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Rabbi A. Leib Scheinbaum
Hebrew Academy of Cleveland

Parshas V'zos Haberachah


And there was evening and there was morning. (1:5)

The Midrash interprets the reference in the pasuk to night and day from a different perspective. "It was night" denotes the activities of the wicked, while "it was morning" is a reference to the actions of the righteous. Hashem asserts that the light is good. It seems strange that the Torah would have to tell us that Hashem favors the actions of the righteous, symbolized by the light. Such a statement is not novel. Certainly, Hashem prefers the activities of the righteous. We do not need a Midrash to teach us this lesson.

The Dubno Maggid, zl, gives a practical exposition of Chazal. People learn Torah and perform mitzvos in different ways, with varying attitudes. One can go to a school in order to witness the failure of the greater society around him. The scene epitomizes the breakdown of society. It is so destructive that no good can be derived from the situation. He, therefore, chooses the positive approach of learning Torah and mitzvah observance.

His counterpart may look at the lifestyle of the tzaddikim, the righteous, who devote themselves and their lives to acting positively, to a life of harmony within themselves and in their families. He sees the contentment and happiness, the serenity and satisfaction within their lives and in terms of their achievements.

Yes, there are two approaches: looking at the positive, the approach of light; and the converse, the negative approach, viewing evil in its entirety, including its consequences. They both bring results, but which is preferable? Hashem says in regard to the light: "It is good."

Let us make Man in Our image, after Our likeness. (1:26)

What is the meaning of man being formed in G-d's image? Certainly man has a corporeal form, quite unlike Hashem, Who has no corporeality. Furthermore, what is meant by the phrase, "Let us make Man" ? Horav Moshe Shternbuch, Shlita, gives a compelling explanation. The concept of man, as he was created, is not limited to what we see with our human eyes. Man was designed to be much more than a two-legged creature. Man is "man" only when he lives up to his spiritual potential and integrates his spiritual dimension with his physical entity. This is consistent with Chazal's dictum, Atem kruyin Adam, "You, (Klal Yisrael) are called Adam, Man, and not the gentile world." The potential in spirituality allows Hashem to refer to each of us as an adam, a man.

How does this transpire? What must one do in order to achieve the appellation of a "man." When a man performs mitzvos and maasim tovim, good deeds, he enhances the spiritual dimension within himself; he creates the true "man." This is the meaning of Naase Adam, "Let Us make Man;" "Us" is a reference to Hashem and man himself. The sum total of man and his actions comprise the "man" component of the "Us" in the phrase, "Let Us make man."

The tzelem Elokim is man's spiritual image, the way in which he appears in the Olam Ha'Ruchani, spiritual world. When we perform what is demanded of us and enhance our performance with hiddur mitzvah, with exacting and meticulous observance, we refine our spiritual image. The focus of man on this world is to develop and embellish his spiritual persona, to live as a "man" and not as an animal, thereby completing the process of creation that Hashem has initiated.

With this in mind, we now have a new understanding of the meaning of man. There has to be something different, something special and unique, something striking, about the person. This can only be actualized by focusing on the spiritual facet of an individual. This, in turn, will manifest itself in a countenance and demeanor that reflects the true man, as willed by Hashem.

The gedolei Yisrael, Torah leaders, were individuals who truly transcended the realm of the physical. Each manifested total control over his physical dimension; his complete devotion to everything spiritual was reflected in his total demeanor. To gaze upon his countenance was to observe the earthly state of a tzelem Elokim at its zenith. Horav Isser Zalman Meltzer, zl, was an individual whose gadlus, greatness, in Torah was matched by his empathy for the feelings of each and every Jew. He was a rosh yeshivah par-excellence whose concern for the plight of his fellow Jew was personal. Their pain was his pain; their joy was his joy. In "Touched By A Story," Rabbi Yechiel Spero relates a poignant incident that occurred concerning Rav Isser Zalman in which this virtue was manifest.

Horav Aharon Kotler, zl, was the Rosh Hayeshivah in Kletzk, Poland, and also a son-in-law of Rav Isser Zalman. As the war clouds became more and more imminent over Europe, Rav Aharon decided that the yeshivah in Kletzk would be forced to move to America. Yet, he felt that with a future filled with uncertainty, it would be best that he send his son Shneur, the future gadol and his spiritual heir, to his grandfather in Eretz Yisrael. Rav Shneur spent the war years under the watchful eye of his revered grandfather, who doted on him. Rav Isser Zalman imbued his grandson with an ahavas Torah and ahavas Yisrael, love of Torah and love for every Jew, which became his hallmarks.

When the war ended and life was beginning to return somewhat to normalcy, Rav Aharon decided it was time to send for his son. The news obviously brought a bittersweet reaction from the grandparents, as (Rav) Shneur had been their pride and joy for the past five years. Life must go on, however, and the young bachur had to go home to his parents. Arrangements were made, and the day on which - (Rav) Shneur was to go home arrived. The taxi that would take him to the ship that was sailing to America pulled up to the curb, as Rav Isser Zalman and his rebbetzin waited with their grandson outside their apartment.

It was now time to say goodbye. The rebbetzin hugged her beloved grandchild and blessed him one last time. Rav Isser Zalman, normally an individual who did not conceal his emotion, stuck out his hand and bid his grandson a safe journey and hatzlocha, good luck, in the future. Rav Shneur entered the taxi and left.

A man of Rav Isser Zalman's stature was always surrounded by his students. This time was no different. They watched incredulously as their beloved rebbe gave a "cold" goodbye to his grandson. They knew him to be a warm and sensitive person, traits which were inconsistent with the way he had just acted. Surely, a grandson deserves more than a handshake!

Students must learn, and the only way to grow is to ask - which they did. "Rebbe, not even a hug?" Rav Isser Zalman looked at his students and smiled, as he wiped away a tear from his eyes, responding, "My dear students, yes, I wanted to hug and kiss Shneur with all my heart. Trust me, it was quite difficult to contain my emotions, but I felt it would be wrong to publicly express my true emotions.

"You see, there are many grandfathers who can no longer feel the loving embrace of a grandson. Likewise, there are many grandchildren who can no longer experience the warmth and caring that a grandfather has to offer. Many of our people have perished during the war. I felt that in some way I had to share in their pain and suffering. If I refrain from hugging my beloved grandson, perhaps I can sensitize myself, ever so slightly, to what these unfortunate Jews are going through."

We now have a glimpse of what it means to transcend the physical and develop one's tzelem Elokim.

Hashem blessed the seventh day. (2:3)

The Midrash relates that the Roman Caesar once went out for a stroll. In the course of walking, he entered the Jewish neighborhood. It was Shabbos, and the aroma of delicious Shabbos foods permeated the air. The Caesar was enchanted by the essence. He sent for Rabbi Yehoshua ben Chananya, a leading sage, and asked, "Why do the Jewish foods have such a savory fragrance to them? I have never smelled anything so delectable." Rabbi Yehoshua replied, "We have a unique spice called Shabbos that creates a sweet aroma in our food."

"Please obtain this spice for me, so that I can also partake and enjoy my food," the Caesar requested.

"I am sorry, my Caesar, but this spice is available only to he who observes the Shabbos. One who does not observe Shabbos does not benefit from its aroma."

I feel this Midrash is conveying a critical lesson regarding mitzvah observance in general. One cannot grasp the profound delight captured through mitzvah observance unless he experiences the observance firsthand. In attempting to reach out to the unaffiliated, one does not succeed by arguing his point, since each individual feels that his is the correct approach. The correct approach is to learn with the individual, to get him actively involved, so that he directly experiences the ideas that we want to transmit. Once he learns, his ability to see what we see is enhanced. He no longer needs explanation; he has his own experiences.

What if this approach does not work? What if he learns, and it does not change him? What if his character remains the same as it had been before? What if the experience has not transformed him? The Dubno Maggid, zl, addresses this question and responds, in his imitable manner, with a parable:

A salesman arrived in a city with his case of samples, which he mistakenly left in the train station. When he checked into the hotel, he asked the bellboy to please arrange to have his suitcase retrieved from the station. The bellboy asked, "How much does it weigh, since if it is heavy, it will cost more to pick it up?"

"It is very light, only about five pounds," the salesman replied.

A few hours later, the bellboy appeared at the salesman's room, exhausted, sweaty and reasonably upset. "You told me the suitcase was light. It must weigh at least sixty pounds! Can you imagine how difficult it has been for me to carry it all the way here?"

The salesman looked at the boy incredulously and asked, "Are you sure that bag weighs sixty pounds and not five pounds?" "I am absolutely certain," the bellboy replied.

"Then, young man, you have brought me the wrong suitcase. My bag weighs no more than five pounds. If you are exhausted, it is because you have the wrong bag!"

A parallel idea applies to Torah study. If after studying Torah, one has not changed, his character remains as deficient as it was before, then there is something very wrong with the manner in which he is learning. It is not the right package. This applies equally to mitzvah observance. If one does not sense a change after he has experienced the mitzvah, then he did not experience it correctly - or his response to experiencing the mitzvah was flawed.

There are some things that simply cannot be conveyed verbally; they must be experienced personally in order to be effective. There are certain emotions that the human psyche must experience before the mind can accept them intellectually. Horav Shraga Feivel Mendlowitz, zl, the legendary menahel of Mesivta Torah Vodaath, was an individual who did not simply perform or observe mitzvos; he lived them. Carrying out a mitzvah was an experience that penetrated his entire essence. Once, as a group of his students returned from Tashlich on Rosh Hashanah, Rav Shraga Feivel summoned them to come over. He was already sick at the time, nearing the end of his life. He said to them, "After an entire day of davening, I still do not feel that I have reached the level of Malchiyos, of declaring the total sovereignty of Hashem. Please help me. Perhaps together we might arouse ourselves to sense a taste of Malchiyos."

He then began to sing slowly from the Rosh Hashanah davening: V'yeida kol pa'ul ki Atah Po'alto, "Let everything that has been made know that You are his Creator," drawing the students into the niggun, melody,with him. They sang one niggun after another, and then Rav Shraga Feivel drew them into a dance to the words, V'al kein nekaveh Lecha, "Therefore we put our trust in You." They sang and danced with pure ecstasy. When they concluded, Rav Shraga Feivel thanked his students for helping him to achieve his goal. The students also achieved a goal as tears of hisorerus, spiritual arousal, streamed down their faces. They had gone beyond reciting the words; they had experienced the declaration of Hashem's sovereignty.

Accursed are you beyond all the cattle and all the beasts of the fieldand dust shall you eat all the days of your life. (3:14)

One wonders if this is much of a punishment. On the contrary, the snake will never have to search for food. Why does Hashem say to the snake, "Accursed are you beyond all the cattle and beyond all the beasts of the field"? We derive from here that an easy life, a life without challenge and trial, is not necessarily a blessing. We grow and develop from our challenges. Horav Moshe Shternbuch, Shlita, remembers when a bachur about to be married asked Horav Moshe Schneider, zl, Rosh Hayeshivah in London, for a brachah, blessing, prior to his wedding. Rav Moshe asked him, "What kind of blessing would you like?" The young man replied, "I would like to be blessed with an easy life, no challenges, no obstacles, no vicissitudes." The Rosh Hayeshivah looked at the young man and said, "That is not a blessing! My blessing to you is that you should have obstacles and challenges, but that you should triumph over them!"

Thus, the snake is worse off than all of the animals and beasts. For it goes through life without having to confront challenge or to overcome hardship. The opportunity for growth and development is denied to the snake. Apparently, this applies also to those who feel life is all about sleeping, eating and satisfying one's physical whims and desires. Torah study is something they do in their spare time, when they have thoroughly satisfied all of their wants. A Jew lives through yegia, toil. He grows through labor until he achieves sheleimus, perfection and completion. Sitting back and enjoying life does not give a person much to live for, because life becomes meaningless in that state.

The Baalei Mussar, Ethicists, explain the curse in a different manner. The snake would now have everything readily available to sustain himself. He would not have to turn to Hashem to supplicate Him for sustenance. This is a great curse. Hashem wants us to turn to Him, to entreat Him every step of our lives. The Kli Yakar explains the prohibition against taking usury exists because usury is a process by which a person sits back and allows his money to grow on its own. The Torah wants a person to turn to Hashem every day, every moment, so that he never forgets from Where and from Whom he is sustained. Hashem did not want the snake's entreaty. This is the greatest curse. We derive from here a valuable lesson. At times, we wonder why Hashem causes us to face serious challenges: monetary, physical, personal and family. We must remember that He wants to hear from us, and this is the means by which He catalyzes our entreaty. What we think is a curse, might very well be a blessing in disguise. As long as Hashem interacts with us, it indicates that He still wants to hear from us. When everything seems to be going well is the time to begin to wonder if He is conveying a subtle message to us.

Va'ani Tefillah

V'lo l'yedei nisayon - Do not let us fall into the hands of temptation. As we begin the day, we are fully aware of what we are confronting. Temptation is our companion, trying to make us succumb to its blandishments. Previously, we have asked Hashem to protect us from various forms of transgression. We now turn to Him to give us the resolution to overcome life's daily tests. Although Hashem tests a person only in an area from which he can emerge triumphant, we need His Divine assistance to call upon that reservoir of strength to withstand and overcome the trials of life.

, v'lo l'yedai bizayon, Do not let us become disgraced. Disgrace is relative. When we fail in areas in which others have triumphed, we look bad. Horav Shimon Schwab, zl, adds that this shame applies equally to Heavenly disgrace. He cites Horav Elya Lopian, zl, who explains that the Heavenly Court consists of the tzadikim of our generation, including the parents and rebbeim of the one who is being judged. There are no cover-ups. Each sin is described totally with all of the gory details, including the sinners' kavanos, intentions. Regardless of how well the sinner has concealed his actions during his lifetime, they are now overt and glaring at him. He stands before those who also had nisyonos - but prevailed. This is the ultimate disgrace. Thus, we pray to Hashem to spare us: shame in this world; and disgrace in the next world.

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