Back to This Week's Parsha

Peninim on the Torah

subscribe.gif (2332 bytes)

Previous issues

Rabbi A. Leib Scheinbaum
Hebrew Academy of Cleveland


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

Rashi explains that the term "these words," applies to the words of rebuke which Moshe Rabbeinu spoke to the Jewish people shortly before he took leave of them. Because the Torah here lists many of the places in which the nation angered Hashem, Moshe put his words vaguely, mentioning the places through intimation, out of respect for the honor of the nation.

Administering rebuke, regardless of its nature, is often a double-edged sword. Rebuke expressed in the wrong manner hurts a person, often causing him irreparable shame. One of the most difficult aspects of rebuke is demonstrating to the subject of the rebuke that the rebuker truly cares about him and that he is chastising him out of concern and love - not animus. Unfortunately, when one is being rebuked he sees only what he hears - negativity. He does not hear the underlying concern for his future, for his betterment.

The Pele Yoetz writes: "One must maintain extreme vigilance in the manner that he rebukes, making certain that he does not sustain a personal sin (as a result of his rebuke). He should be careful not to publicly embarrass his friend; rather, he should speak with a soft voice." This is a tall order, since rebuke is often tendered at a time - or under such circumstances - that the one who rebukes does so under intense pressure, in a public forum, when it is absolutely necessary to take a stand. The result is that the intended rebuke sounds more like an excoriation, a censure, than an act of concern and love. The alternative is to let it go, ignore the situation, thereby allowing the travesty to fester and germinate into an act of malevolence, so that the individual who may have acted foolishly might do so again, only this time it will be a premeditated act of evil. While being brutally honest is often quite difficult, remaining silent is even more so.

Horav Uri, zl, m'Strelisk, was a holy man. He was called the Saraf m'Strelisk due to his fiery passion in serving Hashem. He was a primary disciple of Horav Shlomo Karliner, a saintly Rebbe who inspired his students to serve Hashem with great intensity. Tragically, Rav Shlomo died an untimely death at the hands of a crazed Cossack. He was poised in prayer to Hashem when the wild beast, in the guise of a human being, came upon him and murdered him. Right before his holy neshamah, soul, left his bloodied body, the Rebbe instructed his students to seek inspiration from the Tzaddik, Horav Mordechai, zl, m'Neshchiz.

Rav Uri was unaware of his Rebbe's passing. When he arrived in Karlin to visit his Rebbe, he was informed of the bitter news. He wept incessantly and rent his garments as a sign of mourning. He sat on the ground as a mourner, lamenting his Rebbe. His close friends, students of Rav Shlomo, visited and consoled him. After a while, he asked the other disciples of Rav Shlomo, "Did the holy Rebbe offer any instructions as to his successor?" They replied that the Rebbe's choice was Rav Mordechai of Neshchiz.

"If that's the case, we must go immediately to carry out the Rebbe's command." He immediately arose, gathered his few belongings and left for Neshchiz. Rav Uri arrived and immediately proceeded to the bais hamedrash of Rav Mordechai. The room was filled with men from all over, lined up to speak to the holy Rebbe. Rav Mordechai listened to the petition of each and gave his response, accompanied by his blessing.

Since the room was packed, no one noticed Rav Uri enter and go to the side. He was amazed at the "variety" of people: rich and poor; professional and simple; intellectual and illiterate; distinguished personages of illustrious lineage and Jews of simple background. They all received the same treatment: a smile; a listening ear; advice and a blessing. Suddenly, a tall, physically impressive man entered. Dressed in the garb of a successful businessman, this man obviously was used to getting whatever he wanted. "Line" to him was something that someone "cut," which he did, bypassing all those who were waiting patiently to speak with the Rebbe. Exhibiting no respect for all those in line, this man walked over to the Rebbe and insisted on speaking with him - now!

The Rebbe treated this rude individual as he did the others before him, with a smile, a listening heart and a warm blessing. Rav Uri was shocked. "Do not the holy eyes of the Rebbe see through this rude, gross man?" Rav Uri wondered. His passion for truth burned fiercely within him. Unable to control himself, he followed the rude man out of the room with the intention of rebuking him in the manner that he deserved. How dare he enter the room of the holy Rav Mordechai and act so disrespectfully towards the people who were also waiting there? Who did he think that he was?"

"Sensing" what was about to transpire, Rav Mordechai raised his voice and said, "Young man! What are you doing here? What is your intention here, coming to a place uninvited? Turn around on your heels until I call for you!" In other words, Rav Mordechai told him in no uncertain terms that one does not come crashing into the Rebbe's room and suddenly "take charge." Rav Mordechai was eminently capable, and he had a reason for his actions - or non- action.

When Rav Uri heard this declaration, he became visibly depressed and immediately left. He proceeded to the shul, where he sat down, dejected and distraught. What should he do now? He was not sure if had carried out his holy Rebbe's wishes that the chassidim should turn to Rav Mordechai for guidance. On the other hand, after what he saw transpire, he was not certain if he wanted to return to Rav Mordechai.

As Rav Uri was sitting in the shul, ruminating over the experience and contemplating what action to take, the door suddenly opened and before him stood Rav Mordechai. He immediately stood up at attention out of fear and reverence for the holy Rav Mordechai.

"My son," Rav Mordechai began, "I know why you came to Neshchiz, and I am aware of what you saw and how much it troubled you. The reason that you are here is that Rav Shlomo instructed you to come to me. Do you know why he sent you here (as opposed to anywhere else)?"

Rav Uri did not know what to say. Indeed, he was bothered by the same question. Why did his Rebbe send him to Neshichiz?

Rav Mordechai continued, "Your Rebbe sent you here for one purpose: To learn a derech in avodas Hashem, proper approach toward serving Hashem. Accept this rule: Anyone whose ahavas Yisrael, love for all Jews, is not so firmly entrenched in his heart to the point that, even when he sees another Jew committing the most heinous transgression, he is not prepared to embrace and kiss that 'sinner' as a brother - then he has not even achieved half of the avodas Hashem demanded of a Jew! By doing this (reaching out to the sinner), you bring him closer to Hashem, catalyzing his eventual return. Thus, the one who is stringent and demanding of others ultimately distances Jews from Hashem. He must reach out and embrace them, thereby plucking them from the clutches of Gehinnom, Purgatory."

When Rav Uri heard this, he remained silent. He now understood what was apparently missing in his avodas hakodesh, and why Rav Shlomo had sent him here. He became very close to Rav Mordechai, studying from him until his passing, when Rav Uri became Rebbe.

How can I carry alone your troublesomeness, your burdensomeness, and your contentiousness? (1:12)

Parashas Devarim, which is also known as Shabbos Chazon, is read on the Shabbos prior to Tishah B'Av. One of the reasons for this tradition is the above pasuk, which begins with the word, eichah, "How?" This coincides with the Eichah yashvah vadad,"How did she (Klal Yisrael/Yerushalayim) sit alone?" the opening pasuk of Megillas Eichah, the Book of Lamentations, which is read on Tisha B'Av. The Midrash teaches, "Three prophesied with the word Eichah: Moshe Rabbeinu; Yishayahu; and Yirmiyahu. Moshe said, Eichah esa levadi, "How can I carry alone?" Yishayahu said, Eichah haysah l'zonah, "How did she become like a harlot?" Yirmiyahu lamented, Eichah yashvah vadad, "How did she sit alone?" Chazal are teaching us an important lesson which certainly goes beyond the association of these three words. Obviously, the eichah which Yishayahu expressed denotes the sinful behavior which catalyzed the eichah of punishment, the loneliness brought on by Hashem that Yirmiyahu mourns. How is Moshe's expression of exasperation concerning the people's disregard for authority, their contentions and troublesome nature, connected to the sins that provoked Hashem's wrath and the eventual destruction of the Bais HaMikdash?

Furthermore, this Parshah, which signals the beginning of Moshe's rebuke concerning the nation's behavior these past forty years, focuses first on the sin of the meraglim, spies. Indeed, the first perek, chapter, of this parshah occupies itself primarily with this sin. There is the request for spies, followed by the spies' slanderous report and the people's unwarranted and ultimately tragic response. Why does Moshe preempt this with his lament concerning being alone, followed by his appointing judges - something to which they had agreed? Appointing judges does not on the surface imply any wrongdoing on the part of the nation. Why is it included in the rebuke, which begins, "Eichah?"

Horav Bentzion Firer, zl, suggests that the answer lies in Moshe's order, "Provide yourselves men, wise and understanding and renowned to your tribes, and I will designate them your leaders" (ibid. 1:13). The people agreed and were happy to select individual leaders. What is wrong with this? L'shivteichem, "For your (individual) tribes." Moshe was acutely aware that no tribe would rely on a leader selected from another tribe. Tribal rivalry still reigned among them. The lack of trust that existed between brothers was a matter of concern. The competition between tribes came to the fore once again when there was an issue regarding sending spies to reconnoiter Eretz Yisrael. Each shevet wanted its own tribal representative. They were not comfortable with a representative from another shevet.

Twelve tribes - twelve spies, each one focused on how best to represent his individual tribe. Fifty states - fifty governors, each lobbying for his personal issue, his home state. It may work in secular government; rather, it may be the accepted norm, but it does not necessarily work. It certainly is not the Torah-oriented approach to leadership. We are all in this together; each tribe focused on Hashem. Our best interests are on how best to serve the Almighty, not what is best for my individual tribe. Now let us imagine what took place when the spies, each representing his individual shevet, met to discuss what they observed and how best to present their report to Moshe and the people. One spy said, "We cannot win this war. The pagan nations are stronger, more powerful than we are. There is no way that we can enter the Land, battle with its citizens, and emerge victorious. The other eleven spies heard this and were immediately concerned. If they disputed this single spy, their individual constituents might claim that they had neglected the needs of the people; they did not care about the nation's security. Had there been only two spies, it is quite possible that there never would have been a slander issue. When there are twelve - well, we know what happened.

Chazal teach that the punishment of Churban Bais HaMikdash resulted from the nation's reaction to the spies' slanderous report concerning their trip to Eretz Yisrael: "You cried for an unwarranted reason (bechiyah shel chinam); I will establish for you a weeping for generations." Our national day of mourning, Tishah B'Av, the day set aside for weeping over our national and personal losses, came about as the result of the sin of the meraglim. The sin that resulted from rivalry and distrust among the tribes eventually produced Tishah B'Av.

"How can I carry alone?" Provide yourselves men, wise and understanding, and renowned to your tribes." L'shivteichem resulted from eichah esah levado. Together, they were the precursor of Eichah yashvah vadad.

And they pursued you as do the bees. (1:44)

Chazal teach (Midrash Rabbah, Bamidbar), "We tell the tzirah (bee), Lo miduvshach v'lo mei uktzach, "(We want) neither your honey nor your sting." Horav Moshe Yechiel Epstein, zl, the Ozrover Rebbe, zl, applies this Midrash to explain the Torah's analogy to bees. "And they pursued you as do the bees." At first, Lo avisam laalos, "You did not want to go up." You were under the influence of the initial slander against Eretz Yisrael. Suddenly, when you saw the error of your ways, your attitude vis-?-vis the Holy Land quickly changed. Now, you were prepared to go. You insisted on going. In fact, nothing was holding you back. "We sinned; we were wrong; we now want to go to Eretz Yisrael," you declared.

It was too late. Moshe Rabbeinu told them, "Do not go up. Do not wage war. You will not triumph. Hashem is not supportive of your efforts. Without Hashem you have no chance whatsoever." The reason for this reaction is the similarity of Klal Yisrael to the bee. The bee is an insect which provides us with much wanted and appreciated honey. With this wonderful gift comes a negative aspect: the bee's sting. One cancels out the other. We need neither your honey, nor your sting. Since one rarely comes without the other, we will do without both.

Hashem wants neither their dissent nor their belated willingness to enter the Land. One does not serve Hashem on his own terms, but rather, on Hashem's terms. In the beginning, your reaction was like the bee's sting - painful. It "hurt" to have a nation that should be rooted in hakoras hatov, gratitude, for liberating them from the oppression of Egypt. A "No, we will not go," followed by a night of unwarranted weeping, was a painful sting. Now, they were exhibiting the honey which they were capable of. They expressed their willingness to risk life and limb, to fight for the Land, but, alas, it was too late. Lo mi'duvshach v'lo mei uktzach.

There are always those who either wake up too late or feign sleep long enough that it is too late to make a difference. When it comes to serving Hashem, we require "first responders," not "Johnnie-come-latelies."

I sent messengers from the wilderness of Kedmas To Sichon King of Cheshbon words of peace saying: (2:26)

Rashi quotes the thought that went through Moshe Rabbeinu's mind. "Although Hashem did not command me to reach out to Sichon, I nonetheless derived a lesson from Hashem Himself when He prepared to give the Torah to Klal Yisrael." He first approached Eisav and Yishmael and gave them the right of first refusal. Hashem was clear that they would not accept the Torah, but, for the sake of peace, He offered it to them. Thus, I did the same by offering Sichon a peaceful resolution to allow us through. Sichon, of course, acted in the manner that was expected of him and refused us entry. Thus, he and his compatriots met with the end they deserved.

What about Og, King of Bashan? We do not find Moshe offering him a peaceful embrace. The Baalei Tosfos explain that the majority of Sichon's land belonged to Ammon and Moav, two nations with whom Moshe had not been commanded to destroy. It is not as if there were anything positive about them. They were pagans as all of the rest. They just were not part of the shiva ummos, seven nations, against whom Hashem had declared war. Og, however, was king of the land of the Refaim, who were included among the seven nations. They were not deserving of a gesture of peace.

In his Maayanei Chaim, Horav Chaim Zaitchik, zl, offers an alternative explanation - one that goes to the crux of the evil manifest by Og. There is a concept in halacha of shanah u'pireish, referring to one who had learned Torah, had been observant, then decided to eschew his learning, demean and renege his observance, and take up the life of a non-practicing Jew. We distinguish between one who had neither been exposed to, nor had experienced, the beauty of Judaism, to one who had, but left. Obviously, the shanah u'preish deserves a greater and harsher punishment. His transgression is more pronounced and is indicative of greater evil.

Og was a survivor of the Mabul, Flood. He was saved by holding on to the Teivah, Ark. As such, he had merited the unique opportunity of observing first-hand how Hashem deals with reshaim, wicked people, and the reward that He has reserved for the righteous. He saw how Noach was cradled in Hashem's chesed, kindness, as a result of his overwhelming devotion to the Almighty. This was not all; Og had incredible longevity. Thus, he merited to attend the seudah, festive celebration, tendered by Avraham Avinu in honor of Yitzchak Avinu's birth/weaning. This was a celebration attended by the Almighty. Despite all of this revelation and exposure to truth, Og chose to move on and turn his back on Hashem. That is a shanah u'pireish.

Furthermore, Og was the palit, survivor of the War of the Kings, who had escaped in order to inform Avram of the capture of Lot, the Patriarch's nephew. He came to Avraham as the Patriarch was baking matzos for the Seder. The matzos were called ugos, because of their concentric form. As a result of Og's timely and positive visit during the ugos/matzo baking, he was given the name Og for participating and assisting Avraham.

Clearly, such exposure to kedushah, holiness - such closeness to the saintly Avraham and the righteous Noach -left an impression. It might have been tainted and somewhat dispassionate, but it was a positive spiritual influence/inspiration nonetheless. Yet, despite all of this, Og had the opportunity to observe first hand: Hashem's system of reward and punishment; Avraham Avinu's chesed, care and concern for all people; a seudas hodaah, celebration of thanksgiving which was attended by the greatest and most distinguished personages of the time - including Hashem's Presence. Yet, Og turned his back on it all and was pireish, separated himself, turned away. He just was not interested. Later on, he went out to battle against the descendants of the saintly Avraham.

Og recognized Hashem's greatness, the lofty spiritual level evinced by the Jewish nation; yet, it meant nothing to him. Such a person neither has hope, nor deserves hope. He knows; yet, does not care. He knows; yet, rejects it. He knows, because he personally had been a beneficiary of Hashem's kindness. Yet, this did not move him. It left no lasting impression on him.

He is a shanah u'pireish. Perhaps I am treading where I should not, but one cannot ignore some of the (at times) subtle and (more often) blatant disregard for the shanah of one's youth, one's upbringing, his many years in yeshivah, followed by continued learning on a post yeshivah level. Then he leaves the walls of the bais hamedrash and, while there are many challenges out there in the "outside" world, all of those years of learning should have prepared him to triumph over them. Apparently, for some it is insufficient; others simply do not care. They have shirked off the shackles of restriction. While they are certainly frum, observant, Torah-committed Jews, they have been pireish, removed themselves, from their previous lifestyle. It is so much more difficult to return once one has wandered off.

Va'ani Tefillah

Mechayeh meisim b'rachamim rabim.He resuscitates the dead with abundant mercy.

How is mercy connected to Techiyas HaMeisim? This is an act of boundless chesed, kindness - not necessarily mercy. The Eitz Yosef quotes the Talmud Sanhedrin 90b, which relates a discussion between Queen Cleopatra and Rabbi Meir. She said, "I fully believe in the resuscitation of the dead. My question is: In what condition will they emerge from the ground? Will they emerge fully clad or naked (similar to their emergence at birth)?" Rabbi Meir replied, "The dead will arise fully clad, and this may be deduced by observing nature. A naked kernel is what is buried in the ground. After time, it emerges fully 'clothed' as a stalk of wheat covered with husks and wrappings. Certainly, man who is buried in shrouds will emerge from the earth in garments."

Hashem's mercy at the time of Techiyas HaMeisim is in His preserving the dignity of the deceased by having them return to life fully clothed. Having said this, we may understand the sad state of circumstances surrounding those who, due to their non-religious learning, refuse to bury their deceased in Tachrichim, shrouds, and opt instead for a suit, etc. Could there be a more demeaning way to present one's relative at Techiyas HaMeisim - when everyone else will be clothed in Tachrichim?

"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.

The Fifteenth 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