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Peninim on the Torah

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Rabbi A. Leib Scheinbaum
Hebrew Academy of Cleveland


I have filled him with a G-dly spirit, with wisdom, insight, and knowledge. (31:3)

Rashi explains that chochmah, wisdom, refers to the knowledge one receives from others. Tevunah, which is defined as insight, is the product of the ideas one develops from his own wisdom. In the context of the construction of the Mishkan, daas, which is translated as knowledge, refers to the Ruach HaKodesh, Divine Inspiration, with which Betzalel was imbued. Accordingly, daas, knowledge, is on a higher cognitive level than tevunah, insight. This does not, however, appear consistent with the sequence which appears in the Shemoneh Esrai. We recite thrice daily, Ata chonein l'adam daas, u'melameid le'enosh binah, "You graciously endow man with wisdom and teach insight to frail man." Chaneinu meitcha deiah, binah, v'haskel. "Endow us graciously from yourself with wisdom, insight and discernment." Furthermore, one who lacks daas is considered among the most unfortunate people, as Chazal say, Mi she'ein bo daas, "One who does not possess daas"… They go on to list this person's insufficiencies which result from a lack of daas. Yet, the Torah lists daas last, with Rashi interpreting it as Ruach HaKodesh. This seems to indicate a fairly high level of cognition. How are we to understand this?

Horav Aizik Ausband, zl, explains that the term daas originates from the idea that one person knows more than someone else. Thus, knowledge is understood as a breadth of understanding that goes beyond that of others. Therefore, the level of daas and its concomitant meaning change with the subject matter. When comparing the daas of an adult to that of a child, the adult's ability to distinguish between Shabbos and weekdays already attributes to him - although it does not necessarily speak highly of - his level of erudition. Since he is only being judged in comparison to a child, he needs to know very little to know more than the child. Betzalel's daas, however, is being compared to that of the rest of the nation. He stood above them, since he had achieved the level of Ruach HaKodesh.

And (they) fashioned it into a molten calf. (32:4)

Aharon HaKohen knew that Moshe Rabbeinu would return at the designated time. The people were impatient, thinking that their leader was not returning. To stall for time, Aharon instructed them to bring their gold, which he, in turn, threw into the fire. The Egyptian sorcerers, included amongst the eirav rav, mixed multitude, who joined the Jewish People when they left Egypt, employed their knowledge of the occult to create the calf. The Talmud Sotah 13a says that an amulet with the letters ali shor, "rise up ox," engraved on it was in the possession of the Jewish People. Moshe had used this amulet to retrieve Yosef's coffin from within the waters of the Nile River. It was this amulet which they flung in the fire, that caused a calf of gold to emerge. The question that presents itself is quite simple: If the amulet's lettering consisted of "rise up ox," why did a calf materialize? If the amulet did the trick, then a golden ox should have appeared. Alternatively, since Moshe had caused a man to emerge, the molten gold should have produced a human being - not an animal. Furthermore, after seeing how they had created a molten idol, how could the people declare Eileh elohecha Yisrael, "These are your g-ds, Yisrael!" Clearly, they must have understood that this molten image had no Divine powers.

Horav David Chanania Pinto, Shlita, quotes his son, Rav Rephael, who gives a practical analysis to explain why the image that emerged from the fire was a calf - not an ox. Hashem took pity on the kavod, esteem, of Yosef HaTzaddik. Imagine if an ox - not calf -- would have emerged from the fire. The ox is the symbol of Yosef. In short, the 'Shor' HaZahav, "Golden Ox" would have been called Yosef HaTzaddik! Out of respect for the saintly Yosef, Hashem arranged for a calf to materialize. This idea applies as well to explain why a man was not created. He would instantly have been given a name.

Rav David applies this logic to explain why the people, upon seeing the Golden Calf, immediately began to chant, "These are your gods, Yisrael." It was the eirav rav who made this declaration - which was true. The Golden Calf was not their creation. It was the creation of the Jews. The eirav rav would have produced an ox or a man. A calf most certainly was not their intention.

Rav David quotes the Be'er Mechokeik who writes: "There are times when a person is unaware of what is going on within himself. An entire inner revolution is taking place - and he has no idea why it is happening. He is filled with tension and is quite uptight. Indeed, when the eruption occurs, he has no idea that something is happening within him. He is still only at the saf ha'hakarah, threshold of consciousness. We refuse - or are afraid to delve deeper - to penetrate the depths of our psyche to understand what is taking place.

This is what took place concerning the Jewish people. They wanted an ox, and a calf emerged. Now what? Did they allow themselves a moment to think, to question this turn of events? What is happening here? We were supposed to get an ox - not a calf. Something out of the ordinary is occurring. We must stop to digest what is happening. That would have been the proper course to take. This is the approach that one who is not driven by passion would have taken. What did they do? They immediately declared, "These are your gods, Yisrael!" Why? Because they could not deal with decision-making. They were afraid to confront their own issues. They knew something was amiss, but they were not prepared to respond to the problem. An intelligent reaction - in which they would think about what was happening, and perhaps discover its hidden meaning and message - was too much for them. They reacted immediately, closed the book - so to speak - and made their decision.

We make up our minds too quickly. We hear a shmuess, ethical discourse, a powerful, emotion-filled lecture. We are impressed, even moved, but before we allow ourselves to think about its personal message, we conclude that it is not for us. The speaker does not mean us, he is referring to someone else. Close the book; move on. If we allow ourselves the luxury of thinking, we will realize that everything has relevance. The message is not exclusive. It is general. Whoever is willing to listen can better himself. Some of us are either too frightened or too arrogant - to accept the fact that it might also concern us.

He said, "It is not the sound of shouting of might nor the sound of shouting of weakness; a distressing sound do I hear." (32:18)

Yehoshua informed Moshe Rabbeinu that he heard the sound of battle in the Jewish camp. Moshe Rabbeinu replied that battle sounds consist of either the sound of victory or the sound of defeat. The sound that he heard was much different. It was the sound of blasphemy and vilification, which distresses the soul of everyone who hears it. In other words, Klal Yisrael had sinned, and the sounds that they were hearing were the sounds of blasphemy. The Chafetz Chaim, zl, explains that Moshe was actually critiquing Yehoshua for not yet being able to discern between sounds. A leader must be acutely aware of the intimation of each sound. The people were conveying a message. A leader must be able to distinguish between the sounds of battle and the sound that accompanies the revelry of avodah zarah, idol-worship.

In his addendum to the Chafetz Chaim, Horav Shmuel Greineman, zl, writes that he found a Midrash in Sefer Bamidbar 20:3, Vayarev ha'am im Moshe, "The people quarreled with Moshe." The Midrash says: "When Miriam passed, Moshe and Aharon were occupied with her. Meanwhile, the people were thirsty and sought relief. Once Miriam had died, her merit, through which the nation had received water, was gone. When Moshe and Aharon saw the nation converging on them, Moshe said to Aharon, "Tell me, what type of gathering is this?" Aharon immediately replied, "Are they not the descendants of the Patriarchs, individuals who act kindly, the sons of individuals who act kindly; surely they have come to perform chesed, kindness, with Miriam." Moshe replied, "Are you unable to discern between 'gatherings'? This assembly is not an assembly for takanah, for constructive purposes. This gathering is bent on destruction. If there had been a positive reason for this assembly, they would have come in a dignified manner, with officers and individual leaders at the head of each group. Instead, whom do we see at the forefront? The rabble-rousers. And you feel that they are coming as a gesture of good faith? No. They are coming to spur dissent and usurp the leadership."

A leader must be able to "split hairs" when it comes to emotion. He must understand what message his congregants are conveying to him - even if they do not articulate it. He must distinguish between "sounds": between strength and weakness; between joy and depression; between success and failure. A leader must understand the needs of his flock and the underlying reason for their "gatherings." Often, meetings are organized with a deep-rooted agenda, the goal of which is far from constructive. Sadly, at times, most of those involved in the meeting have no clue concerning its true motive.

Individuals declare that they want change; they are seeking to raise the standards of observance, to guard against incursion, to elevate the banner of Torah; to increase achdus, unity, among all members of the community. The Torah leadership of a community must be aware of their true intentions. It might be sincere, but then, it might very well be nothing more than a sham, an opportunity to convene a group to ratify a self-proclaimed proposal, which will serve as a medium for rubber-stamping their own misguided policies.

They protest, claiming that their goal is sincere: unity among Jews - regardless of background and religious affiliation. Are they really seeking to unify, or is it nothing more than a ploy to create greater discord and make the Torah-observant seem cold, dispassionate and unyielding?

A true leader develops a mindset geared towards his congregation. He understands them and empathizes with their needs. His mind revolves around them as he thinks only of them. As a parent understands the individual sounds/cries/laughter of his/her child, so, too, is a Torah leader able to distinguish between the cries of his congregation. Horav Yitzchak Zilberstein, Shlita, relates that the Rosh Yeshivah of Ponevez, Horav David Povarsky, zl, was such a leader.

Upon arising from his sleep one day, the Rosh Yeshivah swallowed an antibiotic pill which the doctor had prescribed for him. The pill, which should have immediately gone down his esophagus, became lodged in his trachea. The Rosh Yeshivah began to choke, as he attempted to cough up the pill. The students who were there immediately took hold of him and made every maneuver to help extricate the pill. It took ten minutes for the pill to finally be expelled.

Rav Povarsky was visibly shaken by his ordeal. His reaction is a lesson in leadership: "I feel bad for those who had to watch my travail. They must have been so scared." Imagine, an individual who, while he was choking, thought of nothing else other than the emotions coursing through the minds of his students. This was a person who thought not of himself - but of his students, a true leader. This is, however, not all. After the ordeal, the Rosh Yeshivah explained in what merit he was saved. "If chas v'shalom, Heaven forbid, the pill would not have been expelled, I would not have made it to the yeshivah in time for davening. I was well aware that Horav Shach, the Rosh Yeshiva, was ill and would not attend davening. I, therefore, prayed to Hashem, entreating Him, 'If Rav Shach was out, and I would be unable to come to davening, what image would the Yeshivah have, if the two Roshei Yeshivah were not there.'"

This is what went through Rav David Povarsky's mind as he choked on a tablet. He disregarded his pain, the danger in which he was in - everything. He thought only of the Yeshivah!

He said, "Not a sound shouting strength nor a sound shouting weakness; a sound of distress do I hear." (32:18)

Yehoshua heard the sound of celebration over the Golden Calf. He erred in mistaking the sounds of joyful rebellion for a response to an aggressive attack. Moshe Rabbeinu corrected him, explaining that it was clear from the sound that it was far from a response to war. The sounds to the discerning ears of our quintessential leader meant that the ultimate tragedy had struck the nation: they had rebelled against Hashem. Moshe's lengthy response to Yehoshua seems questionable. He said, "Not a sound of strength, nor a sound of weakness, but a sound of distress do I hear." Could he not just have said, "I do not hear a sound of strength"? Why did he deliver the whole speech? Furthermore, as cited by Ramban from Midrash Koheles 9:11, Moshe rebuked Yehoshua, saying, "One who will one day exercise leadership over the nation, is unable to discern between sounds?" Why does this indicate a deficiency in Yehoshua's ability to lead the nation? Does just the fact that he thought the sound that he heard was a sound of victory serve as a reason for rendering him unfit to lead the nation?

Horav Avigdor HaLevi Nebentzhal, Shlita, explains that there is much more to the dialogue than a simple critique of Yehoshua's auditory skills. We find that, with Klal Yisrael's acceptance of the Torah, the people were liberated from their subservience to both the nations of the world and the Malach Ha'Maves, Angel of Death. Jewish mortality had reached the same level that had existed prior to the sin of Adam HaRishon, Primordial Man. Chazal derive this from the homiletic rendering of the word charus, v'hamichtav michtav Elokim hu, charus al haLuchos, "And the script was the script of G-d, engraved on the Luchos" (Ibid. 32:16).

Chazal say, "Charus, engraved, do not read it as charus, engraved, but rather, as cheirus, liberated. This teaches us that through the vehicle of Mattan Torah, the Giving of the Torah, the Jewish nation was granted freedom from subservience to the nations of the world. Indeed, had Moshe not been compelled to shatter the Luchos, no nation could ever harm us, and we would have prevailed over the Angel of Death."

We now understand what Moshe was intimating to Yehoshua. If the Jewish People were on their newly-acquired spiritual perch, then there could not be heard any sounds of war - be it victorious or defeat. No nation could rise against them. They had received the Torah and were now freed from external dominance from the nations of the world. "Yehoshua! Do you not know this? War cannot exist in the Jewish camp if the people still remained on the level of Kabbolas HaTorah, Receiving the Torah. If it is true as you contend, however, that there are sounds of war emanating from the Jewish camp, then something is terribly amiss. We have a serious problem. Clearly, the Jewish People have sinned and have deviated from the Torah."

Moshe's intention was not to insinuate to Yehoshua that he was unfit to lead the nation; rather, he was saying that, as a leader, he should be acutely aware that, post-Mattan Torah, there can no longer be any sounds of war - unless…

I implore! This people have committed a grievous sin. (32:31)

What did Moshe Rabbeinu mean by this statement? Of course the people had committed a grave sin. There was no question about this. On the contrary, by restating the offense, he was essentially adding insult to injury. In his Ohaiv Yisrael, the Apter Rav, zl, explains that when a person commits an aveirah, sin, the greatest punishment is the realization that he has sinned against Hashem. This does not come immediately, but, after introspection, he becomes cognitive of Hashem's eminence; and thus, the sin which he has committed takes on a different guise. How could he have sinned against the One Who gave him everything - Who continues to sustain him? He begins to realize that, by commission of this sin, he has distanced himself from the Source of all sanctity. He will slowly develop a sense of shame, which will ultimately lead to regret and remorse. He will then accept upon himself not to sin again. Indeed, one who finds himself on the level of this approach will benefit much more than if he were to experience the harshest punishment.

This is what Moshe said to Hashem. Ana chatah ha'am chataah gedolah, "The nation has sinned egregiously" - and they know it. What greater shame can there be? What punishment supersedes the pain they must sustain, knowing that they have sinned against their great Benefactor? The shame they are experiencing upon confronting the sin will certainly catalyze such regret that this will never happen again. For this reason, they deserve forgiveness and pardon.

How fortunate is one who achieves such a level of reflection, in which the very fact that he "sinned" is sufficient punishment for him. The realization of the blemish created by the sin, and the distance it accords the sinner in his relationship to Hashem, comprise all of the punishment the person needs.

Whenever Moshe would go out to the Tent, the entire people would stand up and remain standing, everyone at the entrance of his tent. (33:8)

Midrash Tanchuma derives from here that one must stand up and show respect to an old man, a scholar, Av Bais Din; Head of the Rabbinical Court, and a king. He must remain at attention until the individual whom he is honoring walks out of sight. One Tanna adds that as a result of this halachah, if one of these individuals would notice a large group of people near his intended walking path, he should alter his route, so not to disturb them, since they would have to stop whatever they were doing in order to show him respect. A second Tanna disputed this notion, contending that on the contrary, he should make a point of going past them. When people observe a righteous man, the image is indelibly engraved onto their hearts and minds, elevating them spiritually. The Chida, zl, writes that the purpose of venerating talmidei chachamim, Torah scholars, is not that they require the honor. It is due to the Torah which they have studied. By honoring them, one honors the Torah, thus facilitating his Torah observance. It is not about the man, but about his Torah.

With this in mind, we understand why one gives respect to a talmid chacham even if he is himself greater than he. The Chafetz Chaim would give kavod to younger, less knowledgeable rabbanim, despite his personal ill health and weakness.

While it may be difficult for some people to give kavod to someone whom he feels is not yet worthy of it, it is clearly deplorable to degrade a Torah scholar. Furthermore, not only does he infringe the laws of respect, but he also harms himself and creates a negative atmosphere for his children. A child growing up in a home in which his father lacks kavod haTorah, in a home in which a child will often be relegated to listening to his father abuse rabbanim, will sadly see his son follow in his footsteps.

Horav Yitzchak Zilberstein, Shlita, cites the Ben Yehoyada in his commentary to the Talmud Shabbos 119b concerning the meaning of the pasuk: 'Al tigu b'meshichai,' eilu tinokos shel bais rabban; 'u'binviai al tareiu,' eilu talmidei chachamim, "Dare not touch My anointed ones" - this refers to young children in school; "and to my prophets do no harm," which is an allusion to Torah scholars. The Ben Yehoyada questions the use of al tigu - "dare not touch," regarding to children, and al tareiu, "do not harm," concerning Torah scholars. He explains that the raah, acting harmfully, which is written concerning Prophets means humiliation. "Do not humiliate My Prophets." Take great care not to offend, hurt the feelings, or cause them any shame. This idea does not apply to children. No one should trouble himself to embarrass a child.

The Ben Yehoyada adds the "clincher." One who shames a talmid chacham, who denigrates a sage, will eventually be the cause of ra, evil, touching his children. When young children observe a lack of respect of scholars; when they see adults knock the rabbi or Rosh Yeshivah; when children see their parents' lack of respect for a Torah personality - they will eventually follow suit.

Rav Zilberstein shares the story of a young, pre-Bar-Mitzvah yeshivah student who was both brilliant and diligent. His desire to learn more and more was outstanding. This was a boy who could not wait to go to school, who jumped out of bed the moment the alarm clock rang - in short, the perfect student, a rebbe's dream. One day, however, it all changed. The alarm rang and he continued sleeping. After a while, his mother went to his room to check on him. Something must be wrong. Her son never slept in.

"Come, get up, it is time to go to school," the mother said to her son. "I am not in the mood" was the boy's response. Something was terribly wrong. This was unusual. The father was called. Perhaps he could clear up the problem. The boy's father had as much success as his wife. Their son absolutely refused to go to school. It made no difference to him if he slept in - or not.

The parents turned to the rebbe. Perhaps he could help. His relationship with his student/their son was close. He might be able to discover what had entered their child's mind. The rebbe gladly came over to the house, infused with self-confidence. He would inspire the boy with hope. He would succeed in getting him to return to school. He tried, once, twice, a number of times - all to no avail. The child had lost his interest in Torah.

Parents do not give up. A rebbe does not give up - that is, if they are genuine. They worked together in order to achieve a breakthrough. Finally, the young boy opened up and related a frightening, but regrettably all-too-common story: "The other day I saw one of the distinguished talmidei chachamim of our community, who also happens to be the Rav of a shul, walking home. Behind him were a group of youths making fun, catcalling and denigrating him. I decided then and there, that if this was the reward for spending a life studying Torah - I want out! Better I should remain at home, sleep and play, than attend cheder."

The young boy then turned to his rebbe and said, "The other day you pleaded with me to return to cheder. You claimed that I was a wonderful student who would one day grow up to be a distinguished Rav or Rosh Yeshivah. I thought to myself, 'My rebbe is cursing me! He wants me to be like that hapless Rav who was disgraced by supposed bnei Torah! If this is the case - I am not interested.'"

When one acts harmfully towards Torah scholars, he creates a situation in which this harm will touch his children. Regrettably, this is an issue that has come to the fore time and again, as young people become "turned off". While a number of issues have colluded to catalyze this tragedy, one of the reasons that always seem to pop up is: I lost all respect for the rabbi, Rosh Yeshivah, etc. From where does such an attitude originate? When young people listen to adults who are either malcontented, insecure, egomaniacs who are jealous of others, or talk with derision regarding Torah leaders, their words "touch" the children. If Torah is to mean something, its disseminators must be held in the greatest esteem. There is, however, one catch: they must be worthy of such respect.

Va'ani Tefillah

V'kabtzeinu yachad mei'arba kanfos ha'aretz. And you shall gather us together from the four corners of the earth.

The word kanaf is rarely used to describe the "corners" of the world. It is used with regard to Tzitzis, Al kanfei bigdeihem, "On the corners of their garments." The proper word should have been either ruach, direction, or katzeh, edge/cover. Kanaf at the edge of a garment is the corner. It also relates to the fringes, the Tzitzis that we place on the kanfei bigdeihem. How does this fit into the idea of the ingathering intimated by the prayer of v'kabtzeinu yachad? There is diversity among the Jewish People. I am using "diversity" to describe the difference of opinions that exist in the Torah observant camp. Diversity is good as long as everyone adheres to halachah and are focused l'shem Shomayim, for the sake of Heaven. Otherwise, it is not diversity, but a breach of opinion. There are also those Jews who, regrettably, due to assimilation and alienation are "hanging by the fringes." We pray to Hashem that all Jews unite under one banner - Him. We also pray that even those who have strayed so far that they are nothing more than "fringe Jews," just hanging on, should begin to see the light, to return and embrace their national and personal heritage.

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

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

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