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Peninim on the Torah

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Rabbi A. Leib Scheinbaum
Hebrew Academy of Cleveland


Moshe took the bones of Yosef with him. (13:19)

Chazal emphasize Moshe Rabbeinu's great love for mitzvos in the Talmud Sotah 13a, "Come and see how beloved mitzvos were to Moshe." When all of Klal Yisrael were involved with gathering the Egyptian booty, Moshe occupied himself with the mitzvah of retrieving Yosef's coffin. He epitomized the pasuk in Mishlei 10:8, Chacham lev yikach mitzvos, "The wise of heart will seize mitzvos." The Mechilta adds, "Moshe's act of accessing Yosef's coffin demonstrated his wisdom and piety. When all of the Jews were busy with collecting the Egyptian spoils, Moshe was occupied with carrying out Yosef's bones." Why do both Midrashim place emphasis not only on Moshe's piety, but also on his wisdom? First of all, the people of Klal Yisrael were also involved in performing a mitzvah. Hashem instructed them to empty out Egypt. This was a command; even though it was enjoyable, it was a command no less. Moshe Rabbeinu was also involved in carrying out a command. Perhaps his command was not as geshmack, pleasant, as gathering the Egyptian wealth, but it does not indicate his great wisdom.

Although he evidenced great piety and devotion, his actions do not seem to exhibit wisdom. Furthermore, relinquishing great wealth in order to perform an act of chesed shel emes, true kindness, is an act of great piety, but one can hardly refer to it as wisdom. Indeed, one who is pious is not necessarily one who is "streetsmart." The two do not necessarily accompany one another.

Horav Avraham Pam, zl, gives us a practical answer and teaches us an important lesson in life and its priorities. Chazal teach us that at first, when the sea saw the Jewish People coming towards it pursued by the Egyptians, it did not want to split. Hashem instructed Moshe to lift up his hand. The sea still did not split until it saw the Arono shel Yosef, the coffin of Yosef. Then it split. While the commentators offer a number of possibilities to explain why the sea split in response to Yosef's coffin, one thing is clear: the coffin motivated the sea to split. If Moshe had occupied himself with the Egyptian booty in the same manner as his fellow coreligionists, then they would have spent all of their wealth at the bottom of the sea! It would not have split. It was Moshe's foresight, his act of piety, that represented incredibly practical wisdom. The coffin of Yosef catalyzed the splitting of the red sea. Was Moshe a tzaddik or a chacham? Moshe's practical wisdom, coupled with his piety, made the difference that day, but he was no less wise than he was pious.

Rav Pam suggests that this concept has significant practical application. Let us take a moment to focus on that wonderful, sought after vocation - Torah chinuch, Jewish education. While many people agree that those who devote their lives to Torah dissemination - to assuring that our heritage is transmitted to our children in its pristine, unadulterated form, in an environment of sanctity and morality - exemplify piety, are they chachamim?

Does a career choice in Jewish education indicate one's wisdom, or inability to do anything else? After all, one who is talented, whose incisive mind can plumb the depths of the intricacies of Talmud and Jewish law is certainly capable of rising to the apex of the fields of medicine, law or commerce. Therefore, an individual who abdicates the opportunity for a financially lucrative career to become an educator, is to be viewed as pious. Is such a choice, however, to be viewed from a practical sense as sound? Does such a decision indicate practical wisdom, when one takes into account the modest financial remuneration?

Rav Pam emphatically responds in the affirmative. While it is certainly true that a professional secular career will reap greater financial gain, should this be the only barometer for determining success? There is more to life than making money. There is sipuk hanefesh, self-satisfaction, knowing that one is molding and shaping the future of Klal Yisrael, realizing that his toil will be recognized for generations to come. A Torah educator spends his work day in an atmosphere that is wholesome, unsullied, ethical and moral, among highly idealistic people with lofty spiritual goals in life, a reality that cannot necessarily be asserted for any other profession. It goes without saying that the spiritual rewards for this endeavor far overshadow anything else that one may do.

I must add that this thesis in no way is meant to undermine the wonderful efforts of those who devote themselves to the service of humanity, such as the fields of medicine, sciences and social services. It is only to underscore the significance of the much-maligned field of Torah chinuch. A career in Torah chinuch is a career in the service of the Almighty. It is the ultimate implementation of practical wisdom and piety. It is not simply a career; it is a noble calling!

In way of a postscript, I must add that chinuch is not for everyone. Those that are not appropriate for it - or for whatever reason are unqualified - should stay away. They will do more harm than good. Not every ben Torah will make a suitable rebbe. However, many wonderful and talented bnei Torah shun the field due to reasons that are, at best, nonsensical. The loss to Klal Yisrael of this wonderful reservoir of talent is inestimable. Imagine, if our rebbeim would have felt this way, where would we be today?

Pharaoh will say of Bnei Yisrael, "They are locked in the land, the Wilderness has locked them in. (14:3)

The prefix "l" before Bnei Yisrael, l'Bnei Yisrael, usually means to Bnei Yisrael, which, of course, is not textually correct. Rashi, therefore, interprets the prefix to mean "al" about Bnei Yisrael. The Targum Yonasan, however, contends that Pharaoh did speak to two members of Bnei Yisrael, Dassan and Aviram, Moshe Rabbeinu's nemeses throughout his reign as leader. It was to them that Pharaoh commented about the Jewish People's seeming inability to escape the wilderness. This evokes a glaring question. We are aware that during the three days of the plague of darkness, all of those Jews who were evil - those who refused to leave Egypt and be liberated from its bondage and decadent culture - died. Why did not these two rogues also perish? Why were they allowed to continue to remain with the nation throughout the wilderness only to do nothing but undermine Moshe at every juncture, to disparage the Almighty and to sabotage every spiritual inspiration with their negativity and evil?

The Marahil Diskin, zl, explains that they had one great merit which protected them: they were shotrim, foremen, who oversaw the Jewish labor crews in Egypt. They were among those who saw to it that the workload was not overwhelming. When the quota was not met, they were the ones who were beaten by the Egyptian taskmasters. The beatings and consequent wounds caused their bodies to emit an offensive odor. No one can harm any Jewish person who suffers for another Jew and empathizes with his pain and anguish, not even - the Angel of Death or the Red Sea! In Hashem's eyes one who suffers for another Jew will merit the greatest reward, even if he himself is an intrinsically evil person.

In the hesped, eulogy, rendered by Horav Shmuel Auerbach, Shlita, for his father, Horav Shlomo Zalmen Auerbach, zl, he emphasized his father's overwhelming compassion and empathy for his fellow man. He related that his father would often recount an incident concerning the saintly Horav Baruch Frankel Teumim, zl, the Baruch Taam, whose son entered into a shidduch, matrimonial match, with the daughter of a well-known wealthy man. It happened that during that time the town's water-carrier became ill. The Baruch Taam was distraught over the man's illness. He could not eat. He prayed incessantly for him to return to good health. He was so overcome with concern for this man's welfare that he personally became visibly transformed. His mechutanim, parents of his future daughter-in-law, came to town for a visit and were taken aback by his changed appearance. The first thing that came to their mind was that he had regrets regarding the shidduch, match. The parents of the girl asked, "Perhaps the rav is unhappy with the shidduch and would like to retract?"

The family responded that this was not the case. The distress was the result of his concern for the water-carrier. When the girl's mother heard this, she approached the Baruch Taam and said, "I can understand that the rav is concerned about the water-carrier, but is this not a bit too much? It is hurting the rav's health."

When the Baruch Taam heard these words, he immediately nullified the shidduch saying, "If this woman has no compassion and does not empathize with another Jew's pain, then it is not a suitable family with which to make a shidduch."

Rav Shlomo Zalmen exemplified empathy for all Jews. He once heard that a young woman in the United States was widowed and left with six young orphans. Bereft of her husband, the woman was broken-hearted and left to fend for herself, to be mother and father to her children. Rav Shlomo Zalmen called her up, and after introducing himself, comforted her in her grief and then asked to speak to each of her children. Indeed, every Erev Yom Tov, he would call a number of widows and wish them Gut Yom Tov.

I recently read an incredible story about empathy for another Jew in Rabbi Yechiel Spero's book, Touched by a Story. Horav Chaim Ozer Grodzenski, zl, was the preeminent Torah leader of pre-World War II Europe. As rav of the prestigious city of Vilna, he had his hand on the pulse of European Jewry. His shiurim, lectures, which enthralled his students, were brilliant masterpieces which covered the breadth of the sea of Talmud and penetrated its depth. He would customarily walk home from the yeshivah accompanied by a throng of students, eager to hear his every word.

It was a bitter winter day, a blustery arctic wind exacerbated the already sub-zero temperatures. The old Rosh Hayeshivah was trudging along the streets of Vilna, accompanied by his students. A young man approached Rav Chaim Ozer and waited to ask a question. Rav Chaim Ozer turned to the young man, whom he did not recognize, and asked him, "How can I help you?"

The young man, not more than fifteen years old, answered with a terrible stutter that he sought a certain street. The young man's speech defect was magnified by nervousness in the presence of the rav. Although Rav Chaim Ozer was practically home already, he turned around and, together with his students, walked the young man to his destination.

Twenty-five minutes later, frozen with cold, Rav Chaim Ozer and his students turned around and began the trek home. The students could not figure out their rebbe. This was a man that never wasted a moment. His poor health and advanced age did not permit him to be out in the cold longer than was absolutely necessary. Yet, he walked the young man to his destination when he could have simply given him verbal directions. Why? The worst that would have happened is that the young man would have had to ask someone else along the way to confirm the directions.

Sensing his students' query, the Rosh Hayeshivah looked at them and said, "This boy clearly had a stuttering problem. He was obviously embarrassed by his impediment. If I had simply given him directions, he would have had to ask others along the way to confirm the directions to the obscure street. I did not want to cause a Jew further humiliation. Therefore, I walked him to his destination to spare him the discomfort. Is that so bad?" This is a paradigm of empathy for another Jew.

Amalek came and battled Yisrael in Rephidim. (17:8)

Rashi cites a fascinating Midrash that behooves each of us to stop and ask ourselves whether we are guilty of this oversight. Chazal tell us that the pasuk which deals with Amalek's attacking Klal Yisrael is juxtaposed upon the previous pasuk in which the Jews tested Hashem, asking, "Is Hashem in our midst?" Hashem responded, "I am always in your midst. I never leave your side. Yet, you ask such a question! I swear by your lives that as a lesson, the dog, Amalek, will come and bite you. Then you will cry out to Me and realize where I am."

Chazal compare this to a man who placed his son upon his shoulder and set forth on a journey. Whenever the boy would see an object that caught his fancy, he would ask his father for it, and the father would oblige. This happened a number of times. They later encountered a man, at which point the son asked the man, "Have you seen my father?" Hearing this, the father said to his son, "Do you not know where I am?" He immediately cast his son off his shoulders, and a dog came and bit him.

The analogy is very apropos to us. Hashem is there for us all of the time. Whenever we ask, He responds. The answer may not always appeal to us, but there is always a response. Do we thank Him when we are happy with the response, or do we just complain when things do not go our way? Regrettably, some of us wait until the dog bites us before we look up to acknowledge Hashem.

Moshe said to Yehoshua, "Choose men from us and go out, do battle with Amalek. (17:9)

Why was Yehoshua selected to lead Klal Yisrael into battle against Amalek? The Midrash explains that Moshe told Yehoshua, "Your grandfather [Yosef Hatzaddik] said, [to Potiphar's wife], 'I fear G-d,' (Bereishis 42:48), and concerning this one [Amalek] it is written (Devarim 25:18), 'And (he) did not fear G-d.'" Let the grandson of he who said he fears Hashem come and punish the one about whom it is said that he does not fear Hashem. Horav Aharon Kotler, zl, derives a noteworthy lesson from Chazal. The agent that Hashem selects to bring about salvation must personally be undefiled and faultless of any taint of impropriety with regard to the sin which catalyzed the punishment. During every generation, Hashem has prepared a tzaddik, righteous Torah leader, through whom the salvation will be realized. He has the power to battle against the Amalek of every generation, because he is inculpable and free of any vestige of the sin that characterizes the enemy of Torah and the Jewish People. To triumph, one must know his enemy, recognize his shortcomings and understand who is best suited for vanquishing him.

Tomorrow I will stand on top of the hill with the staff of G-d in my hand. (17:9)

Horav Yaakov Moshe Charlop, zl, explains that Amalek's objective in battling with Klal Yisrael was to undermine the concepts of mitzvah, command, and chovah, obligation. He sought to destroy the Jew's enthusiasm and passion to perform a mitzvah, transforming mitzvah and chovah into reshus, a discretionary endeavor. These three concepts are represented by the letters mem, ches, and raish, which spell machar. Moshe Rabbeinu was intimating to the people that machar he would stand on the top of the hill, meaning that he would address the incursion into the spiritual fabric of Klal Yisrael that Amalek was bent on destroying. He would save the machar and see to it that the people would maintain their obligatory allegiance to Hashem.

Pinchas was the antithesis of Amalek. The Torah tells us that he took a romach, spear - which also contains the letters raish, mem, and ches - and zealously defended Hashem's honor. He accomplished the opposite of Amalek by transforming the reshus, discretionary endeavor, into a mitzvah and the mitzvah into a chovah, obligation.

Va'ani Tefillah

Bircas Elokai Neshamah - the blessing of the Restoration of the Soul.

In the brachah, Asher Yatzar, we thank Hashem for the wonders of our body and the blessing of physical health. In the brachah, Elokai Neshamah, we recognize the significance of our spiritual dimension and offer our gratitude to Hashem for the daily restoration of our soul. Let us focus on the meaning of neshamah tehorah shenosatah bi, "the pure soul that You gave me." We believe that the neshamah within each Jew is a chelek Elokai mi'Maal, a part of Hashem Above. It is essentially pure, having been breathed into us from Hashem. The Zohar Hakadosh on the pasuk in Bereishis 2:7, "He (Hashem) blew into his (Adam's) nostrils a living soul," says, "If one blows into another, he breathes something of himself into him." Therefore, we must be acutely aware that the neshamah within our bodies is a part of Hashem that is with us always. The neshamah is created distinct from the body, and, therefore, survives it. The soul is eternal and basically represents the essence of a human being. It descends to its physical repository, so that it may fulfill mitzvos. The body gives up the soul at the end of human life, and the soul returns to its source. It must then give a reckoning of its accomplishments - or lack thereof - on this world. This is the story of life, a story that repeats itself "nightly" when we go to sleep. These are the ideas that should go through our minds when we say Elokai Neshamah.

In honor of the birth of our granddaughter
Esther Glikla Sheffey
Marilyn & Sheldon David

Peninim on the Torah is in its 14th 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.

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