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Peninim on the Torah

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Rabbi A. Leib Scheinbaum
Hebrew Academy of Cleveland


As a father will chastise his son, so Hashem, your G-d, chastises you. (8:5)

The Torah clearly states that afflictions, hardships, misery, pain and troubles are all aspects of a loving Father's relationship with His son. While this might be difficult to accept amidst one's pain and misery, if we could possibly isolate ourselves from all of the emotional pain, we might consider that what we are experiencing is from our Father in Heaven, Who certainly does not want to hurt us. If that is the case, why are we suffering so much? Is that the way a loving parent acts toward his child? Sometimes it is necessary. As with all parental-based chastisements, it usually hurts the parent more to see his child suffer than it hurts the child himself.

There is, however, more to it. We must acknowledge the fact that there is another world, another life, in which spirituality reigns supreme. The physical realities to which we are privy in this world are meaningless in the world of the spirit. It is an entirely different life - something we cannot understand. For a moment, let us remove the material aspects of the world that blind us to the truth, so that we can view life from a spiritual perspective. Horav Sholom Schwadron, zl, quotes an incredible analogy from the Chafetz Chaim which should inspire us to open up our eyes to what we cannot yet see, that in which we can and should believe.

There was a Jew who was devout and pious. He was also an erudite Torah scholar who was proficient in all areas of Torah law and literature. No area of Torah was foreign to him. He had one problem; for some reason, he had an issue which he could not control. He hit people with his right hand. He did not know what compelled him to act in such an aberrant manner, but, try as he did, he could not control his swiping at people. He was acutely aware that this was considered sinful behavior. Indeed, one who strikes a fellow Jew transgresses two prohibitive commands. Teshuvah is insufficient unless one asks forgiveness from the victim. He was really in trouble.

No man lives forever. This individual passed from this world with a heavy heart. What would he do if Heaven decided to punish him for his one failing? He discovered quickly enough that the Heavenly Tribunal adheres to a different set of rules. Indeed, the entire game plan is different - as we will all soon discover. The Tribunal decided that, as a result of his striking people, he would have to return to this world reincarnated, to live a life of decency and respect for his fellow man. The only other alternative was Gehinom, Purgatory.

When presented with the choice of punishments, he opted for Gehinom, since he did not feel comfortable returning to this world. What if he would again be unable to control his urge to strike people? Indeed, it is well-known that whatever failing one had in his earlier existence returns with a vengeance the next time around. The angel escorted him to Gehinom where he lasted a very short time. It was impossible to bear. He would have to opt for the alternative. He turned to the Heavenly Tribunal and asked for a special dispensation. After all, he had been deficient in only one area. Otherwise, he was a righteous, upright Torah scholar. He asked that, given his "problem," would it be possible that he be born without his right hand? Thus, he would be unable to hit anyone. The Tribunal replied that this would defeat the purpose of his return. His penance would be served only under such condition in which he overcame his urge to strike, with his hand. The man did not give up. Could the Tribunal take into consideration his many years of diligent Torah study? Perhaps, if he would relinquish all of the merit due him for his Torah study, they might consider allowing him to be born without one arm? The Tribunal acquiesced, and the neshamah returned to this world, sans one arm.

Can we imagine the scene in the birthing room as the beautiful baby was born missing an arm? The parents were hysterical. The family lamented. The child was destined to live a difficult life. He would survive and, quite possibly, thrive. It would be challenging at first, but, with the proper support, he would lead a completely successful life. People would feel bad. He might even be depressed at times, asking, "Why me?" but, as the Chafetz Chaim concludes, "He asked for it. In fact, he begged for it. These are the types of yissurim that a loving Father gives, because He cares."

We have now been availed a completely new perspective on misery. Who are we to question Hashem? His reasoning goes beyond our scope of understanding.

At that time Hashem said to me, "Carve for yourself two stone Tablets like the first ones, and ascend to Me to the mountain. (10:1)

Moshe Rabbeinu relates to the Jewish People that Hashem acquiesced to his entreaty and instructed him to "carve for yourself" and, afterwards, to "make a wooden Ark for yourself." Rashi adds to Moshe's monologue: "But I made an Ark first, for when I would return from the mountain with the Tablets in my hand. Where would I put them?" This is not the Ark made by Betzalel, for the Jewish People did not deal with the construction of the Mishkan until after Yom Kippur. For upon Moshe's descent from the mountain, he commanded the nation concerning the Mishkan. Betzalel made the Mishkan first and then made the various vessels and furnishings. Thus, this wooden Ark was distinct from the golden Ark made by Betzalal after the completion of the Mishkan. Moshe's Ark accompanied the nation in battle, while Betzalel's Ark did not go into battle except in the days of Eili Kohen Gadol, for which they were ultimately punished.

Let us go back to the original command Moshe received from Hashem to ascend the mountain. At that time, he was not told to construct an Ark. Yet, this time, Hashem told him to prepare a wooden Ark for the Luchos, Tablets, with which he would be returning. Moshe, of course, complied, so that prior to ascending the mountain, he prepared the receptacle which would contain the Tablets. Why? What distinguished the second Luchos from the first?

Horav Eliyahu Marciano, Shlita, distinguishes between the composite nature of the first Luchos and that of the second Luchos. The first Luchos were given to Klal Yisrael on the heels of their seminal declaration, Naase v'nishma, "We will do and we will listen." This assertion of commitment elevated the nation to an unprecedented spiritual plateau, previously unrealized by mortals. Indeed, a Heavenly Voice emanated and asked, "Who revealed the secret (Naase v'nishma) to my children? This was suggestive of an attitude evinced only by the Ministering Angels. In other words, Klal Yisrael was so spiritually elevated, that they were like angels. Thus, Hashem Himself made the Luchos which they received. Composed of black fire on white fire, these Luchos were suited for a nation which had reached the level of paskah zuhamassan, the noxiousness which prevailed over them (as a result of Adam's sin) had ceased.

The second Luchos reflected a different story altogether. After the nation had sinned with the Golden Calf, the zuhamah, noxiousness, returned. As a result, they were no longer worthy of Luchos constructed by G-d. As mortals, they required Luchos made by a mortal. Therefore, Moshe was instructed to fashion the next set of Tablets.

We now understand why, concerning the second set of Luchos, it was necessary to have an Ark prepared ahead of time. The Ark symbolizes the concept of preparation for accepting the Torah. One must prepare himself, so that he is spiritually suitable to accept the Torah. He must refine his character, eradicate his gross attitude and expunge his base frame of mind. While the Torah certainly refines a person, it is necessary that one prepare himself to the best extent possible, so that he is attuned to the Torah's purifying influence.

Given the above, we can understand why Hashem commanded Moshe to make an Ark of wood. Why not gold? Certainly, Torah is sufficiently precious that it is worthy of being housed in a golden Ark.

The Netziv, zl, explains that the second Luchos are an allusion to Torah She'Baal Peh, the Oral Law, whose mastery is dependent upon the toil and diligence of individuals. One does not achieve Torah scholarship by sitting back and waiting for an inspiration. It takes work. In Pirkei Avos Chazal teach: Kach hee darkah shel Torah, "This is the way of the Torah: Eat bread with salt, drink water in small measure, sleep on the ground, live a life of deprivation - but toil in the Torah." Wood symbolizes simplicity; gold does not. One begins Torah study with extreme commitment, ready to relinquish his material/physical comforts, so that he will excel in Torah erudition. Ultimately, his knowledge becomes the source of great spiritual riches, his greatest treasure.

Rav Marciano supplements this with the notion that wood implies growth. It is the product of planting, fertilization, care and devotion. A tree grows only after the ground has been properly prepared. As it grows, it must be weeded, tilled, rid of bugs and irrigated often. Only then does it grow tall and strong. Torah study is very similar. One does not just make it overnight. It takes years of work - before, during and after - to study, understand and maintain his knowledge. Perhaps we might apply the simplicity and unfinished nature of wood to another aspect of growth in Torah: the will to succeed. We all too often find young people who give up all too quickly, not allowing themselves the chance to complete their quest for success. Some cannot handle the obstacles; others erroneously think they handled the obstacles. Both are wrong. When there is a will, there is a way. Horav Shlomo Friefeld, zl, one of the most successful Roshei Yeshivah of this generation, was a man who almost singlehandedly spearheaded the baal-teshuvah movement. He once intimated to a close student, "I faced many obstacles, and I triumphed over all of them. I have faced difficult hurdles, but they never overtook me. Do you know why? It is because I had one chasid, close follower, who never stopped believing in me. Myself!"

Rav Friefeld applied this psychology in his dealings with his students, many of whom were recent "?migr?s" to Torah Judaism. They were starting at the foot of a tall mountain. How could they reach the pinnacle? How could they scale the mountain of Torah that stood before them? In his biography of Rav Friefeld, Rabbi Yisrael Besser reveals the Rosh Yeshivah's secret, what he saw in people, and how he was able to encourage them to growth in Torah. He quoted his revered Rebbe, Horav Yitzchak Hutner, zl, who once chastised a student, "How can you speak about yourself that way?" This emotional reaction to a negative statement the student made about himself indicated how upset the Rosh Yeshivah was. One has no right to "knock" himself.

Rav Friefeld understood this concept as a key to understanding the meaning of lashon hara, slanderous speech: why people speak it and what it reflects about them. People see themselves through a jaundiced eye. The ayin ra, negative perspective, affects them so that they speak badly of themselves, and, eventually, the "cup runneth over" to everyone and everything around them. There are many talented people out there who have great difficulty in noticing anything positive about themselves. Regrettably, this reaction does not remain within the parameters of oneself.

In Sefer Shmuel I 22:2, the Navi relates about the unstable period prior to David Hamelech's ascension to the throne of Klal Yisrael. At that point, the man who would be king was hiding in a cave in Adulam. A group of men gathered around him. These were his "supporters." The pasuk's description of them indicates that they were a sorry crew. Kol ish matzok; v'chol ish asher lo noshe'; v'chol ish mar nefesh. An ish matzok is a man in distress; everything he touches has a habit of turning sour. Ish asher lo noshe is a man who has a creditor. In other words, he is debt-ridden, probably bankrupt, with his creditors chasing after him. Ish mar nefesh, a man with an embittered spirit; is a depressed person: one who is down and out; someone upon whom the sun rarely shines; someone who does not know how to smile, because he is out of practice. This was the motley crew with whom David surrounded himself. How does one work with such an embittered, depressed group of self-rejected individuals?

Rav Friefeld quoted the Alexander Rebbe, who explained that David's success was his ability to call each man an ish, a man. As the lev, heart, of Klal Yisrael, the heart of each and every Jew. He saw into the penimiyus, internal essence, of a person. He saw beyond the external circumstances, past the false facades. He saw the ish, true person.

"David was a yifei einayim, beautiful eyes." Do you think that this means that he had blue eyes? No! It means that he had a good pair of eyes. He knew how to see; I think we may add that he also knew where to look.

This was Rav Friefeld's secret to his success. He saw beyond appearances. He saw into the hearts of each and every one of his talmidim, students.

Rav Friefeld successfully motivated a generation of students who were relying upon a commodity which over the years has become increasingly rare: sincerity on the part of the student. He could encourage, cajole, motivate and inspire, but, unless the student had a genuine desire to succeed, it would not work. Once, a student who was not blessed with great learning abilities, approached his rebbe in tears. Every line of Gemorah was a struggle for him. He toiled to understand what little he could, but saw very little success from all his effort. He told his rebbe, "I cannot go on. Everyone else is moving forward, growing in Torah, while I am at the exact place as when I started. It is just too overwhelming."

The Rosh Yeshivah replied, "You can be a gadol baTorah just as a certain talmid chacham, if you really want to."

The student began to laugh, implying that while he appreciated his rebbe's words of encouragement, he was not buying into it. His rebbe must be joking.

Hearing this, Rav Friefeld arose from his chair and grabbed the student by the lapels of his jacket, "The Torah writes, v'lifnei iveir lo sitein michshol, this means that it is forbidden to misguide someone. I would never tell you something which I do not completely believe is possible!"

When a Rosh Yeshivah/rebbe believes in a student, and the student realizes it, they generate hope for success. It is definitely something to think about.

Hashem, your G-d, you shall fear, Him shall you serve, to Him shall you cleave. (10:20)

In the Talmud Kesubos 111b, Chazal wonder how a human being can possibly cling to Hashem. He is described as eish ochlah, a consuming fire (Ibid. 4:24). Can a human being cling to fire? Chazal reply that it is all about relationships. When a man marries off his daughter to a Torah scholar, engages in commerce on behalf of a Torah scholar, or in some way benefits a Torah scholar with his possessions, these deeds are considered and counted as if he were clinging to Hashem Himself. Sustaining what is important to Hashem warrants the reward of eternal life in Olam Habba, the World to Come.

Additionally, the Sefer HaChinuch writes that when one associates with a talmid chacham, Torah scholar, it rubs off. A closer relationship with a talmid chacham avails one of the opportunity to be exposed to his greatness of spirit, refinement of middos, character traits. Thus, his life is inspired, making him a better, more righteous Jew. This is what Shlomo Hamelech alludes to when he says in Sefer Mishlei 13:20, "One who walks with the wise will grow wise."

In his anthology of divrei Torah from Horav Avraham Pam, zl, Rabbi Sholom Smith cites the Chafetz Chaim who, in his Pesichah to Sefer Hamitzvos Ha'Katzeir, Asei 6, notes a practical application. A man walks into a shul between Minchah and Maariv. He confronts the usual scene. Many in the shul are listening to the Rav's shiur. Some are sitting in the back hall discussing the problems confronting the world, the Torah camp in general, or issues in their immediate community. Yet another group is speaking lashon hora, slanderous speech, about their friends or neighbors. The person now entering the shul is confronted with a "choice": Does he join the moshav leitzim, enclave of scoffers, in the back of the shul, or does he go up to the front of the shul and listen to the shiur? If he remains in the rear of the shul, the Chafetz Chaim asserts that he is guilty of violating the mitzvah of U'Bo sidbak, "To Him you shall cling," because he has clearly indicated where he would rather be. He has no interest in attaching himself to Hashem. He would rather sit in the back and shmooze.

Clearly, we do not realize this when we decide to shmooze in the rear of the shul. While we accept the notion that it might be offensive to the congregation, and certainly to the Rav, who would think about Hashem? No one in his right mind would knowingly - if he had the opportunity - detach himself from the Almighty. Yet, many of us do so on an almost constant basis.

Such a negative move, albeit innocuous and unintentional, can lead to a much worse outcome. Rav Pam suggests that this is what occurred concerning Lot. When an argument broke out between the shepherds of Lot and the shepherds of Avraham Avinu, Avraham suggested to Lot that they part ways. Things had gotten out of hand, and, rather than risk an all-out machlokes, controversy, between them, Avraham had offered to Lot to move first. He could choose for himself any available parcel of land. Lot selected the lush, fertile plain of Jordan. The Torah writes about Lot's move, Vayisa miKedem, "And Lot journeyed from Kedem." The Midrash interprets Kedem as more than a geographical description, but rather, as a reference to Hashem. MiKadmono shel olam, "From the Ancient One of the world." By separating himself from Avraham, Lot indicated that, Ee'efshi lo b'Avraham v'lo b'Elokav, "I have no use/want, nothing to do - not with Avraham, nor with his G-d." This move, this negative choice, which at the time did not seem so negative, was the beginning of Lot's spiritual decline. When one has the opportunity to be in the proximity of Avraham and he chooses to leave, it is a clear message regarding his priorities in life. From the heights of spirituality to the nadir of evil and disgrace, Lot showed the way.

Rav Pam explains why the Midrash attributes Lot's decline to apostasy as a result of his move from Avraham. If, for any reason, Lot could leave the company of the individual who was the pillar of chesed and righteousness in the world, this could be because he was thoroughly evil and had long ago begun to reject the Almighty. Otherwise, how could he leave Avraham?

This is a frightening message. Every Jew, regardless of his background in Torah knowledge, requires a rebbe, Torah mentor, with whom he can discuss vital - and sometimes even mundane - issues that affect him. One needs objective guidance that focuses on the Torah's perspective of what is proper and what is iniquitous. Since the lines of demarcation between these two extremes are not always clear, it is essential that one has a mentor whom he respects and to whose words he will adhere. Regrettably, some of us listen to a rebbe as long as his line of thinking coincides with ours, as long as he says what we want to hear. We do not seek advice, but rather, blessings that acquiesce with our decisions. One who has a rebbe not only receives proper guidance, he also fulfills the mitzvah of U'bo tidbak, "To Hashem shall you cling."

You should know today, for it is not with your children who did not know and who did not see the chastisement of Hashem, your G-dů Rather, it is your eyes that see all the great work of Hashem. (11:2,7)

Hashem addresses the original group that left Egypt, instructing them to be attentive and accept His rebuke. He emphasizes that they, unlike their offspring, personally witnessed the liberation followed by the Revelation. Therefore, it was to them that Hashem was speaking. He expected more from them. Horav Arye Leib Bakst, zl, cites the words of the Chovas HaLevavos in Shaar Cheshbon Hanefesh to explain these pesukim. "The endeavor of men concerning their Torah study and life in general changes with the degree of their recognition, common sense and the merit of their understanding. Each and every one is commanded to introspect concerning what he personally is obligated to Hashem. This is in accordance with his acknowledgment of Hashem's favors to him." The Chovas HaLevavavos employs our pasuk to substantiate his thesis. Hashem expected more from the original nation that was liberated than from their children who had not been privy to such overwhelming miracles and wonders. Eineicham ha'ro'os, "It is your eyes that see."

Hashem's rebuke is stronger to the senior generation. They are in His debt. Rav Bakst posits that the obligation concerning adherence to certain mitzvos is not the same. There are some individuals who have greater responsibility, greater obligations. Veritably, the Torah was given equally to all Jews, and, therefore, all Jews are obliged to observe the Torah and carry out its mitzvos. Some Jews, however, are different. They must do more, because they owe Hashem, having benefited greatly from His favor. In accordance with their obligation to Him, so, too, is their responsibility towards mitzvah performance. In addition, the Jew who has a profound understanding of Torah and mitzvos also has a greater responsibility concerning their execution.

The Chovas HaLevavos in Shaar Avodas Elokim underscores the fact that Hashem has distinguished His favor among nations, among people and among families. He chose Klal Yisrael from among the nations of the world. He then divided the Jewish People into three groups -: Kohen, Levi, Yisrael. Among the individual groups are certain families and individuals who have clearly been blessed. They are Hashem's chosen ones. The Rosh Yeshivah adds that bnei Torah who are able to spend their lives immersed in Torah study are especially fortunate. As with all good things, however, with blessing comes responsibility.

A powerful lesson may be derived from here. One who has benefited from Hashem becomes a baal chov, debtor. He owes Hashem and is, thus, obliged to do more, serve better, observe mitzvos meticulously. One who has been blessed with yichus, exceptional pedigree, has a stronger responsibility than one who is not the scion of an illustrious lineage. It goes with the territory.

Va'ani Tefillah

Amen. Y'hei Shmei rabba mevorach.

Amen. Y'hei Shmei rabba mevorach is one of the most powerful verses in the Tefillah. In the Talmud Berachos 3a, Chazal relate that Rabbi Yosi once walked through one of the ruins in Yerushalayim. He stopped to pray. Eliyahu HaNavi met him and waited until he concluded his prayer. After greeting each other, Eliyahu asked Rabbi Yosi, "What sound did you hear in this ruin?" Rabbi Yosi replied, "I heard a Heavenly echo lamenting like a dove, saying, 'Woe to the children, that for their sin I demolished My House, burned down My Sanctuary, and banished them among the nations.'" Eliyahu said, "I swear that not at this time alone does the Heavenly Voice say this, but every single day, three times, it says that. Yet, this is not all. At the time that the Jews enter batei knesses and batei midrash, and they respond, 'Amen, Y'hei Shmei rabba mevorach,'" Hashem nods His head and says, "Happy is the King Who is so lauded and praised in His House, but what has a Father Who banished His children into exile? And woe to the children who were banished from the table of their Father."

Chazal are teaching us the incredible impact engendered by saying, Amen. Y'hei Shmei rabba mevorach. Perhaps the next time we are in shul and we hear Kaddish recited, we will stop to think Who is listening to us.

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