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Peninim on the Torah

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Rabbi A. Leib Scheinbaum
Hebrew Academy of Cleveland


You shall remember the entire road on which Hashem, your G-d, led you these forty years in the Wilderness…He afflicted you and let you hunger…in order to make you know that not by bread alone does man live, rather by everything that emanates from the mouth of G-d does man live. (7:2, 3)

The Jewish People attended a forty-nine year course in the Wilderness. It was a course to develop the Jewish consciousness that Hashem gives us what we need. If we lack, it is because He feels that we are not in need. We lived on manna, a Heavenly bread that arrived each morning at our doorstep. Every night when the Jew retired, he did not know what the next day would bring. Would he have food? Forty years of experiencing life in the rough Wilderness taught the Jews to trust Hashem. As the pasuk sums it up so beautifully, "It is not by bread alone that man lives, rather it is by everything that emanates from the mouth of G-d that man lives." We live by the credo that if we work we will earn and if we earn, we will be sustained. The pasuk is telling us otherwise. Hashem sustains us. The work is part of the effort we expend as human beings. One who understands this realizes that physical needs are the result of physical desires. One is hungry because he feels a need, a desire to eat. The individual who is ensconced in a spiritual relationship with the Almighty, whereby his entire being is sustained by the Torah he studies, does not feel the pangs of hunger. His mind is on other things.

Horav Arye Levin, zl, the Tzaddik of Yerushalayim, studied for three years at the Slutzk Yeshivah, under Horav Isser Zalmen Meltzer, zl. On Friday night, Rav Arye would usually visit with his Rebbe, Rav Isser Zalmen, during which time they would spend hours discussing Torah topics. Once in a while, the conversation would lead to reminiscing about the Yeshivah. Once, while they were talking about the yeshivah, Rav Isser Zalmen turned to his student and asked, "Where did you eat when you studied in Slutzk?" "I would eat at various places," Rav Arye replied. "On Shabbos, I would eat at a certain baal habayis, householder, and during the week, I ate at various homes."

"You have given me the names of four people, which covers four days of the week, excluding Shabbos. Where did you eat during the other two days?" Rav Isser Zalmen asked.

Rav Arye hemmed and hawed and finally said, "I did not eat twice a week, but, I want the Rebbe to know that those were the best days of the week. I achieved so much during the two days that food did not touch my mouth."

They bid each other a Gut Shabbos, and Rav Arye returned to his modest home. In the middle of the night, Rav Arye's family awakened to the sounds of knocking at the door. The Rebbetzin went down to see who it was. She opened the door and was shocked to see Rebbetzin Baila Hinda, Rav Isser Zalmen's wife, at the door. "Please, you must help me! Ever since Rav Arye left the house, my husband has been beside himself!"

"What happened, Rebbetzin?" Rav Arye asked. "It was a simple, innocent conversation. Why should he be so disconcerted? "You do not understand," the Rebbetzin interjected. "You told my husband that for the three years you learned in his yeshivah, you did not eat twice a week. He cannot reconcile himself to the thought that he was unaware that a student in his yeshivah did not eat twice a week. Please come to my home and calm down the Rosh Yeshivah," the Rebbetzin begged.

Rav Arye entered Rav Isser Zalmen's home to discover his beloved Rebbe pacing the floor, clearly very unsettled. When the Rosh Yeshivah noticed Rav Arye standing there, he called out to him broken-heartedly, "Rav Arye, three years you did not eat twice a week in my yeshivah. How will I respond to the Heavenly Tribunal for such neglect of a student? What am I going to do?" Rav Isser Zalmen moaned.

Rav Arye replied, "Rebbe, forgive me, it is all my fault. I should have made the Rosh Yeshivah aware that I had nowhere to eat." The dialogue continued, with each one accepting the blame. Rav Isser Zalmen did not calm down until Rav Arye declared emphatically, "I am mochel, I am mochel. I forgive whole-heartedly."

We derive two lessons from the above episode. First, we see how one should learn. Food does not play a role in the mind of one who is spiritually connected to the Torah. Second, we understand the way a rebbe should act, his responsibility toward his students, and the sensitivity to their every issue. Their problems are his problems.

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

According to the simple translation of this pasuk, the word eikav is translated as "this." Rashi expounds upon the homiletic interpretation of this word which is connected to eikav, heel. The Torah alludes to the type of mitzvos she'adam dash b'akeivav, "that a person steps on with the heel of his shoe." This refers to those mitzvos which one may regard as being relatively unimportant in the scheme of things. Thus, the Torah is teaching us that if we respect even those mitzvos which one might disregard, we may be certain that Hashem will reward us. What is the meaning of receiving schar, reward, for such "light" mitzvos? After all, a mitzvah is a mitzvah. They all come from the same source.

Horav Simchah HaKohen Shepps, zl, cites the Talmud Sukkah 52A, wherein the Talmud relates that in the future, when this world will have achieved its completion, its destiny, and we are in Olam Habba, the World to Come, Hashem will take hold of the yetzer hora, evil inclination, and slaughter it in front of the tzaddikim, righteous and reshaim, wicked. Both groups will begin to weep. The tzaddikim will wonder how they had been able to vanquish this mighty yetzer. Indeed, it appeared to them as a har gevohah, tall mountain. The wicked will also cry, because they will say how they had been unable to overwhelm this yetzer, which is the size of a hairbreadth.

For the righteous, the yetzer hora appears as a mighty mountain, while to the wicked, it appears as a hairbreadth. What is the meaning of this allegory, and how does it relate to us today? Rav Shepps explains that at first the difference between the individual who becomes a tzaddik and the one who becomes a rasha is a hairbreadth. The righteous see the potential of ultimate ruin confronting the individual who does not take this hairbreadth seriously. They see the great mountain that is the result of a small waver to the left. The righteous person takes note of all the possibilities that challenge the individual who strays - ever so little. Who has not seen this in his lifetime? Two students can be seated on the same bench in the bais medrash - one becomes a Torah luminary, while the other "just becomes." He does not maximize his potential. Wherein lies the difference? What happened? The answer is that one of them decided to turn ever so slightly, and once he began to swerve, he could no longer straighten out. He was lost.

This can be compared to two trains that are on similar tracks, both pointed in the same direction, as they prepare to leave the station. They leave and, after a few miles, one train, which is headed to Los Angeles, veers to the left, while the other train, whose destination is New York, continues along the straight path. Three days later, each has arrived at its destination - three thousand miles apart! What happened? They were on the same track. They were on the same track, but the train traveling west made a slight turn which resulted in a three-thousand mile difference.

A similar situation applies to human endeavor. It takes very little to go off track with regard to Torah study and mitzvah performance. A hairbreadth, the wrong attitude concerning mitzvos which some of us neglect, is only the beginning. If one allows himself to absorb one slight setback without putting an immediate stop to it, he risks the chance of falling into an abyss of sin and depravation. It may seem reactionary to make such a statement, but one only has to ask those who have fallen exactly where it all began and what preempted their distancing themselves completely from Torah and mitzvos. Rav Shepps goes on to explain what appears to be an unconventional scenario regarding the blessings and curses upon Mount Gerizim and Mount Eival. The Talmud Sotah 32a describes what took place in Parashas Ki Savo, as Klal Yisrael is about to enter the Land. Six tribes stood on one mountain, while the six others stood on the other mountain. The Kohanim, the elders of the Leviim, together with the Aron HaKodesh stood in the valley between them. The Leviim in the valley turned their faces toward Mount Gerizim and recited six blessings. The tribes standing on the mountain called out, "Amen." They then turned their faces toward Har Eival and pronounced six curses. This was followed by the six tribes on the mountain calling out, "Amen." Why was it necessary to turn their faces toward the mountain? They could have made the same declaration without making a whole "to do" about turning their faces.

The Torah is teaching us an important lesson. The difference between blessing and curse is the turn of the face. It does not take much: a hairbreadth, a turn of the face, a small, insignificant gesture can determine the future of one's spirituality. It can decide the difference between a life of misery and a life of eternity - the turn of a face.

And you increase silver and gold for yourselves, and everything that you have will increase. (8:13)

Prosperity is very alluring - for many reasons. The Shlah HaKodesh asserts that when one's material assets multiply, his silver and gold increasing steadily, then, v'chol asher lecha yarbeh, "everything that you have will increase."

Suddenly, everything about you increases. People view you as wise, a talmid chacham, Torah scholar; the accolades about you increase commensurate with your assets. In other words, one who has been blessed by Hashem should not err and begin to believe all the "sudden" praise that he seems to be receiving. It would serve him well to attribute much of it to his newly-found wealth which Hashem has granted him.

A Jew once met the Chafetz Chaim and told him that he was the beneficiary of incredible blessing from Hashem. He was wealthy far beyond his needs. The Chafetz Chaim told him that now he should set aside time each day to have a seder in Torah study. This would be highly advantageous to his spiritual advancement. The man replied that, alas, he was swamped with work and couldn't seem to find any time for himself to indulge in Torah study.

Hearing this, the Chafetz Chaim said, "If you have no time, what do you have? There is no one poorer than one who has 'no time.'" Time is a commodity which is very valuable. Indeed, it is probably our most valuable asset. Every moment that is wasted is gone forever and can never be recovered. What is lost is eternally lost. One who does not apportion his time properly wastes Hashem's gift.

A young girl, whose father was a successful - but very busy - businessman, once asked her father how much he earned per hour. He replied that he had no set rate but, based upon his earnings and the time expended, he made approximately fifty dollars per hour. She then told him that she had saved up a few dollars and would like to "rent" him for a few minutes, so that she could have some quality time just with him.

The story has made the rounds, and I am not even certain that I have related it correctly. The message, however, is very clear: one who does not have time is very poor.

And you may say in your heart, "My strength and the might of my hand made me all this wealth." Then you shall remember Hashem, your G-d, that it was He Who gave you strength to make wealth. (8:17)

Self-confidence is an important character trait. One who has it, however, runs the risk of believing in himself to the point that he forgets who it really is that gives him the strength to succeed, the aptitude to excel, the perseverance to continue. In the above pasuk, the Torah cautions the individual not to fall prey to the smug attitude that his own talents and efforts have gained him his wealth and that his might has given him success at war. A Jew must realize that every bit of his success is a gift from Hashem, and that man only endeavors. Hashem blesses his endeavor with success.

The Yalkut Shimoni on Sefer Shmuel II 163 draws a comparison between the attributes of four kings concerning siyata d'Shmaya, Divine assistance. David HaMelech says in Sefer Tehillim 18:35, "I will pursue my foes and overtake them." Hashem's response was affirmative, as it says in Shmuel I 30:17, "And David smote them, from twilight to evening of the next day." Assa HaMelech arose and said, "I have no strength to slay my enemies, but I will pursue them, and You Hashem defeat them for me." Hashem agreed to do so, as it is written in Divrei HaYamim II 14:12, "And Assa and the people who were with him pursued them…for they were destroyed by Hashem." The fact that the pasuk says, "before Hashem," and not, "before Assa," indicates that Assa pursued, but Hashem actually won the battle.

Yehoshafat HaMelech arose and said, "I have strength neither to pursue, nor to slay, but I will recite a song of praise and You Hashem pursue them." Hashem agreed to this venture, as it is written in Divrei HaYamim II 20:22, "At the time that they commenced to sing the song and the praise, Hashem placed ambushers." Last was Chizkiyahu HaMelech who said, "I have neither the strength to slay, nor to pursue, nor even to recite a song, but I will sleep on my bed and You do everything." Hashem agreed to Chizkiyahu's request as it is written in Melachim II 19:35, "And an angel of Hashem went out and smote in the camp of Assyria."

What is the Yalkut teaching us? Why is there such a disparity in attitude between the four leaders of our People? And what lesson can we derive herein for contemporary life? Horav Moshe Feinstein, zl, explains that Chazal are presenting us with a formula for life. Whatever we do - regardless how much or how little - we need Hashem to grant us success. Our efforts are required only because our merit is insufficient to catalyze success without them. In the Talmud Kiddushin 82b, Rabbi Shimon ben Elazar says, "In all my days, I have never seen a deer who had to dry figs (i.e.who had to toil for his food. It was there waiting for him.), but I did wrong, and, therefore, I must work for my livelihood."

The Torah condemns the kochi v'otzem yadi, "my strength and the might of my hand did it all" syndrome that plagues so many of us. We must ingrain in our minds, and act accordingly, that it all is derived from Hashem. How much we must do in order to catalyze Hashem's grace depends on our personal level of belief and trust in Hashem. This is why a different attitude applies concerning each of the four kings and their respective generations.

During David HaMelech's tenure as King, Klal Yisrael reached an unparalleled level of righteousness, trusting Hashem unequivocally, realizing that only His power - not theirs- could achieve victory in war. David, therefore, felt comfortable asking Hashem to allow him to fight his enemies via conventional methods of warfare. He was acutely aware that when he triumphed, the people would be clear in the belief that it was really Hashem Who had waged war for them.

Asa's generation was not on the exalted spiritual level that David enjoyed. Asa knew that his contemporaries' trust in Hashem was not very serious, and, therefore, he feared that if the enemy were to be defeated in a conventional war, the people would mistakenly believe that it was their own doing - not that of Hashem. Thus, Asa asked Hashem to perform a miracle in which his enemies would be defeated even before he could pursue them. In this manner, the people would be cognizant that it was Hashem Who had catalyzed the success - not the people.

Yehoshafat lived in a generation farther removed from Hashem than his predecessor had. Thus, he felt that even if they were to pursue the enemy, the people would feel that they had played a role in triumphing over their enemies. Therefore, he asked Hashem to defeat them entirely on His own, while he merely would sing a song of praise. The less his people were to be involved, the smaller the chance that they would believe in their own strength.

Chizkiyahu's generation had deteriorated beyond that of Yehoshafat, to the point that Chizkiyahu felt that even a song might be presented in the wrong light. The people might think that the song had some mystical incantation - and it was because of their song that they had defeated the enemy. Therefore, Chizkiyahu asked Hashem to do it all, thereby not allowing the people to err and believe that they had produced the defeat. They had to see clearly that it was all Hashem and that they had not been more than spectators.

Rav Moshe goes on to emphasize the need for our generation, which is certainly far-removed from the generation of Chizkiyahu HaMelech, to see overt miracles which are unquestionable. Only in this way will people see that victory is Hashem's. We are only the pawns on the chess board. When we think about it, we, today, confront a different yetzer hora, evil inclination, one which finds every way to convince us that the overt miracles which we see are all part of the scheme of nature - and many fall for it.

Carve for yourself two stone tablets like the first ones. (10:1)

There is a fascinating Midrash on this parsha which sheds light on the dialogue between Moshe Rabbeinu and Hashem prior to Moshe breaking the Luchos. The Midrash relates that when Moshe broke the Luchos, Hashem became angry with him. Hashem said, "Had you toiled and carved the Luchos, you would not have smashed them. I carved them, and you broke them. Now I will show you what it means to make something: Carve for yourself two stone tablets like the first ones." The Midrash implies that Hashem was upset with Moshe for not being considerate of the "effort" He put into creating the Luchos. While this may be understandable, it is not consistent with the description in the Torah at the end of Sefer Devarim. The Torah concludes, "Never again has there arisen in Yisrael a prophet like Moshe…and by all the strong hand and awesome powers that Moshe performed before the eyes of all Yisrael" (Devarim 34:11, 12).

Chazal explain that l'einei Kol Yisrael, "before the eyes of all Yisrael," is a reference to Moshe shattering the Luchos before the nation's eyes. It was a momentary decision, clearly not an easy one, but, nonetheless, one that had to be made. Hashem agreed with Moshe, as Chazal say that Hashem told Moshe, Yeyasher kochacha she'shibarta, "Thank you for breaking them!" The Luchos and the Golden Calf do not go together. A nation that is reveling in idol worship cannot appreciate the value of the Luchos. Therefore, Moshe shattered them. Why does the Midrash indicate that Hashem was upset with Moshe for not being considerate of His handiwork? He had to destroy the Luchos.

Horav Boruch Mordechai Ezrachi, Shlita, explains that since Moshe had achieved such a pinnacle of spirituality that he was able to see the wrong in a nation that shared Luchos with a Golden Calf, he should also have taken into consideration the effect of the shattering of the Luchos on Hashem's handiwork. Although he did have to break the Luchos, he was also responsible to think about Hashem when he acted on his emotions. Did he take Hashem's "feelings" into consideration? Did he empathize with Hashem on His loss? It took considerable fortitude and courage to shatter the Luchos, but did he give any thought to the One Who had fashioned these Luchos?

What a profound insight! How important it is for us never to lose sight of others and how our actions, albeit noble, affect others. Moshe acted according to his understanding of the situation. Klal Yisrael could not have simultaneous allegiances to the Golden Calf and the Luchos. The message had to be conveyed emphatically - which is what Moshe did. Did he for one moment, however, stop to consider that Hashem was "involved" in the equation? Surely, He would agree that Klal Yisrael did not deserve the Luchos, but did Moshe recognize that he was breaking something that Hashem had lovingly created? Regrettably, he did not. The greater one is, the more sensitive he must be to others.

Horav Yosef Chaim Sonnenfeld, zl, would go out of his way to alleviate any slight to another person. It was customary to visit the rav on Yom Tov. Some would come to bask in the radiance that shone from Rav Yosef Chaim's countenance on a festival, while others came simply to pay respect to the venerable Torah giant. On one specific Yom Tov, a steady stream of people from all walks of life came to visit. Rabbanim, Roshei Yeshivah, lay leaders, students and baalei battim all came by to extend their best wishes. On this holiday, he greeted every person that arrived with a resounding, "Gut Yom Tov," and a remark that the individual was probably on the way to - or returning from - the Kosel. When the last of the visitors had departed, Horav Moshe Blau, zl, who was sitting next to his rebbe asked why he had made this comment to the visitors. Rav Yosef Chaim explained that seated next to him the whole time was Rav Eliyahu Kletzkin, a distinguished rav who had come from Lublin, Poland. He did not want him to feel ill at ease that such an enormous crowd was coming especially to see him, so he made it appear as if each of them was stopping by on the way to or from the Kosel. It was a minor gesture, but it took a great man to think of it.

Horav Shlomo Freifeld, zl, was such an individual who was always taking into account the feelings of others, regardless of their status in life. In his book, "Warmed By Their Fire," Rabbi Yisrael Besser cites a few vignettes from the life of this American Torah giant. It was at the end of the chuppah of a close student, and the glass had just been broken. The student turned to his rebbe to give him a kiss. This was the peak of his simcha; it was the moment, and he wanted to share it with the individual who had changed his life. Rav Shlomo smiled broadly and said, "Go kiss your mother first." This is consideration. This was Rav Shlomo Freifeld.

Va'ani Tefillah

Boneh Yerushalayim Hashem, nidchei Yisrael yikanes.
The Builder of Yerushalayim is Hashem, the dispersed of Yisrael He will gather in.

The pasuk begins in lashon hoveh, present tense; Hashem is presently building Yerushalayim: it closes in the future tense, "the dispersed He will gather in." Should not the people first be brought home? Siach Yitzchak explains that the pasuk is addressing those who have begun to give up hope, given all of the travailities we have been experiencing. They question the possibility of light amidst such impenetrable darkness. The pasuk responds to this question by saying boneh Yerushalayim Hashem. The Almighty devotes Himself to building Yerushalayim, brick by brick. Every travail that we experience, every trial that we as a nation have sustained and suffered through, is another brick in the fa?ade of Yerushalayim. Hashem's ways are secret and hidden from us. We should never give up. Everything is used as a stepping stone toward that glorious day when nidchei Yisrael ye'kanes, "the dispersed of Yisrael He will gather in."

Horav Shimon Schwab, zl, adds that the tefillos, prayers, for the geulah, redemption, which Klal Yisrael have expressed throughout the generations serve as the building blocks for the return of the Heavenly Kingdom to Yerushalayim. So the process which will rebuild our Holy City consists of Hashem's acceptance of the Jewish People's prayers for the rebuilding of Yerushalayim. Each prayer is a building block. We may add that the texture of the mortar depends upon the individual level of devotion of each Jew.

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Peninim on the Torah is in its 18th year of publication. The first fourteen years have been published in book form.

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