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Peninim on the Torah

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Rabbi A. Leib Scheinbaum
Hebrew Academy of Cleveland


You shall proclaim freedom throughout the land to all of its inhabitants. (25:10)

During the Yovel, Jubilee year, there is a mitzvah to free all slaves. This refers to the Jewish bondsman who had originally been sold as a slave in order to make restitution for a theft which he had committed, as well as the individual who sold himself as a result of his economic difficulties. He is now set free. When we consider it, the number of indentured slaves during the Jubilee year was small. This usually referred to a slave who, instead of leaving at the end of the usual six year period, opted to stay longer. Together with the recent bondsmen, he constituted a small minority of the people. Why does the Torah write that freedom should be proclaimed to "all of its inhabitants." It would seem implied that a large number of Jews was involved, when, in fact, this was not true. The vast majority of Jews had always been free.

The Pnei Yehoshua explains this with a profound psychological insight. When a person sells himself as a slave to a master, two people become servants: the slave and the master. Any person who takes another human as a slave has an ego problem. He feels the need to dominate, to control others, to make other people serve him. This lack of self-mastery manifests itself in his need to purchase another Jew who is down and out.

There is clearly something redeeming about the parshah of eved Ivri, the laws dealing with the Jewish bondsman and the tremendous sacrifice the master makes in purchasing a servant and supplying him with the opportunity to better himself. Is there no alternative, however, to avdus, servitude? If the potential master wanted to help, could he not just have given the poor Jew the money, instead of purchasing him? Is it possible that the title of master does something for his ego? Does he feel a need to be in control of another person's future and destiny? A society that helps its down and out members by purchasing them as bondsmen is certainly better than one that totally ignores them. Is there no alternative, however, to this "positive" form of assistance, other than making a slave out of another Jew? Are we not supposed to be avadim, slaves, only of the Almighty - and no one else?

Yes, he who needs to dominate is himself a slave. Thus, the number of Jewish bondsmen doubles, since the master is also a servant to his ego. Thus, when the Jubilee year occurs, both the master and servant are freed from their respective forms of servitude.

Perhaps it is neither my place nor the appropriate forum, but as we enter into the period of Kabbalas HaTorah, a time that resonated with the concept of k'ish echad b'lev echad, "like one man, with one heart," when Jewish unity had reached its zenith, it would be derelict of me not to mention the following. There are Jews who are in trouble. There are Jews who are in dire economic straits. There are Jews who function under severe emotional stress. There are also Jews who can help alleviate the pain, misery, the hardship, and they do! There are those, however, who perform this assistance on their own terms - terms that might seem somewhat compelling. When one is up against the wall, however, any form of comfort will help - regardless of the level of interest one is forced to pay. Tzedakah does not mean charging an outrageous amount of money (of course, through a heter iska, halachic dispensation) as an added gift for a loan. How many people have come to us for loans, when they actually need a gift, but are too proud to ask? Is it a need to dominate, to demonstrate our position, that compels us to perform? The bottom line is: When we are asked to help a Jew in need, or, when we know -- or even suspect -- that a Jew is in need (one who is sensitive to others will notice when something is wrong), we should respond in a positive manner and act to preserve his dignity and self-esteem - not our own.

Do not mistreat one another. (25:27)

Rashi quotes from the Sifra that this pasuk does not refer to mistreating a person financially, but, rather, to mistreating him personally, either by insulting him, or by hurting his feelings. This prohibition of onaas devarim is severe and requires extreme caution, because other people are vulnerable and hurt easily. It goes without saying that one is prohibited from knowingly causing another Jew to feel bad. It is equally important, however, to make sure that we do not inadvertently cause pain to another Jew and that we do whatever we can to engender positive feelings among our fellow Jews.

Horav Yosef Chaim Sonenfeld,zl, was an individual who, besides his vast knowledge of Torah and extreme piety, was known as a man of sterling character. He was painstakingly observant in his observance of onaas devarim. A well known Torah scholar once wrote a Torah treatise in which he included the following statement: "In our day, the phenomenon of scorning Torah scholars and their scholarly works exists. In fact, I myself recently approached a wealthy Jew who was something of a scholar, asking him to help defray some of the high cost of printing my sefer, volume of Torah thought. He not only refused, but he went on to heap scorn on the Torah and its disseminators. I left feeling greatly depressed and aggravated."

When Rav Yosef Chaim saw this story in print, he was most upset and wrote his colleague the following note: "I was surprised that you included your negative encounter with that wealthy man in your book. Indeed, if that man had regretted what he had said and repented - something for which we are supposed to give everyone the benefit of the doubt - then it is forbidden to remind him of his sinful behavior. To remind a repented Jew of his negative past constitutes a violation of onaas devarim. Although you did not mention his name in the book, if he reads the story one day and understands that it is a reference to him, you will have caused him to feel bad. That is onaas devarim."

Rav Yosef Chaim would make a point of noting that the gematriya, numerical equivalent, of ish, man, is equal to that of l're'eihu, to his fellow man. This alludes to the fact that a person is not worthy of being called an ish, human being, unless he focuses his attention on re'eihu, his fellowman. Furthermore, this is the root of all difficulties in interpersonal relationships. It is when I think that I am better than my fellow man, when the ish does not equal re'eihu, that problems arise among us.

If your brother becomes impoverished and his means falter in your proximity, you shall strengthen him. (25:35)

David HaMelech says in Tehillim 41:23, "Praiseworthy is he who contemplates the needy; on the day of disaster Hashem will deliver him." The word maskil, contemplate, seems a bit misplaced. How does contemplation relate to the poor man? Apparently, the Psalm is teaching us that it is incumbent upon the would-be benefactor to consider the needs of the man who is standing in front of him. Sometimes the poor man asks for one thing, actually meaning something else, but he is ashamed to ask. It is up to us to contemplate in order to find out what the poor man is lacking. This does not necessarily apply only to a poor man. It means that we should use seichal, common sense, to try to find out what our friend needs before it is too late. We are a compassionate people, but, at times, we forget to think. This thoughtlessness can cause us to misappropriate funds or not give to those who are secretly in dire need.

Achicha, brother, is a generic term that applies across the board. Yaakov Avinu refers to his sons as achim, brothers (Bereishis 31:46). Thus, we find that a child who acts differently, whether he is strange or simply behaving out of character, could be conveying a message. Maskil, contemplate, means to listen, even when there is no sound. Listen with your heart; listen with your eyes; listen with your head.

The Gaon, zl, m'Vilna writes that the joy we cause another Jew catalyzes incredible reward for us. This applies equally to the joy we have for a child, a student, or one who is lost, and we show him the way. Indeed, in the Talmud Taanis 27A Chazal relate that a Talmudic sage once "met" Eliyahu HaNavi in the market place and asked him, "Who is there here that is destined for Olam Habah, the World to Come?" Eliyahu pointed out two brothers. The sage approached and queried them concerning their business. They replied, "We are badchanim, jesters. Our function is to make sad people happy." This was their business. While some might laugh off such a position in life, these two men were going to "laugh" all the way to Olam Habah.

The story is told that when Horav Moshe Aharon Stern, zl, was studying in the Kollel, for a short period of time he would come to seder about fifteen minutes late. Horav Elya Lopian, zl, was Rosh Kollel and Mashgiach at the yeshivah during this time. Being the consummate mashgiach, he took note of Rav Moshe Aharon's tardiness and questioned him about it. Rav Moshe Aharon explained that he lived in a cramped basement, which leaked terribly when it rained. This was especially problematic during the winter months, when the cold seeped into the apartment causing his young children to become ill. His wife worked to support the family, and she had to leave for work early every morning. Therefore, he would stay home and attend to his children's ailments or take them to the doctor.

Rav Elya heard all of this and was shaken. He immediately demanded to see the apartment. They went together to the apartment, and Rav Elya was appalled by the stark poverty of the cold, damp apartment. "How can you live like this?" he asked. "You must move immediately!"

"Rebbe," Rav Moshe Aharon said, "how can I move? I have no money."

Rav Elya said, "You have a responsibility to your wife and children. If you have no money, then take a position as mashgiach in a yeshivah. No matter what, you must move!"

Rav Moshe Aharon accepted the position of mashgiach of Yeshivas Kamenitz, and thousands of bnei Torah were the fortunate beneficiaries of his decision. He would note that this only occurred because Rav Elya noticed. He saw a change in his schedule and immediately questioned it. The "why" provoked an immediate reaction. This is similar to a hospital in which the cardiac patients are hooked up to a monitor which is closely watched at the main nurse's station. As Rav Moshe Aharon points out, however, the monitor is of value only if the nurse is in her station with her watchful eye on the monitor. If the monitor goes off while she is having a cup of coffee elsewhere, by the time she returns, the patient could have suffered irreparable damage.

People convey messages all of the time. At times, it is a little innocuous change in schedule, or it could be a bad mood or a strange activity. If no one is listening, it is to no avail. We must be maskil, contemplate the messages, listen, and act.

Parashas Bechukosai

You shall eat long stored grain, and you shall remove the old because of the new. (26:10)

Rashi explains that the granaries will be so full with the new grain and the storehouses so full of the old grain. This will force us to remove the contents of the storehouses to make room for the new grain. This is an enigmatic blessing. While it is certainly wonderful to have such an abundance of grain, what benefit is there in having so much surplus that we are compelled to get rid of the old grain? Food should be guarded and preserved, not thrown out. In this blessing we are told that we will have so much excess that we will have to remove the old grain. Is this really a blessing?

In order to understand this issue, let us digress and focus on the concept of simchah, joy. In the Talmud Pesachim 109a, Chazal state that during the time that the Bais Hamikdash was standing, there was no simchah without meat, and now that the Bais HaMikdash is no longer extant, simchah occurs only through the medium of wine. What are Chazal teaching us? The Shem MiShmuel cites his father, the Avnei Nezer, who explains that simchah on YomTov is unique in that it is an inner experience, one that should be savored by the emotions and intellect. It is not simply a time for external expression of joy. Yom Tov is a time for dancing and singing - both external manifestations of joy-- but they should be engendered by an inner sense of simchah. How is this inner sense of joy awakened within the person to the point that he overflows with joy and seeks to express himself outwardly? The sacrificial offerings that were brought in the Bais Hamikdash looked and tasted no different than ordinary meat that was purchased at the butcher store. There was, however, one difference. Butcher store meat was not inherently holy; sacrificial meat was. Thus, the individual who ate from a korban became internally infused with the inherent kedushah, holiness, of the meat. Ingesting holy meat imbues a person with holiness that promotes a feeling of inner joy, which is later expressed externally through song and dance.

Once the Bais Hamikdash was taken from us, wine became the medium for arousing the necessary kedushah. Chazal state, "When wine goes in, secrets come out" (Eiruvin 65a). Simply, this means that inebriation leads to the individual's loss of control and the divulging of his secrets. On a deeper level, it suggests that wine has the power to release one's innermost feelings.

The Shem M'Shmuel explains this further. Because the physical elements of this mundane world are subject to the ravages of time, everything deteriorates as it ages. Wine is one of those physical elements that is unique in that the more it matures, the better it becomes. The finest vintages are often very old. Wine is, thus, the symbol of the spiritual dimension, a world which improves with time. Its character is innate and possesses none of the extrinsic, superficial properties of the physical world. When one drinks wine, it stimulates a feeling which parallels a spiritual tendency, such as an outpouring of one's innermost emotions. Therefore, it has been selected as a suitable alternative for the sacrificial meats of Yom Tov. Now that the Bais Hamikdash is no longer extant, we imbibe wine, so that we are able to catalyze the appropriate feelings of inner joy.

We now return to our original query: Why did Hashem bless Klal Yisrael with excess produce? This is a difficulty only if food ages in the usual manner and spoils. If produce were to improve with age, however, as mentioned above, whereby it provides us with "wine-like" features that bring out the best of our inner spiritual emotions, excess would be a blessing. In this scenario, the food would not lead to the negative - gluttony or gross coarseness - but, rather, to increased sensitivity to matters of the spiritual dimension. The more grain we would produce, the greater would be the opportunity for absorbing spirituality. This would certainly constitute a blessing.

If you consider My decrees loathsome, and if your being rejects My ordinances…so that you annul My convenant. (26:15)

Rashi explains that a seven step chain reaction of sin leads to total apostasy. Interestingly, along the path of digression, the hatred of the sages who expound the ordinances develops, leading to one's preventing others from following the commandments of G-d. We wonder why an individual who does not do should hate one who does. Indeed, we do not find this phenomenon concerning any other religions. Just because their priests lead an ascetic lifestyle, removed from reality, it does not provoke a reaction of animosity from the common person. Yet, in Judaism, the talmid chacham, Torah scholar, the tzadik, righteous and pious Jew, who dedicates himself and his life to Torah study and mitzvah performance, is often the subject of scorn and derision. Why?

Judaism is a religion of action. It makes demands upon a person to act, to do, to perform. Judaism is not only about the heart, as in other religions in which one has to be good in his heart, have good thoughts, and act ethically. Those who live in a lifestyle removed from the people, who devote themselves to their god, neither infringe on the beliefs of the common man nor impugn his devotion. They are priests, and, as such, are meant to be different.

Our religion does not distinguish between the common man and the rabbi. Everyone is obligated to observe all 613 mitzvos to the fullest extent and minutest detail. Thus, when the sage observes and performs, he represents a threat to the common Jew's lack of observance. His insecurity is breached, and the self-loathing that motivates so much of his negative reaction to the observant goes into overdrive. He knows in the deepest recesses of his heart that the observant are wrong, and the sage is living proof of their folly.

I will remember for the covenant of the ancients, those whom I have taken out of the land of Egypt. (26:45)

Hashem promised the fathers of the twelve tribes that He would not forsake their descendants, and He would redeem them.

The foundation of Klal Yisrael's sense of mutual responsibility, one Jew for another, stems from the fact that we are all family, descendants of the twelve tribes. Yehudah was the first one to express the Jewish concept of areivus, mutual responsibility, when he said to Yaakov Avinu that he would ensure Binyamin's safe return: Anochi aervenu, "I will personally guarantee him" (Beresihis 43:9). In his Tiferes Shlomo, Horav Shlomo zl, m'Radomsk, writes that it was specifically due to Yehudah's sense of achrayos, responsibility, that Yaakov sent him to Egypt to precede the family and establish a yeshivah prior to the arrival of the rest of the family. Yaakov wanted a yeshivah that articulated and manifested a sense of achrayos, a feeling of areivus for all Jews.

This sense of mutual concern is what motivated the shotrim, Jewish officers who were in charge of their brethren in Egypt, to take the lashes for the slaves, rather than compel them to work harder. They ignored Pharaoh's instructions, because they cared about their brothers. These shotrim merited to become the members of the first Sanhedrin, High Court. Only one who is sensitive to the plight and feelings of his Jewish brothers deserves to be selected to adjudicate them.

Va'ani Tefillah

Vayomru kol ha'am amen v'hallel l'Hashem.
And the entire assemblage said: "Amen and praise to Hashem."

In Divrei Ha'Yamim I, 16:36 we are told that after this mizmor (Hodu) was completed, the entire congregation who had heard it responded with Amen v'hallel l'Hashem. The word amen has no counterpart in secular languages. Thus, it is used by gentiles in its Hebrew form - amen. Its meaning is: "I am loyal to this, and I agree with it, and I firmly stand by it." This is the meaning of amen, when it is used in the Tanach, a word connoting steadiness, stability, and firmness. Horav Avigdor Miller, zl, notes that when one publicly utters a blessing to Hashem, he is making a proposal that others should affirm and concur. Therefore, one's blessing is not really complete until the listeners indicate their consent to the brachah. If they ignore the "amen," they are, in effect, ignoring the meaning and, by extension, denying its validity. We now understand why in the Talmud Berachos 53B Chazal state: "Greater is he who responds amen than the one who pronounces the brachah." The amen response is the strength of the matter, its completion and its ardent acceptance forever. Amen is the brachah with its acceptance.

The people did not only accept and affirm the blessing, they immediately, in the same sentence, added an individual praise to Hashem, demonstrating their overwhelming alacrity. Amen v'hallel l'Hashem.

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