Back to This Week's Parsha

Peninim on the Torah

subscribe.gif (2332 bytes)

Previous issues

Rabbi A. Leib Scheinbaum
Hebrew Academy of Cleveland


Pens for the flock we shall build for our own livestock and cities for our small children. (32:16)

Rashi explains that Bnei Gad and Bnei Reuven indicated a shortcoming in their priorities. They placed the needs of their sheep before those of their children. Moshe Rabbeinu criticized their implication that sheep take precedence over children. We wonder why they would so misplace their priorities. Why would anyone think, even for a moment, that sheep have greater significance than children? Toras Yechiel submits that this alludes to the future, when -- in regard to the area of shidduchim, matrimony -- people will disregard the quality of the young man or woman and focus rather on the amount of money either party brings into the shidduch. Those who fall prey to this dementia, which is founded in insecurity and nurtured in avarice, have misplaced their priorities. First, one should consider the quality of the proposed shidduch. Only afterwards, when the individual's virtue has been unequivocally established, should they discuss the finances. Regrettably, Moshe's admonishment did not move many people, as we continue to see centuries later. Today the problem of mistaken priorities has reached epidemic proportions. As Moshe explained to that generation, however, it is all in the hands of the Almighty Who determines everyone's livelihood. This has not changed either. Hashem is still the only factor in the success of each individual.

A child's educational development should be foremost in the minds of his parents. In truth, the most effective and enduring way to educate a child is for the parents themselves to serve as proper role models. In a thesis on education, Horav Moshe Aharon Stern, zl, focuses upon several other ways to ensure success in raising a child to be a G-d-fearing Jew. First, is prayer. A successful parent entreats Hashem regularly that his children should neither sin nor behave improperly.

A parent once came to the Steipler Rav, zl, and asked for a blessing that he be successful in raising his children in the derech, path, of Torah. The Steipler responded, "It is crucial that you yourself pray! Do you think that a simple blessing will suffice? I myself still pray for my son every day!" This incident occurred when Horav Chaim Kanievsky, Shlita, the Steipler's son , was fifty-two years old and was reknown as a Torah scholar whose encyclopedic knowledge was without peer and whose yiraas Shomayim, fear of Heaven, was a standard for others to emulate. Likewise, the Brisker Rav, zl, once said, "Indeed, the Chazon Ish, zl, composed special prayers for success in raising one's children."

Rav Stern cites a classic statement from the Chasam Sofer who writes, "One who works to strengthen the observance of his fellow Jews will merit to raise his own children successfully in the ways of Hashem." The Brisker Rav supplemented this, saying, "I do not know how to advise people with regard to their children's education. I have seen, however, that those who devote themselves to the spiritual development of others have good children."

Jewish children have received an education throughout the millennia that has conformed with ruach Yisrael sabah, the spirit of Yisrael of old. In other words, the traditional approach may be supplemented by contemporary methods which relate to today's youth. It would be a tragic mistake, however, to ignore the traditional approach that has been an integral part of us for years.

A Belzer chassid once came to consult with the Rebbe Yissachar Dov, bringing along his young son. The boy was not dressed in chassidic garb, which apparently bothered the Rebbe. The Rebbe alluded to this when he repeatedly asked the man, "Is this your son?" The chassid was quite aware of this issue, and he attempted to legitimize his actions lamenting, "It is impossible to raise children like they did in the old days."

The Rebbe turned to the chassid and said, "Until now I never understood the order of certain pasukim in the second paragraph of the Shema Yisrael. In between the verses which deal with Tefillin and Mezuzos, a pasuk appears which enjoins us to teach our children Torah. What is the connection between them?

"I now have the answer. We know that in order for a Mezuzah or Tefillin to be kosher, the scribe must write it exactly as it was transmitted to us at Har Sinai. Every letter must conform to the way Chazal interpreted the halachah. One cannot say that today it is difficult to write a

Mezuzah as they did in yesteryear. For, if he altered it one iota, it is pasul, invalid. The mitzvah to teach Torah to our children is placed where it is in order to teach us that just as it is forbidden to make changes in the writing of Mezuzos and Tefillin, likewise, the education we impart to our youth must follow the dictates that we received from our forbears and sages, who accepted the Mesorah, tradition, from Sinai."

A child's first classroom is the home, where his parents are his mentors by virtue of one example they manifest. After Horav Sholom Schawadron, zl, married the sister of Horav Shlomo Zalman Auerbach, zl, his father-in-law, Horav Chaim Yehudah Leib Auerbach, zl, said to him, "You should know that when your wife was a baby, we did not have enough food in the house, and she would cry incessantly from hunger. I would rock her stroller for hours on end, during which time I reviewed entire Mesechtos, Tractates, of Talmud. This had a profound influence on her."

Rav Stern related the following story to demonstrate the impact a proper education has on a child. A wealthy patron of Yeshivos, Rav Y. Dynes, lived in a certain Russian city. He merited to have two sons-in-law that were giants in Torah, Horav Avraham Yitzchak Bloch, zl, Rosh HaYeshivah of Telshe and his brother, Horav Eliyahu Meir Bloch, zl who later co-founded the Telshe Yeshivah in America together with his brother-in-law, Horav Chaim Mordechai Katz, zl. As years passed, Rav Dynes' business ventures suffered. Eventually his empire collapsed. He was wont to say, as he pointed to his two sons-in-law, "Of all my wealth, only these two diamonds remain."

Horav Elchanan Wasserman, zl, explained what merit Rav Dynes possessed to have been deemed worthy of having two such remarkable Torah scholars as sons-in-law: It was in the middle of the winter, and Rav Elchanan was making his rounds, attempting to raise necessary funds for his yeshivah. Paved roads in those days were but a dream, so it was no surprise that Rav Elchanan's shoes became muddied. He did what he could to scrape off the top layer of mud, but his shoes still remained filthy. The next stop on his list was Rav Dynes' house. Not wanting to soil the elegant rugs that surely graced the foyer of his house, Rav Elchanan used the side entrance. When the children saw the illustrious visitor who stood at the door, they quickly ran to call their father.

Rav Dynes was mortified to see Rav Elchanan standing by the side entrance, and he quickly welcomed him to his home. He was shocked that due to a few rugs, the great Rosh Hayeshivah was deterred from entering his home in the proper manner. "Rebbe, I implore you to enter my house with your dirty shoes. Disregard the rugs. I will not permit my children to think that a few expensive rugs take precedence over the honor due a gadol b'Torah, Torah giant. I have always made an attempt to impart to them the overriding importance of kavod ha'Torah, the honor due the Torah and its disseminators. You must walk on the rugs with your muddy shoes, or else my influence upon them will be undermined."

Because Rav Dynes taught his children that all of the wealth in the world is valueless if it conflicts with the honor due a Torah scholar, he merited sons-in-law who exemplified Torah scholarship at its zenith.

Questions & Answers

1) From where do we derive the dispensation that a Bais Din of three may annul a neder?

2) Did Hashem instruct Moshe to send Pinchas along to wage war against Midyan? Why?

3) How many men went out to war against Midyan?

4) Why does the Torah usually mention the tribe of Gad before Reuven as the two tribes who asked to remain across the Jordan?


1) It is a Halachah l'Moshe M'Sinai, a provision of the Oral Law transmitted to Moshe at Har Sinai (Chagigah 1:8).

2) Hashem did not instruct Moshe to send Pinchas, since this would have implied a criticism against Moshe who had not himself acted against Zimri. Moshe, on the other hand, understood that Klal Yisrael needed the merit of Pinchas to succeed in battle (Ohr Hachaim).

3) 12,000.

4) Ibn Ezra suggests that it was Bnei Gad who initiated the request to remain across the Jordan. Ramban contends that Bnei Gad presented a stronger fighting force and were, therefore, less afraid to settle away from everyone else.


You shall designate cities for yourselves, cities of refuge…Three cities shall you designate on the other side of the Jordan. (35:11,14)

The Torah instructs Moshe Rabbeinu to set aside three Arei Miklat, Cities of Refuge, so that the unintentional murderer will have a place to flee to protect him from the relatives of his victim. Interestingly, there were three cities of refuge on Ever haYarden, Trans-Jordan, while all of Eretz Yisrael, had only six. Imagine for two and a half tribes, three cities were established, while for nine and a half tribes, there were only six. Is this not disproportionate? In the Talmud Makos 9b Chazal note that there were an increased amount of murders in Gilaad.

Although Chazal state the reason for the number of cities in Gilaad, they do not explain why Gilaad had so many murderers. Some phenomenon prompted this flagrant disrespect for human life. Horav Avigdor HaLevi Nebentzhal, Shlita, relates that in the previous parsha Bnei Gad and Bnei Reuven asked for "pens for the flock and cities for the children," placing their sheep prior to their children. This misplaced priority spawned children whose respect for each other in general and human life in particular was at a critically low plateau. When parents worry more about their material possessions than they do about their children, it is no wonder that murder becomes commonplace. Why should it not be? No one demonstrates respect for human life, so murder is a conceivable an option if the person happens to be in the way. When money takes precedence over one's children -- when the present prevails over the future -- moral perversion reigns, and human life decreases in value.

This does not in any way imply that Bnei Gad and Bnei Reuven were at that time morally perverse. They had, however, a dormant moral blemish which festered and developed to the point that it later spawned generations of people to whom human life was insignificant. Bnei Gad and Bnei Reuven laid the foundation from which their future offspring created a monster. How careful we must be with every aspect of our character. A slight flaw today might result in a major disaster in later generations. It happened with Shaul Hamelech. He had misplaced compassion on Amalek, and a short time later he acted with extreme cruelty again the Kohanim of Nov. We must develop integrity in character, as in everything else. A slight deviation today is likely to result in a grave infraction tomorrow.

Aharon HaKohen went up to Har Hahar…and died there. (33:38)

Moshe and Elazar were the only family members to be present when Aharon left this world. They were the only ones present as he was buried. Indeed, as the Midrash relates, when the people saw Moshe and Elazar coming down from the mountain alone, they queried them as to the whereabouts of Aharon. Moshe responded that he had died. A number of the usual rabble-rousers contended that this was impossible, since Aharon had previously stood up to the Angel of Death and stopped the plague that was decimating the people. They did not know that Aharon had died as a result of a kiss from Hashem, rather than by the Angel of Death directly striking him. These people had the gall to argue that Moshe had killed Aharon - out of jealousy at his popularity. Some even felt that Elazar had performed the deed, so that he could assume the Kehunah Gedolah, the High Priesthood. Moshe Rabbeinu prayed to Hashem to spare Elazar and himself from suspicion and show the people Aharon's deathbed.

His prayer was answered, and a Heavenly eulogy was then heard.

Yalkut Shimoni adds that when Miriam died, no one came to her burial. Moshe and Aharon eulogized her. Moshe ultimately exclaimed, "Woe is me! Of my entire family, I alone remain. Who will come to my funeral?" Hashem then consoled Moshe and told him that He Himself would attend to arranging his funeral.

We wonder why Klal Yisrael's greatest and most distinguished leaders did not have large funerals, in which they would be properly eulogized and appreciated. At first glance, we may suggest that individuals who attained such eminence as Moshe, Aharon and Miriam cannot be fathomed, let alone eulogized as any other mortal. They were in a league all of their own that transcended anything known to Klal Yisrael. It would take someone of their own caliber to appreciate them thoroughly. Alternatively, I feel that there is a deeper reason for this anomaly. Perhaps the greatest fear that has plagued the Jew throughout his tumultuous history, has been the fear of dying alone and not being buried in a Jewish cemetery. This has been a real fear in light of the millions of Jews who perished Al Kiddush Hashem, sanctifying Hashem's Name, in pogroms, inquisitions, holocausts, and terrorist disasters. Are we to ignore these neshamos and relegate them to obscurity? We are taught by this Midrash that when someone dies alone, he is not really alone. Hashem is with him.

Our blood soaked the soil of Europe as Jews were murdered and their bodies left in mass graves or left to rot in no graves. These Jews were not alone; Hashem buried them, just as He buried Moshe Rabbeinu. A terrorist attacks a building and thousands are buried beneath the rubble. Hashem personally buries each body. We will not find it. The person might be identified only by his DNA, but Hashem knows where the body is, and He will attend to it.

Our greatest Jewish leaders died alone. This should serve as some small consolation to those that grieve for their lost family members who did not reach kever Yisrael, Jewish burial. They did - Hashem saw to it.

Questions & Answers

1) How many encampments did Klal Yisrael have during their fortieth year in the Midbar?

2) What occurred in Rismah? What is another name for this place? How long did Klal Yisrael remain there?

3) How many cities were set aside specifically for the Leviim?

4) Who was the youngest of Tzlafchad's daughters?


1) Eight.

2) This was the place from where the meraglim, spies, set out on their mission. This place was originally called Kadesh. Klal Yisrael remained there for nineteen years (Rashi).

3) 48 cities.

4) Noah (Rashi).


Peninim on the Torah is in its 11th year of publication. The first seven years have been published in book form.

The Seventh 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