Back to this week's Parsha

Peninim on the Torah

subscribe.gif (2332 bytes)

Previous issues

Rabbi A. Leib Scheinbaum
Hebrew Academy of Cleveland

Parshas Devarim

These are the words that Moshe spoke to all Yisrael. (1:1)

Sefer Devarim begins by presenting Moshe Rabbeinu as a "speaker" who admonishes Klal Yisrael before he takes leave of this world. Interestingly, when Hashem approached Moshe regarding his mission to Pharaoh, Moshe begged to be relieved of this responsibility asserting, "I am not a man of words," (Shemos 4:10). When did his ability to speak change? The Midrash addresses this transformation: "Before Moshe received the Torah, he was not a man of words. After he merited the Torah, he began to speak." Horav Elazar Menachem Man Shach, Shlita, explains that prior to the Giving of the Torah, Moshe had no responsibility to convey his thoughts or words to the people. Refraining from speaking was not inappropriate on his part. It is similar to a Navi, prophet, who subdues his prophecy and does not foretell his revelation. Once the Torah was given, however, it no longer mattered whether he was capable of expressing himself eloquently or not; he became responsible to teach Torah and to reprove the people.

Horav Shach derives from here that there are times and circumstances which demand that one publicly make known the dvar Hashem, word of G-d. In these circumstances one is required to do so even if he knows that the truth is being blurred by sham artists who are capable of concealing the evil they perpetrate by painting over it with a coating of humanitarianism. One must speak up specifically in situations such as these, when we are confronted by those who represent a fusion of evil and goodness, so that we really need the clarity of vision that is derived from the Torah. Those who sabotage their mission, who refrain from protesting against the chameleons who would rob us of our heritage, are themselves moral hypocrites. While it is important to know when to be silent, it is equally significant to know when to express oneself in words.

Hashem, your G-d, has multiplied you and behold, you are like the stars of Heaven in abundance. (1:10) The Midrash comments about the comparison of Klal Yisrael to the stars. They cite three areas in which the Jewish People bear a likeness to stars. Just as one star is greater than another, so, too, does Klal Yisrael have different levels, one greater than another: some Jews are Kohanim, some are Leviim; and others are Yisraelim. Just as there is no end to the stars, so, too, there is no end to our People. Just as the stars have power from one end of the world to another, so, too, does Klal Yisrae manifest such power. Chazal are teaching us that Hashem's blessing to Avraham Avinu, that his descendants will be likened to stars, is multifaceted. Not only will they be compared to stars in quantity, but also in attributes.

Horav Yaakov Dushinsky adds a unique quality, that is intrinsic to stars, which has a profound meaning in regard to the Jewish People. In contemporary times, through remarkable technological advances, scientists have been able to discover stars that, due to their extreme distance, have previously been impossible to locate. They are so far that we measure the distance in light years, which is the distance that light travels - hundreds of thousands of miles per second - in one year. In other words, it is quite probable that the illumination we see from a star is the energy of a star that burned out a long time ago. Yet, its effect continues far beyond its physical life.

Regarding the pasuk in Daniel 12:3, "And those who teach righteousness to the multitudes (will shine) like the stars, forever and ever," in the Talmud Sanhedrin 92b, Chazal say that this is a reference to righteous judges, charity collectors, and melamdei tinokos, teachers of children. The judge who does not swerve from the truth maintains the integrity of the judicial system. Chazal say that he becomes a partner with the Almighty in the creation of the world. He maintains discipline within society. He who raises much needed funds for the poor, grief stricken, and hungry is undoubtedly the paragon of virtue, sustaining those whom society regrettably often forgets. Last, he who defers a life of material/financial security, who rejects the opportunities of this world so that he may give all of himself to Hashem's children, to the future of Klal Yisrael, truly sanctifies his life. How are they compared to stars? Their work continues far beyond their times. Their reach extends far beyond their grasp! They involve themselves in chayei netzach, eternal life, as they give up their olam hazeh, opportunities in this world.

Thus, the fruits of their labors, the results of their toil, live on as shining examples of their work. The effect a teacher has on a student is eternal. Is there a greater reason for choosing such a field of endeavor? One must remember, however, to make sure that this effect is of a positive nature, for the opportunity is accompanied by the awesome responsibility.

Provide for yourselves distinguished men, who are wise, understanding, and well-known to your tribes, and I shall appoint them as your heads. (1:13)

The Midrash notes that the word "va'asimeim," "and I shall appoint," can easily be read as "va'ashimeim," "and I will hold them guilty/responsible," if the "sin" were to be replaced be a "shin." It all depends where the "dot" on the letter is placed: to the right, and it's a "shin;" or to the left, and it is a "sin." Chazal derive an important message herein. Moshe was telling Klal Yisrael that if they do not listen to their leadership, he will hold the leadership responsible! This is like a snake whose 'tail' told the 'head' "Why should you always lead, while I bring up the rear? Let us change things around. I will lead, and you will follow." We can imagine what occurred. The tail, having no eyes, dragged the head into places that were certainly not conducive to its continued health and well-being. First, it was dragged through a river, then into a fire, and last it became impaled on a thorn bush. The lesson is clear: When the Torah leaders, the "eyes" of the nation, are guided by those who should be following, they become critically impaired.

In the Talmud Chagigah 14a, Chazal relate that the Navi Yeshayahu cursed Klal Yisrael with eighteen curses, yet he was not content until he pronounced, "The youngster will behave insolently against the elder, and the base against the honorable." Yeshayahu's curses affected every possible class of Jew. He included the learned who were erudite in Torah, who had mastered its profundities. He included judges, kings, wise men and counselors. Yet, nothing he said was as extreme as the curse that the authority of Klal Yisrael's leadership would be usurped. He was not content until he had promised this ultimate curse. Why?

Horav Yeruchem Levovitz, zl, explains that when the youth lose respect for their elders -- when they wrest the reins of leadership away from those whose wisdom is tempered by life's experiences, from a leadership whose counsel is inspired by the Torah giants of a previous era -- Klal Yisrael is as good as dead. This is not life! Indeed, such a circumstance represents the greatest curse. A nation whose leadership is not "mekabel," will not accept advice from their elders, who are obsessed with their arrogance and sheer chutzpah; who denigrate the authority of their elders and render decisions based upon their own brash ideas, and shaped by their own vested interests, is not living a Torah life. Such a generation does not truly live.

Horav Chaim Shmuelevitz, zl, explains that the Jewish people are unlike other nations, in that they cannot survive without the institution of "zekeinim," elders. While other nations manage to survive without the leadership of sages or elders, our uniqueness renders our elders an essential prerequisite for our existence, rather than a mere luxury. It is Rabbi Akiva who says, "Yisrael is likened to a bird. Just as a bird cannot fly away without its wings, so, too, is Yisrael helpless without its elders." Rav Chaim explains that a bird without its wings is in a worse situation than an animal who never had wings. It remains a helpless, pitiful creature, victimized by any creature bigger and more powerful than it. Klal Yisrael without elders is just like that bird. It cannot survive. Undermining the power of our elders is tantamount to striking a powerful blow to the core of the life force of the Jewish People.

The Satmar Rav, zl, commented that not just anyone can possess the necessary qualities for wearing the mantle of gadol b'Yisrael, Torah leader. He felt that such a person should be endowed with the following attributes: First, he must be a talmid chacham muvhak, Torah scholar of the highest order, erudite in all areas of Torah law and literature; second, he must be a yarei Shomayim, G-d fearing Jew, who will not be influenced by his personal emotions or interests; third, he must be a chacham and pikeach, wise and crafty, knowledgeable of the world scene, understanding people; knowing what makes them "tick;" being able to recognize evil when it confronts him. Only one who is blessed with these traits may issue forth his judgement in regard to inyanei ha'klal, communal affairs.

One of the distinguished laymen who heard the Satmar Rav's comments questioned him regarding a certain rav who fit the criteria, yet whose views regarding Orthodoxy were in contradiction to the Satmar Rav's. The Rav responded that indeed the gadol in question truly "fit the bill," but was deficient in one area. He was not "meshamesh," did not serve in such a capacity that he understood how to deal with the incursions against Torah Judaism. Only certain rabbonim, such as those who served in a number of the larger communities in Hungary, in which they were compelled to fight a holy war to preserve the sanctity of Torah and mitzvos from those who would do anything to impugn and destroy the Torah way of life, were able to impart lessons based upon their own life's experience. The Satmar Rav was an individual who, in addition to being a brilliant talmid chacham and pikeach, had absorbed a wealth of wisdom and knowledge from his rebbeim, who themselves were the gedolei Yisrael of the previous generation.

Horav Yechezkel Abramski, zl, put the idea into perspective with the following illustration: Imagine sitting at a distance of one hundred yards from a given point and asking a group of people if they are able to see a picture at this distance. One person will say he can only see thirty yards, while another will see forty yards, and yet another will see up to seventy yards. Suddenly, someone comes along with incredible eyesight who can see up to one hundred yards! Indeed, if all of the other people would get together, they could nevertheless not see as well as he, because the sight is limited. Having them all get together is to no avail because the eyesight of the individuals is still deficient.

The same idea applies to our Torah leaders: They see what others cannot; their vision extends beyond the grasp of the average person. Thus, if an entire group gets together to express their opinion in opposition of one gadol, their position carries no weight, because they cannot see what he sees. Their vision is stinted; their perspective is myopic. This is the reason that our Torah leaders are referred to as "einei ha'am," the eyes of the nation.

All of you approached me. (1:22)

Rashi says they all came "birvuvya," mixed together, in a tumultuous, disorderly and disrespectful manner. The young pushed ahead of their elders, and the elders pushed aside the leaders. The approach for the meraglim, spies, sharply contrasted the manner in which they had came together as a nation during Kabolas ha'Torah. Then there had been decorum, decency and dignity. Moshe Rabbeinu is rebuking Klal Yisrael for the sin of the spies, the sin that ultimately cost them their own entrance into Eretz Yisrael. He seems to focus on the disrespectful manner in which they presented their request. One would think that in a sin of such magnitude, the approach would not play such a significant role. Does Moshe really have to belabor the issue of their disrespect, especially in contrast to their later rebellion?

In his commentary on the Torah, The Netziv, zl, cites Horav Yitzchak Mi'Volozhin, who explains that by rebuking Klal Yisrael regarding the manner in which they arrived, Moshe was actually magnifying the gravity of their later sin. They could no longer attempt to ameliorate their sin by saying that in the beginning their request had been innocuous. They could not say there was "no harm" in coming forward with a "simple" request. They could not say that everything had been fine until the meraglim returned and slandered Eretz Yisrael. They could not mitigate their sin, because it was not realistic. From the very beginning they were wrong! The manner in which they approached Moshe Rabbeinu bespoke their spurious intentions. We derive from here that when an endeavor is constructive, the various courses that are followed in achieving this endeavor are also inherently proper. If, in contrast, the goal of an endeavor is improper, then the avenues leading to this goal will be equally inappropriate. The Alter M'Kelm feels that it was their impulsiveness, their utter recklessness, that was the genesis of their mishap. They should have waited for Moshe; perhaps he had been planning to send spies anyway. Had they given the matter some thought, they might have arrived at a different conclusion. They were not, however, able to wait; they had to respond immediately to make sure that the land was investigated. Their inability to exhibit patience, and their self-indulgence, led to their involvement in an endeavor that demonstrated a lack of emunah on their part. Their lack of waiting caused them to remain in the wilderness.


1) To what does Chatzeiros refer?
2) To what does Di zahav refer?
3) Moshe rebuked Klal Yisrael immediately before his death. From whom did he learn to do this?
4) Moshe explained the Torah in _______ languages.
5) Which shevet was not represented among the meraglim?
6) What did the Emori have in common with bees?
7) What miracle occurred for Moshe during his battle with Og?


1) This "place" refers to the dispute of Korach. In an alternative explanation, Rashi says they were admonished for speaking lashon hora against Eretz Yisrael. They should have learned a lesson from Miriam, who spoke against Moshe in Chatzeiros.
2) Sin of the Golden Calf.
3) Yaakov Avinu
4) Seventy
5) Shevet Levi
6) Just as bees die immediately after stinging a man, so did they die immediately after striking Klal Yisrael.
7) The sun stood still. According to an alternative text, this occurred during the battle with Sichon.

"Tov Shem MiShemen Tov..."
Veketer Shem Tov Oleh Al Gabeihen
Le'Iluy Nishmas
Reb Yaakov Zev ben Reb Yehudah Aryeh z"l
Niftar 7 Av 5755
By his wife, their children and grandchildren
Mrs. Jeanne Fogel, Rabbi Yudie & Chaya Sarah Fogel,Nussie & Esther Fogel,
Shalom & Ettie Fogel, Yosie & Bryndie Fogel, Rabbi Dovid & Liz Jenkins,
Rabbi Yitzie & Bryndie Fogel, Rabbi Avi & Suri Pearl, and their families


Peninim on the Torah is in its 7th year of publication. The first five years have been published in book form.

The fifth 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