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Peninim on the Torah

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Rabbi A. Leib Scheinbaum
Hebrew Academy of Cleveland


There shall be a great outcry in the entire land of Egypt, such as there has never been and such as there shall never be again. But against Bnei Yisrael, no dog shall whet his tongue. (11:6,7)

There was a remarkable contrast of sound that fateful night in Egypt. The Egyptian firstborn were dying amid a cacophony of weeping throughout the land. In contrast, not a sound was heard in the Jewish ghetto of Goshen. While under most circumstances one can hear sounds even during the dead of night, on the night the firstborn died, it was silent in the area of the Jews: no dog barked; the crickets were silent; no noise whatsoever; total silence.

This was all part of Hashem's plan. It was His demonstration, a lesson to remember for all time: a fundamental difference exists between Jew and gentile. L'maan teidun asher yafleh Hashem bein Mitzrayim u'bein Yisrael; "So that you shall know that Hashem will distinguish between Egypt and Yisrael" (Ibid 11:7). We must hammer the lesson that we learned that night into our psyche, so that we never forget and never lose sight of the fact that there is absolutely no connection, on any level, between Jew and gentile. The contrast between the unrestrained, tumultuous noise that reigned in Egypt that night, and the extreme silence that prevailed in the area of the Jews, rendered this distinction translucent.

Horav Yisrael Belsky, Shlita, delineates the three mitzvos, which, in order to be properly executed, require a person to contemplate the intended message of the mitzvah. In other words, Hashem gave us these three mitzvos for a specific reason: that we cogitate and apply their message. They are: the mitzvah of Tzitzis; the mitzvah of Tefillin; and the mitzvah of Succah. "So that you remember and perform all My commandments, and be holy to your G-d" (Bamidbar 15:40). To wear Tzitzis and not "remember" their meaning, such that we concentrate on their message to carry out Hashem's other mitzvos, undermines the very essence of the mitzvah. Likewise, we find that the mitzvah of Tefillin directs us towards Torah study. "So that the Torah of Hashem might be in your mouth" (Shemos 13:9). Intrinsic to the mitzvah of Tefillin is the follow-up of Torah study. Last, we find the mitzvah of Succah, "So that your generations may know that I caused Bnei Yisrael to dwell in Succos when I took them out of the land of Egypt" (Vayikra 23:24). Succah catalyzes remembrance, perpetuating Hashem's care for us in the Wilderness following the exodus from Egypt. Each of these mitzvos is followed by a phrase that reveals its purpose, beginning with the word l'maan, "so that."

The Rosh Yeshivah extends this idea of a mitzvah, through a message that must be internalized, to the utter silence that prevailed and surrounded the Jewish People on the night of yetzias Mitzrayim, the Exodus. The Torah also qualifies the silence, which is personified by Lo yecheratz kelev leshono, "No dog shall whet its tongue," with L'maan teidun, "So that you may know that Hashem shall distinguish between Egypt and Yisrael." We must acknowledge and remember that the distinction between Jew and gentile which occurred that night was not intended to be for that night alone. It is here permanently. It was intended to demonstrate for all time that Klal Yisrael, the Jewish nation, is a people apart from all other nations. We are a nation that must distinguish itself in our exclusiveness. We are different, and the only way we will continue to remain so is if we take pride in our heritage by transmitting it to our children.

The Jew who forgets this lesson opens himself up to accepting the base level of conduct that characterizes contemporary society. While it is primarily endemic to the gentile world, it is creeping in to our world via those who have sold their Jewish birthright for a bowl of red lentils. The Torah admonishes us to shun the practices of the Canaanite nations who inhabited the Holy Land before we returned there. The Torah warns us not to go in their ways. Regrettably, when we do not take pride in "our" ways, in the glorious Jewish culture with religion as its centerpiece, we are left with very little with which to maintain our fidelity to Judaism.

The only way to elevate oneself above the pitfalls of the baseness which surrounds him at every turn is to constantly remind himself of the lofty nature of the Jew. Thus, Rav Belsky notes, the lessons of the Exodus are as significant for us today as they were when the redemption took place. Never - never - should a Jew think that he has anything whatsoever in common with the gentile. This does not countenance elitism; rather, it encourages the Jew to take pride in his heritage.

But against all Bnei Yisrael, no dog shall whet his tongue. (11:7)

A number of years ago, I wrote of an incident which took place in Brisk, when the city was under the leadership of its Rav, Horav Yosef Dov Soloveitchik, zl, popularly known by his sefer, Bais HaLevi. A dispute had broken out in the city among its movers and shakers, the most prominent and wealthy members of the community. The issue was concerning the direction of the community and how it should be led. They brought up the matter to the Rav, asking him to render a decision. In an attempt to discern in which direction the "wind" was blowing and how to best resolve the issues, the Bais HaLevi invited the community's finest and most influential laymen to render their opinions concerning which position was best for the community. Once the Rav had developed a consensus of opinion and had absorbed all of the factors concerning the issues on the table, he could better make an intelligent decision.

The response from these laymen was something to which the Jewish communities have become quite familiar: "We do not want to get involved. We would rather remain neutral. We do not want to take a stand, lest it offend someone." The diplomatic "cop out" is regrettably the response we hear when we have a sensitive issue involving difficult parties. It is so much easier to remain neutral. In one's myopic mind he even begins to believe that, by staying out of the fray, he is helping those who need him.

The Rav was visibly irritated by their response. "Remaining neutral was the position for which the dogs in Egypt opted the night that Hashem slayed the Egyptian firstborn." He continued with an explanation, "In the Talmud Bava Kamma 60b, Chazal maintain that, when dogs are 'playing,' it is an indication that Eliyahu HaNavi has come to town. Apparently, quite the opposite occurs when the Malach HaMaves, Angel of Death, pays a visit. Then, the dogs wail. On the night of Makkas Bechoros, slaying of the firstborn, the dogs were in a quandary. Egypt was visited by both Eliyahu HaNavi and the Malach HaMaves! What were the dogs to do? Cry or play? The Torah informs us of the dogs' decision: No dog shall whet his tongue. They remained neutral, neither crying nor playing. The dogs refused to take a stand." The Brisker Rav effectively conveyed his message.

Chazal tell us that in the End of Days, P'nei hador k'p'nei ha'kelev, "The face of the generation will be like the face of a dog." This means that the generation's leadership will appear to behave in a manner similar to, or acceptable to, the dog. The commentators explain that, although a dog runs before his master, it always turns around and looks back to assure itself that its master is following. Likewise, Jewish leadership in the End of Days will always "turn around" to assure themselves that the community is acquiescing with the position that they have taken.

Once again, we see that neutrality, refusing to take a stand on issues that go to the very core of Klal Yisrael, bespeaks the weakness and indifference displayed by leadership who refuse to tackle issues that are hurting the Jewish community. We concede that the issues are varied and sensitive, and not all of them will necessarily be resolved by taking a stand. This is certainly true if the stand is taken only by a small group of individuals, but, when a prominent group of leaders takes a position and issues a call to arms, people will begin to listen.

There is no question that issues, such as dysfunctional families, children at risk, recalcitrant husbands who employ their halachic dispensation to withhold a get from their wives while they extort them for all they and their parents are worth, are not going to disappear overnight. If we continue our indifference by maintaining neutral, however, these problems will only deepen.

It shall be yours for examination until the fourteenth of the month. (12:6)

The lamb used for the Korban Pesach was taken on the tenth day of the month and not used until the fourteenth. During those four days, the animal was checked for blemishes that would render it unfit for use as a sacrifice. This requirement applied only concerning the first Korban Pesach, which was offered in Egypt. Chazal explain that, after the many years of the Egyptian exile, the Jewish People had descended to a very low level of spirituality. They had plummeted to the nadir of depravity, and they had no z'chusim, merits, to warrant their redemption from Egypt. Hashem gave them two mitzvos: Korban Pesach and Bris Milah, circumcision. Both of these rituals involve blood. Since the circumcision had to take place on the tenth day of Nissan, in order to allow for the three-day healing process to be completed before the Korban Pesach was actually slaughtered, it was incumbent that they take the lamb also on the tenth day of the month. Thus, they were involved with mitzvos, in whose merit they were redeemed.

The Midrash teaches that all of the people did not immediately acquiesce to the circumcision command. They said, "We would rather remain slaves in Egypt than have our bodies physically maimed." Hashem had Moshe Rabbeinu prepare the Korban Pesach. He then had the winds of Gan Eden attach themselves to the Korban Pesach and allow the aroma to waft through the camp. The people were mesmerized by the aroma. They asked Moshe, "Please, may we partake of your Korban Pesach?" Moshe replied, "You can partake of the Korban Pesach only if you are circumcised." They immediately agreed, performing the mitzvah. Hashem then kissed each one.

The Midrash is absolutely mind-boggling. Two mitzvos - that is it! The Jewish People carried out two mitzvos - shelo lishmah - not for the sake of the mitzvah, but rather, for ulterior motives. Yet, it was these two mitzvos that warranted their redemption. How are we to understand this anomaly? There has to be something more than two mitzvos to sanction their redemption after such a long period of bondage. Apparently, this was it. Why?

Horav Yaakov Galinsky, Shlita, relates that he once visited Horav Chaim Kreisworth, zl, when the Rav was Chief Rabbi of Antwerp, Belgium. Antwerp is known as one of the preeminent diamond centers of the world. It makes sense that many members of the Jewish community are employed or involved in this industry in some way. Rav Kreisworth said to Rav Galinsky, "Let me share with you a din Torah dispute that came before me for adjudication yesterday. A broker had closed a deal on a sale of diamonds and demanded his brokerage fee of six percent. The owner of the diamonds claimed that he had only promised him five percent. The dispute centered around one percent."

Rav Galinsky laughed. After all, how small-minded and petty can a person be, to argue over one percent? Rav Kreisworth noted Rav Galinsky's attitude and immediately said, "One percent may not be very much, but when the sale is for fifteen million dollars, it suddenly becomes quite a huge sum of money." We now understand, explains Rav Galinsky, how two mitzvos can have the required merit power to ensure the Jews' redemption from Egypt. When one takes into mind the incredible reward that the performance of a mitzvah generates, it is awesome and beyond our imagination to perceive. Thus, even a mitzvah that is carried out not for the sake of the mitzvah, is still of inestimable value - very much like the percentage of a large principle. If we take the two mitzvos and multiply their reward by 600,000, we have a substantial total.

And it shall be when your son will ask you at some future time, "What is this?" You shall say to him, "With a strong hand Hashem removed us from Egypt from the house of bondage." (13:14)

Rashi explains the above pasuk as presenting the question of a foolish child who is unable to ask a question in depth. Therefore, he is vague and simply asks, "What is this?" Elsewhere, the Torah presents the question differently: "What are the testimonies, statutes and judgments, etc.?" This is the question of the wise son. Thus, the Torah speaks with respect to four sons: the wicked one; the one who is unable to ask; the one who asks in a vague manner; the one who asks in a wise manner. Horav Gamliel Rabinowitz, Shlita, derives from the Torah's addressing four different types of sons that a father must be acutely aware that he could quite possibly be in such a predicament in which he has four different personalities sitting at his table. He must, therefore, be attuned to their questions and be prepared to answer them - each commensurate with his level of cognition, ability and proclivity to listen. In other words, the father must maintain a shprach, conversation, with each son - regardless of his spiritual affiliation. Even if for some reason one has a ben rasha, whom we will define as a misguided son, he must find a way to reach him. One achieves nothing by writing off a child, viewing him as non-existent, simply because he is not spiritually on the same page with the rest of the family.

The Torah refers to the questioner as bincha, your son. Likewise, the Baal HaGaddah reiterates, "Concerning four sons does the Torah speak." We must remember that the rasha is bincha, your/our son. He is not a stranger, an uncivilized, recalcitrant human being lost in the shuffle of humanity, deferring to his base passions. He is ours! Therefore, we must respond. If our response is to be effective, we must know how to speak to him in such a manner that he will understand.

It is important that we delve into the psyche of the ben rasha, so that we have a better way of understanding what motivates his negativity. Unless we understand what makes him "tick," we will have no idea on how to respond to him. We must do this because, as parents, we may not write off a child as being irrevocably wicked. If we are unable to forgive our child, how can we expect our Father in Heaven to forgive our infractions? One more issue concerning the wicked son must be addressed. I know I tread on shaky ground when I pose the following question: What role did the parents play in their son's distancing himself from Judaism? Did they send mixed messages, emphasizing one thing while they did another? Were they present for their child when he or she was acting up, which essentially was his or her way of crying out for help? The topic is hurtful, so I will not pursue it. Let it suffice to say that, as parents, we must respond, and we must know what to say. The dialogue must continue, or else we will have no one to blame but ourselves.

The response we give a child must be honest. We may not avoid the issues. We must explain what we can and apologize for what we did not do. When a child alludes to a parents' hypocrisy, it is best that the parent not cover up the truth. It will only make it worse.

Regrettably, some parents are so hurt that they refuse to allow the wicked son at their table. They do not realize that the mere fact that he is willing to join the Seder table is in and of itself an indication that he is not really wicked. He has strayed; he is lost; he simply does not know how to return. He needs direction, guidance, fueled by love and sensitivity.

The Torah distinguishes between one who has completely revoked his relationship with Judaism - the mumar, mi shenisnakru-maasav l'Aviv she'baShomayim, the apostate who has turned himself totally away from his Father in Heaven - and one who is a chotei, sinner: Yisrael, af al pi shechata. Yisrael hu; A Jew, although he has sinned, remains a Jew. The ben rasha is at the Seder table. He might be a chotei, but he is not a mumar.

Horav Yaakov Galinsky, Shlita, relates that, one day in the winter of 1967, the fellow who delivered fruits and vegetables to the yeshivah in Chadeira, appeared with puffy, red eyes. It was clear that he had been crying profusely. "What happened?" Rav Galinsky asked him. "My daughter ran away with an Arab from Baka Al Garbiah," he replied. "How will I bear this terrible shame?" Apparently he was more concerned about his personal humiliation than his daughter's decision to cut herself off from her people spiritually. Be that as it may, the situation was tragic, and the man certainly had reason to weep. Rav Galinsky needed very little prodding to encourage him to do something about the unfolding tragedy. The problem was that, for a Jew to enter an Arab village in 1967 was beyond dangerous: it was suicidal. Rav Galinsky said that he would take his chances. He had confronted death a number of times in his life. He did not fear Arabs. He feared only Hashem.

Rav Galinsky ordered a taxi. When he stated his destination, the driver flatly refused to take him. "You will be killed if you go there. That is an Arab village whose inhabitants have very little love for their Jewish neighbors." The Rav was undeterred. He was going to save a Jewish life. He was a man on a mission; thus, he feared nothing and no one.

The taxi driver was adamant. If the Rav insisted on going he could not prevent him, but he was not going along. The taxi stopped about a mile from the village, and Rav Galinsky walked the rest of the way. As he neared the village, he was greeted by a stone which barely missed him. He was not deterred. He entered the village and asked the first Arab that he saw to direct him to the Cadi, who was the religious leader in charge of the village. As soon as the Rav indicated that he had business with the Cadi, the attitude changed from derision to respect.

The Cadi seemed to be a reasonable man. The best approach was to be direct. The Cadi spoke Hebrew, so the two were able to converse without the help of an interpreter. "I am a Rav," Rav Galinsky began, "and, by the Jews, the Rav performs the marriage ceremony. I assume it is no different in the Moslem faith." The Cadi agreed. "If a Jew would come to me and ask me to officiate at an interfaith marriage, I would refuse to do so," Rav Galinsky said. "I would insist that there be a proper ritualistic conversion supervised by a court of Jewish Law." The Cadi replied that it was not much different in his faith. They varied in the requirements for one to be accepted for conversion. Rav Galinsky said that it would be a minimum of one year of learning, while the Cadi said that they required a revocation of their previous faith.

"I am very happy to hear this," said Rav Galinsky. "I have a member of my faith, a Jewish girl, who plans on marrying an Arab boy. I would like to inform her that both religions negate interfaith marriages." The Cadi actually walked the Rav outside and pointed to the home of the boy, wished him well, and bid him a good day. The Arabs looked on with venom in their eyes, but could do no harm out of respect for their Cadi.

Rav Galinsky knocked on the door and asked for the girl who spoke Hebrew. The young lady came to the door and was shocked to see a Rav standing there. "I have best regards for you from your father," Rav Galinsky began. "You have left him with such grief. Indeed, I am afraid your abandoning the family will kill him."

"What! Now he is troubled? For one year I was seeing a boy from Kibbutz HaShomer HaTzair (a secular settlement). The boy neither believed in G-d, nor observed any of His mitzvos. He ate on Yom Kippur. None of this seemed to bother my father, because, after all, he was Jewish. Now, I am seeing a boy who is religious, adheres to his faith, believes in his god, and I am accused of killing my father! Rebbe, explain to me, what is better: marrying an agnostic or a believer?"

The girl presented an argument which, albeit filled with holes, needed to be refuted. The Rav countered, "Let me explain the difference. If someone is in an accident and his hand is cut badly, barely hanging on by a thread, as long as the arteries have not been severed, there is hope that the hand can be attached and saved. If, however, the arteries are cut and there is no blood flow from the elbow to the hand, it is hopeless (modern medicine has made incredible strides in the last forty-five years, but the lesson is still obvious). A Jewish boy who has turned on his observance, who claims not to believe and does not maintain an active participation in mitzvos, is still a Jew. He has not completely reneged his faith. He might be a casualty of contemporary society, but his children and grandchildren still have the chance of returning to the faith of their ancestors. An Arab can proclaim belief in the Creator; he can even pray to Him, but he is still an Arab! One who marries him severs her bond with the Jewish People!"

The girl listened respectfully and said, "Thank you, but I do not agree with the Rav." Rav Galinsky's parting words to her stung, but anything less than the truth would have been ineffective: "I cannot remain here any longer. My life is at stake. Let me leave you with one last thought. If a war were to break out between the members of your faith, your family, the Jewish People, and your adopted family, what do you think would happen? Your ex-boyfriend from HaShomer HaTzair, the secular, agnostic Israeli, would join the army, fight for his country and save your father's life. Your Arab boyfriend would grab his sword and slaughter your father! Think about that!"

Rav Galinsky left. This was his "good-bye" to the girl: "Remember who you are and from where you come." Little did he know that within a few months, the Egyptian president would close the Straits of Tehran which effectively would seal Israel off from the Red Sea. The United Nations peacekeeping force would be sent packing. War with Israel became imminent. The entire world waited to see who would make the first move. One day, the delivery man came to the yeshivah in Chadeira, sought out Rav Galinsky, and with great emotion, whispered, "She came back!"

The father explained that the Cadi had refused to perform the marriage for her until after she had contemplated for some time, changing her faith to that of Islam. He also wanted her to become more acquainted with its culture and doctrine. During her waiting period, she overhead her fianc? commenting that he had already sharpened his sabre with which he would slaughter the Israelis. She then remembered what the Rav had told her months earlier. She imagined her fianc? slicing her father's throat. She then realized the error of her ways, escaped, came home. Apparently, Rav Galinsky knew precisely what to say and how to convey his message persuasively.

Va'ani Tefillah

Horav Shimon Schwab, zl, cites a remarkable statement made by the Rambam at the end of Hilchos Mezuzah: "Every time, when he comes and goes, he should be aware of the existence of the One G-d and remember his Love of G-d; and this will awaken him from his 'sleep' and his erroneous way in his fleeting life." A number of observations may be noted. First, we see that most people are not "fully awake." As a result of this spiritual slumber, one walks around and ignores the more important things in this world. He just passes by without giving them a second thought. When one passes a mezuzah, it should remind him of Hashem, wake him up to realize that there is a Creator Who sees it all, everything that he is - or is not - doing. This wake-up call will/should motivate him to mend the error of his ways and get with the program. This world is our temporary abode, a mere preparation for the real world which we hope that we will be worthy of entering. If we sleep through life, we will have great difficulty obtaining an entrance visa.

The Rambam continues: "When he passes the mezuzah, he should remind himself that nothing is permanent except the knowledge of Hashem." This means both His knowledge of us and our knowledge of Him, if we connect with Him. Everything comes to an end. All physical/material objects eventually cease to exist. The only way that we, as human beings, are able to immortalize ourselves is to connect with Hashem through Torah and mitzvos. Mortality is, of course, finite; Hashem is infinite. We must bond with the Divine in order to transcend our finiteness.

The mezuzah on the doorpost witnesses a person's comings and goings. Everything in life changes; thus, one day there will no longer be a house or a person. The only thing that does not ever change is Hashem's Oneness - Hashem Elokeinu, Hashem Echad. When one leaves the house, looks up at the mezuzah, he reminds himself of Hashem's permanence, of his own mortality. He acknowledges that this might even be the last time that he will walk out of this house. It might all come to an end - suddenly, without warning. This will generate a wake-up call in his mind. He will begin to think that perhaps it might be a cogent idea to set his life straight, correct his ways, get his spiritual act together. The mezuzah's message is poignant and compelling: One's house and one's material possessions are fleeting. The only real permanence is the awareness and reality of Hashem.

Sponsored in loving memory
Vivian Stone
Chaya Leah bas Shimon a"h
niftara 18 Shevat 5769
By her children
Birdie and Lenny Frank and Family

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