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Peninim on the Torah

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Rabbi A. Leib Scheinbaum
Hebrew Academy of Cleveland


And these are the judgments that you shall place before them. (21:1)

Rashi teaches that Hashem told Moshe Rabbeinu, "It should not occur to you to say, 'I shall teach them the chapter and the law two or three times, until it is set in order in their mouths according to its format (i.e. until they memorize it), but I shall not trouble myself to make them understand the reasons of the matter and its explanation.' Therefore it says, 'that you shall place it before them - like a table that is set and prepared to be eaten from, placed before a person.' In other words, there is no room for error in teaching. The student must be clear, understanding the subject matter to the best of his ability. A rebbe may not say, 'I have done enough.'"

In his Igros Moshe, Horav Moshe Feinstein, zl, writes a compelling charge to Torah educators. In explaining how they should teach and how far they should go in reaching out to each student, he writes: "One should know that Torah study is unlike any other form of study… A Torah teacher must explain the subject matter well until the student achieves proficiency in the lesson, to the point that he accepts the lesson as a way of life." Torah is not a discipline which one teaches and moves on to the next lesson. If the student has not incorporated the lesson into his psyche - if, for example the student studies the laws of tefillah, prayer, but does not pray better, with greater kavanah, intention/concentration, feeling and enthusiasm- the rebbe has failed. Teaching Torah means infusing Torah within the hearts and minds of each and every student. It must become a part of their lives.

Rav Moshe adds that a rebbe should never give up on his student - regardless of his inability to grasp the lesson, or lack of commitment to the program. As long as he is not adversely affecting other students, he should be kept in the school. One never knows what inspiration a student may receive while in the spiritually positive environment of a makom Torah. He might be positively influenced by a rebbe, or even a classmate.

Horav Yehudah Tzedakah, zl, would often say that a true marbitz Torah, disseminator of Torah, is completely devoted to his students. Nothing else takes precedence over his students. They are his life. He felt this is alluded to by Chazal, who say, "If the rav/rebbe is likened to an angel of Hashem, seek Torah from his mouth - if not, do not seek his teachings" (Moed Kattan 17a). The sage explained that an angel does not perform two shlichos, missions, at once. He is devoted to one at a time. Thus, a rebbe should devote himself entirely to his students.

Once, a distinguished Torah activist came to speak with him concerning an important communal issue. The Rav informed the gentleman that at present he was teaching a class and thus unable to take time off and interrupt the shiur, lecture. The man countered that the issue at hand had ramifications that might very well be considered life and death in nature. Rav Tzedakah looked at the man and said, "To me, taking off time from my regular shiur is also life-threatening."

A rebbe's relationship with his student is unique. The rebbe plays a dominant role in shaping that student's future. They sort of partner in the future. With this idea in mind, the rebbe must maintain a keen interest in the student, since his mentoring and care are an investment in the student's future. The following inspirational story intimates this idea. The scene takes place in Yeshivas Ohr Sameach one Yom Kippur night following Kol Nidrei. The bais ha'medrash was packed, standing room only, as one of the Roshei Yeshivah, Horav Nachman Bulman, zl, ascends to the lectern to address the hundreds of students, many of them only recently completing their return to Orthodoxy. Rav Bulman appears majestic, bedecked in his white kittel, yarmulke and tallis. His students were his children. He was their father - perhaps not biologically, but, in a spiritual sense - unquestionably. This was the most solemn night of the Jewish calendar year. Everyone listened with rapt attention as he began to speak.

"In many Jewish homes, prior to leaving for shul on Erev Yom Kippur, fathers and mothers take their children aside and bless them. This is a custom that dates back for centuries." Rav Bulman stopped a moment and gazed deeply at his students. "This blessing is referred to as Bircas HaBanim, the blessing of the children. Many of you hail from homes where parents had no inkling of this blessing. Thus, for many of you, tonight is your first opportunity for Bircas HaBanim. As your rebbe, I will bless each of you - but, first, let me relate some background.

"When the revered Ponevezher Rav, Horav Yosef Kahaneman, zl, established Yeshivas Ponovez in Bnei Brak, he also opened an orphanage. Sadly, following World War II there were many children who fell into this category. When the Rav named the orphanage, Batei Avos, Homes of the Fathers, it raised eyebrows. The accepted name for an orphanage was Bais Yesomim, Home of the Orphans. He explained, 'I want the children -and their teachers - to focus on their bright future ahead, not their dismal, sad past. The little boys will eventually become adults, fathers in Klal Yisrael. They will be part of our nation's future. This is why I called the orphanage Batei Avos, to emphasize the positive future which these children should look forward to enjoying."

"Tonight," Rav Bulman continued, "I will do the same. I will bless you as a father blesses his child, but I will not call it Bircas HaBanim. Instead, I will call it Bircas HaAvos, to emphasize your future. You will, in due time, all become fathers in Klal Yisrael, ushering in a new generation which will be a pride to all of Klal Yisrael."

But if the bondsman shall say, "I love my master… I shall not go free... then his master shall bring him to the court and shall bring him to the door or to the door post, and his master shall bore through his ear with the awl, and he shall serve him forever. (21:5,6)

The Torah takes a dim view of an eved Ivri, Hebrew bondsman's, desire to continue his servitude. His ear is bored with an awl as he stands near the doorpost. Why the ear? The ear (together with the rest of the body) stood at Har Sinai and heard Hashem declare, "Lo signov, Do not steal." Yet, the man went ahead and stole. He had a list of excuses to justify his behavior. But, at the end of the day, he was a ganov, thief, and must pay for his actions. He had no money - otherwise, why would he steal? He was broke; his family starving; what should he do? So, he was sold as an eved to pay back his theft. That was then. This is now. He had already spent six years of payback. He could now go free. Rather than view his circumstances of the last six years as being adverse, he seemed to have developed a liking for his master. It is not a difficult life. He was treated well - almost as a member of the family. Why should he leave?

The Torah is not happy with him. He should not enjoy slavery - especially if it was to reimburse his debts. He is now frowned upon by the Torah. Why? Is it so wrong to like his master? Perhaps, if he would have been a happier person he would not have resorted to stealing. He now has a greater sense of self-esteem, or, he just likes the comfort and stability of three meals a day, decent clothes, a roof over his head. Is this a reason to have his ear bored?

In his inimitable manner, Horav Yaakov Galinsky, Shlita, addresses this question and responds pragmatically. The lesson for each and every one of us is invaluable. In Pirkei Avos 3:1, Akavya ben Mehallel articulates his well-known dictum for protecting oneself from sins. Histakeil b'sheloshah devarim, "Consider three things and you will not come into the (hands) grip of sin: Know from whence you came; where you are going and before Whom you will give justification and reckoning." What is the meaning of not falling into the grip of sin? Is this different than not sinning? Horav Elya Lopian, zl, explains that Akavya ben Mehallel is not giving us a guarantee against sin. He is not ensuring us that by looking at these three concepts we will never sin. He is not saying this, because it is not foolproof. Considering these three rules will not be a guarantee against the act of sinning. But - one who considers them will not fall into the grip of sin. Sin will not have a stranglehold on him that will compel him to sin again. One who takes these three images to mind will perhaps sin, but he will not be a slave to sin. He will sin, but he will not become a sinner.

Rav Galinsky adds flavor to this exposition with a personal anecdote. As a slave laborer for the Russians during World War II, Rav Galinsky, together with thousands of other prisoners of war, many of them yeshivah students, were transported by train to the North and beyond, to Siberia. The train was outfitted for carrying livestock and mail - not people. Understandably, the usual creature comforts required for a human being to function were not included among the train's amenities. The noise was overwhelming as the train rattled on through the night. Adding to the noise was the constant moaning and groaning of a wounded Polish soldier who would not stop complaining about how thirsty he was. As weary and bone-tired as he was, Rav Galinsky could not sleep through the constant, "I am so thirsty," that kept reverberating through the night.

Rav Galinsky arose from his place on the floor, went over and took an old cup, poured some water into it and brought it to the Polish soldier. Finally - there would be some quiet on the train. He was wrong, for no sooner had the man quenched his thirst, that he began groaning, "Oh, what a terrible thirst I had." The Rav derived a powerful lesson from this. A person who is not tarud b'yitzro, engrossed as a slave to his evil inclination, once he has quenched his thirst - or carried out his sinful act, it is over and done with. Why continue thinking about it? Why hash it over and over? Simply face the reality: "I was thirsty, I drank; now, I am fine. Likewise, I had an evil inclination to sin; I carried out my passion. Case closed, I am moving on with my life." A person, however, who is in the grip of sin cannot break through the tentacles which envelop him. Thus, even after he has satisfied his desires, he is thinking about the "next time."

This is the abysmal situation in which the eved Ivri finds himself. He needed money, so he foolishly stole. He then spent the money and now cannot pay it back. He sinned; he was a fool. Now, he must pay by becoming a slave. Six years go by and now he is free. What does this dolt do? Rather than join the rest of the world as a free man, this hare brain wants to continue his degradation. When he is questioned regarding his ability to use his G-d-given brain, he responds, "So what! I enjoy slavery. You think that I am a little bit soft in the brain. So, I can live with it. I am not concerned with what you think." Is this such a terrible reaction to life? If he does not care, why should we? Why put a hole in his ear?

The difference, explains Rav Galinsky, is between performing a sin, and becoming a full-fledged sinner. The first time the fellow erred, he deferred to his momentary needs, acted foolishly, and stole. The second time he is what we may call a habitual sinner. Once he sins twice, it is no longer a sin. It becomes a way of life! He has adopted a new culture - one in which stealing is permissible.

The fellow that wants to extend his servitude manifests such an attitude. He has accepted his newly-found lifestyle. So, he will be an eved. Is it so bad? Three meals a day; roof over his head. What can be so bad about that? He is in the mud and refuses to extricate himself. This, unfortunately is the story behind every "loser." He begins to accept his self-imposed predicament. Rather than look for ways to break out, he acquiesces and expounds the virtue of this lifestyle. Perhaps, blemishing his ear will serve as a wake-up call.

Then his master shall bring him to the court… and his master shall bore through his ear with the awl, and he shall serve him forever. (21:6)

Rashi interprets Elokim as bais din, the Jewish court of law. Why would the court be compared to the Almighty to the point that they carry his Name? While there is no doubt that the members of the court are distinguished scholars, men of repute and distinction, but referring to them with G-d's Name seems to be carrying their distinction a bit too far. Horav Gamliel Rabinowitz, Shlita, views this from a practical standpoint. An individual stands before the Bais Din and presents his claim in a clear manner. He lays out the proof, clears up any ambiguity that might exist, and is certain that everything fits into place. He is clearly the winner - or, so he thinks. The judges are clearly mistaken; they must be wrong; they are crooks, having certainly been bribed by the other litigant - and it goes on. No one sees the truth any longer and sides are taken, with the judge usually serving as the fall guy, the source of blame.

Therefore, when the Torah refers to Bais Din as Elokim, a person must realize that all that occurs in his life is part of Hashem's Divine plan. The judges are simply His mouthpiece, articulating His plan for the individual who stands before them. Nothing happens within a vacuum. Everything has its reason and purpose. In the World of Truth it all makes sense. This is true even if the litigant has proof that he is innocent and, concomitantly Bais Din rules wrongly.

This attitude of accepting whatever is thrown at us applies equally in the sector of the individual. At times, life throws us a curve and we blame others, we attribute it to the fault of others; we never take responsibility for our actions. The Chafetz Chaim writes that when one loses money in Bais Din, he should know that the judges are not more than Hashem's agents. One should never fault the judge whose decision does not coincide with what he was hoping to achieve. It all comes from Hashem.

Divine Providence is a part of life, as we see in the parsha of rotzeach b'shogeg, the unintentional killer. Chazal present us with a powerful analogy. Two people - one of whom had killed unintentionally, and one of whom had killed with intention. Neither incident had witnesses who could testify to either case. It seems like they are both going to get off scot-free. The one who killed intentionally will not be executed, and the one who killed unintentionally will not go to the arei miklat, cities of refuge. Hashem solves the problem by having them "meet" in the same inn. The one who killed intentionally "just happened" to be sitting beneath a ladder, while the one who killed unintentionally ascended the ladder. Guess what happened? He fell! The fellow who was sitting beneath the ladder was killed and the one who fell goes into exile for his unintentional act of murder. Everybody has their day in "court" and pays their due. Hashem does not permit anything to go unrequited - good or bad.

We must live with this cheshbon ha'nefesh, personal soul-searching. Who knows if we did not unintentionally harm someone - physically, emotionally or spiritually? Sure, we did not harbor any evil intentions. In fact, we are, for the most part, not even aware of it. But Hashem does not forget, nor does He overlook. There is a record of everything we have done, and if it adversely affected someone else, we will be called to task for our actions.

Distance yourself from a false word. (23:7)

Sforno writes that one must distance himself from anything that might lead to falsehood. Sometimes we do something innocuous, but it creates a situation in which someone else is compelled to lie - albeit inadvertently. Sefer Chassidim mentions an all-too common situation, whereby one notices a group of friends speaking furtively among themselves. Of course, he wants to know what it is they are shrouding in so much secrecy. If he approaches them and asks, "What are you talking about?" he knows that he might cause them to lie. Let's face it, if they wanted him to know the topic of their conversation, they would have included him. Apparently, they want to keep it from him. So, why is he bothering to ask?

Chazal teach (Bava Metzia 59a), "From the day the Bais HaMikdash was destroyed, the Gates of Prayer have been sealed…" Nevertheless, the Gates of Tears remain open. What this means is that prayer no longer has as ready access as it used to during the Temple's tenure. The Shaarei Demaos, Gates of Tears, remain open and ready to accept the Jews' tearful entreaty. Horav Bunim, zl, m'Peshischa, wonders why there is a need for gates, if they always remain open. Just do away with the doors. He explains that there are sincere tears and there are insincere tears. Often, one cries for the wrong reason or misguided motivation. Those tears do not gain access - the gates close on them.

When Horav Eliezer Gordon, zl, Rosh Yeshivah and founder of Telshe, Lithuania was niftar, passed away, suddenly - on a fundraising trip to England, it was a great shock to the Telshe community. The town and its Yeshivah were thrust into mourning and sadness. It is told that his grandson, Horav Eliyahu Meir Bloch, zl, who would one day be co-founder of Telshe, America, who was seventeen years old at the time, broke into uncontrollable weeping. He was very close with his zaide and the loss had a profound effect on him. His father, Horav Yosef Yehudah Leib Bloch, zl, son-in-law and successor to Rav Leizer said to him, "It appears to me that you are crying a bit overzealously. Are you really that broken-up, or are you trying to impress people with how sad you are over the loss of your grandfather?"

Many years later, Rav Eliyahu Meir remarked, "My father was correct. I was zealous in my display of grief." The Rosh Yeshivah was known for his adherence to honesty. Rav Eliyahu would not sway one iota from the truth, regardless of the repercussions. He had strong opinions and was very critical of secular Zionism. A prominent rabbi once told him, that in America one must please his financial supporters. To be so critical of their secular beliefs might undermine his ability to sustain the yeshivah.

The Rosh Yeshivah answered, "My revered father told me that I do not have to be a Rosh Yeshivah, but I do have to be an ehrlicher Yid, honest Jew."

Integrity - whether in business, or in interpersonal relationships - is a Jewish standard of life. Emes, truth, is one of three amudim, pillars, upon which the world stands. This means that a lack of honesty can weaken the world's support system. The Yalkut Me'am Loez, Shemos, states that it is because of the prevalence of falsehood among our people that we are still suffering from the miserable galus, exile. I am not even referring to outright, open lies, whereby one prevaricates for monetary or political gain. These are white lies, and lies that are expressed to fool or simply impress people. At the end of the day, a lie is a lie - regardless of its motivation, one who lies distances himself from Hashem. Indeed, this very idea is homiletically interpreted by Rav Zushe, zl, m'Annipole, into the pasuk, Mi'dvar sheker tirchak. He explains that one mi'dvar sheker - from a word of falsehood; tirchak - one becomes distanced from Hashem.

In his book, Echoes of the Maggid, Rabbi Paysach Krohn presents a few vignettes which demonstrate the level of honesty reached by our Torah leaders. One might ask why I present stories of Torah leaders; why not expound stories of "regular" people whose commitment to honesty is integral? It is to demonstrate that their sense of honesty remained uncompromised regardless of their distinction- unlike secular leadership whose commitment to integrity diminishes with their ascension up the ladder of prominence and power.

Rabbeinu Bachya writes (Kad HaKemach), "All those who maintain lives committed to honesty and integrity will have their prayers answered." This is derived from the pasuk we say thrice daily in Tefillas Ashrei, Karov Hashem l'chol korav, l'chol asher yikrahu b'emes, "Hashem is close to all those who call upon Him, to all who call upon Him - b'emes, with truth." This means Hashem listens to all those who can claim that they live their lives with integrity.

Three short vignettes which are inspiring and are especially significant when we take into account how great were these individuals and how incredibly important it was to them not to bend the truth - one iota. This in itself is a commentary on their illustrious nature.

The Chazon Ish would have a minyan, quorum of ten men, for mincha, afternoon service, every afternoon at his house. The minyan took place at 12:30 p.m. Once, they were short a tenth man. The clock was running. It was 12:45 before a tenth man to complete the minyan showed up. As they were beginning tefillas ashrei, the opening prayer of Minchah, the Chazon Ish's brother-in-law, Horav Shmuel Greineman, zl, turned to him and said, "I have a 1:00 p.m. meeting with someone. If I remain here for Minchah, I will be late for the meeting, thus keeping the person waiting. What should I do?"

The Chazon Ish gave a classic reply. "Coming late for a meeting is deceitful. An honest man must keep his appointments in a timely fashion. It is better that this minyan be adjourned today than you be involved in a sheker, falsehood." When we come late to an appointment, we are not only sending a message to the other person that his feelings mean very little to us, we are also transgressing a Divine principle. In other words, we are acting inappropriately to Hashem, as well as to our fellow man.

A number of years ago, I quoted a frightening statement, from the Bnei Yissachar, Horav Mendel m'Rimonov. Often quoted by the Manchester Rosh Yeshivah, Horav Yehudah Zev Segal, zl, who would observe the strange occurrence of young, sweet, innocent children, who, as they mature, somehow begin to stray from the Torah way. "It is because of timtum ha'lev, stuffed/numb heart, which is the result of maachalos asuros, eating forbidden food." How do observant children obtain forbidden food? He explains, "They eat food purchased with funds secured through dishonest dealings." In other words, a father makes a "deal." Someone loses money - someone benefits from his loss. He feeds his ill-gained profits to his children. They now become the losers. It is as simple as that.

Rav Segal was naeh doresh, naeh mekayeim, practiced what he preached. His life, among many other things, was a lesson in honesty. He was once traveling intercity by train. The conductor would come by and collect the fares and issue tickets to the passengers. Rav Segal commenced the trip in the second-class economy section, but later during the trip, moved to the first-class section which had many seats available. The passengers in his car redefined the nature of second-class. The noise was unbearable for a man attempting to concentrate on his learning.

Hoping the conductor would come through the first-class section and collect the added fare, the Rosh Yeshivah turned to his sefer and learned for the rest of the trip. When he reached his destination and realized that the conductor had not come by, he proceeded to the station master to pay the difference in price. Despite being told repeatedly that it was unnecessary, he insisted on paying the money. As the Rosh Yeshivah left the booth, the stationmaster exclaimed, "That man is one in a million!"

Someone once called Horav Yaakov Kaminetzsky, zl, and asked if he could call in sick for Purim so that he could spend the day with his family. "Surely it is more appropriate to spend simchas Purim with one's close family and friends than to be working in an office," he asked. Rav Yaakov replied that it is patently prohibited to call in sick if one is not sick. It is dishonest.

Va'ani Tefillah

V'lo neivosh l'olam va'ed. So that we will not be put to shame for all eternity.

This shame is not a reference to humiliation one experiences in this world. Such shame is temporary - for two reasons: First, our world is but a temporary habitat upon which we tread during the physical lifespan which is allotted to us. Nothing here is permanent - neither physical pain not humiliation. As impermanent as our world is, so, too, is the shame we sustain. Second, we have a habit of becoming complacent. Physical shame - regardless of its nature and intensity, has a way of being accepted. Give it time, and people become used to their predicament. Otherwise, why would so many individuals who have acted nefariously - either in their personal lives or in the context of their community - be able to raise their heads in their respective communities. Embezzlers, thieves, moral profligates - within time - some more, some less, all return to normal lives. The only ones who continue suffering are their victims. Shame in this world is temporary. In Olam Habba, it endures forever.

The Chafetz Chaim, zl, posits that v'lo neivosh is connected to v'yacheid levaveinu, "Unite our hearts to love and fear Your Name," whereby we entreat Hashem that our heart unites to perform the mitzvos b'shleimus, perfection/completion. Otherwise, we will eternally be humiliated in the World of Truth to collect our reward, only to discover that it is incomplete.

by his family:
David, Susan, Daniel, Breindy, Ephraim, Adeena, Aryeh and Michelle Jacobson
and great grandchildren

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.

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