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Peninim on the Torah

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Rabbi A. Leib Scheinbaum
Hebrew Academy of Cleveland


They shall not marry a woman who has been divorced by her husband. (21:7)

In the Talmud Gittin 90a, a debate ensues between Bais Shammai and Bais Hillel concerning when it is "appropriate" to give one's wife a bill of divorce. Bais Shammai, who is usually more stringent in his approach to rendering a Halachic ruling, says that one may divorce his wife only under such circumstances in which she has acted immorally. Bais Hillel, who is typically lenient, declares that one may divorce his wife for any inappropriate behavior - even if she has burnt his soup! While the position of Bais Shammai is understandable, we wonder how we can permit one to divorce his wife simply because she has ruined dinner. Furthermore, what kind of person would act in this manner?

Horav Sholom Schwadron, zl, explains that burning the soup - happens. One cannot go through a marriage without burning the soup once in a while. It all depends on how one's wife reacts to this challenge concerning her dinner, and its consequences vis-?-vis her matrimonial harmony. A good woman, who cares about her husband, skims off the top half of the soup for herself. If she is a kachah-kachah, "so-so" wife, she will split the burnt soup, taking part for herself and giving the other part to her husband. If she is not a good woman, and thus not much of a wife, she will give her husband the burnt portion and retain the top portion, which was not harmed - for herself. Bais Hillel feel that if she burnt his soup - in other words, she gave him the burnt portion-- it is grounds for divorce. Obviously, she is not much of a wife.

From an opposite perspective, I think it was Horav Yaakov Kamenetzky, zl, who said that any man who would divorce his wife over some burnt soup does not have much of a marriage. His wife would be better off without him.

Along the line of reasoning presented by the Maggid, Horav Shlomo Levinstein, Shlita, recalls an incident which took place a number of years ago, during a world food crisis. A large annual banquet for the support of a distinguished yeshivah was set to be held during its usual time. Well aware of the economic crisis that had hit the entire country, the Rosh Yeshivah was not surprised, although he was concerned, that contributors toward the annual gala had dropped considerably. As a result, he felt it prudent not to hold the dinner that year. People simply did not have the money.

One of the yeshivah's wealthy supporters did not agree with the Rosh Yeshivah's decision to cancel the dinner. Turning to the Rosh Yeshivah, he said, "Specifically, it is this year that I feel the dinner is especially crucial. It would be wrong to cancel. Please do not cancel. In fact, I take full responsibility for all the contributions that would normally result from this evening. I ask only one favor: Please allow me to speak!"

The dinner was held. The speaker ascended to the podium to deliver his speech. He began with the previous exposition, explaining the meaning of Bais Hillel's ruling to allow the divorce of a woman who burns her husband's soup. He explained that, certainly, Chazal were not so callous as to permit breaking a marriage over a bowl of soup. After emphasizing that there are three possible relationships in a marriage, he made an analogy between Klal Yisrael and Hashem.

"There is a similar manner of describing our possible relationship with Hashem. We too seem to have issues about how we relate to Hashem when circumstances do not go as we would like. At the first juncture when life does not go our way, we offer the burnt contributions to Hashem. This means that when we take an economic loss, the first ones to suffer are the yeshivos, shuls, organizations that require our support to function properly. A second possibility would be for us to make an even split - cut back on the Orlando vacation, one less trip to Eretz Yisrael, one less suit, dress, and give less to the yeshivos and klei kodesh who look to us for sustenance. The third option is, of course, the most optimum, but demands tremendous strength of character and commitment. We assume the responsibility of the burnt contributors. We take the loss. We cut back on our precious lifestyles, but we never diminish our spiritual obligation. The burnt soup is not for Hashem!"

A powerful demand. How many of us can say that we are not guilty of ameliorating our economic woes at the expense of those who need it most?

You shall observe My commandments, you shall not desecrate My holy Name. (22:31, 32)

One would assume that chillul Hashem, profaning Hashem's Name, occurs only when one commits a transgression, thereby demonstrating that he has little regard for his spiritual dimension. What about an individual who performs mitzvos, but his attitude is lacking? He does what he absolutely must do to fulfill the mitzvah, but does not go the extra mile? He buys a simple Esrog "off the rack" with no regard to its beauty. Hiddur mitzvah means beautifying the mitzvah, showing how much it really means to him; dressing for Shabbos as if he were attending a wedding; glorifying the mitzvah as if it were really important to him. When an individual does not engage in hiddur mitzvah, explains Horav Doniel Moshovitz, zl, it is a form of chillul Hashem, since people viewing his attitude see an individual who really does not take mitzvah observance seriously. It does not carry much significance for him.

Furthermore, at times we convince ourselves that we may pick and choose mitzvos at will, in accordance with our proclivities. It can go so far that we may even delude ourselves into believing that the end justifies the means. One allows himself to be lenient in areas that he should not, all because he is performing a mitzvah. This occurs when Torah study is carried out at the expense of davening. Anytime one does not fully exert himself in the execution of a mitzvah, employing the excuse that he is involved in another mitzvah, is profaning Hashem's Name. By his action, he is indicating that not all mitzvos are his priorities.

Applying the "end justifies the means" card demonstrates a lack of respect for all mitzvos. Every mitzvah comes from Hashem. There is no such thing as pushing one aside at the expense of another. One does not have the right to allow himself to act inappropriately or unethically as a means for achieving a greater good. It has gotten to the point that we permit ourselves to ignore the sensitivities and emotions of others who might be in the way of progress. Just because rabbi "so and so" established this organization and gave his life and blood to maintain it, now it is time to remove him. He is in the way. It is all for the "greater good." Well - a "greater good" at the expense of another Jew is not very "good."

The Alter, zl, m'Slabodka was a mechanech, educator, par excellence. He is considered by many to be the father of the Lithuanian yeshivos, because he saw to it that whenever there was a need, he sent his most accomplished students to bolster other yeshivos. (Imagine that happening today.) Furthermore, many of the roshei yeshivah, mashgichim and rebbeim had been his students. Following World War I, a yeshivah that was going through a difficult period sought his help. He dispatched a young mashgiach, an individual replete in Torah scholarship, who was both charismatic and pious, a prolific speaker, who could inspire large groups as well as penetrate the individual hearts of the most self-absorbed, hard-to-reach young men. He turned the yeshivah around. In a short time, students were flocking to hear him, to be in his proximity, to study from him and to apply the inspiration which they garnered from him to their personal lives. This young mashgiach did not enter the halls of the yeshivah in a vacuum. The yeshivah already had a full complement of staff - mashgichim, rebbeim, etc. - who were getting on in age and had lost touch with the students and with the times. In other words, the arrival and immediate success of the young newcomer was not necessarily welcomed by everyone.

The tenure of the young mashgiach at the yeshivah came to an untimely end with his sudden passing. He had been there just a short time. The Alter was devastated. This student meant so much to him. He had had such a bright future in Torah education. What a tragic loss to his family, to his students, to the entire Torah world. The Alter ruminated and made a startling comment, "Who knows? Who knows whether the immediate success of this young mashgiach did not in some way infringe upon the sensitivities of the older rebbeim and mashgichim? Veritably, his intentions were pure and innocent, but his success may have come at the expense of others. The end never justifies the means. Perhaps a more diplomatic and sensitive approach should have been employed in introducing him to the yeshivah's faculty."

Horav Shmuel Aharon Yudelevitz, zl, author of the Meil Shmuel, possessed many exemplary qualities. He was a Torah scholar whose depth in halachah, as well as analytical dialectic, was peerless. A holy, righteous person, he was wholly devoted to the Yerushalayim community. As the capstone to a remarkable Torah giant, he was an orator who could move and inspire large audiences with his pearls of wisdom and dramatic delivery. His devotion toward reaching out to Jews of all stripes motivated him to travel far and wide to inspire audiences with his lectures. When told that he was not in the physical condition to undertake such strenuous and time consuming trips, his reply was that: Zikui ha'rabim, bringing merit to the multitudes, reaching out to Jews who required his "vocal" embrace, outweighed the temporary deprivations.

Rav Shmuel lived in the Batei Horodna development in Yerushalayim, which was home to a large contingent of committed Jews. He davened in the main shul, which was under the leadership of a capable Rav. One year, the Rav suddenly became ill, and, after a short while, passed away. The many worshippers petitioned for Rav Shmuel to deliver a mussar, ethical, discourse prior to Kol Nidrei. What better time for effective inspiration than prior to Kol Nidrei? His words would pierce the most recalcitrant heart and pave the way for their teshuvah, repentance. It was a hard sell; Rav Shmuel refused to speak. Although this was the most propitious time of the year to reach people, to do what he did best - he refused to capitalize on the opportunity. He would not speak.

Finally, he revealed the reason that he had demurred. Apparently, the recent widow of the Rav would be sitting in her usual place in the women's section. As she had done many times before, she would look forward to the Rav ascending the pulpit to deliver his address; only, this time, it would not be her husband - but a stranger. Can you imagine the pain she would experience? He could not be party to such callousness. One does not look at the benefits when it means hurting a fellow. The end does not justify the means. Moshe Rabbeinu refused to go to Egypt to assume the leadership of Klal Yisrael if it would entail hurting his older brother, Aharon HaKohen. Once he heard that, indeed, Aharon was enthusiastic about Moshe's appointment - he accepted. Rav Shmuel stood his ground and did not speak to the congregation - that year.

In the first month, on the fourteenth of the month in the afternoon, is the time of the Pesach offering to Hashem. And on the fifteenth day of this month is the Festival of Matzos to Hashem. (23:5, 6)

Rashi explains that although the Festival actually begins in the evening (of the fifteenth day of Nissan), the Pesach-offering is slaughtered during the afternoon of the fourteenth. In the Torah, the word Pesach is used to describe the offering, while matzos - Chag HaMatzos, defines the Festival. Haamek Davar considers the time of Bein Ha'Arbayim, in the afternoon, to be part of the holy convocation of the Festival, so that labor is forbidden at that time. Why is there a separation between the time of slaughtering the sacrifice and the time that it is eaten - during the actual Festival? It almost seems as if we slaughter the Korban as a preparation for entering into the celebration of the festival of freedom.

In Shemos 34:17, the Torah admonishes against idol worship, "You shall not make yourselves molten gods." The very next pasuk enjoins us in the mitzvah of observing the Festival of Pesach, "You shall observe the festival of matzos." This prompts the Izbitzer Rebbe, zl, to ask: What relationship exists between idol worship and Chag HaPesach? Why does the Torah juxtapose the prohibition against idol worship upon the mitzvah of Pesach observance? He cites the Zohar HaKadosh who posits that one who does not observe the mitzvah of Pesach is tantamount to an idol worshipper. How are we to understand this? The Rebbe explains that the word maseichah, molten (idol), implies that this figure was cast (so to speak, in stone); it has achieved its full form, with no ability to change. A maseichah is a "done deal," complete in its form; a maseichah represents the lack of desire and ability to change. It is what it is - and will remain so. This concept runs counter to the underlying motif of the festival of Pesach. This Yom Tov is to open up our hearts, so that we are offered a penetrating view of our inner self, our true self. It is a time when we deepen our understanding of Hashem, establishing a stronger, more enduring bond with the Almighty. In short, it is a time for rejuvenation, for elevation, for change. As spring symbolizes a new beginning, so, too, does Pesach reflect a new beginning within us. There is no place for the immovable, unchangeable maseichah within the Pesach experience.

I would like to take this idea further. In Hebrew, the word maseichah means mask. How many of us live life concealing our true selves with a mask? We put on an air of self-confidence, assured in our relationships, because so many people view us as their anchor, the one person upon whom they can all count. In truth, we are living a lie. Our days are reduced to acting according to a script written for us by our surrounding, adoring society. Our own hopes, our life's aspirations, all fade into oblivion as we are compelled to be the person that others perceive us to be. We seem to have so many friends and admirers, but, in truth, we are sadly alone.

At times, we wonder: "How would people react if they knew the truth about me? Would I have so many friends if I did not act out the fa?ade of self-assured confidence?" For many of us, a solid, significant disconnect exists between our outward identity and our true selves. People truly desire the freedom to be themselves, but, more often than not, resort to following society's script for fear of rejection or disapproval, thus compromising their own individuality. That is living the life of maseichah, mask.

Another mask causes greater damage: the mask of non-spirituality. How many Jews are trapped in the fa?ade of nonobservance, seeking a way out, wanting to be accepted, but have been wearing the mask for so long that they themselves have begun to believe that the mask is the true image of them? I have met and worked with such people, and, behind the mask, they feel disingenuous, isolated, almost fearful of exposure. They fear exposure of the truth that they really are not as non-observant as they claim to be. Their lives are lived in a state of internal struggle and pain. How can one be authentic if he is molding himself to be the person that others will love, accept and approve of?

Pesach is the time for removing the masks, ridding oneself of the fa?ade, the sham that he has been living until now. One cannot entertain the idea of freedom unless he has first divested himself of his personal enslavement. Thus, the Torah enjoins us to remove the mask behind which he has been hiding, prepare to face the reality of who he is, where he has been and where he must now go.

During the Seder service, we recite the phrase, "One is required to view himself as if he was just released from Egypt." We must identify with the Jewish People by accepting their travail. They were in exile; we were in exile. In order to experience freedom, one must taste the bitterness of exile. Freedom has little meaning to one who does not understand the challenges of servitude. Freedom means removing the mask. Perhaps this is why the Korban Pesach is slaughtered prior to the onset of the Festival. The Jew must participate in the sacrifice, symbolic of the Jews' willingness to sacrifice himself for his faith. The Jew who has been concealing himself behind the fa?ade of observance or non-observance must come to grips with his true identity. He has been fooling only himself. He has worn the mask for so long that he now believes that he really is either observant or non-observant. Pesach is a wakeup call. The Jew who has distanced himself is welcomed home. Now is the time for resurgence, rejuvenation, a new beginning. Unless the maseichah is removed, however, there can be no beginning - since there has been no "end."

When you shall enter the Land that I give you and you reap its harvest, you shall bring an Omer from your first harvest to the Kohen. (23:10)

The Torah commences with, "And you reap its harvest," implying that the harvest belongs to the Land, and concludes with, "You shall bring an omer from your harvest to the Kohen." The question is: To whom does the harvest belong - to the Land or to the harvester? The answer is obvious: The harvester thinks he is the owner. Hashem is reminding him that a Jew does not live for himself. He is not to lose sight of the spiritual nature of his worldly possessions. They are all here to serve one purpose: to help others. Working in the trenches can be physically demanding. This might bring a person to think that it is all about "him." Well, it is not. The only way he may claim ownership of the land is by sharing it with others.

This idea is reiterated constantly, but we do not always pick up on it, by assimilating it into our mindset and incorporating it into our daily endeavor. I write this on Shushan Purim, the day following the greatest tzedakah day of the year. Everyone gives; the money is flowing, as well as the drinks. When a Jew is happy, he gives freely of his money, because he realizes that, after all is said and done, the money is not his.

Perhaps this might be alluded to by the pasuk at the end of Megillas Esther. V'yemei haPurim he'eileh lo yaavru mitoch haYehudim, "And these days of Purim should never cease among the Jews" (9:28). Simply, this means that the festival of Purim will accompany us throughout time. We might supplement this idea with the notion that the mitzvah of tzedakah, which the Jewish People fulfill more so than other people, will always be with us. On Purim we give tzedakah with a flowing heart and "pen." We hold nothing back, as we share our matanos l'evyonim. It is activities such as these that have remained with us and continued to sustain us throughout time.

To those who feel that tzedakah decreases their financial portfolio, perhaps the following story will shed some light on their concerns. A father went with his son to purchase bread at the bakery. They left the store with the boy carrying ten loaves of bread. The father turned to his son and asked, "How many loaves do you have?" "Ten loaves," the boy replied. A few moments later, they met a poor man who pleaded with him to share some bread with him: "I have nothing for Shabbos. Will you please help?" he begged. The father readily gave the man three loaves of bread.

The father now asked his son, "How many breads remain?" The boy replied, "Seven." "Are you certain?" the father asked. "Seven," the boy emphatically declared.

"My son, let me explain something to you. We are going home, where we will eat this bread. After a short while, nothing will be left. The three breads which we gave the poor man - those are the fruits of Olam Habba, the World to Come. They will always be there for us! End of story.

The son of a Yisraelis woman went out - and he was the son of an Egyptian man -among the Bnei Yisrael; they fought in the camp, the son of the Yisraelis woman and the Yisraeli man. (24:10)

It all began with an argument. Veritably, it was not even a serious dispute. It was a question of allowing someone of tainted pedigree to move into the "neighborhood." Perhaps the ish haYisraeli was justified in his attitude toward the one whose murky roots are intimated by the Torah. One thing is certain: We see the sad consequences of controversy. A machlokes, dispute, can lead to a most egregious and tragic sin: megadef, whereby one blasphemes Hashem's Name. How did such a terrible sin result from a machlokes? Horav Gamliel Rabinowitz, Shlita, offers a powerful - perhaps frightening - explanation. Every Jew has within him a neshamah, soul, which is a chelek Elokai mimaal, miniscule component derived from Hashem Above. We all have a part of Hashem within us. When one insults, disputes, puts down a fellow Jew - he is impugning Hashem. Once this has happened, it is not long before he will denigrate the Almighty. Subconsciously, he has done so already. He is only following a pattern which he has created for himself. Therefore, one should distance himself from all forms of dispute, because once he has fallen in, he will be quickly absorbed like quicksand.

Why did the ben ish Mitzri react with such vulgarity? Why was his ultimate reaction blaspheming Hashem? What did Hashem have to do with his personal dispute with this man? Perhaps what the ish Yisraeli said to this man caused him to react in such a manner. He was basically told, "You are not like us. You are not good enough. You do not belong with us." To insinuate that a person does not belong simply because of his yichus, pedigree, can enrage a person. Telling a person that he is unlike everybody else is like saying, "You are worthless." Sadly, there will always be those who are not part of the clique. This author remembers growing up as a refugee following World War II, when the other children in school were all "Americans." Snide comments were not in vogue in those days, because the parents were simple people to whom lineage played no leading role. Indeed, the refugee children whose parents were survivors of the Holocaust were given special treatment. We were special. Our clothes were not the same, because we wore whatever our parents could purchase at the thrift shop. Our clothes did not always fit, because hand me downs are rarely custom made, but we were treated with respect, just like everyone else. I guess in "those days" people were more secure and, thus, not obsessed with their lineage and money. We all felt part of one large family: Klal Yisrael. Perhaps this was because, during World War II, the Nazis did not delineate between a Jew with yichus or one without. Neither did they differentiate between what type of home one lived in or what school he attended. It is sad when we need "them" to demonstrate that we are all the same part of a large, aggregate family.

Va'ani Tefillah

Elokei Avraham, Elokei Yitzchak, v'Elokei Yaakov… Baruch atah Hashem Magen Avraham.

There is a well-known statement made by Chazal in the Talmud Pesachim 117b concerning the conclusion to the Birchas HaAvos, the blessing of the Patriarchs. Hashem promised Avraham Avinu, V'heyei b'rachah, "And your name shall be for a blessing." (Bereishis 12:2). Chazal explain that, although the blessing begins with the names of all three Patriarchs, the chasimah, signature, of the blessing recalls only Avraham's name: Becha chosmin, "With your name, they will conclude"; V'ein chosmin b'kulam, "but they will not conclude with all of their names." The commentators offer a number of explanations for this. Horav Shimon Shkop, zl, elucidates Chazal from a practical perspective. (Although rendered almost a century ago, it is sadly as timeless today as it was then.)

Avraham Avinu discovered Hashem on his own, without the support of an illustrious lineage to teach and inspire him. Yitzchak and Yaakov had the support of a father and grandfather - a lofty mesorah, tradition, upon which to rely. Thus, one would think that in our times, the period prior to the advent of Moshiach Tzidkeinu, life would be simple - everyone would be embracing religious observance; everyone would have the advantage of parental support. We know otherwise. The European Enlightenment - and its secular/cultural hostility toward Judaism - debased and eroded religious observance. We are at the conclusion of the generations, with Moshiach's advent getting closer at every moment. Are we able to say that we have embraced and continued religious observance throughout the generations, relying on the support of fathers and grandfathers? Sadly, the answer is no. We must, therefore, hope that the chasimah, conclusion, will be similar to that of Avraham, whereby we will repent and return of our own volition.

In honor of
Dr. Dennis and Marriane Glazer

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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