Back to This Week's Parsha

Peninim on the Torah

subscribe.gif (2332 bytes)

Previous issues

Rabbi A. Leib Scheinbaum
Hebrew Academy of Cleveland


This shall be the reward when you hearken to these ordinances. (7:12)

The word eikav can also be translated as heel, which the Midrash explains alludes to those mitzvos which man might view as insignificant. Thus, eikav refers to those commandments that one figuratively tends to "step on with his heels." The Torah, therefore, assures the people that if they observe all mitzvos, even those "eikav" mitzvos, the neglected mitzvos, they can be secure in the knowledge that Hashem will reward them. Horav Sholom Y. Elyashiv, Shlita, adds that there are also aveiros, sins, that one "treads upon with his heels," referring to those transgressions that one frequently overlooks or, even worse, justifies. This is why the Tanna in Pirkei Avos 2:1, declares, "Be just as careful in performing a mitzvah kalah, light, less stringent mitzvah or a mitzvah which you think is not that important, as you are in doing a mitzvah that is important, for you never know which mitzvah will earn you a greater reward."

Chazal teach us that when Yonah HaNavi ran to Tarshish, he was sitting on the boat, calm and collected during a major storm at sea. The boat was bouncing around in the raging waters like a toy. All of the sailors began to pray to their respective gods. Each person entreated his pagan god. Yonah sat there with total equanimity. He even went to sleep. If we analyze the situation, he was probably correct in his assumption that the storm was not occurring because of him. There were members of every nation in the world - an entire United Nations. Certainly, enough immoral, murderous, thieving miscreants were on board to speculate safely that Yonah was not the focus of the storm. Here was a man who was a kadosh v'tahor, holy and pure. What could he have done wrong? He refused to go to Nineveh for the purpose of rebuking the people out of a deep, abiding love for Klal Yisrael. How would it look if Nineveh had listened to him immediately, while Klal Yisrael ignored his prophecies on a regular basis? This would incur the Middas HaDin, Attribute of Strict Justice, against the Jewish People. Yonah acted l'shem Shomayim, for the sake of Heaven, by refusing to go to Nineveh. Thus, he could be certain that the storm could not be attributed to him.

So they threw lots and, lo and behold, they fell on Yonah. He announced, "It is not because of you. It is because of me. My sin is causing this storm - not yours." Rav Elyashiv explains that one does not know the value of mitzvos - the reward for the positive commandments and, likewise, the punishment for the prohibited commandments.

We never think to blame ourselves. It is always someone else who is to blame for the "storms." If we look around, there is such filth, such sin, such immorality. Certainly, the raging storms are because of these "others." The venerable sage of our generation posits that the storm might be because we have a moral obligation to convey a prophecy, to rebuke, to reproach, to reach out with care and love - but certainly not to ignore and be complacent, accepting the indiscretions of our alienated brethren. Yonah HaNavi validated his refusal to communicate a prophecy, thereby stifling a mitzvah. He felt he was acting justly and properly. Hashem says to be careful of every mitzvah. He determines their intrinsic value and reward; we do not.

You should know in your heart that just as a father will chastise his son, so Hashem, your G-d, chastises you. (8:5)

The hardships that Klal Yisrael underwent in the wilderness were an integral part of their development. As a father chastises his son, thereby preparing him for the future, so, too, does Hashem bring upon us various degrees of suffering that will temper our faith and fortify our conviction. Everyone experiences some sort of affliction. It comes in all sizes and shapes - each Divinely suited for the individual. How we respond determines how we benefit from this experience. Much has been written concerning yissurim, pain/affliction/troubles, the need for it, the benefit that is derived, and the proper attitude one must maintain in accepting Hashem's decree. I take the opportunity to share some of these insights with the readers.

Yissurim bring about yeshuah, salvation. This salvation also comes in many shapes and forms, and, thus, has different connotations to various people, depending upon their circumstances and mindset. The following analogy cited by Horav Leib Pinter, Shlita, sheds light on this issue. A wise king who, unfortunately, had not been blessed with an heir to his throne sought to find an appropriate succession to his monarchy. He decided to make a test that would involve all of the young boys of his constituency. He handed out a packet of seeds to each boy and instructed him to plant his individual seeds in a flower pot. The one whose flowers bloomed the fullest would become his successor.

Each boy left with his seeds and planted and nurtured them. Everyone succeeded in producing an impressive array of foliage. There was one boy who, regardless of how hard he tried, just could not get his seeds to produce anything substantial. He changed the dirt, added various fertilizers, watered and nurtured the seeds - to no avail. Nothing grew. Despondent, he arrived together with the other boys at the palace to display their projects and to find out who would win the coveted prize.

Each boy came before the king and presented his blooming flowerpot. The king took a quick look and said, "Next!" Nothing seemed to impress the king. Hundreds, thousands, filed by the king and - nothing - the king was simply not impressed. When the king saw the young boy whose flowerpot was empty, standing by the side, he called him over and asked, "Why are you not displaying your flowers?"

"I have no flowers," the boy replied. "I did everything possible to generate some growth from the seeds, but nothing seemed to work." The boy began to cry, "I even prayed that the flowers should bloom, but I was not answered. The flowers were not destined to grow."

Suddenly, the king declared, "You will be my son. You will inherit my throne." Understandably, all of those assembled were in a state of shock. Why would the king select the one boy whose flowers did not grow?

The king turned to the people to explain his choice, "All of the seeds that I handed out had been ripe, and ripe seeds cannot possibly produce anything. Therefore, all those boys who presented me with flowers cheated. They exchanged the seeds I had given them for other seeds. The one boy who maintained his veracity - who was not willing to lie just to win - was this boy, whose seeds did not grow. He has the seeds of truth! He will follow me as king! The individual for whom integrity guides his life and truth is the foundation of his every endeavor, he is fit to reign over the country."

The same idea applies with regard to yeshuah, salvation. We pray to Hashem. We entreat Him with all forms of supplication. It seems that He does not respond. Yet, we continue to pray, to believe, to hope. We continue with the conviction that salvation can only come from Hashem. As we persist in our devotion to Hashem, never ceasing to implore His positive response, our faith becomes tempered and resolute. With every tear, our commitment is nurtured; with every sigh, our fidelity and trust become stronger and unequivocal. Ultimately, our tears and prayers will bring about salvation. It may not necessarily be the one for which we have been waiting, but it will be salvation nonetheless.

We have to know where to look, and we have to continue believing. Rav Pinter presents an inspiring thought. After Klal Yisrael passed through the Red Sea, they traveled for three days in the wilderness without water. They were thirsty. Finally, they saw a source of water in the distance. Understandably, they ran and "attacked" the water. Their joy was short-lived, for they soon discovered that the water was bitter. Can one imagine their emotions at that time? To have sustained so much suffering; to have been finally liberated, only to have their road to freedom blocked by the Red Sea. To have the Red Sea miraculously split before their very eyes; to see their Egyptian pursuers perish in the sea; to trudge three days without water, famished and broken, only to discover that the water which they had sought was bitter! When would it end?

They turned to Moshe Rabbeinu and asked, "Why? Why does Hashem not give us water? Were we taken out of Egypt only to die of thirst in the wilderness?" Hashem responded by showing Moshe a tree which was to be thrown into the water - and the water became sweet.

Klal Yisrael was to derive a lesson from this experience. When life throws you a curve, when the water that you are drinking suddenly turns bitter, know that nearby there is growing a tree that can sweeten the water. The question is where is this tree? How will we know which one is the tree that will save us? This is where tefillah, prayer, makes its entrance. Cry to Hashem. Ask Him to show you where the tree is located.

Let me add that, at times, the road to salvation and the actual key, the tree of salvation, is very bitter. The Mechilta says that the tree which sweetened the water was nes b'soch nes, a miracle within a miracle. The tree was bitter like the water, yet it made the water sweet. Hashem has His ways for carrying out the Divine Plan, but the tree is always there. We have to seek it out.

Oftentimes, we get carried away and overreact prematurely to a tzarah, troubling situation. Horav Shlomo Margolis, Shlita, relates that he once heard the following thought from Horav David Bliacher, zl, one of the foremost students of the Alter, zl, m'Novordhok. When Klal Yisrael neared the Red Sea, they began to cry out in fear. Hashem said to Moshe, "Why do you cry out to Me? Speak to Bnei Yisrael and let them journey forth" (Shemos 14:15). Why was Hashem upset with Moshe? Klal Yisrael was in a grave situation: the Egyptians were pursuing them from one side, and the Red Sea was on the other. What else should they have done? Why should they not have cried? Moshe, their leader, was justified in turning to Hashem for assistance. What else should he have done?

Rav David explained that there were still a few steps before they reached the shore of the Red Sea. The situation was not yet hopeless. There was still time. Hashem's critique was: Why are you crying now? There is still time. The lesson is clear. A person must go on. He must tread forth, regardless of the situation, because salvation can come in the next few steps - just as it did for our ancestors at the shores of the Red Sea. One must be patient and trust in the Almighty. The miracle of Chanukah teaches us that when we least expect it, when everything seems so bleak, when everything around us seems to have crumbled - there is still hope. We must persevere by maintaining the belief that as long as we can go on, the opportunity for salvation is still open to us. May Hashem grant us the ability to see through the clouds of ambiguity that veil His salvation.

Now, O Yisrael, what does Hashem, your G-d, ask of you? Only to fear Hashem, your G-d. (10:12)

A rav, who was not a chassid of any particular Rebbe, arrived at the Seudas Rosh Chodesh, festive meal in honor of Rosh Chodesh, of Horav Yissachar Dov, zl, m'Radushitz. He sat down at the Rebbe's table to observe the proceedings. After a few moments, the Rebbe asked him, "Why is it that misnagdim, those who are not necessarily pro-chassidus, do not celebrate with a meal in honor of Rosh Chodesh? After all, it is clearly stated in the Shulchan Aruch that one should participate in a Seudas Rosh Chodesh?"

When the Rebbe saw that no response was forthcoming, he continued, "Let me explain the reason. There is a difference between one who is a chassid and one who is not a chassid. If one who is not a chassid performs a mitzvah, he places it "on account" in his "bag" of mitzvos for safekeeping. If he transgresses a negative commandment, he is upset, and he places it in his 'bag' of sins. One who is a chassid however, has a totally different approach concerning his avodas Hashem, service to the Almighty. He is always concerned, lest he has not carried out his service to Hashem on the optimum level. He is always afraid that he might sin. Furthermore, even when he performs a mitzvah, he does not place it in his 'bag' of mitzvos, because he fears that he has not applied himself properly at the time of its performance, and perhaps it is not worthy of being included as a mitzvah.

"Chazal teach us that during the time of the Bais Hamikdash, the Mizbayach, Altar, served as atonement for man's sins. Now that we no longer have these Batei Mikdash, this atonement is achieved through man's table. In other words, when a person prepares and eats a meal with the proper intentions and devotions, it will effect atonement for him. The korban of Rosh Chodesh would be mechaper, atone, for a sin committed unknowingly. For instance, if one were to eat kodoshim, sacrificial flesh, while he was tamei, ritually contaminated; if he were unaware of his state of tumah throughout his entire meal, the korban Rosh Chodesh would serve as atonement.

"This type of sin, in which one does not know throughout the entire performance of an activity whether it has been carried out properly, is something to which chassidim are acutely sensitive. They are never sure if the mitzvah that they have performed was carried out to the optimum requirements. They are always troubled, lest they missed something or have not had the perfect kavanah, intention. Thus, they participate in the Seudas Rosh Chodesh. This traditional meal serves as a penance to atone for their 'mitzvos.' This is their way of seeing to it that their mitzvos achieve the proper standing." This is the meaning of yiraas Shomayim: Maintaining a constant concern that we are not serving Hashem properly. This attitude is the precursor to - and foundation of all - mitzvah performance, for if one succeeds in maintaining such a standard in his avodas Hashem, then he will see to it not to fail in any mitzvah. The key to all mitzvos is fear of Hashem and the attitude this fear engenders. This will generate a feeling and desire to follow in Hashem's ways and perform His mitzvos to the fullest extent.

This, explains the Sfas Emes, is the underlying meaning of the pasuk. First, the pasuk begins by saying that Hashem asks only one thing of us: yiraah, fear. It then goes on to exhort us to follow in His ways, to love Him and serve Him with all our heart and soul. Is it one thing or many? Apparently, all Hashem asks is for us to fear Him. It is just that through a sense of fear that is based on integrity, one merits the other attributes as well.

The Ohr HaChaim Hakadosh explains that this is the meaning of the word v'atah, (and) now. The Torah is telling us that for "now" all Hashem asks is yiraah, but after one has acquired the attribute of fear of Hashem, he will merit to go further and higher in his service of the Almighty.

Beware for yourselves, lest your heart be seduced and you turn astray and serve gods of others. (11:16)

Rashi explains v'sartem, and you turn astray, to be a reference to one's departure from Torah study. This will result in his capitulation to idol worship. One who leaves the Torah turns to idols. It seems a bit of an extreme statement. The yetzer hora, evil inclination, has been very successful in its function of leading man to sin. It has followed a tried and proven method of slowly and patiently leading man to sin, until one day, it is able to convince him of the clincher - idol worship. That is certainly, however, not the first step. Why, with regard to Torah study, does one turn to idol worship almost immediately? What happened to the "process"?

The Chafetz Chaim, zl, explains this with a powerful analogy. Two nations are at war with each other. Even when one seems to have triumphed, his success is not assured until he has taken away his enemies' weapons. As long as his enemy has access to his munitions, he can rebuild his army and return to battle. However, if the victor relieves the vanquished of his weapons, he has no means of returning to the battlefield. Without weapons one cannot fight. Under such circumstances, victory is complete.

A parallel exists in our constant battle with the yetzer hora. While the evil inclination sways and causes us to sin, the insubordination is not equivocal. We have not yet severed our relationship with Hashem. Through teshuvah, repentance, one can return and be accepted. The door is still open. The yetzer hora's success is short-lived. If, however, the yetzer hora has succeeded in convincing an individual to renege Torah study, to leave the halls of the bais hamedrash, it has then succeeded in taking from him his weapons. Without Torah, one no longer has the munitions for carrying out a successful battle against the yetzer hora. Thus, if one leaves Torah, his next stop is idol worship, because he has nothing with which to repel the powerful effect of the yetzer hora.

Horav Elchanan Wasserman, zl, adds that we can now understand why the sin of bitul Torah, wasting time from Torah study, is so grave. Indeed, concerning any other sin, even morality, murder and idol worship, Hashem will patiently tolerate the infraction. The opportunity for repentance is still there. The yetzer hora can still be bested. Once the yetzer hora has convinced him to close his Gemora, to leave the bais hamedrash, the individual no longer has the means for battling the yetzer hora. If one does not learn, he does not really know what is wrong and from what he needs to stay away. The yetzer hora has won.

Va'ani Tefillah

Baruch meracheim al ha'aretz
Baruch meracheim al ha'brios

Blessed is He that has mercy upon the earth. Blessed is He that has mercy on the creatures (man).

We continue the blessing with our acknowledgment of Hashem's tender mercy, which He lavishes upon the world, in general, and each and every one of His creatures, in particular. As Horav Avigdor Miller, zl, explains, Hashem's sole interest in the universe is because of the earth. As Creator and Owner of the world, He takes an interest in every aspect of the world. Everything that He does is ultimately for the welfare of the earth and its inhabitants. Man possesses free-will and is, thus, able to do as he pleases, giving him the opportunity and ability to rebel against his Creator. Yet, Hashem is all-merciful and spares him, allowing him to continue with the lifestyle of his choice.

The connection between these two blessings has a deeper connotation. It teaches that Hashem's mercy on the earth is solely because of His mercy on man. All of the earth's phenomena are intended for the benefit of man. As Rav Miller so meaningfully states, an owner of a building may, at times, neglect his tenants for the welfare of his property, but whatever Hashem does for the earth is specifically for no other purpose than the benefit of man. Man is not a mere detail in creation - he is the end purpose, the raison d'etre of creation. Everything has been created solely for him and is managed for his benefit.

Arthur & Sora Pollak and Family

in loving memory of our mother & grandmother
Mrs. Goldie Jundef

Peninim on the Torah is in its 14th year of publication. The first nine years have been published in book form.

The Ninth 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