Back to This Week's Parsha

Peninim on the Torah

subscribe.gif (2332 bytes)

Previous issues

Rabbi A. Leib Scheinbaum
Hebrew Academy of Cleveland


And Avraham weighed out to Ephron the silver…four hundred shekel of silver. (23:16)

Avraham Avinu was conflicted. His beloved Sarah, our Matriarch, had just passed away, and he needed a burial plot. Ephron seemed to have the land most suitable for a gravesite. Being a "kind and benevolent" person, Ephron charged Avraham an outrageous price for the small plot of land. Avraham did not haggle. He paid what he was asked. The fact that he charged an exorbitant price was of no consequence to Ephron. He was a businessman. The Ramban, however, adds that Avraham paid with the "generosity of his heart." How was generosity involved? This was a simple business transaction. Ephron had what Avraham needed. Avraham had the money that Ephron wanted. The shidduch, match, was made. How did generosity play a role in this negotiation?

Horav A. Henach Leibowitz, zl, explains that the generosity is not measured by the amount of money Avraham paid, but by the manner in which he paid for this expensive purchase. He understood that the most appropriate place to bury Sarah was in the Meoras HaMachpelah , together with Adam and Chavah. Sarah belonged there. Once he had determined that the transaction was essential, he executed it wholeheartedly and joyously. The fact that Ephron was taking advantage of the Patriarch's emotions by charging him an outlandish price did not affect Avraham's demeanor. He needed the land. Ephron possessed the land. What did the parties need to discuss?

How often does it occur that we need something, and we decide that this item is a necessity in our lives. Yet, we have a problem parting with our money. Clinging to our material assets often prevents us from completing critical transactions. At times, the price is not exorbitant. It is a fair, reasonable price, one that we can afford. The problem: We cannot tolerate enabling someone to make a large profit from our money. This is the way of a miser who hordes his wealth and never spends a penny, regardless of his needs.

The following vignette summarizes this concept. A man paid one dollar to a miser, so that he could gaze momentarily at the man's immense treasure. Staring at the piles of gold and precious jewels, he turned to the miser and said, "Now I am as wealthy as you are. All of the enjoyment that you derive from your money is from looking. You never spend it. Others certainly derive no benefit from your money. You are not aware of its real value, because you never make use of it."

Avraham demonstrated the way we should act concerning money. Once we develop a clearer understanding of his perspective on wealth, we will be more capable of dealing with the daily challenges of the difficult economic issues confronting society today. Money is Hashem's gift to us for one purpose: to fulfill His mitzvos. Therefore, spending money injudiciously is wasting Hashem's gift. The Chazon Ish was wont to say that we should be prepared to part with one million dollars with as much ease as if it were one hundred dollars. Likewise, we should be scrupulous in not wasting even a penny of our money.

Indeed, this may be derived from Yaakov Avinu, who, when confronted by Elifaz, Eisav's son, gave him everything, so that he would not harm him. Yaakov was on a mission for Hashem, a mission that would come to an abrupt end if he were to be taken captive or die in battle. Therefore, he was prepared to do whatever was necessary to save himself from Eisav. On the other hand, he went back to his earlier camp during the dark, desolate night to retrieve some inexpensive pottery. Money is valuable when it is used for a higher purpose. Yaakov would not waste anything. After all, it was not his to waste. Hashem gave it to him for a purpose.

Last, we must recognize that wealth is not measured by how much money we have in the bank or by the size of our stock portfolio. The barometer of wealth is in the good deeds we perform with it. The value of our money is commensurate with the deeds for which we use it. All too often we begin to view money as an end in its own right - not merely a means towards attaining a greater end. When we fall in love with money and its pursuit, we become victims of greed, driving ourselves into lives of misery and dissatisfaction. We seem to never have enough money, because we always want more. When our desire for money is insatiable, when we become its slave, it ruins our life. J.P. Morgan was once asked, "When has a man made enough money to be happy?" He replied with a smile, "When he has made the next million." Chazal teach us that one who has one hundred, must now have two hundred. He is obsessed with money and will never be happy, because he will never have enough of it.

When the philanthropist, Bernard Baruch, made his first million dollars, he went to inform his father. Surprisingly, his father did not seem impressed. "I am not even thirty," said Bernard, "and I have already made my first million - and you are not even happy?" "No, my son," replied his father, "I am not impressed. What I want to know is: How you will you spend the money that you have earned?"

And he said, Whose daughter are you? …She said to him, "I am the daughter of Besuel." (24:23,24)

Eliezer, servant of Avraham, based his selection of a wife for Yitzchak upon two criteria: first, in accordance with the demand of his master, Avraham Avinu, that the young lady be of his family and not of the pagan Canaanites; second, that the young lady exhibit a unique sense of chesed, kindness, in her actions. Let us try to digest this idea. The test of family is a momentary one, which can be confirmed with a simple question. The chesed test obviously takes much longer and must be administered under specific conditions, as spelled out by Eliezer. If so, the first thing Eliezer should have done was to question every girl that he met concerning her pedigree. Why should he have spent time on the lengthy chesed test, if the girl's lineage had not yet been confirmed? The sequence seems to be backward, with Eliezer testing the girl for chesed before asking about her family background.

Horav Eliezer Sorotzkin, zl, explains that the litmus test for chesed, which descends into the deepest recesses of one's neshamah, soul, can only be tendered if the subject of the test remains anonymous. Had Eleizer followed the sequence suggested by common sense, first ascertaining her lineage, then whatever act of chesed she performed could have been something which was required and expected of a member of such a distinguished family. No longer could he perceive her act of chesed to be an isolated, altruistic act of kindness by a truly kind and sensitive person. Now he might view it to be an act of kindness that was compelled by family pressure to act in a certain manner. Eliezer did not want a fa?ade. He sought the real thing: a sincere act of loving-kindness.

Therefore, he neither introduced himself, nor asked her for her background information. Her actions were not forced; they represented Rivka's true character.

This is the difference between a baal chesed, an individual who possesses chesed as an intrinsic part of his personality, and an individual who simply performs chesed. Many people act kindly and perform benevolent acts, ministering to the needs of those who are less fortunate than they are. Various motivations catalyze their acts of kindness. Some of the people are individuals who have the time and are willing to help. Others might like the attention. Then there is the baal chesed who looks for opportunities to do chesed simply because he loves chesed. Helping others is what he is all about. He does not sit back and wait until he is asked to help; he volunteers at every opportunity that avails itself. Avraham Avinu was the amud ha'chesed, pillar of chesed. When the opportunity to help presented itself, he was available. When the opportunity was not there, he sought it out, because he loved chesed. This is the middah, attribute, which he bequeathed to his descendants. It is up to us to make proper use of our inheritance.

My father-in-law, Reb Zalmen Brunner, was such an individual. Although I never had the privilege of knowing him, I recently had the singular opportunity to meet with Rav Chaskel Besser, one of the pillars of Orthodoxy in this country, a member of the Presidium of Agudath Israel, and a good friend and associate of my father-in-law. He has an uncanny ability to recall myriad events and personalities with whom he has had a relationship throughout the years. Truly one of Hashem's gifts to this generation, he is a living legend of dedication to Klal Yisrael. I asked him to relate something special, a unique insight, a personal character trait, about my father-in-law that I could convey to his descendants that would serve as a lasting inspiration. While it is true that he was involved in Vaad Hatzalah rescue efforts, saving Jewish children from the clutches of the Nazis, and he was instrumental together with the Bobover Rebbe, zl, in establishing Bobover Chassidus in America, it was something exclusive to him that I was seeking.

Rav Besser old me, "Some people perform chesed because it's a mitzvah, or because it is the correct thing to do. Reb Zalman loved people and loved doing chesed. It was 'him.' He had an overwhelming desire to help whenever the opportunity arose. He would look for opportunities, because he cared so much about others." He was a baal chesed, with chesed being intrinsically bound up in his character.

And Yitzchak brought her into the tent of his mother, Sarah, and he took Rivkah and she was to him a wife and he loved her. (24:67)

The Midrash notes that when Sarah Imeinu was alive, a cloud hovered over the entrance to her tent. During her lifetime, all of the doors of the tent were open wide. Also, during her lifetime, a blessing was inherent in her dough. With her passing, these three phenomena ceased. When Yitzchak Avinu brought Rivkah into the tent, they returned. Last, the Midrash says that during all of the days that Sarah lived, a lamp remained lit from the night of Shabbos until the night of Shabbos. Once she died it ceased, only to return when Rivkah Imeinu entered the tent as Yitzchak's wife.

Horav Aharon Soloveitchik, zl, suggests that these unique phenomena represent the sublime ideals to which every Jewish home should aspire. The last occurrence, the light remaining lit from Shabbos to Shabbos, symbolizes the ideal of the Shabbos spirit permeating the Jewish home the entire week. The essence of the Shabbos spirit is yom menuchah u'kedushah, "a day of rest and sanctity." In every Jewish home, an atmosphere of serenity and holiness should prevail throughout the entire week. It should be the spirit that reigns throughout the home, in the family, and in their outlook on life in general.

Chazal teach us, "If only Yisrael would keep two Shabbosos according to halachah, they would be immediately redeemed." Why two Shabbosos? Would not one suffice as a symbol of their devotion to this holy day? Rav Soloveitchik explains that Chazal are actually referring to one Shabbos day and the extension of its spirit to the remainder of the week, so that every day becomes illuminated with the sanctity and restful spirit of Shabbos. Only then will Klal Yisrael be redeemed.

The blessing in the dough is a reference to Chazal's statement in Pirkei Avos (4:1): "Who is wealthy? He who is happy with his lot." The brachah, blessing, built into the dough consists of the satisfaction that reigned with whatever material goods they possessed. Such an idea clearly needs no further explanation concerning its positive ramifications in the home. Likewise, the door being opened especially wide needs no further elucidation. A wide opening of a home implies the family's dedication to the attribute of chesed, kindness. This should be the hallmark of every Jewish home.

We now turn to the cloud hovering over Sarah's tent. Cloudy days are considered unpleasant, serving as a metaphor for difficult times. The cloud hovering over the tent symbolizes the sacrifices that each member of a Jewish household must be prepared to make one for another. No home goes unscathed, while some have regrettably a greater share of difficult and challenging experiences. The only way to maintain and preserve the ideal Jewish home is for all of its members to maintain a sense of fortitude and a willingness to give of themselves for the benefit of others.

Sarah Imeinu's home personified the quintessential Jewish home, but it all disappeared with her passing. It was only after Yitzchak brought his bashert, Heavenly- designated wife, that all of its characteristics that lent themselves to preserving this unique phenomenon returned with the arrival of the new akeres ha'bayis, foundation of the home.

And Avraham expired and died at a good old age. (25:8)

Yishmael repented in his later years. He even allowed Yitzchak, his younger brother, to precede him at their father, Avraham Avinu's, funeral. Rashi cites the Talmud Bava Basra 16b that interprets this nachas, satisfaction in life, seeing his son Yishmael repent, get along and even give respect to his younger brother, as the seivah tovah, good old age, that Avraham enjoyed. This is a new insight into the definition of "good" old age. When one has nachas, when he sees his children getting along, following in the ways of Hashem that is "good" old age. Children who do not acknowledge this very simple idea deprive their parents of their "good" old age. Clearly, Hashem did not grant them long life to suffer in silence, as their children destroy everything they had taught them.

Having said that, we return to Yishmael, the baal teshuvah, who demonstrates that regardless of how far one has strayed, how much he has alienated himself from the Torah way, he can return. Embedded deep within the recesses of one's soul is the Pintele Yid, the spark of Judaism, through which he cries out to Hashem - and Hashem listens. Even a rasha, wicked, evil person-- whose life is dedicated to destroying his and others' relationship with Hashem-- can return. Hashem will welcome him home with extended and open arms.

Horav Eliyahu Lopian, zl, related the story of a certain rasha, wicked person, a kofer, agnostic, who did everything to denigrate the religion in which he was raised. He became seriously ill to the point that, after consultation with the most distinguished physicians in Koenigsburg, it was determined that his only chance for survival was surgery. Veritably, surgery was not the cure all, nor was it guaranteed, but, without it, the patient had no chance whatsoever.

The problem was that, as aggressive and loud as the person was when it came to demeaning his religion, he was a total opposite concerning himself. He was a coward, meek and insecure. Thus, he refused to have the surgery. If so, the doctors demanded that he leave the hospital. His behavior bordered on suicidal and they were not interested in taking responsibility for his imminent death. Finally, the man relented and agreed to have the surgery.

One can imagine the shock of all those present when the patient, as he was being wheeled into surgery, amidst trembling and trepidation, shrieked, B'yadcha afkid ruchi padissa osi Hashem Keil emes.

This was followed with a resounding Shema Yisrael. The doctors and family members who observed this sudden changing of heart could not believe what they heard and saw. The emotion, coupled with these verses emanating from the mouth of a hardened agnostic, jarred their senses. Indeed, everybody present was so captivated by the sudden expression of faith that they also were disquieted and filled with a sense of awe and trepidation. The pain and anxiety that this man was undergoing awakened his inner emotions and the Pintele Yid, spark of Jewish faith, within the hidden recesses of his soul burst forth. Rav Elya concluded, "Do not think that any man is lost forever. There is hope for everyone, regardless of his miscreant past. There is a path of teshuvah, return, which anyone can follow. It just depends on what motivates him to begin the journey back home."

How does teshuvah work? After all, we live in a physical world, a sensory, three dimensional world, in which a person's actions take place in a particular confluence of time and space which will never occur again. Thus, once the sin is committed, it is finished; it cannot be undone; it cannot be uncommitted. How can teshuvah erase one's misdeeds?

Horav Shlomo Freifeld, zl, explains that it all goes back to Creation, when Hashem created the world ex nihilo, from nothingness. This generative force of creation was not locked up and put away. It exists within the cosmos, accessible to anyone who reaches out to it. Indeed, the human being can reach out and access this wonderful force and recreate himself! It is called the power of teshuvah. This force allows a person to regenerate himself until all of the flaws and blemishes caused by his sins disappear.

Teshuvah is much more than an act of frumkeit, piety. It is an opportunity to draw on the incredible creative power that exists within the cosmos. It is a cleansing process of renewal and rejuvenation which washes away the spiritual grime of sin that sticks to a person.

It transforms the sinner into a new entity - a new pure person. Bearing this in mind, one's sins do not have to hold a person captive for life. He can escape and change, becoming a new and improved person. It is never too late. As long as a person breathes, he has the power to restore and regenerate himself. Teshuvah works instantaneously. As soon as a person makes up his mind to repent, the process has begun, and he is already transforming himself. When we begin to look at teshuvah through a spiritual lens, it all makes sense. This is why no person is lost. He is only one change of heart away from becoming a new person.

And Avraham expired and died…His sons Yitzchak and Yishmael buried him. (25:8,9)

Rashi infers from the fact that the elder brother, Yishmael, deferred to Yitzchak, his younger brother, giving him precedence at the funeral for their father, that Yishmael ultimately had repented from his life of immorality and corruption. Eisav, on the other hand, forced himself ahead of Yaakov at Yitzchak's funeral, indicating that he had not changed his orientation even as he aged. He left this world as evil as he had lived it. What made the difference in the lives of Yishmael and Eisav, both children "at risk"? Why did one repent, while the other took his evil to the grave, leaving a legacy of anti-semitism for his descendants to follow?

Parenthood is a privilege which carries enormous responsibility. One of the most difficult functions of parenthood is administering positive discipline. In a perfect world, children grow up without creating any problems: not causing any heartache; reacting positively in school; and growing up as a credit to their upbringing and a source of nachas to their family and community. Regrettably, we do not live in a perfect world. Children will be children, and this means that they will need to be disciplined as part of the child-rearing process. How this discipline is meted out can catalyze the difference in the end result - the future adult.

Discipline must be administered with love, with corporeal punishment utilized only as a last resort and never out of anger. One who does not discipline an errant child plays a critical role in that child's growing up to be a flawed adult. Indeed, a lack of discipline is analogous to misplaced or misguided discipline.

Having said this, the Alter, zl, m'Slabodka, addresses the disparity between Yishmael and Eisav, both evil from the "get go," but one of them turning around later in life. As youths, they were both sources of concern and misery for their parents. They worshipped idols, were immoral and exhibited no respect for the value of human life. Yet, Yishmael repented in his later years, while Eisav died as the symbol of evil incarnate that he was. Yishmael respected Avraham, while Eisav did not really respect Yitzchak. Perhaps he put on a good show, acting out his ruse, but there certainly was no substance to his respect. We even find a Tanna whose name was Rabbi Yishmael, while the name Eisav goes down in infamy. Why did one seem to "make it," while the other did not?

The Alter attributes Yishmael's turnaround to positive discipline. When Avraham Avinu became aware of Yishmael's nefarious behavior, he sent him away from the house. True, he was following Sarah Imeinu's "suggestion" but he listened and immediately acted.

Eisav, however, was not disciplined. He was not even chastised. He put on a show of fake piety, while he went along his merry way of committing atrocities and vile deeds with impunity. Since he was never moved to repent, he did not. Thus, he left this world setting the standard for evil. His evil was surreptitious, which often goes unnoticed and, thus, undisciplined.

Discipline tendered with love will turn a child around and make the defining difference in his success as an adult. Through the medium of positive discipline, a child learns what is wrong and develops a healthy respect for his parents' values. The child that grows up without discipline is deprived of the opportunity for true growth.

Va'ani Tefillah

Poseiach es Yadecha u'masbia l'chol chai ratzon.
Open Your hand and satisfy the desire of every living being.

Horav S.R. Hirsch, zl, explains this pasuk in a unique manner. He says that the word ratzon, which is translated here as desire, actually should be rendered as goodwill or benevolence, as in yehi ratzon echav, "he shall be pleasing to his brothers" (Devarim 33:24) or yehi ratzon milfanecha, "Let it be Your will." The meaning of ratzon would, therefore, be finding favor with others or being well-liked. Hashem provides a person with goodwill and favorable acceptance in the eyes of others, which is the prerequisite for all livelihood. Regardless of a person's station in life, the finding of favor with others is what most often results in one's establishing a livelihood. This is a miracle which comes directly from Hashem. Every time one succeeds in his relationship with others, it is because Hashem gave him ratzon in their eyes. Everything is based upon "customer service," the favor one has before others. The secret of parnassah is known only to Hashem. He decides who should find ratzon, favor, in the eyes of others. He satiates all of life with ratzon by allowing people to find favor and goodwill in the eyes of others.

l'zchus u'l'refuah sheleima
Miriam Zissel bas Feiga Baila shetichye

Moshe and Michele Luger

Peninim on the Torah is in its 18th 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.

He can be contacted at 216-321-5838 ext. 165 or by fax at 216-321-0588

Discounts are available for bulk orders or Chinuch/Kiruv organizations.


This article is provided as part of Shema Yisrael Torah Network
Permission is granted to redistribute electronically or on paper,
provided that this notice is included intact.
For information on subscriptions, archives, and
other Shema Yisrael Classes,
send mail to
Jerusalem, Israel