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Peninim on the Torah

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Rabbi A. Leib Scheinbaum
Hebrew Academy of Cleveland



Do not harass one another. (25:17)

Rashi interprets the pasuk as an enjoinment against onoaas devarim, verbal harassment.

Ridiculing someone can have an enduring effect upon his personality development. The humiliation and scorn one is subject to at the hands of others can damage his psyche, impairing his self-esteem and his ability to relate to others. Humiliation does not only result from words; it can also be the consequence of an intentional snub. There is nothing as demeaning as being ignored by others, so that one feels as if he does not exist in their eyes. While the individual should not be obsessed with his ego, self-esteem is a pre-requisite for emotional stability. One who denigrates a fellow Jew, either with disparaging words or by giving him the cold shoulder when a smile would make his day, is acting reprehensibly. Perhaps it would serve the individual well to realize that Hashem will act towards him in the same manner in which he has acted towards others. Hashem's rebuff, however, hurts much more.

As mentioned above, we often do not realize the long term effect of our actions. Horav Yitzchak Zilberstein, Shlita, cites the following narrative from Chazal in the Talmud Shabbos 145b and notes the accompanying lesson to be derived from it.

The Talmud relates that Rabbi Chiya Bar Abba and Rabbi Assi were sitting before Rabbi Yochanan, and they asked him, "Why are the Babylonian fowls fat?" Rabbi Yochanan responded, "Because they were not sent into exile, as is quoted in Yirmiyahu 48:11: 'Moav has been at ease from his youth, and he has settled on his lees… Neither has he gone into captivity.' He quoted this pasuk to demonstrate the adverse effects of exile.

Upon reading this passage in the Talmud, one wonders about its purpose. Are Chazal debating a zoological question, or are they teaching a profound lesson? Horav David Wein, zl, explains that Chazal seek to emphasize to us that the pain and anguish that are intrinsic to galus, exile, unfortunately endure for many generations. Babylonians did not drink from the bitter cup of misfortune that was the lot of those who were exiled. Thus, their fowl were fat and, because they were not driven from their homes, they did not suffer.

Horav Zilberstein concludes this thought with his own reflection on the consequences of verbal harassment. We think that after we have insulted or humiliated someone, a "quick mechilah," forgiveness, on Erev Yom Kipur, will suffice. This is not true. The pain and suffering endured by the one upon whom we have vented our abuse lasts, even after we have apologized. Abuse is a terrible assault on a person's total being. Verbal abuse may seem to be non-violent, but it creates damage that lasts long after the marks of a violent blow have disappeared. An abused child becomes an abusive parent, an abusive mate, and an abusive person. The lack of self-esteem resulting from being the object of someone's verbal abuse can have deleterious effects that stigmatize generations. Can someone grant forgiveness for such far-reaching emotional damage?

If you will say what will we eat in the seventh year?…I will ordain My blessing for you in the sixth year. (25:20,21)

If one were to go to a great tzaddik and receive a blessing for success and Divine assistance in all of his endeavors, it would be incredible! Who would not do anything to receive such a guarrantee? As Horav Uri Kelerman, zl, was wont to say, the opportunity is there for all of us - all of the time. Indeed, we recite the pasuk daily: "Baruch ha'gever asher yivtach b'Hashem, v'hayah Hashem mivtacho," "Blessed is the man who trusts in Hashem and Hashem is his source of trust." The pasuk clearly states that one who has bitachon is blessed. What more do we need? What greater assurance of blessing do we seek?

Apparently, there are various levels of bitachon, trust in Hashem. This basis is found in a single word: sincerity. One is blessed in accordance with his sincerity. Sincere bitachon catalyzes blessing. The Torah cites the famous question which plagues so many Shemittah observers: "What will we eat in the seventh year?" To those with little faith, the Torah responds that Hashem will increase His blessing during the sixth year. The Commentators are bothered by this pseudo-dialogue. It seems that as a result of their questioning, their doubting, they will receive a greater yield during the sixth year. On the contrary, the one who does not ask should receive the blessing! He is the believer, he trusts enough not to question. Horav Eliyahu Lopian, zl, explains, based upon an insight of Sforno, that indeed he who does not question will receive greater nourishment within him. He will not need more food. What he already has will more than suffice. The one who questions needs the blessing of a greater yield. It all depends upon one's sincere level of bitachon.

Horav Yaakov Beifus, Shlita, relates a story that occurred concerning the Alshich HaKadosh that demonstrates this idea. The Alshich once gave a lecture to his students about the concept of bitachon. He reiterated time and again that one who sincerely trusts in Hashem will reap the greatest benefits. Among the assemblage was a simple Jew who earned his living by hauling sand and clay for the construction trade. When he heard what the Alshich had said, he decided to drop everything and recite Tehillim all day. When the money ran out, he promptly sold his trusted donkey and wagon, his original "partners" in his vocation, to a gentile farmer. He continued with his daily recitation of Tehillim, firm in his belief that all would be well, for he was in Hashem's Hands.

One day shortly thereafter, the donkey appeared at the home of the man, pulling the wagon laden with sand and limestone. He quickly unloaded the wagon to find that beneath the sand was a sack of gold. After investigating, he discovered that the gentile to whom he had sold the donkey was digging a pit. He unearthed a gold treasure in the ground, which he promptly loaded upon the wagon and covered with sand. The gentile went back into the pit to continue digging. Suddenly, the wall of the pit caved in, and the gentile was unfortunately buried. The gentile had no family. The donkey knew only one place to go - to its original owner, who now became a very wealthy man.

When the students of the Alshich heard this story, they were visibly shaken. "What was so unique about this man's bitachon? Why was it greater than ours? Why have we never discovered such a treasure?" they asked. The Alshich responded to them, "He took everything that I said in the correct manner - literally. His trust was sincere, his faith unequivocal. Hashem rewarded this Jew commensurate with his sincerity.

Vignettes on the Parsha

You shall return, each man to his ancestral heritage, and you shall return, each man to his family. (25:10)

Daas Chachomim comments that when a man sustains a great financial loss, suddenly his friends and even family seem to distance themselves from him. In contrast, when he succeeds in ascending the ladder of financial success, everyone seems to rally to his side, converging upon him from all sides. This is the pasuk's message: "When each man will return to his heritage and retrieve his fields; this newfound wealth will catalyze his "return to his family."


Do not harass one another, and you shall fear G-d. (25:17)

From the fact that Hashem attaches His Name to the admonition regarding verbal harassment, Chazal derive that verbal harassment is a greater sin than monetary harassment. The Baalei Mussar explain that cheating an individual out of his money has a limit; we know the extent of the damage. Hurting someone with words has no limit. Hashem knows how deep and painful is the hurt caused by words.


If you will follow My decrees and observe My commandments…then I will provide your rains in their time…you will eat your bread to satiety…I will provide peace in the land. (26:3,4,5,6)

The Torah provides the recipe for success, material abundance, and peace: connect with the Torah. We are faced with problems, vexing situations, challenges to overcome. Where do we turn for the answer? How do we get out of the quicksand of life's challenges? "If you will follow My decrees" - "Im bechukosai teileichu" - connect with the Torah. It is the wellspring, the source of life and sustenance. In it you will find the answer. It will provide the solution to your problems.

Horav Yaakov Galinski, Shlita, once spoke to a group of not yet observant Jews and gave the following analogy to support this idea. It once occurred that emissaries from a Beduin Arab tribe came to Tel Aviv to visit and learn about life and culture in a large, modern metropolis. They spent an entire day seeing the sights, staring with awe at the incredible modern inventions that contemporary society takes for granted. The visit was capped with a lavish dinner in City Hall. At the end of the dinner, the mayor told the group that his community would like to give the visitors a gift that would enhance their daily lifestyle. If there was anything they had seen that impressed them, they could have it, as long as it was within reason.

The leader of the Bedouin group turned to the mayor and said, "Yes, there is something that we noticed that would truly enhance our lifestyle. We would be indebted to you if you could avail us of this gadget. You know that we live in the desert where water is scarce. Whatever water we use must be brought in from afar, carried in large jugs on the backs of donkeys. We noticed that here in the city, you just turn on the faucet and an endless stream of water flows. Could you please give us forty faucets, so that our lives would be enhanced by this wonderful convenience?" The mayor was quick to respond in the affirmative and promptly had the faucets delivered to the group.

One can imagine the consternation and disappointment when after they had "attached" the faucets to their tents, the water did not flow in the desert as it did in the city. They called for a technician to come from the city to investigate the matter and figure out why their faucets were not working. As we can all well understand, when the plumber arrived he looked at them and laughed, "Do you think that water flows freely from the faucet? No! It is not the faucet that gives the water, the faucet is connected to a pipe which is, in turn, connected to a source of water. The faucet is only a medium for transferring the water from the source to the house. Did you think that by mounting the faucet on the wall of your tent, the water would instantly appear? It must be connected to a source."

"This same idea applies to Torah study," continued Horav Galinski. "If one thinks that Torah study is a purely intellectual pursuit which does not have any demands connected to it, he is greatly mistaken. It is our obligation to connect and cling to the fountain of life, the source of Jewish life, the Torah. Regrettably, many of our brethren have abandoned this source of life. They have gone on to create new sources for sustaining themselves, sources that either do not produce or that quickly dry up. We are engulfed with challenges that test our faith. We have questions that tax our commitment. Where do we turn? The Torah provides the answer: connect with it, and your questions will be answered."

If you consider My decrees loathsome. (26:15)

Rashi explains that this pasuk refers to one who hates the sages that have expounded the ordinances, who denigrates Torah scholars, ridiculing them, humiliating them, despising them. The reason for this unwarranted hatred is simple: they represent everything he seeks to destroy. The Torah scholar demonstrates that Torah is viable; it refines and develops an individual into the consummate example of what a human being should be. The individual who blatantly takes it upon himself to impugn the authority and honor of a venerable Torah sage will answer to Hashem. In the sefer, Likutei Imrei Avos, cited by Horav Yitchak Zilberstein, Shlita, the author, who was a distinguished rav in Baghdad, relates the following incredible story to demonstrate the severe punishment sustained by one who denigrates a talmid chacham, Torah scholar.

The story is about a very special young man. Himself the scion of a wealthy family and the son-in-law of one of the wealthier men in the community, he spent his entire day secluded in his home studying Torah. Other than going to shul for the daily tefillos, he spent his entire day immersed in the sea of Torah. One day, the prince of the country came to visit. The entire town turned out to greet the monarch. The young man refused to halt his Torah study to welcome the prince. When the prince rode by his apartment, however, the young man went to the window in order to recite the appropriate blessing made upon seeing a monarch.

Suddenly, as the prince was passing by and the young man stood by the window, a brick from the vicinity of the apartment loosened and fell on the prince's horse. A hush fell over the crowd as everybody wondered who would have had the nerve to strike at the prince. The police immediately searched the building and found only one person - the young man.

The young man, of course, claimed innocence, but the prince was sure that this young man was the perpetrator. He quickly sentenced him to death. Every Jew in the city was troubled. They all knew that this young man had not commited the crime. He was pious, virtuous, and gentle. He would never have done anything of the sort. People wrote letters to every government officer, pleading for the young man's life. Alas, it was to no avail.

Finally, after much pressure from the community, the prince decided to ask the rav of the community for his opinion in the matter. If the rav would intercede favorably on the young man's behalf, his life would be spared. To everyone's shock and dismay, the rav did not intercede and the young man was led to his death. Shortly after the execution took place, the rav asked that the body be brought to the shul. When the pallbearers brought the remains to the shul, the rav went over to the casket and in a loud voice exclaimed, "I command you by decree of the Torah to arise and tell everyone the true cause of your death so that the citizens of the community will harbor no ill will against me for not pleading your case to the prince."

To everyone's amazement, the corpse sat up and spoke the following: "I am the neshamah, soul, of the first one who threw the stone at Yirmiyahu Ha'Navi. As punishment for this grave sin, I have been sent back to this vile world to correct the spiritual blemish caused by my sin. Finally, during this most recent gilgul, reincarnation, I was able to correct everything I had done to my neshamah. My soul is now pure and holy. The rav, with his ability to see beyond the limitations of the human eye, saw b'Ruach Hakodesh, with Divine Inspiration, that my chance to return to Heaven on a lofty spiritual plateau was now. He, therefore, did not attempt to prolong my life on this world, allowing me to be executed and gain external rest." The deceased finished and lay back down - dead. Understandably, members of the community now realized that their spiritual leader was a great man who saw farther and deeper than they.

This remarkable story teaches us two very important lessons. First, we note the severe punishment for one who rises up against a Torah sage. Second, we understand that not everything that we observe is actually the way we see it.

Vignettes on the Parsha

You will eat your bread to satiety. (26:5)

Rashi explains that one will eat a little, and it will be blessed in his innards. The quality of what he will eat will be unusually satisfying. The Tzemach Tzedek notes that food - "maachol" is a great substance. It is composed of the same Hebrew letters as "malach," angel. With this in mind, he interprets the blessing over bread, "Hamotzi lechem min haaretz," "Who brings forth bread from the land," to mean that one can take out the food from its artzius, earthliness, mundane/physical dimension, and elevate it spiritually into something special.


If despite this you will not heed Me, and you behave toward Me with casualness. (26:27) Horav Yisrael Salanter, zl, translated the word "keri," casualness, as being related to kerirus, cold , frigid, indifferent etc. He explains the flaw associated with "cold." Water usually is a metaher, purifying agent. When water freezes, however, its metabolic composition changes to the point that it can contract tumah, ritual contamination. This is how one's coldness, lack of ardor and passion, can affect his avodas Hashem, service of the Almighty.

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