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Peninim on the Torah

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Rabbi A. Leib Scheinbaum
Hebrew Academy of Cleveland


If a man will have a wayward and rebellious son, who does not listen to the voice of his father and the voice of his mother. (21:18)

Upon reading the story of the wayward and rebellious son, one begins to wonder. How did this happen? How did such an ingrate boy grow up in a home that was replete with yiraas Shomayim, fear of Heaven, and observance of Torah and mitzvos? Education is the key to growth, and certainly this boy has received an education, both at home and at school. Where did he go wrong? The Ohr Ha'Chaim Hakadosh feels that this miscreancy occurred neither in a vacuum nor overnight. Indeed, at a young age, his parents did not bother to emphasize the importance of listening to Hashem and observing His dictates. The Ohr Ha'Chaim interprets this exegesis into the pasuk. The phrase, the boy "who does not listen to the voice of his father and the voice of his mother" is a reference to listening to the voice of our Father in Heaven, Hashem. Otherwise, it whould have said, "who does not listen to his voice." We all know that it is the father's voice. Apparently, there is another Father's voice that he is ignoring: Hashem's.

"His father and his mother" is a metaphor for Hashem and Knesses Yisrael. If parents do not teach their children to listen to Hashem, they risk losing their own ability to discipline them. Children must be raised with respect for the Almighty and respect for Klal Yisrael. They should be imbued with a sense of pride, a sense of mission, and a love for their heritage. One who does not listen to his spiritual Father and Mother will eventually also lose respect for his biological parents.

While this is not necessarily a forum for a thesis on education, this writer cannot resist the opportunity to cite some advice and guidance from our Torah leaders of the past. Many people think that education is a form of discipline in which the rod is the symbol of reinforcement and encouragement. The Seforim Ha'Kedoshim do not agree with this method. They promote an educational approach based upon love and encouragement. There is a dynamics to teaching and learning that reaches into the deepest needs of each individual child. The primary educators in an individual's life are his parents. They must underscore the overriding importance of adherence to Torah and mitzvos. In order to be effective and enduring, this lesson should be rendered with love and respect. Yes, parents should demonstrate respect for their children. This respect will, in turn, be reciprocated.

Children should not listen to their parents out of fear, but out of respect. A sense of shame should envelop them when they do something wrong. They should realize that they have let their parents down. This is the result of a loving, caring, respectful relationship. Yosef Ha'Tzadik held back from committing a sin with Potiphar's wife when he saw an image of his father. He realized who he was and who his father was. He realized the hurt and humiliation he would generate with his sinful behavior.

While it is true that, at times, a child must be reprimanded and even punished, it should be carried out with love - not anger. This love should be palpable. The child should sense that his parent is acting out of love and necessity. The Chafetz Chaim's son related that his father never gave his children reason to fear him. His rebuke was always couched in love and expressed in a pleasant, calm and dulcet tone. He never raised his voice. He added that, while he and his siblings were careful to carry out the mitzvah of honoring one's parents, they never had reason or opportunity to fulfill the mitzvah of fearing one's parents. Their father was a friend, a big brother - not someone to fear.

Horav Shmuel Halevi Vosner, Shlita, posits that it is important for a parent to rebuke his child and to even point to the rod that hangs from the wall - but rarely to use it. Above all, a child must be taught who he is, what his potential is, and what is expected of him.

The Klausenberger Rebbe, zl, was a Torah giant who survived the Holocaust, rebuilt his life after the war and was a source of fatherly love and inspiration to thousands both during and after the war. Shortly after the war, he searched everywhere for survivors, in the hope that he could imbue them with a desire to return to a Torah way of life. Many followed him, some out of conviction, others out of love for the Rebbe. One young man who had lost everything -- including his wife, his children, and his extended family -- just went along. He did not know why. After all, in what could he believe, now that everything he had ever had had been destroyed? His life was empty, his emotions a vacuum. Nonetheless, he was there.

One day as he was walking through the DP camp, he saw the Rebbe, surrounded by a number of followers, walking towards him. The young man moved to the side to let the Rebbe pass, but the Rebbe stopped and motioned his followers to continue. The man realized that the Rebbe wanted to speak to him - and he was not interested in speaking to anybody. He did not want ayone to proselytize to him. Look what all the belief he had brought him. Nothing! He was alone in the world with nothing. He turned away from the Rebbe. The Rebbe called to him, and he had no recourse but to respond.

"Rebbe, I am sorry, but I have no interest in speaking right now," he said.

"My dear son, I know you do not wish to talk to anyone, and I will respect your wish. After all, I cannot blame you. After all that you have endured, your emotions are understandable. I just want to tell you one thing: Be yourself. Always remember who you are."

This is how the Rebbe succeeded in bringing back hundreds of lost Jews. He rekindled the spark of Yiddishkeit, the flickering ember of holiness that lay dormant within the recesses of their hearts. Eventually, over time, these Jews returned to their faith and conviction, becoming observant and raising beautiful families, committed to Torah and mitzvos. His success was due to his love for every Jew. He did not judge; he did not reproach. He simply reminded them from whom they had descended and to what they could still return. He reminded them who they were.

In summation, they way we are mechanech, educate, our children will impact them for life. By teaching them to respect the Almighty, we will benefit in having them respect us. Horav Shlomo Karliner, zl, was wont to say that in the manner that one acts with his own children he is "teaching," Kaviyachol, Hashem how He should also relate to His sons. If we show compassion, love, patience, kindness and forgiveness, so will He. Our actions have that kind of an effect. He interpreted this idea into the pasuk, V'chol banayich limudei Hashem, "And all your children will be students of Hashem" (Yeshayah 54:13). The way one acts with his children is a lesson Kaviyachol to Hashem, that He should also likewise treat His children.

Horav Asher zl, m'Stolin would entreat Hashem saying, "Hashem, we put up with so much from our children. Please do the same for us." As we approach the Yemai Ha'Din, may Hashem listen to our tefillos in the same way that a father listens to his son.

You shall surely send away the mother and take the young for yourself. (22:7)

Arichas yamim, longevity, is the commonly cited reward for two mitzvos: Shiluach hakein, sending away the mother bird; and Kibbud Av V'Eim, honoring father and mother. The Midrash goes one step further, saying that the mitzvah of sending away the mother bird is the easiest mitzvah, while honoring one's parents is the "hardest of the hard." What are Chazal teaching us?

Horav Zev Weinberger, Shlita, gives a novel explanation. He cites the Ramban who explains that the reason one sends the mother bird away is to teach us to have compassion. The Ramban emphasizes that the mitzvah is not necessarily simply to demonstrate that Hashem has mercy on animals, but, rather, to teach us to be compassionate. One who is compassionate towards animals will certainly have mercy on humans. Compassion is a natural character trait for a human being. Indeed, one who is not compassionate is not acting in a human manner. This is why this is considered an easy mitzvah to fulfill.

Honoring parents has its source in the middah, character trait, of hakoras hatov, gratitude. Regrettably, this mitzvah goes against the grain of human nature. Expressing gratitude is not easy. Showing appreciation means that we owe somebody something. This is not easy for many people. The human ego likes to think it is beholden to no one. Hakoras hatov teaches us the opposite. Honoring one's parents is a difficult mitzvah to perform, since it is not a natural human character trait.

You shall not reject an Egyptian, for you were a sojourner in his land. ((23:8)

Incredible! The Egyptians spurned us, made us into slaves, killed our children, spiritually defiled us and did just about everything an enemy can do, yet the Torah instructs us not to reject them. Rashi explains that despite their implacable hatred towards us, and regardless of all the terrible things they did to us, we owe them a debt of gratitude, since they were our hosts at a time of pressing need. When our grandfather Yaakov Avinu descended to Egypt to escape the famine that ravaged Canaan, and to be reunited with his long lost son, Yosef, Pharaoh gave him and his family a home in Egypt. They were given food and shelter and were treated with respect. Pharaoh was generous and gave them the land of Goshen to live in seclusion, so that they would not assimilate with the Egyptians. It was here that they grew from a family of seventy souls into a nation of millions.

The generous hospitality in Egypt continued until Yosef's last surviving sibling, Levi, passed away about ninety years after Yaakov's arrival. For ninety years we had it "good" in Egypt. Therefore, we are to accept male Egyptian converts after three generations. The reason is that it takes three generations for the Egyptian moral character to be expunged from his descendants.

In his commentary on the Torah, anthologized by Rabbi Sholom Smith, Horav Avrohom Pam, zl derives an important lesson from this pasuk. Miyut ha'tov eino batel b'ribui hara, "a small measure of good is not compromised by a large measure of evil." Egypt stands as the paradigm of evil, oppression, and cruelty, the forerunner of nations who have attempted to destroy us. Yet, we still owe them a debt of gratitude, and that debt is not to be ignored, despite all the evil they represent. We cannot forget that they once treated us benevolently. Thus, we are obligated to reciprocate.

This concept must remain a cornerstone in our interpersonal relationships. If one has benefited from someone, regardless of the fact that presently the benefactor causes us discomfort or pain, we must maintain our sense of hakoras hatov, gratitude. How often are decades of kindness washed away by a perceived wrongdoing or a thoughtless remark? How many family relationships have been destroyed due to foolishness or insensitivity on the part of one individual? Is this a reason to throw away all of the positive moments that have existed, all of the kindnesses that have been rendered, all of the experiences, both positive and negative, that have been shared?

This idea has its parallel in our relationship with Hashem. We certainly do not want Him to discount our mitzvos and maasim tovim, good deeds, due to an occasional indiscretion or a momentary lapse. Why should our standards change when it involves our interpersonal relationships?

Rav Pam adds that those who maintain a high degree of hakoras hatov, appreciation and gratitude, to those who benefit them are invariably happy people. One who is grateful for what he receives realizes how many good and caring friends he really has. One who cannot overlook an unintentional snub, a thoughtless remark, or a foolish indiscretion, is a perpetually unhappy person. He feels that everyone is his enemy and everyone is constantly conspiring against him. This sense of insecurity catalyzes his downfall and eventual rejection from society.

As we approach Hashem during the upcoming days of judgment, it would serve us well to reinforce ourselves and our relationships, so that we do not become victims of our own insecurities.

For Hashem, your G-d, walks in the midst of your campůso your camp shall be holy, so that He will not see a shameful thing among you. (23:15)

It is related that during the first Kenessiah Gedolah, which took place in Vienna in 1923, the assemblage included most of the gedolei Torah, prominent Torah leaders, of that generation. The Chafetz Chaim, zl, also attended and served as the unofficial head of the assembly. Prior to the Kenessiah, the Chafetz Chaim asked Agudath Israel's rabbinic leadership to meet with him in his hotel room. He said the following: "Rabbosai, my friends, there are gathered here rabbanim from all lands to seek counsel and initiate programs for the physical and spiritual improvement of our brethren. We must acknowledge and never forget the pasuk in Devarim 23:15 in which the Torah clearly states that Hashem walks in our midst to save and sustain us only as long as He does not note any moral deficiencies among us. If, however, there is ervas davar, moral degeneration, within our midst, we are driving Hashem away." The Chafetz Chaim continued, "What good are meetings and conventions with their broad declarations if we are deficient in the area of tznius, moral modesty? Hashem will leave our midst, and we will be the cause! If we will make tznius a priority, we will maintain Hashem's Presence among us and guarantee our success in all areas."

At that Kenessiah, the men had assembled on the main floor of a large auditorium. The women's section was in an area of the second floor, above the men. There was, however, no partition between them. In other words, those standing on the first floor, albeit separated from the women, were still able to see them from afar. This troubled the Gerrer Chassidim who refused to allow their Rebbe to enter the auditorium unless curtains were put up to separate the women from the men.

There were those who contended that since there was a separation in place and the women were on a higher plateau than the men, it was sufficient, so that a curtain was an unnecessary inconvenience. Understandably, each of the two sides was quite adamant in its position. Yet, calm and intelligence reigned, and the decision was made to abide by the sage advice that the saintly Chafetz Chaim would render. The Chafetz Chaim listened to the arguments and said, "Halachically, the separation is fine. Since there are those who seek to be stringent in a matter regarding moral purity, however, we should make every effort to acquiesce to their demands. After all, this is what determines Hashem's Presence in our midst. Why would we want to drive Him away? In fact, we should certainly implement every hiddur, meticulous adherence to halachah, that we are able. We need Hashem's help, and this will catalyze it!"

This story was related by the founder and Rosh Hayeshivah of Mir in America, Horav Avraham Kalmanowitz, zl. His son, Horav Shraga Moshe, zl, supplemented the story saying, "The Chafetz Chaim taught us a novel idea. Until now, a person might postulate that Hashem is either in our midst, or He is not. The Chafetz Chaim taught us that there are distinct levels to Hashem's relationship with us. When one increases his level of hiddur of the mitzvah of v'lo yeraeh, "so that He will not see," he will increase Hashem's closeness to us accordingly. If, on the other hand, he diminishes his level of adherence in areas of moral purity, he is distancing Hashem from us.

That he happened upon you on the way, and he struck those of you who were hindmost, all the weaklings at your rear, when you were faint and exhausted, and he did not fear G-d. (25:18)

Amalek was not the only nation that contended with Klal Yisrael. Other nations also confronted us. Nowhere, however, do we find such harsh words against a nation as we find against Amalek. Hashem declares that He wages war with Amalek throughout the generations (Shemos 17:16). What is the reason for this unprecedented condemnation?

The Brisker Rav, zl, explains that the answer lies in the words, "And he did not fear G-d." He stood out among the enemies of the Jewish People due to his lack of yiraas Shomayim, fear of Heaven. What does this mean? How did he manifest this lack of fear? Chazal teach us in the Talmud Bava Kamma 79b that the Torah is more stringent concerning a ganav, thief, than a gazlan, robber. The reason is that the robber steals by day, demonstrating a lack of fear, both for people and for Hashem. He does what he wants without a care in the world. The thief, however, is different. He steals under the cover of darkness, afraid to attract people. He is calculating and devious; he is meticulous in laying out his plans and following them to the letter. Nonetheless, with all his carefully laid-out plans and his fear of being caught, he blatantly exhibits his disdain for Hashem, for Whom he seems to have no fear. He screams out to the world: "I am afraid of people, but not of G-d!"

This personifies Amalek. The other nations also attacked Klal Yisrael, but they did so at will, when they were in the mood. It was not planned. It was an act of convenience. The Jews were there, so why not attack them? Not so Amalek. He waited for a time when the Jews would be tired. He attacked the weaklings who were at the end of the camp. He planned his attack down to every detail, ignoring nothing but Hashem. He showed that he did not care about Hashem. His fear was of the Jews, not of their G-d. He spurned Hashem. Therefore, Hashem will not rest until Amalek's name is blotted out.

Va'ani Tefillah

Korbanos: Sacrifices

Enumerating the various Korbanos which are Kodoshei Kodoshim, the Mishnah begins with the Par V'Sair Shel Yom ha'Kippurim, the bullock and he-goat brought on Yom Kippur. The bullock reminds the Kohen Gadol of his calling to be the primary servant of Hashem, and the he-goat of the people serves to remind the nation of its collective task to faithfully follow Hashem with conviction and unswerving, constant commitment. These are Chataos, Sin-Offerings, and they convey a significant Yom Kippur message to both the Kohen Gadol and the people. These Korbanos allude to a shortcoming in the Kohen Gadol's performance and, concomitantly, to the nation regarding its mission. The Kohen Gadol and the nation must redirect their entire personalities towards properly executing their sacred calling and mission. Although the blood of these korbanos are accepted on the northern side, it is sprinkled between the Badei Ha'Aron, Poles of the Ark, on the Paroches, Dividing Curtain, and upon the Golden Mizbayach. By sprinkling the blood on the areas which represent the Torah at its zenith, we indicate that the function of both the Kohen Gadol and the nation is to be the guardians of the Torah in its pristine, unaltered essence. It reminds them that all of the spiritual and material gifts that one enjoys are granted to us only through, and for, the Torah.

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