Back to This Week's Parsha

Peninim on the Torah

subscribe.gif (2332 bytes)

Previous issues

Rabbi A. Leib Scheinbaum
Hebrew Academy of Cleveland


Aharon did so… as Hashem had commanded. (8:3)

Rashi explains that the Torah emphasizes that Aharon did as he was commanded in order to teach us that he did not waver one iota from that which he was instructed to do. She'lo shinah, "that he did not change," is considered a great endorsement for Aharon. Is that trait really laudatory? Would we doubt that Aharon HaKohen would execute Hashem's command to the letter of the law? Horav Meir, zl, m'Premishlan, interprets Aharon's lack of change as a reference to his retaining his humility, despite his elevated position. He had become the Kohen Gadol, High Priest; yet, he was still involved in promoting social discourse among his brethren and creating harmony between husband and wife. Yes, Aharon did not change - himself. He remained the same person as he had been before.

Furthermore, we often find that when the status of a person is increased, he becomes overwhelmed and amazed - with himself. He actually begins to believe that he is worthy of his exalted position, and that he genuinely is a great person. Not Aharon. He was like the Menorah. Just as the Menorah is inanimate, not able to sense whether it is high or low in stature, Aharon was unimpressed with his new status.

While some leaders demonstrate to the public that they maintain a sense of humility, this is not necessarily the reality. The mere fact that the Torah attests to the humility of Aharon HaKohen is indicative of this phenomenon. At the end of the parsha, the Torah records Moshe Rabbeinu's greatest character trait: anav me'od, "very humble." Humility is an indication of the individual's sense of self-satisfaction. Whatever Hashem has blessed him with is sufficient for him.

Horav Naftali, zl, m'Rophshitz, was well known for his charismatic nature. His smile would warm a heart and illuminate an individual who had otherwise been miserable. He possessed that power because his smile was genuine. When he said that he cared, he was not merely paying lipservice. He once encountered a distinguished rav who was obsessed with the Ropshitzer's popularity. "Why is it," he asked, "that they flock to you by the thousands and I do not seem to have such incredible success? Let's face it; I am greater than you in Torah erudition. One would think that it would account for something."

The Ropshitzer replied, "Truthfully, I have no idea why they converge on me. I think that perhaps part of the reason may be the fact that I have never asked, "Why do they not come to me?' In your case, I think it is because you ask, 'Why do they not come?'"

The Ropshitzer was alluding to the notion that people seek the presence of someone who does not care about himself but rather cares about them. One who is obsessed with himself has no room left for others.

There are those, however, who get carried away with their own humility. In other words, they really have nothing about themselves to arrogate; instead, they claim humility, and transform the humility into conceit. The Kotzker Rebbe, zl, once remarked that the Torah was given on Har Sinai, the smallest of mountains, to teach us the significance of humility. If so, why was it not given in a valley, which is even lower? He explained that it is not significant for one who is on the lowest level to act with humility. After all, what about himself or his achievements are notable? On the other hand, one who is on a mountain-- and nonetheless depresses his achievements-- is truly humble.

Indeed, Horav Yechiel Michel, zl, m'Zlotchev, was asked to explain why, if all of the mitzvos are clearly written in the Torah, and anavah, humility, is equal to all of the character traits that one should possess, it is not a mitzvah which is recorded in the Torah. If humility is so significant, why is it not mentioned? The Torah only alludes to it by remarking that Moshe exemplified humility. The Rebbe explained that if a person were to act with humility because he is seeking to fulfill a mitzvah, then he would never achieve true humility. Indeed, the concept of acting modestly in order to perform a mitzvah is part of the yetzer hora's, evil-inclination's, arsenal of crafty lies to convince us to sin. Thus, if a person endeavors to be humble because it is a mitzvah to do so, he will never achieve true humility. The yetzer hora would convince him that he is saintly and virtuous, indeed more exalted than the average person. In reality, he should expect honor and undivided respect from the common man. After all, he is on a more elevated, spiritual plane than they are, but he is not permitted to be arrogant. Therefore, he will act modestly because this is a mitzvah. One who performs such a mitzvah is only satisfying his arrogant nature. In a way, this type of modesty is nothing more than a subtle form of arrogance.

Why should we be dismissed by not offering Hashem's offering in its appointed time? (9:7)

A group of people who had become ritually contaminated asked to be included in the Korban Pesach. While they did not question the fact that contaminated individuals are forbidden to bring the Pesach-offering, they thought that a dispensation would be made for them. After all, their contamination had not been their fault, since it came as the result of their involvement in the performance of a mitzvah. Rashi emphasizes this group's devotion to the mitzvah of Korban Pesach. Apparently, those who were tamei, ritually unclean, requested that the Korban Pesach be sacrificed by Kohanim who were tahor, ritually clean, and eaten by Jews who were tahor. In other words, these men would not really participate in the mitzvah, but they did not want to be excluded from it. This is enigmatic, since a korban brought solely for tamei'im is pasul, invalid. What would they gain from such an endeavor? Furthermore, even if their intention was to have a sacrifice brought for a group consisting of both tamei and tahor individuals, which would render the korban valid, it would still not benefit them since such a sacrifice would not discharge their obligation to bring a Korban Pesach. What did they have to gain by this request?

Horav Moshe Feinstein, zl, explains that, indeed, they would gain nothing from the Korban Pesach aspect; however, they loved the mitzvah so much, and their desire to fulfill it was so compelling, that they yearned to share in the mitzvah, even if it did not mean the fulfillment of their mitzvah. Yes, some people care so much, that they want to be involved, even if they do not personally benefit from the mitzvah. This attitude is reminiscent of Moshe Rabbeinu's designation of the three Arei Miklat, Cities of Refuge, on the eastern side of the Jordan River, even though he was acutely aware that these cities would have no legitimacy in protecting the inadvertent murderer until Yehoshua designated the remaining three cities in Eretz Yisrael proper.

I used the word "reminiscent" as opposed to "analogous," since the two are not totally parallel to one another. When Moshe designated the Arei Miklat, the act contained some efficacy, to the extent that they forever remained Cities of Refuge. That would not change. The authority to protect did not come until later. Concerning the Korban Pesach, however, these people did not discharge their duty whatsoever. Nonetheless, we derive from here that a person must strive to involve himself in the performance of mitzvos to the extent that he is able, even if his actions do not totally discharge his duty.

This is the meaning of ahavas ha'mitzvos, love for Hashem's commandments. Rav Moshe contends that if one finds it difficult to carry out a mitzvah due to his limited physical ability, he should do whatever he can and engage in the mitzvah to the extent that he is able. For example, if one cannot physically tolerate the consumption of a kazayis of marror, the required measurement of bitter herbs on Pesach, he should, at least, taste a little of it; or if he, for medical reasons, is unable to sit in a Succah, he should, at least, build a Succah to indicate the chavivus ha'mitzvah, his amiability towards the mitzvah.

The Torah has enjoined us with a number of mitzvos that have loopholes, through which one can exempt himself. For instance, one may be exempted from the mitzvah of Hafroshas Terumos u'Maasros, separating Terumah and Tithes, by bringing the produce into the house by way of the roof, thereby bypassing the front door. Hashem relied on Klal Yisrael's love for the mitzvos, assuming that they would not avail themselves of the opportunity to absolve themselves from the mitzvah. Hashem knew His nation, because history has demonstrated that Shevet Levi, which was supported by the nation's Tithes, was supported for centuries by means of this arrangement. The nation did not seek loopholes. Instead, they strove resolutely, with all of their property, to provide for the Levi.

This, explains Rav Moshe, is underscored in the blessing we confer on a rach ha'nimol, newly-circumcised infant, that yikaneis l'Torah, l'chupah, u'l'maasim tovim, "He enters into the Torah, the marriage canopy, and good deeds." This expression seems redundant. If one enters into Torah, clearly good deeds are included. One who learns Torah without intent to perform mitzvos, it is better had he not been born, as Chazal assert that without Torah one cannot be pious. Torah and maasim tovim go hand in hand. Why, then, do we use a dual expression? The answer is that we bless the infant that he should perform mitzvos with love, so that even if Torah law exempts him, such as Terumah, Maaser and Tzitzis, which are an obligation only on those garments that have four-corners, he will seek every opportunity to avail himself of the mitzvah. In order to attain this special plateau of love for mitzvos, one needs an added blessing.

Alternatively, we suggest the following rationale for the seeming redundancy. First, a short vignette that occurred concerning Horav Shlomo Zalman Auerbach, zl, explains the rationale. One of the elderly patients in an Israeli nursing home had been lauding the qualities of Rav Shlomo Zalman. Indeed, this patient, who had usually been sullen, was that day energetic and almost effervescent in his praise of the venerable Torah giant. Apparently, the other day Rav Shlomo Zalman, who was the old man's neighbor, had come to visit accompanied by his grandson.

"He is sleeping, Zaide," the grandson said.

"Wake him up," said Rav Shlomo Zalman.

"But, Zaide, he is sleeping," the grandson reiterated.

"If you will not wake him up, I will," Rav Shlomo Zalman replied. "He is not sleeping because he is tired; he is sleeping because he is bored." Rav Shlomo Zalman proceeded to raise his voice, "Hello, it is I, Shlomo Zalman, wake up."

The old man stirred and opened his eyes. When he saw who stood before him, he broke out in a smile from ear to ear. They spent a while in friendly conversation, and the gadol ha'dor, pre-eminent leader of the generation, bid his neighbor good-day and left. This is why the man could not stop lauding Rav Shlomo Zalman. He had made his day.

There is Torah, and there are maasim tovim. Torah is a reference to the letter of the Law, clearly defined principles to which we are to adhere. Maasim tovim is a reference to those activities that we undertake in an effort to minister to the needs of others. Maasim tovim take on many scenarios relative to the conditions or the circumstances which create the need for assistance. When one is carrying out good deeds, he needs to employ seichel, common sense, which might not coincide with what appears to be the letter of the law. This is indicated by the above story, in which Rav Shlomo Zalman understood that the elderly gentleman's sleep was induced by boredom - not by exhaustion. He quickly understood the problem and ministered to the specific needs of the patient. He used common sense. There is Torah - and there are maasim tovim. They work in tandem, but one must use his seichel in order to discern the specific demands of the maasim tovim. We bless the child to have such ability and to make use of it.

He (Moshe) said, "Please do not forsake us, inasmuch as you know our encampments in the wilderness, and you have been as eyes for us." (10:31)

Moshe Rabbeinu offered a number of reasons to explain why Yisro should remain with Klal Yisrael in the wilderness. Among them was the fact that he had been with the people in the wilderness and had seen firsthand the miracles that Hashem had wrought for them. In a sense, he was like the nation's eyes in perceiving the wonders. Horav S.R. Hirsch, zl, feels that Moshe's appeal to his father-in-law indicates the true depth of his mission to lead the Jewish nation. He asked Yisro for advice; and he sought his knowledge of the terrain. These are both clear indications that our quintessential leader was not schooled in organizational leadership. We find in Shemos 18:13-27 that Yisro taught Moshe the ways and means of state-building and legislation. In addition, Moshe had no knowledge of the plans for the various camps that were to be home to the nascent nation. He led the people as Hashem's agent.

As an individual who required his father-in-law's counsel for the most rudimentary organization and arrangements for the camp and wrote down these instructions for the everlasting memory of his people, Moshe demonstrated clearly that he was nothing more than the instrument of G-d. He was the last person who sought acknowledgement for his exceptional insight and miraculous powers - because, he did not possess any exceptional capabilities. He was Hashem's choice, led by His mandate and destined to succeed only through His intervention.

Moshe's ability to lead was derived from the Torah, as is that of every ensuing leader. He may procure advice from various sources. Decisions, however, are to be derived only from the Torah. His intentions are holy; his motives are pure; his knowledge emanates from a Divine source. It might be difficult for some of us to understand-- and even harder to accept-- but it is the only way - for an observant Jew.

An individual who exemplified this unique ability was Horav Elchanan Wasserman, zl. His Talmudic insights were all based on pshat, simple but profound explanation of the Talmud, coupled with his inextricable dedication to Torah principles. He continued to guide the Jewish nation in its approach to Torah study and conduction of communal and national affairs. The purview of this paper does not allow for a full appreciation of Rav Elchanan's wisdom and impact. I will, however, just cite one of his publications, the Ikvesa D'Meshicha, Footsteps of Moshiach, which was originally published in America as a Yiddish monograph. This is a sefer which incorporates a number of Biblical and Talmudic sources to interpret the tragic events that had occurred prior to World War II and were continuing to evolve. He explained the necessary way for a Jew to respond and the proper course for him to follow during this challenging period.

The sefer had a major impact on the world Torah community. The Chazon Ish had it translated into Hebrew, and it was later rendered into English. Rav Elchanan demonstrated how world events were clearly foreshadowed in the Torah. His intention was to teach the Jewish people what it was that Hashem was demanding of them. Indeed, some of the observations were not comprehensible until certain events took place decades later. Rav Elchanan was an individual who was so bound up in the Torah that he recognized past, present and future in the Torah's words.

Moshe heard the people weeping in their family groups. (11:10)

Horav Yonasan Eybeshutz, zl, explains this weeping from a practical point of view. A wealthy person derives great pleasure, not so much from his actual wealth, but from what the wealth does for him. It distinguishes him from others. He is different - better - more resourceful - or so he thinks. He has been able to acquire something that his peers only dream of having. This is the primary reason that a wealthy person has a certain "air" about him. He is different.

All of this changed with the introduction of the Heavenly Manna. Everybody had all that he needed. The one who had more - needed more. The dichotomy between the wealthy and poverty stricken did not exist. There were no differences between classes. Everybody was the same. For some, this was sufficient reason to weep. Nothing about their lives distinguished them from others. While it might sound like a strange reason for crying, some people cry for strange reasons.

Horav Simchah Bunim, zl, m'Peshischa, cites the Talmud Berachos 32 where Chazal state that Shaarei demaos lo ninalu, "The Gates of Tears are never closed." In other words, when one expresses himself with sincerity, such that he is brought to weeping, his prayers pierce the heavens and enter through the Gates of Tears, which are never closed. The question is obvious: If they are never shut, why have gates altogether? They really serve no purpose.

The Peschischa explains that the gates prevent the tears of fools from entering. This applies to those who do not even know why, and for what, they are weeping. They simply weep because they feel compelled to do so. Their emotions are non-rational. They display emotion without rhyme or reason. Such crying activates the gates - to close.

Miriam and Aharon spoke against Moshe regarding the Cushite woman he had married. (12:1)

Miriam HaNeviah spoke against Moshe Rabbeinu in a manner that was defined by the Almighty as lashan hora, slanderous speech. While it was not of the nature of lashon hora that we might deem inappropriate, the Divine measuring stick for His closest devotees is much more exacting. Thus, Miriam was punished with tzaraas, a Divinely- imposed skin affliction, often referred to as leprosy - but in no way of the same source. This punishment was reserved for those whose speech left much to be desired. Since Miriam instigated the conversation, she was the individual who was punished. The lesson for the people was clear: If Miriam, whose intentions were not malevolent in any way, was nonetheless chastised so strongly, how much more so should we all be meticulous in our speech and take the greatest care when speaking about others.

The various commentators find it difficult to substantiate Miriam's comments under the purview of lashon hora. Indeed, Chazal feel that Miriam's intentions were actually noble. She neither spoke in Moshe's presence, nor did she mean to criticize him. Why is it considered lashon hora? The basic gist of their commentary is that her comments were not "perfect" and could lead others to err. Horav Nosson Ordman, zl, presents a practical approach to Miriam's words, which conceivably explains her transgression.

Apparently, when Miriam met Tzipporah, Moshe's wife, she heard her lament the life of the wife of a Navi, prophet: "I feel bad for all those other women whose husbands are prophets, for their husbands separate from them, as mine has from me." Miriam heard this and went to her brother, Aharon HaKohen, and shared it with him. So, where was the sin? What did Miriam do that was so wrong?

Rav Ordman explains that it was not Miriam's business to relate Tzipporah's lament to Aharon. She should have gone straight to Moshe and asked for an explanation. She would certainly have been told that this was the will of the Almighty. She did not, however, go to Moshe. She went, instead, to Aharon. This is where she erred. Going to Aharon constituted a semblance of lashon hora, enough for her to be punished, so that others would take heed and not act it out in a worse manner. It was probably considered a harmless statement, innocuous, and without any malicious intent. When one reaches the spiritual plateau achieved by Miriam, the measuring rod is un-permissive, the demand for perfection relentless.

The incident concerning Miriam teaches us another lesson: no good deed goes unremitted. This applies to even the smallest measure of good. When Miriam was stricken with tzaraas, she was quarantined for seven days as prescribed by halachah. The nation waited for her to recuperate and only then did it continue its travels. For seven days, an entire nation waited. Why? Because when Moshe was in the little reed basket, afloat on the Nile River, Miriam waited for one hour, because she was concerned for the welfare of her baby brother. One little girl, one hour, and for that she was rewarded with an entire nation-- including the Holy Ark, the Kohanim, Leviim, Yisraelim, Ananei HaKavod, Clouds of Glory--all waiting for her. Yes, Miriam was punished for her error, but she was also rewarded for her good deed. Nothing we do - whether it is good or not so good- is forgotten. This is something we must remember.

Va'ani Tefillah

Oseh mishpat la'ashukim - He does justice for the wronged.

When the prophecy concerning the End of Days occurs, when the Yemos Ha'Moshiach, Days of Moshiach, the Revival of the Dead and the Olam Ha'Neshamos, the spiritual world of souls after death, when this new world order comes into being, Hashem will do justice for all those who have been deprived of Justice. Oshek is a reference to all of those who have been divested of their rightful compensation. Oshek is a reference to something withheld from its rightful owner. Therefore, as Horav Shimon Schwab, zl, explains, the majority of the world's population has been deprived in one way or another of what is rightfully theirs.

Horav Avigdor Miller, zl, understands this term from two perspectives: First, when we see someone who has been exploited and no judgment has been served in his defense, we must believe that ultimately Hashem will provide justice for him. It will happen! Second, when a man is prevented from being wronged, we must know that it is solely because Hashem has protected him. There is no other reason! We note here one principle that is constantly reiterated in Tanach: An essential element of a Jew's trust in Hashem and knowledge of Him is the awareness of ultimate vengeance upon evil doers. Whoever sins will pay. Hashem is patient, exacting punishment when He deems it most appropriate and effective.

l'zechar nishmas
Chaim Tzvi ben Aharon HaLevi z"l

Dr. Harry Feld
niftar 28 Iayar 5760

Dr. Donnie and Debbie Norowitz
and family

Peninim on the Torah is in its 18th year of publication. The first nine years have been published in book form.

The Ninth 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