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Peninim on the Torah

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Rabbi A. Leib Scheinbaum
Hebrew Academy of Cleveland


When you will go out to war against your enemies. (21:10)

The Ohr HaChaim HaKadosh understands this battle to be much more than a war against an external physical enemy. He sees this pasuk as referring to the most difficult and most significant battle in which we must engage during the course of our lives. This is a battle with a most powerful enemy, an enemy who resorts to guilefully manipulating us, so that we fall prey to it. This is no ordinary enemy from without. The Torah refers to our enemy from within: the yetzer hora, evil-inclination.

The Chovas Halevavos writes that the war against the yetzer hora is a milchamah gedolah, great war. He analogizes this statement to a wise man who, upon meeting a group of triumphant soldiers returning from battle, addressed them, saying; "You have now returned from a skirmish. You have yet to return triumphant from the great war!"

"What is this great battle about which you speak?" the soldiers asked. "I refer to the battle one wages with the evil-inclination and his minions. That is the great war."

Horav Sholom Schwadron, zl, elaborates on this statement. In order to triumph in battle, one must exert much effort. One does not rest. He who sleeps - loses. It is no different than the battle that we wage with the evil-inclination. One cannot slack off; one cannot sleep. Soldiers sleep during a battle when the moment allows for it. Even then, they do not get undressed, don pajamas, and go to sleep. A solider sleeps where he can, when he can, and in full battle dress, body armor with weapons close by. He is in the middle of a war - not a guest at a country resort! One other distinction exists between a physical battle and the spiritual one. In a physical battle, the soldiers are present to protect the crown, to shield the king from harm. In the spiritual war in which we are engaged on a constant basis, if we are good soldiers, the King/Hashem will protect us.

Ki Seitzei la'milchamah al oyivecha - "When you go out to war against your enemies" oyivecha is stated in the plural. It is not just one enemy. There are many enemies. The yetzer hora is a very effective general. It has a host of "soldiers" who are available for use in manipulating the unsuspecting person. The soldiers are known by interesting names.

"Complacency" is a powerful soldier which can destroy our best-laid plans. We have the blueprint for success, the weaponry necessary to succeed, but we fall prey to complacency. If not today - tomorrow: "Things are not yet that bad. Do not worry. It will be good." Theses are common ruses employed by the soldiers of the yetzer hora .

Everywhere we turn, at any time of the day, under all circumstances, the yetzer hora is lying in wait, so that it can ambush us. With a bag full of tricks to ensnare us into submission, the evil-inclination is prepared for all circumstances. The yetzer hora does not sleep, does not rest, is always looking for another way to lead us to sin. Probably, the yetzer hora's most efficient ruse is not to present itself as our enemy, but as our friend. The yetzer hora is our partner, our friend, our chavrusa, studying with us, davening with us, joining with us at every opportunity. We must acknowledge the yetzer hora for what it is: our greatest enemy. Thus, we must go to war against it. The first step is to recognize the enemy. The second step is to distance ourselves from this internal enemy.

We now have two lessons concerning our spiritual war. First, we may not sleep. We must always be on the alert, preparing for an offensive at any moment. Second, we must distance ourselves from the enemy. It is difficult to shoot an arrow up close. One who shoots a gun in close proximity might end up inflicting injury on himself. This brings us to the third requirement for success: Ammunition. One must have the right ammunition. A gun with blanks accomplishes nothing more than making noise. Rubber-tipped arrows do not stop the enemy. What ammunition does one use in the spiritual war we wage with the yetzer hora?

We wage war using Torah and mitzvos as our ammunition. Perhaps to the uninitiated it sounds like a poor excuse for ammunition, but it is the only effective means of taking down the yetzer hora. The "how to" of mitzvos is our armament: "How does one put on Tefillin?" "How does one wear Tzitzis?" "What are the laws of Shabbos?" etc. Learning about the mitzvos, how to perform them, what should be our intentions: these are our ammunition. Yes, it sounds like a most unique battle. It is. To lose, is to lose forever. To win, is to achieve eternity. These are the stakes. Recognizing this enables us to enter the fray of battle with the proper perspective.

The yetzer hora has an inexhaustible bag of tricks. We convince ourselves that life is for living. The only way to live is to amass fortunes, fill our lives with material possessions and to promote our well-being through pleasure. At the end of the day, some of us might have succeeded in our goal of attaining material/physical success. We must, however, ask ourselves: For whom? Who profits from all that we have achieved? Is it really us? Is anyone foolish enough to think that he is taking it with him? This is what the yetzer hora would have us believe. It is all for us. If we fall for that ploy, we will arrive empty-handed at the Olam Ha'Emes, World of Truth, where reality is much more than a show.

The Chafetz Chaim, zl, would relate the following incident in order to underscore this point. Prior to World War I, Europe was under the dominion of two major powers: Russia and Germany. Each of these countries had their individual valued exports. Silk was precious in Russia, while gold was hard-sought in Germany. This led to a lucrative smuggling business between the countries, especially in those areas where the borders traversed whole villages, dividing communities in half and allowing the smugglers to sell their wares with little resistance. This was an acceptable, but dangerous, business venture. The danger was not to one's person, but rather to the contraband. If a smuggler was caught in the act, he lost his merchandise, which often had great value. Many members of the Jewish community were heavily involved in these "business ventures."

One day, a Jewish villager left home for the border. He was carrying a bag filled with gold bars to be sold at the German border. This was usually a relatively easy sale, as the border was situated at the edge of a wooded area, providing excellent concealment. As he was trudging along carrying the heavy bag of gold, he noticed a German soldier walking directly behind him. Not wanting to allude to the contents of his bag, he began to walk with a swagger, swinging the bag, as if it did not have anything heavy inside. He thought his ruse was working, because the German soldier did not say one word to him. Finally, as they were exiting the forest, the German confronted the Jew and asked him, "What is in your bag?" "Oh, nothing much," was the Jew's reply.

The German officer was not fooled. While the Jew acted as if the bag were light, the German noted his heavy sweating, despite the ease with which he was carrying the bag. "You have gold in your bag!" the German declared in a sly tone. "Open it immediately, so that I can see why you are sweating so profusely." The Jew was forced to give his bag of gold to the German and suffer the loss. That was the risk he was taking were he to be caught. What bothered him was the fact that the German waited until he had transported the heavy bag of gold across the border.

"If you suspected me of transporting gold, why did you not accuse me immediately, rather than have me carry this heavy bag through the forest?"

This is the story of life, observed the Chafetz Chaim. We all carry bags filled with the results of our material endeavors. These bags are often quite heavy, because we have devoted much of our lives to achieving material success. The question we must ask ourselves is: For whom are we carrying these bags? Will we gain from their benefits, or are we carrying it for someone else? Anyone with a modicum of common sense knows the answer. When we request entry into the World of Truth, the only things which we can take along are our Torah and mitzvos. Everything else merely weighs us down, making the trip that much more difficult.

If a man will have a wayward and rebellious son… then his father and mother shall grasp him and take him out to the elders of the city. (21:18,19)

The Sifri teaches that if the parents of the ben sorer u'moreh decide to forgive their errant son's misdeeds, their pardon is valid and acceptable by the bais din, Jewish court of law. This halachah begs elucidation. The "wayward and rebellious son" is executed for a specific reason - one that supersedes his parents' forgiveness. His contemptible behavior is so grievous that the Torah portends a very dim future for him. Analyzing this boy's behavior, the Torah has determined that he is on the road to a life of plunder and even murder. If he will not readily obtain his heart's desire, he will kill for it. He will park himself at the crossroads and, with no compunction whatsoever, kill anyone who will not supply him with whatever he demands. How can the parents' forgiveness alter this situation? His deviant behavior extends far beyond the confines of his home. He should be executed, regardless of the intervention of his parents.

Horav Chaim Zaitchik, zl, suggests what he feels to be a great verity. Parents who forgive their son's malevolent behavior indicate that they see something of value within him and, thus, refuse to abandon him. They sense something positive within him. Parents who give birth to, and raise a child, maintain an acute sense of understanding concerning the emotional/physical composition of their child. No one has a more perceptive knowledge of this boy. A mother's heartbeat coincides with that of her child. She knows and understands his every move. Thus, when parents have a feeling of hope, it is not a false hope. It is real. It is acute. It is the truth.

Menashe, king of Yisrael, reigned for fifty-five years. There is a dispute in the Talmud concerning how many of those years he was evil. Clearly, he was Klal Yisrael's most infamous despot. He innovated novel ways to rebel against the Almighty. By all standards of justice, his evil was too grievous for his repentance to be accepted. Yet, Hashem, the Father of us all, in His great mercy, chose to accept him. When Menashe cried out, Hashem listened. In the Talmud Sanhedrin 103a, Chazal depict how far Hashem went to accept Menashe's teshuvah, repentance. The following is based upon the Yad Ramah's explanation: the Middas HaDin, Attribute of Strict Justice, "stands" at Heaven's entrance and does not allow entry to the repentance of those sinners who have gone too far. Teshuvah has to be accepted. Hashem knew that the Middas Hadin would bar Menashe's penitence; however, He wanted to accept Menashe's teshuvah. So, He prepared a second, secret entrance to Heaven, a tunnel unbeknownst to the Attribute of Strict Justice. Menashe's teshuvah was, thus, surreptitiously able to enter through this tunnel. Chazal are demonstrating thereby that Hashem is willing to accept the penitence of anyone who is sincere. His "secret tunnel" allegorically alludes to Hashem's unfathomable depth of compassion for the sinner.

Rav Zaitchik suggests that this "tunnel" was dug - not in Heaven - but in Menashe's heart. Hashem probed the inner recesses of Menashe's heart, searching for a thin strain of hope, a path through the many layers of sin, a line to his neshamah, soul, to that area that remained yet untainted, where there was still a grain of hope, an area that was still inherently good, so that Menashe could be spiritually resuscitated. The Heavenly angels could not locate this strain, because they have no neshamos. Thus, they are unable to penetrate into the depth of man's neshamah, to somehow find that minute drop of goodness. Hashem could, and this is why He accepted Menashe's teshuvah.

Only Hashem, our Heavenly Parent, can see through our many base layers of turpitude. He plumbs through it all and prepares a path for our return. This is so beautifully expressed in the Yamim Noraim, High Holy Days, prayer L'Keil Orech Din: L'bochein levavos, b'yom Din; L'Goleh Amukos, ba'Din; L'tzofeh nistaros, b'yom Din; L'Koneh avadav, ba'Din. "To G-d Who prepares man for Judgment: to the One Who scrutinizes the hidden on the Day of Judgment. To the One Who tests hearts on the Day of Judgment. To the One Who acquires His servants in Judgment. To the One Who reveals the depths in Judgment."

We derive a powerful lesson concerning teshuvah from the above. We are used to thinking that the baal teshuvah, penitent, has changed; he has altered his life; he has transformed himself. This is wrong. The good within him has always been there. It was, regrettably, hidden beneath layers and layers of iniquity. Once the path to the good is plumbed and he discovers a way out, the real person emerges. That is a baal teshuvah: the "real him."

They (the parents) shall say to the elders of the city, "This son of ours is wayward and rebellious; he does not listen to our voice." (21:20)

If a ben sorer u'moreh, wayward and rebellious son, steals, guzzles and eats meat gluttonously one time after having been warned by his parents, he is flogged in bais din. If he does it a second time, he is executed. It seems to be a pretty extreme punishment for gluttony - even stealing and guzzling! In the Talmud Sanhedrin 72b, Chazal explain why the Torah goes to such inordinate lengths to punish this boy for having committed what appears to be a relatively light sin. They explain that he is punished al sheim sofo, "because of his end." One day he will exhaust his father's money, and, in order to satisfy his addiction, he will stand at the crossroads and rob people. One day the robbery might go awry, and he will kill an innocent person. Rather, he should die now as an innocent person, so that he does not die as a guilty person.

The commentators wonder why the ben sorer u'moreh is different from Yishmael, about whom the Torah writes, "For G-d has heeded the cry of the youth, as he is there" (Bereishis 21:17). Ba'asher hu sham, "As he is there." Despite the fact that Yishmael's descendents would one day kill Jewish People, in accordance with his deeds at present, he was innocent, and, thus, worthy of being spared. Why does this rule not apply to the ben sorer u'moreh?

Horav Yaakov Galinsky, Shlita, explains that the difference lies in two words: Eineinu shome'a, "he does not listen." One who does not listen does not offer a reason for any hope that a change will transpire in his behavior. Anyone can change; everybody can, and must be given a chance. There has to be some indication, however, that change can occur, so that behavior will change. One who does not listen is impaired. One cannot follow orders if he does not hear them.

If a man marries a woman… it shall be that if she does not find favor in his eyes, for he found in her a matter of immorality, he shall write for her a bill of divorce. (24:1)

A broken marriage is tragic. Regrettably, in contemporary society divorce is no longer taboo, because the institution of marriage has lost much of its sanctity and meaning. The Torah-world still adheres to the rabbinic statement at the end of Meseches Gittin: "One who divorces his first wife - even the Mizbayach, holy Altar, sheds tears for him." Why specifically the Mizbayach? Horav Shimshon Pincus, zl, explains that certainly the Bais Hamikdash, the Shulchan, Table, and the Menorah, Candelabra, shed tears. After all, the Jewish home is to resemble the Bais Hamikdash. One's home should be a place wherein the Shechinah, Divine Presence, can repose - just like the Bais Hamikdash, which is the paradigmatic "home" on this world for Hashem. Indeed, the goal of every Jewish home is to be like the Bais Hamikdash. One who divorces his wife no longer has a home worthy of hashroas ha'Shechinah, the Shechinah's repose. Therefore, the Bais Hamikdash and its keilim, appurtenances, weep.

The Mizbayach, however, is not part of the Bais Hamikdash. It stands alone. In fact, as noted in the Talmud Megillah 10a, sacrifices may be brought on the Altar even if there is no Sanctuary. This is why emphasis is placed on the weeping of the Mizbayach. It is not connected, but the immensity of the pain is still there. When it hurts, one cries, even if he is not connected.

Horav Yosef Chaim Sonnenfeld, zl, would relate that when his rebbe, the K'sav Sofer, Rav of Pressburg, oversaw the writing and execution of a get, divorce, one could feel the emotion in the room. It was palpable. As he was about to begin the proceedings, he would turn to his bais din, rabbinical court, and, with great emotion, declare, "Let us all now say vidui, confession of sins, before we undertake the awesome responsibility of releasing this married woman from her current status of 'a woman prohibited to others by the Torah' and permitting her to marry another man." At that moment, a great aura of solemnity gripped the other rabbis, and, they too, began to weep and say vidui.

The Torah intimates that the man is divorcing his wife because of a "matter of immorality." The Mishnah relates a dispute between Bais Shammai and Bais Hillel concerning grounds that justify a divorce. Bais Shammai are of the opinion that one may not divorce his wife unless he finds her involved in a matter of immorality, such as committing adultery. Bais Hillel, however, contends that even if she has burned his food, it is grounds for divorce. Bais Hillel, who is usually known for leniency, seems to be a bit demanding. Does something so trivial as burning one's dinner provide grounds for something so tragic as divorce? It is not as if she burned his dinner nightly. She did it once! Yet, it serves as a reason to break a marriage! How are we to understand this? This question was posed to Rav Yosef Chaim by his granddaughter.

Rav Yosef Chaim replied with an explanation that is brilliant in its simplicity. If the husband is such a contemptible person that, as soon as his wife burns his food, he entertains thoughts of divorcing her, then this woman is far better off away from him - and the sooner, the better!

Establishing a harmonious relationship takes two people working towards a common goal. In Shir HaShirim 6:3, Shlomo Hamelech says, Ani l'dodi v'dodi li, "I am to my beloved, and my beloved is to me." There are a number of implications in this pasuk. First, we become aware of two distinct personalities: My beloved and me. When I reach out to my beloved, my beloved responds to me - and vice versa. We also see that a relationship is a reflection. One of us must take the initiative, and then the other one responds. It is almost like a reflection. Commensurate with my initiative will be my beloved's response. The love I receive will coincide with the love that I give. Thus, one should be able to see a reflection of himself in the eyes of his beloved. It is almost like a mirror image. Love is proactive. If I want love, I must give love.

And he (Amalek) did not fear G-d. (25:18)

Two opposites, diametrically opposed to one another: our archenemy, Amalek; versus our Patriarch, Avraham Avinu, about whom it is written in Bereishis 22:12, "For now I know that you are a G-d-fearing man." It is yiraas Shomayim, fear of Heaven, or lack thereof, that distinguishes the Jewish People from Amalek. The commentators explain that the Jewish presence did not threaten Amalek. He was not on their agenda of nations to drive out of Eretz Yisrael. No rationale could justify Amalek's attack on the Jewish People. They were minding their own business when he came along with malicious intent, bent on destroying this nascent nation.

This is the Amalek who does not fear Hashem. He is characterized as the one who will jump into a scalding tub of hot water, just to cool it off for others to follow. Amalek fears nothing and no one - not even Hashem. There is no doubt that he knows he will ultimately be punished for his insolence. He simply does not care. His goal is to demonstrate to the world that he is not afraid of G-d.

Horav Shimshon Pincus, zl, emphasizes that Avraham exemplified a complete contrast to Amalek. After he successfully concluded his tenth and final trial, Hashem said, "Now I know that you are a G-d-fearing man." Let us face it: when Avraham went to slaughter his only son, what compelled him to do it? If he would kill Yitzchak, it would mean the end to the future of Judaism. There would be no future, because there would be no Jews. Hashem had asked Avraham to do the impossible. How could he acquiesce? This is what distinguished our Patriarch. Hashem asked; he listened - no questions asked. That is true yiraas Shomayim.

Imagine a king asking his trusted servant, "Will you do anything I ask?" "Certainly," replies the servant. "If so, kill me!" counters the king. The servant replies, "I love the king so much that I cannot allow myself to adhere to this request."

Rav Pincus explains that this is exactly the claim of the Satan who challenged Avraham. He said that Hashem sought to test Avraham's love for Him. Will he refuse Hashem's request this one time? After all, the future of the Jewish People was hinging on this request. If he listened to Hashem, that was it. It was over: no people; no Judaism; no future. How could he possibly listen?

Our Patriarch thought no further. He performed the will of Hashem, regardless of how demanding it seemed. It was up to him to listen - not to conjecture about the future consequences of his actions. Hashem told him, "Now I see that you are a G-d-fearing man." A G-d-fearing Jew acts because Hashem commanded him. It is the tzivui Hashem, commandment of the Almighty. There is no room for human input. We are Jews because that is the way we were born. We study Torah because it is the truth. While some aspects of this verity of verities may elude us, it does not detract from its truthful essence.

V'charos imo ha'Bris lasseis es eretz ha'Canaani… lasseis l'zaro. And You established the covenant with him to give the land of the Canaani… to his offspring.

Finally, after all of Avraham Avinu's trials and tribulations, Hashem selected him to be the father of the world. From all of the myriad creations, Avraham rose to the top as the av hamon goyim, "father of a multitude of nations." The Bris, covenant, is a reference to the Bris Milah, covenant of circumcision, which was the first mitzvah given to Avraham that was to be transmitted to his offspring. This mitzvah represents the bond that Klal Yisrael has with Hashem. The verse continues with the first result of the covenantal relationship that now went into effect between Avraham and Hashem. He is promised to be granted the present land of the same pagan nations, Eretz Yisrael. What is the relationship between Bris Milah and Eretz Yisrael?

Horav Shimon Schwab, zl, explains it in a novel manner. The Canaani were the most morally depraved nation in existence. They perfected every moral aberration, almost turning it into an art. These sick pagans had defiled the land in which they lived; thus, they deserved to lose their status of ownership. The time had come for them to be driven out by the nation that had sworn to uphold the moral dictates of a Torah-oriented society. The very land that had heretofore been occupied by this most depraved nation was to become sanctified by Klal Yisrael, a nation devoted to holiness, purity and moral virtue. Likewise, the Bris Milah sanctifies the area of the body which most expresses man's base desires. The Bris Kodesh does for the human body what Klal Yisrael was to do for Eretz Yisrael. They both elevate; they both sanctify.

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