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Rabbi A. Leib Scheinbaum
Hebrew Academy of Cleveland


Parashas Chukas

This is the decree of the Torah, which Hashem commanded, saying. (19:2)

One of the close chassidim of the Klausenberger Rebbe, zl, recounts that he had the "privilege" to be with the Rebbe in the Warsaw Ghetto prior to their transfer to Auschwitz. It was Shabbos Parashas Chukas,1944, as the Rebbe sat down to deliver his Torah lecture during Seudah Shlishis. He cited the opening pasuk of our parshah, then continued with the following. "Zos is an acronym for (zayin) (aleph) (taf), Z'chor al tishkach, 'Remember and do not forget.'" If one has the desire to retain his Torah study, to hold it in his memory, he can follow three suggestions as guidelines for not forgetting what he has learned. First, tzivah, "was commanded." The gematria, numerical equivalent, of tzivah is 101, alluding to Chazal's maxim that one should study everything that he learns 101 times. Indeed, they add that one cannot compare what one studies 100 times to that which he reviews 101 times. That one extra time makes a world of difference.

The second suggestion is Hashem. One should conjure up in his mind that he is standing before Hashem. This will enable him to remember his learning better. Third is leimor, "saying." He should articulate that which he is learning. This will also assist in the process of internalizing the Torah knowledge into his memory bank.

The purpose of citing this d'var Torah is to emphasize the saintly Rebbe's ability to think and remain immersed in Torah, despite the pain and deprivation to which he was subjected. It also demonstrates the commitment and devotion of his chassidim who listened and remembered this Dvar Torah sixty years later.

This is the (Torah) teaching regarding a man who would die in a tent. (19:14)

In the Talmud Berachos 63b, Chazal derive from this pasuk that the words of Torah firmly endure in a person who kills himself for it. This is a reference to those who give up their lives, who devote themselves fully to the study of Torah. Nothing stands in the way of their commitment to Torah study. The venerable Rosh Hayeshivah of Mir Yerushalayim, Horav Eliezer Yehudah Finkel, zl, sustained a major heart attack two years prior to his passing. A number of days after the event, he was visited by Horav Shlomo Lorinz, Shlita. The Rosh Hayeshivah lamented that he had no time to sleep because he had to study seven blatt, double pages, of Talmud and ten chapters of Rambam. "Perhaps the Rosh Hayeshivah should ask the cardiologist if it is advisable to strain oneself under such conditions," Rav Lorinz suggested. Rav Leizer Yudil (as he was fondly called) replied, "The Rambam clearly states, 'Everyone is obliged to study Torah, even the elderly and the sick.' Why do I have to ask a doctor, if the Rambam, who himself was a physician, has rendered the decision for me?"

This has been the attitude of gedolei Torah, the giants of Torah, towards its study. They have not looked for excuses, nor have they accepted them. They did what they were supposed to do, and this is the reason that they have become gedolim. No shortcuts, no excuses, just Torah study as if their life depends upon it.

Therefore, it is said in the Book of the Wars of Hashem: "The gift of the sea (Yam Suf)." (21:14)

In those days, it was common to detail the events surrounding the famous battles that took place. This was recorded in prose or aphorism. The Splitting of the Red Sea would surely have been recorded in that book. This is the simple explanation of the pasuk. Horav Shmuel Halevi Vosner, Shlita, takes a more hashkafic, philosophic, and halachic approach to rendering an explanation of this pasuk. Not every war and battle in which the Jewish people were involved is recorded in Tanach. Only certain battles achieve this distinction. Why?

Rav Vosner explains that only those battles whose purpose was to increase kavod Shomayim, the honor of Heaven, by catalyzing within Klal Yisrael an elevated state of ahavas and yiraas Hashem, love and awe of the Almighty, were included in Tanach. Otherwise, those battles had no eternal value and, thus, did not merit being recorded for posterity. This is intimated by the pasuk which is cited above, Es vaheiv b'sofah, "Those wars whose end purpose (sofah) brings about an increase in ahavas (vaheiv) Hashem." This is consistent with Chazal's exegesis in the Talmud Kiddushin 30b, which refers homiletically to the milchamtah shel Torah, "war," spirited discussion between two study partners of Torah literature. They study Torah together, and while their discussion may, at times, become passionate and even intense, they do not stir from their place until they come to "love each other."

This is why the milchemes haChashmonaim, war of the Chashmonaim, which preceded the miracle of Chanukah, is not recorded in Tanach. They used their victory to inappropriately seize the monarchy for themselves, an act which certainly did not increase kavod Shomayim. This is consistent with the Ramban's commentary to the pasuk Lo yassur shevet m'Yehudah, "The scepter shall not depart from Yehudah" (Bereishis 49:10). Malchus, monarchy, belongs to the descendants of Yehudah. No one else may seize the monarchy for himself. The Chashmonaim were pious and virtuous. They were the individuals who saw to it that Torah would not be forgotten by the Jewish People. Yet, this family was gravely punished for seizing the monarchy of Klal Yisrael for itself. It is important to emphasize that this was their only transgression, and, while it was not done with malice, it was still counter to the Torah. Their war was not recorded in Tanach, since it did not ultimately reflect Hashem's Will.

The war that the Jews of Persia fought against Haman and his anti-Semitic henchmen catalyzed spiritual rejuvenation, joy and unparalleled happiness. It stimulated an unprecedented return and commitment to Torah and mitzvos. Thus, it was recorded for posterity in Tanach.

Parashas Balak

He (Balak) sent messengers to Bilaam… saying, "Behold! A people has come out of Egypt, behold! It has covered the surface of the earth… Bilaam said to G-d, "Behold! The people coming out of Egypt has covered the surface of the earth." (22:5,10,11)

Upon careful perusal of the text, we note a disparity between Balak's actual request of Bilaam and the manner in which Bilaam later related this request to Hashem. Balak said, "Behold! A people has come out of Egypt." He described Klal Yisrael's exodus from Egypt in the past tense. They have left Egypt. There is nothing that binds them to that country, to that period in history. Bilaam seems to intimate something quite different when he says, "Behold, the people are coming out of Egypt." He refers to Klal Yisrael in the present tense. They are still in the middle of their exodus. It is not yet completed. What are they expressing, and what should we derive from their divergent statements?

In his sefer V'zos HaBrachah, Horav Eliyahu Schlesinger, Shlita, gives the following explanation. Balak's perspective of the emerging Jewish nation was quite different than that of Bilaam. Balak viewed Klal Yisrael through his human eyes, which gave him only a superficial view of the nation. He saw the "here and now" of the Jewish People. Bilaam, however, as a prophet who related what Hashem told him, could speak only the absolute truth. Thus, his perspective was quite different.

Balak was aware that the Jews were privy to an array of exceptional and unprecedented miracles and wonders as they left the land of Egypt. Balak figured that it was all over. The miracles and their influence were in the past. After all, let us look at the history of the Jews during their sojourn in the wilderness. They complained bitterly when they did not receive their meat. When water was at a premium, they complained. They left Har Sinai, k'tinok habore'ach mibais hasefer, "like a young child fleeing from school." They feared that Hashem would add more mitzvos to those that they had already accepted. The meraglim, episode of the spies, created a great chillul Hashem, desecration of Hashem's Name. Is it any wonder that Balak felt that this nation had left Egypt? They had severed any relationship with the past. A people that has broken its ties with the past has little foundation upon which to build its future. They should be easy to curse effectively, because, in reality, they had already handicapped themselves by disassociating themselves from the Almighty.

Bilaam, on the other hand, was an individual in whom Hashem placed His words. Thus, he could articulate only the truth. He saw a nation that was leaving Egypt. It was not an event that had passed, but rather, it was an ongoing manifestation of Hashem's miraculous power and awesome might. This nation had neither severed its bond with the Almighty nor disconnected itself from the Egyptian exodus. It is an experience that is alive and well in their minds and hearts, continuing to inspire them. Veritably, they had had setbacks, but these were merely delays that had temporarily impeded their forward march towards their home in Eretz Yisrael. Yes, their past is linked with their present.

We may add that this idea applies equally in contemporary society. While it is true that we see that many of our brethren have alienated themselves from the religion of their ancestors, let us not overlook the many who have returned. Those who have left have done so because there is nothing to bind them to the past, to their roots, to their heritage. It is an ongoing legacy that continues to inspire, specifically because it is evolving and progressing forward until the advent of Moshiach Tzidkeinu.

He crouched and lay down like a lion, and, like a lion cub - who can stand him up? (24:9)

Simply, this pasuk alludes to Klal Yisrael's ability to occupy its land with dynamism and strength. Once they are settled there, they will be firmly rooted. The Talmud in Berachos 12b takes this idea further. Chazal say that they wanted to include this pasuk in Krias Shema, but they did not do so because of its length. Rashi explains that its relationship to Krias Shema is to be found in the words b'shachbecha u'bekumecha, "When you retire and when you arise." Hashem watches over us, allowing us to lie down in peace and serenity, like a lion who fears nothing. Likewise, Hashem guards us when we are up and about, permitting us to move freely with confidence, manifesting the same calm as if we were laying down.

Horav Yerachmiel Kromm, Shlita, explains that Chazal are teaching us a powerful lesson. Ein baal ha'neis makir b'niso, "The one to whom a miracle has occurred is not (necessarily) aware of the miracle." This means that often situations occur which we do not realize are directly related to our well-being. Similarly, at times, we are unaware of a tragedy which has been averted. Hashem, Who saw to our being spared from disaster, knows. This is what occurred in the Bilaam/Balak dialogue. If we peruse the pesukim and compare this episode with the other wars fought against the Jews, we note that Amalek, Sichon and Og, archenemies of our people, harbored no secrets with regard to their feelings towards us. They openly came against us, battling us in a blatant attempt to destroy our nation. Balak and Bilaam did everything surreptitiously, concealing their evil behind closed doors. Indeed, we knew nothing of their evil machinations - at the time. This is why the Navi Michah (6:5) exhorts us, "Hear now, what Balak, king of Moav, Schemed, and what Bilaam ben Beor answered him, (and all the events) from Shittim to Gilgal, in order to recognize the righteous acts of Hashem." There is a special distinction in remembering how the evil Bilaam - together with Balak - schemed against us, because this will help us to realize how Hashem always protects us, even when we are unaware of His presence. This is the reason that the Torah goes to such length in detailing their evil dialogue.

In his Teshuvos, Yore Deah 356, the Chasam Sofer comments that throughout the Torah we find only one incident for which there is no verification from anyone who witnessed what took place. This is the episode of Balak and Bilaam and their scheme against our people. Every other miracle from Egypt throughout the forty-year trek in the wilderness was attested to by 600,000 men who transmitted these miracles to their children. According to those commentators who say that Yisro and Moshe Rabbeinu's sons arrived after the Giving of the Torah, they were the only individuals who did not stand at Har Sinai to witness the miracles. Even the beginning of the world, the story with the serpent, the Flood and the Tower of Bavel, according to the Ramban, were events that were transmitted from Adam to Shem, the son of Noach, the rebbe of Yaakov Avinu, who was fifty years old when Shem died. Yaakov taught this to his son Levi, who, in turn, transmitted the history to Amram, Moshe's father. Every generation of elders has taught its children to the point that we can clearly say that we were there! We saw it all, except for the story of Bilaam. No one knew what went on covertly between these two. The Torah records it for posterity, because Hashem wants us to know - and always remember. This is why the Torah does not mince words in recording every aspect of the story: so that we will realize that Hashem is always there, even when we do not see a revelation of His might and wonders clearly before our eyes.

In his commentary to Parashas Haazinu, the Chasam Sofer cites the Mishneh L'Melech's explanation of David Hamelech's praise in Sefer Tehillim 136:4, "To Him Who alone performs great wonders." Is there anything novel about the fact that Hashem works alone? Certainly, He does not need assistance of any kind. David is teaching that there are miracles of which Hashem alone is aware. The baal ha'neis is unaware that he has just been the recipient of Hashem's beneficence in the way of a miracle. This is the lesson that the Torah seeks to teach us.

Horav Yitzchak zl, m'Volozhin, was well aware of Czar Nikolai's vehement hatred of the Jewish People. As Rosh Hayeshivah of the famous yeshivah in Volozhin, he met many times with the ministers in St. Petersburg in an attempt to avert a vicious decree against Russian Jewry. He was a respected and familiar face in the halls of power. During one of his trips, a minister asked him to explain a passage in Sefer Tehillim (117:1,2), "Praise Hashem, all nations; praise Him, all the states! For His kindness has overwhelmed us, and the truth of Hashem is eternal." What purpose is there in having the nations of the world praise Hashem for His kindness to the Jews? Does it not make much more sense for the Jews to praise Hashem?

Veritably, the Talmud in Pesachim 118b asks this question. Instead of directly responding, Rav Itzile (as he was referred to fondly) used this as an opportunity to convey some of his emotions to the minister. "Let me explain," he said. "There are often times when the ministers convene with the Czar to arrive at a collective decision on how best to deal with the 'Jewish problem.' Decrees are written up, some of which become law, and others which for some unknown reason do not materialize. Only you know the many conferences that have been held with the primary focus of making life miserable and unbearable for the Jews. For some reason, they did not reach fruition. That 'reason' is Hashem. Only you, the nations of the world, are aware of how often Hashem has covertly saved us. You know how many decrees were not actualized. Therefore, you are able to praise, because you know the truth. We have no idea of all you have attempted to do to us. We trust in Hashem's constant protection. You see it clearly."

The Brisker Rav, zl, used his great-grandfather's exegesis to explain Yisro's comment to Moshe (Shemos 18:11), "Now I know that Hashem is the greatest of all gods, for in the very matter in which [the Egyptians] had conspired against them." Hashem punishes a person middah k'neged middah, measure for measure. Klal Yisrael had been the subject of Egypt's harsh treatment, their cruelty and evil for many years. They understood the depth of many of the plagues and punishments that the Egyptians were sustaining, because they were acutely aware of how each punishment fit measure for measure to the evil which the Egyptians had perpetuated. They were limited, however, in their perception. They did not understand all of the punishments, because they did not know how they fit middah k'neged middah. Their awareness of the Egyptian evil was limited to their level of cognition and no more.

On the other hand Yisro, knew more. He had a deeper understanding of events, because he had a greater knowledge of these events. Chazal tell us that Hashem does not coalesce a machshavah, thought, with a maaseh, action. In other words, one is not punished for his evil intentions which are not realized. One is punished only for what he does, not for what he thinks and plans. His intentions do not catalyze punishment. Regarding non-Jews, however, this concept does not apply. Hashem does count their evil intentions against them. This presented a dilemma for the Jewish People. They certainly were aware of the Egyptian's evil actions, which enabled them to understand the punishment they were justly receiving. They remained, however, in a quandary regarding a number of punishments which did not "fit" into the scheme of measure for measure.

When Yisro entered upon the scene, he was able to understand all of Hashem's punishments. As a member of Pharaoh's elite cabinet, Yisro was privy to all of the evil intentions and machinations that Pharaoh and his rogue henchmen were planning against the Jews. They were held culpable for their intentions. As Moshe related the many miracles to his father-in-law, Yisro understood exactly why these punishments were meted against the Egyptians, because he knew the truth. "Now I know," he said, because he really knew.

We should be cognizant of and forever thankful to Hashem for all that He does for us - both of that which we are aware and, equally so, for that of which we are unaware.

Va'ani Tefillah

Baruch oseh bereishis - Blessed is He who made in the beginning.

The above translation follows the notion that we praise Hashem for His originality. Horav Avigdor Miller, zl, explains that while we laud those who follow in the footsteps of the righteous, committing themselves to piety and virtue, it is the originator, the inventor of righteousness per se, that deserves the greatest accolades. When we proffer hospitality to wayfarers, we emulate our Patriarch Avraham Avinu, but, in reality, no man can take credit for being the originator of kindly practices. True, Avraham is to be commended and credited for studying the Master Plan of Creation and deducing that this world is built upon altruism. He discovered hospitality, but he did not originate it. Hashem did. The very concepts of kindliness and beneficence are G-d-given creations. When there were yet no men upon whom to bestow kindness, Hashem created man. Thus, when men follow their natural inclination to do good and be kind to others, they are merely instruments of the Almighty that were created for the purpose of carrying out His benevolence. We, therefore, thank Him for being the originator of all good.

Horav Shimon Schwab, zl, interprets this blessing as praising "He Who constantly creates." Oseh, He makes, is the present tense, conveying the idea that creation is an ongoing process. Hashem keeps what He has created in constant existence. The concept that Hashem "once" created and departed the scene is totally heretical and obviously inconsistent with reality.

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