat, to gorge themselves in a manner not thought of before, became a reality. The temptations of the flesh engulfed them, and they began to weep for what had been imposed upon them earlier. Previously, they had appreciated the imposition because it had enhanced their kedushah. Now, they just wanted fun. Some things never change.

What have you done evil to your servant…that you place the burden of this entire people…Did I conceive this entire people…that you say to me, carry them in your bosom. (11:12)

Moshe Rabbeinu despairs from the responsibility of leadership imposed upon him. Sforno explains Moshe's complaint in the following manner: Parents often have children with whom they are in dispute. Yet, despite the existing conflict, a basic feeling of trust exists deep within the children, asserting that their parents truly love them and will do them no harm. This nation, however, had not demonstrated such trust in Moshe, and they were constantly testing to see how he would react to them. Moshe's grievance still needs to be understood. Imagine if a great rav or rosh hayeshiva would lament, "Why do I not find favor in your eyes that you place such a difficult leadership upon my shoulders?" The answer would be simple. "It is specifically because you are a great and talented leader that you were chosen for this position. Whom else should we take - a weak leader?"

Moshe should have understood that it was because he found favor in the eyes of Hashem that he was selected for this most difficult mission. Fractious communities need strong leadership.

Horav Mordechai Rogov, zl, explains that Moshe decried the fact that Hashem did not find him worthy of being elevated to a position where he would be as sensitive to Klal Yisrael as a mother is sensitive to her children. For a mother, nothing is too difficult. There is no time that is bad when it comes to her children. A mother never tires, never wanes from her commitment to her children. It is a labor of love - a love that prevails over whatever obstacle may be in the way. This is what Moshe means when he says, "Did I conceive this entire people?" Do I then feel for them as a mother feels for her child? If I felt that way, nothing would be burdensome. I ask of Hashem that I be able to carry their burden as a mother carries her child - with love, patience and equanimity.

Moshe is teaching us a compelling lesson in education and leadership. A teacher/leader must love his charges as a mother loves her child. He must be sensitive to their every need and enjoy helping them grow. No problem is too demanding; no situation is too troublesome. After all, one's student is like one's child. This is the key to success in teaching. Unless a rebbe feels like a parent, he is missing a critical factor in the success quotient for Torah chinuch. Moshe Rabbeinu recognized that if he could be upset with Klal Yisrael, then he was missing the ingredient. Do we recognize this, or are we quick to fault the student?

Indeed, a true leader should want to see only the positive in his flock. The Skverer Rebbe, zl, always looked for the positive in each Jew, disregarding even the most blatant shortcomings. He had this mindset even at a tender age, as the following narrative indicates. With age, this attitude intensified until it became the hallmark of his very essence. As a young child, he had a discussion with one of his cousins, also a scion of the famous Chernobyl dynasty. The question: Is it more advantageous to be a rav/rabbi or a rebbe, chassidic leader? (Interesting discussion - what is especially noteworthy is the topic of discussion among these young children. Apparently, there were no sports teams in those days.) In the course of their debate, the other child posited that being a rebbe was more desirable, and he could prove it. "Compare the spelling of rebbe - raish, bais, yud - with that of rav - raish, bais," he said, "and you will note that rebbe contains the letter yud, while the word rav is devoid of a yud." The letter yud, which in their local dialect was pronounced yid - which in Yiddish means Jew - is present in the term rebbe. It would, therefore, indicate that rebbe had superiority over rav.

It was an insightful response, one that marveled those who had assembled to hear the discussion between the two young prodigies. They now waited for the future Skverer Rebbe's response. What could he say that would succeed in refuting his cousin's logic?

He responded that, in principle, he agreed with his cousin that, indeed, being a leader of a chassidic sect was superior to being a halachic arbiter in a community, but for a different reason. He explained that Chazal say in Pirkei Avos, 1:8, "When the litigants stand before (the judge), he considers them to be reshaim, wicked. Only at the culmination of the trial when the verdict has been rendered, and they accept it can they be viewed as tzaddikim, righteous.

"It is for this reason that I prefer becoming a rebbe as opposed to a rav," said the Skverer Rebbe. "I do not ever want to be placed in a position where I will be relegated to view a fellow Jew as being anything less than righteous. I do not want to be aware of their shortcomings, only their positive traits." Is it any wonder that this young boy's sensitivity to every Jew was the cornerstone of a life of dedicated to all of Klal Yisrael?

He named that place Kivros-Hataavah, the graves of lust, because there they buried the people who had been craving. (11:34)

Immediately after the people were punished for their needless complaining, they started right up again with a new set of accusations. This time they slandered the manna, which they received daily from Hashem. They claimed they wanted meat - although there was no shortage of meat. They talked about how wonderful Egypt was - in comparison to their misery in the desert. After all was said and done, it all amounted to nothing more than an uncontrolled craving. They were overpowered by their yetzer hora, evil inclination. The middah of taavah, craving/lusting for something, can overwhelm a person, so that he loses control over himself. This place stands in infamy as Kivros Hataavah, the burial place of lust. As Horav Eliyahu Eliezer Dessler, zl, remarks, it was not the burial place of those who lusted. Rather, it was the burial place of lust. This demonstrates and emphasizes the iniquity of lust and the downfall of those who succumb to temptation.

We frequently see people who fall prey to addiction, be it food, drugs or alcohol. The religious world also has its share of those who cannot control their cravings, who are overwhelmed by temptation, who fall prey to unbridled desire. Chazal teach us that Hashem gave us an antidote to triumph over the wiles of the evil-inclination - the Torah. Torah study will keep us anchored to our timeless values and remind us of Hashem's constant presence.

Temptation is strong, and people give in to it all the time. One wonders why or how someone who has basic intelligence would of his own free will opt to wallow in filth and drugs, rather than live a life of health, success and pride to himself and his family. Why do people make terrible - and sometimes tragic - choices that ultimately destroy their lives and wreak havoc on the lives of their families? What possesses a person to throw everything away in search of money and self-gratification?

The power of the evil-inclination is awesome. It has the ability to blind a person temporarily and deprive him of his ability to think rationally. It grabs his heart and demands instant gratification. The individual who is ensnared by its wiles no longer cares about morals, self-respect, or the effect on his family. He wants it now. He does not consider consequences. Yosef Hatzaddik almost fell prey to the blandishments of the yetzer hora. Yet, he won due to a single reason - his father. Chazal teach us that Yosef was able to summon the inner strength to resist Potiphar's wife, because he saw an image of his elderly father and everything that he represented. The image of Yaakov Avinu, the elderly Patriarch, prompted Yosef to ask himself if it was all worth it. Was it worth throwing away his heritage, his covenant, his self-respect for a fleeting moment of lust?

Once one asks that question, the yetzer hora has lost. This holds true for all temptation. When people stop to think of the consequences, when they query, "Is it worth it?" the contest is over. When they factor in the shame, the scandal, the potential ruin of their careers, the trauma and suffering of their families, the destroyed future of their children, they would never succumb to the yetzer hora. Regrettably, some realize the consequences of their escapades too late for themselves and too late for their children.


According to the word of Hashem would they encamp, and according to the word of Hashem would they journey. (9:20)

The Shloh HaKadosh, zl, derives from here that a person should remember and mention Hashem throughout all of his endeavors, his comings and goings. B'ezras Hashem, Im Yirtzeh Hashem, Baruch Hashem, should be phrases that one uses throughout his daily routine.


The rabble that was among them cultivated a craving. (11:4)

Asafsuf may be derived from the word asifah, gathering/assembly. Horav Aizik Charif, zl, would decry those who were busy calling asifos, meetings and assemblies. They accomplish nothing more than rabble rousing. Meetings which achieve nothing more than convening people to discuss and dispute issues without making any headway - with no resolution attained - are detrimental in nature.


Now the man Moshe was exceedingly humble. (12:3)

Horav David Jungreisz, zl, Av Bais Din in Yerushalyim, was the paragon of humility. He would give a shiur, lecture, publicly every week. Prior to delivering the lecture, he would say it privately, speaking in a loud voice as if he were speaking to a large assembly. It was later learned that he did this by design. He would present brilliant chidushim, novelae, for which he did not want to take credit for himself. He would, therefore, say, "I heard this question; I heard the following answer." He wanted neither to utter an untruth, nor to focus undue attention on himself.

A woman once came to the home of Horav Moshe Feinstein, zl, to speak with him. When she was told the Rosh Hayeshiva was presently busy, she said that she had received a letter from her sister in Russia, and she needed Rav Moshe to translate it for her. Rav Moshe's attendant quickly retorted that one does not bother the gadol hador, preeminent Torah leader of the generation, for such a trivial matter. The woman looked incredulously at the attendant and said, "I am surprised that you say this. Rav Feinstein has been translating my letters for twenty years!"

It takes a great person to be truly humble.

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