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Peninim on the Torah

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Rabbi A. Leib Scheinbaum
Hebrew Academy of Cleveland


You are standing today, all of you, before Hashem, your G-d. (29:9)

The Midrash explains the word nitzavim, standing. When the people heard the frightening curses enumerated in Parashas Ki Savo, they were overwhelmed with fear at what seemed to be a hopeless future. Hence, Moshe Rabbeinu comforted them, saying that despite their previous sinful behavior, they were still standing before Hashem. He had not eliminated them in the past, and He will continue to sustain them in the future. The Tochachah, Admonition, was there to inspire fear, as well as to indicate the punishments which would atone for their evil deeds. The commentators wonder why Klal Yisrael reacted so negatively to the curses in Parashas Ki Savo and not to the forty-nine curses enumerated in Parashas Bechukosai.

Horav Shmuel David Walkin, zl, suggests that there is one curse in the litany of ninety-eight curses that inspired the Jewish People with overwhelming fear: "He will bring upon you all the sufferings of Egypt, of which you were terrified, and they will cleave to you." (Devarim 28:60) He cites the Alter, zl, m'Kelm who explains the significance of machalas Mitzrayim, the illnesses of Egypt, and relates why they are referred to with the unique term, makah, plague. He explains that the makas Mitzrayim did not accomplish anything in terms of atonement. Pharaoh continued along his sinful way, ignoring the punishment. If the illness does not effect a change, it is a machalah b'li refuah, an illness for which there is neither cure nor therapeutic effect. The makos that Klal Yisrael undergo bring about teshuvah, repentance, inspiring them to rise up from the depths of sin to correct their ways. This is the underlying meaning of the pasuk in Shemos 15:26, "If you hearken diligently to the voice of Hashem…then any of the diseases that I placed upon Egypt, I will not bring upon you, for I am Hashem, your Healer." In the Talmud Sanhedrin, 101, Chazal ask, "If He does not send illness, why is healing necessary?" They explain that if Klal Yisrael listens, then Hashem will not send illness. If they do not listen, He will send illness, but He will heal them, because the purpose of His punishment is not punitive, but restorative, to purge them of sin and influence them to repent. Hashem will never send against us an Egyptian form of distress, the focus of which is purely to punish. Whatever emanates from Hashem is to inspire us to return to Him.

We now understand why Klal Yisrael became so disconcerted when they heard the curse that Hashem would bring upon them the sufferings of Egypt. They could handle the punishment if it would stimulate teshuvah. The thought that they would have pain for the purpose of pain, punishment that was punitive -- and not conducive to repentance -- was frightening.

Incidentally, there is a powerful lesson to be derived herein, especially as we prepare to usher in a new year with its challenges, its opportunities for success, its trials and travails, and its symbol of hope. What Hashem does to us is really for us, to make us better people, to serve Him better, that we can ultimately earn the true reward that is awaiting each one of us.

You are standing today, all of you…the heads of your tribes, your elders, and your officers - all the men of Yisrael. (29:9)

On the last day of Moshe Rabbeinu's life, he assembled all of Klal Yisrael and inducted them into Hashem's Covenant for the last time. In the Yerushalmi at the end of Meseches Horayos, Chazal make the following intriguing statement: "Why did Moshe Rabbeinu precede the roshim, heads of the tribes, before the zekeinim, the Torah scholars and elders, while Yehoshua, upon speaking to the people, preceded the elders before the leaders of the tribes? Moshe did not exert himself in the study of Torah. Hashem gave it to him as a gift, thus ensuring that he would never forget it. Yehoshua, in contrast, had to toil in order to retain the Torah that he had learned from Moshe. Thus, Yehoshua had a more profound appreciation of the zekeinim than did Moshe."

What an incredible statement! Horav Moshe Shapiro, shlita, adds that only Chazal could issue such a compelling declaration. Moshe Rabbeinu, our greatest teacher, the quintessential leader of Klal Yisrael, the Adon v'Avi haNeviim, master and father of all prophets, did not know how to value the toil expended by Torah scholars as well as Yehoshua did. He was the greatest scholar, but since his scholarship was not the result of yegia, toil and exertion, he was missing a vital component in his ability to hold the talmid chacham, Torah scholar, in the proper esteem.

Chazal are clearly asserting that in order to appreciate ameilus ba'Torah, toil in Torah, one must himself have had to participate in Torah study b'ameilus. Just as one does not reach the summit of Torah knowledge without prior exertion in studying Torah, so, too, is he not qualified to value and appreciate those who have achieved proficiency in Torah knowledge. To be ameil ba'Torah is to never interrupt one's learning. To paraphrase Horav Elchonan Wasserman, zl, "Vihigisa" means one must tracht, think, in learning. There should not be any cessation in one's relationship with Torah learning.

We may add that this concept applies to all endeavors. Unless one has "been there," he is not qualified to judge one who has. All too often, we make judgment calls and establish opinions based upon how we perceive an issue or a person. Yet, we forget to take into consideration how this issue or person evolved to this point. If there are reservations about Moshe Rabbeinu's capacity for evaluating, yegias ha'Torah, what should we say?

When a person is ameil ba'Torah, genuinely toils in Torah, he can reach unlimited heights, regardless of his ability. Furthermore, the rewards in store for those who toil in Torah -- and the esteem in which they are held -- are incredible. Toil is not just a lofty way of studying Torah; rather, it is an absolute requirement! Horav Yisrael Gustman, zl, was a gaon who exemplified ameilus ba'Torah. When he was only twenty years old, he was appointed as a dayan, judge, on the bais din of Harav Chaim Ozer Grodzenski, zl, the venerable rav of pre-World War II Vilna, and the leader of world Jewry. Rav Yisrael served as dayan for twenty-five years. When he came to Eretz Yisrael, he was granted an audience with the Steipler Rav. The Steipler Rav could not hear well. Thus, he had his visitors write down their requests. Rav Yisrael wrote his request and signed his note, Yisrael Gustman. Upon reading the note, the Steipler queried, "Was your father the dayan in Rav Chaim Ozer's bais din?" Rav Yisrael replied, "That is I."

"That is you?!" the Steipler asked incredulously. The Steipler was not well and hardly left his house. Yet, he stood up and ran to Rav Yisrael, hugging and kissing him. "You have no idea the esteem in which you were held by Rav Chaim Ozer!"

A similar incident occurred when Rav Gustman went to visit the Tchebiner Rav, zl, who donned his hat, stood up, and recited the special brachah one makes upon seeing an outstanding talmid chacham. One who toils in Torah achieves the greatest respect and reaches the zenith in Torah knowledge.

Horav Moshe Aharon Stern, zl, gives a practical analogy about toil in Torah. He asserts that one who is ameil, toils, is assured of gadlus ba'Torah, noble achievement in Torah. Hashem gives the Torah to each and every Jew but only if the person prepares vessels for containing it. Someone who comes with a "shnapps-glass," shot glass, will have his small cup filled. One who comes with a large barrel will have his container filled to the top. Every one of us should maximize the time we dedicate to Torah study. Those that do will reap rewards commensurate with their toil.


Gather together the people, the men, women and the small children. (31:12)

The mitzvah of Hakhel took place once every seven years on the first day of Chol Hamoed Succos following a Shemittah year. Everyone was included in this mitzvah: men, women and even the small children. As Chazal state, "The men came to learn; the women came to listen; the children came to give reward to those who brought them." The Malbim explains the benefit the children had in attending the Hakhel experience. Although they could not understand the proceedings, their eyes would be glued to the awesome sight of millions of Jews gathered together for the sole purpose of hearing the Dvar Hashem, Word of G-d. This would leave an indelible impression on them, inspiring them to lead lives of kedushah v'taharah, holiness and purity.

While the mitzvah of Hakhel is not in effect today, Horav Avraham Pam, zl, suggests that its message is eternal and certainly worth contemplating. A child develops a love for what he sees his parents cherish. When a child sees his father learning, he develops a love of learning. When a child notices his father is not at home and, after asking where he is, he hears that his father is in the bais hamedrash learning, he, in turn, also wants to learn. On the other hand, if he notices his father spending his time doing everything else but learning, the message he will derive is, regrettably, clearly negative. Parents have an enormous responsibility in raising their children in the Torah way. Rav Pam cites the Viddui, confession prayer, that we recite on Yom Kippur, "Al cheit she'chatanu le'fanecha b'prikas ol. "For the sin that we have sinned against You in throwing off the yoke." The simple meaning is that this is a reference to the yoke of Heaven. Rav Pam understands this also as a confession for reneging the yoke of parenthood. The responsibility is awesome; the challenge is formidable, but that is the essence of parenting. Nachas does not just happen. One has to work and work for it. At times, we allow our guard to slip, as we defer to the many pressures of life and child -rearing. Our children are our most precious possessions. It is up to us to make the correct decisions for them, not necessarily based upon what is easiest and best for us. All too often, our decisions are mired by the "What are others going to say?" syndrome. If we care for our children, we will do what is best for them and not what enhances our image. Parenting is an endeavor which does not allow much room for error, so it would be best that we make the correct and proper decisions the first time around.

Gather to me all the elders of your tribes and your officers. (31:28)

Rashi comments that the chatzotzros, trumpets, were used that day to assemble the people. These trumpets were made exclusively for Moshe Rabbeinu's use and Yehoshua did not have authority over them. Indeed, they were hidden by Hashem during Moshe's lifetime in fulfillment of Shlomo HaMelech's dictum in Koheles 5:6, "And there is no rulership on the day of death." The Midrash in the end of Sefer Bereishis emphasizes that Hashem hid Moshe's trumpets to ensure that no one else would use them. Horav Mordechai Ilan, zl, explains that every leader is endowed with specific qualities, abilities and talents that will assist him in leading his generation. What works for his generation will not necessarily succeed in the next generation. His trumpets are for his use during his tenure as leader. With his passing, the baton is passed to the next leader who has his own trumpets which are suitable for use in his specific generation. Every generation has its Moshe Rabbeinu, and every Moshe has his singular trumpet.

And I will conceal My face from them… But I will have surely concealed My face on that day. (31:17,18)

Klal Yisrael acknowledges that its troubles are the result of Hashem removing His Presence from their midst. Their acknowledgement does not suffice to effect Hashem's return. It is only through sincere teshuvah, repentance, preceded by Viddui, confession, that Hashem's concealment will end. How does one bring Hashem into his life? How does one make the Shechinah, Divine Presence, a factor in his daily life? Horav Moshe Swift, zl, cites a fascinating Chazal in the end of Meseches Makkos 24A, which sheds light on our query. David HaMelech in Tehillim 15 describes the ideal Jewish personality. "Who shall sojourn in Your tent, who shall dwell upon Your holy mountain?" David HaMelech goes on to detail the quintessential Jewish character; "Walking uprightly, working righteousness, speaking truth in his heart, having no slander on his tongue, nor doing any evil to his fellow." He concludes, "He who does these things shall never be moved." Chazal relate that when Rabban Gamliel would approach this chapter in Tehillim, he would weep, saying, "Is it only he that does all these things that shall not be moved? Does this imply that he who does only one of these, that he is moved?"

The reply was, "No, No, David HaMelech does not say that he must do all these things. Even if a man observes only one thing, if he demonstrates one quality, but he does it wholeheartedly -- because it is Hashem's command -- then he shall not be moved for eternity." In his Peirush HaMishnayos, the Rambam adds, "If a person fulfills any one of the Taryag Mitzvos, 613 commandments, as it should be fulfilled, without any ulterior motive or improper intention of any possible kind, but purely for the sake of the mitzvah and for the love of G-d's commands, he thereby becomes worthy of eternal life."

The Rambam asserts that Rav Chanania ben Teradyon, one of the Asarah Harugei Malchus, Ten Martyrs, earned his portion in Olam Habah, not because of his martyrdom, but, rather, because of one mitzvah that he performed completely lishmah, for the sake of Heaven, without any vestige of personal interest, only for the love of Hashem and fulfillment of His command!

What a powerful thought. If we want to bring the Shechinah into our midst, we just have to perform one mitzvah l'shem Shomayim. This brings G-d into our daily lives. It touches our homes and makes them a veritable Mishkan, Sanctuary. It permeates our lives as we cling to the Almighty. The Jew who acts l'shem Shomayim forges an unbreakable link between Heaven and earth.

Hashem conceals His Presence from us because we are not willing to repent. If we begin performing mitzvos in the correct and proper manner, however, we will merit His return, to bring Him back into our lives. Of course, we must observe all of the mitzvos, not just pick and choose what is most palatable. It is understood that we cannot maintain the correct kavanah, attitude, towards all mitzvos. If we take one mitzvah and perform it correctly, l'shem Shomayim, we will be privileged to bring Hashem into our lives, so that we can continue performing the rest of the mitzvos properly - for Hashem.

Va'ani Tefillah

V'yehi ratzon milfanecha…she'targileinu b'Torasecha, v'dabkeinu b'mitzvosecha.

And may it be Your will…that You accustom us to (study) Your Torah and attach us to Your commandments.

As we prepare to meet the challenges that the coming day presents, we understand that our road to success is paved with obstacles and potholes. At times, temptation stares us in the face, externally, i.e., in the guise of people or companions; and there is also temptation from within. Our natural instinct is inclined towards pleasure. We entreat Hashem to accustom us to study Torah, so that it becomes second nature to us. By acquiring the habit of studying and thinking Torah, we develop a natural proclivity towards the betterment of our spiritual dimension. We are also acutely aware that without Divine assistance, our own efforts will prove futile. While we have to take the initiative, without Hashem's support, we do not stand a chance.

The Gaon m'Vilna explains the concept of she'targileinu, "that You accustom us." A Jew -- by his very nature -- has a proclivity towards Torah. If it does not achieve fruition, it is because he has accustomed himself to satisfying his physical needs first and foremost. On the other hand, if a person becomes accustomed to studying Torah, he will naturally gravitate to Torah and mitzvah observance. It will get to the point that studying Torah will be something natural to him - like eating and drinking.

Peninim on the Torah is in its 14th year of publication. The first nine years have been published in book form.

The Ninth volume is available at your local book seller or directly from Rabbi Scheinbaum.

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