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Peninim on the Torah

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Rabbi A. Leib Scheinbaum
Hebrew Academy of Cleveland


G-d said, "Let there be a firmament in the midst of the waters, and let us separate between water and water…and it was so…and there was evening and there was morning, a second day." (1:6,7,8)

Although Hashem created the heavens on the first day they remained in a state of transition. He solidified them on the second day, creating a separation between the waters above and the waters below. For a deeper explanation of the meaning of this division between waters, one should delve into the various commentaries on the Torah. For our purposes, we look to the end of the pesukim where the Torah writes that "it was so," followed by the statement that this was the second day. This is the only day of Creation about which the Torah does not say "ki tov," "it was good." Rashi explains that the phrase "ki tov" applies only to the finished product, the culmination of an endeavor. The waters, which Hashem began to create on the second day, were not completed until the third day. The Midrash gives us an alternative reason. Since the waters were divided on that day, the concepts of separation, division and, ultimately, strife were introduced to the world. Dispute, disunity, strife and discord are not onstructive. Hence, the day did not warrant the appellation of "ki tov."

On the first day of Creation, Hashem separated between light and darkness. Yet, the Torah writes "ki tov" in regard to the first day. The commentators explain that on the first day, it was a division between two unlike entities, light and darkness. At times, such a separation is healthy and even encouraged. When two waters of the same essence are split it is not a good omen.

We may certainly apply this idea to our own daily path of life. Unity among people is essential, as long as they hold the same perspective and moral belief. When an individual's doctrines and actions are antithetical to another's moral principles, the people must separate from one another. Peaceful coexistence among people is the only way society can thrive. Discord and controversy undermine and, ultimately, destroy communities. Peaceful coexistence cannot reign at the expense of subverting and crippling one's ethical and moral tenets. When two waters of the same essence are split, it is more than a negative sign, it is a tragedy. When Jews quarrel, when brothers feud to the point that their feelings of brotherhood are subjugated, it is heartbreaking. When religious beliefs cloud one's vision of kinship, it is devastating. Our people have suffered long and hard, but have remained one People. It is lamentable that there are people who would overlook their heritage in order to promote their own misguided agenda.

I recently read a poignant story which, unfortunately, provides a sad commentary on the human condition and the nadir to which some people descend. In the slave labor camp of Plashuv, a Jewish prisoner was aroused one night by a conversation between two kapos. These kapos were concentration camp police who were "selected" from among the Jewish prisoners themselves to carry out the orders of the Nazis in expediting the final solution. Their survival was dependent on proving their fidelity to the Nazi beasts in carrying out heartless acts of cruelty against their own brethren.

That there was always a steady supply of recruits, for this maleolent work is truly an unfortunate page in our history. The Jewish prisoner who was suddenly awakened listened to the following conversation between two kapos on duty.

One of them was crying, to his comrade's astonishment. Cruelty was part of their lifestyle, and whatever sentiment they might have had was long gone.Tears were an expression not commonly found by a kapo.

"Why the tears? What happened?"

"Do not ask.. Something occurred today that shook me up terribly," he responded.

"I do not understand you. What could possibly move you? I escorted my own father to his death, and you watched as your mother was shot to death . What could possibly bring you to tears?"

The weeping kapo, amid brokenhearted sobs, answered, "Today was different than anything I have ever experienced. I was taking an old chassid to be killed, when suddenly he stopped and looked me straight in the eyes and said, yes, we deserve this horrible punishment. We truly are guilty and warrant this fate. If one Jew is capable of leading another Jew to the slaughter, then something is very wrong with our nation, and we, have to answer for it - even with this punishment! Whenever I think of that old man's words, I tremble with disgust and loathing."

This story and the old chassid's piercing words should evoke within all of us a sense of introspection. Are we guilty of the same through indifference? Does one have to lead a fellow Jew to his death, or does a lack of empathy -- or even a tinge of hatred for someone who does not believe as we do -- warrant Hashem's anger? I hope we never find out.

And Hashem G-d formed the man of dust from the ground, and He blew into his nostrils the soul of Life. (2:7)

Man is comprised of two aspects: spiritual and physical. The guf, body, is his physical dimension; the neshamah, soul, the "chelek Elokai miMaal," portion which comes directly from Hashem Above, is his spiritual dimension. Life is a constant struggle between the spirit and the physical: Who will prevail? Horav Sholom Schwadron, zl, cites his rebbe Horav Leib Chasman, zl, who explained this with the following compelling analogy.

It happened that those who sought to undermine the Jewish religion were finally successful in slandering the saintly Chafetz Chaim. The government, looking for any opportunity to put away anyone who was seditious, quickly arrested the Chafetz Chaim and placed him in jail. A few days later, they were finally able to capture the archenemy of the state, a man known for his vicious cruelty and evil, a man whose tentacles of power reached into every area of the government. It took years of meticulous and patient policework to gather the evidence and capture this mafioso. Shockingly, he was placed in the same cell as the Chafetz Chaim! Let us imagine the scene that unfolds before us. The aged Chofetz Chaim, a slight, bent over, elderly saint sharing a cell with a bear of a man whose cruelty was matched only by his vulgarity and size. One look from the mafioso could stun the Chafetz Chaim. Suddenly, wonder of wonders, the Chafetz Chaim turns to the mafioso and asks him a penetrating question on the Rambam! What is even more shocking, the mafioso responds, citing a Rashbah! We might think this is some sort of bad dream, but, it continues with the two proceeding with their dialogue throughout a vast array of halachos ranging from Talmud to Aggadah.

After the discussion, the Chafetz Chaim washes to eat, and the mafioso responds, "Amen." During the meal, the Chafetz Chaim relates a Torah thought to the avid attention of the mafioso. What is occurring? Are we losing our minds?

"No!" says Rav Chasman, this is not an analogy - it is reality! This happens daily in the fusion of the body and soul. The body is the mafioso filled with base lusts and passion if left to nothing but his physical essence. Everyone -- regardless of his moral breeding can and will descend to the nadir of depravity as evidenced by some of history's most infamous degenerates. Conversely, anyone who is able to subjugate his physical dimension to his spiritual development can attain the most sublime levels of holiness and virtue. Indeed, he can become a Chafetz Chaim. It all depends upon which is stronger: the spirit or the body.

As an individual grows, the potential Chafetz Chaim within him and the potential mafioso within him also grow. They interact - they dialogue - they respond to each other. Who will reign supreme? It all depends upon who is stronger.

Let us take a Shabbos table where the "two" are sitting together, and we will observe how they interact. The Chafetz Chaim sings the Shalom Aleichem with great devotion, his eyes glistening as he greets the Shabbos Kallah with great anticipation and longing. His Kiddush is filled with sanctity as he embraces the Shabbos and welcomes its holiness into his simple home. The mafioso is there - watching, waiting for that cup of Kiddush, so that the alcohol can soothe his timorous nature. The Chafetz Chaim washes his hands in preparation to bless Hashem for giving him bread. The mafioso cannot wait to sink his teeth into the delicious challah to satisfy his hungry belly. While the Chafetz Chaim is chanting the beautiful melodies of the zemiros of Shabbos, the mafioso is dreaming about the chicken and kugel whose delectable aroma permeates the air. They both eat, but, prior to taking a bite, the Chafetz Chaim says, "l'kovod Shabbos kodesh." I am eating this for a purpose, to enhance and enjoy the holiness of the holy Shabbos.

They both eat: one as a glutton to satisfy his physical desires; the other one to celebrate the sacred day. Our goal and purpose on this earth is to transform the mafioso within us into a veritable Chafetz Chaim, to dominate the spiritual over the physical. There is nothing wrong with enjoyment. It all depends how and what we enjoy. Some derive great fulfillment from a good meal; others, from a sporting event; and then there is the Chafetz Chaim, the ideal, who piques his delight from the study of Torah.

Hashem G-d said, "It is not good that man be alone; I will make him a helper corresponding to him. (2:18)

Sforno focuses on the concept of "eizer k'negdo," "a helper corresponding to him" and interprets it as being the defining point in the relationship between husband and wife. He explains that "it is not good that man be alone." The intended purpose in creating man in the image and likeness of Hashem will not be realized if man has to occupy himself alone in order to supply the needs of life. He must have a helper that is equal to him in image and likeness, so that the helper is able to appreciate his needs and meet them at the proper time. Sforno adds that "negdo," opposite him, implies that when an object is placed on one side of a scale, the object on the other side of the scale will be of equal weight, so that they are truly opposite each other on a straight line. Otherwise, one will go up as the other goes down. Additionally, since it is written as k'negdo, with the "kuf" prefix, the Torah is teaching us that she should be like him, but not fully equal to him. Otherwise, she could not be a helper. Yet, since both equally fulfill the roles destined for them, they are equal in weight, striking a harmonious balance. Sforno teaches us that a woman's goal and purpose is to help, a service which in no way minimizes her significance or equality. Indeed, without her, the goals of a marriage and the future of Klal Yisrael could never be realized. Man, therefore, should seek a wife that will enhance his own qualities - regardless of her financial and ancestral roots. Nachlas Tzvi cites the Olelos Ephraim who explains the pasuk, "Therefore man should leave his father and mother and cling to his wife" (Bereishis 2:24), that one should reject the notion of investigating after the father and mother's yichus, pedigree, and rather cling to his wife - investigate her personality, character and spiritual/moral qualities. Likewise, a woman should seek the same in her husband. Only then will the pasuk's promise, "and they shall become one flesh," be fulfilled. There is more to marriage than money. One who seeks only financial status benefits from neither.

Horav S.R. Hirsch, zl, in his Choreb, exhorts the young man to seek a wife who will truly be his "chavrusah b'chaim," learning partner in life. She should be his "lebensbagleiter," life's companion, sharing with him in every aspect of life. Anyone who has ever studied in a yeshivah understands the crucial importance of a good chavrusah. They must match and enhance each other so that both grow in Torah. It is a unique relationship in which each challenges, yet enriches, the other. So, too, is a wife a chavrusah in the subject of life.

In regard to the need for a man to have a helper, the Torah says, "It is not good that man be alone." Rashi comments, "So that they should not say that there are two authorities; Hashem is unique in the higher realms, and He has no mate; and this one, man, is unique in the lower realms and has no mate." This seems like an altogether new reason for the creation of woman. Interestingly, Rashi omits Chazal's statement in the Talmud Yevamos 62, "One who lives without a wife, lives without Torah, without joy, without blessing, without peace, without food, etc." Why does Rashi seemingly ignore Chazal's stated reason?

Horav Sholom Schwadron, zl, suggests that the above reason needs some clarification. Why do Chazal say that one who is not married lacks good or joy? Perhaps he is half a person who does not have complete good and complete joy, but, he certainly does have something. Why do Chazal insist that he has nothing?

Furthermore, if the sole purpose of the creation of woman was to fulfill a deficiency within man, to enable him to achieve completion, why did Hashem not simply create him complete, without deficiency and without shortcoming? Why was man fashioned in such a manner that he would need an eizer k'negdo?

This leads Rav Schwadron to submit that the underlying reason stated by Chazal that "people" might think that there are two authorities in the world is a reference to man himself. If he would have been created self-sufficient, without any need for a partner as helpmate, he might conjure in his "self-sufficient" mind that he is the "man" - there is no other authority but he.

Regrettably, this is human nature. If one lives alone and has no one else about whom to care or to think, he will invariably begin to think that he is it. Slowly this attitude will regress to the point that one positions himself as an "authority," a god. Indeed, after awhile, he even believes it!

However, if man is created with a deficiency - one that can be ameliorated only through the assistance of another human being, he will consequently learn to care and empathize also for the needs of his fellow man. He will then not become haughty and think that there are two authorities, because now he will realize that he is merely nothing more than flesh and blood. Chazal allude to this when they say that without a wife one is missing good, joy, blessing and Torah. When one is led by his heart's desire, other true concepts of joy and blessing elude him. In other words, man's need for a helpmate is what catalyzes the true benefits of blessing, good, joy and Torah. Rashi's stated reason is the source of the benefits stated by Chazal.


And they shall serve as luminaries. (1:15)

The words "meoros," luminaries, is written without the second "vav" which could lead us to read it as "meoras," luminary, in the singular. Baal HaTurim comments that originally only one luminary, the sun, was to be created. In order to circumvent people from deifying the sun, since it was alone, Hashem "added" another luminary, the moon. This teaches us, posit the Baalei Mussar, that at times we need two people as leaders, so that one should not get carried away and take everything for himself.

Let us make man. (1:26)

The word "naase," let us make, is written in the plural, implying that there is more than one Creator. Indeed, Chazal teach us that Hashem included the ministering angels in His decision as a way of teaching us a rule in derech eretz, proper manners. One should always consult with others before embarking on a new initiative. What about the fact that this furnishes a pretext for heretics to claim that there are two divinities? Hashem was not deterred by the possibility that some might err in the meaning of the pasuk - so important was the lesson to be derived. "This teaches us the significance of middos tovos, proper character traits," says the Alter, zl, m'Slabodka. "Hashem was even willing to give an opportunity for the heretics to err in order to facilitate that a lesson in derech eretz might be imparted."

Of every tree of the garden you may eat, but of the Tree of Knowledge of good and bad you must not eat thereof. (2:16,17)

The Baalei Mussar derive from here that before one shows someone what is prohibited, he should first indicate to him what is permissible.

Where are you? (3:9)

The letters of the word "Ayeca", "Where are you?" are the same as those of the word "Eicha," "How?" signifying the opening word of the Book of Lamentations. Indeed, the greatest lament is for he who does not know where he is - and where he is heading.

Hebrew Academy of Cleveland
Rabbi L. Scheinbaum


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