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Peninim on the Torah

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Rabbi A. Leib Scheinbaum
Hebrew Academy of Cleveland


For just as a man chastises his son, Hashem, your G-d, chastises you. (8:5)

Yesurim in Hebrew also indicates suffering. Hence, the suffering we sustain in this world is actually Hashem's chastisement of us. Perhaps this is the only way one can endure the pain and anguish of suffering: he knows it comes from a loving Father. He also knows that he is not alone in his suffering. I once visited a young woman who was suffering through the terrible pain of end-stage cancer. I wondered what to say to her. Her life was dependent upon a miracle. The pain she sustained was excruciating. The mental anguish she suffered knowing that she would probably not live to see her son's Bar-Mitzvah, her daughter's chasunah, was overwhelming. I told her the truth, that she was not alone. Hashem was with her in her travail, because everything that she was enduring was from Him. I did not know the reason. The fact was, however, that she was not alone. From that moment on, she faced the future with a positive attitude. There was to be no future, but she was prepared to accept her fate with a renewed strength. She was not alone.

Horav Yosef Chaim Sonnenfeld, zl, suffered a number of personal tragedies that would have destroyed the average person. Eight of his eleven children died in his lifetime, most of them in the prime of their youth or early middle age. His strength of character and trust in the Almighty were incredible. He never once uttered as much as a sigh of complaint over his lot in life. Typical of his personality is the following note which he wrote to his brother during the terrible years of famine and illness that ravaged Yerushalayim during World War I. He wrote the following lines shortly after burying two sons, a son-in-law and a grandson:

"My dear brother,

I received your precious letter. It is difficult for me to write. Our Father in Heaven has taken away from me to the World of Truth my dear son Shmuel Binyamin, who had lain ill with typhus for fourteen days. He was a man at the apex of his achievement, and we had expected great things from him. The ways of G-d are hidden, but we believe with complete faith that everything that appears to us now as incomprehensible - like the mystery of the world in its entirety - will have an explanation in the future, when it will become clear that it was all for the good. This is actually the underlying meaning of our Kaddish prayer."

Rav Yosef Chaim was wont to relate the story of the chasid who went to the Mezritcher Maggid, zl, and asked, "Rebbe, how is it possible to fulfill Chazal's dictum that one must bless Hashem when misfortune occurs just as wholeheartedly as when good fortune occurs?"

The Mezritcher responded, "Go to the home of my disciple, Rav Zushia (m'Annipole), and you will understand."

The chasid did as he was instructed. When he arrived at Rav Zushia's home, he was taken aback with the abject poverty which he saw. Moreover, Rav Zushia was not a well person. Yet, he spent his entire day in avodas Hashem, serving the Almighty. The chasid entered the home and told Rav Zushia, "The Maggid sent me to you to find an answer to my query. How can it be expected of a person to react in the same manner to misfortune as to good fortune?"

Rav Zushia looked at his visitor incredulously and said, "I am afraid there must be some error! I have no idea why the Rebbe would send you to me. I have never experienced misfortune in my life. In fact, I have no idea what misfortune is!"

While this narrative gives us insight into the profound perspective of Rav Zushia, it also indicates the total acquiescence to accepting Divine judgment that exemplified Rav Yosef Chaim's life.

Bnei Yisrael journeyed from Beeros Bnei Yaakov to Moserah; there Aharon died. (10:6)

The story of Aharon Hakohen's passing is juxtaposed upon the breaking of the Luchos. Chazal derive from here that the death of a tzaddik carries with it the same impact as the breaking of the Luchos. Chazal teach us that when a tzaddik passes from this world, he is immediately replaced by another tzaddik. Once the sun "sets" on one tzaddik, it begins to shine on another. This is especially true if the son of a tzaddik is eminently qualified and capable to assume his father's leadership role. Aharon passed away from this world after an exemplary "career" of leadership and inspiration. His son, Elazar, assumed the position of Kohen Gadol. If this is the case, why is the death of a tzaddik more of a tragedy than the passing of any person? The righteous influence does not wane with the passing of the tzaddik.

Horav Tzvi Hirsch Ferber, zl, explains that this is the reason that Aharon's passing is connected to the breaking of the Luchos. When Moshe Rabbeinu descended the mountain on that fateful day and shattered the Luchos, it became an eternal day of infamy for our people. Although it was a great tragedy, were the first Luchos not replaced soon after by the second Luchos? The replacement is never the same as the original. Elazar Hakohen was truly a great nachas to his father. He had incredible leadership capabilities and was a great spiritual inspiration to the Jewish people. He was not, however, Aharon Hakohen. He was not his father. The second Luchos could not take the place of the first Luchos. While they were the Luchos which accompanied Klal Yisrael all those years, they still were not the original ones. We must remember that the spiritual status-quo of Torah diminishes as we move farther away from Har Sinai. When a tzaddik leaves this world his mission and legacy is immediately transferred to another tzaddik, who takes his place. The tragedy is that he is not the same as the original whom he replaced.

And to serve Him with all your heart and with all your soul. (11:13)

Rashi says this pasuk refers to avodas halev, service of the heart, which alludes to prayer. The word b'chol, with all, has a powerful meaning. When we pray to Hashem it has to be "with all," with an all encompassing, unequivocal devotion to Him. Nothing should disturb or distract us when we are in communion with the Almighty. Yet, we all know that this is far from true. Many of us never find the time for davening with a minyan. Regrettably, we daven with complete attention to Hashem when we are in need. Perhaps if we would daven correctly when life is good, we would not need those little reminders that our davening is waning.

Horav Yitzchak Zilberstein, Shlita, makes a noteworthy observation. He relates how he went to the hospital to visit a congregant. As they walked through the lobby near the financial office of the hospital, two armed guards came out of the office with their guns in their hands and asked everyone to move to the side. It was obvious that they meant business, so everyone followed their orders meticulously. It quickly became clear that these two men were guards who worked for Brinks and that they were transferring money from the hospital safe to their truck. Suddenly, one of the visitors to the hospital looked at one of the guards and said in a cheerful voice, "Aharon, how are you?" No response. No movement from Aharon, the Brinks guard. He ignored his friend totally. He was transferring money. It could have been his best friend; it could have been his relative; it could have been his father - he was obligated to pay total attention to the money transfer. His mind could not wander from his mission.

Let us step back a moment and derive a lesson from the Brinks guard. When we go to shul and daven to Hashem, are we any different than the guard? Are we not in communion with Hashem - a mission that should take up our complete attention? Yet, we can be in middle of davening - and our friend asks us, "What's new?" - we feel we must immediately respond to him. Our attitude would certainly be different if we were praying for our lives.

This idea should apply to every mitzvah. Rav Zilberstein relates that Rebbetzin Feinstein, the Brisker Rav's daughter, does not speak to anyone when she is involved in salting meat - so intense is her devotion to performing this noble and necessary function. Perhaps, if we would add a little of intensity to our prayers, if we would listen to the words we are uttering, Hashem's response would be positive.

You shall place these words of mine upon your heart… you shall bind them for a sign upon your arm… you shall teach them to your children… and you shall write them upon the doorposts of your house. (11:18,19,20)

Three mitzvos following in close succession after Hashem's threat of exile. Is there a relationship between these mitzvos and the exile? Rashi cites the Sifri that connects the juxtaposition in the following manner. We are enjoined to observe these commandments even in exile, so that when the redemption occurs, these mitzvos will not be foreign to us. There is a danger that when the Jewish people are in exile living in a non-Jewish environment, speaking the language of the host nation, adopting its customs and lifestyle, there is a real threat of assimilation. It is for this reason that we are to distinguish ourselves as a separate nation by performing mitzvos while we are in exile. Rashi cites the pasuk in Yirmiyahu 31:20, "Set up signposts for yourself." Surprisingly, the reason given here for continuing to perform the mitzvos of Tefillin, limud haTorah and Mezuzah in exile is to prevent them from being forgotten. In our journey throughout galus, exile, these mitzvos will serve as signposts, markers, to insure that we find our way back to Eretz Yisrael.

The question is obvious: are these mitzvos functional only in Eretz Yisrael and to be practiced in galus only so that they are not to be forgotten? What relationship is there between these mitzvos and Eretz Yisrael? While the Ramban says that, indeed, the mitzvah applies equally everywhere, it has greater significance in Eretz Yisrael because of its greater sanctity. The Ramban concludes by saying, "This Midrash contains a deep secret." What is the Sifri teaching us? Horav Shimon Schwab, zl, explains that while these three mitzvos have no specific connection to Eretz Yisrael, they are not practiced in their ideal way when we are in galus. We practice them meanwhile as tziyunim, road markers, keeping us on course, until that special day when we will return to Eretz Yisrael with the advent of Moshiach.

The way we learn Torah she'Baal Peh, oral law, today is not the optimal way of doing so. Oral law is supposed to be transmitted orally from teacher to student in the manner it was taught before Rabbeinu Hakadosh codified the Mishnah. He saw a crisis about to occur, and he did something about it. Ever since then, however, we have been studying Torah through the medium of seforim, written volumes. When Moshiach arrives, we will revert to the "old" system of studying from a rebbe. For now, Torah study from printed books is only a temporary measure, a marker to keep us on course for the day when the correct manner of learning Torah she'Baal Peh will be reintroduced.

Rav Schwab makes a noteworthy observation. The printing press, upon which the propagation of Torah among our people has depended heavily for the past 500 years, was invented by a German non-Jew named Gutenberg. This invention was truly a simple idea that had already been invented 1,000 years earlier in China, but had not reached Europe. It impacted Judaism in a manner that is indescribable, for without it Torah scholarship would practically have come to a standstill. Why did Hashem give this unparalleled zchus, merit, to a gentile? Why could it not have been a Jew that would be the father of the printing press?

The reason is that learning Torah she'Baal Peh from a written book is an emergency measure that was necessitated by the long galus in order to insure that Torah would not be forgotten. For the present, learning from a printed book is only a "road marker" which we are compelled to employ. This is not the ultimate destiny of the oral law. One day it will revert to the original. The gentile's zchus will suffice for a road "marker."

The mitzvah of Tefillin is also not practiced in the original designated manner. Originally, Tefillin were to be worn all day, at home as well as in our place of business. As a consequence of our galus environment, this devotion to Tefillin is no longer practical. Yet, we continue wearing the Tefillin for Shacharis, so that we maintain our "road marker" for that glorious day when we will once again wear our Tefillin all day long.

Mezuzah is also not practiced optimally. According to halachah, a Mezuzah should be placed even on our city gates. B'ishea'recha, your city gates, applies to a Jewish city in which every entranceway to the city, a street, a neighborhood should have a Mezuzah. For example, the Jaffa Gate in Yerushalayim needs a Mezuzah. Rav Schwab remembered seeing a Mezuzah on the gate to the old city of Rottenberg, Germany, where the Maharal lived. The mitzvah of Mezuzah was to be a public affair for the community - not just relegated to one's private home. Accordingly, when Moshiach arrives, we will perform this mitzvah in the most advantageous manner. It, as well as the other mitzvos, will then appear to us as the natural progression of the mitzvah from its minimum as observed in galus to its fulfillment in the most optimum form.


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

The Koznitzer Maggid, zl, was want to say, "I see an upside down world. When a person is poor, he does not have the decency to blame himself - he blames Hashem for his miserable lot in life. On the other hand, as soon as Hashem blesses him with material abundance, to whom does he attribute the source of his success? Himself." Is this not strange?


You shall cut away the barrier of your heart and no longer stiffen your neck. (10:16)

Horav Avraham zl, m'Stretin interprets this pasuk homiletically. Once one removes the impediments blocking his heart and corrects the stubbornness in his neck, there is no longer anything to separate him from Hashem. Whatever questions he thought he once had - suddenly no longer bother him. The questions are the consequence of his moral/ethical posture, not the result of any profound thinking on his part.


And you will be swiftly banished. (11:17)

The Chassidic Rebbes would attempt to turn every curse in the Torah into a blessing. Even the above curse of "swift banishment" is transformed by the Baal Shem Tov into a blessing. You will lose the meheirah, the impetuosity, abruptness, perfunctory attitude to serving Hashem. No longer will you rush through mitzvah performance without applying yourself properly. The cursory will no longer define your mitzvah observance. It will be a well-thought-out endeavor that is part of a process of consciousness and concentration.


You shall teach them to your children. (11:19)

One of the Chassidic Rebbes noted that since there is a mitzvah of limud haTorah incumbent upon every father in regard to his son, it would behoove us to recognize a father's input into his son's success. Interesting. How often do we think of the Rosh Hayeshivah's father after we have just listened to a brilliant shiur? For that matter, what about his mother? She certainly had some input. Apparently, it is also up to the Rosh Hayeshivah to demand this respect for those who brought him to this point in life.

In loving memory of our dear Mother & Bubby
Mrs. Chana Silberberg
Zev & Miriam Solomon & Family


Peninim on the Torah is in its 11th year of publication. The first seven years have been published in book form.

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