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Peninim on the Torah

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Rabbi A. Leib Scheinbaum
Hebrew Academy of Cleveland


With righteousness shall you judge your fellow. (19:15)

We must be careful not to condemn. While a person may have acted inappropriately, we must give him the benefit of the doubt. Perhaps we are unaware of what actually occurred or of the extenuating circumstances that quite possibly played a role in the individual's decision to act as he did. There is no question that it is, at times, difficult to give a person the benefit of the doubt - especially when we have no doubt. He was wrong; there are no two ways about it. Yet, the Torah enjoins us to judge him righteously. It becomes increasingly difficult when one is not just merely a spectator, but the individual who took the hit, who was adversely affected and hurt by the action of the other party.

I came across an explanation rendered by the Baal Shem Tov HaKadosh that illuminates this mitzvah. Chazal teach, Al tadin es chaveircha ad she'tagia limekomo, "Do not judge your fellow/friend until you have reached his place" or, the more popular, "Do not judge a person until you have walked in his shoes." Simply, we are being told to take into consideration that a person might be going through a lot, that he is under intense pressure, and this is why he might be acting out of character. The fellow who snaps at you might have just received bad news. His plate of troubles is overflowing, and you just happen to be the hapless person who has crossed his path, etc.

The Baal Shem Tov renders this Chazal homiletically. One should know that what he sees in his friend is a reflection of himself. In other words, what one accuses his friend of doing is actually a representation of something of which he himself is guilty. The judgment that he passes over his friend is the judgment that Hashem will pass over him. In other words, although a person has acted inappropriately, he might be unaware, because people never notice their personal faults - only those of others. Prior to passing judgment on your actions, Hashem wants to see how you will adjudicate the actions of your friend who did the same thing. For some reason, your actions slipped by your perusal - your friend's did not. Hashem is reminding you. If you judge him righteously - you will receive the same Heavenly verdict. If you find him guilty, you now know what to expect. Your ability to judge him came as a result of your having already reached mekomo - his place.

The next time that we find it difficult to judge our fellow favorably, we should take into consideration that it is not him whom we are judging; we are simultaneously judging ourselves.

You shall not stand aside while your brother's blood is shed. (19:16)

Rashi explains that one may not stand idly by witnessing his friend drowning in the river and not save him. Likewise, if a wild animal or a robber is chasing his friend, he must take action to save him. In the secular world, one who reaches out to his fellow is considered a kind person. One who acts maliciously to hurt his fellow is considered a cruel person. The one who does nothing, acts normally, does not want to get involved, is neither good nor bad. No laws enjoin us to be kind.

The Torah has a different view. Torah life leaves no room for neutrality or apathy. It is not enough simply not to be cruel; one must be kind. Not taking positive action is tantamount to taking negative action. Standing by while one's fellow suffers is an act of cruelty. While at certain times we are unable to lend a hand, when the individual in need is beyond our ability to help - we should at least develop a sense of empathy. It should hurt. A Jew feels pain even if he is unable to solve the problem, to help the person.

Yaldei Tehran, the children of Tehran, had immigrated to the Holy Land through Tehran. They had become victims of the secular government that was poisoning their minds and severing their relationship with Judaism. Upon hearing of the tragedy befalling these children, the Brisker Rav, zl, wept bitterly as he lamented their fate. He was questioned concerning his reaction: "After all, what good is weeping? It does not alter the course of events." The Rav responded, "Az es tut vei - veint men. When it hurts, one weeps."

The Rav continued with an insight concerning the punishment which Iyov sustained. Chazal teach that Pharaoh's debate concerning Egypt's "Jewish problem" included his three wise counselors: Bilaam, the wicked pagan prophet; Yisro, the Priest of Midyan, who later converted and became father-in-law of both Moshe Rabbeinu and Elazar HaKohen, son of Aharon HaKohen; and Iyov, the pious man who became the all-time symbol of suffering. When Pharaoh asked his council for suggestions regarding ridding Egypt of its Jews, Bilaam, acting according to his reputation, advised killing them. He had no problem with an Egyptian holocaust, so intense was his hatred of the Jews. Yisro's reaction was classic: he fled Egypt. Knowing full well that he was up against rabid anti-Semites, he had no recourse but to run - or to join the Jews in their fate. Iyov surprisingly remained silent; his response was silence.

Chazal teach that each one received his Heavenly due. Bilaam wanted to see the death of the Jews; he was killed. Yisro ran away; Hashem rewarded him with two outstanding sons-in-law and the eternal respect of the Jewish People. Iyov was destined to experience a life of pain, misery, affliction and deprivation that has become the sad benchmark of troubles visited upon a person. Why? How does his punishment correspond with his reaction? What did he do? The Brisker Rav explained that his silence "earned" him his pain. When it hurts, one weeps. True, he could not help the Jews, but this was no excuse for silence. Neutrality does not become our People. Apathy defines the rest of society - not the Jewish population. We are a nation of doers; people who do not remain silent when our fellow is suffering. Our inability to actualize salvation does not preclude our empathy and sensitivity. We care because we are Jewish. Caring defines the Jew. I will leave the rest unsaid.

Horav Gamliel Rabinowitz, Shlita, asserts that the prohibition against standing idly by as one's brother is experiencing a life-threatening travail extends to what I feel is an unfortunately too common occurrence: indifference as one's fellow is being humiliated. When one's friend is accused of a misdeed, the issue is not concerning the veracity of the accusation; it might even be true. He is shamed publicly, while we stand by and do absolutely nothing. True, one is afraid that by involving himself, he might be the next one to be sacrificed on the altar of public embarrassment, but is this a reason to allow the blood of one's fellow to be shed publicly? People get carried away and often their claim is justified, but, regardless of the justification, one may not shame a fellow Jew in public. It is tantamount to murder. One who witnesses a public murder and refuses to get involved is no less a murderer than the actual offender.

Furthermore, suggests Rav Gamliel, the prohibition, Lo saamod, applies not only to an instance in which one's life hangs in the balance. Whenever we witness our fellow suffering, going through a period of travail, being the subject of public scorn, undergoing a personal tzarah, trouble, we must not stand by and do nothing. Therefore, it would be worthwhile to take a moment the next time we go to shul to look around, peruse the congregation, take a penetrating look at the attendees. How many are suffering? How many need a yeshuah, salvation? How many could we personally help? For how many should we empathize? Lo saamod al dam reiecha.

You shall love your fellow as yourself. (19:18)

How does one define friendship? Obviously, varied responses might address this question. The one which I feel is most appropriate is: "A true friend is consistently willing and prepared to place the happiness of the other above the friendship." A good friend does not fear being brutally honest concerning his friend's shortcomings if he thinks that it will save him from failure. It goes without saying that the friend will use common sense in conveying his message. A good friend will not refrain from telling his friend something that he might not want to hear - something that might even impede the future of the friendship. A friend will neither shy away from correcting his friend when he is wrong, nor will he be compassionate about his feelings, if he feels that continuing on this path is courting disaster. Thus, when the friend asks, "How could you? How dare you?" the answer will be, "Because I am your friend. I care about you - even more than I care about me."

We refer to the Talmud Bava Basra 16B for a classic exposition on the concept of friendship. Chazal teach that Iyov had three close friends who came to be with him during his time of need. How was it that they were all able to reach his home at the same time - given that they each lived approximately eight hundred miles from him? Chazal explain that they each had a crown with the faces and names of the other three engraved on it. When suffering befell one of them, the appearance of his face on the crowns of his three friends would change. Another opinion is that they each had three trees that were named for each one of their friends. When the tree which bore the name of their friend withered, they understood that this was a sign that an affliction had struck that friend. Rava concludes the Chazal with the statement: "This bears out what people say, O' chavrei d'Iyov, O'missusa, 'Either friends like those of Iyov or death.'"

Chazal make a powerful statement defining the terms of friendship. Does a willingness to travel hundreds of miles to support a friend define friendship? Furthermore, how did they all know simultaneously that Iyov was suffering? If they were all equidistant from him, they all had to discover his predicament at the same exact time, so that they could drop everything and travel to be at his side.

The Ben Yehoyadah explains that there are two types of friends. One is present to share in the good times: when everything is going smooth; life is well; the sun is shining in one's face. When the "wheel of fortune" appears to be turning to what seems not such good times, this friend's phone does not work. He disappears, because he is only a "good times" friend. Such a friend is obviously not much of a friend. Indeed, with friends like that, one does not need enemies.

The other type of friend is one who is present in both good times and bad. He never forsakes his friend. When the going gets rough, he is there. When trouble looms on the horizon, he is present. He is also there for the good times - because he is always present. This is a true friend.

A higher level of friendship, however, was evinced by Iyov's friends - one which I feel defines true friendship. This is a friend who is always present for the good and also for the bad. As soon as he hears that his friend is in peril, that he is afflicted, that things are not as they should be, he immediately drops his personal plans and joins his friend. He is a "reactor," reacting to the news when he is informed. While his actions are certainly laudatory, there is yet a higher - more desirable - more definitive form of friendship. I refer to he who is constantly looking out for his friend, who asks and seeks, questions and contemplates, worries and cares, wondering, "Does my friend need me? Is he doing well? Could I be doing something to help? Perhaps he is covering up a problem?" This is a true friend. He does not wait for that phone call in the middle of the night, "Help!" He sits by the phone making calls, trying to find out whether everything is truly all right or whether something is brewing, something which he could circumvent.

Iyov's friends had the crown or a tree. In any event, they did not one day walk in and see a change in the tree, a discoloration of the crown. They treated their crown/tree as a message center, constantly looking at it to make sure that all is well. Some parents (I was like that) often place their moist finger by their sleeping baby's nose. Their minds never waver from their child. A good friend's mind never wanes from his friend.

Perhaps I should not turn to secular sources for support, but this is meant to underscore that true friendship is recognized by all men. When the King of Belgium wished to honor Herbert Hoover for his humanitarian services to the Belgian people following World War I, the President demurred, saying, "You have stood at the gateway of civilization and held back the tide of aggression, while we have only shared with you what we had to give. For that, one does not ask honors." The king, however, wishing to recognize Hoover's personal helpfulness, created a new order to which only one man belonged. The title was, "Friend of the Belgian People." A true friend seeks no recognition; otherwise, he is not a true friend.

Before an old man you shall rise, you shall honor the presence of a sage. (19:32)

The pasuk appears to be redundant - unless a difference exists between zaken and seivah. The Talmud Kiddushin 32b, explains that a zaken is zeh she'kanah chochmah, "one who has acquired wisdom." Wisdom and age are not necessarily synonymous. Some young people have-- either due to sheer brilliance or great effort-- achieved the title of zaken. They are erudite scholars who are able to hold their own with the sages of "old." Alas, some elderly Jews -- due to their advanced age-- deserve the title seivah; they are not by definition, zekeinim, since they are not erudite, as they have not acquired wisdom.

Let us take this a bit further. A chasid, who had reached the age of sixty years old, approached the Satmar Rav, zl, with great pride and said, "Rebbe, I deserve a mazel tov upon having reached the age of ziknah." He was referring to the statement in Pirkei Avos, 5:21, which delineates man's development through various periods in his life. Among them is counted, "Ben shishim l'ziknah, a man of sixty has attained old age." Sixty is an age in which a person takes stock of his life and considers what "unfinished business" he should focus on for the remainder of his earthly days. A younger man who has the perspective that he does not know what tomorrow will bring and that every day is fraught with "unfinished business," displays the sagacity of ziknah. He can already rank with Jewry's elders. A man of sixty who has followed the Mishnah's prescription for life-- beginning with Torah at five years old, Mishnah at ten…forty for understanding, fifty for counsel, then at sixty -- has matured in wisdom to be counted among our nation's elders.

Hearing this, the Rebbe asked, "Does this Mishnah truly apply to you?" "Rebbe, why not? After all, I have reached the age of sixty."

The Rebbe responded with what might appear to be an anecdotal reply, but actually reveals a penetrating truth, "In order to claim the "sixty for zikneh" (which means that one has acquired wisdom), one must first have successfully mastered the previous age-related progressive achievements, such as, "forty for understanding, and fifty for counsel." If one lacks the ability to plumb the depths of an experience, if he does not understand what is really taking place and why, then his human intelligence is lacking. Without intelligence, the experience that comes with age has little value. To be able to give counsel, to render sound advice, one must have intelligence and experience. Only after he has attained the gifts that come with these age-related achievements can he begin to lay claim to the wisdom that accompanies sixty years of living.

Seichel, common sense, is a major component in binah (as in arbaim l'binah, forty for understanding) without which one cannot achieve chochmah. Sadly, there are those who attempt to traverse life's journey without the full accompaniment of the required journey. They hurt themselves - which is sad, but they also hurt and often destroy others - which is reprehensible and unpardonable. Perusing through a dvar Torah which I wrote a number of years ago, I came across a timeless thought, which I take the liberty of once again sharing with the readers.

We refer to the incident of Korach, who rose up against Moshe Rabbeinu and mutinied against Hashem. The question that rests heavily on everyone's mind is: What motivated Korach, who was considered a pikeach, wise, intelligent man, to act so foolishly? Did he for one moment think that he would prevail? Furthermore, when he decided to accept the test of offering the Ketores, Incense, he was acutely aware that there could be only one winner. Offering Ketores was not child's play. It had to be done correctly by the right person, or the "wrong" person would become history. Only a fool would risk so much. Korach was certainly no fool. He was among those who carried the Aron HaKodesh. He was one of Klal Yisrael's most illustrious citizens. Why? Why would a member of the nation's spiritual elite choose to defile himself, to impugn his good name - forever?

Horav Elazar M. Shach, zl, explains with a simple answer, expressing a profound verity which sadly holds true today - more often than we care to admit. A tzaddik, righteous person, is not perfect. It is possible for a tzaddik to err. To err is human; to ignore one's error is unforgiveable and indicates that he is witless. Korach could have made a mistake. He was envious of Moshe, and envy causes a person to do strange things - even sin reprehensibly. As long as Korach's actions could be defined as sinful, it could be "understood." It was when he acted insensate, like a fool driven by idiocy, that we ask, "How could he commit shtus, foolishness?" He knew that all but one of the two hundred and fifty incense renderers would die; yet, he committed himself to the test anyway. This shows that Korach had become unhinged. He was acting without seichel, common sense. That is inexcusable! To paraphrase the Rosh Yeshivah, Veil di greste aveirah is tzu zein a naar, "Because the greatest sin is to be a fool."

Now, some people cannot help themselves. They are born that way. When one is born with the gift of common sense, yet refuses to apply it, then his actions are unpardonable. We are blessed with a working mind for the purpose of using it. To act foolishly, ignoring the directive of common sense, may not be condoned.

A Torah leader-- or anyone, for that matter-- who possesses seichal hayashar, straight, common sense, has no excuse for making nonsensical mistakes - especially if his mindlessness hurts others. Torah scholarship is important, commendable, and is to be respected. If one possesses everything but common sense, however, he - and everyone connected with him - is in serious trouble.

The Torah teaches that when Moshe was judging the entire nation by himself, his father-in-law, Yisro, suggested that he set up leaders to guide the various groups. Yisro suggested four attributes that would qualify the one who possessed them for leadership: anshei chayil, men of means, who have no need to flatter or show recognition; yirei Elokim, G-d-fearing people; anshei emes, men of truth, who inspire confidence and whose words are worthy of being relied upon; sonei betza, people who despise money, who hate to have their money in litigation, and are willing to part with their money rather than go to court to argue over what is truthfully and rightfully theirs. Apparently, these traits were indicative of highly upstanding individuals; it was a tall list of attributes to all fit one person. The Torah tells us that, in the end, Moshe chose anshei chayil, men of accomplishment, men of means, as his judges. Ostensibly, when he had to choose among all four attributes, the one that was most important was anshei chayil. This does not mean that the judges did not possess the other qualities. It only means that they did not exemplify them. Thus, when Moshe had to make the decision, he felt that anshei chayil was the most crucial characteristic for a judge and a leader.

The definition of anshei chayil which was rendered above, men of means, follows Rashi. Sforno, however, adds to this definition, suggesting that anshei chayil means more than being able to transcend the need to impress and flatter, to curry favor from people. Anshei chayil is the quality of maivin davar mitoch davar, someone who is able to discern the veracity of a matter and bring it to a definitive conclusion. They were chosen over those who were G-d-fearing, but were not "able men."

Sforno views "ability" as the most important quality which a leader/judge should possess. It is vital that he be well-versed in the law, astute and capable of rendering a decision. The anshei chayil were scholars who were knowledgeable and of strong character, although lacking in some of the other qualities which Yisro felt a leader should possess. Apparently, if they could not have it all, they settled for what was crucial - men of ability who could think through a problem and render a decision.

In the Shiurei Daas, Horav Yosef Yehudah Leib Bloch, zl, develops this idea further. He posits that in order to serve Hashem properly one must be astute, developing profundity concerning the mitzvos and the manner in which a Jew should serve Hashem. A "thinking" Jewish scholar who is knowledgeable and understands the depth and veracity, the wisdom and sagacity of Torah - who fears Hashem out of a sense of perception and intelligence - is greater than he who is extremely meticulous and follows the letter of the law with care and fear, but without insight and depth. The chacham, wise man, who is capable of developing insight into the verities of Torah, who achieves Heavenly fear through a depth of understanding of before Whom he stands, has a greater potential for spiritual growth than he who fears, but lacks intellectual perfection. To put it in the simple vernacular: common sense is a critical, indispensable requisite for life, without which one is incapable of rendering a decision. A leader who is lacking in this most basic quality is not only personally in a precarious position, but he may also present a serious danger to all.

Va'ani Tefillah

U'maivi Go'el livnei v'neihem.

And he brings the Redeemer to their children's children.

U'meivi - "And He brings" - is written in the present tense. One would think that redemption either "happened" or "will happen" - past tense or future. What is the meaning of the use of present tense with regard to redemption? It either is, or it is not yet. Siach Yitzchak explains that the ultimate redemption is not an event that will occur abruptly in the future; rather, redemption is an ongoing process comprised of various events which are most often beyond our ability to perceive or understand, all comprised together to achieve the ultimate moment when Klal Yisrael will be redeemed. Thus, when events occur, which to our mortal minds appear to be terrible, tragic, etc., they are actually one-step closer to our achieving redemption with the advent of Moshiach Tzidkeinu. We now understand the meaning of chevlei Moshiach, the birth pangs of Moshiach. A birth takes time, and it most often involves much pain. We have been experiencing the birth pangs of Moshiach for quite some time now. It takes time; we may not lose hope, since it is all part of the ongoing process of actualizing our redemption.

in loving memory of
Beate Frank a"h
Baila bas Eliezer a"h
By her husband, Walter Frank, and her children and grandchildren,
Birdie and Lenny Frank and Family

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