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Peninim on the Torah

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Rabbi A. Leib Scheinbaum
Hebrew Academy of Cleveland


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

Chazal teach us that Bentching, Grace after meals, is a mitzvah min haTorah, Biblical command. Veritably, it is obvious that one should offer his gratitude upon deriving benefit from another. When we take into consideration that food sustains us and that Hashem is the Source of all food, it does not take a deep thinker to understand the obligation of u'beirachta - "and you shall bless." If we eat and are satisfied, the natural consequence should be blessing Hashem. Indeed, before the Torah was given to Klal Yisrael, our Patriarch, Avraham Avinu, taught the world about the greatness of Hashem by using the medium of Bentching as part of his lesson plan. Upon serving nourishing food to wayfarers who made their way to his desert oasis, he would say, "Now, it is time for you to pay gratitude to the One Who brought the world into being. After all, whatever you have eaten is the result of His kindness." If the traveler listened and blessed Hashem, Avraham would bid him farewell, considering the blessing as full payment for his meal. If, however, the guest refused to pay gratitude, Avraham presented him with a hefty bill, claiming that a desert oasis that serves food has the right to charge a premium price for its provisions. This, in and of itself, was a lesson to the traveler as to how much he owed the Creator of the world.

Bentching has become a staple in Jewish tradition as the precursor of blessing: financial success; good health; marital harmony; Yiddishe nachas from one's children, etc. The reason is simple: one who understands the obligation to pay gratitude deserves to be granted more and greater benefit. One who takes everything in life for granted and does not demonstrate his appreciation deserves nothing. The Chafetz Chaim was wont to say, "People search all over for segulos, merit, and good omen to secure blessing from Hashem. All they have to do is recite Bircas HaMazon, Bentching, from a siddur, word for word, to be protected from all tzaros, troubles." This idea is underscored by many of the early commentators who view Bircas HaMazon as the mitzvah which guarantees Hashem's blessing. Eliyahu Rabbah writes that Bircas HaMazon has included therein every letter of the Hebrew alphabet except for fay sofis/ende' fay. He explains that every meal after which the beneficiary recites bentching aloud, clear and with joyful intention, his words drive away/expel the Malach ra, angel who carries out evil decrees against man. The last letter of this angel's given name is fay sofis as in: Af (anger); shetzef (slight anger); ketzef (wrath), three words representing varied degrees of rage.

There is an incredible story concerning the recitation of Bircas HaMazon which I cannot resist sharing. An elderly Jew by the name of Reb Shimon was a regular mispallel, worshipper, in the Bais Haknesses Har Tzvi in Yerushalayim. An individual who was staunchly meticulous in his mitzvah observance, he went out of his way to observe the mitzvah of Bentching ritually. One could say that it had become "his" mitzvah. When he would bentch, he enunciated every word with clarity. One could almost derive the meaning of each word from Reb Shimon's animated expression during bentching. One Succos, after a group of neighbors heard his melodious rendering of Bentching, they asked Reb Shimon why Bentching played such a critical role in his avodas hakodesh, sacred service, to Hashem. He related the following story.

"When I was a young boy of eleven years old, prior to World War II, I was a student in a small cheder in Poland. One day, the illustrious Horav Meir Shapiro, zl, Rav of Lublin and its Rosh Yeshivah, visited our school and tested its students. As a prize for excellence (apparently, they all did well on the bechinah, test), he said he would reveal to us a secret which is, in effect, a matnas chaim, gift of life. He then reviewed with us the Eliyahu Rabbah (cited by Beer Heitev or HaChaim 185.1) that for the individual who recites Bircas Hamazon properly, with deep intention/concentration, sustenance will always be plentiful and provided honorably. Also, he will not be the subject of af, ketzef or shetzef. Rav Meir Shapiro concluded his "gift," reiterating the words of the Beer Heitev, that one should read the words from a book - bentcher or siddur - to insure proper concentration.

"At that moment I was mekabel, accepted upon myself, to carry out this mitzvah with deep devotion, concentrating on every word. Little did I realize at the time how much mesiras nefesh, sacrifice, this would involve. I was always the last one to complete Bentching. All the boys had long run out to enjoy their break. I was late for everything. At one point, I was nicknamed, 'the bentching boy'.

"My youthful reverie came to a nightmarish ending with the outbreak of World War II. The Nazis made a tragic end to my idyllic life, as I, with millions of my Polish brothers and sisters, were herded into cattle cars for transport to labor and death camps. As always, every arrival at camp was accompanied by a selektzia, which divided the workers from those who were unable to work due to age, old/young, frail health, etc. Because I was tall for my age, I was able to move toward the healthy adults, and, thus, sent to work in the camp. I had no skills, but the man behind me whispered, 'Say that you are a butcher; I will help you.' We were both sent to work in the camp's kitchen. Right then, I saw how the blessing of 'plentiful sustenance' was materializing. There was no shortage of food in the kitchen. Regardless of the situation, I continued in my commitment to bentch properly, as I had always done from the day that the Lubliner Rav gave us the matnas chaim. There were times when Bentching properly was fraught with grave danger, but 'somehow' I survived.

"One day, the commandant walked into the kitchen and noticed that I did not appear as emaciated as the majority of the internees in camp. Assuming that it was due to my having access to the food in the kitchen, he screamed, 'A Jewish youth should fatten himself on our food! This is not a spa!' He signaled for me to come over and follow him. We walked outside to the back of the kitchen where the ground was rock solid. He gave me a small hammer and said, 'I am giving you four hours to dig a bunker two meters by two meters, large enough for our soldiers to hide in, in case of an attack. Your return to the kitchen job is based upon your success. Do you hear what I am saying, you accursed Jew?' It was his way of saying that I had no chance for success, and I would probably be shot because of the insolence of my appearing healthy, satisfying my hunger with precious food reserved for the SS and other soldiers occupying the camp.

"When I heard this, my eyes dimmed, as my heart broke. I had just been given a death sentence. How can a young teenager with a small hammer break ground as hard as stone - let alone dig a bunker two meters by two meters? I lifted my eyes Heavenward and prayed, 'Hashem, was I not promised that plentiful sustenance would be provided to me with honor? This blessing was to last a lifetime. Has my lifetime come to a short end?'

"As I was sitting on the ground, depressed and dejected, an army truck filled with Nazis came by and stopped. Seeking to satisfy their innate anti-Semitic character, the Nazis felt that they should add pain to my embarrassment. They began throwing vegetables, especially potatoes, at me. In a few moments, I was practically buried in a mound of potatoes. As they drove away, I began to weep bitterly. Was this supposed to be my lot? Humiliation, pain, and a profound sense of failure overcame me, as I waited for the arrival of my tormentor and, possibly, executioner, the commandment. He knew I could not possibly dig the bunker. I was a dead man. On the other hand, however, the blessing of plentiful sustenance was in full force. I was literally buried in vegetables. What good would it do me if I were dead?

"About an hour later, another truckload of soldiers came by. This time, however, they were Polish soldiers. When they saw my apron and the mound of vegetables which enveloped me, they offered me an enormous sum of money for my vegetables, which they thought belonged to the Nazis. I agreed to exchange all of my vegetables for no money - as long as they would dig a bunker of two meters by two meters. They readily agreed, and, within no time, the soldiers had literally saved my life.

"I returned to the kitchen to be greeted by the commandant who was poised and ready to carry out my execution for failure to execute his orders. How shocked he was to discover a perfectly dug bunker exactly where, hours earlier, he had ordered me to break ground. He had no alternative other than to return me to my position - which I kept until the end of the war. Now you understand why Bentching is so important to me. The blessings that accompany this wonderful prayer of gratitude have literally kept me alive!"

That it was He who gives you the strength to make wealth. (8:18)

Targum Onkelos adds his own interpretation to the above translation. He writes: Hu d'yahiv lecha eitzah l'mikni nechassin, "He (Hashem) gave you the idea to purchase property." Horav Eliyahu Eliezer Dessler, zl, explains that, while one may attribute his financial success to siyata diShmaya, Heavenly assistance, he does not deny that it was his strategy, his personality, his cunning, his business acumen - "him, him, his." He had Divine assistance, but it was his idea to initiate the project. Onkeles teaches us that this is categorically untrue. The very eitzah, idea, was not self-initiated. It, too, was placed into his head by Hashem. In fact, nothing - absolutely nothing - that we do is self-inspired. It is all Divinely initiated and assisted.

How often do we hear someone say, "I had an idea." To him we say, "Who" placed that idea in your mind? Hashem. Every ounce of your success - from idea to blueprint, to completed endeavor - is all from Hashem. Furthermore, how many attribute their lack of success to poor business acumen, being in the wrong place at the right time, or vice-versa, when, in fact, it is a deficiency in their emunah, faith, in Hashem? They, like everyone, must realize, acknowledge and live this verity: nothing is self-inspired. It is all Divinely inspired. We succeed due to siyata diShmaya. We fail due to a lack of siyata diShmaya.

I grasped the two Tablets and threw them from my two hands, and I smashed them before your eyes. (9:17)

Ramban explains the hidden meaning behind Moshe Rabbeinu's admonition to the people, "Your sin was too great to tolerate. Until the moment that I saw you 'playing' - dancing and reveling - before the Golden Calf (I might have been able to tolerate your sin), I could no longer refrain from acting. I broke the Luchos, Tablets."

Apparently, it was not the creation of the eigal, Golden Calf, that catalyzed Moshe's action. It was the way the people were behaving. They had lost complete control of themselves, an indication that they had no clue concerning the gravity of their nefarious deed. They had rebelled against Hashem - an unpardonable sin in its own right. Nonetheless, once a person realizes the seriousness of his mutiny, he can repent and return to Hashem. If the sin is accompanied with levity, reveling, a total breakdown of one's moral compass, it is too late. In order to repent, one must acknowledge his sin. When one jests and makes a complete farce of the evil which he perpetrates, he has lost his ability to acknowledge. He has lost hope for return. The Jews who participated in the Golden Calf debacle were in a frenzy, lost in their wanton abandonment of Hashem.

Teshuvah, return/repentance, can only occur when one comes to the full realization that he has broken the rules and gone too far. No different than a parent whose child has erred, Hashem waits for His children to return. Until we acknowledge our infraction, however, we are incapable of carrying out proper teshuvah. The first step, remorse, can only occur when the sinner confronts both his sin and the hurt that it has caused in Heaven and on earth. He is as much a victim as those who suffer as a result of his noncompliance with Hashem's mitzvos. It does not take much. It does, however, require sincere acknowledgment and a strong desire to return. When the sincerity is accompanied with love, the path to return is so much less complicated.

Rabbi Yechiel Spero relates the following story. It is both meaningful and inspirational, teaching us that teshuvah offered with love is all Hashem wants from us. The rest will come with time. It is the breakthrough, that one spark of feeling that commences a relationship which becomes stronger with time and effort.

A nine-year old girl walked into an upscale jewelry shop in Eretz Yisrael and began eyeing the jewelry cases, obviously looking for something specific. Finally, she motioned the jeweler to come over, as she pointed to a beautiful bracelet that was selling for a few thousand dollars. The owner, who was no longer a young man, patiently came over and asked the girl how he could help her. She replied that she would like to purchase the bracelet.

The man said to the girl, "You have excellent taste. You must be buying this bracelet for a special person."

"Yes," she said, "it is for my older sister. You see, my parents have both died, and my older sister has assumed full responsibility for our welfare. My siblings and I want to somehow show her how much we love her. After all, she is not that old herself.

"I brought all of my money, which I have saved. Certainly, it will be enough to buy this bracelet." She proceeded to take out some coins from her little purse and place them on the table.

The jeweler counted up the coins, which amounted to seven shekel and change (less than $2.00) and said, "Perfect, exactly what the bracelet costs. Let me polish it up for you and put it in a nice box." He did this, wrapped up the gift, and then bid good-day to the young girl.

A few hours later, a teenage girl entered the store carrying the box. "I am so embarrassed and sorry that my little sister took this bracelet without paying for it," she said.

"What are you saying?" The jeweler asked. "She most certainly paid full price for the bracelet.

"What? How is it possible? This bracelet must be worth thousands of dollars!" the girl countered.

"Your little sister paid seven shekel and change - and a broken heart! That more than covers the value of the bracelet," the jeweler said.

With a sad, pained look on his face, the jeweler continued his explanation, "You are young and will hopefully have a long, fruitful and joyous life. I am no longer a young man. I am a widower, my wife having passed away a few years ago. Other than the people who come into my store in search of jewelry to satisfy their fancy, I see very few people. Even the customers that purchase my beautiful jewelry are people of means. They have no problem dropping thousands of shekel for a piece of jewelry which catches the eye. When your sister walked into the store, however, for the very first time since my wife died, I once again experienced the meaning of love. Her love and appreciation for what you have done for her and your siblings is very real. She sought something through which to express her deep love. Her broken heart was more than enough to compensate me for the bracelet - because it was sincere; it was real."

Rabbi Spero quotes Rav Goel Elkarif, who, after hearing the story directly from the jeweler, adds the following thought. Every year during the Yomim Noraim, we are very much like that little orphaned girl. We seek to purchase a very expensive and beautiful item - with very little funds to pay for it. We all want life, but nary have the means of paying for it. We simply lack the zechuyos, merit, which we need in order to be granted life.

Nonetheless, we come before Hashem and empty out our pockets. We grasp whatever zechuyos we can put our hands on: "I will come on time to davening - I will not even talk"; "Perhaps I will drink cholov Yisrael during Aseres Yimei Teshuvah;" "I will visit someone in the hospital;" "I might even call someone who is lonely;" "I will refrain from speaking lashon hora for two hours a day (well, maybe only one hour)," "I will attempt to recite the brachah of Asher Yatzar as if I mean it." These are small commitments, but, like the little girl who had less than $2.00, we really mean it. It is our expression of love.

Hashem responds favorably, because we are sincere. He says, "It has been so long since I have felt true love." He sees what we are willing to do, how much we really love Him, and how little we have to offer. He replies, "It may be little, but if it is accompanied by a broken heart, you have paid in full!" He accepts our teshuvah, and we are granted life. We just have to show true love.

To walk in all His ways. (11:22)

How does one "walk" in the ways of Hashem? Furthermore, should it not have said to walk in Hashem's footsteps? One walks in someone's footsteps; one follows in his path. Perhaps, we may suggest that "footsteps" and "ways/path" are variants only when one follows in a path that was ready-made by others. When one forges a path, his footsteps are the path. In other words, Hashem makes the path, creates the derech. Wherever Hashem "walks," He is teaching us what should be the standards of living, what should be the derech of a Yid. Hashem's halichah, walking, creates the derech, path, for us to emulate. We walk in His path/ways.

What are Hashem's ways? Horav Reuven Grozovsky, zl, explains that Hashem's derachav, ways, are the constant performance of only good. Unrestricted, unimpeded, unconfined, wholly free acts of chesed, kindness - without recompense - every second to every creature. Unstoppable chesed - that is Hashem. To follow in His path means always to act kindly to every person, not to rely on being nice every once in a while.

The Rosh Yeshivah explains the word derech as referring to nature. The derech of a person is the nature of a person. When a person acts a certain way, it means that his nature is to act in this manner. He suggests the word derech to be synonymous with the term "nature", as found in connection with a shor muad, an ox that gores regularly. Three times comprises regularly, transforming a "normal" ox into a goring ox, a muad. Such an ox is darko l'haszik, its nature is to gore. In order for the ox to change its muad status, it must allow three opportunities for goring to present themselves - and not gore. This is an indication that its nature has changed.

Applying this idea to derachav, His/Hashem's ways, we are enjoined to incorporate Hashem's "nature" of kindness and thoughtfulness into our human psyche. Kindness should be natural, without hesitation. Our first and only impulse should be to act kindly all of the time. It should not be "second" nature, but "first" nature. This is the only way we can walk in Hashem's ways.

For a Jew, chesed should be instinctive. Horav Yeruchem Levovitz, zl, was traveling by train. As the door was about to close, prior to the train pulling out of the station, he accidentally dropped his glove. As it fell down to the ground, the door of the car was closing. Rav Yeruchem immediately dropped his other glove out the door just before it closed. The train picked up speed and departed from the station. His student watched what took place and was bothered by his revered Rebbe's action. "Why throw out a good glove - just because its 'mate' was lost?" he asked. The Mashgiach's reply indicates the meaning of instinctive chesed and should inspire each and every one of us. He said, "I thought to myself: I have no use for a single glove. I might as well throw out the second glove, so that when someone finds the first one, he will also find its mate and have a pair of gloves."

The Mashgiach did not think this out. It was an immediate, instinctive reaction to a situation that presented itself.

Sitting at a wedding recently, I heard the following story which I think is appropriately suited to this dvar Torah. A fellow who worked at a restaurant once walked home instead of using the bus. His walk took him past a homeless shelter where he had the opportunity to notice how emaciated some of its "residents" were. Whatever food they received was either from scrounging, or donations which were given to the shelter and then parceled out to the residents. This man thought to himself, "We throw out so much food at the restaurant. If I were to bring the food here, it would truly make a difference to these people."

The next day, he asked his boss if, instead of throwing the leftovers into the garbage, he could have them to give to the shelter. His boss agreed wholeheartedly. After all, it was a win/win situation. He was rid of the leftovers, while simultaneously helping the unprivileged. The man packed up the leftovers and took them to the shelter. The men and women were so excited to finally have "good" food. Everyone ate whatever they could. Everyone - except for one woman, who stood in the back of the room staring at the man, refusing to participate in eating the free food.

This went on for three days. Everyone ate, except this woman, who just stared angrily at the man. Finally, he decided to approach her and ask, "Why do you refuse to take any food?" "I will take nothing from a Jew!" she practically growled. "But I am not a Jew," the man countered. "I just want to help out. Why do you refuse this simple gesture?"

"You must be a Jew," she screamed. "Only a Jew would think of such an idea. Only a Jew would want to help others. And I will take nothing from a Jew!" A frightening attitude, but sadly, very real. There are such sick people in the world whose irrational, nonsensical hatred (which is really self-loathing) prevents them from enjoying Jewish generosity. Our hero, however, was stupefied. How could this lady mistake him for a Jew? A few days later, upon speaking with his mother, he mentioned the incident with the woman, "Can you imagine that this woman's hatred was so strong that she somehow convinced herself that I was Jewish - simply because Jews are benevolent and kind? So, apparently, I must be a Jew."

Hearing this, his mother began to cry. He asked her why she was so emotional. She responded, "I never told you the truth about your pedigree. I am Jewish, and I married your father, who was a gentile. You really are Jewish!"

The sudden revelation commenced a process which led this man to religious observance and his eventual relocation to Eretz Yisrael, where he lives a completely observant life together with his family. All of this occurred because the goya knew that Jews are instinctly kind and benevolent and use their hearts to think of ways to help others. Now, if only the Jews would "buy into" this idea…

U'mikayeim emunaso l'yisheinei afar. And maintains His faith to those asleep in the dust.

What about those tragic individuals whose graves were lost or whose bodies were never brought to kever Yisrael, Jewish burial? Those whose bodies were disintegrated, burned beyond recognition, their ashes scattered without any identification; those who drowned and whose bodies were never recovered: Are they also included in techiyas Ha'Meisim? Does yisheinei afar mean specifically those who received a Jewish burial? Horav Avigdor Miller, zl, explains that Hashem "maintains His faith" to all those who have died - regardless of the circumstances or condition of their body. The Almighty is faithful. He keeps an exact account of every molecule of dust or ashes that remain from the deceased. He will collect them all. Despite the passage of thousands of years, He will revive the entire body. He is Hashem, and His faithfulness is something upon which we, as believers, can rely.

I think this might be the reason that the grave of Moshe Rabbeinu is unknown. One should never think that, if he does not make it to kever Yisrael, all is lost. Hashem will bury him as He buried Moshe. He will be the Chevra Kaddisha, Jewish Burial Society. This might assuage the fears of those who lost loved ones during the Holocaust and are troubled concerning their burial. Hashem buried them. A martyr deserves no less.

lz"n Nosson Aryeh ben Zev
niftar 18 Av -
u'lz"n Yekusiel ben Yechiel Zeidel z"l
niftar 20 Av -
By the Feigenbaum family

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

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