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Peninim on the Torah

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Rabbi A. Leib Scheinbaum
Hebrew Academy of Cleveland


These are the words that Moshe spoke to all Yisrael…between Paran and Tofel, Lavan, Chatzeiros and Di Zahav. (1:1)

Rashi cites Chazal who note that they are unable to locate the places to which the Torah refers. If they do not exist, where are they? Actually, these places are not geographical indicators, but rather allusions to sins which occurred in the wilderness, minor and major rebellions which took place during the nation's journey to the Holy Land. Tofel refers to their complaints concerning the manna, which was lavan, white. A similar idea applies to some of the other names. While complaining about the manna reflects the nadir of ingratitude, does it constitute a sin? Can it be compared to the murder of Chur? Yet, Moshe Rabbeinu did not rebuke them for this outrage.

Horav Arye Leib Bakst, zl, comments that the Torah does not necessarily address the actual sin. Instead, it focuses on the origin of the sin, the cause of the aberative behavior. What brought about such a violation? What catalyzed this wanton act of rebellion? For example, concerning Chur's murder, the Torah writes, "And they got up to revel" (Shemos 32:6). Rashi explains that the term tzchok, revel, implies the cardinal sins of idolatry, licentiousness, and murder. We derive from here that when revelry reigns, anything can happen - even the murder of a Navi. When someone loses control, he is capable of anything, especially if he is being rebuked for his actions. He will not tolerate anyone who stands in his way or points out his errant ways.

In reporting Klal Yisrael's negativity about the manna, the Torah is not underscoring the actual slander; rather, the Torah is highlighting the fact that they were ingrates whose primary concern was for their stomachs. For a nation that had recently left Egypt - amidst miracles and wonders unprecedented in the history of the world - to be concerned about the food they eat indicates a lack of dignity, the antithesis of the type of character refinement that would be expected of the dor deah, generation of knowledge. This is much like the fellow that comes to shul on Shabbos afternoon to daven Minchah, but instead spends his time discussing the cholent that he ate that day. This demonstrates a degradation of himself, a hypocritical insolence that does not belong in a shul.

In the Talmud Nedarim 81, Chazal ask: Al mah avdah ha'Aretz? "For what (sin) did we lose the Land (of Eretz Yisrael)?" Shelo barchu baTorah techillah, "They were lax in blessing the Torah prior to studying it." In other words, they did study Torah, but they did not precede the study with a Bircas HaTorah, blessing for the Torah. This does not seem to coincide with Chazal's position in the Talmud Yoma 9b that the second Bais Hamikdash was destroyed due to sinaas chinam, unwarranted hatred, among Jews. How do we reconcile these two differing opinions?

Rav Bakst explains that the root of the sin of sinaas chinam is a lack of respect for the Torah. Since their learning was not important enough to recite a blessing on the Torah prior to their study, they developed a perverse attitude to the Torah. This led to a total breakdown, whereby they lost respect for one another. The next step was open hatred, for no apparent reason. It is the Torah that keeps us human. Without the Torah, we lose our fidelity to anything sacred. Friendships are of no value; relationships are of no consequence. It is all about "me," since I have lost the source of my value system: the Torah.

An individual who respects Torah, one for whom Torah is paramount to the point that it becomes equivalent to life itself, acts differently. He is an exalted person, a refined person, a better person. One who is involved in understanding a shverer, difficult, commentary by Rabbi Akiva Eiger and is interrupted by a friend who tells him that he has a nicer car than he has, will, at best, look at him incredulously. He will certainly not be jealous or hateful concerning his friend's "better and nicer" car. He is on a different plane. One who approaches Torah study as life itself, by first blessing the Torah, shows his respect. Such a person does not hate. He is incapable of hatred.

We entreat Hashem daily to sweeten for us His words of Torah. V'haarev na Hashem Elokeinu es divrei Torasecha b'finu. Why is this prayer rendered only for the mitzvah of limud haTorah? Why is there no prayer that the mitzvah of Tefillin, Succah, Shabbos, etc. be sweetened? What about the mitzvah of Torah study requires areivus, sweetness? Is it so "troublesome" that it requires a special prayer? Rav Bakst explains that Torah studied in a manner such that the individual senses its sweetness and delight is an entirely different learning. Only such a type of study will transform a person. Hatred is an evil character trait found in the average person. One who studies Torah on the level of areivus is incapable of hatred. He is not the average person, having risen above the norm to a level where the pettiness that often leads to unwarranted hatred plays no role.

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

Moshe Rabbeinu's address to Klal Yisrael begins with divrei tochachah, words of rebuke. The Midrash notes the disparity between the manner in which Moshe addresses the people and the manner in which Bilaam spoke about them. Moshe was straightforward, delineating the concerns about their behavior. This would motivate them to correct their failings. Bilaam, however, was a smooth talker, complimenting and causing them to become haughty. Arrogance leads to sin, which is what occurred in Shittim. It is not that Moshe had nothing more to say about the nation. He certainly did. It is just that compliments must be tempered with rebuke, so that the pat on the back does not go to his head.

Horav Chaim Kamil, zl, suggests that this is why the Navi Yeshayahu, whose primary prophesies were words of consolation and encouragement, begins his homily with Chazon Yeshayahu, "The Vision of Yeshayahu," which implies rebuke. The Navi goes on to describe the nation's rebellion against Hashem and His response. Why begin words of comfort with words of rebuke? The Bais HaLevi explains that Yeshayahu asked Hashem to permit him to be the Navi who would articulate the prophesies of consolation to the nation. Hashem granted him his wish. If Yeshayahu wanted to encourage and give solace, why did he commence with admonishment?

Furthermore, a Navi does not preach his own homily. He repeats what Hashem has instructed him to say. The Navi serves as Hashem's shaliach, agent. If so, the Navi can say "good things," words of comfort and encouragement. A shaliach is like the meshaleiach, sender. Therefore, as Hashem does not associate His Name with anything harmful, so, too, may the agent not prophesize anything that will cause harm or ruin. A Navi who prophesizes destruction is not viewed as speaking "for" Hashem. He is relating what he sees through Divine Inspiration. Indeed, when Yirmiyahu HaNavi spoke words of comfort, he prefaced his words with Koh amar Hashem, "So says Hashem." Conversely, when he issued words of rebuke, his opening statement was, Divrei Yirmiyahu, "The words of Yirmiyahu." The Bais HaLevi supports this with the Arizal who writes that only a prophecy which expresses consolation is given over to a Navi in Hashem's Name. Otherwise, the Navi speaks of his "own" accord, based upon that which he envisioned from Hashem.

All of this makes Yeshayahu's opening remarks, Ko Hashem dibeir, "So Hashem has spoken," all that more enigmatic. He is about to rebuke the nation, as evinced by the word, "Chazon," yet he is speaking on behalf of Hashem. Rav Kamil explains that the opening rebuke is a necessary preamble to the words of comfort, because, without rebuke, consolation is not of an enduring nature. One who listens to nothing but "rosy" words of comfort, which foreshadow all of the good times, hearing accolades that articulate all the positive aspects of his life, will become complacent and eventually less-deserving of these praises. One either ascends to a higher level of spirituality, or he falls. Status quo is tantamount to falling. Therefore, the Navi's words are considered a message from Hashem.

Rebuke is not to be viewed as something bad; one who is admonished is not necessarily in trouble. It is an opportunity to show someone where he has gone wrong, in order to steer him along the correct path. One who rebukes is one who cares. One who refrains from rebuking out of fear that it will impugn his relationship, does not really have much of a relationship.

The Mashgichim, Ethical supervisors, of various yeshivos were the ones traditionally charged with noticing the slightest deviation and admonishing the students/bachurim. Each one had his own inimitable approach to dealing with the students, and each one had his record of success. Fortunate was the student who accepted his admonishment and corrected his ways. One of this past generation's greatest Mashgichim was Horav Meir Chodosh, zl, of Slabodka/Chevron. His method of rebuke was classical and should serve as a guideline for us all. The Mashgiach believes that rebuke should never be administered in anger. It only serves to make the rebuked party defensive and, ultimately, resistant to change. In order to encourage an individual to listen to rebuke, it is necessary to break down his defenses. The manner in which one expresses himself, how he couches the rebuke, makes a great difference to the listener. The more sharply one speaks, the greater will be the resistance to his message. The rebuked party will be stubborn, and the purpose of the admonishment not achieved.

Rav Meir would cite the pasuk in Mishlei, "Do not rebuke a leitz, lest he hate you." (Mishlei 9:8) "What is a leitz (scoffer)?" He is an individual who will hate you if you admonish him. As long as there remains a possibility that he will hate you, he remains in the category of leitz, and it is forbidden to rebuke him.

What an insightful thought. If the rebuked party will hate - then do not bother. It is a waste of time, because you will be defeating your purpose. One who hates to be rebuked is a leitz, scoffer. He is not serious about life. To him it is all a game - as long as he is winning. The moment someone points out his failing - the game is over.

The Mashgiach taught another very important lesson, one that we would do well to apply in our interactions with students and children. Conventional wisdom often sees certain behavior from a different perspective than the Torah. For example, many of us think that catching someone performing an aveirah, sin , is the ultimate success: "Gechapt, caught you!" This might be great for someone's ego, but it does very little good in an attempt to turn him around. Catching someone red-handed is a grave error. He will immediately become defensive and try to justify his behavior. On the contrary, as long as someone thinks that his crime has gone undetected, there is still a chance that, the next time around, his sense of shame will overwhelm his yetzer hora, evil inclination, because he still thinks he has "something to lose." A student or child must always be allowed an opening through which to return. I wonder how many students might have been saved with this novel approach. Allowing the perpetrator a "way out" is really granting him a way "back in."

Last, the Mashgiach emphasized the importance of not saying everything one thinks. At times, it is best that one "not see," "not hear," and "not react." As long as the subject of one's rebuke does not know everything one knows about him, the hope that he will listen exists. Once he is aware of all the rebuker's thoughts, he loses his ambition to change. Everyone needs room - to retreat and ultimately bounce back in a self-respecting manner. If one gives him room, he creates that hope.

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

The entire Sefer Devarim was spoken by Moshe Rabbeinu during the last five weeks of his life. In his last will and testament to the nation which he shepherded through thick and thin, he begins with divrei tochachah, words of rebuke. Rashi notes that this reproach was veiled in nature, not articulating the sins blatantly. Rather, by stating names and places, he alludes to the sins which occurred in these places. This rebuke was carried out in such a manner in order to avoid embarrassing and offending his listeners. Horav Sholom Schwadron, zl, quotes his rebbe, who notes the distinction between the manner in which Moshe rebukes Klal Yisrael, and the way in which Yeshayahu HaNavi issued his reproach to the nation, many generations later. Clearly, generations change - and not for the better. We believe that with each ensuing generation we establish a greater distance from Har Sinai and its imposing Revelation. The mysterium tremendum, the fiery enthusiasm and extreme awe that we experienced, has cooled. As we move farther away from Sinai, our level of shame changes considerably. Moshe spoke in allusions, veiling his rebuke to protect the sinner. Yeshayahu had no problem expressing the sin more overtly. What should we say?

Yeshayahu tells it like it is: "Children have I raised and exalted, but they have rebelled against Me. An ox knows his owner, and a donkey his master's trough; Yisrael does not know, and My people does not perceive" (Yeshayahu 1:2,3). The Navi's admonishment clearly indicates what Chazal refer to as yeridos ha'doros, the decline of the generations. This decline does not stop, but the descent continues until it reaches generations referred to by our sages as Dor Ikvesa d'Moshicha, the generation that precedes Moshiach or the generation on the "heels" of Moshiach. We are there. We are at the "heel" of times, at the bottom of the pit, having witnessed our nation going from the sublime experience of Har Sinai to the base, hedonistic society in which we live today. We live in a generation whose secular leadership has redefined morality, whose own lives reflect licentiousness and a moral rectitude that debases the very foundations of ethics and integrity. Without question, what is going on "out there" has an influence on us. This is the Ikvesa d'Moshicha.

Rav Sholom quotes the Zohar HaKadosh that compares the last generations to the heel of a foot, which is the most "physical part of the body. Its toughness has strengthened the skin to the point that it has lost all of its tenderness. One can stick a pin into his heel, and it will hardly cause him any pain. Likewise, our generation is numb, without feeling for what is important. We have become cold and distant.

There is, however, one consolation: The Kotzker Rebbe, zl, was wont to say, "While it is true what is said concerning the generations of the 'heel,' do not forget that the entire body rests upon that heel. Likewise, all of the preceding generations rely on the last generation." Yes, they all depend upon us: the generation that was martyred during the Inquisition; the generation that perished in the Holocaust. Are we going to shame them? Was their mesiras nefesh, self-sacrifice, in vain?

If the generation that precedes Moshiach is called Ikvesa d'Moshicha; if we are the most physically-oriented, base generation, if we are the heel, how is it that we carry all the previous generations? How do we do it?

Rav Sholom explains that we have a unique character trait. Focusing on Yeshayahu's lament in which he emphasizes the ox's intuitive pull to his master and the donkey's gravitation to its trough as opposed to Klal Yisrael who neither knows nor understands, he asks a powerful question. How can a human being, a Jew, be compared to the animal? The ox is inherently imbued with an intuition which helps it recognize its master. The donkey has an innate sense of knowing from where its food originates. These animals are born with the qualities that Yeshayahu stresses. We are not born with such natural instincts whereby we know our Master, our Creator. It requires education, training, diligence and perseverance to master this relationship.

The Maggid explains that herein lies the root of our error and the profundity of the Navi's admonishment. Hashem says, "I endowed the ox with a natural instinct to recognize its master; I gave the donkey the ability to gravitate to its food. This is their life. They need it. I also bequeathed to the Jewish People a holy nature, a spiritual gift unparalleled to any other creation. Klal Yisrael is imbued with a teva kadosh, holy nature, whereby they never forget Hashem. Despite the many troubles and vicissitudes of life, we acknowledge and recognize Hashem. It is part of the Jewish DNA. Study history, read accounts of the pogroms, inquisitions, and Holocausts. They brutally murdered us, but we died with Shema Yisrael on our lips. This applied not to one Jew - or even one hundred Jews. It applies to the multitudes of Jews whose lives were sacrificed, whose only offense in the eyes of their persecutors was their being Jewish. Observant and non-observant, practicing and non-practicing, believing and those who claimed they did not believe - all of them died with Shema Yisrael on their lips. After all was said and done, they were Jews at heart. Shema Yisrael is a Jewish thing. It is teva kadosh, holy nature. It is what we are all about.

Rav Sholom relates an incident which took place in the early part of the last century. A Jewish communist, who was well-known for his vitriol against his Jewish brethren, "lost it" one day. His self-loathing became so bad that he had to take it out on what he felt was the archenemy of Jewish progress: the Torah. In a frenzy he grabbed a Sefer Torah from the local shul, took it to the street, and, in front of the passersby, began to rip the Torah apart. He was making a statement of defiance against what represented the religion of his forebears. Suddenly, a horse-drawn carriage came pummeling down the street, out of control. As it speeded up, it turned in the direction of the angry Jew. He became caught under the horse's hooves and then by the wagon's wheels. Bloodied and torn, in his last ounce of life, he screamed, "Shema Yisrael, Hashem Elokeinu, Hashem Echad!" He was a Jew after all, and Shema Yisrael is what a Jew declares as his neshamah, soul, takes leave of its earthly container.

This is what Yeshayahu lamented. A Jew should know Hashem, just as an ox knows its master and a donkey its trough. Klal Yisrael was created with a natural instinct toward sanctity, toward Hashem. What happened? How did we lose it? The Navi concludes the pasuk with the answer: Ami lo yisbonan, "My People does not perceive." Without hisbonenus, understanding, perception, we are lower and worse off than the ox and donkey. They do not rely on an intelligent mind. For them, it is all instinct. We have intelligence, but, when we fail to apply it, we are in worse shape than the animal.

A closed mind remains an unintelligent mind, incapable of knowing Hashem. We see it all of the time. Individuals alienated from Torah Judaism for generations suddenly return to a life of observance. They were asked the question: "Exactly what is it about the way you live that is inherently Jewish?" They did not know the answer, because there is no answer to that question. The answer is, "Nothing!" Their minds have been closed. Once the opportunity to study, to perceive, to know, surfaces, they become different people. Their teva kadosh kicks in, and they come home.

These are the words that Moshe spoke to all of Yisrael, on the other side of the Yardein. (1:1)

Moshe Rabbeinu's last homily, which comprises Sefer Devarim, is an anthology of: divrei tochachah, words of rebuke; Mishneh Torah, an overall review of halachos of the Torah; and with divrei shirah, songs of praise and a concluding blessing to his flock, the Jewish Nation. The shepherd is hanging up his staff and saying goodbye. For the most part, Sefer Devarim is Moshe's way of preparing the nation for his separation, for his ultimate demise. Sefer Bamidbar concludes with Hashem informing Moshe that this is it, his leadership of the Jewish nation is soon coming to an end. Moshe immediately began to prepare, asking the Almighty to appoint his successor and even intimating certain criteria which he felt this leader should possess.

Something is different about Moshe's taking leave this time, this final goodbye, in contrast to his previous absences when he ascended Har Sinai for weeks at a time. Then he was secure in leaving the nation in the capable hands of Aharon, Chur and the Zekeinim, Elders. They were somehow insufficient, however, in replacing Moshe. Even under leadership, Klal Yisrael sinned with the Golden Calf. This time, Moshe was taking no chances. He needed leadership in place who could address any critical issue which may arise. Moshe was not leaving for a short vacation. The quintessential leader of the Jewish People was leaving forever.

When the gadol ha'dor, the preeminent leader of the generation, takes leave, it creates a vast void, a deep, profound vacuum, a breach, a tear in the collective heart of the Jewish People. When the gadol ha'dor dies, he is irreplaceable. The nation must settle for his successor. Whoever it will be, regardless of his distinction, he will never be the previous gadol. Generations change, and they do not get any better. All of this coursed through Moshe's mind as he prepared for that final day, that ultimate goodbye. How does one fill the void, repair the tear, somehow seal the gap left by the departure of a gadol?

Horav Yechiel Yaakov Weinberg, zl, suggests that the answer lies in the words of Chazal in the Talmud Eruvin 64a. Chazal teach that one should not take leave of his friend without first delivering a dvar Torah to him. This is how we will remember him: through a dvar Torah. Torah is eternal. By repeating the Torah thought he eternalizes the one who shares it with him.

Therefore, Moshe's repetition of the Torah in Sefer Devarim is more than a simple review. It is not the usual rebbe/talmid mulling over of a difficult lecture. Rather, it is a rebbe's "goodbye," a father's taking leave of his family. The Torah becomes, to his students, his final will and testament. It is how he is to be remembered. It is upon which there will be an enduring relationship with the nation, despite their separation. When Klal Yisrael performs a mitzvah, it is more than a mitzvah, it is a son carrying out an act of respect, a student memorializing his rebbe.

Va'ani Tefillah

Yisgadal v'yiskadash shemeih rabba.May His great Name be exalted and sanctified

Unlike most of the daily tefillos whose text is pure lashon kodesh, Kaddish is comprised of a mixture of Hebrew and Aramaic. The mixture of language was instituted because it was the way the people spoke in those days, much like today where we mix English, Yiddish and Hebrew into one unique vernacular. In Tosfos' commentary to the Talmud Berachos 3a, they cite the overriding importance of public participation in Kaddish as the reason that Chazal designed the wording in a mixture of language. The world exists in the merit of Kedushah and Kaddish. Thus, since the tzibur, congregation, is composed of all elements of Jewish belief and class, learned and unschooled, it was essential that the Kaddish be said in such a vernacular that everyone could understand. This way everyone could join in their expression of praise: Yehei shmei rabba me varach.

I might add that the mere fact that this tefillah caters to the entire Jewish community and all members of its society grants it elevated status. When all observant Jews, not simply the cultural elite, have the opportunity to participate together, then we have achieved kedushah status.

"Tov Shem MeShemen Tov..."
v'keser shem tov oleh al gevihen
li"n R' Yaakov Zev ben Yehudah Aryeh z"l
niftar 7 Av 5755
By his wife, their children, grandchildren and great-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 20th year of publication. The first fifteen years have been published in book form.

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