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Peninim on the Torah

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Rabbi A. Leib Scheinbaum
Hebrew Academy of Cleveland


That as a man chastens his son, so does Hashem, your G-d, chasten you. (8:5)

Some people experience yisurim, suffering, in greater portions than others. The Torah is defining for us the essence of suffering: it is a loving Father's necessary and beneficial act toward His child. Although many of us acknowledge this notion from an intellectual perspective, when it hurts, it truly hurts. When we experience pain and suffering, our intellect does not necessarily influence our emotions. Great and righteous people throughout history have accepted Hashem's decree with great faith and love. Indeed, countless stories detail the devotion of the great, as well as the simple, believing Jew. We have selected two narratives which lend insight into the concept of suffering.

The Sanzer Rav, Horav Chaim Halberstam, zl, lost his seven-year-old son. On the way home from the funeral, in the early morning prior to davening Shacharis, the rav remarked that his situation was similar to that of a person who was walking to shul one morning, when he suddenly felt a strong blow on his back. When he turned around and observed that none other than his best friend had slapped him, he was relieved. "I have received a strong blow," said the Sanzer, "but as I look around I note that the source of the blow is my closest and most faithful friend - Hashem. If so, let us say Hodu, Give praise to Hashem." With these words, he commenced the morning prayers. On another occasion, when someone pressed him with questions about his troubles, he replied, "How long will you attempt to make the Ribono Shel Olam appear improper in my eyes?" Rav Chaim's cognitive understanding affected his emotions to the point that he really felt the good within, and the love behind, his suffering.

Horav Yaakov Galinsky, Shlita, inspires audiences with the following remarkable and true story. A terminally ill patient lay in agony, kept alive by an artificial respirator. His doctor, hoping to spare him his suffering, disconnected his life-support system. The man died soon afterwards.

A few days later, the deceased man appeared to the "benevolent" doctor in a dream, saying the following: "I had four days left in which to live, in order that I suffer terrible agony, so that I could pass directly into Gan Eden, pure, cleansed of sin. Because you caused me to die four days early, I lack that measure of suffering. Now I do not know how long I will have to suffer in Gehinnom to be purified. Suffering in the physical world expiates much greater than suffering in Gehinnom. You deprived me of this."

The doctor woke up from his dream totally shaken up. He repented and became a baal-teshuvah out of fear of his own day of Final Judgment.

This powerful story teaches us a hidden aspect of suffering. It also demonstrates that when we take G-d's role, we might cause irreparable damage.

You will eat and you will be satisfied, and bless Hashem your G-d. (8:10)

The following story, related by Horav Yitzchak Zilberstein, Shlita, does not actually address the parsha. Its lesson and message, however, is compelling. It is especially significant in that it conveys to us the far-reaching effect of our behavior. We hope that our actions will all have similar positive consequences as evidenced in this episode.

A young kollel fellow in Yerushalayim went to a Judaica library in search of a certain volume not accessible in the local shuls. Knowing that the library was not located in an area that had a kosher restaurant, he brought along a sandwich for lunch. After a period of time perusing through the sefer, the young man decided to wash and eat lunch. He moved to a corner of the library and ate his meal. He then began to bentch with great kavanah, devotion.

As he finished bentching, the librarian came over and asked to speak to him. She remarked that listening to him bentch brought a question to her mind. "We implore Hashem in bentching. Shelo neivosh v'lo nikalem v'lo nikashel, that we not feel inner shame, nor be humiliated, and not stumble/falter. I do not understand why the words v'lo nikashel are included. They do not seem to fit in," she commented. The young woman added that while she had strayed away from Yiddishkeit and was no longer observant, she still remembered that this question had bothered her when she would bentch.

The young man, who had been used to bentching with this nusach, version, ever since he was a child, was stymied for an answer. He began to search through the various volumes in the library for a source for this version of bentching, but he was not successful. He said that he would go home and find a bentcher which included the phrase, "and not stumble," in it and send her a copy. He returned home, and after some searching, he located a copy of bentching in an old Haggadah. He made a copy and circled the words, "v'lo nikashel," and sent it to the librarian. After he did this, he forgot about the incident.

Many months after the episode in the library, the kollel fellow received an invitation to attend a wedding. He stared at the names and was at a loss; he did not recognize either the chossan or the kallah or their families. He assumed that the invitation was some sort of a mistake. It happened "by chance" that on the day of the wedding, he was on the street where the wedding was taking place. His curiosity was aroused, so he figured he would walk in and see who it was that was getting married. Perhaps he could find out why he had been invited.

He entered the hall, searched through the wedding, and found no one whom he recognized. As he was about to leave he told his wife, who happened to be with him that day, "I guess it must have been a mistake." At that same moment, someone came over to him and asked his name. When the messenger heard his name, he said, "Please come with me; the kallah would like to meet you." Now, his curiosity was truly piqued.

"Do you not recognize me?" asked the kallah. "I was the librarian who questioned you in regard to the correct version of bentching." Suddenly, she became very emotional and said, "I want you to know that, in truth, you are the biggest mechutan, relative, at this wedding. Indeed, if not for you, there would be no wedding. It was indirectly because of you that I was inspired to return to a life of Torah observance.

She began to relate what had transpired since that fateful day that they met in the library. "It happened to be that, tragically, I was engaged to a non-Jew. Yet, I still had doubts. I still had feelings that pulled me back to the faith of my ancestors. I vacillated back and forth, obviously, to the concern and eventual disdain of my fianc?. He gave me an ultimatum: either I said yes by a certain day, or the engagement was off. He could not marry a Jewess who was not prepared to sever all of her ties to her faith. The day soon arrived, and I was prepared to make my decision to give my affirmative answer.

"I arrived at the library a nervous wreck. I was about to renege my religion, the religion of my parents, the religion for which so many had died. I was in love, however, and love conquers all. I walked into my office at the library, and behold, in front of my eyes, laying on top of my desk, was your letter. I cannot remember how this letter was moved "by chance" from room to room, to end up on my desk on that specific day. I opened the envelope and glaring straight at me were the words "v'lo nikashel", and "not stumble," circled in red.

"I began to scream at myself. How could you stumble like this? How could you throw everything away? I was ruining my life. I called off my engagement and gradually returned to become a chozeres bi'teshuvah. Shortly afterward, I was blessed to meet a wonderful ben Torah, whom I have tonight wed. Thank you so much for bentching that day with such feeling that I was moved enough to approach you about the nusach of the bentching."

What a powerful story. What is most significant is the knowledge of the effect we have on those around us. We never know who is watching. We must make sure that what they observe is of a positive nature.

Lest you eat and be satisfied, and you build good houses and settle… and your heart will become haughty and you will forget Hashem. (8:12,14)

The text of the pasuk is ambiguous. The Torah seems to imply that satisfaction and success in Eretz Yisrael are doubtful, while haughtiness and forgetting Hashem, the Source of success, seems to be a certainty. Horav Yosef Konvitz, zl, explains that if we scan Jewish history, we will note that during those times when we were blessed with material success, we were, regrettably, not able to withstand the allure of sin that inevitably accompanies it. The yetzer hora, evil inclination, works very hard to ensnare his prey. When he utilizes material benefits and comforts, he has added ammunition for success. The sin of the Golden-Calf, to a large extent, was the result of a nation that lost control of itself after being blessed with material blessings following the Egyptian exodus. It would, therefore, make sense that Hashem would act toward us in a pass? manner and not "overburden" us with material abundance. If we have less, we will do less. We cannot make a golden calf if we do not possess any gold.

Jewish human nature has proven itself to be unique in this matter. We do not wait until we amass material wealth to renege the yoke of mitzvos. As soon as we begin to dream about success, we are already making plans for our new lifestyle which, regrettably, is not consistent with Torah dictate. The haughtiness that quite often accompanies this sudden rise in financial status takes hold of an individual even before the success has materialized.

This is the pasuk's admonition to us. "Lest you eat and be satisfied." Even before you have built your new homes and acquired abundant gold and silver, even if your wealth and material success is but a dream, a reality that is still elusive, yet you already have the nerve to "become haughty and forget Hashem." The result will be that it will all be a dream. Your wealth will not materialize, and the haughtiness that preceded it will cause those around you to resent you. After all, there is nothing so revolting as an arrogant beggar.

Then you shall remember Hashem, your G-d; that it was He Who gave you strength to make wealth. (8:18)

How easily we forget what Hashem does for us. When we are in need, we know to Whom to turn in prayer and supplication. When we are answered, however, our attitude takes a sudden change of course. We no longer attribute our success to the Source of all success. We quickly say that it was our endeavor, our strength, our ability that catalyzed the success that we enjoy. What happened? How did we suddenly become myopic, failing to recognize that it was Hashem Who was clearly the one Who brought about every achievement that we attribute to our own prowess? Horav Shlomo Brevda, Shlita, posed this question to the Chazon Ish shortly after he personally experienced a miracle. It was not long until his own feelings of acknowledgement and gratitude slowly began to dissipate. It happened that one night Rav Brevda was walking through one of the narrow alleyways of Yerushalayim on the way to the home of one of his relatives. A power failure that night made the walk in the pitch dark even more treacherous. He walked slowly, at times groping for a foothold. He was acutely aware that night that just before his relative's home, a steep slope with sharp steps jutted out. To slip on these steps was to place one's life in serious jeopardy. Rav Brevda walked very slowly until "something" told him to suddenly stop. He did, luckily stopping a few centimeters from the dangerous slope. There was no question in his mind. This was clearly a miracle.

The next day he was to go to the home of the Chazon Ish to discuss a number of issues with him. After the meeting, Rav Brevda was preparing to leave, when he turned to the Chazon Ish and said he had something else to discuss with him. After relating the miracle that had occurred to him the previous night, he said to the Chazon Ish, "Rebbe, after such a miracle, I was certain that the next morning I would arise from my bed a different person. I would sing forth the praises of the Almighty for saving my life. I would be overwhelmed with gratitude for Him. But, that did not happen. I arose this morning the exact same way I do every other day. No charge, no sparks; no enthusiasm and excitement. What happened?"

The Chazon Ish closed his eyes and thought for a few moments. Then he opened his eyes, looked at Rav Brevda and held his hands and said, "I will tell you a great yesod, principle, in avodas Hashem, service to the Almighty. There is a special yetzer hora, evil-inclination, that is referred to as the yetzer hora which follows a miracle. The goal of this yetzer hora is to weaken the emotional enthusiasm that is aroused as a result of a miracle. It is there to undermine and destroy whatever spirituality one might have been stimulated with. You are the victim of this yetzer hora."

Rav Brevda supplemented this idea, explaining that with every level that one scales on the spiritual ladder, the yetzer hora, likewise, ascends and works harder to prevent any spiritual advancement. If we are to maintain the spiritual inspiration resulting from being privy to Hashem's miracles, we will have to work very hard to see to it that the inspiration not be a temporary catalyst.

And Hashem gave me the two tablets of stone. (9:10)

The word "luchos," tablets, is usually written with a "vav" to designate the plural. Rashi explains that the word luchos is written here without a "vav," in the singular. Yet, it is vocalized in the plural, by design. This indicates that while there were two luchos, they had equal significance as if they had been one. Horav David Feinstein, Shlita, adds that the word "shnei," two, also indicates that the two luchos were really one, reflected by the apparent redundancy of the word. Obviously, the word luchos, which is the plural form, implies two luchos, since, as Chazal teach us, a plural noun written by itself, without a modifying number, means two, which is the minimum possible. Thus, the added "shnei," also teaches us about the Luchos.

In the Yerushalmi Sheklaim, 6:1, Chazal cite an opinion that all ten commandments were written on each of the two luchos. Horav Feinstein suggests an important lesson to be derived from here. One cannot fulfill the first five commandments, which address man's relationship with Hashem, unless he also fulfills the second set of five commandments, which concern human relationships. Hence, one tablet focuses upon the first five commandments and lists the others as an explanation for them, while the reverse is true on the other side. There is an unbreakable relationship between the two tablets. One must fulfill all ten commandments or forfeit the possibility of fulfilling any of them.

Vignettes on the Parsha

And your heart will become haughty. (8:14)

Even HaBochen observes that when an organ of the body functions properly, it is not noticed. It is only when something is wrong that one perceives the organ. Likewise, with arrogance. When one is haughty, he takes notice of himself. This is a sign that something is wrong with him.


And you may say in your heart, "My strength and the might of my hand mad me all this wealth." (8:17)

The Gerer Rebbe, Horav Avrohom Mordechai, zl, renders this pasuk homiletically. The miser thinks that by tightening his hand (otzem yad) and closing his eyes from the plight of the poor, he is maintaining his wealth.


It shall be that if you forget Hashem, your G-d. (8:19)

Horav Yisrael, zl, m'Rizshin explains that the word v'hayah, it shall be, is a term used in connection to joy. The pasuk tells us that if one forgets the "v'hayah," to be in the state of joy, his state of depression will lead him to forget Hashem.


You have been rebels against Hashem. (9:24)

Maadanei Melech notes the words, "im Hashem," which are normally translated as with Hashem. He interprets the pasuk with a slight twist. One can rebel against Hashem, but still have the nerve to speak and act as if he is "with Hashem."


And now Yisrael, what does Hashem ask of you. (10:12)

The Chafetz Chaim, zl, was wont to say, "During every atah, now, at every moment, one should ask himself, 'What does Hashem ask of me?'"


And you will perish quickly. (11:17)v The Baal Shem Tov, zl, interpreted this pasuk as an enjoinment against rashness and impetuosity. You should destroy/banish the "meheirah," impetuosity, from your service of Hashem. One should serve Hashem with deliberation, patience, out of a sense of tranquility.

Arthur & Sora Pollak and Family
in loving memory of our mother & grandmother
Mrs. Goldie Jundef


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

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