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Peninim on the Torah

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Rabbi A. Leib Scheinbaum
Hebrew Academy of Cleveland


And you will return unto Hashem your G-d, and listen to His voice. (30:2)

Repentance - the opportunity to return to Hashem, to once again be accepted by Him and be able to appeal to Him - is the ultimate kindness that Hashem offers us. The following analogy, cited by Horav Yaakov Beifus, Shlita, demonstrates this idea. Rebelling against the king is without a doubt the most extreme transgression one can make. The punishment is commensurate with the level of rebellion and the relationship of the rebel to the king. The closer one is to the king, the greater and more serious the infraction and eventual punishment. In one of the provinces, the king's closest friend was indicted for treasonous behavior and incarcerated in the local prison until he could be brought to trial. It became the biggest event in the country; everybody was talking about the act of treason perpetrated by the king's closest ally. As angry as the king originally was, with time his feelings of kinship prevailed, and he no longer sought to punish him harshly. He could, however, neither simply mitigate the act of treason nor ignore the effect it would have on the country. His hands were tied. How could he ignore the country's laws and not punish his friend?

The rebel was acutely aware of the king's predicament. Yet, he felt bad. He realized the error of his ways, the folly of his actions - and with deep remorse and fear - he waited for his impending punishment.

One morning, he awoke to hear sounds of digging coming from beneath the floor of his cell. He was frightened that the ground beneath him was caving in. He stared at the ground as it shook and rumbled. Suddenly he heard a crack, and then a hole broke through the floor. None other than the king himself appeared, "Quick, escape while you can. This is your only opportunity to leave this cell alive."

Overcome with relief and joy, the prisoner embraced the king and kissed him. Together, they covered the hole and escaped into the night. As they traveled through the forest to safety, the king said, "For a while now, I have been thinking of how I could rescue you. I knew that because of the gravity of your sin, I could do nothing to compromise my position to help you. The only thing I could do was to dig a passageway from beneath my throne room, which no one enters, to your cell. Every day, I dug deeper and farther until I reached you."

This is what teshuvah, repentance, is all about. Once a person sins against Hashem, there is really no way he can reinstate himself - unless he is granted a special dispensation, a favor that goes beyond the rules. In the Talmud Yerushalmi, Chazal teach us that when "Wisdom" was asked, "What is the punishment for the sinner?" the response was negative: no hope, the ultimate punishment. Similar responses were received from "Prophecy" and Torah. When Hashem was asked, He responded, "Let him repent, and he will be forgiven."

According to the principles of Justice, there is no forgiveness for one who sins against Hashem. It is Hashem Who forgives when we repent with sincerity, because He is a loving father and friend.

And you shall choose life. (30:19)

A poor man came to a businessman and asked for a loan: "I need one hundred dollars, and I am willing to pay seven percent interest on the loan. There is one stipulation, however I can only pay you one dollar a week," said the poor man. "I appreciate your situation, but I cannot help you," the businessman responded. "I must be paid all at once, not in installments." Understandably, the poor man left quite upset. The businessman's associate who witnessed the entire proceedings wondered why his friend would throw away an opportunity in order to make a quick profit.

The businessman explained that in the end all he would have left is one dollar. When he has pocket change lying around, he tends to spend it. If he would take his payment in installments, he would quickly deplete the money and have nothing left.

The Lubliner Maggid, zl, explains that the same idea applies to life. We are here for a short duration: seventy, eighty years, or more. These years are not granted to us in one lump sum, but day by day, week by week, month by month, year by year, until we are suddenly called back to return our soul to its Maker. At any moment in time, our past is long gone, our future is unsure and our present is, at best, fleeting, gone before we know it. Regrettably, man's nature is to ignore his life until his last moments when he has very little time left. He looks back to his past and it is gone, the present is going quickly and the future is only a dream. The one thing he needs the most - time - is almost gone. He realizes now that he has squandered his most precious commodity. Let us wake up while the future is still a reality.

Horav Yaakov Kamenetzky, zl, offers an analogy that teaches a similar lesson. A worker once performed labor for someone, and he was now owed one hundred dollars. The householder was short on cash and, instead, offered the worker fifty lottery tickets each valued at two dollars. The worker could have easily sold the lottery tickets and received his one hundred dollars. Instead, he played the lottery with all fifty tickets - and lost. He now had nothing: no prize and no cash. He returned to the householder and complained that he had no money. Obviously, the householder ignored the foolish worker who decided to waste his pay on a game of chance.

In this world, there is only one means of payment - life. A person has to use his common sense in order to enjoy the gift of life in its entirety. Some play the lottery, devoting their life to material pursuits, only to discover that it is all paper, meaningless paper which does not access for him entrance into the World to Come. One who is wise and uses life to amass mitzvos and good deeds will have a treasure chest filled with the admission fee to Olam Habah. The way we live in this world determines what will occur when our time is up.


The later generation will say - your children who will arise after you and the foreigner who will come from a distant land. (29:21)

Horav Chaim Soloveitchik, zl, commented that this is a tragic curse. Imagine, in the end of days, Jews will be so assimilated that their knowledge of Torah and Yiddishkeit will be similar to that of the Nachri, gentile/foreigner, from a distant land.

The Yehudi Hakadosh, zl, m'Peshischa remarked about this pasuk, "When a person is questioned, 'Why do you work so hard?' he responds, 'I do not work for myself. I work for my child's welfare.' The story continues a generation later, when the child grows up, becomes an adult and now, he is working for his child. Everything is for the children. I would one day like to meet that perfect child for whom all of the generations are slaving."

It will be when all these things come upon you - the blessing and the curse…then you will take it to your heart. (30:1)

It is understandable that a curse will motivate one to repent. What does blessing have to do with teshuvah, repentance? The Baal Shem Tov explains this with a parable. Once a person rebelled against his king. Instead of punishing him, the king decided to appoint him to a prominent position. This went on for a number of months, each time advancing his position until he became second to the king. As the king showered his favor on him, the one-time rebel cowered in shame as he came to realize how wonderful, kind and compassionate the king was. Likewise, when we sin and Hashem showers His favor on us, it engenders a feeling of remorse and shame for sinning against Him. This, in turn, inspires our repentance.


And I will conceal My face from them…it will say on that day, "Is it not because my G-d is not in my midst that these evils have come upon me?" (31:17)

The Aseres Yemei Teshuvah, Ten Days of Repentance, the first ten days of the New Year, are meant to be the foundation-stone for the coming year. It is the standard upon which our behavior during the year should be based. Hashem is karov, close, to us during this time. Thus, this period is to imbue us to develop a personal relationship with the Almighty - throughout the year. There is no room in Yiddishkeit for intermediaries. One should feel a sense of nearness with Hashem. With this feeling in mind, no Jew should ever feel alone. This idea is alluded to in the Divine warning conveyed to Moshe Rabbeinu shortly before he bade farewell to the nation that he had cared for during these past forty years. The time would come when the people would say "because my G-d is not in my midst," when they would no longer feel Hashem's presence among them.

Our first error is in thinking that Hashem has left us. Hashem is always there. It is we who have turned away. The Navi emphasizes, "And know that I am in the midst of Yisrael." I have not turned away My face; you have turned yours away. Come back, return to me. Do not be ashamed. Return to Davening, to Tallis and Tefillin, to Torah study, to Shabbos. You can still walk hand in hand with Hashem as long as you perform teshuvah, repentance.

Shuvah, simply put, means to return. If you turn your back on someone, you have simply to turn around and look him in the face. During the Ten Days of Repentance we are enjoined to "turn around and face Hashem."

Teshuvah is never easy, but when one realizes that Hashem is waiting to accept his return, it becomes that much easier. It must be made clear, however, that this only applies to sins that one has committed against the Almighty. For the sins that we have committed against our fellowman, there is only one way out: find the victim of our aggression and beg his forgiveness. If he is no longer on this world, we must take a minyan, quorum of ten men, to his grave and make a public confession. It is not pleasant, and we never know when our time is up. So, why wait?

It is a serious mistake to think that we can conduct ourselves during the day as we see fit, as long as we go to shul, daven, maintain a chavrusa, study partner, and give charity. The malignancy that eats away at religious life is our attitude towards separating the sacred from the mundane. We have to sanctify ourselves throughout the entire day and never ignore our relationship with our fellow man.

Much is taken for granted in the world of commerce. Society makes constant demands on our financial resources and, regrettably, people resort to various approaches towards earning the almighty dollar. Most of the time these approaches are scrupulous. What happens when we are up against the wall? Are we as careful with someone else's money as we are with our own? Are we as concerned about someone else's feelings as we are with our own? Do we ever take advantage of another person who is not as financially astute or as aggressive as we are? I am not even talking about the government.

Moshe Rabbeinu laments, "You will do evil in G-d's eyes and provoke Him through the work of your hands." This does not only mean that we will do things wrong to provoke Hashem with our hands. It may also mean that our "hand," the handshake, the word we give someone, will no longer have any value or meaning. A word is no longer a word; a commitment no longer carries any weight.

The Navi exhorts us to Kechu imachem devarim v'shuvu el Hashem - "Take with yourselves words and return to Hashem." Stick to your resolutions; translate them into practice. As the New Year begins, we make resolutions and commitments. Some last until Succos. We give our word, but does it really mean anything? Take the words with you. Make them a part of your life, and, hopefully, your life will change.

At the end of every seven years, in the set time of the year of Shemittah, in the Festival of Succos…You shall read this law before all Yisrael in their ears. (31:11)

The mitzvah of Hakheil, convening of Klal Yisrael at the beginning of the eighth year, immediately following the Shemittah year, is set at this time by design. The timing of this event, when all Jews gathered together to hear the Torah read by the Melech Yisrael, Jewish king, was scheduled to impart the greatest impression. What is unique about this time?

Horav Mordechai Rogov, zl, explains that after Klal Yisrael has experienced a year of Shemittah, a year of unparalleled faith and trust in the Almighty, they are now attuned to hear and accept what the Torah had to say. They had just completed an entire year when their daily sustenance was always a question in their minds. "What shall we eat during the seventh year?" they would ask. They survived - and thrived, despite the daily anxiety regarding their subsistence. It now dawned on them that they "made it" without plowing, planting or harvesting. They did nothing! Yet, they had what they needed because Hashem, as usual, took care of their needs. It was their faith in Hashem that carried them through the year.

Is it any wonder that after such an incredible year of faith and apparent blessings they were primed and ready to listen to the word of Hashem?

This idea rings true every time we successfully navigate the sea of ambiguity and pain and come to the realization that Hashem has been there with us throughout our ordeal. As the nation now understood that Torah fulfillment would serve for their ultimate benefit, so, too, should we accept the fact that whatever we have is from Hashem. Our response should be clear and unequivocal. As the people now have come to realize that Shabbos and Shemittah, as well as involvement in any other mitzvah, does not detract from our material success, but, instead, guarantees it, so should we strengthen our resolve and commitment towards Torah observance. Mitzvah observance reinforces a sense of confidence and security that they are not only a means of serving Hashem, but also rungs in the ladder which leads to success and fulfillment. In truth, every encounter with Hashem's beneficence should engender within us feelings of hope and courage in the knowledge that Hashem is always there for us.


Moshe went. (31:1)

The Targum Yerushalmi tells us that Moshe went to bais ulpena, a yeshivah, to study Torah. The Sabba, zl, m'Shpala derives from here the importance of Torah study at all ages. Moshe Rabbeinu was about to leave this world, but he was acutely aware of the significance of attending the bais hamedrash.


Behold, your days are drawing near to die. (31:14)

Yalkut Reuveni notes that the word "yamecha" - yud, mem, yud, chaf has a gematria, numerical equivalent, of eighty. This refers to the eighty years prior to Moshe's appointment as Klal Yisrael's leader. During these eighty years, he was not involved in the noble and holy work which characterized his last forty years. Hashem consolidated these two diverse portions of Moshe's life when Hashem gave Moshe the Shivas Yemei ha'Miluim, Seven Days of Inauguration of the Mishkan. Each day "atoned" for ten years of Moshe's life. The first ten years prior to his bar-mitzvah are not included. Thus, Moshe's entire lifespan was dedicated wholly to carrying out Hashem's will.


But I will surely have concealed My face on that day. (31:18)

The Baal Shem Tov distinguishes between the two forms of hester, concealment. In one, the individual realizes that there is a hester panim, Hashem is concealing himself. The person can then at least repent because he understands that Hashem is upset with him. There is another form of concealment in which the individual has no clue that he is experiencing a situation of hester panim. He thinks that this is the way things are. Thus, he will not have "reason" to repent. The pasuk is teaching us that even at a time when Hashem "conceals the hester," He will still be there to support and sustain us in returning to Him.

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