Back to This Week's Parsha

Peninim on the Torah

subscribe.gif (2332 bytes)

Previous issues

Rabbi A. Leib Scheinbaum
Hebrew Academy of Cleveland


When you will go out to war against your enemies…And you will see among its captivity a woman who is beautiful of form, and you will desire her, you may take her to yourself for a wife. (21:10, 11)

The law concerning the yefas toar, captive woman, whose physical beauty captivates the Jewish soldier, is not to be taken lightly. If the Torah permits what is considered a prohibited liaison, it is for a specific reason: It is responding to the inflamed passion of the Jewish soldier while in battle. War affects the mind and heart of a soldier. Leaving home, family and friends--relegated to fighting an enemy in which one wrong move means serious injury and even death--can have an adverse effect upon even the most rational mind, causing it to think irrationally. The Torah recognizes that the surrounding events can weigh heavily on the soldier's mind. Seeing a beautiful woman under such circumstances can drive the soldier to act in such a manner that restraint and caution will simply not hold him back. Rather than say no, rather than risk the complete breakdown of the soldier's moral/spiritual compass, the Torah provides an avenue for satisfying the soldier's lust, so that it limits his estrangement from Judaism.

Rashi quotes Chazal, who describe this dispensation as the Torah speaking in response to the evil inclination. The yetzer hora is having a field day with this poor soldier's mind, so that, if he is not permitted to marry her, he will do so anyway - without the dispensation. Rashi adds that the juxtaposition of the first three passages of the parsha are in their own right an argument, a warning against such a liaison - despite the fact that the Torah permits it. One who marries for the wrong reason will end up hating his wife and producing a rebellious child. It may be hard for some to believe and more difficult to accept, but Hashem, Who created us, knows what will work and what will not. The Torah is our blueprint for life. When we follow the Torah, we are at least ensuring that we have done all of the "right things." Even then, circumstances prevail, causing problems concerning marital harmony and children that are not responsive. How much more so is one taking a chance when he does not follow the Torah's guidelines. In this case, the soldier has followed a Biblical dispensation, which is more or less like saying, "This is not the way to enter into holy matrimony."

The rebellious boy, the ben sorer u'moreh, does not listen to his parents. Thus, we say yamus zakai v'al yamus chayav, "Let him be put to death while he is still innocent (and has not yet killed anyone to satisfy his gluttonous desires), rather than execute him once he is found guilty." Why wait until he becomes a serial killer to satisfy his passions, to extinguish the hatred he harbors for his parents, his teachers, society in general? The Torah does not wait until this boy makes headline news across the front page of every major newspaper. We already know exactly where he is headed.

The boy does not listen to his parents. Why? What did they do to him to deserve such errant behavior from the child who used to be their sweet boy? The answer is simple, explains Horav Yaakov Galinsky, zl. Did his father listen to his father when he decided to marry a yefas toar? Clearly, the boy's father, who had once been a soldier, did not exactly make his parents happy when he announced that he was bringing home their future daughter-in-law - from battle. True, she is a pagan, but we are working it out. The Torah understands that, if the answer is no, he will do it anyway. So, the Jewish soldier told his parents that he was marrying the pagan: "Too bad - I am sorry - but I am in love." Now, years later, the father wonders why his son has rebelled against him. Perhaps he should go back a few years to the time in which he rebelled against his parents. What goes around comes around. It has just come around!

In Krias Shema we say, V'shinantam l'vanecha v'dibarta bam, b'shivtecha b'veisecha u'b'lechtecha vaderech u'v'shachbecha u'v'kumecha. "And you shall teach them thoroughly to your children and you shall speak of them while you sit in your home, while you walk on the way, when you retire and when you arise." (Devarim 6:7) Why does the Torah say v'dibarta bam, "and you shall speak of them?" Should it not be, v'dibru bam, "and they (your children) shall speak of them?" The answer is obvious. The only hope that we have of seeing our children adopt the Torah as their way of life is if we show them how much it means to us. When we speak in words of Torah at every juncture of our daily endeavors, when our children see that Torah permeates every nook and cranny of our life, then we can hope that they will follow suit.

Ask a child what is more important than Torah, and he might reply watching the football game in the winter and baseball in the summer. Or, the child may observe that, while his father is learning with him, suddenly his eyes light up when the cholent and kugel are served.

Rabbi Paysach Krohn tells a story of a certain playgroup in Antwerp that has a Shabbos play every Erev Shabbos. There is a Shabbos mommy, a Shabbos tatty and a table set with all of the Shabbos rituals. The mommy lights the candles; the tatty recites Kiddush. Each week, the children switch roles, enjoying themselves immensely. The children are inspired with a spirit of Shabbos.

One week, it was Yankele's turn to be the Shabbos tatty. He was all excited to participate and demonstrate what he had learned. First, the Shabbos mommy lit the candles; then it was time for Yankele to get up and recite Kiddush. The rebbe poured the grape juice into the Kiddush cup and said, "Yankele, it's your turn. Please recite Kiddush."

Yankele walked up to the head of the table, squeezed his eyes shut and began to shake back and forth. "Oy," he cried out, "did I have such a hard week!" He then began to recite Kiddush. The child enacted what he had seen weekly at home. He was used to Kiddush being a drag, something negative, a ritual that one must get over with. Yankele did not see a radiant smile, a happy face, excitement and exuberance for having the opportunity to once again welcome Shabbos into their home. A child does what he sees at home. The values and good deeds which his parents exhibit will quite possibly remain with him. Sometimes, however, these values are of a negative nature. They, too, will remain with them.

You shall surely return them to your brother… you shall not hide yourself. (22:1,3)

We wonder why certain mitzvos are included in the Torah. Any decent person knows that if he finds an object belonging to someone else, he should proceed to return it to the rightful owner. People, however, are lazy and greedy. We are not often inclined to go out of our way to search for the owner. This is especially true when we find an object of great value, whose owner is not readily identifiable. Thus, between the time involved and the value of the item, the finder rationalizes that he does not have to return the item. A mitzvah is a mitzvah, and convenience does not enter the equation. If one discovers an item belonging to someone, he must return it - regardless of its value and regardless of the trouble involved. The following stories are inspirational, illustrating the value of the mitzvah both from an economic and spiritual perspective. There is one other aspect of hashovas aveidah which must be underscored, but I will leave that for the conclusion.

A woman went shopping on Rechov Rabbi Akiva in Bnei Brak. As she was about to enter one of the stores, she looked in her purse and almost passed out. An envelope containing five thousand shekalim was missing. When she had left the house, she had taken the money along to pay for her shopping expedition. She immediately retraced her steps, visiting every store that she had earlier entered. Nothing, absolutely nothing, had been found. She was devastated, but life goes on. She resigned herself to her loss. Let it be a kaparah, atonement, for something bad that could have happened.

One month later, she went shopping again. She looked down at her purse; the clasp was open. When she looked inside her purse to confirm that everything was there, she saw that her wallet was missing! Now what? She returned to the first store that she had visited and approached the manager, "Something is very wrong," she began. "This is the second time that I have gone shopping in this area, and both times I lost a substantial sum of money."

"Giveret," the manager said, "do you have any idea how I have searched for you? Two days after you shopped in this store, I found an envelope with thousands of shekalim in the back of the store. Regrettably, the envelope had only a name on the front, no address, no phone number. I have tried to match the name to various phone numbers, with no success. Baruch Hashem, you are here, and I am now able to fulfill the mitzvah of hashovas aveidah, returning a lost object." It just so happened that this occurred on Erev Yom Kippur.

The woman opened up the envelope and counted the shekalim. Every last shekel was there. She attempted to show her appreciation with a reward. The manager flatly refused. This was his mitzvah. He was not exchanging it for a few shekalim.

Incidentally, let us think about how fortunate the woman was that she had lost her wallet, a loss that made her retrace her steps one month later. By the way, she found her wallet in another one of the stores.

Horav Yitzchak Zilberstein, Shlita, relates the next story. One Friday morning, an individual who for years had davened in one of the shteiblach, small shuls, in Bnei Brak, was in need of a significant sum of money - for a day or two. He had spoken to a number of sources with whom he had done "business" in the past. This time he was not as fortunate. While he was in shul, he noticed another mispallel, worshipper, with whom he davened every day. Veritably, the two had never spoken more than the friendly, "Good morning." He did not even know the man's name. When one is up against the wall and a deadline is looming too close for comfort, however,one takes a chance. After all, the worst that could happen is that the man would say "No."

The individual approached the man following davening and asked, "Could you possibly lend me six thousand shekel until Sunday morning?" The man looked at him and started thinking. It was obvious that this was not a sum the individual could go to the bank and withdraw. He probably had a steady fixed income from which he lived. If, for some reason, he would not be reimbursed on Sunday, he would be in serious trouble. A few moments went by and he said, "Yes."

The borrower wrote out an IOU and affixed his name to the promissory note to be paid back on Sunday morning. The borrower was unsure of the lender's name, so he simply did not fill it in. Sunday morning, the borrower promptly paid back the loan, to the apparent joy of the lender. When the borrower asked why he was so joyful, the lender replied that on Friday he had lost his wallet. Inside was some small cash and a few credit cards. Had he not lent him the six thousand shekel, he might have lost that too! This is why he was so happy. Performing a mitzvah of lending a fellow Jew money had saved him from losing six thousand shekel.

Sounds like the end of the story? No, there is more. That Sunday afternoon the lender received a phone call from an individual who was simply an honest, fine Jew. Apparently, he discovered a wallet on Friday while riding the bus, but there was no identification in the wallet. It had in it a few hundred shekel and some credit cards. No phone number or address, not a full name. There was something, however, in the wallet - a promissory note signed by the borrower with his name, address and phone number! As a result of the lender's mitzvah, not only did he not lose his six thousand shekel, he was able to retrieve his wallet. We think that by performing an act of chesed, kindness, we are helping the beneficiary. We do not realize that it is us - the benefactor - whom we are really helping!

Since we are addressing the mitzvah of returning lost objects, perhaps this would be the proper venue for discussing the return of a most critical lost object: Jewish souls. When we meet a Jew estranged from Jewish observance, is he or she any different than coming across a lost object? In a way, he or she is worse off. The lost object at least has an owner who is searching for it and awaiting its return. Can we say the same emotion applies to the lost Jewish soul? How can a person search for something that he is unaware he has lost?

The Torah exhorts us, Lo suchal l'hisaleim, "You shall not hide yourself." This pasuk addresses the one who sees a lost article, but does not want to get involved in returning it to its rightful owner, because it is a pain. It will take up his time and energy, and he simply has more important things to do with his life. The Torah's response is: You do not have anything more important to do than helping out your fellow Jew. Is it any different with the many alienated Jews whom we come across in the course of our daily endeavor? What about the many boys and girls who used to be frum, observant, Jews, and today are no longer? Perhaps it is difficult for some to get involved, but how many are willing to help those who do get involved? One last question: There are those who are not personally up to reaching out. There are those who find it difficult to help others who are doing a fine job of sacrificing themselves to reach out to those who need it. What excuse is there for those who not only refuse to do anything themselves, but stand in the way of those who do; who make light of their efforts and disdain their meager successes? Hasheiv teshiveim l'achecha, "You shall surely return them to your brother." Is their lost object any different?

When there will be a dispute between people, and they have recourse to judgment. (25:1)

Rashi explains that, when there is a dispute, their end will be to have to recourse to judgment. On the basis of this pasuk, you should say/deduce that peace does not emerge from dispute. Maharal explains that the Torah could have simply written, "When men will have recourse to judgment." "When there will be a dispute" is seemingly superfluous. Thus, we derive that the natural outcome of a dispute is a din Torah, recourse to judgment. The disputants will not come to an agreement on their own. Rashi adds, "What caused Lot to separate from the righteous Avraham Avinu, his uncle, his rebbe, his friend? Merivah; one word: dispute. Lot could not settle. It was his way or no way. There is a way to dispute, to voice one's grievance against another. Listen to the other disputant, express your feelings in a calm manner - not harsh, argumentative and demeaning. This will only lead to separation and unwarranted hatred - the way of Lot.

Horav Yaakov Meir Schechter, Shlita, questions the rationale that a peaceful resolution is never derived from a dispute. Is this not what each disputant seeks to achieve? They each present their claim, supporting their position with logic and proof; the goal is that the other disputant concedes to his position. Thus, they will be at peace. Why should we assume that the goals of a merivah, dispute, are not to achieve peace? Rav Shechter quotes Horav Nachman Breslover, zl, (Likutei Maharan 1:122), Ki ha'nitzachon eino soveil es ha'emes. "Victory (the passion and drive to achieve victory to triumph over the other combatant) does not tolerate the truth." If I want to emerge victorious, I will listen to no one, because it will undermine my position. This is a powerful lesson. One who enters into the fray of a dispute has two options to choose from as he weaves his way through the various arguments: he wants the truth to triumph; he wants to emerge victorious. The two are not necessarily consistent with one another.

Rav Shechter notes the accepted maxim in education and especially in rebuke: not to rehash what has already been done. An infraction has been committed, leave it; do not belabor the issue, rebuke for the future. Do not reiterate what had occurred, because then the child's/person's opposing will to win, to come out smelling like roses, goes into overdrive. At this point, the perpetrator will never concede to the truth. He will dispute everything that is thrown at him - regardless of the incontrovertible proofs. When one accuses, whether it be a spouse, a child, a friend or partner, it should never be done when the person is waiting for it. He or she should be caught off-guard in order for the rebuke to be effective. It must come when least expected, veiled under the guise of advice, in the midst of a lecture or conversation. When one comes head-on, he is likely to get hurt.

The middah of nitzachon, the drive for victory, the blind passion for success, is overwhelming and often destructive. Rav Shechter gives a frightening analogy. When someone becomes deathly ill, we are prepared to spend every penny upon which we can get our hands on in order to save the life of the individual who is ill. This is especially true if the patient is young. On the other hand, in order to quell our passion for triumph, we will send thousands of young men into war, with only one goal in mind: victory. Who cares how many die, as long as we are triumphant? If the forces that be would stop for a moment to take into account how many perish for a war that has no rationale other than satisfying one's overactive ego, they would quickly retract their decision to enter the fray.

The Rav quotes an anecdotal conversation between the king of a country at war with one of its neighbors and the commander-in-chief of his army: "My lord, I am happy to report that we have emerged victorious and captured our neighboring country. We have just hoisted our flag over their king's palace."

"Tell me," asked the king, "how many soldiers paid with their lives to achieve this victory?"

"I am sorry to say that half of our army was lost," was the commander's reply.

"In other words, one more such victory and our country will cease to exist!" was the king's response.

This is the underlying idea behind the Breslover's maxim: "Victory does not tolerate the truth." Victory for a country - for an individual - is all important, but at what cost? How many innocent lives must be lost, so that we may achieve victory? How many children's lives need to be ruined, or greatly stunted, so that their parents can assuage their over-active egos? Victory at the expense of the truth is a glorified defeat.

The Breslover says, Leid abisel, vest do nisht leiden kein sach. "Suffer a little, so that you will not suffer a lot." A little humility, a little pain, can go a long way in averting disaster later on - especially if the disaster comes in the guise of victory.

Remember what Amalek did to you… when you were faint and exhausted, and he did not fear G-d. (25:17,19)

Amalek was not the only nation that attacked the Jews. The Canaanites, Sichon and Og also acted in much the same reprehensible manner. Yet, Amalek is the only one about whom the Torah attests was V'lo yarei Elokim, "And he did not fear G-d." Why is Amalek singled out more than any other one of our enemies, in terms of being unafraid of G-d? The Brisker Rav, zl, explains this, basing his thesis on a statement of Rabbi Yochanan ben Zakkai in the Talmud Bava Kamma 79b. The students of the great Tanna asked him why the Torah is more stringent concerning the punishment of a ganav, thief, than a gazlan, armed robber. He explained that a thief steals at night because he fears being caught. Thus, he indicates that he has greater fear of human exposure than of Heaven. He is afraid of getting caught. Yet, he is unconcerned that he is performing a sin. The gazlan fears no one - neither man, nor Hashem.

Should it not be the other way around? The gazlan is audacious, showing no fear of anyone. His resolute chutzpah shows that he neither cares what people think, nor is he afraid of what they might do to him. The ganav, on the other hand, shows some humility, an element of shame. He is embarrassed about what he is doing and, therefore, does not want to be caught. It would make sense that humility should be rewarded and audacity punished.

The Rav explains that the differences lie in their individual attitude toward life. The gazlan is a person who lives life as it comes. He cares about nothing and does not bother with cheshbonos, calculations. When he is in the mood of acting, he acts. When he is in the mood of taking it easy, he takes it easy. Nothing seems to faze him. He lives an unabashed life, totally unflustered by anything that comes his way.

Not so, the ganav. The thief has a plan. He is cunning and deliberate. He knows exactly what he wants and how to get it - without getting caught. He makes all kinds of calculations, so that he can pull off this job smoothly, without too much effort and with no grief in the aftermath. The ganav is a thinking man who knows what he is doing, because he has it all planned out. Hashem takes umbrage against such a person. If he is so meticulous in his planning, why did he not concern himself with Hashem's Torah, in which the Almighty commanded that one should not steal? In this sense, the ganav exhibits greater malevolence than does the gazlan, who demonstrates his lack of aforethought.

This is the idea behind Amalek's being regarded as, "he did not fear G-d." The other nations battled without cheshbon, caring less about what has happened to them and more about inflicting lasting damage on the ranks of Klal Yisrael. Amalek, however, was astute and meticulous. He waited until Klal Yisrael was tired, wasted from the sudden liberation and transformation from persecuted slave to world traveler in a wilderness that was both harsh and unforgiving. He saw also that their recent commitment to Torah had begun to wane. Now was the time to attack. A battle at this point would prove successful. If Amalek was so thoughtful in his attack on the Jewish People, why did he not consider Hashem, Who was their Redeemer and Protector? It must be because of one reason: v'lo yarei Elokim. He simply did not care, because he did not fear Hashem. Such a nation had broken all barriers. His blatant disregard for the Almighty warranted the appellation for him and his nefarious descendants, of milchamah l'Hashem b'Amalek midor dor, "A war between Hashem and Amalek throughout the generations."

V'yedidim he'evarta. Your dear ones You brought across

What a poignant description of our relationship with Hashem. "Your dear ones, you brought across." We did not just walk through the Red Sea - alone. Hashem took us by the hand and led us through. The Torah tells us that the sea split, and the Jews went through. The manner in which they went through is underscored by the mesader ha'Tefillah, organizer of the siddur. We went through holding onto Hashem, as we say in Tefillas Maariv, Ha'Maavir banav bein gizrei Yam Suf, "Who brought His children through the split parts of the sea." When Hashem saves us, or, for that matter, any interaction He has with us, it is always as a loving Father to His child. While it is not unusual to question this, when we take the time to think it through cogently, our whole attitude towards reward and punishment will change. True, Hashem is our King, but He is also our Father. As in all relationships, it takes both parties to maintain a balanced commitment. If Hashem acts toward us as a Father to a son, we should at least make the attempt to act as decent children and not as kids at risk.

l'zchus u'lerefuah shleima for
Harav Shmaryahu Pesach ben Hinda Zlata

Peninim on the Torah is in its 20th year of publication. The first fifteen years have been published in book form.

The Fifteenth volume is available at your local book seller or directly from Rabbi Scheinbaum.

He can be contacted at 216-321-5838 ext. 165 or by fax at 216-321-0588

Discounts are available for bulk orders or Chinuch/Kiruv organizations.


This article is provided as part of Shema Yisrael Torah Network
Permission is granted to redistribute electronically or on paper,
provided that this notice is included intact.
For information on subscriptions, archives, and
other Shema Yisrael Classes,
send mail to
Jerusalem, Israel