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Peninim on the Torah

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Rabbi A. Leib Scheinbaum
Hebrew Academy of Cleveland


Please speak in the ears of the people: Let each man request of his fellow silver vessels and gold vessels. (11:2)

Chazal explain Hashem's "request" of Moshe Rabbeinu to make a special effort to prevail upon Klal Yisrael to "borrow" valuables from their Egyptian neighbors. If they would not do so, then the soul of Avraham Avinu would have a "grievance" against Hashem. He would say that with regard to the prophecy that his descendants would be oppressed for many years, Hashem carried it out in full measure. The other part of the prophecy, however, in which Klal Yisrael would leave their captivity with great wealth, Hashem did not fulfill. We wonder why the fear of critique is only from Avraham. What about the Jews themselves? After all these terrible years of suffering, did they not have a valid complaint? True, the promise was made to Avraham. But this was a promise that was probably transmitted throughout the generations: you will leave this misery with joy and complete wealth. The Jews would certainly be justified in having a problem with the prophecy not being carried out.

In his Divrei Yisrael, the Modzitzer Rebbe, zl, explains that every Jew individually is supposed to accept his lot in life - lovingly and with joy. No one ever promised us that it would always be "good." Thus, the Jew suffers, falls down, gets up, brushes himself off - and goes on. Kol man d'avid Rachamana l'tav avid. "Whatever Hashem does is for the good" is the catchphrase by which we live. If the Jews were to suffer in Egypt and circumstances demanded that they leave there penniless, they would accept their fate. That is the Jewish way. Avraham Avinu, however, is different. The righteous leader may not remain silent when Klal Yisrael suffers. As individuals, we do not complain or make demands for ourselves, but we cannot stand idly by while others suffer.

In the Talmud Berachos 54a, Chazal comment that one is obligated to bless Hashem for bad (misfortune) in the same manner that he blesses Him for good. This certainly does not mean that the blessings are the same. After all, for a misfortune one blesses, Dayan HaEmes, the "true Judge," indicating our acceptance and acquiescence to Hashem's decree. In the event of a joyful occasion, one blesses HaTov u'Meitiv, "Who is good and does good." What Chazal are telling us is that the blessing over bad should be recited with a similar level of joyful acceptance as if he were reciting the blessing over good. Horav Nachman zl, m'Breslov added that this idea applies only to one's own individual troubles, but, concerning another Jew's pain, he must cry out with pain and sensitivity. We must feel our brother's pain. We do not distinguish between good and bad when it concerns us personally. In contrast, when it involves our brother, we feel the hurt and cry out in their pain. Empathizing with our fellow's pain is an inherent Jewish character trait.

The great Admorim, chassidic leaders, were known for this empathy. Horav Moshe Mordechai, zl, m'Lelov once accepted a kvitel, a slip of paper containing requests submitted to a Rebbe as a petition, from a troubled chasid who cried his heart out over his many troubles. The Rebbe was visibly moved. Afterwards, he went into his dining room and noticed how members of his family were playing a game. He looked at them incredulously and asked, "How could you sit there, going on with business as usual, happy and carefree, knowing that a fellow Jew is in dire need? How can you be happy when you know that another Jew is in pain?"

I must add that we are not all capable of this lofty spiritual plateau. This was a spiritual giant whose essence encompassed the emotions of every Jew. He, and others like him, did not live for themselves. They lived for the klal, community at large. Each Jew's welfare was their concern - even at the expense of their own families. We should learn a lesson regarding our own behavior. Sensitivity towards another Jew is not merely another wonderful character trait, it is an obligation!

Horav Yitzchak, zl, m'Vorki cites an incident in the Talmud Megillah 28a, in which Rabbi Zeira's students asked him, "In what merit did you deserve longevity?" After mentioning a number of noble deeds he said, "I was never happy when my friend suffered a misfortune." The Rebbe asked, "Is this a reason to be granted longevity? What novelty is Rabbi Zeira teaching with this statement? How can anybody celebrate his friend's misfortune?" The Rebbe explained that Rabbi Zeira never celebrated his own personal joyous occasions at a time when he knew that another Jew was suffering. Certainly, he celebrated, but when he knew that another Jew was in pain, he was also in pain and could, therefore, not celebrate with the same joy.

Rav Moshe Mordechai Lelover interpreted this idea into the Shabbos zemiros (Baruch Hashem yom yom), Shivtei Hashem eidus l'Yisrael, b'tzarasam lo tzar. "That the tribes are G-d's He bore witness to Yisrael. Amid their distress is His distress." Shivtei Hashem eidus: What bears witness? What is the litmus test that one is a member of Klal Yisrael? B'tarasam lo tzar: if he is pained by the pain sustained by members of Klal Yisrael. A Jew who feels another Jew's pain - that is the defining factor of who is a Jew.

I think there is another factor that should be addressed, and, quite possibly, this may be another reason for empathizing with another Jew's plight: We should be cognizant of the fact that "what comes around goes around," and, therefore, we never know when we will be in need. Let me share with the reader the following analogy:

A frail old man went to live with his son, daughter-in-law and four year old grandson. The elderly man's hands trembled, his eyesight was blurred, and his step faltered. Regrettably, this is not uncommon as people age. It was a loving family, and they made every effort to include grandpa in all of their family functions. First and foremost was dinner when they would all sit down together at the table.

Unfortunately, grandpa's shaky hands and failing eyesight made eating quite difficult. Peas rolled off his spoon onto the floor. When he would grasp a glass, the milk, or whatever liquid was therein, spilled onto the tablecloth. The son and daughter-in-law slowly became irritated with the mess. "We must do something about Father," the son said. We have been patient long enough. I have had enough of his spilled milk, noisy eating, and food on the floor." So grandpa was given his own small table in the corner of the room where he could eat and make noise, drop food on the floor and spill milk on the table. There he sat by himself, while the rest of the family enjoyed dinner.

Since grandpa had already broken a number of dishes, his food was served in a wooden bowl. Every once in a while when the family glanced in grandpa's direction, they would notice a tear in his eye as he sat alone. Nonetheless, the only words the self-righteous couple had for him were sharp admonitions whenever he dropped a utensil or spilled some food. During this whole scenario, the four-year-old just sat there absorbing everything in silence.

One evening, before dinner, the father noticed his young son playing on the floor with some scraps of wood. Curiously, he asked his young son sweetly, "What are you making?"

The child looked up at his father, and, in all innocence, said, "Oh, I am making a little bowl for you and Mama to eat your food in when I grow up." The young lad just smiled and returned to his masterpiece. The words struck a chord. In fact, it struck so hard that the parents stood there speechless. Suddenly, tears formed in their eyes, and they began to cry. They said nothing, because nothing needed to be said. They knew what had to be done.

That evening the son gently took his father's hand in his and led him back to his place at the family table. For the remainder of his days, grandpa ate his meals at the table with the family. Yes, he continued to drop his fork and spill his food. He even continued to make noise when he ate, but for some reason, neither the father nor the mother had any complaint. "What comes around goes around." At times, empathy is a subtle reminder that if not for the grace of G-d, we would be in a similarly unfortunate situation. Moreover, as evidenced in the above story, if we live long enough, the possibility of it occurring "at home" becomes exceedingly less remote.

Please speak in the ears of the People: Let each man request of his fellow and each woman from her fellow silver vessels and gold vessels. (11:2)

Klal Yisrael are commanded to go to their Egyptian neighbors and ask them for their silver and gold vessels. This is to fulfill a promise Hashem made many years earlier to Avraham Avinu that his descendants would leave Egypt amid great wealth. The Torah's terminology is surprising. The people were instructed to "borrow" these vessels. Surely, the Jews had no intention of returning these vessels. After all, they were taking a one-way trip from Egypt. Why would they "borrow" the vessels? The Gerrer Rebbe, zl, derives a powerful lesson from here. They were not borrowing from the Egyptians; they were borrowing from Hashem. As far as the Jews were concerned, neither they nor the money was returning. They were owed this wealth, and they were taking what was coming to them. This was the first time that the Jewish people were confronted with the challenge of affluence. Hashem was intimating to them that what they were taking was not theirs. Nothing was theirs. It all belongs to Hashem, and it is on loan to us. Hashem wanted them to know how to view their newly found wealth. It belonged to Hashem. He allowed them to make use of it, but they should never forget its true owner.

This is a compelling statement, especially in light of the unprecedented wealth that exists in parts of the Jewish community in contrast with the tremendous needs that beg to be filled. How we should spend our money depends on how we view its possession. Horav Yissachar Frand, Shlita, cites an intriguing Talmud Yerushalmi in Meseches Shekalim that should evoke some serious thought concerning how we spend our money. One day, Rav Chama and Rav walked by an impressive looking synagogue in the city of Lod. Rav Chama commented, "How much wealth did our ancestors invest here?" Rav countered, "How many lives were sunk into the ground here?" Were there no talmidei chachamim, Torah scholars, whom they could have supported with all the money they wasted on such a magnificent building?"

These two Amoraim had divergent opinions concerning the manner in which those who preceded them used their material wealth. Rav Chama took note of their material sacrifice. He understood that these people were willing to part with their hard-earned money, so that they could build a beautiful edifice to honor Hashem. Rav, on the other hand, certainly did not ignore their sacrifice. He felt that even when funds are used for a noble cause, such as beautifying a shul, his perception is of a misappropriation of Hashem's gift. He went as far as to compare it to murder, since these funds could have been used to sustain a worthy Jew.

In other words, Rav posits that there are priorities in spending. While erecting magnificent buildings are a glory to Hashem's Name and bring honor and reverence to the cause which they represent, this does not take precedence over the basics, such as what occurs in the building: Torah study, Jewish education, supporting those who sacrifice themselves daily to disseminate Torah, and the list goes on.

The custom of the pious men of France, as described by Rabbeinu Bachya in Parashas Tetzave, was to have the coffin in which they were buried made from their dining room tables. They indicated thereby that nothing remains with a person when he leaves this world other than the mitzvos he has performed - especially those which he has shared with others. The dining room table was a primary focus of chesed, kindness to others. It was there where the guests that he invited to his home would find sustenance. It was there that the poor were fed. It was there where those who had no family or friends found solace and friendship.

I think that there is another noteworthy lesson to be derived from this custom. People shy away from thinking about the inevitable. Death is morbid, and an inescapable experience that we want to ignore. Chazal teach us otherwise. "Repent one day before you die," they say. "Does one know when he will die? No. Therefore, repent daily, so that all of your days will be filled with teshuvah, repentance." The spectre of ineluctable death must maintain a prime position in our focus on life. When the pious men of France sat down to eat at their table, they did not ignore the significance of this table and its function as a medium for chesed. When they sat at their table - they were eating off of their coffin! They recognized their obligations to others. They were acutely aware that the table upon which they ate would "accompany" them on their final journey. They taught us that a constant awareness of the inevitable lends greater meaning to life.

And you shall tell your son on that day saying, "It is because of this that Hashem acted on my behalf when I left Egypt." (13:8)

The Talmud in Pesachim 116b comments, "In every generation one is obligated to regard himself as if he personally had come out from Egypt." This pasuk is cited to support this statement. Chazal continue, "Therefore, it is our duty to thank, praise, pay tribute, glorify, exalt, honor, bless and acclaim to One Who performed all these miracles." In explaining Chazal's statement, the Brisker Rav, zl, cites the opinion of the Geonim, that there are actually two forms of Hallel, Praise, that are recited. There is a Hallel of Kriah, which we recite. This is done during the eighteen days of the year when Hallel is said during the morning prayers. There is another form of Hallel. This is a Hallel of Shirah, song, which we recite upon being saved from a tzarah, trouble, such as the Egyptian bondage.

Among the differences between these two forms of Hallel there stands out the fact that a Hallel of Shirah is said only upon one's personal rescue from a life-threatening situation. One however does not recite this form of Hallel , for his friend's rescue from a tzarah. That responsibility belongs to his friend.

The Hallel that we recite on Pesach night at the Seder, the Hallel in the Haggadah, is a Hallel of Shirah. This Hallel denotes our liberation, our rescue from the Egyptian enslavement. Therefore, it is essential that one feels that he was personally spared, that he was there and that he was rescued. Only then may he recite the Hallel of Shirah.

This is what the Baal Haggadah, author of the Haggadah, is telling us. Since one is duty- bound to view himself as having personally been there, he is now obligated to recite the unique Hallel of Shirah reserved specifically for those who have been spared from trouble.

It is because of this that Hashem acted on my behalf when I left Egypt. (13:8)

The Torah instructs the Jewish People to relate to their children that Klal Yisrael was redeemed from Egypt for a specific reason: the commandments of Pesach, which means the Korban Pesach, which was brought as long as there was a Bais Hamikdash and in contemporary times, the mitzvos of Matzoh and Marror. It is only because of our kiyum ha'mitzvos, fulfillment of Hashem's commandments, that we were liberated.

The Meshech Chochmah gives the following analogy to further explain this concept. A man married off his daughter to a fine young man. The father, being a man of means, accepted upon himself to support the young couple. He provided them with a beautiful home and gave them the necessary credit cards, so that they could purchase what they needed. The bride's mother was overjoyed that her daughter had such a wonderful husband who provided for her every need. Her husband said, "True, things are presently wonderful. After all, I have given them a home and credit cards. The true test of our son-in-law's love for our daughter and his ability to provide for her will be when he leaves our home, when he will no longer have our credit cards, when he will have to fend for himself. Then we will know if he is a provider or a slouch who lives off of us.

This is the meaning of the enjoinment to observe the commandments later on, when they are not in the wilderness, being protected by the Pillars of Cloud and Fire, sustained by the Manna, being carried on the wings of eagles, and having plentiful water compliments of Miriam's well. They will have passed the test only when they maintain their commitment once they enter into Eretz Yisrael to plow and plant their own land. If they will then observe the mitzvos, then it will all have been worth it.

This is the underlying meaning of the Baal Haggadah's statement, "Baavur zeh, because of this - I say this only when Matzah and Marror are placed in front of you." When we will be in galus, exile, and the Korban Pesach will be history, and the only reminders of the Pesach observance that are placed before us are the Matzah and Marror - if we still observe it accordingly - then we have demonstrated our worthiness of redemption.

Va'ani Tefillah

Kol davar she'hayah b'klal v'yatza lidon b'davar ha'chadash.

Anything that was included in a general statement, but was then singled out to be treated as a new case.

When a principle is singled out from a general statement for the purpose of being treated as a new case, it cannot be returned to the general law unless it is explicitly returned by the Torah. An example of this rule is the law applying to the Asham Metzorah, Guilt-offering brought by the metzora, spiritual leper, after he has been rendered ritually clean. Unlike other Ashamos, whose blood is applied to the Mizbayach, Altar, the blood of the Asham Metzora is applied to the bohen yad v'regel, thumb and big toe. For this reason, since there is an exclusion regarding this korban, the Torah had to state explicitly that the Asham Metzora is to be slaughtered in the same place as the other korbanos. Had the Torah not done this, it might be assumed that by virtue of this davar chadash, new case, this korban should also be excluded from having its Eimurim, entrails, placed on the Mizbayach, as is the law by other korbanos.

Another example of this rule would be the daughter of a Kohen, who under normal circumstances eats Terumah, may no longer partake of Terumah once she marries a non-Kohen. May she return to her father's home and eat Terumah in the event she is either widowed or divorced? Since this law was singled out to teach a new case, it was necessary for the Torah to bring her back to the family unit - which it does.

l'zechor nishmas R' Tzvi Aryeh ben Itamar Ephraim haLevi z"l
Doniel Kasnett

Peninim on the Torah is in its 14th year of publication. The first nine years have been published in book form.

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