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Peninim on the Torah

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Rabbi A. Leib Scheinbaum
Hebrew Academy of Cleveland


May my teaching drop like rain; may my utterance flow like the dew. (32:2)

The effect of rain and dew on the products of the earth is not noticeable. Indeed, it is primarily when it does not rain, when the earth is left dry and parched, that one realizes the critical contribution that rain makes to the finished product. When it rains, the moisture seeps into the soil, and the objective observer does not notice a change. When the earth produces verdant blossoms, fruit and grain, one realizes what the innocuous rain has accomplished. Likewise, when one studies Torah, the change is not immediate. One can learn and learn, and he does not seem to change. He becomes more knowledgeable, but no change in his personality is evidenced. Wait. Be patient. Nothing is wasted. The Torah enters his neshamah, soul, so that in due time, a marked change will become obvious.

It happens in the world of Torah chinuch, education, all of the time. One teaches a student and, at the end of the year, there does not seem to be any change. Has it all been a vain effort? Are some students destined not to make it? Are they doomed? No. Be patient. It might take years, but just as rain takes effect under the ground, hidden from the human eye, so, too, does the Torah work behind the scenes. It softens the heart and enters his soul, and, in due time, one sees fruit. Torah is never wasted.

The Rock! - Perfect is His work; For all His paths are justice. (32:4)

Hashem judges fairly, meting out justice in an exact and perfect manner. To the human eye, it may seem to be slow in coming, or it might seem questionable, but we trust that, since it emanates from Hashem, it is perfect. The word perfect applies to the totality of life throughout the continuum of time. We do not always understand what Hashem presents to us, but He takes everything into consideration and adds the happiness and sadness, pain and joy, failure and success - throughout time and puts it all together in His Master calculator to determine the perfect reward or punishment for this person. We do not understand, but we do believe.

Horav Aryeh Leib Shteinman, Shlita, addresses the fact that lately we have heard of individuals who at one point have possessed enormous wealth, but suddenly overnight have become poor men. People, who had until recently lived in palatial homes, are now relegated to live in homes that barely would have housed their servants. This occurs also to individuals who until recently had been earning a decent to fine living and are now compelled to reach out to others for assistance in supporting their family. Why? What is the catalyst for this sudden downfall? Is it a punishment or does it have a silver lining?

He cites the Gaon, zl, m'Vilna, in his commentary to Divrei Hayamim I 16:8, Hodiu ha'amim alilosav, "Make His acts known among the nation." Alilos is a reference to the chesed, kindness, that Hashem manifests to a person when He provides him with great benefit, with extremely good fortune, only to suddenly take it away from him. We perceive this as kindness because the sudden loss of so much good fortune cleanses him of his earthly sin. The great loss, which seems to be a tragedy, is really an act of mercy that spares him a worse fate. The Gaon cites the sefer Shaarei Rachamim that defines alilosav as referring to Hashem's attributes of rachum, chanun, etc., merciful, compassionate, etc. He explains that a person could have sinned in such a manner that his actions would incur the punishment of death. Hashem "provides" him with a poor man who is in dire need, so that the individual contributes to helping the poor man. Tzedakah tatzil mimaves, charity saves from death. In an act of mercy, Hashem has just spared the individual, by availing him of an opportunity in which he could circumvent the punishment that was due him.

People complain-- at times bitterly-- about their financial predicament, not realizing that the challenges that they are undergoing are actually for their benefit. Rav Shteinman exhorts us to wake up and realize once and for all that Hashem is the source of everything that occurs in our lives - whether good or perceived as not good. Hashem sends everything for a reason. Furthermore, it is inescapable and unavoidable. If, however, we do teshuvah, repent, Hashem, in His infinite mercy, might manipulate the punishment in such a manner that we pay our dues out of a "different pocket." Who knows if the financial crisis that one sustains does not take the place of a severe illness that could have struck him or a member of his family. He should be grateful for what he has and for what he receives. By repenting, he expiates his sin.

Is it to Hashem that you do this, 0 vile and unwise people? (32:6)

The word naval, vile, is not used anywhere else in the Torah. It is a strong term to describe an ungrateful nation. Why does the Torah use it here? Horav S.R. Hirsch, zl, illustrates the lack of gratitude which Klal Yisrael demonstrates with the following analogy. A young couple won the grand prize: one year in a resort, all expenses paid. There had to be some catch to this prize. Who would give away such an incredible prize - and why?

They arrived at the small town which was at the outskirts of the palatial resort. The town hosted a small Jewish community among whose members was the wealthy sponsor of their prize. "Why did we win?" they asked him. He explained, "Our community needs a fresh infusion of spirituality. We need a young, vibrant couple that will raise the community's consciousness, elevate its spirits, and increase its commitment to serve the Almighty. We chose you because we feel that you have the potential to create this environment."

The young couple did not waste any time. As soon as they obtained the keys, they set to work - fixing up the cottage where they would be staying. Money was no object. They had a credit card to spend whatever they needed to produce positive results. First, however, they had to fix up the cottage, so that it would be more comfortable and give off a "positive" feeling. Every day, something else occupied their time. After all, it was not a small cottage. After a day of shopping, they were tired and had to rest. A person must eat well in order to have the strength to do "so much." They ate well. They slept well; they enjoyed. They did everything, but what they had been asked to do.

Six months went by and they now needed a vacation. All of this "strenuous" shopping, eating and sleeping had taken its toll on them. Two weeks at a spa to "rest up" was not asking too much. When they returned, they discovered that their cottage was locked.

Their key did not work. Indeed, the locks had been changed. What chutzpah! They immediately went to town to confront their benefactor and demand an explanation.

"I am very sorry, but I cannot allow you to use the cottage any longer. Also, I must ask you to return the credit card. You will have to find another place to live and another source of income," the wealthy benefactor told them.

"How dare you do this without any warning?" the young man demanded angrily. "Is this the way you treat your guests? You invite us out here, and then you throw us out without so much as a roof over our heads!"

"You are surprised?" the man asked. "Well, I am also surprised. What possessed you to think that you could move in, spend all of that money and accomplish nothing? What have you done in the six months since your arrival? You have wallowed away your days shopping, spending, sleeping, vacationing - everything except the one thing that I asked you to do. You were supposed to raise the community's religious consciousness, and you did nothing but satisfy your own physical desires. You had everything, and you did nothing. How dare you complain?"

We have just read an analogy on life. When something goes wrong; when we are struck by troubles, illness, financial disaster, we ask the classic question, "Why me? What did I do to deserve this?" Then we become angry. It is wrong that we should have it so "bad."

Hashem responds with a powerful Ha'l'Hashem, "Is it to Hashem that you do this? I gave you everything. Where is your gratitude? Did you think that it was all for nothing?

Nobody gets a free ride in this world. I provided you with life. I provided you with shelter, with health, with food, with family, and what did you do in return?

"Am naval, O vile nation!" Instead of sanctifying My Name in the world, you profaned it. Instead of acting like a moral and ethical nation, you became like all of the other nations. At times, you even attempted to outdo them. Now, when things are not going exactly the way you had planned, you come to Me to complain. After all of this ingratitude, you expect Me to give you back the keys to the house? What made you think that you could get away with it, live a life of abandon, taking and taking, and giving nothing in return? How dare you complain?"

There is one difference, however, between the analogy and reality. Hashem is not merely a human benefactor, who, when betrayed, responds negatively. Hashem is a loving Father, who never turns away from His children. He chastises and He punishes, but He embraces us lovingly when we return. We know what we have done. Now we must undo it. He is waiting.

O' vile and unwise people. (32:6)

Rashi explains the word naval, vile, as applying to Klal Yisrael for their lack of gratitude to Hashem. They conveniently forgot what He had done for them. Sadly, we have not changed over the years. Horav Yitzchak Zilberstein, Shlita, relates an episode that occurred concerning a couple who were on the verge of divorce. Apparently, the husband felt that his wife absolutely refused to do things "his" way. They had already gone to counseling and therapy to no avail. The therapists all agreed that his wife was not going to change, and, if it bothered the husband that much, they should get a divorce. There was no other alternative. Baruch Hashem, the couple saw beyond the shortsightedness of the counselors and sought out Rav Zilberstein as a last attempt at saving their marriage.

After listening to the husband present his criticism of his wife, Rav Zilberstein understood that much of what he was saying was not critical. His wife was really not guilty, considering the prevailing attitude in the house and some of the impossible demands the husband was imposing on her. After speaking to the wife, he saw a woman who was heartbroken, who did not want a divorce, but simply could not live up to her husband's onerous standards and demands.

Rabbi Zilberstein turned to the husband and said, "I know of a chosson, a bridegroom, who, one thousand years after the wedding, remembered the favors that his wife performed for him when they were first married. He took pity on her and remained committed to her."

The husband was certain that his ears were playing tricks on him. One thousand years after the wedding! "Who is this elusive chosson that lived for so many years?" he asked the rav. The rav was adamant. Yes, this chossan existed, and it was true. His devotion had not waned.

"Would you like to know the identity of this chosson?" the rav asked. "He is none other than Hashem! One thousand years after yetzias Mitzrayim, the exodus from Egypt, He says to Knesses Yisrael, that He remembers her love as a young bride. Yirmiyahu HaNavi says, 'I recall for you the kindness of your youth, the love of your nuptials, your following Me into the Wilderness, into an unknown land.' (Yirmiyah 2:2) Hashem remembered how His nation followed Him out of Egypt, without anything but the basic essentials which they were able to grab during their liberation. A nation with so many children and infants left the 'protection' of Egypt to travel through a dangerous wilderness. Why? Because they followed Hashem - as a woman follows her husband.

"Tell me," the rav continued, "when you first married your wife, did she not leave her home and her family to follow you to the city of your choice? Did she complain? Yet, you have the audacity to sit in judgment against her. Where is your shame? Why do you not consider what she has done for you?

"How many years have elapsed since your marriage took place? Ten, twenty, thirty? Certainly not as long as Hashem spent with the Jewish People - and He remembered. Why are you acting differently? If, after all of this, you insist on going through with the divorce, I suggest one thing. On Rosh Hashanah, when you recite the Mussaf Shemoneh Esrai, and you come to the passage of Zocharti lach chesed ne'urayich, 'I recall the kindness of your youth,' skip it! You have no business reciting this pasuk.

"Indeed, it might even serve as a prosecuting counsel against you. After all, you do not remember; you do not fulfill the meaning of this pasuk."

Rav Zilberstein concludes by exhorting us to remember what Hashem constantly does for us. Every Jew must remember his obligation to appreciate Hashem's beneficence. He cites Horav Shlomo Zalman Auerbach, zl, who said, that to make a brachah, blessing, without kavanah, intention, purpose or meaning, is iniquitous, but to recite the Nodeh lechah, "We thank you Hashem," of Bircas HaMazon, Bentching, without kavanah, is much, much worse. To forget Hashem is the nadir of ingratitude.

He was like an eagle arousing its nest, hovering over its young, spreading its wings and taking them, carrying them on its pinions. (32:11)

Rashi explains that Hashem led the Jewish People with mercy and compassion similar to the manner in which an eagle displays his mercy towards its young. He does not enter his nest suddenly. First, he flaps and shakes his wings above his children. He shakes between one tree and another tree, between one branch and another, so that his children awake and have the strength to receive him. Furthermore, he hovers above his young, careful not to rest his weight upon them. Rather, he covers them in such a manner that he touches, yet does not touch them. When he comes to take them from place to place, he does not take them with his feet like other birds. This is because other birds are afraid of the eagle which soars high and flies over them and must protect his young by holding them with his feet, thereby protecting them with his body. The eagle fears only the arrow. Therefore, he carries his young on his wings, implying, "Let the arrow enter my body, but not harm my children." Likewise, Hashem protected us from harm when the Egyptians shot arrows at us and catapulted stones. Likewise, when Hashem comes to redeem us, He will not come suddenly, but He will first make noise to arouse us so that we can prepare ourselves for the special moment.

Horav S. R. Hirsch, zl, sharpens the contrast between the eagle and other birds. When other birds come to retrieve their young, they simply enter the nest, pick up their young, and leave. Not so the eagle, who first stirs up the nest and then spreads his wings above the nestlings so that, with keen, courageous eyes, they fly up to the nest upon the wings of their parent. They trust themselves to make this brave, upward flight because they have been imbued with courage and trust by their parent. So did Hashem first awaken His nation, giving them the opportunity to get in the habit of having the courage to trust themselves with free-willed decision and full consciousness to His guidance. This conscious, free-willed guidance was the preliminary condition that served as the basis for the future additional guidance that was to make them worthy of His Presence. The young eagle has the courage and self-confidence to leave the security of his warm nest and trust himself to fly upward into the isolating heights where his parent hovers. Anybody who has ever taken a chance, left a well-paying position to gamble on the future, knows that it takes courage and trust to make that move. Most people adjust very well to security - and want to remain that way. Everywhere, men and nations feel themselves secure only in the comfortable life established on the principles of power, money and strength. To sacrifice a life built upon the foundation of material exaltation and imagined security-- and transition into a life founded in the spirituality and morality that men are supposed to live-- does require courage and nobility of character. The world is used to self-worship, to the veneration of man and nature. To eschew all of this adoration in order to reach the lofty heights of morals and intelligence for which man should strive, to give it all up for a life of submission to Hashem, takes enormous courage. In order to obtain this courage, it was necessary for the nascent Jewish nation to receive its training by wandering in the stark wilderness under the guidance of the Almighty. The experiences which they sustained, as well as the teachings they received, provided them with an education and an awakening that inspired them to loftier goals. Indeed, they went from being a people of this world into becoming a People of G-d.

As the eagle trains and imbues his young, so did Hashem guide us to the realization that there was more; we should strive for it. We can obtain it, if we believe in ourselves enough to believe in Hashem.

Va'ani Tefillah

Ha'maalcha mei'eretz Mitzrayim harchev picha va'amaleihu.
Who took you out from Egypt, open wide your mouth and I will fill it.

Ibn Ezra comments that belief in Hashemú as the guiding force Who implemented the entire exodus from Egypt is a pre-requisite for us to receive His favor. When we believe that He - and only He - took us out of Egypt, then we can fill our mouths with requests, so that all that we ask will be granted. The Chasam Sofer questions the use of the words, "open wide your mouth" and "I will fill it." Also, why is the word ha'maalcha, "Who takes you up," used rather than ho'tzeitzicha, " took you out." Furthermore, if the emphasis is on "going up," it should have written he 'elisicha, "took you up." Why is the present tense used?

The Chasam Sofer cites an analogy to a prince who attempted to scale a very high tower. As he was climbing, he slipped and fell down into a deep cellar, ending up lower than he was when he had begun his upward trek. His father encouraged him to attempt to climb once again. This time, however, the prince was already weakened by his fall. Thus, they would have to drop down into his mouth vitamins and other supplements to give him the strength to continue. At every step, the prince, in his weakened state, holding on for dear life to the ladder, opened his mouth as the vitamins were dropped in. Likewise, our Patriarchs began the spiritual trek "upwards," so that they could partake in the spiritual Presence of Hashem. Regrettably, they fell into the deep cellar of Egyptian contamination. In taking them out, Hashem again prepared the ladder for them to be able to rise up to their aspirations. They must, however, keep their "mouths" open in order to receive the spiritual supplements which Hashem provides them with on a daily basis in the way of Torah and Tefillah. Thus, Hashem is taking them up. He enables this by their opening their mouths, so that He can fill them with His spiritual life source.

Bircas K'siva V'chasima Tova!

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