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Peninim on the Torah

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Rabbi A. Leib Scheinbaum
Hebrew Academy of Cleveland


Not by bread alone does man live, rather by everything that emanates from the mouth of G-d does man live. (8:3)

The phrase yichyeh ha'adam, does man live, is mentioned twice in the pasuk. Interestingly, Targum Onkeles uses two variant translations for the word yichyeh. With regard to the first part of the pasuk - "Not by bread alone does man live," he writes, miskayeim enasha - is a man sustained/preserved. In the second part of the pasuk - "rather by everything that emanates from the mouth of G-d does man live," he writes, chayei enasha, man lives. Why does the text change? (The variant translations are to be found in the older Chumashim. Many contemporary printings follow the standard corrected translation of yiskayeim enasha).

Horav Eliyahu Baruch Finkel, zl, distinguishes between the words that precede each of the phrases which accompany the phrase, yichyeh ha'adam. The first one addresses the sustaining power of bread. The word, chai, refers to life itself - not the sustaining force that maintains it. Therefore, in connecting with bread, Onkeles translates yichyeh ha'adam as miskayeim, is sustained. The second part of the pasuk addresses the motza Pi Hashem, that which emanates from the mouth of Hashem. While it is true that the pasuk is referring to the Heavenly bread, the Manna, the vernacular "that which emanates from the mouth of Hashem," reflects life itself. Torah is life itself; it is the essence of life, without which there is no life. Torah does not simply sustain life; it is life!

This is consistent with an episode that took place in pre-World War II Europe at a conference of leading Roshei Yeshivah and rabbanim concerning the plight of the yeshivos. The yeshivah world was coming under attack from the secular government. One of the rabbanim arose and declared, "The Torah is the oxygen of life. We must, therefore, safeguard the Torah." Hearing this, Horav Boruch Ber Lebowitz, zl, Kamenitzer Rosh Yeshivah, screamed out, "Torah is not the oxygen of life; it is essential life!"

Rav Eliyahu Baruch would often quote a story to accompany the above dvar Torah. There was a certain Rosh Yeshivah in Yerushalayim who, whenever Yeshivas Mir would be studying the same Meseches, Tractate of Talmud, that his own yeshivah was studying, he would ask Rav Eliyahu Baruch to send him a student with whom he could learn b'chavrusa, as a study partner. The Rosh Yeshivah specifically wanted a study partner from a different yeshivah. The diverse approaches towards understanding a sugya, topic, in the Talmud were energizing. Obviously, whomever Rav Eliyahu Baruch sent would be a student at the top of the class. This time he sent a bright student who happened to be an American.

Two weeks elapsed and the bachur, student, asked Rav Eliyahu Baruch if he could give up the chavrusa. Apparently, the Rosh Yeshivah was advanced in age and would often doze during their learning. They studied at night when many people younger than this Rosh Yeshivah had already retired for the evening. Rav Eliyahu Baruch replied that it would be a shame to give up such a chavrusa, given that the Rosh Yeshivah was one of the more distinguished students of the Brisker Rav. A few more weeks went by, and this time the student was emphatic. He felt he could achieve more during this time.

Rav Eliyahu Baruch remarked that he did whatever he could to avoid meeting the Rosh Yeshivah, since he had no simple way of conveying the reason that the student had stopped coming to learn. One day, he was walking through Meah Shearim, and he met the Rosh Yeshivah. When the Rosh Yeshivah questioned him about why the bachur had not been coming to learn, he had to tell the truth diplomatically, "The bachur feels that he is a hindrance to the Rosh Yeshivah, perhaps causing him to stay awake later at night because of him."

The Rosh Yeshivah was a wise man and understood a lame excuse when he heard it. He replied, "Oy, the American bachur thinks that everything is a 'course.' They come to Eretz Yisrael to study Torah in much the same way they would be attending an American school of higher education." A minute went by, and then the Rosh Yeshivah raised his voice, "Torah is a course?... Torah iz der leben - nu! Un tzu den inmiten leben shloft men nit amal? Torah is life! Do we (are we not allowed to) sleep once in a while in the middle of life?"

Rav Eliyahu Baruch added that once a group of students "debated" with Rosh Yeshivah Horav Nochum Partzovitz, zl, concerning a student's dress code during learning. There were those who felt (as is common in Chassidic yeshivos) that the students should wear a jacket during learning. Others felt encumbered by the extra garment - especially since they were learning all day and a good part of the night. Rav Nochum replied, Eilu v'eilu divrei Elokim chaim, "These and those are words of the living G-d." In other words - both opinions were correct; they both had support. If one views Torah study as avodas Hashem, service to the Almighty, he should be dressed in shemoneh begadim, all "eight garments" as was the Kohen Gadol, High Priest, when he served in the Bais Hamikdash. It should be no different than davening, when a jacket is worn out of respect. If, however, Torah is essential life - does a person "live" all day wearing his hat and jacket?

Horav Mordechai Gifter, zl, Rosh Yeshivas Telshe, exemplified this unique appreciation of the meaning of Torah. Torah was his essence, the substance which galvanized him and animated his life. He lived to learn, and he learned to live. He valued Torah as one values life, because, without Torah, there is no life. While some will "talk the talk," the Rosh Yeshivah "walked the walk," living life to its fullest by studying Torah to its utmost. To him, Torah study was pure joy, as he embraced the very core of his life source.

I observed this over the years that I learned in Telshe. I experienced it first-hand when, in 1992, I asked the Rosh Yeshivah for his haskamah, approbation, for my first Peninim Al HaTorah. I went to the dormitory, which served as home to the Rosh Yeshivah and Rebbetzin when they returned from Eretz Yisrael. They had a simple apartment composed of three dormitory rooms. They required very little.

I came to the door and was welcomed by the Rebbetzin, who immediately led me to the Rosh Yeshivah's study. He was sitting by a simple (school) desk, learning from an open Gemorah. He greeted me with his signature smile, and, after I explained the purpose of my visit, he began to peruse the manuscript. Having grown up in Telshe, the Rosh Yeshivah had known me for over thirty years. We had often spoken in learning. The process of obtaining his approval was thus accelerated.

The Rosh Yeshivah took out his pen, and, with a trembling hand, attempted to write. He could not produce anything legible. The illness that was robbing his body of its vitality was causing his hands to tremble uncontrollably. Suddenly, the Rosh Yeshivah began to cry, and, with tears rolling down his face, he cried out to me, "I am miserable that I cannot learn in the same way as I did before. When I learn, I immediately put my chiddushim, original thoughts, down on paper. Now, I am no longer able to write. I cannot learn with the same fervor as before!" And then the Rosh Yeshivah broke down in heavy weeping.

I will never forget the sight of Rav Gifter weeping incessantly because he could no longer learn in the manner in which he was accustomed. For him, writing was an integral part of his learning dialectic. Torah was his life and permeated the recesses of his heart. Now, he was slowly losing his most prized possession, the most important thing in his life, the one thing that gave his life meaning - his ability to engage fully in his learning process of the Torah. This is why he cried.

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

Hashem's discipline is likened to that of a loving father who is compelled to impose order in the life of his child. Discipline is a form of instruction which is vital and critical to a child's development. The following are excerpts from a series of lectures given by the venerable Mashgiach of Beth Medrash Gavohah, Horav Matisyahu Solomon, Shlita. The Torah unequivocally forbids berating or embarrassing anyone, regardless of his wrongdoing. Chavalah, hitting, and onaah, persecution, are specifically prohibited. Just because someone is guilty of committing a sin does not give us license to humiliate or hit him.

Concerning chinuch, education, we find that these prohibitions are lifted. The Talmud Makkos 8a teaches that not only does a father have the right to strike his son, but he actually has an obligation to inflict corporeal punishment. How this obligation is executed is a very controversial question. Children are entitled to the same protections in the Torah as are applied to other people. Nonetheless, the father who is carrying out the mitzvah of chinuch is exempt from the prohibitions of chavalah and onaah. This certainly does not entitle any insecure (and, quite possibly, deranged) father to strike or humiliate his child. Only in the pursuit of the mitzvah of chinuch may a parent do those otherwise prohibited acts of chavalah or onaah, with halachic dispensation.

Here, the Mashgiach is very firm. Before a parent thinks he is permitted to strike or humiliate his child, he must be absolutely sure, with complete objectivity, that he is carrying out the mitzvah of chinuch. If he is uncertain, and he acts out of anger or frustration (perhaps with a little guilt added in), he has no right whatsoever to take out the resentment he harbors in his heart for anything or anyone - on his child. To harm a child in any way, for any other reason than the fulfillment of the mitzvah of chinuch, is pure abuse! To cause any form of pain to a child, he must know without question that he has no other motivation than chinuch. (If he is in any way unsure of his motives, he must refrain - as if this were a questionable piece of meat.) Furthermore, besides the prohibitions involved, harming a child without justification only causes the child to hate the parents and everything for which they stand. The child will feel abused and resentful, often blemished for life.

The Mashgiach concludes with two questions that a parent must ask himself before subjecting his child to harsh measures: One, is this completely for the benefit of the child? Two, is there a gentler way that this can be achieved, thereby causing the child less stress and less pain?

And bless Hashem, Your G-d. (8:10)

One of the most common blessings we recite following food or drink consumption is the brachah acharonah, after-blessing, Borei nefashos rabos v'chesronan, "Who creates numerous living things with their deficiencies." The Tur explains the concept chesronos, deficiencies, to mean that Hashem has created the hashlamah, completion, the (sort of) antidote to everything that we might be missing from our lives. The Rashba (Teshuvos 149), however, disagrees, explaining that we pay gratitude to Hashem specifically for (what appears to us as) the deficiencies in our lives. It is our way of affirming the manner in which Hashem has created us. For example, He could have created us without having the need to eat. We thank Him for this "deficiency," which requires us to be human, to subsist on what provisions Hashem furnishes us with.

The idea that one must appreciate everything that "life" doles out to him, despite its initial appearances as deficient, is underscored by the late Rosh Yeshivah of Tshebin/Eretz Yisrael, Horav Avraham Genichuvski, zl. He related the story of a Holocaust survivor who arrived in America shortly after liberation. Seeking a livelihood, but unable to navigate the language and culture, his options were limited. One of the shuls in the neighborhood in which he found a simple apartment was in need of a shamesh, sexton, and all-around usher, clerk, someone to greet the members who came "visiting," someone who could communicate with them and make them feel comfortable in shul.

The shul administration was impressed with his self-confidence, quick wit, and social graces. He was about to get the job and sign on the dotted line, when one of the board members asked, "Of course, you speak English?" Our hero replied in the negative, explaining that in Poland he had had no need to speak English, nor did it matter during his internment in the Nazi concentration camp.

"We are very sorry that we cannot offer you employment. In our shul, we often have celebrations which are attended by family and friends to whom a shul is very foreign. They require someone to guide them through the service. All of this requires fluency in the English language. We would love to help, but you simply do not have the qualifications for the job."

Now that his choices were down to zero, the man decided to purchase a used pushcart and sell trinkets and whatnots on the corner of one of the busy intersections. Business was lucrative, so he expanded, hiring a young fellow to manage an additional pushcart. The success of his endeavor continued until he had a string of pushcarts throughout the city. At this point, he decided it was time to close the pushcart business and open a large retail department store.

Business was booming, and soon he was purchasing other businesses. The simple pushcart had now become a large conglomerate! At the closing of a major transaction involving the purchase of a number of stores, he was asked to read and sign the contract. The man gave the contract to his secretary to read it to him. The businessmen and lawyers who had gathered around the conference table were incredulous to see that the CEO of these large businesses could not read English. They asked him, "How is it possible that you were able to build and maintain such a large business empire, yet cannot read English?" they asked him.

"Let me tell you something," he countered. "If I had spoken English, I would today be washing floors in the shul!"

The Rosh Yeshivah concluded his discourse with the following exhortation to his students, "We do not realize how specifically it is the deficiency that may avail us the opportunity to succeed in life. The chisaron, inadequacy, the failure, can often turn our lives around."

You will eat and you will be satisfied, and bless Hashem, your G-d. (8:10)

When a person eats or drinks, he prefaces his eating with a blessing and, upon completion, he once again offers his blessing. What if a person has no desire to eat, he is just not hungry, or he does not particularly care for the food that is being served? One would think that he has no obligation to eat. One does not eat just to avail himself the opportunity to recite a blessing - or should he eat just for the blessing? The following episode should enlighten us. The Bobover Rebbe, Horav Shlomo, zl, related that, when he was a young lad of about eight years old, his mother put a dish of cabbage in front of him. He had no desire to eat cabbage, and he refused to eat it. All of his mother's pleas and incentives did not change his mind. He was not eating cabbage.

When his father, the saintly Kedushas Tzion, Horav Ben Tzion, zl, heard of the incident, he spoke to his son in a very caring, but firm, manner, "My son, let us attempt to calculate the amount of grain, vegetable and fruit that grows throughout the world. How much is left for human consumption? Most is either in parts of the world where man rarely treads, or has been destroyed prematurely as a result of climate change. Heavy rain, snowstorms, strong winds, all tend to have an adverse effect on growing vegetation. Thus, many do not reach full maturity. Most that do achieve this "milestone" are sold to gentiles who will not recite a blessing over them. Additionally, sadly, not all Jews recite a blessing when partaking of Hashem's gift. Thus, if a fruit or vegetable finally makes it to the table of an observant Jew - how can such a Jew refuse to recite a blessing over it? Excuses will not support him when he stands before the Heavenly Tribunal to explain why - after Hashem availed him of His gift -he refused to do his part by blessing and eating."

This is a powerful lesson concerning the attitude one should manifest regarding the gifts we receive from Hashem, which we often take for granted. Furthermore, it offers some practical advice concerning how a parent should reprove a child: no putdown; no voice raising; simple logic and explaining. When parents make a child feel mature, he has already won half the battle.

Beware for yourselves lest your heart be misled and you turn away and serve other gods and bow down to them. (11:16)

Rashi interprets v'sartem, and you turn away, as referring to one who abandons Torah study. Accordingly, one who severs his relationship with Torah will ultimately become an idol worshipper. This is a strong statement. Will abandoning the Torah lead one so far away that he would serve idols? Apparently the answer is, "Yes." We wonder why. Horav Shimon Schwab, zl, addresses this question and explains that there are two diverse ways of understanding the term elohim acheirim, other gods.

The words, elohim acheirim, in the context of this pasuk can be defined either as "other gods," which would thus denote elohim as plural - gods. It can also be interpreted as a god of others, whereby elohim is singular, referring to a god that others have chosen to serve. Does it really make a difference? After all is said and done, he is not serving Hashem, the only G-d of Heaven and earth, the G-d of Creation and the G-d of history. Rav Schwab explains that, when someone strays from Torah learning, the Torah tells him that while he may still purport to believe in G-d - it is the elohim acheirim. It is not the Jewish G-d; it is another god, or perhaps the god of others, because the G-d of the Jews is intrinsically linked to the study of Torah. One cannot serve Hashem, yet abandon Torah study. They are one and the same. One who does so is essentially practicing another religion, serving another god, which is synonymous with idol worship.

These are strong words, but the truth will, at times, make some people uncomfortable. In his commentary to the Siddur, Rav Schwab expounds on this subject. One who attempts to worship Hashem without Torah study does not worship the Creator of the Universe, because the Jewish religion is inextricably bound to the Torah. We may act in a manner similar to members of other religions who also pray, observe rituals, maintain various prohibitions and enjoin their adherents to practice specific positive behaviors and deeds. Judaism, however, they are not practicing. Unless the Torah is included, the worship of G-d is nothing more than elohim acheirim. A gentile who wishes to embrace Judaism - to do and accept everything except Torah study - might as well remain connected with his original religion. A Jewish religion without the Torah is not Judaism - at all. Our Torah may not - and cannot - be divorced from the religion, its practice and observance. A "Torahless" Judaism is not Judaism.

Rashi explains the term elohim acheirim, "Because they are strangers to those who worship them. One pleads with it (the god), but it does not respond. Consequently, this 'other god' is a 'stranger' to the person who prays to it." Rashi is teaching us (as per Rav Schwab) that the first step on the road to actual idol worship is deserting the Torah. Despite one's attempt to maintain a relationship with Hashem, the interaction will be as different as if it were with a stranger. Without Torah learning, Hashem is "strange" to us.

The individual may still believe that Hashem Echad, Hashem is One, and that he certainly is not an idol worshipper, but, as a result of his estrangement from Hashem, he no longer has the feeling that someone is listening to his prayers. Feeling unwanted, unlistened to, the person slowly drifts away to a "place" where he convinces himself that someone is listening. We all know where this is leading. One who seeks a relationship, but cannot seem to find it because he is not upholding his part of the equation, will conjure up in his mind some mystical experience and imagine that now "someone" is listening to him. Had the lost youth and adults of the last fifty years (and longer) been guided to the Torah - they would have been "found."

In order to prolong your days and the days of your children upon the Land. (11:21)

The Talmud in Berachos 8a relates that, when Rabbi Yochanan heard that there were elderly Jews in Bavel/Babylonia, he was surprised, since it is written in the Torah, "In order to prolong your days and the days of your children upon the Land." This is a reference to Eretz Yisrael, not to chutz l'aretz. There is no promise of longevity in the diaspora. Once they informed Rabbi Yochanan that the elders of Bavel were people who rose early to attend shul in the morning and remain in the shul until late in the evening, he said that this was the merit that earned them such a unique reward. It is a wonderful lesson, very inspirational, but what is the reason? Horav Yisrael, zl, the Viznitzer Rebbe, gave a practical explanation, bordering on the anecdotal.

The Rebbe had occasion to be on the road when it was time to daven Minchah. Since he was in the vicinity of a shul in a small town, he stopped there to daven. When Minchah was concluded, all of the shul's worshippers (there were not many) recited Kaddish Yasom, the Mourner's Kaddish. The Rebbe was surprised by this, since one recites Kaddish only during the first year following the passing of a close loved one - usually a parent. The Rebbe turned to the shamesh, sexton, of the shul, and asked, "Are they all yesomim? (Are all the members orphans during the first year?)"

The shamesh replied, "Sadly, our minyan is comprised solely of those who must recite Kaddish for a loved one. Otherwise, we would not have the required quorum of men. The men of our town are all involved in business and do not have time to break away to daven." (At least Kaddish still carried weight for them, even if davening with a minyan did not).

When the Rebbe heard the shamesh's reply, he said, "Now I understand the dialogue in the Talmud Berachos 8a that ensued between Rabbi Yochanan and scholars concerning the longevity of the people of Bavel. When informed that the Babylonians had achieved longevity, Rabbi Yochanan was taken aback, since this phenomenon was inconsistent with the pasuk in the Torah, whereby Hashem promises old age only to those who reside in the Holy Land. Upon hearing that they attended Shul regularly, he assumed that it must be their commitment to shul attendance, both morning and evening, which was the catalyst for their special reward.

"How did Rabbi Yochanan know this? Where do we find shul and minyan attendance as a merit, a talisman to ward off a premature visit from the Malach HaMaves, Angel of Death? Upon visiting this shul and observing a minyan comprised of Kaddish zuggers, reciters, my question was resolved. When people attend minyan/shul only when someone close to them dies, 'they' are arousing judgment, creating a situation whereby the Angel of Death is 'called in' to 'assist' in seeing to it that the people attend shul. If reciting Kaddish is their only motivator, then a 'reason' for reciting Kaddish will be created.

"When Rabbi Yochanan heard that in Bavel, shul attendance was exemplary, with people coming early and leaving late, so that they could spend as much time as possible in shul, he realized that, in this community, the Angel of Death could be put on hold. The people attended shul because they wanted to - not because they had to. Why not reward these people with long life so that they could continue doing what is vital to them - learning and davening in shul." This story's lesson is quite clear. My commentary would only be superfluous.

V'Zeidim tibata, v'yedidim he'evarta, va'yichasu may8im tzareihem. You drowned the wicked ones, and You led Your beloved ones across, and the water covered their foes.

The sequence of events as portrayed in the tefillah seems out of order. The Jews went into the Red Sea, which had turned dry/split for them. They were followed by the pursuing Egyptians, who drowned. The tefillah should have placed the yedidim he'evarta prior to the zeidim tibata and va'yichasu mayim tzareihem. The Moshav Zekeinim explains that the Jews went into the now split Red Sea, only to be followed by the Egyptians. As soon as the Egyptians entered the parted waters, the ground beneath them turned into very sticky clay. The Egyptians stood there, stuck to the ground, unable to move in any direction. The waters of the Red Sea did not yet cover the Egyptians. They stood there menacing, as the Egyptians made every attempt to get help, but they were powerless against Hashem. After the very last Jew had passed through the Red Sea, the walls of water came crashing down on the heads of the Egyptians. Thus, the sequence as written is appropriate. First the Egyptians were v'zeidim tibata - in the clay bed of the sea. Then, the Jewish People went through safely. Only after the last Jew had strolled through, did Hashem allow the waters to descend and drown the Egyptians.

in honor of

Dr. Stanley and Libby Brody

May the Almighty grant you many more years of health and happiness together .

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

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