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Peninim on the Torah

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Rabbi A. Leib Scheinbaum
Hebrew Academy of Cleveland


Then his father and mother shall grasp him. (21:19)

The parents demonstrate that their love for and commitment to the Almighty transcend the love they have for their child, as they together take him to Bais Din, Jewish court, to be brought to trial. Society's values must supercede human emotion. It must be a most difficult feat to take one's child and bring him to the trial that will probably cost him his life. A young Torah scholar once visited Horav Yechezkel Abramsky, zl. During the course of the conversation, the young man remarked that he was currently studying the laws of the ben sorrer u'moreh, wayward and rebellious child. Immediately, Rav Abramsky said, "Let me share with you an incredible story that occurred when I was rav in Russia."

As rav in the city, it was not unusual to be besieged with more than just sheilos, questions, regarding Jewish law. Many times, people came over to ask him for a blessing, to supplicate Hashem on their behalf, or just simply to discuss a problem. One day, a woman came over and begged, "Rebbe, I entreat you to pray to Hashem that my son should die!" When Rav Abramsky heard this shocking request, he was understandably taken aback. Why would a sane woman want to see her son dead?

The distraught mother began to explain her predicament. It seems that her son, who was an only child, had recently been conscripted into the Russian Army. Everybody was acutely aware of the magnitude of this spiritual tragedy. Rarely did anyone leave the army as an observant Jew. Regardless of the Jewish soldier's status prior to entering the army, being confronted with challenges to the spirit on a regular basis -- coupled with exposure to a harsh, base environment -- destroyed whatever Yiddishkeit he had. Therefore, the mother said that it was preferable that her son leave this world as a committed, observant Jew, than grow to be an atheist who denigrated everything Judaism represented.

Rav Abramsky was both shocked and impressed by her request. This was no ordinary woman. Here was a woman who was prepared to see her only child die prematurely, as long as he died as an observant Jew. It was mind-boggling. If this boy died, she would be left in the world alone, with no future: No Kaddish, no one to carry on her name. Yet, it was all worth it, as long as her son would not have to contend with the spiritual trials and challenges that were so integral to the army way of life.

They both began to cry: the mother for her son; Rav Abramsky for the mother and her son. At the end, the rav said, "No, we will not pray for him to die. We will pray that he lives and withstands the challenges and emerges triumphant from the army wholly committed to Yiddishkeit. Their prayers were answered, and the young man completed his tour of duty as an observant Jew.

Rav Abramsky looked at the young scholar and said, "At that moment, I was able to visualize the type of individual, the strength of character the parents must possess in order to be prepared to grasp their son and bring him to Bais Din. These parents truly love their son and they know that if he is allowed to live he will desecrate the Torah and lose his portion in the Eternal world. They would rather he loses his life than forfeit eternity."

You shall surely stand them up, with him. (22:4)

The Midrash states an interesting halachah. If the owner of the animal decides to sit beside his animal and say to his would-be benefactor, "Since you have a mitzvah to unload my animal, do it and I will watch," the halachah is clear: he is not obligated to do a thing. The Torah states, Hakeim takeim imo, "You shall surely stand them up, with him." It must be performed with the owner sharing in the endeavor. The Chafetz Chaim, zl, suggests a practical application to this halachah. We may ask Hashem to assist us in our endeavor to ascend the ladder of spiritual success only if we share in the activity. If we ask Hashem to protect us from speaking lashon hora, slanderous speech, and we do everything within our power to watch what we say, then we can expect Hashem's Divine assistance. If we sit back, however, and expect Hashem to act for us, then we are demonstrating gross chutzpah. Hashem will assist us in our endeavor. The first step, however, must be made by us.

The Chafetz Chaim gives the following analogy. A poor man meets one of the wealthier citizens of the town and pours out his heart filled with woe to him. The wealthy man listens intently and says, "I will see you tomorrow at 4:00PM at my home, and I will have a check waiting for you." The next day rolls around, and the poor man does not appear. It is already 6:00PM and the poor man, who was in such dire need, is still absent. Another hour goes by, and the-would-be benefactor decides to go home.

The next day, the wealthy man walks down the street to be greeted once again by the poor man: "Please help me. I am starving. My family is starving. We cannot go on like this." He continues pouring out his tale of woe: "If you could only lend me a few gold coins, I could repay my debts and support my family."

The wealthy man looks into the poor man's eyes and says, "I do not understand you. We had made up to meet yesterday at 4:00PM. What happened to you? I waited until 7:00PM, and you did not show up, so I went home. Come again tomorrow, and I will bring the money."

The next day, the wealthy man waits at the appointed time for the poor man to appear. He does not show up until the following day, when they once again met on the street and the poor man once again starts to delineate his litany of woes. Finally, the wealthy man says to him, "I do not think you are serious. Twice we have met, and you have poured out your heart to me, only not to appear the next day to retrieve the funds. You just want to beg, but you do not want to follow through!"

This analogy applies to us. Every day, we entreat Hashem during the Ahavah Rabbah Tefillah of Shacharis, "May You be equally gracious to us and teach us… instill in our hearts to understand and elucidate, to listen, learn…Enlighten our eyes to Your Torah…." We recite these and many other supplications daily. There is no doubt that Hashem is prepared to grant us our entreaty. After all, why not? It will certainly enhance our mitzvah performance and enable us to achieve profundity and understanding in Torah knowledge. There is only one thing that Hashem asks of us: to appear at the bais hamedrash and learn.

Regrettably, our entreaties are only lip service which we pay to Hashem. We say the words; we talk the talk, but refuse to walk the walk. And even when we do go to the bais hamedrash, do we apply ourselves to the learning -- or do we spend our time bickering and indulging in other forms of idle conversation? This goes on until the next day, when we once again turn to Hashem with more requests.

If you encounter a bird's nest on the road… with young birds… and the mother is roosting on the birds… you shall not take the mother with the young. You shall surely send away the mother and take the young for yourself. (22:6,7)

If the Torah's goal is to spare the mother bird, it would be more sensible to prohibit taking the young altogether. Surely when the mother returns, she will be anguished to discover that her chicks are no longer in the nest. What is the rationale for this mitzvah? Horav Yosef Chaim Sonnenfeld, zl, explains that the Torah is teaching us a powerful lesson in menchlichkeit, humanness and ethics: It is forbidden to take advantage of a mother bird's love for her children in order to catch her more easily. Usually, when a predator approaches a nest, the bird will immediately fly away. This bird did not leave, because she is a mother protecting her young. Her survival instinct is superceded by her motherly love, as she prefers remaining in the nest to protect her young over the option of escaping for her personal safety.

The Torah enjoins us to respect this motherly instinct and not take advantage of making an easy catch of a devoted mother bird. The reward for obeying this command is arichas yamim, longevity. The lesson is clear and simple: When someone demonstrates sensitivity towards Hashem's creatures, Hashem reciprocates towards him.

Rav Yosef Chaim substantiates this thesis with the words of the Rambam, Hilchos Shechitah 13:7 who writes: "If a person sent away the mother, but she came back, and after this he took her, this is permitted." The Torah forbids catching the mother only if she is incapable of flying away from her young, over whom she hovers to protect them from being taken. The halachah is applicable only if the mother remains out of love. The mother who does not place her young before her own safety does not necessarily deserve our protection. We may add that this idea should apply equally to the human arena. A child comes first. If we bring children into this world, we have a moral obligation to care for them - even if it might put us out. This problem often emerges with decisions concerning education. A parent chooses what is best for the parent, or what he believes is best for his child. What the parent thinks and the reality of what is, do not necessarily coincide. We may be so bold to suggest that this applies also to the surrogate parent, the rebbe, whose decisions concerning the student are critical to his growth and development.

When you reap your harvest in your field, and you forget a bundle in your field, you shall not turn back to take it. (24:19)

As Horav S.R. Hirsch, zl, notes, the time of harvest is a milestone for the farmer. It is the culmination of a season's hard work of toil and overcoming challenges. It is a time when the farmer feels a deep sense of pride. It is precisely at this time that he is enjoined to share his success with the poor, to realize that what he has is in itself a gift from the Almighty to share with those who are less fortunate. Shikchah, the forgotten sheaf, applies to a single bundle that one has forgotten to gather -- or even a standing grain that a reaper inadvertently has passed by. This is an intriguing and fascinating mitzvah in the sense that one cannot prepare for it. One cannot have kavanah, concentration, since it is based on forgetting. The moment that he "remembers" to forget, it is no longer shikchah.

Horav Yaakov Dushinsky, explains that a significant aspect of this mitzvah is the Torah's admonition, "You shall not turn back to take it." One's innate love of money should not begin to stir within him, convincing him to return for the grain. Once one forgets, it is to remain forgotten. He should pay gratitude to the Almighty for availing him of the opportunity to perform such a mitzvah - a mitzvah with grain that to him is insignificant but, to a poor man, might represent his life. The inherent joy in such a mitzvah should be incredible, since the benefactor hardly loses and the beneficiary gains so much.

The Tosefta in Peah 3:12 cites an incident concerning a pious man who had forgotten a sheaf of grain in his field. He asked his son to sacrifice a calf for him as an Olah, Burnt Offering, and a calf as a Shelamim, Peace Offering. The son asked his father, "Father, what is there about this mitzvah that excites you so much, more so than any other mitzvah?"

His father replied, "Every other mitzvah in the Torah has been given to us by Hashem to be performed perceptively and with knowledge aforethought. This mitzvah, on the other hand, can only be carried out if one is unaware. The Torah blesses us for forgetting the sheaf. Now, if the Torah guarantees blessing for something which is the result of incognizance, how much more so will we be rewarded for a positive act of consciousness?"

The mitzvah of Shikchah addresses the unknown within a human being. It teaches us how to react to a lapse of memory and the positive consequences that can result from it. The poor and the needy are the beneficiaries of one's failure to remember the sheaf of grain, and, indeed, the individual himself is blessed thereby. Everything, even forgetfulness, can be a source of blessing.

In contrast to the mitzvah of Shikchah, there is a mitzvah of Zechirah, remembrance. We are admonished to "Remember what Amalek did to you. Erase the memory of Amalek from beneath the Heaven. Do not forget." (Devarim 25:17,19) The mitzvah to remember and obliterate Amalek's name also awakens and educates our unknown dimension. Instead of forgetting what Amalek did to us, even to the point that some might find a place in their hearts to forgive his malevolence, the mitzvah functions as a reminder - do not forget! Do not forgive! Do not fall prey to false dreams and liberal rhetoric as if Amalek no longer exists. His miscreancy is alive and well and burning with a passion. The hatred that he generated in the world towards the Jew has germinated and developed. His evil must be expunged. This can only occur if we never forget what he has done to us.

The mitzvah to forget has its place in the service of Hashem when it involves helping the poor and needy. Likewise, the mitzvah of remembering also has its place when it addresses the needs of Klal Yisrael and its land.

When there will be a grievance between people…and they vindicate the righteous one and find the wicked one guilty. (25:1)

Horav Yaakov Kaminetzky, zl, infers from here that the appellation of tzaddik, righteous person, is applied to one who is supported by the truth. This makes sense, since tzaddik and tzedek, justice, share the same root. Thus, a righteous person is one who adheres to the truth, whose actions and total demeanor reflect integrity, straightforwardness and honor. A tzaddik is not only pious - he is straight and principled, always using absolute truth as his barometer.

Rav Yaakov substantiates this thought with the words of Chazal in the end of Mishnayos Oktzin 13:12, "In the future, Hashem will bequeath to each tzaddik and tzaddik three hundred words." The Tosfos Yom Tov explains that the redundancy in the text (each tzaddik and tzaddik) is a reference to the various shitos, contending opinions throughout halachic dialectic. Why should the sages of the Mishnah be called tzaddikim? They should be referred to as chachamim, wise men. Moreover, the title tzaddik usually applies to one who acts righteously with his fellowman, such as Noach HaTzaddik, Yosef HaTzaddik. Now, however, that we interpret a tzaddik as one who is the paragon of veracity and who seeks to establish his opinions only concerning that which he understands to be the absolute truth, we can understand why a chacham is a tzaddik - even disputing opinions in halachah. Since, Eilu v'eilu divrei Elokim chaim, "These and those are the words of the Living G-d," both chachamim have a parallel goal - the truth.

Va'ani Tefillah

Ha'Nosein laya'eif koach - Who gives strength to the weary.

This brachah seems to be misplaced. Its origins are traced back to the Rabbanan Savorai who edited the Talmud shortly after the period of the Amoraim. Its simple meaning is to pay gratitude to the Almighty for replenishing our strength when we arise. If this is the case, it should have been recited as soon as we awaken. Why wait until we are wide-awake and ready to go? Horav Shimon Schwab, zl, enlightens us with regard to the meaning of this brachah. He explains that,in this context, ya'eif means more than simple tiredness, which would be expressed with the word a'yeif. Ya'eif means exhausted and worn out. This blessing is a reference to Klal Yisrael, who is worn-out from the long galus, exile.

The authors of this brachah were aware that the Jewish nation was embarking on a long and bitter exile. Seeing that the advent of Moshiach Tzidkeinu was not imminent at that time, it was necessary for the Jewish people to have a vehicle for expressing their gratitude to Hashem for giving them the fortitude to withstand the trials and tribulations of the prolonged galus. The brachah certainly expresses our gratitude at awaking refreshed. It also acknowledges the special strength granted to us to tolerate the long and bitter years of exile.

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