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Peninim on the Torah

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Rabbi A. Leib Scheinbaum
Hebrew Academy of Cleveland


How can I bear myself your trouble, your burden, and your arguments? (1:12)

Rashi explains the three terms: tarchachem; masaachem; rivchem. Tarchachem means your trouble. Klal Yisrael was troublesome. If one individual would observe his adversary winning a case, he would say, "I have witnesses to bring; I have proofs to bring, I am adding judges to you." In short, they caused trouble. Masaachem means your burden. The people were heretics. If Moshe Rabbeinu left his home early on his way to judge people, they would say, "What did the son of Amram see that led him to leave? Perhaps he is not calm in his house?" They were implying that there was trouble in his family. If he left later, they would comment that Moshe was sitting long, hard hours contemplating ways to undermine the people. Rivchem means your arguments. The Jews were petulant. In other words, the people questioned everything that Moshe did. Nothing was accepted as a positive. They always gave a negative twist to anything our leader would do. They looked for ways to undermine and impugn his leadership.

Moshe decided that the only solution to his problem was to appoint other judges to share his responsibility. Perhaps by seeing to it that everything did not fall on him alone, Moshe would thereby decrease the complaining, the apathy, the negativity.

The Midrash Eichah assesses Moshe's act of adding judges as having a negative impact on his relationship with the people; it was a decision which led to the most disastrous ramifications. Chazal say, "Three prophets prophesied in the same vernacular, all using the language of Eichah, "woe:' Moshe; Yeshayahu; and Yirmiyahu. Moshe said, 'How can I bear myself your trouble, your burden, your arguments?' Yeshayhu said, 'How could she (Yerushalayim) become like a harlot?' Yirmiyahu said, 'How could she sit alone?' Perhaps Chazal are indicating that an intrinsic correlation exists between the laments of Moshe, Yeshayahu and Yirmiyahu, a connection which alludes to the tragedy of the destruction of the Bais Hamikdash.

The Sfas Emes explains that all of the sins that Klal Yisrael perpetrated throughout its tenure in the wilderness revert back to Moshe's bemoaning his inability to bear the burden of the nation alone. As a result, Hashem instructed him to appoint judges who would ease the burden. There was, however, a drawback: instead of hearing the voice of the Torah directly from Moshe, the nation was now privy to a mere echo of that voice. The lack of personal supervision by Moshe laid the framework, by planting the seeds that brought the nation to the chet meraglim, sin of the spies, which was the precursor of all the sins in the desert. Even at the end of their forty-year sojourn, when the original "?migr?s" from Egypt had all gone to their eternal rest, members of the new generation standing in Arvos Moav, the Plains of Moav, listening to the voice of their Rebbe, Moshe, had within themselves faults which would ultimately lead the nation to sin and eventual exile.

The origin of transgression goes back to a specific point, an occurrence, an error, upon which is predicated years of error building on error until it manifests itself in full-blown rebellion. It took quite some time for the nation to demonstrate its full-scale mutiny, the sin which brought about the destruction of the Temple and our exile. It took time, but it all dates back to a distancing of the people from Moshe. At first, it did not seem problematic. Over time, however, a breach in the relationship between the people and Moshe surfaced.

A leader must be attuned to the needs of everyone in his flock. While it is so much more convenient to relate to those that are geshmak, pleasant, charismatic, fun to be with people, there are others who are not so much fun. There are those who are boring, apathetic and bitter, whose problems are self-imposed and whose issues are often a figment of their imagination. They too, however, need counseling, advice, friendship. Moshe had a nation which was troublesome, argumentative and burdensome. It was a debilitating burden, but also an incredible opportunity. It was, indeed, difficult for Moshe to address the needs of each individual Jew. The sheer size of the one-man project was overwhelming. He was compelled to appoint judges who performed admirably. At the end of the day, the people no longer maintained that one-on-one, face-to-face relationship with Moshe. It might have been what was necessary then; later, however, this diminished relationship catalyzed our exile.

The Baal Shem Tov zl, interprets this idea in his explanation of the pasuk in Shema Yisrael: V'sartem va'avaditem elohim acheirim, "And you will turn away and serve gods of others." The slight "turning away," the minor deviation made by the earlier generations, will, over time, result in full-scale avodah zarah, idol worship. We have only to peruse history to observe how minor changes in Jewish practice have resulted in complete heresy and abrogation of Jewish observance. No such thing as a "minor" alteration exists. Change begets change, until the original is no longer recognizable.

When writing about the responsibility of a leader to all members of his diverse congregation, one cannot be oblivious to the outstanding contribution made by the Tzaddik of Yerushalayim, Horav Aryeh Levine, zl. He made it his life's endeavor to reach out to those who were on the fringe, individuals whose lives had been shattered by adversity. He had a good word, a comforting word, a smile for everyone, regardless of how far he had strayed from his faith. He comforted the bereaved, gave hope to the gravely ill, and offered encouragement and succor to the Jewish prisoners confined by a government to whom politics had greater significance than Jewish blood.

Comforting the bereaved was especially important to him. He explained, "When a misfortune or tragic event befalls a person, apart from his personal anguish and suffering, his faith in Hashem becomes, to a certain extent, impaired. When a person comforts someone who is in mourning, not only does he give the mourner new spirit and courage by sharing in his sorrow, but he also returns his faith to its original strength."

Rav Aryeh always had a cogent response to pressing questions about faith. A former mayor of Rishon LeTzion, who was close with Rav Aryeh, had lost his family in the Holocaust. Once, while visiting Rav Aryeh, he opened up, revealing the burden that had been weighing down on his heart: "The truth is that my faith in the Almighty was shaken by the Holocaust. What sin did my little son commit, that this should happen to him?"

Rav Aryeh immediately rose from his seat, took the man's hand in both of his and began caressing it. "There is a tzaddik," he began, "a righteous and devout person; and there is a chasid, a man of kindly piety and virtue, but only a kadosh, a holy person, a sanctified person, is one who was put to death for his religion and his faith. I must stand in your presence because you offered up to Hashem not one sacrifice, not one kadosh, but two."

"You know," he added, "when a child is born and enters into the world, everyone is enraptured with effusive joy - yet the child itself cries and wails. When someone dies, when his life spirit leaves the world, all the living mourn and grieve, but the living spirit exults and rejoices. It has gone from a world engulfed in darkness to a world of great light." Rav Aryeh continued talking with his friend until he was able to console him and bring him some inner tranquility, thus effecting closure to his bereavement.

At times, it was not what Rav Aryeh said, it was his presence that mattered. A devout Jew passed away on the night before Pesach. A steady, heavy rain fell on Yerushalayim. It just would not let up. As the minhag, custom, in Yerushalayim is not to permit the deceased to remain overnight, the funeral was quickly arranged and the deceased was brought to be buried that night.

The next day, the son of the deceased sat shivah, seven-day mourning period, only until midday, as required by halachah. It was Erev Yom Tov. Sadly, no one came to visit him. It was a short day, and everyone was overwhelmed with countless errands to perform. Since his father had passed away at night and was immediately buried, word of his demise had not been communicated. Those who were aware of his passing were over their heads in Passover preparations. This preface is not to impugn those who did not visit, but to underscore the sensitivity of the gadol they rightfully called: the Tzaddik of Yerushalayim. The son recalled that a few hours before he was about to usher in the festival of Pesach, Rav Aryeh came knocking at his door. In that torrential downpour, he had come trudging on foot across Yerushalayim to visit and comfort the bereaved. He was the only man who came that day. "I will never forget this act of kindness," the son said, "nor will I ever forget the words of solace he spoke then to comfort and hearten me. It was just a few hours before Yom Tov. Everyone was busy with their own personal affairs. I was utterly alone in my grief. It was at that time that the Rav visited me. He cared; he felt my pain."

How can I bear myself your trouble, your burden and your arguments. (1:12)

Moshe Rabbeinu seems to be complaining about his difficult workload. Clearly, this cannot be the case. The word, "difficult," was not in our quintessential leader's lexicon. Rather, he was expressing his disappointment at the sorry state of affairs. When the people accepted a tiered system of justice, with the addition of many judges to assist Moshe, they did so because they perceived that they would receive personal benefit from the new approach to justice. Moshe was unimpeachable. He had always rendered the halachah in accordance with the law. Furthermore, he was the paradigm of integrity. Thus, whoever presented a case before Moshe was assured of a quick, honest and knowledgeable rendering of justice.

This might be wonderful if one is either always right or seeks justice at all costs. If, however, the litigants lack integrity, if their contentions lack veracity, the last thing they want is an honest and knowledgeable judge. Rashi reveals their mindset in agreeing to the new system, when he quotes their response to the suggestion of adding judges, "Many judges will be appointed over us; if the judge does not know us, we will give him a gift and he will treat us favorably." These people were not interested in justice. Their only goal was to win - at all costs.

Thus, Moshe was lamenting the sorry state of affairs of Klal Yisrael's justice system. "How can I do it alone, when, in fact, the people do not want me to be alone? They want other judges, over whom they think they will be able to lord, to persuade them to see things their way. This nation does not want to hear the real din, just law. They are interested in what is best for themselves."

Sadly, this attitude has not diminished with the passage of time. The respect that people should have for daas Torah, the wisdom of the Torah as expounded by our Torah leaders, has, in some cases, been horribly maligned and denigrated. No longer is the ruling of the bais din, Jewish court of law, sacrosanct. I am not sure if the problem lies in the litigants or in the judges. Just as it did then, money plays a significant role in determining the outcome and its acceptance. Strong-arm tactics by judges and toanim, hired halachic litigators and advisors - in addition to unsavory, underhanded and under-the-table machinations by these people - have placed a black eye on the bais din experience. While it is only a few bad apples that impugn the integrity of the entire bunch, the goals and vested interest of the few rotten apples have left a bad taste in the hearts and minds of future litigants. Moshe saw these disastrous consequences when he bemoaned being displaced by the new judges. At first, the judges that were selected were men of the highest integrity, but the people's objections prevailed. A judge is only as good as the trust placed in him by the litigant. When a potential disputant thinks that he can sway the judge's mindset, he demonstrates his lack of trust in the judge, thus compromising the efficacy of the judge.

Our Torah leaders are the conduits of daas Torah. Their advice and rulings represent the will of Hashem. The moral compass of our people is inextricably bound up with its commitment to the word of Hashem and to upholding His Torah. Without an abiding commitment to adhere to daas Torah, the Jewish justice system will disintegrate.

Moshe Rabbeinu saw this disaster when he heard the people celebrating the establishment of a system of judges. They felt that objectivity would be abandoned, and halachah would be impugned. While this problem was certainly not widespread, we only need a few cases that grab sufficient publicity in order for the unknowing public to assume that the problem is widespread. Moshe had no problem being alone. It was the people who were threatened by his lack of assistants. They wanted to open up the court system, so that it would be subject to their control.

To conclude this Torah thought on a somewhat less somber note, I take the liberty of relating a cute, but sadly, bitter commentary on the secular Jewish scene. The Torah admonishes the judges, Lo saguru mipnei ish, which means, "Do not fear any man" (ibid.1:17). People of power - whether they are men of means or highly respected men of greater knowledge - can have an imposing effect on a judge. They can, by their very presence, intimidate a judge to the point that he feels compelled to side with them. While this is, of course, wrong, a man needs to earn a living, and many people, although they may have good intentions, are, by nature, weak.

A Jew who was troubled by the wanton lack of observance of his "spiritual" leader, attempted to send a subtle message to the man. While the congregant did not personally count himself among the ranks of observant Jews, he felt that it behooved his spiritual mentor to set a better standard than he was presently doing. "I would like to subpoena another party to a din Torah, judicial hearing," the congregant began. "Whom are you summoning to court?" the spiritual leader asked. "I am taking the Almighty to court. I have a number of issues that I want to bring to the fore, and there is no better place to iron out my issues than in an honest court of Jewish law," the man replied.

"Why must you come to me to rule in the case? Any other knowledgeable, practicing clergyman can do this. You understand that my time is valuable. Time is money. You could probably obtain a ruling without coming to me," his clergyman said.

"I am following the Jewish law which states that a judge should not fear anyone. Here I have a problem. I am litigating the Almighty. It is difficult to locate someone who is not, at least to some degree, G-d-fearing. Concerning you, however, I have no qualms. I would never suspect you of possessing even a modicum of fear of G-d. You could provide me with an honest ruling."

And let them spy out the Land. (1:22)

There are three words which can be used to make the same statement: "And let them spy out the Land": v'yasuru; v'yeraglu; and v'yachperu. While it is true that, as synonyms, they all have a similar meaning, their connotations are different. In his Pi Ha'Be'er, Horav Lazer Brody, Shlita, draws upon the insights of Horav Nachman Breslover, zl. He explains that va'yachperu denotes a much more penetrating analysis of a given subject than va'yaturu and va'yeraglu. Va'yachperu means to dig deep, to search for something that, under normal circumstances, would be concealed. It can also mean looking for something for the purpose of revealing a negative aspect about a subject - very much like telling someone to "look for whatever dirt you can find."

Rav Brody compares this to a newly-appointed rav in a community where Jewish literacy was at a premium. In other words, it was a community of amei ha'aretz, who knew little and probably did even less, yet maintained a de'ah, strong position, on how a Jewish community should be directed and what was to be expected of its rabbinic leader. This rav was highly successful in "renovating" the community's standard of moral modesty - much to the chagrin of a couple of diehards who believed in the status quo and felt that the moral level of Jews should be on par with that of non-Jewish contemporary society. These people sought every opportunity to discredit the rav. They searched and searched, dug deeper, but found nothing negative to say about him.

They decided to dispatch three men to stand outside the rav's house late at night. Perhaps they would find something negative to say about him. It was past midnight when they snuck up on his house and peered into his window. They saw the rav studying Torah with books piled high on his table. The next day, these three men excitedly burst into the shul, walked up to the bimah, lectern, and banged on it to get everyone's attention: "We have an announcement to make about our rabbi. You think that he is erudite, but we discovered the truth. He sits up most of the night studying from the books. He really does not know more than us. He just studies up on everything."

Obviously, we all understand the ludicrous nature of this complaint. Everyone should be so fortunate to have a rav that learns constantly. They were, however, looking for something disparaging to say about the rav. This is what is meant by va'yachperu - dig up something negative on Eretz Yisrael. Find it and search for it as long as necessary until you are able to present a jaundiced perception of the Land.'

Rav Brody draws a corollary between their sin and the ultimate manner of punishment they received. For seeking to dig up dirt on the Holy Land, they were barred from entering it. They all died in the wilderness. How? They all dug their own graves and lay down in the ground. The next morning, the ones who still remained alive arose and went about their lives for another year, when this process was repeated. They dug up lashon hora, slandered the Land. They were punished by having to dig their own graves.

Then you retreated and wept before Hashem, but Hashem would not listen to your voice and He did not hearken to you. (1:45)

Moshe Rabbeinu lauds Klal Yisrael for acknowledging their sin and repenting. Nonetheless, their sin could not be expiated, because Hashem had already taken a vow to punish them. Some decrees can be rescinded. If, however, a vow has been taken, it may not be undermined. Hashem's Name is mentioned twice in this pasuk: "They wept before Hashem, but Hashem would not listen." Is there a reason for reiterating to them that Hashem would not listen? In Kol HaTzofeh, Horav Tzvi Hirsch Ferber, zl, explains the reason for the apparent redundancy.

He first quotes the well-known Chazal which posits that all of the gates to Heaven will eventually be closed. There will be no way for our entreaties to enter up to the Most High. Chazal add that one set of gates will be left open: the gates of tears. If they are always open, why do we need gates altogether? What purpose do they serve? The Kotzker Rebbe, zl, explains that certain tears are not allowed! This applies to the tears of a fool who weeps for insignificant items which either have no special value or, at least, do not warrant weeping.

Rav Ferber observes that in previous generations our ancestors wept for such important things as a livelihood, so that they could sustain their children as they developed into talmidei chachamim, Torah scholars of note. They prayed for sons-in-law who would be a credit to the Jewish People. They entreated Hashem that future generations would maintain their adherence to Torah Judaism, so that when they would leave this world, they would be assured of sons and daughters and future offspring who were unequivocally committed to Torah and mitzvah observance.

Regrettably, times have changed, and so have the people. Today's prayers are oriented towards furthering material pursuits, physical pleasures - homes, cars, jewelry, vacations. Today's supplications reflect an inner envy on the part of the supplicant. Why should my neighbor, friend, colleague have "everything," while I have "nothing"? There is no end to the foolishness for which many of us pray. Our sense of moral, ethical and spiritual value has been so diminished due to our exposure to the vacuous society in which we live that we have forgotten how - and for what - to pray.

Rav Ferber quotes the prayer recited during Tefillas Neilah, Merubim tzarchei Amcha, "The needs of Your nation are many, and (but) their intellect is short," explaining it according to the above homily. He compares this to the Torah scholar who sends his young son off to school. When the boy requires school supplies, he has no problem asking his father for money. Likewise, the father will gladly part with his money for such merchandise upon which he places supreme value. If, however, his son were to "require" funds for gambling, or worse, in all likelihood he would not receive a penny from his father. So, what does the son do if he needs money to maintain an illicit lifestyle which he does not want his father to discover? He simply cries, "I need money." He does not divulge the purpose of said money, hoping that his father will simply listen to his cries and be moved by his tears.

We act much the same way as that boy in school. We have a multitude of requests of Hashem, most of which have little or no value for an observant Jew. We cannot bring ourselves to articulate some of the foolishness which we obsess to possess. Our imaginary needs are not much different. It is one thing to ask Hashem for a livelihood; it is completely another to ask for luxuries, or more. How do we circumvent this problem? We cry. Such tears do not penetrate the Heavenly Gates.

Merubim tzarchei amcha - "The requests of Your People are indeed many" - but "their intellect is short (limited)." We have great difficulty in presenting these requests, because we know their true value; instead, we cry. These tears might ascend to Heaven, but they do not enter its portals. Our lack of intellect does not validate the foolishness of our requests.

This is the meaning of the dual mention of Shem Shomayim, the Name of Heaven. "The people retreated and wept before Hashem," they cried, but alas, "Hashem would not listen to your voice." There was nothing in their weeping which was "Hashem-related." They did not cry because they wanted to serve Hashem. Their tears were totally unwarranted. Had they maintained a modicum of bitachon, trust, in the Almighty, they would never have cried. They did not cry because of Hashem - they cried because of themselves. Such tears do not have ingress to the Heavenly Gates.

Va'ani Tefillah

V'limadtem osam es b'neichem l'dabeir bam.
And you shall teach them to your children to speak in them.

The word osam is spelled chaseir, missing, the vov, which would make it malei, full. While the sound remains the same, when the word is written chaseir - without the added vov, it can be read as atem, you. The pasuk would thus be interpreted as v'limadtem atem, "and you should study." What are we to derive from this play on letters? Horav Yehoshua, zl, m'Belz, gleans an important, very timely and penetrating lesson, which might make some of us uncomfortable.

The father must learn - period. There is no room for negotiation concerning this demand. If v'limaditem atem, "if you (fathers) will learn", then you will be able to inculcate your children with the significance of limud haTorah. Only through v'limaditem atem can there be a l'dabeir bam, "(your children) will speak in them." A father who refuses to open up a sefer can hardly serve as a positive example for his son concerning the importance of Torah study in the life of a Jew. Therefore, if v'lamditem atem - "if you fathers will learn" - you will merit l'dabeir bam - "your children will also involve themselves in Torah study."

If I may be so bold as to add that this idea applies across the board in other areas of Jewish life, as well. A father who does not demonstrate to his children that tefillah b'tzibur, davening with a minyan, is important - by attending shul more than once a week just in time to make it for the Kiddush club - can hardly expect his son to appreciate the value of davening. As parents, we must remember that our children are always watching.

"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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