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)

Rashi notes that the homiletic interpretation of eikev, which means heel, alludes to the sort of mitzvos which people do not take seriously, that they regard as unimportant. Thus, they figuratively "tread upon them with their heels." The Torah assures us that if we are careful to observe even these so-called "neglected" mitzvos, Hashem will certainly reward our efforts. The message is basic. We have no way to determine the value and weight of mitzvos. They are all decrees from Hashem which we are commanded to carry out - "no ands, ifs, or buts."

We find another form of neglected mitzvah. It is a mitzvah which one performs "financially," but not emotionally. One can spend thousands of dollars to purchase a pair of Tefillin, yet not think about what it is that he is wearing and why. We think that all one has to do is overspend on the mitzvah - buy the most expensive matzah; make the most expensive Succah; or spend Succos in the Holy Land - and then one has been yotzei, fulfilled, the mitzvah in accordance with everything that Hashem asks. The money is spent, but the mitzvah remains an eikev - afterthought.

I have seen individuals incarcerated in the penal system, who are permitted to use Tefillin once a week, or whenever the chaplain is in attendance. The excitement, devotion and religious fervor of these men would cause one to imagine that the Tefillin they are placing upon themselves are extraordinary - when, in fact, they are seventy-years-old and barely kosher. It is all in the attitude - not in the expenditure.

Horav David Tebel, zl, Rav of Minsk, was a brilliant gaon, scholar and Talmudist. He authored the Nachalas David, a volume of commentary on the Talmud that is a staple for any serious student of Talmud. Prior to becoming Rav in Minsk, he served as Rav in a small village whose Jewish community was even smaller. The community did not have the wherewithal to support a rabbi. Thus, the Rav subsisted on less than little, often going without a piece of bread in his home and no food for Shabbos.

A few times each year, two wealthy Jewish businessmen from a different city would come before him with a din Torah, monetary dispute. They chose him for his fair and clear adjudication of the law. Appreciating the Rav's common sense approach to their halachic dispute, they both paid him handsomely for his service. This fee sustained his family.

One time, following a din Torah, Rav David asked them to sit for a moment. He had a request to make of them: "You are aware that during the past years, I have served as your Rav to render halachic judgment concerning your business dealings. I was glad to help, and I never asked for monetary recompense - although, I admit, that you were both more than kind in your manner of reimbursement. Now I must go against my grain, however, and ask you to help me with an issue that I find overwhelming. My daughter recently became engaged to a fine young man, a budding Torah scholar, who will one day be a jewel in the crown of Torah. I obligated myself to pay my daughter's dowry, which comes to a substantial sum. As you probably are aware, I do not have a penny to my name. I, therefore, am breaking with tradition and asking you to help me in my time of need."

Rav David concluded his request, hoping that their response would be immediate and positive. He was taken aback when they told him, "Rebbe, we give our Maaser, tithe money, to the Rav of our community. We feel each Jewish community should worry about and attend to the needs of its individual Rav. We take care of our own, and we suggest that the Rav's kehillah, congregation, attend to the needs of its own spiritual leader."

Rav David listened to their response and said, "Let me share a powerful story with you. Perhaps it will better illuminate the issues for you. A wealthy man became ill and passed away suddenly, in the flower of his youth. Aside from his enormous wealth, he left over a very special pair of Tefillin that were written by a sofer, scribe, of saintly repute. The Tefillin alone were of great value. As occurs often in the best of families, a dispute arose between the surviving sons as to who should inherit the Tefillin. Rather than fight and become enemies, they decided to sell the Tefillin and split the proceeds evenly. In the meantime, the Tefillin lay in a drawer in their father's desk.

"One young brother had yet not become bar-mitzvah. As the bar mitzvah of the young orphan was rapidly approaching, the brothers decided that nothing could be more appropriate than to give their father's Tefillin to their little brother. The young bar-mitzvah boy put on the Tefillin in earnest, realizing their value, both in a spiritual and sentimental sense. They remained with him his entire life; he never missed a day of putting on his special Tefillin. Well, actually, he did miss one day.

"The young boy became a wealthy businessman whose business dealings carried him far and wide. Wherever he went, he had his Tefillin with him. They never left his side. One night, while on the road, he was snowed in and could not return to his hotel in the city. The roads would be impassable for at least a day. He became an emotional wreck. Not only did he not have his special Tefillin with him - he had no Tefillin. How could he daven? Where could he obtain a pair of Tefillin?

"The gentile with whom he was dealing remembered that one old Jew lived in the town. Perhaps he had a pair of Tefillin which the businessman could borrow. The gentile immediately sought out the Jew, who was only too happy to lend his Tefillin to a co-religionist. Regrettably, the Tefillin were ancient, the color peeling. He had no idea who had written them. At best, they were kosher b'dieved, ex-post facto. The businessman had no choice but to use them, but still hoped that he would make it back to his hotel in time to use his own. Unfortunately, his hope of returning on time did not materialize. This would be the only time in his life that he had not worn his father's Tefillin. Hopefully, at the appropriate time, he would not be called to task for it.

"Life does not go on forever - even for the high and mighty. We all must one day stand before the Heavenly Tribunal and offer our excuses for the failures in our life. Some are lucky. They prepare in this life. Others are not so fortunate. Our "hero" went the way of all men, and, in due time, he too stood before the Tribunal. How shocked his neshamah, soul, was to hear the words, karkafta d'lo monach Tefillin, "A person who did not put on Tefillin." Apparently in Heaven, they were aware of something that had eluded him in this world. The Tefillin which he thought were so exceptional, were in fact, pasul, unfit, disqualified! He had no idea, but one does not dispute the Heavenly Tribunal. The punishment for a Jew who does not wear Tefillin - for one who is a poshea Yisrael b'gufan, transgresses the law with his body - is eternal Gehinom, Purgatory.

Imagine how this neshamah trembled as the prosecuting angels grabbed hold of him and were about to carry out his punishment immediately. Suddenly, a different angel came forward and declared, "Wait! I have something. One time, he was stuck in a snowstorm and he borrowed an old pair of Tefillin that were kosher! He is no longer a person who never put on Tefillin. He wore Tefillin once in his life!" Yes, concluded Rav David, "it was those unseemly Tefillin that saved the day for him.

"My friends," Rav David told the two men, "It is certainly true that you have designated your tzedakah, charitable endeavors, for certain purposes, which I am sure that are very noble and important. Nevertheless, perhaps my daughter's wedding will be that specific tzedakah that will make the difference concerning your eternal future." We never know!

You will eat and you will be satisfied and bless Hashem, your G-d, for the good Land that He gave you. (8:10)

The words V'achalta v'savata, "You will eat and you will be satisfied," are mentioned twice in this Parsha: in the above pasuk, and later in (11:15). There is one discrepancy, however, the above pasuk has an added word: u'beirachta, "and [you] will bless [Hashem]." In the second pasuk, the words V'achalta v'savata are followed by, Hishamru lachem pen yifteh levavchem v'sartem, "Beware for yourselves, lest your heart be seduced and you will turn astray." Wherein lay the difference between the two phrases? Why is the second one followed with, "beware," while the first concludes, "you will bless"?

Horav Zev Weinberger, Shlita, quotes Rashi on the second pasuk, hishamru, "beware" - "One does not rebel against Hashem, unless he is first satisfied." This means that the more one is successful, the greater his good fortune, the stronger the possibility of backlash. It is the successful person who can lose his faith as his good fortune goes to his head. He is capable of declaring, kochi v'otzem yadi assa li es ha'chayil hazeh, "My strength and might of my hand made me all this wealth" (Devarim 8:17). I did it all by myself. Nobody helped me. I am a self-made man. Such a person denies Divine Providence. He does not perceive Hashem's input. The arrogance goes to his head, as he blatantly - without fear - rebels against Hashem. This is the fear of hishamer, "beware," that is often the result of v'achalta v'savata.

How does one prevent such dire consequences? What safeguards can we put into place to prevent success from going to our heads? The answer to this question is provided by the Torah: u'beirachta es Hashem Elokecha, "Bless Hashem." When one realizes and acknowledges that whatever success he enjoys is all the result of the Almighty, then it will not go to his head. One becomes haughty only if he thinks and begins to believe that he is it, that he has wrought all of his achievement. One who attributes good fortune to the Source of all success blesses Hashem for His gift and continues to grow with it.

The nisayon, challenge, of, v'ram levavecha, "And your heart will become haughty and you will forget Hashem" (Ibid. 8:14), is not exclusive to material success. Rav Weinberger emphasizes that it is a hurdle even with regard to spiritual achievement. It can go to one's head. The story is told that the Kotzker Rebbe, zl, once observed a chasid of his walking down the street on Shabbos following an inspiring day of learning, wearing his shtreimel, chassidic hat, on a tilt. The Rebbe remarked, "I am afraid that if you were to learn two more blatt, folios of Talmud, you would walk down the street with your head uncovered!" The Rebbe was alluding to the idea that even spiritual satisfaction taken the wrong way can indicate an inner spiritual emptiness.

One who achieves spiritual ascendency should immediately use his accomplishment as a stepping-stone for reaching greater heights. Indeed, one should never be "satisfied" with spiritual fulfillment. He must spur himself further for greater purposes.

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

The Torah is speaking metaphorically. The heart is the seat of emotion and desire. As long as one has not cut away the spiritual dross that surrounds his heart, his trend towards sinful behavior continues unabated. If one addresses his impulses and desires, puts them in check, he weakens their ability to cause him to gravitate towards sin. Ibn Ezra puts it, "One must distance himself from the thick and heavy desires (that weigh down on him) like an orlah, uncircumcised foreskin. Alternatively, it might mean that one should purify his heart, so that he understands the truth."

Essentially, Ibn Ezra teaches us that if one does not prepare himself; if he does not cleanse his heart of moral/spiritual impurity, he is unable to come close to Hashem. As an uncircumcised male is missing completion, so, too, will he who has not removed the moral filth covering his heart be able to retain a close affiliation with Hashem and His Torah. Taharas ha'lev, purifying the heart, freeing oneself from his blighted character traits, is a requisite for spiritual ascendancy. There are those who have successfully embraced Torah observance after years of alienation, assimilation, and moral deprivation. Some make it; some do not. They walk the walk, talk the talk, but never really make it. Why? It is their orlas ha'lev that prevents an enduring relationship with the Almighty. As long as there remains a deficiency in their middos, character traits, they remain spiritually "short" of their intended goal, of becoming a ben Torah. In order to have it "all", one must give up "all."

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

The words, l'daber bam, "to discuss them," are a key to understanding the essence of a father's obligation of limud ha'Torah to his son. In the Talmud Bava Basra 60b, Chazal relate the story of two litigants that came before Rabbi Yanai - with a halachic dispute. One litigant insisted that Rabbi Yanai require his disputant to cut the branches of his tree which were encroaching on his property. The sage heard their arguments and asked them to return the next day for his rendering of judgment. As soon as they left, Rabbi Yanai quickly ran home to cut the branches of his tree, whose branches were growing out into the public thoroughfare. The next day, both litigants presented themselves before Rabbi Yanai. He then ordered the owner of the tree to cut the offending branches. Upon hearing the verdict, the litigant said to Rabbi Yanai, "His honor also has a tree that hangs over the public thoroughfare." Rabbi Yanai immediately countered, "I have already cut it down." This is what Chazal mean when they interpret the pasuk in Tzefanyah 2: 1, Hiskosheshu va'koshu, "Improve yourselves and improve others." First improve yourself - only then, are you prepared to improve others.

Perhaps we know this as, "People in glass houses should not throw stones." In any event, we are being taught that self-improvement is a pre-requisite to teaching others. For the student to respond to the lesson, he must respect the lecturer. If one finds fault in his mentor, he will have a problem accepting his lesson. In his sefer K'ayol Taarog, Horav Abitbul, Shlita, interprets this idea into the above pasuk. If one wants to succeed in teaching his son Torah, he must first be midaber bam, the father himself must discuss Torah, be conversant in Torah, demonstrate his own love for the Torah. He does this as he sits in his home, his office, on the road - wherever he is. When a child sees how valuable the Torah is to his father, he will also accept it. When a child sees how his father toils in Torah, expends every extra minute studying Torah, he will follow suit. Thus, they will both - father and son - achieve longevity.

The story is told concerning a wealthy man who sent his son off to study Torah with a prominent Rav. One day, the rebbe taught the young boy the responsibilities regarding mitzvos which would be incumbent upon him once he would become bar-mitzvah. This was the last day that the student showed up for class. After that lesson, the boy was finished. He wanted no part of his rebbe's teachings. The rebbe was shocked with the boy's reaction to his lesson. It did not make sense. This boy studied Torah with an uncanny thirst to imbibe as much as possible. Why should he suddenly drop out?

The rebbe presented his query to the boy's father. Perhaps he could explain his son's unusual behavior. The father was visibly upset and responded, "That day that you taught my son about Judaism, he came home and asked me when I was celebrating my bar-mitzvah. I looked at him incredulously and asked, 'What do you mean?' He replied, 'My rebbe taught me that following one's bar-mitzvah, one puts on Tefillin daily. When are you going to put on Tefillin? When you have your bar-mitzvah, we will both put on Tefillin every day.' I had no response to that question!"

If a father wants his children to follow in his footsteps, he should see to it that he is walking in the right path. "Do what I tell you - not what I do" does not work. On the contrary, children tend to respect what their parents value and disdain what their parents deprecate, either actively or subtly - by omission. A Jew once approached the Kotzer Rebbe, zl, and asked for a blessing that his young son learn Torah. The Rebbe, not one to coddle his petitioners, said, "If you will study Torah, then your son will follow your lead and also study Torah. If you will be satisfied with seeking blessings (rather than activity pursuing the actual study), in all likelihood, your son will do the same."

Children are quite attentive to and intuitive about what they hear and see at home. A Jew who was himself a talmid chacham, Torah scholar, asked Horav Shlomo Zalmen Auerbach, zl, why he did not merit to have sons that were talmidei chachamim. His sons were fine upstanding laymen, but Torah learning was not their forte. This was in contrast to his neighbor, who was not as learned as he, was a milkman, who raised a family of distinguished Torah scholars. How did he do it?

Rav Shlomo Zalmen asked the man, "Tell me, when you heard a shiur, Torah lecture, with which you did not agree. What remarks did you make concerning the speaker?" "I probably commented that he did not know how to learn," the man replied.

"What would be your response when your Rav rendered a halachic decision that was unacceptable to you?" Rav Shlomo Zalman asked.

"I probably had a similar reaction, disparaging his ability to render a halachic decision," the man answered. Rav Shlomo Zalmen looked up at the man and said, "This is the difference between you and the milkman. When he heard a drashah, lecture, he returned home all excited, lauding the Rav who gave the lecture. Likewise, when the Rav issued a p'sak, halachah, he never complained. He accepted the decision with reverence, acquiescing to whatever was asked of him. His children grew up in a home where respect was accorded to the rabbanim, where rabbinic leaders, teachers, and whoever was involved in Torah dissemination were revered and cherished. This motivated them to strive likewise for such a venerable pursuit.

"Regrettably, your children did not fare as well, because you acted in a manner unbecoming a talmid chacham of stature. Your children heard your complaints, your bitul, nullification, of the revered status of the other rabbanim. Like "good" children, they emulated their father. When they saw no respect, they followed suit and similarly showed no respect. Why would they want to pursue Torah scholarship if they had no respect for its disseminators?" In other words, "What goes around comes around."

Rav Abitbul concludes with a poignant mashal, analogy, from the Chafetz Chaim which goes to the very crux of the problem: A terrible illness was plaguing children. The toll was rising daily, as more children became very ill. One doctor was able to come up with a medicine that would cure the disease that was ravaging thousands of children. He was a good and kind man, producing the serum himself at his own expense. He then traveled from town to town administering the drug, literally saving thousands of children from the jaws of death. One day, his journey was tragically interrupted by a thief, who, after beating him, took his satchel, which contained the vials of life-saving serum. When the doctor arrived in the next city, he was besieged by hopeful parents who each wanted only one thing from him: the medicine that would save their sick children. Alas, with tears in his eyes, he informed them that he was unable to help them. His medicine had been stolen. Suddenly, a man carrying a very sick child pushed himself through the throngs of people surrounding the doctor. He cried bitterly to the doctor, "You must save my son. He is all that I have. Please do not allow him to die. Give me the medicine to save him!" As this was going on, the doctor took a penetrating look at the man, and realized that he was the thief who had beaten him earlier and stolen the medicine. The doctor, who was a compassionate man, told the thief, "I forgive you for what you did to me, but give me back my satchel. I must have it. All of my medicine vials were in there." The thief was regretful and apologetic when he responded, "They were of no value to me, so I threw them away into the river."

The doctor looked at the thief with great sorrow as he told him, "You threw away the only opportunity to save your precious child. I cannot help you. You have only yourself to blame."

The lesson is quite simple. The rabbinic leaders, rebbeim, all have the therapeutic vials of Torah that offer a way out, a cure from the maladies plaguing society, and, by extension, our children. When a father - or mother - disparages those who devote their lives to our children, they are, in fact, impugning the integrity of the only ones who can help their child. They are essentially stealing the medicine from the physician. How can a parent hope that his child will behave a certain way when he has undermined any opportunity for success?

Many fathers put in a long day of difficult labor, returning home in the evening, physically exhausted and emotionally drained. Yet, they put themselves together and go to a shiur, a chavrusa - even if it means falling asleep during the learning, out of sheer fatigue. A fellow in Eretz Yisrael had such a habit. He came to shiur every night - after a long, hard day - and, after sitting down and propping up his sefer, proceeded to fall asleep. At first, his friends would nudge him awake, but, after a while, it appeared that he really needed the rest. They encouraged him to join an early-morning shiur, which he could attend after having had a decent night's sleep. Why did he insist on attending at night when he could not stay awake for the shiur?

His response should give us something to think about. He explained that every night his children saw him leaving the house with his Gemorah in hand on the way to the bais ha'medrash to learn. This is the image that they had of their father. This is the image he wanted them to savor in their minds. We must ask ourselves: What image do we project to our children? Is it one of learning with dedication, of davening with devotion, or is it something very much the opposite? We must remember that what they see in their youth is what they think we are sanctioning for them to emulate.

Va'ani Tefillah

Avinu Malkeinu - Our Father, our King.

Previously, in the brachah of Yotzer or, we referred to Hashem as Melech ha'olam, "King of the World," because that brachah addresses the universal blessings which the entire world community enjoys as common blessings. Horav Avigdor Miller, zl, observes that Avinu Malkeinu is applied in connection to the Torah as our gift, our vocation, our heritage and legacy. It is not a universal gift. Hashem gave the Torah to us. After all, every other nation had the chance, but they repudiated it. This establishes a unique relationship between Hashem and the Jewish People. He is our Father, our King. We are His favorite son and His closest people. When He was "giving," we accepted. Having Hashem as our Father - not only our G-d and King - denotes that He especially created us out of a unique love, which is the reason that He bestows special gifts - both general and individual - on us. "King" indicates special interest and supervision, with unusual guidance founded upon His wisdom and power. By referring to Hashem as "Our Father", we are intimating that all of His love is for Klal Yisrael. By calling Him "our King", we are saying that His conducting the affairs of the entire world is all for Klal Yisrael.

Sponsored by
Arthur & Sora Pollak and Family
l'zechar nishmas
Ha'Isha Ha'Chashuva
Maras Golda bas Yisrael a"h
niftara 18 Menachem Av 5757
In loving memory of our mother & grandmother
Mrs. Goldie Jundef

Peninim on the Torah is in its 20th year of publication. The first fifteen years have been published in book form.

The Fifteenth 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