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Peninim on the Torah

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Rabbi A. Leib Scheinbaum
Hebrew Academy of Cleveland


This shall they give - everyone who passes through the census - a half-shekel. (30:13)

During the time in which the Bais Hamikdash was standing, every adult male was obligated to give a half-shekel contribution annually for the maintenance of the public sacrificial service. Why did the Torah specifically require a half-shekel, as opposed to a complete unit? The commentators say that this idea represents the symbolism of the fractured nature of the individual Jew. A Jew alone is incomplete. As an individual, something is lacking in the Jew. Only when he joins together with the community does he become whole. A Jew belongs. He is supposed to feel part of something. He should never feel that he is alone - because he is not.

Horav Yosef Chaim Sonnenfeld, zl, used this explanation to shed light on the Mishnah in Shekalim 1:1. "On the first of Adar, announcements are made regarding the donation of the shekalim, and, also, concerning the kilayim, crops that are co-mingled in a forbidden manner." Two cases, two pronouncements, which seem to have no relationship with one another - other than the proximity in time - Shekalim is a contribution and, thus, holy. A half-shekel is a coin used to promote interpersonal relationships.

Chazal emphasize the importance of cultivating positive and lasting relationships. "Acquire for yourself a friend" is a powerful statement issued by Chazal in Meseches Avos 1:6. A person whose life is focused inwardly, self-centered, limited to those around him, is considered an incomplete person. Nonetheless, while he must seek out friends in order to address the issue of loneliness, it should not be at the expense of virtue, ethics and mitzvah observance. Just as it is forbidden to partake of crops that are the result of an admixture, so, too, it is similarly wrong to associate with an inappropriate group of people, simply in order to prevent loneliness. Consorting with people of questionable behavior, affiliating with those of dubious character, is not the way to resolve the issue of loneliness.

Rav Yosef Chaim supported this idea with a statement from Chazal in Pirkei Avos 2:9. Rabbi Yehoshua was asked, "What should be the most important focus of a person's life?" He replied, "(Having) a good friend." When asked what one should avoid most in life, he responded, "A bad friend." Friendship is an important factor in developing one's character, but, as vital as it may be, it is equally significant that one's pursuit of a friend not be the source of his downfall. Friendship is not defined merely by the strength of the relationship. If one's "friend" is harmful to his character, then he can do better without such friends.

The above may be summed up in two popular maxims: "Associate yourself with men of good quality, if you esteem your reputation; for it is better to be alone than to be in bad company." In addition, "Tell me with whom you are, and I will tell you what you are." Friends have a powerful effect on a person, but, at times, someone may be so bereft of a human connection that he will resort to establishing a relationship with someone of a negative character. Such a friendship will have a deleterious effect on him.

How does one define friendship? Does a "good" friend have to be a "good" person? Is a "bad" friend a "bad" person? Friendship is a relationship which catalyzes growth and improves the individual. One who, as a result of a friend's influence, takes a downward plunge spiritually or emotionally does not really have a friend. There is no upward movement - only negative growth. How much is your friend willing to sacrifice for the relationship? What is he willing to give up in order to sustain a friendship?

Perhaps the following vignette defines the relationship between two people which we consider a true friendship. Two men were employed by the same firm for many years. They appeared to be very close. At least, that is what people thought. After many years, one of them was transferred to another city. People came over to commiserate with the remaining man, as he was apparently losing his friend. I feel that his reply is a powerful commentary on the meaning of friendship. "He was not my friend," the man answered. "He was nothing more than an acquaintance."

"But you laughed together on many occasions, and you shared so many good times together."

The man thought for a moment, met their eyes, countering, "But we never cried together." A good friend is available through thick and thin. He is a tower of support and respect - never violating his friend's trust - never doing anything that might cause him harm of any kind - even if they do not share all personal perspectives. That is true friendship.

He saw the calf and the dances, and Moshe's anger flared up, and he threw down the Tablets from his hands and shattered them. (32:19)

The Midrash Tanchuma explains that when Hashem gave Moshe Rabbeinu the Luchos, they basically "carried themselves," given their size and weight. When Moshe saw the people dancing around the calf and witnessed their licentious behavior, the letters of the Luchos floated up to Heaven. Suddenly, the Luchos became exceedingly heavy, and Moshe let them fall to the ground. A symbolic lesson can clearly be derived from the fact that the Luchos became too heavy a load for Moshe to carry as soon as the letters disappeared. Was it the weight of the stone, or did our leader suddenly become weak and helpless, perhaps even overwhelmed by Luchos which had been separated from their letters?

I think that Chazal are teaching us a profound lesson. Torah is more than a body of wisdom. It is Hashem's wisdom, and, as such, cannot be separated from its Divine Author. This might be the underlying motif which Chazal express in Pirkei Avos 3:11, "Any person in whom the fear of sin precedes wisdom, his wisdom will endure; but anyone in whom wisdom precedes the fear of sin, his wisdom shall not endure." Simply put, Chazal are teaching us that wisdom, thought, is subservient to the will, which is inextricably bound up with the emotions. Thus, if a person is not first thoroughly imbued with a sense of "fear of sin," if his moral compass is not pointing in the correct direction, his wisdom cannot influence him in a fundamental manner, regardless of how intellectually developed he may be. Sooner or later, his mind and his accumulated wisdom become nothing more than a glorified handmaiden to rationalize and justify the wishes and demands of the "will."

To explain this further: There is chochmah, wisdom, and there is Torah. Torah is the greatest, most profound compendium of wisdom, but-- without the premise and belief that it is Divine-- it is nothing more than wisdom, like any other body of knowledge. It does absolutely nothing for the one who "studies" it. Torah must be "lived." The Chochmas haTorah, wisdom of the Torah, must be understood from the perspective that its profundity is often beyond our ability to grasp. This is why we need a rebbe - not a teacher, a mentor, a professor - but a rebbe, who embodies the Torah's wisdom and who respects it.

The previous Gerrer Rebbe, zl, the Pnei Menachem, explains that a talmid chacham, Torah scholar, who is immersed in Torah study should feel extremely close to Hashem. If, despite his study, his wisdom and knowledge of Torah remain greater than his fear of sinning, this reality indicates that his learning is seriously flawed. Learning Torah properly, with an emes, a sense of truth-- and not merely for the sake of intellectual knowledge-- brings the individual closer to Hashem and engenders fear of Heaven.

This is how the Jew of old learned Torah. It was his greatest source of joy - not a textbook which he researched to prepare a paper or a source to cite for his thesis. Despite the ever-mounting obstacles, he lived his life according to the Shulchan Aruch, because the Torah's mitzvos were not an irrational burden or an archaic tradition, but rather, an effervescent source of pure joy. They were his life! He carried the Luchos close to his heart, fulfilling their precepts, because they were his gift from their Divine Author. It was Torah - not simply chochmah.

How wise were Chazal when they intimated that the Luchos without the letters, their essence as G-d's hard work, constituted an unbearable load. They were missing the source of joy that made carrying them so simple. In order to carry the Luchos with joy, one must recognize and acknowledge their source and never separate their Author from His treatise.

We often define Judaism as one of the major religions, when, in fact, it is not a religion. It is a relationship with Hashem, including everything that we do, from carrying out His mitzvos to performing acts of loving-kindness, both of which serve as vehicles for bringing ourselves closer to Him. To divorce Hashem from Judaism is to undermine its meaning and to destroy its goal. As we seek greater consciousness and deeper meaning in life, we must train our focus on Hashem. He is the only reality in our life. To live a life devoid of Hashem is to exist without acknowledging ultimate reality. Those who choose to recognize the wisdom of Torah, but fail to acknowledge its Divine Authorship, are no different than those who delve into spirituality, but do not acknowledge Hashem as the Source of all spirituality. They do this for the obvious reasons: they are not interested in the fetters of religion. They want to choose their own direction in life, live it as modern as they want, of course with a rationale that, in contemporary society, some "restrictions" just do not apply. It is like saying, "The Luchos are just too heavy to carry." Mitzvos become encroachments on their lives; the rabbis are not in touch with the times; the demands of Judaism inhibit the growth of its members as citizens of the wider society.

The Torah is the life of its chochmah. In other words, the Torah's wisdom-- without the Torah/G-d aspect of it-- is nothing but dry wisdom, lifeless and sterile. The joy one receives when learning Torah is his way of identifying with its source, the Divine Author. On the other hand, one should not get carried away with this "relationship" to the point that he ignores everything else.

The Klausenberger Rebbe, zl, personified this relationship. His love for Hashem was palpable. His joy in learning Torah was an experience to behold. In his Warmed by their Fire, Rabbi Yisrael Besser tells of just one of these experiences. It was Simchas Torah: One of the high points of the year in Klausenberg was the majestic spectacle of witnessing the Rebbe, clutching a small Sefer Torah close to his heart and dancing, gazing upon the Rebbe's face as he was bound up in a Heavenly reverie of joy while he danced with the Almighty's Torah. One who watched this scene almost felt as if the Rebbe were dancing with Hashem, so intense and ecstatic was the rapture that one observed on his face. The dance was a symphony of expression: the expression of love for the Torah and its Divine Author, and an expression of utter gratitude to He Who allowed the Rebbe to witness the rebirth of a new world dedicated to Torah study and mitzvah observance. The Rebbe might have been dancing with his feet touching upon the earthly surface of this world, but his essence was soaring in the Heavens. He was totally disconnected with this world - or so it seemed.

One year, as thousands of eyes focused on the sublime figure dancing before their eyes, the Rebbe suddenly stopped in mid-motion. The room became still, not a sound emanated as everyone, his eyes glued on the Rebbe, caught his breath and listened. He raised his eyes to the top of the bleachers, pointing to two youngsters and summoned them to his side. They were orphans, who had recently lost their father. They should not be alone at a time like this. The Rebbe placed a loving arm around them and continued to dance. He was bound up with the Torah, but he never lost sight of those around him. That is Torah. This defines our relationship with Hashem. As He never forgets those in need, so, too, should we not lose sight of those who are in need.

He remained there with Hashem for forty days and forty nights. (34:28)

Moshe Rabbeinu ascended Har Sinai for a third time, during which he wrote on the Luchos the Aseres HaDibros. We wonder why this return for forty days was necessary. Moshe had already been up there for forty days during which he studied the Torah. Although he did have to return to retrieve the newest set of Luchos, it need not have taken forty days. Moshe had already learned the Torah during the first forty days, and Hashem clearly did not need forty days to carve out the letters on the Luchos.

The Shem MiShmuel posits that remarkable changes took place concerning Klal Yisrael at Har Sinai - changes that were reversed when they sinned with the Eigel HaZahav, Golden Calf. Once we understand the nature of these changes, and the meaning of their reversal, we are able to appreciate why Moshe had to spend another forty days to receive the Torah for a second time.

When Adam and Chavah were in Gan Eden prior to the sin that changed life and living forever, the yetzer hora, evil inclination, that is so much a part of us, was not a part of them. It was not an intrinsic part of their personalities, but rather, it acted as an adversary, standing apart from them, challenging and seducing them from the outside. Thus, when Chazal say that the zuhama, pollution, of the nachash ha'kadmoni, original serpent, left Klal Yisrael, causing them to be like Adam and Chavah prior to the cheit, sin, of eating of the Eiz Hadaas, Tree of Knowledge, they mean that the yetzer hora was removed from their midst. It was external, having been eliminated from their intrinsic natures.

Being divested of the snake's poison elevated Klal Yisrael to an unprecedented level of kedushah, holiness. No longer would they have to contend with their inner yetzer hora; no more would they battle with their inner passions, their imaginary challenges. The Ramban explains that during the days of Moshiach Tzidkeinu, we will revert to the pre-sin mode, in which man will perform the Will of Hashem in an entirely natural manner. There will be nothing dragging us down, no yetzer hora convincing us with its guile to do otherwise. Serving Hashem will be a natural phenomenon. This will reflect the final destruction of the yetzer hora.

Upon analysis, we now have three variant stages in man's relationship with the yetzer hora. The three stages: Adam HaRishon before the sin; Klal Yisrael at Har Sinai; Klal Yisrael during the days of Moshiach - all share a common factor: the absence of the yetzer hora. Adam was an unusual creation. His level of kedushah and closeness with Hashem were unlike anything we can fathom. This is primarily because he was free from any internal drives. He served Hashem naturally. This was the spiritual plateau that Klal Yisrael achieved as they stood at the foot of Har Sinai, prepared to receive the Torah - and this is the level they will once again achieve during the times of Moshiach.

As such, the Klal Yisrael of Har Sinai was qualitatively different from us and therefore, needed a different sort of Torah to address their particular circumstances and needs. The Torah is eternal because of its Divine Author and, thus, is adaptable and able to manifest itself in various guises, each appropriate for a different frame of reference. The style of Torah needed for men free from the fetters of the yetzer hora is quite unlike that which we contemporary Jews require. We now understand why Moshe needed a second set of forty days on Har Sinai. When Moshe had originally received the Torah, he had received the version appropriate for a Klal Yisrael devoid of an internal yetzer hora. They had been at the peak of their spiritual development. After the sin of the Golden Calf, however, things had changed. The Torah which was originally designed for them was no longer suitable for them. It was too spiritual. They needed something more practical. Hence, Moshe returned to the mountain to learn the Torah over again.

And after that, all of Bnei Yisrael came close (to Moshe), and he commanded them all that Hashem told him on Har Sinai. (34:32)

The manner in which Moshe Rabbeinu transmitted the Torah to the Jewish People was unique. He first gave a private lesson to Aharon HaKohen, who then sat beside him as Moshe taught the Torah to Aharon's sons, Elazar and Isamar. Moshe then repeated the lesson a third time for the benefit of the Zekeinim, Elders. Last, he taught the Torah to Klal Yisrael. Thus, Aharon heard the lesson three times, his sons twice, and Klal Yisrael once.

Moshe left, and Aharon reviewed the lesson with all of those assembled. He then left, and his sons repeated the lesson, and they left. Last, the Elders repeated the lesson and left. Consequently, everyone heard the Torah a total of four times. Chazal question why Moshe himself could not have simply taught the lesson four times to Klal Yisrael. They explain that this unusual procedure was performed to show honor to Aharon, his sons, and the Elders by granting them a private lecture with Moshe. If so, ask Chazal, why did Moshe not simply teach the Torah four times to Aharon, and have Aharon teach it four times to his sons and so on? Chazal reply that there was no replacement for hearing the Torah directly from Moshe. He was the human who had spoken directly with Hashem, which, in turn, enabled them to have a deeper understanding of the material.

According to the above, the ideal method of education would have been for Moshe to have been the teacher for everyone. Nonetheless, since it was important that Aharon, his sons, and the Elders all be given their due honor, the optimum method was substituted with what might seem to be a less practical, but more honorable, one. This way each individual grouping, Aharon, his sons, and the Elders, had its private time with Moshe, reflecting its unique status to the hierarchy of Klal Yisrael. The problem is that, with this system, the Jewish People only had one audience with Moshe, rather than four. They lost out so that they could give honor to the other leadership. Is this proper? They forfeited learning from the master for the purpose of giving honor. Was it worth it? Did not the spiritual development of our people suffer as a result of this method?

Horav Henach Liebowitz, zl, explains that the transmission of Torah from one generation to the next is not dependent merely upon the quality of the actual teaching. Equally important is the respect and honor afforded to the rebbeim, the Torah teachers, who impart their knowledge to the student. As bearers of the Mesorah, chain of tradition of Torah transmission from Har Sinai, the esteem which they receive from us is quite possibly even more critical than the actual teaching. Without respect for the teacher there is no teaching! It is the respect that enables them to teach and to have their lesson accepted and incorporated into the life of the student. Respect is a prerequisite to the proper understanding of the Torah they teach. Indeed, the honor accorded to Aharon, his sons, and the Elders actually enhanced the lesson they taught, deepening Klal Yisrael's understanding of the Torah. They did not lose; rather, they gained immeasurably.

Horav Yosef Sholom Elyashiv, Shlita, cites the Rav of Teplik, who gives a noteworthy explanation for the mention of Rav Papa's ten sons who were making a siyum, completing a Meseches, tractate of Talmud. Rav Papa was a distinguished Amora who was blessed with ten sons, all great talmidei chachamim, Torah scholars. Why? What did he do to be so immeasurably blessed? Rav Ovadiah Bartenura explains that ten times in Shas we fined a machlokes, dispute, among the chachamim, sages, concerning the correct nusach, version, to be said for certain brachos, blessings. Among them are the nusach, version of the text, for Bircas Asher Yatzar and Horav es riveinu, which is recited following the Megillah reading on Purim. In all ten disputes, Rav Papa decided that the halachah should follow both contenders. He refused to slight a Torah sage. His outstanding kavod haTorah, esteem for the Torah knowledge, of each sage prevented him from taking sides. An individual who so exemplifies kavod haTorah merits to have sons who are great Torah sages. He was repaid in the "currency" which he valued most: Torah.

Horav Yitzchak Zilberstein, Shlita, adds that originally, before Klal Yisrael had sinned with the meraglim, spies, Klal Yisrael would have entered the land forty years earlier. This allowed the Canaani Tribes to inhabit the Holy Land for an extra forty years. What was their merit? He explains that it reverts back to Kiryas Arba when Avraham Avinu purchased the land for Sarah Imeinu's gravesite. The Canaani accorded our Patriarch great respect, referring to him as Nesi Elokim atah b'socheinu, "A Prince of G-d in our midst" (Bereishis 23:6). This display of kavod haTorah was repaid to them hundreds of years later, long after this act of reverence was forgotten. They forgot. We often forget. Hashem never forgets.

Va'ani Tefillah

Va'anachnu nevarech Kah, mei'atah v'ad olam.

Why is the mizmor, Psalm, concluded with a pasuk "borrowed" from another Psalm? This pasuk is stated previously in 115:18. The Chasam Sofer cites the Talmud Meseches Yoma 87a where Chazal say, "Any person who catalyzes merit for the public - no sin will come about through him." The mezakeh es ha'rabim has incredible merit, since he seeks to provide the greatest good for others - spiritual good. He will never have to worry about being the catalyst of sin for others, for Hashem will protect him. Therefore, one who praises Hashem - Tehillas Hashem yedaber pi - causes others also to praise Hashem. His actions engender a positive response among others - v'yevarech kol basar shem kodsho - all people will bless Hashem - as a result of the individual who "started it all," the mezakeh es ha'rabim. He should be aware that as a result of his actions - V'anachnu nevarech Kah mei'atah v'ad olam. He will always bless Hashem. He will not be the cause of sin.

l'zechar nishmas
our husband, father, grandfather
HaRav Daniel ben HaRav Avraham Aryeh Leib Schur
Horav Doniel Schur Z"L
niftar 21 Adar 5766
sponsored by his wife, sons, daughters
and all his family

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